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Trivia shows mirror education system issues

By BY PATRICK HUBBELL
April 7, 2014 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2014 at 11:07 p.m.

Patrick Hubbell

I went for a long stretch without cable about 10 years ago, so I was forced to get my trivia game show fix from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" It's a poor man's "Jeopardy!," but what recourse did I have?

When the kids finally got out of Nazareth Academy, I had the money to catch Alex Trebek between getting home from work and taking a nap. Too bad I also have to pay for the reality shows from rehab to runways, pawn shops to food stops, from bad fashions to Kardashians.

Then I discovered another game show worthy of Knowledge Bowlers' attention - "Cash Cab." Cab-hailers in New York City enter the mystery cab and tell the driver their destination. Suddenly, the interior of the cab lights up. Passengers have to answer a series of questions for cash along the route. If they miss three questions along the way, they have to get another cab - in public education, a schedule change. The questions get progressively harder, but they also get a shout-out. That is, they can ask a random passer-by the question or call someone on a cellphone. Public education calls it cooperative learning. In my day, it was cheating.

I was watching one cold afternoon with a fleece blanket pulled up to my chin. A passenger was halfway to her destination when she got stuck on a question. The cabbie asked her if she wanted to shout out her question.

The camera panned the sidewalk and showed the very same type public school teachers see on a daily basis: the shaved-head mouth-breathers pinching their pants to keep them from falling below their knees. The passenger/contestant responded, "Do you really think they would know?"

The driver deadpanned, "No, I don't think so." I laughed right through the commercial break.

Alas, the Cash Cab contestant chose to exercise her shout-out. It was a perfect snapshot of what would happen if a teacher yanked a random student roaming the hallway between classes. He answered a completely different question, then asked why it was important and what was in it for him.

It reminded me when the district was under the Texas Education Agency microscope 10 years ago. Teachers were warned that representatives from Austin were coming and were given a list of "sponge" activities to keep our charges engaged with high-order questions if someone came to our room for some kind of audit or furniture inventory or whatever. Like the "Cash Cab" contestant, I was thinking, "Do you really think they would know?"

Ten years later, we awaited another visit from the TEA. Faculty meetings were convened to help teachers prepare themselves for questions from the ambassadors, such as, "What is the difference between modifications and accommodations?" and "Where do you keep your IEP forms?" and "Do you think the Chicago Cubs will ever go to the World Series?"

Just kidding. Everyone knows the Cubs will never go to the World Series.

Unfortunately, I wasn't around to answer any of those questions because I was recovering from oral surgery. I hated to schedule a long-overdue wisdom teeth extraction at the same time as the visit from the TEA, but it couldn't be avoided. Too bad, because I had a few questions I'd like to ask them:

1. You're from Austin, right? Could you drop off these letters I wrote to the governor when you get back there?

2. I see you're here to do a little probing. Did you bring your own latex rubber glove from the nurse's office, or shall I loan you mine?

3. So, you're with the Texas Education Agency. Is that like a credit recovery for the U.S. Department of Education?

4. The students in the back throwing dice are practicing for the math benchmark test. What do you think their chances are of passing ninth grade?

5. Are sponge activities more effective with porous minds? Explain your answer in three to four complete sentences. Be sure to include one of the words from the Word Wall.

Patrick Hubbell lives in Victoria and is a Spanish teacher in the Victoria school district.

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