Names for Regents

Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch

Vice Chancellor Anthony S. Bottar

Regents:

James R. Tallon, Jr

Roger Tilles

Charles R. Bendit

Betty A. Rosa

Lester W. Young, Jr.

Chritine D. Cea

Wade S. Norwood

Kathleen M. Cashin

James E. Cottrell

T. Andrew Brown

Josephine Victoria Finn

Judith Chin

Beverly L. Ouderkirk

Catherine Collins

Judith Johnson

Letter to Regents on new APPR adoption

August 31, 2015

Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia

Board of Regents

NYS Education Department Building

89 Washington Street

Albany, NY 12234

Re: 3012-d Public Comment EDU-27-15-00019-P

Dear Commissioner Elia and Board of Regents,

Consider this letter my contribution to public comments regarding EDU-27-15-00019-P, in opposition to permanent adoption of this new rule. Then use the suggestions that follow to consider a more effective path forward.

First, the reasons to oppose adoption of 3012-d Public Comment EDU-27-15-00019-P as a permanent rule:

1)  “Faulty roll-out” of the new standards: It is among the reasons cited for the unrest, uneasiness, and displeasure that have arisen regarding the linkage of what were brand new standards, the need to acquire and create curriculum materials tied to those standards, and high stakes tests tying reputations and careers to that faulty roll-out.  This new rule would not address the missteps in practice and disrespects to students, citizens and professionals that occurred with that roll-out. In fact, this is a move to memorialize one of the biggest missteps.

2) Although our governor has taken the positions that: a)  we need a better evaluation system so we can find more teachers to fire; and b)  he has no responsibility for education policy (he says this mostly when citizens are unhappy with his approach to education policy)- he has also admitted those faults in the roll-out of the new standards. He has also noted the lack of reliability in the tests in accurately gauging student outcomes, and has proclaimed the primary importance of parents and kitchen tables as tools for student success. The passage of this new rule puts more focus on entrenching the mistakes and the faults of New York style reform, while ignoring the issues of primary importance. This rule is not an indicator of effective or highly effective policy making.

3)  An approach to APPR so heavily weighted in standardized testing is misguided. While we do need tests to chart student progress toward achieving academic standards, and even more to inform instruction, the more correlative variables in positive student outcomes are resources and opportunities, not tests and consequences.

Following are my suggestions:

Instead of trying to sell (or impose) the primary importance of tests to people who know that there are so many things more important in the educational experience of a learner-embrace sound pedagogy and practice. Listen to students, parents and concerned citizens and then include the teaching profession in building up learning experiences as opposed to finding someone to blame for the lack of them provided for in policy. Accountability is important-for all of us, and not just for test scores.

Put this new APPR rule at least on hold, and at best in the circular file, while a more holistic and experiential accountability system is created. Think of a portfolio, an ongoing assessment of academic skills, social/emotional indicators, and extra-curricular involvements/experiences…A tracking of the whole child with shared responsibilities between classroom teacher, administrators, school district, family and community… and leaders at the state level. Such a system would have to include regular assessment of essential academic skills, but these could be made far less intrusive on the school schedule and often be completed quickly on a computer and immediately saved as evidence of progress (or not). Third party proctors could be used for the more official assessments, but even then the focus is on building that ongoing resume for our future citizens, not finding someone to blame.  By high school, their portfolio should be showing community service, volunteer activities, leadership roles, internships and college visit records…

Think and reflect on the words of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who in a recent interview acknowledged that educators are often forced to be responsible for a host of burdens that students bring to school with them:

“I really think that we shouldn’t be looking at education alone anymore or mental health alone anymore or poverty alone anymore. I think that we have to look at the total family structure and see why it is that students are going into school not prepared for these challenges. And I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on at home and their neighborhoods. Even super teacher may not be able to get through to a student whose life outside of school has issues.”

Most of all, we cannot continue letting state education officials and politicians off the hook and/or promoting them onward and upward for little more than lack of honesty and a tin ear. I have personal experience with NYSED’s willingness to self-promote the opportunities it supposedly provides, while at the same time denying that all students have access to those opportunities. “Sadly, that’s the state of funding in our state,” said a NYSED associate to me when explaining why this is the case.

If anything is unethical, it is leadership turning a blind eye to these conditions.

Thank you for considering my position in opposing this rule, and my  suggestions for an alternative approach.

