Possibly Way More than You Ever Wanted to Know
Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann 2005
I guess an objective description of me might be, "A boring kind of workaholic guy." I live alone; working every day is pretty much the same (and I often work on the weekends).
I get up around 5:00 and do my exercises, then the daily ablutions.
I arrive at work around 6:00. (It takes about 5 minutes to get to the building we call "The Corp," which is short for Engelmann-Becker Corporation.) I work until about 12:00, then do some more exercises, and eat my Subway sandwich. I work some more until about 3:00, then I take a nap before going home.
I usually spend at least some time in the late afternoon, painting. I do watercolors, not oils, because I'm a slob and I would be lax about doing things like cleaning my brushes. With watercolors, it's not a problem.
I got into painting in 1993. Before then, I always wrote things in the evening. I'd start at 7:30 and write until 10:00. After I'd written the book, War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse, I didn't feel like writing in the evenings. The book told about things that needed to be told, but I am (usually) a fan of the future, not the past. And reliving those events was very painful.
So I paint. That's constructive—creating pretty images and doing something that is actually quite challenging. Watercolor painting is tricky because you can't indiscriminately paint one color over another. You don't paint the white paper where you want it white. I like the challenge of creating something that is technically difficult. I love scenes, dramatic ones with crisp shadows and compelling vistas. [Pic o' the month.]
I do all the cooking, but I I’m not as good as I used to be, possibly because I spend a lot less time cooking.
I'm pretty strict about what I eat because I don't want my weight to get above 200. I have a bum leg, and a crooked back-- by-products of spinal surgery that I had in 2004. I don't want to carry any more weight than I have to. So I go light on fat and empty carbs and light on the volume.
In the evening, my partner, Lou Bradley, comes over and we watch TV and chat about different things. Lou is a seamstress. She has a seriously retarded son, Devin, who is now in his 40s. Lou's life is not all that easy, so generally when she comes over, we try to keep things on the light side.
I usually go to bed a by 10:30, but I don't sleep well.
On weekends I don't get to work before 7:30, and I don't work past noon. The usual routine for the afternoon is that Lou, Devin and I go out in the country. Once in a while, one of my sons who live in town, Owen or Kurt, will join us. Sometimes their families will also join us. They have kids, so we usually end up engaging in a mature activity like eating peanuts in the shell and having peanut-shell fights.
We usually go to a parcel of land we own. It’s less than 20 miles from Eugene. I'd be very depressed if we didn’t get out there on the weekends. Working with the schools and publishers is a frustrating business, not so much because the tasks are impossible, but the bureaucracy often is. With it’s standards and restrictions, the bureaucracy sometimes stands as a barrier between us and the teachers and kids who need our help,. In fact, a good definition of school administrations for at-risk schools would be: governing organizations that insulate both teachers and students in need from learning much. Maybe the best one comes from Voltaire, who wrote, "If we believe in absurdities, we commit atrocities."
It's not the individual people, but a stupid system. The good news is that I can leave all those frustrations behind when we're out in the country. In the winter, Lou and I plant seedling trees, go for walks, and take pictures. The land overlooks an awesome valley—Crow Valley—dotted with some farm buildings, and framed by the coastal range, which is a patchwork of dark areas and light green ones, groves of huge Douglas Firs and younger trees.
I first started planting this land (120 acres) back in the early '70s. Sometimes I would work with my young sons. Most of the trees we planted back then are now over 100 feet tall. A gravel road winds uphill and terminates at the top of an awesome knoll. At one time, you could stand on top of the knoll and view 360 degrees of dynamic landscapes—Fern Ridge Reservoir to the northeast, huge hills to the northwest, Crow Valley to the west and south and, on a clear day, the three snow-clad Sisters to the east.
Now, the trees we planted eclipse most of the view. The property has over 120 varieties of trees, some of which are quite exotic. The knoll hosts a few hundred Mt. Atlas cedars (a true cedar, versus the kind native to North America). These are natives of the Atlas Mountains in Africa. We also planted lots of Coulter Pines, which are rare natives of the San Bernardino Mountains. They have the heaviest and most massive cones of any conifer. I raised those trees from seeds.
We have nearly every conifer from North America that would survive in Oregon's climate, and most exotic conifers from the rest of the world, including the only pine that grows in South America, the monkey puzzle. One of my favorites is the coast redwood. They're remarkable. They can survive for hundreds of years in a heavily shaded forest, even though they may be only 20 feet tall. If the forest is cut down, they revert to the form of a juvenile tree and start growing at the rate of 2-4 feet a year. I even grew some cuttings from side branches of mature redwoods. They said it couldn't be done. I put isobuteric acid on the cuttings, kept the cuttings in sand, which was covered with an inch of water, for 2 years. They didn't rot, and they finally grew roots. About the only characteristic they retained from the "mother" tree was that they produced cones when they were only about ten feet tall, compared to the natural tree, which takes about 40 years. I thought they might have some commercial interest, particularly since redwoods are now being planted in a lot of places beyond their natural range.
