About Me

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Born and raised in Southern Indiana, this Hoosier transplanted herself to the Windy City after graduate school. Her passion is teaching, with writing come a close second and gaining momentum. She currently teaches College of DuPage as an adjunct professor in the physical education department and runs a martial arts studio in Naperville, IL. She holds the rank of 3rd Dan in the United States Hapkido Federation.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Our Current System of Education is Failing and Why Common Core Isn’t the Cure

Our current system of educating young children is based on age – and nothing else. Age grading was developed in 1848[1] and hasn’t been really challenged since. So, for over 160 years, we’ve put five-year-olds in kindergarten, six-year-olds in first grade, seven-year-olds in second grade, and so on. (Even one-room schoolhouses divided students by age.) This is all regardless of each student’s strengths and weaknesses in individual subjects. Being passed from one grade to another was based solely on if the student passed a majority of the subjects satisfactorily – and those ‘passing’ grades are highly subjective, especially in the lower grades.

There are exceptions; some parents decide to hold their children back so they are older than their classroom peers, some parents push their children forward, perhaps skipping a grade so they are younger than their classroom peers. However, on average, each grade of school is based on age and all students, regardless of their abilities, are grouped with others their same age.

The thinking behind age grading is that most seven-year-olds can learn what we classify as second-grade material, while a five-year-old probably couldn’t comprehend it and an eight-year-old would grasp the concepts very quickly and thus become bored. For a majority of humans, this approach has worked adequately. Not truly successfully, but adequately, for 160 years.

But it has become abundantly clear that this approach needs to be reconsidered. We are at a crossroads in education, needing to keep up with technology while preserving some form of logic thinking. Educators have done an adequate job with the technology; students take numerous standardized tests via computer these days, but have dropped the ball on having students think logically. And then Common Core came along and tossed everything we knew out the window.

Truly, if you believe that the only way to conceive of 5x3 is to only think of 3+3+3+3+3, then we definitely have failed, with a big fat ‘F’. Logic dictates we can solve the problem with five 3s or three 5s – that’s logic. But Common Core teaches students that the correct breakdown of 5x3 is 3+3+3+3+3 and that 5+5+5 is wrong.[2] No, it’s not wrong; it’s an additional way of solving the problem and should never, EVER be marked wrong. Marking it as wrong, even when it’s right, just makes the student distrust both his/her own thinking, but to distrust the educators as well.

So, Common Core (and its parent statute, the No Child Left Behind law) is a failure, as most educators and parents would agree.[3] But with no understudy in the wings, we are stuck with it, frustrating students, parents, educators, and administrators alike. So where do we go from here? What is the NBT?

First, I believe we need to re-think the age grading. While some schools offer honors courses at the grade-school level, with the lack of funding and cutbacks most districts have to deal with, these honors courses are few and far between. There is also the mainstreaming of those with mental and emotional disabilities that create chaos when dealing with a classroom of twenty-five to thirty eight-year-olds.

(Please note that I am in NO WAY saying those with disabilities should not get an education, to the best of their ability to learn.)

What is needed is ability grading. Starting at six-years-old, test the student on his/her abilities. If he/she tests at a third-grade reading level, put the student in a third-grade reading class. Don’t make the student suffer through two years of reading below what they already know – it just frustrates the student and can make them act out.

I’m stating this because I lived it. In the fourth grade (nine-year-old) I was tested on my reading ability. I was reading at a high-school freshman level. There was minor talk about moving me up a grade, as most of my other scores were above my level as well, but as I was already one of the youngest students in my grade, it was decided to keep me in with my peers. (I also was admonished back in the first-grade for writing cursive because ‘it hadn’t been taught yet.’) I wonder where I’d be today if I’d been able to truly learn at my level. (It got so bad that I never had to take home a textbook my entire senior year to study and still graduated with a 3.98.)