Dan McConnell

My letter to Three NY State Assembly members

Below is a letter I just sent to Assemblywomen Lifton and Nolan, as well as Speaker Heastie. I usually get a phone call from Barb, and it’s been a while since we have spoke to each other. If I hear anything, I will follow up. They really are good people and need all of us behind them so they can know they represent a powerful and formidable collective. I think that is the reason why we are already seeing some reluctant backpedaling language from some leaders (regarding parental rights regarding tests). But there is way more to the battle ahead than the tests alone. The purpose of education and the promise of what should be waiting for future citizens needs to be collaboratively defined and ensured.


Honestly, and this is something I shared with Assemblywomen Nolan and Lifton when we met (last August was it, in Barb’s Ithaca office?) : I have been feeling more and more Republican with every passing year. Please help me stop this moral decline as anger takes me (as it did Anakin Skywalker) and lures me to the apparent power of the dark side.My decline into “republicanism” (I don’t want to call it “evil”…not yet anyways) is mostly because of the feeling I sometimes get that traditional principles I value in my leaders have been abandoned in the hopes of maintaining and/or preserving some legislative advantage. I’m coming mostly from the perspective of a public school teacher-but just as important as that: I have the perspective of the first college grad in my family, a boy that spent his youth in a single-mother household (but with a father involved and a sense of respect and value of responsibility…). I also have the perspective of someone who has always been a thinker, a people watcher, and observer of human nature, with an interest in politics and leadership. In my family, there would often be three generations gathered talking politics while we solved the crossword in the daily paper and debated the existence of “Bat-Boy” and location of Elvis as described in those other “newspapers”. Call it a VERY well rounded upbringing. Speaker Heastie, being about a month older than me (10/21/67 is my D.O.B.), do you remember that debate when Reagan was smug and dismissive of a president that many criticize-but to this day demonstrates more real character than any I can remember? I was like 13-plus-one-week but couldn’t wait for the day I could register to vote poser talking point paper-people out of or away from office.

Well, now I am living in a state where I need to look closely to see if that really is a “D” next to my governor’s name. I have to read and replay to see if I really did get that WFP, UFT or AFT endorsement thing correct…really, they did THAT? And now we promote a couple of SED fails upward and away from NY, but bring in a new commissioner that dares to double-down on disrespects of the past.

     We seriously need to move past this arrogance from within the ranks of the party I once loved and get back to being truthful about what bad policy has done to families. We need to move towards a day where we have a swifter mechanism for getting more transparency and more responsive/responsible leadership into SED. No more regent “fellows” advising without full disclosure of who they are, what their agenda is and what money is flowing, where, and why; more direct involvement of the boots on the ground. No more cheap-and-easy answer focusing on tests as the measure and punish stick; more shared accountability for ALL of the efforts and investments required to produce capable and productive citizens.
      To the point: Speaker Heastie gave me my first glimmer of hope that something good could actually be possible. Not a delay of pain bill, not a band-aid to make some extra rules regarding testing bill…those things are like covering bruises and making up excuses when you are the victim in an abusive relationship-and make no mistake, public schools in this state, the students in them and the communities around them, the professionals and non-professionals serving in them: it’s often an abusive relationship when they are among the neediest and/or serving the neediest and have to suffer the insane under-funded, test-obsession brand of “reform”. Speaker Heastie acknowledged in a recent interview that educators are often forced to be responsible for addressing a host of burdens that students bring to school with them. A test score is not necessarily the thing educators serving the most needy students feel most accountable for, and that market-friendly data can’t always be the priority.
      So can we move forward with a demand for a more holistic approach? A portfolio of accountability that includes academic dipsticks (standardized tests) but also social, community, charitable, student self-awareness/self-selected experiences that envelope the things developing citizens truly need? I am tired of the op-eds planted in papers in this state and will continue to respond to them and hound you folks with my (probably) empty threats to go to the dark side. What kind of role model would I be for my girls?
     So honestly, thanks for fighting the fight as best you can. I look forward to defeating the dark side with your help.
Dan McConnell
Cortland, NY

Post Op-Ed opened

On a family visit to my parents, I picked up the Sunday Syracuse Post Standard. In the “Commentary” section there was an editorial that dominated the page and truly did serve as more of an advertorial for the test and punish camp. It is linked to below, but one of the first things I noticed when I went to the Post’s online version was the difference in the titles:

Print version: “Opting out made a point-now take the tests”

Online version: “Opt-out movement made it’s point, now it must make peace with the tests”

Forget my wondering who would have the gall to take such a condescending tone- someone was clever enough to depersonalize and soften the title for the online version. But this piece still puts the nail in its own logic-coffin by ending with:

Parents, you’ve made your point. The state has heard you. Now it’s time to turn your focus to help your kids rise to the higher standards. But we won’t know how well the kids are doing unless you let them take the exams.

