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Virginia Journal of Education

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Lost in the Data

By David R. Denny

I was searching for one of my 8th graders the other day. 

He knew the dangers. Sometimes numbers can just gang up on a kid, brand him, make him feel inferior. I had warned him and the others of wandering without professional assistance into the number field, but kids are kids. He just wanted to have some fun. Panicked, I shoved Guard 5 aside at the Gate to Success. Everyone knew he had a bad reputation. He put up a little fight but I pushed past him and then plunged headlong into a thicket of other burly digits. 86 was too busy crunching to be of assistance. I pleaded, appealing to his humanity, but to no avail. He wouldn’t even look up from the calculator.  (Numbers can be so impersonal at times.) 

Discouraged, I climbed a little knoll that overlooked a valley teeming with glistening integers all lined up in straightjacket rows next to the Excel River. 43, an odd number to say the least, was digging feverishly. Pausing to catch my breath, I inquired about her search. 

“What are you digging for?”

43 wiped her brow with a dirty rag, held a thin hand at an angle to blot the sun and glared impatiently at me. “I’ve lost my sense of direction. I don’t know which way to go anymore. I was told there might be a purpose beneath the numbers if I dug into them far enough.” She seemed especially perturbed that I would interfere with her task. “There are so many rows of numbers, so many directions ahead, but I’m at a loss to know which column to head for. I need a map or something.”

“I’m looking for a boy about 5-5, 120 pounds, long blond hair. His name is Johnny.”

“What did you say?” sputtered 43.

“I said he’s about 5-5…”

She interrupted. “No, not that part. What did you call him?”

Finally, I thought, I’m getting somewhere. She must have seen him. “His name is Johnny.  Can you tell me which way he might have gone?”

43 picked up her shovel and began digging again as if we had never had the conversation.

“Excuse me. Have you seen him? He’s lost in the data and I must find him before it’s too late.”

“I don’t speak that language of names. It’s obsolete, as you well know.”  With that she turned away from me and resumed digging for some compass or map.

I tried to think like Johnny. Where would he go? I closed my eyes and remembered seeing him sitting at a small desk reading a book. He loved books. He was always drifting off to some faraway place where dragons prowled and heroes shouted victory and damsels in distress pleaded for mercy.

I know! I’m sure of it. He’s gone in search of the Elysian Fields, of another time and place where a kid like him could be understood. Scanning the horizon with a renewed sense of urgency, I spotted a small sign standing at a perilous angle by a crossroads. Hustling, since the sun was on its decline, I managed to reach the sign after 20 minutes of arduous uphill climbing. There were several choices available, each with an arrow showing the route. Percentage was 10 miles east. Decimal was even further off. Sum was due north and Data, the mega city, lay southeast about 3 miles. 

Frustrated by not seeing any sign for Elysian Fields, I opted to head for Data and look for guidance. I was running low on supplies since I had not expected to get lost myself in this search-and-rescue. I had just enough water for another hour or so. Then, to my great relief, I saw a little building ahead beneath a shade tree. Giddy with delight, I ran to the door and saw posted on the wooden mantel in huge red letters that glistened in the twilight: LOST and FOUND. The word FOUND had been scratched out. I opened the door and as far as my eyes could see were scattered up and down the hillside children reading books and laughing.

Denny, a member of the Virginia Beach Education Association, teaches English at Lynnhaven Middle School.


Professional Athletes Tackle Bullying


Bullying, says Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones, is “a concerted effort to make someone’s life miserable,” and a growing number of professional athletes are taking advantage of their public profiles to speak out against it. Here are a few recent examples:

• “I want my fans to know that if they are making fun of someone because they’re different, you are no friend of mine.”—Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

• “Bullying is about the insecurity of the person who feels the need to bully.”—Steve Nash, guard, Los Angeles Lakers

• “I take pride in knowing that my status as a professional athlete gives me a national platform to raise awareness of the impact bullying has on the lives of vulnerable youth.”—DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

• “It’s a serious problem that can happen to anyone at any time, at any place.”—David Wright, third baseman, New York Mets.


Live Long and Prosper: Go to School


Getting a good education, says Virginia Commonwealth University, not only offers a better future—it probably offers a longer one, too. In an issue brief entitled “Education: It Matters More to Health than Ever Before,” VCU researchers detail how education is not only important for its economic benefits, it may also save lives and dollars. Here’s an excerpt:

Now, more than ever, people with less education face a serious health disadvantage:

Shorter lives: Americans with less education are—now, more than ever—dying earlier than their peers. Between 1990 and 2008, the life expectancy gap between the most and least educated Americans grew from 13 to 14 years among males and from 8 to 10 years among females. The gap has been widening since the 1960s.

Worse health: Americans with less education are—now, more than ever—more likely to have major diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. By 2011, the prevalence of diabetes had reached 15 percent for adults without a high school education, compared with 7 percent for college graduates.

More risk factors: Those with less education are increasingly more likely to have risk factors that predict disease, such as smoking and obesity. By 2011, smoking was reported by 27 percent of people without a high school diploma or GED but by only 8 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.

Greater disability: Americans with less education are more likely to have diminished physical abilities for health reasons or to be disabled.

Americans without a high school diploma are at greatest risk:

Death rates are climbing: Adults with fewer than 12 years of education have been dying sooner since the 1990s. While overall life expectancy has generally increased, it has decreased for whites with fewer than 12 years of education, especially white women. Among whites with less than 12 years of education, life expectancy at age 25 fell by more than three years for men and by more than five years for women between 1990 and 2008.

Compared to those with a college education, Americans with less education:

Die earlier: At age 25, U.S. adults without a high school diploma can expect to die 9 years sooner than college graduates.

Live with greater illness: Adults with less education are more likely to report diabetes and heart disease and to have worse health.

Generate higher medical care costs: The growing percentage of Americans in poor health intensifies demands on the health care system and fuels the rising costs of health care.

Are less productive at work:  A good education is important to work productivity on many levels, not just in cognitive skills but also in performing basic everyday tasks.

Experience more psychological distress: Stress is higher among poorly educated Americans, and this can have harmful biological effects.

Have less healthy lifestyles: People with a high school education or less are more likely to have risk factors for disease—to smoke, to smoke while pregnant, to be physically inactive, to be obese, or to have children who are obese.


The Power of Our Expectations


I had teachers who would allow me to literally skip entire days of school and they wouldn’t ask me anything, and they thought they were doing me a favor by lowering expectations because they figured I was dealing with things that other kids didn’t have to. But they weren’t doing me any favors. And I had other teachers who said, “I don’t care what you’re dealing with, here are my expectations and you need to meet them.” There are huge implications and ramifications of expectation.

 --Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, a book that compares his life to another young man named Wes Moore, both raised in Baltimore by single mothers. The author went on to Johns Hopkins and Oxford; the “other” is serving a life sentence in a Maryland prison.


Tune In To TED


Through TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks, educators have the opportunity to hear from some of the most innovative voices among their colleagues, gaining information and inspiration for the classroom.

Ken Robinson is an internationally-known speaker on creativity and education, and he’s also the most-watched TED presenter. His latest talk, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley,” is part of a nine-talk series on education hosted by Grammy-winning singer John Legend. Other talks in the series deal with building positive teacher-student relationships, helping students succeed no matter what their IQ might be, and other topics.

You can see all the talks, which were filmed by the Public Broadcasting Service, by visiting




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