With ability grading, a six-year-old student may be in a third-grade class for reading, but be in with their own age peers for math. Having them change classrooms based on their ability might take some major scheduling, but with today’s computers, it shouldn’t be the detriment in getting our students to learn at their own level in various subjects. Grade school teachers would be assigned based on their ability to teach that subject – just like in high school.

For example, a teacher is certified to teach math for grades one through six. The typical school day can be divided up into six or seven periods; first period, the teacher teaches first-grade level math to any student who tests at that level. Second period, second-grade math, again to any student who tests at that level. Of course, the hope is to not have a ten-year-old in a first-grade math class, but if that’s what is needed, that’s what should happen.

All this takes into consideration the almost-perfect bell curve of human intelligence (which most educators and politicians tend to ignore – thus the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act which has to be the most stupid piece of legislation to come out of the Bush administration; well, behind the Patriot Act, that is.) There are those who will excel, typically your top 10% of intelligence, then there will be those that just will never get it, no matter how much money you throw at them, those will be the bottom 10%. The remaining 80% of us fall right in the middle, some of us on the lower end, some of us on the higher end.

Thus, knowing that 10% of human intelligence will just never ‘get it,’ we need to re-think our goals for our education system. No matter how you cut it, not everyone will go to college, even if college was free. For those, we have factory, manual labor, and some technical jobs, and a lot of those with lower intelligence excelled in that type of work. We need to acknowledge this, not ignore it. There is nothing wrong with manual labor or factory work and we need to stop demeaning these types of jobs.

And for those students on the top end of the scale, we need to challenge them. If that means we have a seven-year-old learning math at a sixth-grade level, then so be it. As stated, we need to get rid of the ageist theory of learning and play up our students’ strengths and give them extra tools to shore up their weaknesses. While teachers would still learn how to teach at an ‘x’ grade level, we wouldn’t call students by what grade they are in (no more, ‘wow, he’s smart for a second-grader’ or ‘she doesn’t seem to be getting it for a third-grader’). They are grammar students and that is it.

Somewhere around the age of ten or eleven, we would then test them again to see who might be ready for junior high and who might need more schooling before moving up (as I realize most school districts have different buildings for different grades at this time; an ideal situation would be of course, to have K-12 campuses, but that’s a pie-in-the-sky ideal in today’s economic climate.) Then a couple of years later, test again to see who is ready for the high-school classes. A final exam around the age of seventeen to determine, a) if the student is ready for graduation and b) where they should go from there (junior college, tech/trade school, university, or additional high school courses). Thus, the student is only subjected to three ‘standardized’ tests throughout their entire public educational career instead of the dozens required today.

Lastly, while advancing with peers is a time-honored tradition, I think we place way too much emphasis on it. I truly believe that if we challenge our students, give them tools to learn, to expand their knowledge, to truly learn logic at their appropriate level, we could eliminate some of the issues students currently face. Some students become bored and act out; some get frustrated because they just don’t understand the material and act out. Playing to their abilities in each subject can eliminate some of the boredom and frustration and the students can channel their energy into this new-found empowerment. I know nothing will ever stop the bullying completely, but I believe this approach can decrease the occurrences and possibly the severity.

I would love for this to become a pilot project somewhere. It would take time and money, neither of which are in abundant supply when it comes to education. To receive any meaningful results, it would need to be at least a ten-year project with funding that can’t be cut off before the results (as happens quite frequently these days when there is a major political change).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_the_United_States
[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/why-55515-is-wrong-under-the-common-core-2015-10
[3] http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_04/edit274.shtml

Saturday, August 1, 2015

How Hard It Is To Ask For Help

Some of you may know about Maggie, my big, lovable, American Mutt. She's been with me since 2005, when I lost my first lovable American Mutt, Tramp. He'd been with me for 15.5 years, living a good full life to 17. I remember bringing Tramp home; he was still a pup, 18 months old, and he hid underneath the kitchen table for hours. But he's a story for another day.