Let’s look at this more closely:

Parents you’ve made your point – If that were true, this piece may have read, and ended differently

The state has heard you – True…but they don’t really want to deal with what they are hearing and why. The testing push is the state’s way of avoiding their responsibilities in other areas.

Now it’s time to turn your focus to help your kids rise to the higher standards- This requires suspending common sense and giving into the premise that more focus on tests is the best way to make this happen. Speaking as a parent and a teacher, I can tell you that is not true.

But we won’t know how well kids are doing unless you let them take the exams – To begin with, see my response to the previous statement. Then, tell me who “we” is. I know how well my kids are doing.

Anyways…I’m a little more disappointed in my free press than usual. Below is my response to the paper.


Opting out made a point, but Post: you’re not getting it

The August 16 Syracuse Post used the “In Our Opinion” piece for the purpose of admonishing parents who are demonstrating the critical thinking and civic awareness that our new standards are supposed to promote. The position taken in that piece is one in line with a group that is apparently afraid of both.  We have already seen years go by with honest discussion avoided by education leaders short on experience in education but long on opinions regarding what is wrong. Their solutions usually include corporate contracts for testing and consequence for schools.  During the passage of those years, parents have had to tolerate listening tours that really weren’t, and the continued mantra of praise for data collection and for tests with little transparency and of questionable quality. Those passing years might coincide with those seeing the number of test refusals growing from a handful  to 200,000 or more parents choosing to exercise their authority in this way.  So despite familiar arguments in favor of high-stakes testing, it would be difficult to dismiss the growing number of aware parent/citizens-especially with a weak editorial scolding.

Tests are necessary, but should only be a part of a holistic approach to a learner’s educational programming and opportunities. “High stakes” should apply to all those responsible for providing the experiences and opportunities for a learner today that will create the effective citizen of tomorrow. Consider the words of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an interview with the Albany Times Union on August 17th:

“I really think that we shouldn’t be looking at education alone anymore or mental health alone anymore or poverty alone anymore. I think that we have to look at the total family structure and see why it is that students are going into school not prepared for these challenges. And I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going on at home and their neighborhoods. Even super teacher may not be able to get through to a student whose life outside of school has issues.”

Testing should not be given top priority. It is the cheap seats, the easy answer-a way of placing artificial value on people instead of demonstrating that you actually value people.  They are also a way for our leaders to avoid their responsibilities. We need tests as a way to inform instruction- yes, but there are far more important things we could be doing and effective funding and programming choices we could be making to prepare future citizens.  That growing number of aware and involved parents understands that. Appointed education officials, elected policymakers and editorialists would be wise to come from another angle.

Is critical thinking what they really want? (Part 1)

What it is thinkers are thinking about:

School reform, common core standards, and standardized test-based accountability have all faced some resistance from those looking for more truthful and transparent discussions regarding what is needed to improve student outcomes. The resistance to what is being called reform can’t be explained away as simply as calling it “special interest” interference or knee-jerk opposition to those three ideas (reform, standards, tests)-it’s rising up because of the ideology often hidden in those reform ideas-as well as the apparent lack of a clear and consistent position in favor of a weaving agenda-driven narrative instead.

In pointing out how ideology and agenda can interfere with progress, I’m not just speaking about the pie eyed, money backed reform-zombies and the sudden crop of traveling non-profit/non-teacher salespeople and politicians working for them. I am also talking about boot-licking/crumb-diver teacher union folks and how they supposedly represent/promote/ defend the profession…or don’t-whichever is most convenient and effective in preserving a seat at the table when the opportunity to give voice presents itself.

Common Core stresses critical thinking, so…

Public parents and public students are rising up to take back their public schools, their public education; and the narrative. These are the true critical thinkers because they have already watched for years as our leaders sent large chunks of our public economy overseas-now some 2 trillion held privately (but always available to the wealthiest and most powerful). Despite this, the group once called investors and job creators have failed to fuel our domestic economy in a meaningful way. The absence of jobs; the disappearance of the middle class; the widespread and crushing college debt in a nation that demands college and career readiness but has been failing to give a return on that investment….the outcomes disparity created by these conditions is one that can’t be denied-even  by the most angry public school critics who push aside correlated variables then provide examples of it themselves in their critiques

When it comes to  two parties mentioned earlier (the zombies and the boot-lickers): you’d better pay attention and decide how relevant and useful you want to be. Union leaders have been far too conciliatory in reinforcing the value of the profession and have become part of the problem out of self preservation. Only after substantial community-based outrage did leaders begin to step up and back away from almost-apologetic claims that teacher-improvement was priority one and brand new tests for brand new teaching/learning standards was the way to get it done. It was a lead from behind approach that set the reputation of dedicated teaching professionals back considerably-allowing for a host of on-the-cheap suggestions to gain undeserved credibility. On the other side, the highly promoted test-and-punish brand of school reform does little but assimilate school for the masses into the free market formula Borg-collective holding far too much sway in defining our morals and our mission already. So resistance movements like opting out of or refusing to participate in state tests isn’t just activists spurred on by teacher unions afraid of accountability, or parents who just don’t understand the supposed “importance of these tests” .

