Khan Academy, which began as a project by its founder, Sal Khan, to bring free internet tutelage to schoolchildren, then got in bed with College Board and the SAT suite of products (yes, that’s how College Board refers to it,) by providing a customized path of review based upon PSAT results, is now trumpeting its latest venture.

Khan Academy has met Artificial Intelligence.

“It does math although not always perfectly.”

One supposes the name is a combination of Khan and amigo, the Spanish word for friend. But this may not be anybody’s friend as one of its supposed benefits is that Khanmigo will do lesson planning for teachers. However, Sal should learn that lesson planning for teachers in most districts is a cut-and-paste job into mandated templates. No intelligence, artificial or otherwise, is needed for that. (Not saying that is real lesson planning, but it is what passes for it these days.)

Sal also tells us that AI is already embedded in everything that Khan Academy does, for example, giving hints to help students solve problems. He insists that the AI will assist students in finding answers and will not be a vehicle for cheating.

Ironic or fitting that the AI robot is using the CHAT?!

Sal goes on to claim that he is helping students emerge from the pandemic and connecting their learning to what’s going on in the classroom. To his credit, he does not use the phrase learning loss.

“What if, when writing a story, the AI works with the student to write the story, not for the student, but alongside them making sure the student is doing the bulk of the work but pulling the story out of them? Making it more fun, making it more engaging …”

(Mr. Fitz, if nothing else, Sal is creating a great story line for your next series of strips.)

Khanmigo is in beta testing as they are working with districts and schools who already are joined to their ecosystem of teaching videos, exercises, and tests. The problem with Khan Academy is the same problem every edutech product, free or other wise, has. The pathway is prescribed and unaltered. What happens when a student doesn’t understand the video, can’t solve the problems, or answer the questions correctly?

All they can do with edutech is rewatch the video and try again. Yet, as every teacher has been told repeatedly in observations, if the students didn’t learn from your lesson, why would you reteach it the exact same way? You have to do it different as the first time didn’t work.

But all edutech can do is offer the same teaching approach over and over. Khanmigo’s promise is that its AI engine (a GPT-4 based product) will overcome that limitation.

That has yet to be seen as well as whether its safety features are effective. In the presentation, Sal tells us that teachers and schools will be able to review student’s interaction with the AI bot. Inappropriate chats or those ‘on the edge’ will be flagged.

Sal gave a TED talk about it:

An explanation or a sales pitch?

Lots of promises for what really is Sal Khan and his website getting on the AI/Chatbot bandwagon. What I’m reminded of is Japanese teaching robots that were supposed to replace real human teachers.

Did he really just say that his product can replace a school counselor? Yes, he did.

There’s a 21 minute, more in-depth video to demonstrate the product, but I have seen enough.

GPT chatbots, a/k/a artificial intelligence, may find a use within our virtual world that most of us participate in. But the problems, no better illustrated than the rebuke a New York judge issued to an attorney who used ChatGPT to cite precedents, but oops! the AI made everything up, would indicate not.

AI, chatbots, and the like are the latest technofad and will fade much as pet rocks had their day in the late 1970s.

Still available on Amazon. <giggle>

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

The Grumpy Old Teacher becomes the GORT, the grumpy old retired teacher.

At least I’m not the GOAT, a strange acronym that stands for greatest of all time, because the goat is someone who gets the blame when things go wrong or people are unhappy, most often undeservedly so.

But I would never claim to be the greatest, much as I would never claim to be an ally. That is something others have to decide based upon how they perceive my writing, my actions, and my motives. Nobody would think of me as the greatest, anyway.

The only thing I’ve decided about this blog is to drop the third-person voice. That was a deliberate choice to add an extra layer of separation between me and my job as a school teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, a fact I’ve never tried to hide but I didn’t make it obvious, either. That way, no one could possibly think anything I’ve written could be seen as speaking for the school district.

Five retirees and guess what each of us got in the bag?

The blog will continue to focus on education. I keep scribbling new topics on post-it notes and slapping them on the wall, literally, the wall behind my computer where I keep all my important to-do notes.

What will be missing are the behind-the-scenes reports. As I am no longer a working teacher who can talk about what’s really going on inside the building, maybe that will be the end of the blog as those are the posts that garner the most views.