My sisters paid the fee for me to rescue Maggie. She was my Christmas present in 2005, just a week or so after losing Tramp. I say I rescued Maggie, but she rescued me. And she chose me - I sat down in the midst of all the dogs at the rescue farm and she came over, rested her body against my leg and put her head on my thigh. If that's not her choosing me, I don't know what is.

Her temperament was the best for apartment-dwelling life. She never barked, was 100% house-broken - to the extent that when I got caught being away for almost 20 hours one day, she never peed or pooped in the house. She definitely took one long wiz when I got home and thankfully, that was the only instance where she was left alone for so long.

She's my sweetie. She's a quiet, gentle, seemingly old soul. And now, at the age of 12, she's sick and I don't have the money to help her.

I've had friends who've spent thousands on their pets before, in the vain attempt to keep them alive, if just for a little bit longer. A lot of my friends don't have close family, so their pets are their family. It's hard for a lot of people to understand that - they have a spouse or children to come home to. Think about it - you don't have a significant other to come home to, the house is always quiet and you're alone. With a pet, you're never alone and they do become family. They are the ones who comfort you when you're sad, they are always there for you. That's been my Maggie. I've never had a husband or boyfriend to come home to, but I've had Tramp, then Maggie (and of course, my newest edition, Rocky). You have no idea how wonderful it is to come home to wagging tails and sloppy kisses, especially after a horrible day.

Maggie & Rocky, Christmas 2013

Maggie needs surgery and follow-up care. She has a 70% chance of recovery and excellent quality of life. The vet said with treatment she could live out her life with no problems, pain-free, possibly living another 4-5 years. That's a good long life for a dog. And those are really good odds in my opinion. It's worth the $5,000, if I can find the money.

I've always had trouble asking for money, even to people who actually owe me money. And I know my news feed on Facebook is overflowing with worthy causes that need help that I, myself, have become almost emotionless to the onslaught. But I can't lose my Maggie. I just can't. She doesn't even act sick; she's playing, eating, drinking, going for her walks, just like normal. And I want to keep her that way. She deserves it. She relies on me to keep her healthy and safe and that's what I'm determined to do.

I have a little of my own money, but no where enough to even get the surgery. The vet doesn't want to wait too long; two weeks tops. Thus I'm asking, asking as hard as I can, asking while I have tears running down my face at the thought of losing her ... I'm asking for your help. I need $2,000 right away for the surgery, then another $3,000 for follow-up care that would start about two weeks after surgery. But that kind of money ... it might as well be a million dollars because I don't think I have any assets that are even close to that. 

So I'm actually begging. Don't let me lose my Maggie. I have over 4,000 Facebook friends - I know that doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot; most are author acquaintances and friends of friends that I've never even interacted with. But if only a quarter of those friends could give $5 each, I'd meet my goal with no problem.

I've given to others before, some friends, some total strangers. I believe in Karma; I've given needed goods and money to so many over the years and have truly expected nothing in return. And this isn't for me; this is for Maggie. She had a horrible puppyhood; she was abused, to the point she doesn't bark and hides from just about everyone. I need to make her better. I need to get her healthy and cancer-free again and I need to do it fast, before it spreads. She has that 70% chance if I do it soon. Seventy percent! 

Please, she's a worthy cause. I swear she is. I've set up a GoFundMe account, the link is below. I'll keep everyone updated on her progress and get some more pictures up of her. I can't wait much longer than mid-August to schedule her surgery, so please, if you can, I'd appreciate whatever you can give. Every dollar helps. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and back.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

July 2015 Book of the Month

July 2015 Book of the Month

Sorry for the lateness, but this month's title was worth the wait! Review from my Goodreads account.