The New York Times article linked to there is a great example of an anonymous large-scale insult to a group’s intelligence in two ways:

  1. The proposition that these tests, testing in this way, making “accountability” (vs formative assessment data) the most important part of testing…basically putting targets and numbers on people is the most vital thing we need to do to help students and teachers
  2. The continuing suggestions that parents just don’t understand, and if they resist they have either been compromised by special interests or just haven’t been told enough about #1

This is an insult to a group that has made ongoing attempts to have open and honest critical-thinking fueled conversation, and been faced by short-lived listening tours by a former commissioner, a smooth exit/promotion under fire for him and another top NY state ed official, as well as a new commissioner proudly taking up the charge of disrespecting critical thinkers.

Citizens and learners want more equitable opportunities and diminished focus on isolated snapshots designed and scored secretly in a system not based on achievement-but designed to categorize, separate and find failure. Accountability and progress can both be delivered in a more holistic, student-centered way, and the test pressure reeks of an agenda that is about something other than maximizing student outcomes. Critical thinking citizens know that unstable testing corporations and disingenuous data-speak are far from actually investing in future citizens…and they also know it’s a great way for the politicians and jackals to maintain access to their power and their profits.

So…do reformers truly want critical thinking? Are they willing to be held accountable as well?

Still wondering:…promises, boasts, consequences and threats…but where are the facts/resources/supports?

Times Union’s opinion blog featured a story about NYSED’s 10/20 announcement that there were new pathways to graduation-ones that would do more to honor, support and prepare a wider variety of students andt heir interests, skills, talents, dreams for college and career. I was interested in finding out more because this was the exact subject of an exchange I described earlier this year-one that started late in 2013 as my wife and I sought the opportunity of these multiple pathways (that already existed then) for our daughter in her school.
Now NYSED is trying to sell us on its worth by promoting their efforts regarding the very pathways that were at that time denied, downplayed then apologetically brushed aside when my wife and I tried to verify them. My fear is that NYSED and PEARSON have simply aligned to sell NY on tests for everything under the sun, and multiple pathways which aren’t really new are a cover for a whole slew of tests from PEARSON. Has our NYSED becometheir PEARSED?
The link below will take you to NYSED, the description they give of and the video promoting these opportunities.
The New York State Board of Regents approved a ground-breaking initiative (my emphasis) that will offer students new opportunities to develop college and career-ready skills in the arts, humanities, CTE and STEM fields. ‘Multiple Pathways’ will provide technical skills and work-based learning opportunities, paving the way for students to take a rigorous approved exam within a pathway to fulfill part of the Regents examination graduation requirement.
Check out the page for that Times Union opinion piece, and my comment is further below as well, in case it doesn’t get posted (it is awaiting moderation). Included are links to my original posts from when I tried to pursue this issue with NYSED associates. I have spoken with associates, NY Assembly members, had contact with my local regent (J. Tallon), Congressman Hannah…little of substance comes from any of these people regarding the truth: opportunities are not equal. regardless of what NYSED sells as it’s efforts to improve student outcomes. The paraphrase of insights and opinions collected as I meet with and make these contacts amounts to:
  • Cuomo is all powerful, and uses that power to secure himself politically, and if you oppose his agenda your future will be uncertain.
  • King is arrogant an cannot be swayed from what he feels is adequate for our children (but not for his own
  • The current state of turmoil in public education is a result of complacent and inactive unions and citizens
  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    While this may be a step in the right direction, I wonder if it is more self-congratulatory PR on the part of NYSED with little investigation into substance. Language for multiple pathways to regents diplomas and even alternative pathways to regents with advanced designation existed already-in regs (100.2h) and described in this NYSED chart:
    This made little difference when I pursued this type of opportunity for my daughter. On February 14th of this year my wife and I reached the sad conclusion of communications with NYSED where we asked about these supposed pathways and opportunities that ALL STUDENTS in ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS in this state should be getting. Told first by an associate that yes, your school needs to offer this, then suddenly overridden by another saying “no, there is no language saying that” was confusing.
    When I brought up the “all students” and “all schools” language with that second associate in a phone conversation, the response was a sympathetic
    “Well, ‘all schools’ really means all schools that want to or can afford to.”
    And when I asked if that means kids lucky enough to have money or go to a school that has money are the ones that get those pathways?
    “Unfortunately that’s the state of school funding in our state”
    My daughters are lucky enough to be in a school where we will get as much support as they can give, and they have me and their mother. We hunt down opportunities that our school can’t provide. What of other students?
    I have emails saved, think I even have some voice mails saved. This isn’t just about my kids-it’s about ALL kids and holding these supposed ed-reform clowns responsible for earning their badges…not just posing and pretending.
    See my account here:

A NATION AT RISK…AGAIN!!! (Part One) The Imperative for preventing our leaders from selling a generation of children into indentured servitude.

