Still getting worse

and today, I talked to a reporter.

#REVIEW: Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames

Y’all, this one was delightful.

This isn’t going to be a long review; in fact, I’d be surprised if the cover art doesn’t take up more real estate than the actual review. Suffice it to say that this is the kind of book where I can identify the characters on the cover by their weapons (left to right: Patrick, Gabe, Clay, Ganelon and Moog) and I enjoyed it enough that I ordered the sequel before I’d finished it and almost went directly into the sequel afterward. It won’t be on the unread shelf for long, I can assure you of that.

Kings of the Wyld is a pure epic fantasy adventure, featuring a gang of murder hobos fighting monsters that any D&D player will recognize, with the minor exception of substituting rabbit-eared immortals called Druin in for the expected elves. The hook, such as it is, is that these guys have been retired for a while and most of them have gained a bunch of weight, gotten old, moved on from the adventuring life and have spouses and children. The story kicks into gear when a giant horde of monsters nearly takes over and besieges a town far to the north, a town that Golden Gabe’s (adult, also adventurer) daughter happens to be among the defenders of. Gabe’s plan: get the band back together (that phrase is literally used, repeatedly) and go rescue his daughter. The problem: even before you get to the city surrounded by tens of thousands of monsters, you have to get through the massive forest full of other dangerous monsters in between them.

Toss in some Pratchett/Adams-level humor and you’ve got yourself quite a book. I gobbled this up in just a couple of days, and enjoyed every page of it. I have a few gripes– I’ll get to those in a second– but all in all this was a hell of a treat.

So: the gripes. The book remains firmly locked into the third-person perspective of Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, the guy with the big shield (it’s more important than the sword) on the front cover there. Clay wants to get back to his wife and daughter but his loyalty to his friends is what gets him to go on this one final mission. The problem is, I feel like a few chapters here and there from another perspective might have helped. In particular, I’d like to have seen some chapters from Rose, the daughter trapped in the city. Gabe is nearly frantic with worry for most of the book, but we never really see the danger Rose is in because they spend 85% of the book trying to get to her. At one point they’re able to contact her via a scrying tool of Moog’s, but she rather brusquely tells her dad to stay the hell away because she doesn’t want him to get killed and … well, he doesn’t take it all that well.

This is also very much a Dude Book. The five main characters are all men, and the representation level isn’t great: one of the five is gay, but his husband is Tragically Dead before the events of the book start, which is kind of annoying. Now, the dude-heavy nature of the team might be part of an ongoing commentary throughout the book of How Things Have Changed Since Our Time, and I’ll point out that while the main story thrust of the book is the Damsel in Distress trope, Rose herself is an ass-kicker, she’s just an ass-kicker surrounded by a hundred thousand demons, and most of the younger bands of adventures feature women rather heavily, including one exclusively female group that manages to rob Clay and his team multiple times over the course of the book. The sequel, starring Rose, will presumably be better on that front.

I think it’s fair to say that if those things are going to bother you, you can probably pick up Bloody Rose, the sequel, because I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to have to have read this book to know what’s going on, and given the quality of the writing I feel safe recommending Bloody Rose unread. I was not bothered by them so much as I noted them and moved on; your mileage may vary and adjust your expectations accordingly. But I loved this one, and I can’t wait to get to the sequel.

A realization

Friday was … quite a day. Like, I need to write about it, but I’m still thinking about it and I don’t think I’m ready yet. But something occurred to me this morning and I wanted to get it written down before it fell out of my head, so you stand a chance of getting more than one post today, particularly since I have a book review to write as well.

I have been writing about standardized testing for two decades. I wrote an entire-ass book full of essays that touch on it. And I have talked a lot in this particular school year about how my school is being set up to fail: we are a “turnaround school,” a phrase no one will define for us and does not seem to mean anything, and last year they fired our principal and AP and replaced them with people who had a grand total of zero seconds of experience in their new jobs.

This is not how you turn around a school. I feel like that fact is obvious; anyone who has ever managed anything in any capacity should probably recognize that if a place is seriously struggling what you do not do is turn it over to entirely neophyte management and expect good things to happen, particularly something as complicated as a middle school.