But there’s still a major job to do. I can no longer talk with students about testing and say, “It wasn’t always this way. In my day, we didn’t have annual, end-of-the-year standardized tests and my generation turned out okay. Know that school (with its curiosity-killing, soul-dampening, torture-like test prep all day long) doesn’t have to be like this. One day you will have children of your own and you can change this.”

But I can keep preaching from this platform. So, the theme song quoted in the title won’t really be true. This tin soldier will hang around for a while, not in the ivy-covered halls, but in the arena. Since the esteemed Emily Bloch, formerly with the Florida Times-Union, now writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, always DTWD, left town, we haven’t had comprehensive coverage of the school system. The big stories are covered well–Jacksonville does have an amazing corps of local journalists–the nitty-gritty that has an impact, though, gets overlooked.

Just a thought, I’m not committing to attending all the workshops and mundane meetings of the school board, but I do have deep institutional knowledge to bring to the conversation.

So, while I’m riding away from the daily chaos and joy of bells, lessons, athletics, drama, and the like, I’m not really going anywhere. See you in the funny papers.

Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and the Assault on LGBTQ Literature

Since the book-banning began in earnest, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has been buying some of the targeted titles on his limited budget and reading them to see if the text supports the objections of those who would see them burned a la Fahrenheit 451. Warning: what you are about to read are GOT’s thoughts and they are not likely to please anybody on any side of this controversy.

There is a theme to the book-banning going on in Florida, actually two themes, the books either involve Black history or the LGBTQ experience. Recently, GOT saw a video clip on social media in which Florida’s Top Gov singled out Gender Queer as being particularly problematical.

Doubtful that Top Gov ever read it.

That piqued GOT’s curiosity to find out what exactly is in the book.

The first thing to notice is that it is a memoir. The author, Maia Kobabe, is first and foremost going to tell us about her life from childhood into adulthood and her struggles with locating who E is (Sorry, Top Gov, if that upsets you, but I read the book and I know the pronouns E wants us to use.)

This book is not a manifesto. That is one of its strengths.

It’s someone telling a story about eir life, a life from toddlerhood through postgraduate years where the author can’t figure out where E fits in.

Not everyone needs to read this book, but there are those who do. Those who, like the author, struggle to understand themselves and why they don’t fit easily into traditional categories of gender and sex. That’s why people like Kobabe share their stories–to help someone else going through the same struggle.

In eir story, Kobabe recalls how the library was a refuge during the difficult years of adolescence and growing up. How E found the books that helped, how E spent hours and days and months in libraries reading about others who also didn’t quite fit into traditional gender roles.

Books are important.

That brings up the second book, All Boys Aren’t Blue, another memoir that is being banned in Florida’s schools. GOT read this one, too.

Maybe Top Gov would like this one; he’s proud of leading a red state.

This one’s a bit different, but of the same vein. The author recounts how he knew he was different from a young age, but he didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about how he was different and where he fit. His gender identity was firmly male and he found himself with a same-sex orientation.

Like Kobabe, his family realized who he was and accepted it. He wasn’t the first and they took it in stride. Even on a family trip, when all the other children were getting stylish sneakers, but Matthew (that’s the author, you’ve got to read the book) insisted upon cowboy boots, his grandmother took everyone to a Western store so he could get his boots.

So what’s going on here?

Book banners delight in pushing buttons. Those who show compassion, tolerance, and empathy toward those who don’t fit traditional gender roles, those who simply listen to children talk about their developmental path toward discovering who they are, those who show basic respect for the human dignity of children by calling them they want are called groomers and indoctrinators, not for the purpose of bringing attention to caring adults, but to obscure the true picture by provoking an emotional response from the public at large.

Thus it is that they are calling these books pornography. Any book they don’t like that involves a theme of LGBTQ is pornography even though they don’t fit the definition, which basically is a work in pictures or writing intended to cause sexual excitement.

Both books are stories recounted by their authors of their awkward, difficult journey toward adulthood, including coming to an understanding of their sexuality. As they tell their life histories from the vantage point of young adulthood, they touch upon some sensitive subjects that are an essential part of their story.

Each has a chapter or two that discusses a sexual experience. This alone does not make either book pornographic. Neither does it mean that the books should be freely available in a school. GOT in particular would not ban these books from a school library, but on on the other hand, he would admit that those who have reservations have a legitimate point of view.

This is why I said at the beginning that this piece would not make anyone happy. I truly believe that those who object to some parts of some books have a valid opinion.