The once unchallenged moral authority of our nation is at risk. This source of pride and self-assuredness has been an implicit endorsement of policies from arming violent, extremist rebels; to nation-building; to extraordinary rendition; to a financial crisis where people hiding trillions, and losing billions, were rewarded with millions. Those gleaming successes of our great nation have been undermined with the blaming of the public sector for recent destruction caused by insatiable greed and the ownership of policy by the free market and the private sector. Instead of efforts to halt this assault on common sense and educate citizens to reverse continued moral erosion, what followed was a coordinated effort from the nation’s leaders to drive public schools and their students to serve the same market that cripples the nation’s economy and world-standing. If allowed to continue unchecked, misguided education reforms and the absence of accountability for leaders in policy and finance threaten to condemn generations to come to lives of dis-empowered indentured servitude: not free themselves, but working merely to survive and serve the “free market”. The result would be the loss of the nation’s status as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to the rest of the world.

Give it to me

And why shouldn’t I have

my meal in two minutes or less, dammit?

That’s what microwaves are for.

And, good god you should be on call;

you have a cell-phone, after all.

Doesn’t everybody?

Weekends and time away

are for the folks who can afford to get away,

to a second home or two or three.

It’s not so much for you

But it’s definitely for me.

Day-shift;

night-shift;

full-time;

part-time;

over-time.

You may think it’s your time

but it’s you’ve sold it to us time.

Me and Ella

I have already been out on the beach- before sunrise, but not as early as yesterday. Yesterday it was 4:30-ish, and I tried to be quiet but after starting the pot of coffee I could see Ella’s dark form silhouetted in the hallway, watching me. I waved at her (I could tell she was looking at me, knew it was me, but still adjusting her eyes in the dark-dark of the pre-dawn condo). Moving as quietly as we could we slipped out to the beach.

Absolutely empty-all to ourselves.

We watched the waves, spotted tiny forms scuttling across the sand, watched twinkling stars and likely a planet or two…one was very bright and had a reddish color-could it be Venus (I explained to Ella why I thought it could be and how we could look up night sky info to check if it really might be!).

This morning, Jen made me leave Ella alone-even though Ella asked me to wake her up. I went out alone-a little later this time…5 to 5:30 is, and got rained on…pretty wet. But if I hadn’t had my phone on me, I would have stayed out…got soaked.

Maybe even gone for a swim.

But right now, back inside, another hour and a half older: I am looking at four kids (my three plus a niece) flopped and out cold in the living room. Two on the foldout, one on the floor, and Ella-out from the bedroom and curled up in the cushy bowl-shaped chair. I ran to get a blanket to cover her up because I could tell she wasn’t really serious about being awake.

Send Down the Six

Send Down the Six

by

Dan McConnell

I.

          A slow death in the advanced stages of syphilis; an unjust conviction on child molestation charges (followed by some particularly brutal jailhouse justice): these and curses far worse are being thrown around the smoky room we are joining- but all in good fun, of course. As this scene and these voices become clear, we can see five men who fancy themselves honest-to-goodness poker players. Gathered at small, rectangular table sitting just below a toxic, second-hand haze, the cramped dining area barely allows space for their game but it has everything the men might want. They are each steps or less from a bathroom, a refrigerator, and of course- there’s gambling and filthy language.

          We have voyeur’s privilege and more: being uninvited to be an audience but somehow still witness to all the action. Through our undiscovered presence we are privy to characters’ actions. In addition, we are informed of their thoughts and feelings via author’s prescience. To question how this could happen would only be a distraction; so better to just watch quietly and enjoy the chance to see real cards being played by real men.

          It’s an interesting cast of characters, to say the least, with their occasional wins not just rewarded with a growing stack of chips and money at the end, but with vicious and hurtful bragging rights as well (the best kind of bragging rights, truth be told). The frequent misfortunes: due to bad luck, or bad play? One man would answer the former, the man across the table-the latter. But when rules or matters regarding fair play arose, this group of as yet unnamed gentlemen hammered their issues out to a final state of firm resolution or angry indifference. Regardless of any individual’s sour mood over good look turned bad, most returned the following Friday and would call any one of the others “friend”.