First, I'd give this a 4.5 out of 5 stars if I could. The main difference between the 4 and 5 stars is basically the minor typos, grammar, capitalization and puncuation problems I spotted. I have to admit, I'm an anal reviewer when it comes to problems such as these (having an English Lit background). But these in no way deterred from the story; they were extremely minor. The only thing that really drew me out of the story was the author's use of parentheses to clarify something. I have never seen this used before and wonder if that is a cultural thing (Ms. Rae is from New Zealand). For me, it tossed me right out of the flow of the writing. UPDATE: Author has corrected a majority of these errors.

Ms. Rae's sentence structure needs a bit of improvement to help the flow as well. It's not wrong, just in my opinion she needs to utilize more compound and complex sentences. There were quite a few 'choppy' simple sentences (basic subject/predicate sentences) that would have been improved with the use of connecting prepositions or the use of adverbs.

As for the plot, I was hooked almost immediately. I'll admit I was a little frustrated at the bits and pieces she gave out about this world, but realized I was following the footsteps of the main character, Jodie. She's only given glimpses of the world of shifters when she falls for mysterious Danny.

The reveals are slow, but not painfully so. It's a book of discovery, of love and passion, of change. Of overcoming obstacles and following one's heart. The characters are well-thought out, each one with their different quirks and personalities that really shine when given their specific scenes. Not everything is revealed in this book, however. I know the author is working on the second book as she did leave this one in a cliffhanger.

All-in-all I want the second book now! It's going to be a long wait for the next one. UPDATE: Book 2 "The Fury" and Book 3 "The Butcher" have been released. The series name is "Therian Secrets."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Promo: Indigent (Charity Book 1)

Title: Indigent
ISBN: ISBN (13) 978-1512317404
Genre: Fiction – LGBT Anthology
Audience: Young Adult and Teen (age group 16+)
Edition: Quality Paperback, Pages – 464, $5.99 Ebook, $3.99
Authors: Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr, Mari Evans, Leona Windwalker, Shaye Evans, M. LeAnne Phoenix
Publisher: CoolDudes Publishing (PTY) LTD
Publication Date: 15 June, 2015
Distributor: Online distribution. Createspace. Amazon. Gumroad.
Marketing: Multilayered online campaign, including giveaways (Epub, Mobi and Kindle) and advertising. Social media campaign including Facebook and Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. ARC distribution.

Book Description (Blurb)
Five authors have joined together to produce stories evoking both loss and hope. Reaching deep within their fiery imaginations, these stories take flight and showcase dreams for a better today and future for LGBT everywhere. Embodying a diverse set of talents and stories, this volume sets out to grab the hearts of those who read the m/m genre and to offer hope to LGBT across the globe.
Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr’s “Indigent”, after which the anthology takes it’s name, brings the reader to witness an apocalyptic war between the good and evil that rages in one man’s mind. Soon he will know that his problems are insignificant compared to those of others.
Mari Evan’s “Stumbling into Forever”, involves a handsome young vampire who will learn that just a sip of blood is the difference between love and freezing to death.
Leona Windwalker’s   “If Only the World”, takes rejection to another level. A heartbreaking story that is turned on it’s head by the kindness of strangers.
Shaye Evans’ “Rescued”, is a contemporary social statement about the aftermath of a young man’s life after his drink has been spiked at a bar.
M. LeAnne Phoenix’s “Higher Love”, takes us on an almost spiritual journey through the minds of two people who have never met, but have spoken on a telepathic level. When they do come together, that bond is already cemented but there is a price to pay.

Author Information
Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr
F.E. Feeley Jr was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and lived there for  twenty  years  before  joining  the  military.  He  is  a  veteran  of  the  US Armed Services; having done a tour in support of Operation Iraq Freedom in 2002-2003, he turned college student, pursuing a degree in political science. He now lives in Southeast Texas where he is married to the love of his life, John, and where they raise their 1½-year-old German shepherd, Kaiser.
     As a young man, reading took center stage in his life, especially those novels about ghosts, witches, goblins, and all the other things that went bump in the night. His favorite authors include such writers as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice, whose work allowed him to travel to far off places and meet fascinating and scary characters. As a gay man, he wishes to be able to write good fictional literature for those who love the genre and to write characters that readers can relate to. All in all, he is a cigarette smokin’, whiskey drinkin’, rock and roll lovin’, tattoo wearin dreamer of a man with a wonderful partner who puts up with his crap and lets him write his stories.