It’s not that I agree with it; it’s that I can recognize that others have a different viewpoint and that there is room for legitimate disagreement that we need to work through. That happens not by name-calling on social media or screaming at school board meetings. It takes place through the quiet discussions that we have in our lives, whether in our churches or civic organizations or shopping or visits to the park.

To return to the books, both authors have an intended audience. They write for others who did not have or could not find a book like this to help them through their difficult years of finding and accepting their identity. They did not write for a general audience.

So–don’t ban these books. Stop the assault on any book that dares to mention or include characters who are other than cisgendered and heterosexual. Let these books find their audience for whom they are intended.

Each may be vital to some youth, some struggling adolescent, for whom the book will make all the difference in the world.

In GOT’s experience, they will find the book and the book will find them. All others won’t even notice. Sometimes, we adults make more of things than we ought. The kids are okay; it’s our issues that cause the problems.

Should these books sit on a school library shelf for anyone to find and peruse? Perhaps not. Maybe what we need are wise librarians, media specialists, who know their clientele and can make appropriate recommendations either toward or away from a particular book.

Oh wait, we decided years ago that schools didn’t need responsible, mature adults with professional expertise and experience to help children find books to read.



Oh, you thought GOT was talking about Governor DeSantis and his desire to have a state militia at his personal disposal?

When you live in Florida, a flat land of drained swamps that collect in retention ponds in order to build on dry land, you get used to it–the collections of Canadian geese that find the ponds and surrounding habitat perfect for nesting.

And what better place than a school? There are ponds and plenty of open grassy spaces, perfect for raising the next generation of honkers that bully humans better than any other species except maybe for humans themselves.

It’s that time of year when we carefully step around the goose dung because they don’t care where they drop it. Keep a sharp eye out! Many students don’t as the black stains that not even pressure washing can remove testify to their stomping and grinding the offensive material into the concrete.

What a perfect metaphor as it’s also that time of year when governors across the land sign bad legislation about public schooling into law. School districts will spend the next twelve months stepping around the goose piles, new and old, as they navigate their way through another year of muck and murk.

Retirement could not come at a better time. During the annual Spring budgeting process, which principals are obligated to share with their faculty, the district said that they were planning for around a 20% reduction in enrollment due to the new universal voucher law. Thus, while our school is maintaining its enrollment and maybe increasing over last year, the threat of losing teaching positions hangs over us.

That worry will no longer be mine. If you don’t teach, you don’t understand that twice a year, toward the end of a school year in the Spring and at the beginning at the end of Summer, teachers sweat out the budgeting process hoping against hope to be able to stay at their school and not have to move. “Surplus” is a dirty word to a teacher.

Seniority flew out the window nine years ago. It’s all about the test scores and, if yours aren’t high enough versus the other teachers in your subject area in the building, you find yourself at the top of the list.

Then there’s the RIF. A surplus means you are moved to another school; a RIF means you lose your job. Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district hasn’t seen a RIF in decades, but if you talked to the old-timers before they retired, you heard stories of people sitting by their phones over the summer (yeah, pre-cell phone days) waiting for a call that enough people had quit that jobs were available for those who were riffed.

Are those days back? We have yet to see.

Don’t sputter that there’s a teacher shortage. You can solve one by either finding qualified teachers or finding a way that the jobs are gone and you don’t need them.

Florida is not the only state pursuing many strategies to effect the latter.

Meanwhile, the culture wars go on. Teachers are a prime target; to misquote the bard, the governor says, “How do we hate thee? Let us count the ways.”

First up, and this is the joke to lighten the piece, Florida has now banned children from attending drag shows. Damn! go a couple hundred elementary teachers. Now we have to think up something else for our first field trip in the fall.

If you’re not laughing, you’re part of the problem. No teacher would conduct such a field trip, no administrator would approve it, and no show would allow it.


Then, there are the pronouns. Teachers and all other school-based personnel must use the pronouns according to the “sex assigned at birth.” GOT promises not to go on a tangent about how ridiculous a phrase that is. The birthing process does not ASSIGN a sex like a teacher would assign homework to be done. Nor is gender-identity chosen. Both occur from the unique combination of genes, biochemistry, and other things that take place when a sperm fuses with an egg.

Oops, to recover from the tangent, teachers are barred from using preferred pronouns that a child might tell them to use. Teachers must use the pronouns, um sorry about another tangent, but how are they supposed to know? It is said that the ancient Greeks began competing in the nude at the Olympics so women couldn’t sneak in and compete with the men … but GOT hopes no one suggests THAT as a solution to the pronoun conundrum. How do we know?