In addition, my school is nearly a third special-needs students. You would think that would result in blanketing the school with resources so that we can meet the needs of our students, but of course that has not happened. We are expected to hit the same pass rates as all of our other schools– including the one that took away all of our high-performing students, so that our smartest kids are the ones who are barely on grade level rather than five or six grade levels behind– and the fact that said task is virtually impossible is ignored. In fact, if we complain about it, we are accused of believing that our students cannot learn.

But something else hit me this morning– a detail about this little clusterfuck that despite twenty-plus years of thinking about it I don’t think I’ve ever recognized before.

Do you know what would happen if we somehow, miraculously, managed to create a school that was a third special-needs kids and high poverty and nonetheless managed to get all of our kids to pass the yearly high-stakes test?

We would be accused of cheating.

They literally wouldn’t believe it if all or even most of our kids passed. And if they investigated, and they didn’t find any cheating– and you can fucking well bet that they’d keep looking until they found an I undotted or a T uncrossed somewhere– do you know what would happen next?

They’d make the test harder. And they’d keep making it harder until they felt like they had “enough” kids failing.

Because student success is not what these tests are about.

I already knew we had been set up to fail. I just didn’t think deeply enough about it. Because none of this is about student success. We were set up from the beginning. Even if we succeed, they’re going to keep making it harder until we fail again. Because my school is full of poor kids and kids with disabilities and kids of color, and they want us at the bottom of the heap.

Still alive

All merry hell is continuing to break loose; I was the only 8th grade teacher to show up today, and we may have lost two more teachers.

Whee!

This is fine. Everything is fine. We’re all fine here.

Our assistant principal quit today. That means that, eighteen days into the school year, the following people have quit:

  • The AP
  • A science teacher
  • A language arts teacher (hasn’t happened yet; considered inevitable by literally everyone)
  • Our counselor
  • Our librarian
  • Our attendance secretary

In addition to that, we have not yet filled the following positions:

  • A math teacher
  • An ISS supervisor
  • A social worker
  • A school psychologist

Curiously, the principal hasn’t publicly admitted, even to the teachers, that the AP has quit. I heard the rumor mill before a meeting this morning, waited patiently through the meeting for her to mention it, and then asked after the meeting was over. It was confirmed that he had quit. Spent the day waiting for an email; none came. I’m not sure why you would let the rumor mill take care of that one, but … well, I’m not sure why a lot of decisions are being made this year.

I find myself being pulled in several different directions here. Part of me wants to go scorched-earth and start lashing out at absolutely everyone. Yell at the principal. Show up at the School Board meeting. Email the superintendent and the assistant superintendent and ask them just what the hell they were thinking. Part of me wants to spend some time chewing out some of our teachers and a whole fucking lot of our kids. Part of me wants to just join the fuckit crew and go my merry way. This won’t be the end of it; there will, beyond a doubt, be more defections. Part of me also recognizes that, while she’s good at hiding it, our principal is drowning right now, and despite the fact that I disagree with a lot of decisions she’s making she needs more support than she’s getting too, particularly given the number of late-night emails I’ve gotten. I’m pretty sure she’s working about fifteen-hour days. That’s not sustainable.

The staff is ready to riot. I don’t blame them. There’s talk about a sick-out; I’ve heard that the paras aren’t showing up on Friday en masse. I gotta be honest; that sounds counterproductive as hell to me, and either way I won’t be a part of it. Making the building unsafe for the kids doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I dunno. It’s 7:30 right now and I promised my family I wouldn’t spend the whole evening in the office. This type of post can get to thousands of words pretty easily and I need to do some serious thinking before I put much more down on paper. I was talking with a few other teachers after school let out today and brought this nightmare scenario up: what happens if the principal quits? Like, literally, what happens? Does downtown just steal somebody from another building? Nobody even knows.

We had big problems before today. But losing the AP tilts us firmly from “in trouble” into full-blown crisis mode. And right now I don’t see a way out of it.