Mari Evans
Mari is a wife and the proud mother of a very active daughter, two
dogs and two cats. Shes a very social kind of girl, who loves to talk. Its both her best and worst quality.
From the moment she could read, she devoured books. Anything goes, as long as it has a happy ending.
There were always stories swirling around in her head and as a child she liked to lay in bed and let the characters have their story and happy ending. It wasn’t until 2013 that she actually tried to put one of the whole stories down and submit it to a publisher. To her own surprise and excitement it was accepted. This gave her the drive to keep going.
The decision to write m/m was made when a friend told a story about a young gay man that struck a chord, even as her husband had already encouraged her to try it earlier.
Now she found her passion, having already found the love in her family and friends, her life is completely chaotic, crazy but wonderful.

Shaye Evans
Shaye is a proud Australian and best selling author of the M/M Romance genre.
At age nineteen, Shaye found her love in the m/m genre when she read her first M/M and was instantly hooked, but it took her an entire year to begin writing her own. She has had five of nine short stories accepted to be published in 2014 alone. Something she is very proud to admit—and who wouldn’t be
When not writing or plotting her next piece, Shaye keeps busy by either reading one of over four-hundred books in her collection, designing her next book cover, or shopping. She one day dreams of being a paramedic and her books making it to the movies!

Leona Windwalker
Leona is a long time staunch supporter of human rights and environmental causes. Her favorite genre is m/m fiction and she particularly enjoys the sci fi, fantasy and action suspense sub-genres, especially if they have a nice seasoning of romance. She has far too many books on her Kindle, has overloaded her phone with even more, and when not reading, writing, being driven to distraction by her children, or being overlorded by her three cats, spends time trying to locate the portal that the sock monster uses to steal socks from her dryer.

M. LeAnne Phoenix
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas in the mid-1970's, Ms. Phoenix was young and wild (and even free!) during the crazy wondrous decade known as the 1980's and the even crazier but now grungy decade of the 1990's. Music is second only to the muses that live and breathe to fill her mind with beautiful men, and music always helps them to tell their stories. She is never without her iPod or her computer no matter where she goes, although, she does like to hike and take pictures of the sky and the moon, and even the occasional shot of the sun through the branches of a tree.
An avid cat lover, Ms. Phoenix has been owned by many throughout her life, though her current owner is one Lily-Rose, who really would like for her to step away from the keyboard and pay her some attention! After all, hasn't she earned it?

Editor Biographies
Louis J Harris
Louis lives in Germiston, South Africa.  He has published three novels, “Stars Fall”, “Revival”, and “Swimmer”, his short stories have appeared across the globe.  He is the owner of CoolDudes Publishing and has been an affiliate member of the South African Professional Editors Group.

Kimi D Saunders (Leona Windwalker)
Leona is a long time staunch supporter of human rights and environmental causes. Her favorite genre is m/m fiction and she particularly enjoys the sci fi, fantasy and action suspense sub-genres, especially if they have a nice seasoning of romance. She has far too many books on her Kindle, has overloaded her phone with even more, and when not reading, writing, being driven to distraction by her children, or being overlorded by her three cats, spends time trying to locate the portal that the sock monster uses to steal socks from her dryer.

Louis J Harris

Kimi D Saunders (Writes as Leona Windwalker)

Frederick Eugene Feeley Jr

Mari Evans

Shaye Evans

M. LeAnne Phoenix
FB: mleannephoenix
Twitter: @MLPhoenix

CoolDudes Publishing 

To schedule author readings, signings, or other author events (virtual or live), please contact Louis J Harris at CoolDudes Publishing via email louisjharris@cooldudespublishing.com or by calling +27 83 784 9658