We’re not going to do inspections. We’ll take the child’s word for it.


Parents rights. Oh yes, to channel Mr. T, I pity the teacher fool who dares to talk to a child about what bodies do when they grow up. Schools can provide menstrual products for girls, but they can’t explain how to use them or why they are necessary. (At least, in the elementary grades. But then you see what Florida did with its Don’t Be Gay law. It started with K – 3, and now it extends through 12th grade.)


Then there are the board members, M4L types, cruising classrooms looking for reasons to report teachers to the state. Looking at you, Hernando County. Good for your superintendent, though, for standing up to the board bullies.


What’s a teacher to do? One misstep and they’re covered with <ahem>. The legislators, the governor, the far-right wingnuts, like middle school bullies, watch, jeer, and video to post on social media.

Is it any surprise that teachers are leaving to find better sidewalks?

The Last Daze of School

We get into the final two weeks of school and we’re hard at work to put another year under wraps. In the classrooms, children are staring at their phones as the ‘best as teachers remember’ G-rated movies play on a screen. Others stare into space, drooling, or draw on paper. Testing is over … almost. There are always the last few make-ups if a chronic absentee actually makes an appearance. Discipline issues are up, bored children and all that, and down, parents told to keep their kids home to avoid another referral and punishment.

Administration issues their usual directive to maintain bell-to-bell instruction through the last day even as they collect textbooks and computers from the students and deny teacher requests to exceed the monthly copy limit so they can have something to put in front of the students. Bell-to-bell instruction? With what! teachers cry.

The superintendent has forbidden classroom parties although many teachers will ignore the ban or find a way around it. Administrators complain of empty pizza boxes and drained two-liter soda bottles even as they can’t catch anyone in the act. Teachers wink and talk of celebrations that are taking place instead of parties.

Admin vanish while they admonish staff about maintaining order. Directives banning all hall passes ensue. But what if a child really has to go? Really, really, the distress etched on their face and they might even be doing the pee-pee dance as one colleague once put it … no hall passes.

GOT watches the children flip him off with their eyes because they dare not do it with their fingers as they walk out of the room to use the restroom. He dutifully calls the office to report. Later, the principal tells him, “Well, the child really had to go.”

It’s the last daze of school and absurdity reigns.

Bulletin boards are torn down, lockers are emptied, and students are drafted into moving furniture, removing the trash, and helping with the collection of school property.

Teachers throw shade as they pretend that they are still entering grades while they determine and post final grades for the year. A few are still testing because after students have taken national tests like NAEP, international tests like PISA, state standardized tests, district end-of-course tests which will determine the teacher’s data score and yearly evaluation, after all that, some teachers believe they must still give their own finals or they won’t know what the students really learned in their class.

Children wander the halls and visit friends in other classrooms. Some seek to make their mark on the year as they strive for a Darwin award and the most creative infraction of the year that was written up for discipline. Others try to carry out the perfect prank not realizing that we now have cameras everywhere recording everything except the bathrooms.

Yearbooks appear and kids write the same vapid fare-thee-well comments that have been around since yearbooks were first published. Teachers sign as requested. Some things will never go online.

Teachers hand out summer assignments that are due on the first day back. Others (like GOT) argue that the students need a break. Give them 10 weeks to relax. Their brains are still at work under the surface assimilating all that to which they’ve been exposed for a year.

They need the break. They need time to be kids, to hang out at the pool, to go to camp, to visit family and attend reunions, to take trips, and for the older ones, if they’re lucky, to have a hot, sizzling summer romance.

The last daze of school. Soon, they will end, the final bell will ring, someone will play Alice Cooper on the PA system as teachers wave goodbye to the last rollout of the buses, and suddenly … there’s silence.

Teachers assemble for the ending banquet hoping it will be more than catered pizza. As the speechifying ends, they throw their keys into the collection bin, jostle one another to get out the door first, and burn rubber out of the parking lot.

The last daze of school are over. Happy Summer!


Would you mind not holding up the line as you work on your instant lottery ticket? Step aside as you scratch on the paper, the rest of us want to pay and go.

Instant gratification is all we know in these fraught, technological-driven times.

Post on social media? Give it 10 seconds and then stare at the device wondering where all the reads, likes, and reposts are.

