Monday, May 30, 2022

The Science of Gun Violence & Regulation

This from the Scientific American:

The Science Is Clear: Gun Control Saves Lives
By enacting simple laws that make guns safer and harder to get, we can prevent killings like the ones in Uvalde and Buffalo:

The science is abundantly clear: More guns do not stop crime. Guns kill more children each year than auto accidents. More children die by gunfire in a year than on-duty police officers and active military members. Guns are a public health crisis, just like COVID, and in this, we are failing our children, over and over again.

In the 1970s, I knew the National Rifle Association to be a gun-safety organization. Attending gun safety presentations, workshops, and even "day camps" where young people could learn to safely operate and respect firearms was a part of my youth. To that end, I simply can't fathom the opposition to regulation. Regulation is the key to solving the disagreement about how to solve America's alarming gun violence problem. It would seem that people who support gun ownership and possession would be the leaders in establishing the discussion.

And yet ...

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Class of 2022, Live Artfully

I've never given a graduation commencement speech. But if I did, it would sound something like this, my latest column for The Villager:

In 1997, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich advised that year’s graduates to “Wear Sunscreen.” Humanities professor Neil Postman once told a graduating class they must choose between being Athenians or Visigoths, urging them to use education to cultivate a fulfilling life. Iconic contemporary novelist David Foster Wallace went viral with a commencement speech entitled “This is Water.” Novelist Carl Hiaasen wrote the book Assume the Worst about advice you’ll never hear in a commencement speech. And, of course, Steve Jobs told Stanford grads the way to do great work is to love what you do. Giving advice to young graduates each May is a timeless tradition, though in many ways it’s probably also a pointless one. Ultimately, we all have to figure it out for ourselves.

Despite the negative talk about the youth, public education, and the country in general, I look to young people, filled with hope. You are our pride and joy, our best and brightest, and the future belongs to you. The question is what are you going to do with it? The twenty-first century is a time constantly in flux, undergoing perpetual change. While that can be unsettling and even scary, it can also be tremendously exciting. The future truly is wide open, and the challenge is to find your path, to carve out your niche, to make your impact. When Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Woods to live, he said he wished to “live deliberately.” My advice is to extend that idea and “live artfully,” carefully crafting and thoughtfully creating the canvas, the sculpture, the picture of your life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Denver Arts Festival - May 28/29

This weekend the Denver Arts Festival returns for its twenty-third year. After chatting with festival director Jim DeLutes, I wrote up a little preview for 303 Magazine:

Jim DeLutes, a local photographer and director of Denver Arts Festival, has one goal for art patrons who visit the event: “Everyone walks away with a smile.”

DeLutes has been involved with the Denver Arts Festival for each of its 23 years, starting as an artist promoting his photography and later moving into a directorial role. While he is an artist himself, the work as a director gives him an equal amount of pleasure for the opportunity to celebrate and “support Colorado artists who aren’t always represented at the larger gatherings,” as he puts it. He says the value of an art festival is the chance to “get the public interested in following and perhaps collecting an artist.” Festivals are the perfect setting to interact with the art and the artist simultaneously. It’s always a treat to engage with the creator, discuss the process, learn about a medium or technique or just appreciate the art together.

Monday, May 16, 2022

White Noise Inside the Supermarket

Like so many of us during the early days of the pandemic, I returned to reading some older works that might offer some insight into the way we were feeling. For me, one of those books was Don Delillo's postmodern classic White Noise from 1985. That reading led to the following piece of lit crit, recently published by Porridge Magazine.

Wandering the aisles of my neighborhood supermarket, the kind of place Don DeLillo once wrote evoked “a sense of replenishment … and fullness of being,” I tread cautiously out of suspicion and respect for the potential “airborne toxic event” that is the coronavirus pandemic. As the world continues to pass milestones of Covid infections, I have gradually come to realize that, like The Clash’s Joe Strummer, I am feeling “all lost in the supermarket; I can longer shop happily.” Now, more than two years since the pandemic was declared, as society cautiously emerges from quarantine cocoons while also facing a return to some restrictions amidst fears of the delta and omicron variants, I’m still wearing a mask in crowded places like our nearby grocery store, despite being vaccinated and boosted. And, in a socially distant world where the supermarket was the last bastion of a semi-normal suburban existence, I’m thinking of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

What's in a Grade?

The detrimental effect of zeros in a gradebook has become an important issue in education circles lately. I address that problematic assessment practices, as well as a couple other controversies, in this week's column for The Villager.