You may have gathered that I love trees. I think they are beautiful, and I like the idea that they tend to improve with age. And I love working with them. But I never used any power tools. If a tree needed to be cut down, I used a bow saw or an ax. If it needed its lower branches cut (so you can walk through a grove), I used an ax. I put these activities in the past tense because I haven't done them since my leg went south. We don’t have a blistering planting rate for seedlings. We usually plant about 20 trees in about two hours. Then we quit and have a beer. . In the summer we check on the trees. We don't water them, so they're on their own. The summers here are dry. If seedlings make it through the first year, they'll probably survive. Lately, the summers have been unusually dry. The result for a variety like a western red cedar or a white pine is that possibly only 40 percent of the seedlings survive, compared to about 90 percent during a wet summer. Once exotic trees get established, they'll grow at a pretty good rate, but nothing around here can match the rate of the Douglas fir. (The coast redwood comes close.)
Another part of my current routine that has changed is what I drive. Since the '70s I had driven motorcycles whenever the weather was decent. They were something of a passion. Before my surgery, I rode them to work during most of the year, and sometimes on the weekend Lou and I would take a ride out to one of the reservoirs around Eugene and have us a little picnic. We've also taken some tours—to Eastern Oregon, Crater Lake, the California coast.
I can't ride motorcycles now, but Lou and I still go places once in a while—like a weekend at the Oregon coast. My favorite place is Bandon, and I must have painted more than 30 paintings of Bandon scenes. The coast consists of sandy beaches with agates, and huge rock formations of wildly different shapes, from smooth molded forms to armies of spires and spikes. On a sunny October day, there's nothing more awesome than the coast at Bandon. The water is really blue, the shadows are carved in dark colors, and the air is warm and fragrant.
Over the years, I have had periodic passions . For a while I was really into the Maya. I studied their calendar, their art and artifacts. I even wrote some unpublished papers about some of their calendric wonders. Much of what I wrote involves the Maya codices—illustrated books, almost like comic books, that were used by the priests. Traditional interpretations of them are that the scribes who created copies of the codices sometimes made mistakes. I don't believe there are any "mistakes" but, rather, tricks, puns and secrets that the priests used to make predictions about celestial objects. And that’s what it’sall about predicting where celestial objects will be on different dates and times.
For instance, there are hideous calendric mistakes on page 24 of the Dresden Codex, which tells a great deal about the cycle of the planet Venus. The whole game with Venus was to predict when it would reappear as the morning star. Computing completed cycles of Venus is difficult because it has a wobble in its orbit, so its behavior is different from one year to the next. Its orbit averages out to roughly 584 days for it to complete a cycle of first appearing as the morning star. The table on page 24 has rows of numbers that are multiples of 584. The base number of the table, and the first number, is 2920, which is 5 times 584 and 8 times 365. So it coordinates completed revolutions of Venus with the yearly calendar. The big problem with the number 2920 is that it is not a multiple of 260, which is the number of days in the Maya ceremonial calendar; so the table has a row of corrections that relate the orbit to the ceremonial calendar and that also address the problem that the number 584 is not perfectly accurate. Everything had to be very tidy with the Maya.
Investigators had discovered that the correction row may use a more precise value for the orbit of Venus, 583.92. What I discovered about this table was the possibility that they used an even more precise number, 583.923. Here's where there may be some evidence for that conclusion: if you multiply two prominent tables numbers that have apparent mistakes, you get a humongous number that precisely describes completed revolutions of Venus (as measured by 583.923) and that is also a completed revolution of the 260-dayceremonial calendar, the 365-day calendar, the 364-day calendar (which is one of the cycles the Maya used), the 584-day calendar, and possibly others.
The numbers you multiply are the first number of the correction row, 9100, which appears to be off by 260 days, and 2920, the first number in the table, which has the wrong date. The number you get when you multiply is 26,572,000, which is 72,800 years. You divide by 583.923 for the cycle of Venus and it comes out almost exactly 45506 completed revolutions of Venus (off by 9 hours).
Is this a coincidence? It could be, but there are some interesting possibilities that suggest it isn't. One has to do with solar eclipses. One of the tables in the Dresden Codex has the four numbers that exactly describe the succession of days for solar eclipses to occur.
There's one problem with the idea that the Maya knew these numbers and their sequence. The numbers predict eclipses anywhere in the world. So how could the Maya calculate these numbers unless they had communication with people from other parts of the world? Duh. They couldn't. Yet, nobody drew the obvious conclusion. Recently, investigators have started to figure out that the Maya had commerce with folks from other places on the globe. Duh.
I believe that all the codices are star charts, with magic created by placing the codex in a particular orientation, placing a stick so specific parts of the picture are lined up (like the eyes of two or three characters). The stick will point to an exact place in the ceremonial center where planets or alignments of celestial objects are predicted. (Tonight, we stand here and the god of the sun will touch the notch in the facade of the temple of warriors.)