Order from Amazon? Fume when you realize the delivery time is only a guess, not a guarantee (those days of Prime guaranteed delivery within 48 hours are over) and the product is not thrown over your fence and onto your porch when the website said it would be.

Door Dash? Uber Eats? Where’s my <ahemed> food?!

We live in an age of instant gratification. We want what we want now and we’re not willing to wait.

Then there are the K-12 state tests, the ones that take weeks and weeks for the results to arrive even though the tests are taken on computers and can be scored instantaneously. You have to wait.

In this year of 2023, Florida’s been waiting nine weeks for the release of testing scores from mid-March. Why so long? Forensic analysis is done on the tests. While there is no need to scan answer sheets for excessive erasures (yes, that was really a thing), student responses for each testing group are compared to see if there are any tests that have similar answer choices that violate some statistical parameter that the test mavens have set.

If so, the results for those tests are embargoed. Schools that want to pursue a release of scores have to file an appeal, which is why the proctors have to create a seating chart so the school can demonstrate where the children were sitting. If they were far enough apart, the appeal will be successful as there is no physical way two students sitting across the room from each other can be sharing answers.

It’s a long wait. In the spring, it’s particularly egregious as some of those students waiting for retake scores are seniors. They have completed all of their requirements, jumped through all of the hoops except one. They have paid all their fees and are waiting to pick up their cap and gown so they can march proudly across the stage as their name is read. They wait and wait and wait as the big day draws closer. Will they walk?

But this post is not about the long wait. That’s the set-up for the new reality and the new tests whereby test results are reported almost instantaneously.

Friday, Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school administered Florida’s End of Course exam in Geometry. It is a 160-minute test. If students aren’t finished, they are allowed to continue working until the end of the school day. Thus it was that at the end of the 160 minutes, students who had finished were dismissed to lunch and their remaining classes even as some students remained in the testing rooms.

GOT was amazed that within an hour students were walking up to him and telling him how they did. “I’m Level 2. I missed Level 3 by one question.” (Level 3 is passing; Level 2 is not.)

Before the end of the day, a parent had called GOT to talk about the test result and what her options were for her child.

Instant gratification. All of us crave it, but how does the state do their cheating check? Is Florida really going to let parents see that their kid passed, identify suspicious answer patterns, and pull the score back?

Good luck with that, Florida. The genie is out of its bottle and there’s no putting it back.

This also means that the state cannot review the results and adjust the passing score upward if the overall results have the students scoring too highly. That’s one of the dirty secrets about these state tests. If too many students pass what the state has determined ahead of time, the state moves the cut scores upward. Even worse and this is not even whispered, but if you pay attention to the raw score (percent of questions answered correctly) and the reported scores (known as a scale score, which the state determines according to some secret sauce much like Coke never reveals its formula,) you see where the passing score has dropped across the years.

For the old Florida Standards Assessment, a raw score of 28% was a pass when the test first rolled out. In its final years, that had dropped to around 26%.

What’s up with that?! you ask.

It’s simple. The Department of Education has a narrative to maintain about the success of Florida’s education reforms despite their crappy teachers. They have to support their prewritten media release and that requires manipulation of the results. It’s not an easy act to pull off. How do you credibly take credit for what other people have done while you condemn them for not doing it?


But that’s all over now. Florida is reporting results the same day. Read that again, Florida is reporting results the same day. GOT will need a tailor to let out his clothing sizes lest he burst out of them from laughing if Florida tries to adjust its cut scores after the fact and tells parents that the passing score was not, in fact, a passing score.

The genie ain’t going back in.

The Black Screen of Agony

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) recollects this began with Windows 98, the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.

Who’s old enough to remember the Blue Screen of Death? That agonizing moment when the computer froze and whatever work one was doing was lost. That agonizing moment when a reboot was the only solution at hand. That agonizing moment when one cursed whatever impulse caused them to buy a Windows machine instead of a Mac.

GOT is old enough and he is reminded of those bad, old days as he rushes from testing room to testing room to solve the Black Screen of Agony, when students taking a high-stakes test assessment that will comprise 30% of their course grade, cannot move from one question to the next because their screen fades into the Black Screen of Agony.

It’s time for standardized testing, but the testing experience is anything but standardized for the children undergoing this rite of Spring. For some unknown reason, the testing app for Microsoft computers that is called unironically “Take-A-Test,” malfunctions for a few students every test. Not everyone, only a few that the gods of testing decided to pick on, and they will struggle with technological problems throughout.