          Imagine play is suspended momentarily while we take a look around the table-before another card is turned, the characters must be introduced.

          To clarify the earlier description of these persons as “gentlemen”: they are men, sure. But “gentle” was not frequently seen at this table. While any one of them, as we have already established, might consider any other as friend: not one was above unsavory play or brutal remarks directed towards another. The host (and coincidentally one of our two main characters), known to the others at the table simply as “Coop”, employs a particular style of play including unlikely wins and risky wagers: staying in with less than desirable-even laughable hands, and then pulling out unlikely victories at the last moment. These “river wins”, or “suck-outs”-when the last card turns a pitiable loser into a miracle winner not only make Coop the man to beat on many a late poker night, but the man to fear as well. When it seems, after all, that only a miracle will save him, it is easy to remember the many times it has. This tends to beguile some, frustrate a few, and infuriate others-namely our other main character, Carlo. Carlo has often fell victim to Coop’s style of play, and is somehow still never at a loss for words and/or reasons to criticize it. Carlo prides himself on making the right bets, for the right reasons, at the right time-and he is sure that Coop will someday learn his lesson-either in a hand with Carlo himself, or at the end of a rusty blade in the parking lot of some shady gambling-house-soon after one of his lucky river wins. On either side of Coop and Carlo are the three other players-remarkable only in that they are also witnessing the hand being dealt.

          While we looked around the area we are in, noticed the hole in the wall and the two ashtrays already well-stocked with remains sitting on opposite ends of the playing field, there seems to have been some sort of commotion in the game. Yes-bets were made as we looked around, and in a flurry of insults, chips and dares- Coop and Carlo have gone “all-in”: putting all their chips in the middle of the table in an attempt to take down a big pot that is certain to include temporary boasting rights.

          As is customary when such a showdown occurs, the two opponents turn over their hands to show all where they stand.

II.

          The game is Omaha.Each player is dealt four cards, two of which they must use, and five community cards come out in the middle of the table: three at first, then two more (one at a time), so that wagering might occur between each reveal. As these community cards are turned over, the risk that any player’s hand might greatly improve (with four cards from which to choose) makes Omaha a dangerous game, and coincidentally one of Coop’s favorites. After all, with four cards to make a hand from actually hidden in your hand, and five coming up in the middle of the table, there is no reason to believe that the stretch from a 3 to a 7 can’t be filled to make a straight! 

            Gathering from the cards on the table-it is clear: the situation is quite dismal for Coop. The cards Carlo shows have him resting comfortably with a full house. Coop is showing three of a kind, three sixes to be exact- one of them in his hand, the other two on the board (and making up the smaller part of Carlo’s full house). The fourth card turned over is insignificant to either player. To lend appropriate gravity to the situation we see: there is only one more community card coming to the table; one card that can decide the final winner of the hand. Certainly (and especially in Carlo’s mind) this hand is all but over. Carlo is gloating, virtually assured of victory and most self-satisfied with his disciplined, textbook gambling and play that will soon be the undoing of the “river-riding” Coop.  He closes his eyes and says a silent prayer, asking God to make this the day that Coop learns his lesson once and for all.  And as Coop looks his own cards over, it becomes clear to him that:

  • The only thing possible that can save him is four-of-a-kind
  • His only chance for that is to get another six, and more significantly:
  • There is only one more six out there…only one card left in all the other cards still in the deck that can save him: the six of spades.

          Coop closes his eyes, and his head turns downwards. Carlo opens his eyes, looks at Coop and smiles.

          It is at this moment that we feel ourselves drawn suddenly away to an undisclosed location- somewhere above.

III.

                Nestled in an immaculately kept group of clouds, and illuminated by a heavenly glow, God’s mansion seems without any possible connection to the rough and seedy scene we have left below. Inside, in what can only be described as the ultimate “man-space”, The Lord Himself is reclined casually on a plush, oversize sofa and our presence is likely detected- but considered harmless (for the time being) by the all-knowing. The decor of the enormous den we are in is modern, masculine, and up-to-date…and why not? Its owner, after all, is omnipotent; all powerful- and so being is able to update on a whim and in an instant. When stainless steel and lots and lots of glass were in, the snap of his fingers brought shiny fixtures and windows that were ten feet high and nearly as wide. The streets of gold and rivers of honey (and yes, virgins…there really were virgins) were in when mankind was wandering the desert and sacrificing sheep to obtain heavenly approval, but times change- as do standards in interior decoration.