Although the illustrated characters look like something out of a comic strip, the art is absolutely precise in detail. The characters are almost always shown in profile. Why? I believe that it is to create alignments involving two or more parts of the illustrated gods. Their eyes may be one key for creating these alignments. The eye of the gods is a snail, and in one page of the Dresden Codex the god Chac has a snail on his leg, and it is perfectly aligned with two other eyes in the picture. All body parts may be involved in alignments. I don't have a clue about how they work, but I am quite sure there are no accidents involving a scribe randomly drawing the god in a physically impossible position. I believe they are in contorted positions to create possible alignments of feet-eyes-hands and possibly specific ornaments they wear on their belts.
It's also apparent that the Maya knew how to draw figures that are anatomically correct. They appear occasionally in the Madrid Codex and in the Dresden Codex. Also, the ceremonial center at Palenque has representations of human figures that are anatomically correct. One possibly interesting link is that both Maya art and that of ancient Egypt and Sumer show figures in profile. If the reason for the Maya is to create alignments, and if the Maya have temples that look as if they are influenced by Egypt, it just might be that there is still another Rosetta stone to be discovered in Egypt, the function of the profiled figures as predictors of celestial events.
I wrote up some of the stuff on the numbers and alignments, and sent it to an archeological journal. They didn't have anybody that felt qualified to comment on the number stuff. One guy who was qualified was out of the country and didn't return for a year, but we never connected, and I lost interest in the Maya.
So much for this peripheral stuff about me. The center of me is my work. My goal for years has been to do things that are productive and that help make life better for kids, particularly at-risk kids. I don't consider myself a kinderphile like Rousseau, sobbing over the beauty of kids playing. For me it's more an ethical obligation. Certainly kids are enchanting, but they also have a future, and their future will be a lot brighter if they have choices. We can empower them with the capacity to choose between being an engineer, a musician, an accountant, or a vagrant through instruction. We can accelerate what they learn and change their capacity to learn. But the only avenue for installing these choices is through hard-minded education. We can't lead with our chin or our hearts. It must be a cerebral battle, governed by data and the understanding that if we try hard enough, we can design effective practices that will accelerate the performance of at-risk kids. And if we don't try hard enough, damn us.
This cerebral game is not popular. In fact, it is actively eschewed even by a lot of investigators who would like to believe that they are objective . Their blasé attitude is most obvious in their active ignoring of Direct Instruction, even though it has more data of effectiveness than all other approaches combined.
Furthermore, the bases for how it works have been spelled out. Years ago, Doug Carnine and I wrote Theory of Instruction, which is rigorous and precise. It articulates the basic functions of what instruction has to achieve and the variables that have to be controlled to achieve "faultless" instruction. This book is potentially useful to show the level of detail that has to be addressed to create highly effective instruction; however, it has never been recognized by the field, even that part of the field that deals with "theories of instruction."
In Follow-Through, we showed that at-risk kids could be instructed in a way far superior to the way they are being instructed right now in at least 85 percent of the schools for at-risk kids. Not only has the field failed to recognize our achievement; the field even fails to recognize that Follow-Through existed.
Another book that I think is important but that is being ignored about as much as Theory of Instruction is a theory of performance and learning that I wrote with Don Steely. The book is Inferred Functions of Performance and Learning. It is out of step with the field and the current idiom of "empirical science."
Before I shut the door on me, I should mention something about my boys, fraternal twins, Kurt and Owen, and their older brother, Eric . Kurt is the director of the National Institute on Direct Instruction. I work with him largely on questions of new sites. NIFDI's mission is to demonstrate to districts what is achievable with full immersion DI schools that have all the important variables controlled. It's virtually impossible to get US school districts to play this game. Baltimore came close but didn’t make it. Currently good things are happening working with IDEA Charter Schools in Texas, and a growing indigenous implementation in Cape York, Australia.
Owen works with me in authoring and developing new instructional programs. Currently, we’re working on a math sequence for grades K through 5. My oldest son, Eric, works in Houston designing web material. He once did a web program for us. When the person in our shop wanted to modify something in it, she looked for the programming so she could change it and discovered there was no programming. She had to call him and find out how to do it. He had created dedicated links for each of the functions so there was no way anybody could tamper with the material.
I am a social slob. I don't get together with people socially very much. So every summer I put on an event called a Zignic. This is the way I discharge all my social obligations for the year to my friends and the people I work with. The Zignic is usually at the land near Veneta. A Zignic starts around 3:00 and is usually scheduled late in July. There's lots of good stuff to eat (from shrimp cocktail appetizers to steak, chicken, burgers), and to drink (from water and soft drinks to wine, beer, and champagne), lots of great people (from old duffers to kids), a band , and dancing. For most of us, there's less hiking, horseshoes, and volleyball than there had been at Zignics in the '70s and '80s, but when the sun is setting, we still follow the tradition of going to the top of the knoll, where we have dessert-ice cream sundaes with all the trimmings-and maybe a final toast to our fallen comrades Bob Mattson and Wes Becker as we watch the sun go down. It's a good day.