Giving zeros to students who fail to complete work seems to make sense – if no work is submitted, a teacher cannot rationally assign points. However, in a point-based grading system, a few zeros can mathematically eliminate a student from ever passing a class. In a philosophical way, such a punitive structure may not make sense in a system designed to educate and assess learning against standards, as opposed to the simple accumulation of points. The issue has been aptly summed up in a paper called The Case Against Zero.

When I heard of schools eliminating zeros from grading policies, I instinctively recoiled at the sheer audacity. How can teachers not be allowed to give zeros? However, in scrutinizing my own assessment practices, as any professional educator should routinely do, I’m taking a fresh look at assessment. Two years ago at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, I participated in a professional development session about standards-based grading, and I was struck by the discrepancy between letter and numeric grading. The traditional system of assigning points and assessing grades based on percentages is at odds with the practice of converting those scores to letter grades, which are the only record on a student’s transcript. Basically, the practice used by most schools appears illogical and mathematically flawed.

Most schools use two separate grading systems which literally don’t match up and contradict each other. Assignments are generally measured by a 100-point percentage system. Using those scales, any grade below a 60% is considered failing. That means only 40% of the scale passes and grants credit. However, schools then convert number grades to a letter system of A, B, C, D, F. In that letter scale, 80% of the grades pass with credit. Thus, in a four-point standards-based system, a zero out of four is a legitimate grade to represent failure. However, in a 100-point system where the lowest passing D is a 60%, the mathematically accurate measure for an F, or failure, is 50, not zero.

Assigning zeros in a 100-point system is actually mathematically disingenuous. It punishes failure at twice the rate of awarding success. Failing to complete work should receive a failing grade, but assigning a zero is disproportionate to achievement. For, in a quarter or semester of work, a few zeros on individual assignments can lead to failure of an entire semester, a result which inaccurately measures a student’s entire work portfolio. Consequently, failure can have residual effects such as increasing drop-out rates, which have catastrophic consequences on both personal and societal levels.

Policies regarding deadlines and late work are another problem area of assessment. During the pandemic, amidst remote learning and a literal disconnect between teachers and students, schools implemented more gracious and forgiving practices, and it was a valuable opportunity for teachers to assess what they are actually assessing. However, some teachers from elementary through high school refuse to accept late work, or assign it just half credit. That seems absurdly punitive and not in the spirit of assessing achievement. How can a teacher rationally accept quality work, yet assign it a failing grade based on submission schedule? Docking points, or refusing to give late work an “A,” seems reasonable. Failing completed work does not.

Teachers often justify punitive late work policies by emphasizing personal responsibility. Some even tell students that “in the real world” late work gets you fired, which is not really accurate. How many teachers are late to class occasionally, late grading and returning work, late updating grades in the system, late responding to a parent or student communication? How many are fired or lose pay for that? Clearly, teaching responsibility is important, though it’s not in any curriculum or state learning standards. Teachers are not truly teaching kids a lesson by failing late work, and the real world will teach those lessons soon enough. To paraphrase a student’s view: “Schools have exams and failing grades. The workplace has performance assessment and development goals.”

Ultimately, the primary question for teachers, schools, and families when talking about grades is what exactly they are assessing. Is it skills, knowledge, or compliance? Are teachers assessing learning against standards, or just compliance with assigned tasks? Should schools revisit point and letter-based grading systems? It seems unorthodox to ask, but it’s a legitimate question. Achievement of standards should be the marker, and as controversial as it sounds, critics have a valid case that assigning zeros makes zero sense. There might be a better way.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Joy of Art Returns

The Governor’s Art Show in Colorado for the 2022 year premiered last weekend at the Loveland Art Museum, and it did not disappoint. I visited last Saturday and wrote up a review/feature of 303 Magazine. 

“Happy and hopeful.” That’s how one patron described the paintings of landscape artist Rick Young at the opening gala for the Governor’s Art Show in Loveland. The exhibit premiered Saturday, April 23, at the Loveland Art Museum featuring more than two hundred works from sixty Colorado artists. Show Director Ruth Scott described the opening gala the night before as an “amazing crowd with a real buzz of excitement for getting back to celebrating art.” People were emailing and calling weeks in advance in anticipation of the show. They won’t be disappointed by the richly curated and diverse show, exhibiting some of the best art Colorado has to offer.