It’s not standardized testing when every student does not have the same testing experience. Getting kicked out of the test every 10 minutes does not qualify. The Black Screen of Agony appearing each time a child tries to move to a new question does not qualify when the test works fine for most. The affected children are at a disadvantage in relation to their peers who are also taking the test.

We are told to stop the testing for affected children until we can resolve the technological issues. Often, the real issue is too many computers trying to test in the same location at the same time. For some strange reason, the random student who is having connectivity issues will continue to have issues even after restarting the computer and making a fresh connection to the wireless hub.

If we resume the test the next day, almost always the issue has disappeared. For Florida’s new tests, Cambium Assessment and the Department of Education have decided that students may finish testing within 48 hours of starting if they have technological problems. The problem is that when they say 48 hours, they literally mean 48 hours. If a student begins the test at 9 AM on Monday, they must finish by 9 AM on Wednesday.

When we hear 48 hours, we think two days. But when you work out the actual count of hours and think about when children are in their school building, you realize that there is only one day to resume the test and complete it. GOT supposes that is better than saying the child must finish before they leave school the same day.

Plus, you might think the 48 hours applies to school days, like when you are told a bank will take 10 business days to release a hold of funds on a deposit, That’s 10 business days, which means two calendar weeks. But no, 48 hours is 48 hours. So a child who started their test at 8:30 AM on Friday means they must finish by 8:30 AM on Sunday.

Of course, the testing platform is shut down around 4 PM on Friday. Even if adults are willing to open the building and work on Saturday, the test platform would be inoperable. This was hilariously obvious back in 2021 when the Florida Department of Education allowed Saturday testing for parents who were keeping their children home. They could go to their school on Saturday and be isolated as they took their tests apart from the population who had returned to in-person learning.

The first Saturday, all you-know-what broke loose as nobody could get their test running. It turns out the state employee who was supposed to go in on Saturday and turn on the testing platform overslept. Once that was rectified, the testing commenced.

Thus, given we have to test on a Friday, despite the tech problems and the Black Screen of Agony, we have to keep the children in the test no matter what because they cannot finish on Monday.

It literally is a black screen. There is no writing, no error message. The only way out is a Control-Alt-Delete and an exit from the test.

What’s the upshot? Except for one student, the others all finished even though one girl had to test the entire day because she had to restart her test each time she moved to a new question. For context, that’s 55 test questions. FIFTY-FIVE times encountering the Black Screen of Agony, FIFTY-FIVE times restarting a computer, FIFTY-FIVE times.

There has to be a better way. All of us know what it is.

In GOT’s town, you put your trash bin on the curb for pick-up on Mondays and Thursdays.

Civics Education via Postcard

But (sniff) Grumpy Old Teacher has always been an A student.

Down in the Bold New City of the South (actual city motto), we received this treat in our mailboxes a few days ago. It’s a little blurry, but the postcard informs each recipient, “When we follow up after the election, we hope you have voted and we can update your grade.”

Teachers, stop laughing.

Also, this: “DID YOU KNOW? Whom you vote for is private, but whether or not you voted is public record. Don’t let your community down by forgetting to vote again.”

That is correct. Voting participation is available to anyone who wants to request the records, but no one knows how the actual votes anyone makes because the ballots have no identifying information about who cast it nor is that information captured by the Supervisor of Elections office.

Nevertheless, people were concerned. A local reporter also received one of these. Like GOT, he has voted in every election so the C+ grade is a puzzlement.

We can discern the answer by examining the postcard more closely. Unlike the name and address of the recipient viewed on the right, printed onto the card by machine with standard black ink, the grading portion on the left is in dark blue. The font also shows that the C+ and B+ grades were part of the stock design. It is not personalized.


The purpose is clear: An emotional manipulation to guilt people into going to the polls in order to keep up with the neighbors, an attempt to put social pressure on people to vote. In GOT’s opinion, this is a clumsy attempt.

Nevertheless, people were concerned. The Supervisor of Elections, Mike Hogan, had this to say, “This disarms the voter. When someone sends him information about how they’ve been voting, they think, in their minds, do they know who I voted for? But of course, in Florida, I don’t even know, the supervisors don’t even know how a particular voter voted.”

Maybe this is a cunning attempt to keep people from voting? In these DeFascist days of Florida’s governor, where giving a child a book that contains LGBTQ+ characters could be deemed a third-degree felony, people trying to live their lives without undue interference may decide to forego voting entirely as they don’t want to be known as not having the approved opinion or not making the only approved choice.