          Now the Lord lounges in comfort and understated rustic luxury, combined with modern convenience. This look being achieved, in part, by the antique bar (with matching stools) and brass foot rail in one corner, exposed barn-style beams above (nicely giving scale to the cathedral ceiling), wide plank hardwood floors, and the highest of high definition (and unbelievably huge) flat panel television mounted to the wall across from the aforementioned plush sofa, upon which still rests the aforementioned omnipotent deity. To call the television “high-definition”, by the way, would almost be an injustice. “Life- like” would be closer to describing the picture being intently viewed: a boxing match featuring what looks an awful lot like “The Manassa Mauler”, Jack Dempsey and “The Brown Bomber”, Joe Lewis- two long-deceased heavyweights who never in their life met in the ring, and yet seem to be fighting before us. The image is so, so real, it almost seems that one could walk right into the match (if daring to come between the two dangerous-looking men circling and hitting each other)- as if the screen was simply a window into another place. The crowd on the other side of this window witnessing the fight “oooh” and “aaah” as fight fans should, and the ref seems to do an excellent job keeping it fair and clean.

          But wait; while we have been admiring the space and the things in it, our attention has once again been diverted from the characters and the action there. This really is a story and if we don’t stay with it- we’ll be lost. A woman dressed smartly and conservatively (and yet undeniably beautiful at the same time) just now entered from the right through a massive oak door left casually ajar.

          She approaches holding two file-type folders in her hand, glances at the fighting action on the screen, and if possible wears an expression that is reverent and disapproving at the same time. “My Heavenly Father,” she says with her eyes cast downwards, “we have a conflict on the prayer-line.”

                “Doris,” God says, “I’ve told you for eons that I don’t need all that formality…

‘My Lord’ will do.”

          “Yes, My Heaven…I mean, My Lord…but this is quite unusual.” Says Doris as she looks down at the folders in her hands. The Lord sits up slowly and turns to face the boxing match, which seems to have gotten quite exciting while we were distracted, more directly.

          “Gentlemen,” God says at the screen, “hold up for a moment please.”

          The boxers pause warily and then stop with their gloves still up for a moment, looking first straight out of the screen in God’s direction, and then to the ref who gives them a short nod with inconspicuous chopping motion signaling a pause in the battle.

IV.

          A conflict in the heavenly prayer line occurs when two individuals make diametrically opposing prayer requests at exactly the same time. Most prayers are handled by a number of different heavenly teams, each in charge of prayers that fall into their area of expertise, and rarely make it to The Lord Himself. When a conflict is brought to God, it usually involves an unusual circumstance or request.

          “My Lord,” Doris says, motioning to the two folders she holds. “It’s a poker game, it’s a big hand, and it’s down to these two gentlemen.” Over her left shoulder, we can see that the boxers and ref have begun chatting with each other in what appears to be a pleasant conversation, but the crowd has begun a restless and displeased sort of grumbling. The Lord diverts his attention from his assistant for a moment to cast a warning look at the screen, one eyebrow raised as if to say Are you sure this is how you want me to see you behaving? -and crowd noise lowers from grumble to murmur. Doris continues: “One gentleman is praying for the winning hand, and the other is simply praying for the first man to lose…quite unusual, but the second man feels he has already won, and only wishes to make his victory final with some divine intervention. I wouldn’t usually bother you with this kind of thing, but these two are frequent callers, and the situation is…”

          “Yes, yes, Doris…I understand, who are we talking about here?” God says reassuringly, reaching for a file. Doris hands him the first file. There are a handful of papers in it, but  it is clearly the less bulky of the two files. The second file, still held in Doris’s other hand, is quite thick, and has several red notes and marks on the cover, and is over-filled with items bearing color-coded tags and what appear to be quickly written notes on odd sized pieces of paper slid into it. While the more compact file is passed to The Lord, we get a peek at the cover and the name on it, which says (in a tight, neat, old-fashioned script)

Coop

         “Hmmm,” God says, as he nods approvingly at one page. A deeper, less friendly “mmmm” on another page- accompanied by a slow side to side motion of his head- a motion regarded universally as disapproval (interestingly enough, we seem to hear a distant rumble of thunder at the same time-despite what appeared to be a cloudless and sunny sky). As witnesses to this event, we find ourselves feeling favorably about the fortunes and deeds of Coop (even without knowing the details to them) when The Almighty makes the more positive gestures, and experience some sense of foreboding when the gestures to the negative are made. As human nature dictates, we also find that we are not just slightly more curious about what may precipitate the disapproval of God.

