Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is Ayn Rand's Anthem Rigorous Enough for High School?

Rigor is defined by some teachers as the amount of homework or the expectation of daily quizzes.  Others believe it is related to the quality of the materials studied and the level of sophistication in the text.  As I deal with discussions of appropriate - and appropriately rigorous - texts for high school students, I am struggling with my feelings toward Ayn Rand's Anthem.  While this dystopian novel has been taught at both the middle and high school level, I feel the simplicity of the text and the overly transparent nature of the theme and message make it far more appropriate for early middle school.  It's more like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Lois Lowry's The Giver, than it is Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World.  Of course, the Ayn Rand Foundation offers Anthem as the freshman and sophomore book choice for its essay contest each year, but I don't think I'll base my ideas about pedagogy on their recommendations.  Obviously, Rand wrote this book geared toward children as a way of contributing to the dystopian genre - and offering her own indoctrination.  The book is, after all, roughly one hundred pages.  And, it begins with sentences like "It is a sin to write this.  It is a sin to think words no other think ..."  That just doesn't sound like a high school text to me - and if it is, that may be part of the problem in public education.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Colorado News - What to Read & Watch

Colorado is a beautiful, diverse, and progressive state with much to offer. It also has the complex mix of opinions that establish it as purple state. And that doesn't refer to the "purple mountain majesty." So, the question becomes, "How do you get news about Colorado?" Clearly, the immediate answer comes in the form of its one major newspaper, The Denver Post, and its major news stations 9News, Fox31, ABC7, and CBS4. But where else do people learn about the Colorado Voices? I recently ran across an article in the Aurora Magazine, and up to that point, I had never heard of the magazine. As it turns out, it's an off-shoot of The Aurora Sentinel. So, I started thinking about the other places I get news about Colorado that is worth reading.

5280 Magazine is the monthly Mile High collection of news and features, with great info on restaurants and events.

Living in Greenwood Village, I like to check out The Villager, though even its online content is subscriber only.

I do check in from time to time with Fort Collins' paper The Coloradan.

Of course, Colorado Springs has The News Gazette

Because I am a teacher, I check Chalkbeat Colorado for the latest in education.

And, there's no substitute in the High Country for the Summit Daily News.

For more local and specific flavor, you can check out this list of Colorado blogs.

Sazza Restaurant - A Delicious, Earth-Friendly Find

Being a foodie, and the husband of a natural foods chef in Denver, Colorado, I am never at a loss for new and interesting locales on the restaurant scene that offer more than just a tasty meal. Foodies don't just like to eat - we like to dine. And that's as true for a light snack or lunch as it is for a five-course meal. So, I was thrilled to discover a tasty destination for pizza today that also appealed to my green and progressive sensibilities, and I found it in an unexpected place, the Cherry Hills Market Place on Orchard in Greenwood Village. After my daughter and I picked up a brush at Sally's Beauty supplies, we wandered over to The Wooden Table, a higher end nouveau Italian restaurant I've been meaning to try. And, next door we discovered:

Sazza Restaurant - Pizza, Salads [Mostly] Organic

The sign caught my eye, as it did my daughter, who is a pizza fanatic. I thought we might pop in for a slice, and instead sat down for a nice snack in a most interesting of "fast casual" style restaurant. The ordering is done at counter service, though the man behind the counter was as pleasant as any maitre' d, discussing the menu with my daughter and me, and then complimenting her on her choice of an 8-inch, whole grain pizza with red sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, and pepperoni. The rest of the menu is variations on pizza and an array of salads, the name "sazza" coming from a combination of pizza and salad. As we checked out the decor, I became more intrigued by the message of sustainability, and the goal of "mostly organic." The wood-fired style and thin crust reminded me of the St. Louis style dear to my heart, and the flavors were fresh and original.

Everywhere you look at SAZZA
There's Earth-Friendly thinking:
 We source from sustainable and local growers and suppliers   Our ingredients are certified organic, and when they can't be they are pure and natural  Our Togo containers, utensils, cups, lids, and straws are compostable and made from renewable resources    We recycle the glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper we use to minimize our landfill contribution   In former lives, our patio furniture was soda bottles, and our dining room tables were manufacturing remnants   The glasses you sip from are recycled wine bottles   Our mismatched silverware? It's donated from our customer's kitchen drawers   Our mismatched employee shirts? Also donated for reuse by our customers   We continually strive to do more   We'll keep you posted...

