“There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
I spent Thursday at the Region 13 Educational Service Center in Austin, attending a class designed to help me be a better algebra teacher. For those of you not in education, an ESC (educators absolutely love TLC’s – Three Letter Acronyms) is kind of like Castle Dracula for the helpless villagers in the local small school districts. If they feel like it, Region 13 condescends … uhm, I mean sends people to our campus to conduct “seminars” where people who haven’t actually taught in a classroom in years, met any of my students, or ever darkened the door of my room to watch me do my thing tell me and my coworkers all the stuff we’re doing wrong and how to fix it.
I listen carefully (an unintended consequence of 20 years of depositions during my lawyer days) and give the speaker’s ideas exactly as much attention as they deserve. Then the Region 13 person goes scurrying back to their castle just before dawn, I store my garlic cloves in the closet and get back to my kids.
One of the projects we discussed in my algebra class was the use of a little portable sonar device called a CBR (another damn TLA). This nifty little unit plugs into our TI-84 calculators and tracks and graphs motion up to about 15 feet for about six seconds. Using time and distance as the x and y values, respectively, the kids can play a little and learn something about graphing. Move away from the CBR, and the graph goes up; move toward, down; move slowly, flat slope; move quickly, steep slope; stand still, horizontal slope, etc.
The problem is, the numbers never line up exactly. It’s almost impossible for a focused, concentrating adult controlling his or her breathing in an algebra class setting to walk at a perfectly consistent pace for six whole seconds. Imagine how hard a consistent walk would be for a hormonally charged 14-year old hopped up on sugar, caffeine, rap music, and internet porn with the attention span of a hummingbird.
Because the walking pace is never perfectly consistent, you do different things to compensate: have the kids find the average speed or teach them how to have the calculator give them a “best fit” line. But it all becomes a teachable moment: despite how hard you try, no matter how intently you concentrate and focus, things never, ever line up exactly the way you think they should. Real life is not linear; real life is always a crooked mile.
Which brings us to TCU.
What the Longhorn nation wanted last Saturday was to see a slow, steady improvement from the Cal and Oklahoma State losses. We wanted something linear.
What we got was frustration, confusion, finger-pointing, timidity, gross incompetence, a moon-shot punt snap, missed chip shots and a halftime tweet. We were outcoached, outhustled, outhit and outplayed. What we got was crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
The worst of it was the response from friends, Facebook and otherwise. Toward the beginning of the second quarter, mockery gave way to the worst thing in the world, pity. My beloved Texas Longhorns have become the Down Syndrome 6-year old girl of college football – we’re so bad it is considered rude to stare, and Richard Dawkins is calling for us to be euthanized.
We’re so bad that Bob “Spawn O’ Satan” Stoops defended us at his weekly press conference. The Chinless One pointed out how difficult the Horns’ schedule has been so far this season. Holy crap on a cracker. Stoops defending UT is like ISIS frontman, Abu Bakr al-Bhaghdadi saying, “You know, the more I think about it, the Jews really are a misunderstood people. I think I’ll get my pee-pee clipped. Praise Allah and oy gevalt, y’all.”
This is the part where most commentators going overboard to be evenhanded say something inane and vaguely supportive like, “Texas can’t go anywhere but up from here.”
I would say the same thing, except it’s not true. We can actually get much worse. In fact, we will get worse before we get better. But, make no mistake, this team will eventually get better. Charlie Strong has a proven history of developing players. It’s his core coaching skill. See this year’s NFL draft as Exhibit A.
But in the end, it’s all about graphing and slopes. The Horns will improve, but will this team get better fast enough to satisfy an unreasonable, delusional, and entitled fan base with an itchy trigger finger? Fast enough to avoid any more humiliating blowouts? Fast enough to pacify those 7-figure check writers? Fast enough to keep us in the recruiting hunt for the kids who would fit Strong’s tough love culture?
After Saturday, I’m not optimistic, but that’s the weird thing about crooked graphs: you never know where they’re going to go next.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Texas, Jeff Conner has held many jobs in his life: husband, brother, uncle, son, oil field roustabout, short-order cook, sandblaster, irrigation pipe mover, musician, retail assistant manager, attorney-at-law, public school teacher, preacher, cartoonist and writer. While he does have a hot, young wife, Conner is neither as clever nor as good-looking as he believes himself to be. Jeff currently warps fragile and vulnerable young minds while teaching 8th grade math and Pre-Algebra in Taylor, Texas, home of the Fighting Ducks. Conner’s regularly submitted commentary appears in InsideTexas.com and Inside Texas Magazine. The opinions presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inside Texas editorial staff.