In a state known for breathtaking mountain views, as well as stunning sunrises and sunsets, it’s no surprise to find a healthy representation of landscapes produced by the artists who live and work here. From vivid photorealism to soft impressionist takes to abstraction, this show offers numerous media in which to appreciate the environment. Acrylic painter Rick Young “uses color expressively, rather than representationally,” noting the vibrant pinks, purples, and oranges in his work. In “Trails End,” centered by a towering cairn, Rick’s lively colors and signature curved brush strokes used to express movement exaggerate, or perhaps accentuate, the scenery of the hike he is recreating on canvas.

John Lintott’s mountain landscapes take a different approach with sharply detailed realism capturing the stark beauty in the semi-arid landscape of Western Colorado and the West. He balances the scenes with brightly colored vegetation, like the tree along the river in “Boney Desolation,” accentuating the intricate features of the rocky hills behind it. His attention to detail comes from “a lot of time outside observing.” Refraction of light is a key interest of Colorado artists, whether it’s bursts of light through the trees in Kathleen Lanzoni’s “Shining Through,” the soft glow coming through the windows in Kim English’s “Home Office,” or the golden hue of water lilies in Dix Baines’ “Silver and Gold Light.”

A sense of joyous vitality runs through this year’s exhibit with sculptures and other visual art celebrating movement and a clear joie de vivre. Clay Enoch’s bronze sculptures capture a group of energetic kids in a “Jump” and on the slope anticipating a “First Run.” A similar energy is found in Danny Haskew’s sculpture “Dance Within, Wear Only Sky,” and that poetic beauty of movement is celebrated in numerous other pieces featuring dancers. The skillfully curated layout at the museum emphasizes such subjects, as with the bronze piece “In the Wings II” by Jane Dedecker placed near the huge oil piece “Fervent Reclamation” of a dancer by Jen Starling, creating a beautiful display of both anticipation and action.

There’s a clear sense of fun and whimsy in many pieces, such as the tempting, delicious still lifes of donuts from Gregory Block. Anyone who has visited Voodoo Donuts and wanted to capture the memory will love Block’s “Box Set” and “Jubilee,” which look like they were delivered by a bakery, rather than an oil painter. The fun is also present during the artist meet-and-greet, which occurs every Saturday afternoon of the show from 2:00 – 4:00. Artists Sabrina Stiles and Douglas Wodark were laughing and chatting about their artistic process, describing the “sheer joy, and playful,” feeling of creation where “you’re just having fun.”

Similarly, watercolorist Kathleen Lanzoni described her process as “controlled playfulness,” which is required with a medium that will quickly take on a mind of its own. In two landscapes, Lanzoni blends colors with a loose style that “lets the colors run and do their magic.” The effect she gets in working from light to dark, creates a powerful sunburst coming through the trees in her piece. The technique complements and reflects the natural landscapes she paints, like the colors which so smoothly blend along trails.

The show also provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the beauty, even the mystery of Colorado, as the artists remind us to stop and look at the world around us. A thoughtful reflective theme is seen in numerous wildlife images, whether it’s animals sitting in repose like Timothy Nimmo’s coyote in “Wary Rest” or the impossible-to-ignore intensity of Douglas Wodark’s stunning buffalo, “Standing Strong.” The paintings and sculptures evoke a sense of strength and calm and hope. That “happy and hopeful” feeling is also present in various pictures of bird eggs, such as the work of Elaine St. Louis, an oil painter, whose four pictures are different varieties of birds. In noting her own picture of eggs in a nest, Lanzoni observed “maybe we’ve been nesting for a couple years” and now it’s time for spring and rebirth.

The Governor’s Art Show is an investment in and celebration of the arts community in Colorado. In a statement for the show’s program, Governor Jared Polis endorses the show, noting how it “encourages investment by recognizing current Colorado artists” with the goal of “growing and supporting the art industry which contributes $3.7 billion” to the state's economy.

The show is collaboratively sponsored by the Loveland and Thompson Valley Rotary clubs. Ruth Scott explained that curation is “nearly a year-long process” with artist calls for submission going out in August through November and then selected by a five-person jury. This year’s selection jury consisted of Maureen Corey, Loveland Museum Curator; Don Hamilton, artist; Dr. Jennifer Henneman, Denver Art Museum, associate curator; Scott Kelley, patron; and Tal Walton, artist. The show has no specific theme or requirement for medium or style, according to Scott, who says selection “is simply all about the quality of the art. Whatever moves the jurors” is what makes the show.

Proceeds from the show help support multiple causes including scholarships for art students and the purchase of art supplies for the Thompson School District. All works are available for sale in person and online, and interested patrons can preview the entire selection on the website for the show. Granted, photos can never replace the experience of being up close and personal with art, so a visit to the museum is a must. The show runs through May 22, and tickets for non-members are $7.00.