And that is why GOT, tired as he is from showrunning the first week of AP testing, is working (pro bono, as always) on a Saturday morning. Who are the people behind the postcard? The Florida Watch PC.

A local PAC. Curioser and curioser.

They’ve been around since 2020, raising about $3.2 million dollars and spending about the same. But their registered agent is in Homestead, a Dade County (Miami) city. The former agent was in Tallahassee. Are they really a local PAC? Their address is a PO Box, which is fishy.

Looking at more documents, this is not a Jacksonville group. Why does a PAC that is actually located in Dade County care whether Jacksonville voters go to the polls in their local elections that includes the mayoral race?

According to their website, they are a progressive group that “Florida Watch is a communications and research organization with a digital first lens. Launched in the spring of 2020, we serve as the progressive community’s in-state hub for message development, digital communications, and research.”

From Transparency USA, here are the top contributors and payees:

Off-year elections are notorious for low voter participation. In the Jacksonville mayor’s race, Democrat Donna Deegan is outpolling Republican Daniel Davis. However, the only poll that matters is the one that takes place at the precincts when voters cast ballots. To win, Deegan has to get voters to the precincts and it would seem that the mailer is an attempt to aid that process, which is not to say that there is any connection between Florida Watch and the Deegan campaign.

Was it an attempt to guilt progressive or Democrat voters to cast a ballot or an attempt to get conservative or Republican voters too paranoid to cast? Who knows?

Republican politicians have moaned for years about the lack of civics education in the schools as they connect that to … GOT doesn’t know what. But they have mandated courses and standardized testing across the years. The latest is the Florida Civic Literacy Exam, which all college students must take and pass along with enrolling in a mandatory college course about Civics if they are going to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

What Civics lessons should we get from the mailer?

First, an ability to recognize an attempt at emotional manipulation to produce the desired response. The mailer was stupid. Long ago, in his junior high school years, GOT took Civics in 9th grade. The very first lesson was about advertising and how to recognize the techniques used to trick people into the desired response. The Florida Watch PC mailer was bad, but is a useful lesson in how to keep a skeptical mind about information that arrives unsolicited.

Second, the internet is a purveyor of misinformation and political interference. Russian bots, anyone? But it is also a useful tool in seeking out truth. GOT is done today. He will leave it to professional journalists to track down the people behind Florida Watch and report more about who this group is, what they do, and why.

An informed citizenry is a powerful citizenry in keeping politicians and the power-hungry in check.

Let’s keep at it!

YOU Are Not a Test Score

Time for my annual message for students in K-12.

You, yes you, even those of you in the back ducking down in your seats, you are not a test score.

You are so much more than that.

You are living lives full of human potential with all of your dreams before you and yet to come.

You love and receive love, you engage your curiosity about the world, the larger world around you, not only the world you find in lessons and school, but in families and friends as you are finding your place in the world.

What does a test tell you about that?

Not very much. Yes, tests are important and it’s important to try your very best when you take one, but the information they give adults are limited. Sometimes, the only thing adults learn from the tests you take is how good you are at taking that particular test.

You are not a test score. You will find that when you are 25 or 29 or 44 years old, no one will care what your state reading and math scores were when you were 9 or 12 or even 16 years old. They won’t ask. It’s not important because what will really matter is what you have done with your life and accomplished up to that point.

So don’t stress about these tests, the ones you are about to undergo. Just do your best, not because the score is important, but so that you can relax knowing that you worked throughout the year to master the knowledge and skills needed, you brought your A game to the testing room, and that if you had to do it again, you couldn’t do anything better.

However the scores turn out, you will always know that you did your best and that is all a human being can do.

And you know what? Even if you didn’t, the world is not going to end. The sun will rise tomorrow and your life will go on.

In time, you will find someone to fall passionately in love with. You will have children of your own and, in time, grandchildren to spoil. I know it seems far away now, but the point is that you have a great life ahead of you. Your parents, your grandparents, and all those who came before lived wonderful lives with meaning, satisfaction, and success.

Remember this as you grind #2 pencils in a sharpener or bang away at your laptop keys, as you read incomprehensible questions and try to figure out what response to make, as you talk to your friends in the hallway about question #27 forgetting the threats made about never, ever talking about the test, including “texts and posting on social media sites,” because the one thing humans do when they have shared an intense experience is talk about it afterward …

Remember that you are a human being and that means you have infinite worth, one that a test will never measure and will never limit.