          While we watch this procedure (taking more notice with smiles and the nods, as well as the frowns and mutterings), it is noteworthy that The Lord Himself is able to shift his position, as if without intent or purpose, so that we cannot see what he is looking at- thus preventing us from getting any details on Coop’s earthly conduct as it is being evaluated. When we slide to the right, for example, The Lord dips left and switches the file to his left hand, reaching for the macadamia nuts on a close by table with his own right hand- blocking our view of the file and its contents. When we move left to see the file in its new location, God moves it back to the original hand and turns slightly to the right (to recline more comfortably it would seem, but this again blocks our view).

          The page turning and noises continue for a couple moments, and end with an overall impression of approval. When God finishes, he closes the file and looks up at Doris.

          “So, what does he want, Doris?”

          “A six, My Heaven…My Lord, I mean,” Doris says a bit uncomfortably.

          “A six?” the Lord asks.

          “The six of spades, to be exact.” Doris replies, shifting her weight a little nervously.

          “He…wants…the six of spades? He is staying in a losing hand with only one card that can help him…and he wants us to do it for him???” God asks, his voice now not only slightly raised, but also seeming to come from everywhere at once- not just where we see him sitting.

           The mood in the den has changed, and even the boxers, the referee and the crowd around the ring on the other side of the very realistic TV are paying as much attention to what is happening on our side of the screen as their audience of one once paid them. Through the window that allows light into the den, we see that a cast of clouds seem to have appeared out of nowhere, lending some gloom to the sudden feeling of doom.

          God pauses for a moment, apparently weighing the information he has seen in the file along with its accompanying request.

         “Who is the other?” God asks, motioning dismissively to the rather large and sloppy file still in Doris’s hand.

         “Carlo,” Doris responds, holding out the file for inspection. The Lord looks at Doris for a moment. Then he looks at the file. The over-filled file with the many notes and scribbles on the cover. The file that Doris isn’t just offering, but is holding away from herself.

         “Carlo?” he asks, still looking at the file as if to make sure, (and it is hard to avoid the feeling that he has seen this file before). “Is this the Carlo that…”

         “Yes, that Carlo.” Doris says a little tentatively. She clearly is not eager to discuss details, and she still holds the file out away from herself, but the Lord has made no move to take it for inspection.

           There is a long, almost uncomfortable pause where all action is suspended. Doris stands with the file extended; God gazes at the file as if in thought-still making no move to take it; the boxers lean toward us and the crowd in the arena goes graveyard quiet…somewhere in the distance, a coyote howls…

          “Send down the six.” God says.

           Doris leaves quickly, taking both files with her, and The Lord turns back to the screen. “Gentleman,” he says to the screen, “you may resume.”

          The fight continues, a little slowly while the boxers attempt to loosen and warm back up.

          We are suddenly aware of the significance of what we’ve been allowed to see, while still being no more aware of what we can do to get the nods from the man upstairs when our own files are brought to him for evaluation. As we begin an attempt to fathom what we might do or must not do, the Lord turns his attention to us, and says in a voice that is kind- while leaving no room to wonder over a response:

           “Don’t you have somewhere to go now?”

             We have no choice. As he asks it, so it shall be. We find the fantastic den and the lifelike television screen fading from view, and in their place come a small room and the smell of smoke.

V.

          While it seems like an hour has passed, it has been maybe ten seconds. Carlo is eyeing Coop with a look that belies a feeling of self-satisfaction and smug certainty. Not in regards to a hand already won (and while he would never real such weakness as the need to pray for poker victory, he did just pray for the chance to take all of Coop’s money and gloat for the rest of the evening), but also regarding his superior poker skills. There is, after all, only one more card to be turned over. He feels his keen poker insight has given him the most vital information regarding what is about to happen:

  • He has a full house
  • Coop has a mere three of a kind and with only one possible card to save him, giving him a four of a kind
  • The one remaining six, the six of spades, is the only card out there that will help Coop- its coming a virtual impossibility when you consider the odds!

          The table has gone quiet, and while no one admits it openly, a loss for either man would be entertaining to the three other players at the table. As is the case with those less willing to engage in such battle, the defeats of those braver than themselves are as anticipated as the victories- sometimes more so. Coop, his head cast downwards as it was ten seconds ago (the ten seconds that almost seemed like an hour), now raises his head and takes a deep breath. The table watches the dealer bring out the last card, floating it facedown towards the middle of the table. There is a purposefully dramatic pause, and then the card is turned over…

          The six of spades.

          Once again, curses are traded. But now they mix with cheers and congratulations as this scene fades away. If there was any lesson to be learned at this game, it is beyond me to relate it in any truly useful way, other than keep your file neat and thin. As the players and the room fade to black, we hear the sound of playing cards being dashes against a wall, and a lone voice shouting a word too profane to be repeated here.

The End