You are not a test score. Do your best, but then go and have a wonderful life. Because you are so very much more than how you might do on a test.

Denying the Humanity of Children

So the blight of my Boomer generation, the self-appointed expert on everything because he watches The Learning Channel videos as he jogs on his treadmill in his 66,000 square foot mansion in Seattle, you know who I’m talking about, has now proclaimed that AI (Artificial Intelligence, the tech concept that drives chatbots across the internet) will replace human tutors and teach children more effectively how to read and write.

He never answered Steve Jobs’ question: Why would anyone want to make crappy products?

He gives it 18 months. (Hope you have a Plan B, teachers.)

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) gives it never. It ain’t gonna happen.

GOT is not sneering at Moore’s Law, which stated that the number of microcircuits on a chip would double every 18 months. That’s historically accurate and has driven the pace of innovation that saw computing power, memory storage, and cost improving over the last five decades.

If you’re old enough, you remember the early days of PCs (when they were still carried that acronym for personal computer) when file names were limited to 8 characters and clever schemes had to be devised to remember what each one was. The days when a 20-megabyte hard drive was cutting edge, but users still needed to use a compression utility to avoid running out of room. If you’re too young to remember that, those were the days of dial-up modems to get on the internet. It was expensive as users were charged by the minute. We worked offline to get everything ready before activating the modem to upload files, email responses, etc.

Those of us old enough to remember are grateful that Moore’s Law delivered to us cloud storage, terabyte hard drives, computers in our pockets (you might call them smartphones), and more. Technology improves and finds ways over its hardware and software challenges.

Thus, GOT does not doubt that eventually chatbots will be able to deliver the tutoring that the non-genius of our time foresees.

Do we have time for a tangent? Several years ago, GOT had a gifted child in his Algebra 2 classroom. As he observed the child interacting with his peers, GOT saw that he was indeed bright and had many capacities beyond the typical child of his age. He tried to help the other students with the algebra, but he often steered them wrong. Why? Gifted children are not necessarily gifted in everything. The day GOT talked to him about this, he was relieved. The pressure was off in his math class. He could settle back and be himself, learning at his own pace without feeling a responsibility for others.

The point? Bill Gates was brilliant at writing an operating system for personal computers, built a company whose product would work on multiple manufacturers’ versions of the personal computer, and dealt with the technological problems and consumer frustrations to the point where he became a billionaire, at one point the richest man in the world. But that accomplishment does not mean he is an expert in anything else.

He has made education a pet project of his philanthrocapitalism. Yet every initiative he has tried has failed. He may be a genius in computer technology and a successful businessman, but he is terrible at education at every level.

We must understand, then, that his prediction is sawdust if he is trying to talk as an education expert that he is not, but it may happen that AI becomes effective at providing tutoring, and if we are being honest, he has remedial tutoring in mind, for reading and writing.

GOT will not argue that because AI and chatbots are ineffective now means they will never be effective.

Already, the chatbots that struggled to pass standardized tests are now able to make a credible effort and achieve satisfactory scores. This is not evidence of the superiority of AI, but a scathing condemnation of the quality of standardized testing.

The prowess of AI-powered chatbots to scour the entire internet and soak up all that the web has to offer is not in question. Already, the businesses involved are refining the AI so the chatbots recognize and reject inappropriate or offensive language and ideas.

Absorbing the internet in seconds: Perhaps AI-powered chatbots won’t be Daleks and try to exterminate us?

Bill Gates argues the power of technology, a supply-side argument not heard since the 1980s.

That is not why it will fail.

Teachers scrambled very hard during the pandemic to provide instruction over the internet. Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Zoom, whatever, they used technological tools to reach their students during those days of isolation. All of us suffered.

What was missing was human interaction. We are gregarious animals, craving contact with one another. In-person contact, not a substitute provided by machines and a phone line. We need people. It is essential to learning.

Children are human beings and crave human contact even more than adults.

Long ago, GOT read a book about theology and the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. The book quoted a child as saying I need a God with skin on him.

And so it is with learning. Human children need teachers or tutors who are human, someone with skin on them that they can relate to and with. Anything less won’t do.

Sorry, Bill, but your assertions deny the fundamental humanity of children. AI tutoring will fail for those who try it.