Sazza is the brainchild of Jeff Rogoff, who developed his plan for a better pizza joint while studying at the DU (University of Denver).  He and his wife Jenni Hayes opened Sazza in 2006 with an eye for organic, clean eating and a sustainable business model. To that end, they developed an urban garden in Denver to give back to the Earth and the community, and provide as much fresh produce for their restaurant as possible. And it's no surprise where they found inspiration for this model, as being students in Denver opened their minds to the potential of all natural fast casual when Chipotle first opened while they were students. While it's not clear that Rogoff and Hayes are on their way to millionaire status like Chipotle founder Steve Ells, it is nice to see a high quality pizza place contributing to the same theme.

Check out Sazza. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Disappointing Season of the Great Food Truck Race

America has a very complicated relationship with food, especially in terms of taste and culinary standards. We are truly a nation of Zagat Guides and dollar menus. Some Americans appreciate and craft true culinary masterpieces, and they seek out artisan talent in the food they eat. Others de-value food - and really themselves - as worth no more than a buck and will shove anything in their mouths as long as it contains sugar, salt, and fat. That said, you would expect culinary icons and purveyors of fine food like Tyler Florence to appreciate and promote culinary excellence. That's clearly not the case with this season of the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.

Let's be clear:  the boys from Utah selling some "Waffle Love" are not by any measure - other than simple sales - a contender for the "Best Food Truck in America." The title of "Best" should indicate some degree of talent, beyond simple sales. And, that's why I've been quite disappointed in this season of the Truck Race, specifically because Tyler (in a mystifying move for a culinary artist) included three un-skilled waffle makers alongside some obviously talented chefs. Tyler and his producers found five really interesting and unique food trucks who can create numerous eclectic dishes filled with flavors. And then they threw in a group of rather simple boys who sell a basic waffle covered with Nutella or some cookies spread and whipped cream. Sure it sells - but then so do Twinkies and Chips Ahoy cookies. Sales are not the indicator of quality - people eat crap in this country. By Tyler's apparent measure for this contest, McDonald's sells the "best hamburger" in the country. And, we know that no one, including Tyler, would ever put the Golden Arches on a "best" list when talking food.

On this week's episode from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tyler could not have found more ways to dishonor the efforts and talents of the two legitimate food trucks - Pho-Nomenal and GD Bros. Throughout the contest, the Waffle-kids have not won a single cooking challenge when it came to be judged on quality and talent. And Tyler "warned" them that they needed to "take it seriously" because it's going to matter. But it didn't. They were not judged on quality - they were judged on how many chick/waffles they can sell to hot rod owners in Tulsa, OK. Give us a break, Tyler. Those car show people would choose chicken & waffles any day of the week and twice on Sunday. It was crass and cluless for Tyler to ask Pho-Nomenal and GD Bros "why you lost the challenge." It wasn't their food or their marketing Tyler. It was because people at a car show in Tulsa have very simple tastes, and they would never try something remotely "foreign." Send the Waffle-makers to Chinatown or the Village, and we would have a different result. The only reason that GD Bros lost was because it was in Tulsa.

Now, let's be clear. I'm not saying the Waffle-dudes don't have a thriving business. Heck, Dairy Queen and Entenmanns make millions. But they don't top the lists of "Best" ice cream or pastries. Because they're really not that good - they're just sweet in a nation with a big sweet tooth ... and expanding waist lines.

So, the Great Food Truck Race will end next week in St. Louis. And the Waffle-kids will win by making a lot of money selling a product for which they have invested almost no skill. They will profit from selling processed foods, and the talented ladies from Pho-Nomenal will lose out despite whipping up culinary excellence and promoting it with marketing skill. And Tyler will basically ignore any shred of respect for the culinary world by awarding these guys a title of dubious authenticity. Let's hope next season Tyler tries to restore some culinary integrity to the show he promotes.

Two American Ninja Warriors Conquer the Course - NBC & Pom too Cheap to Pay Them Both

Seven years we've waited. Finally, after seven long years of amazing dedication and performance on the courses of NBC's American Ninja Warrior, fans of ANW were finally able to cheer not one but two champions who finally conquered Stage 3 and then Stage 4 where they both "climbed Mt. Midoriyama." It was truly an epic moment of athletic achievement. The reality show focusing on the most difficult obstacle course in the world originated years ago in Japan and became a phenomenon several years ago as "Ninja Warriors" like Brian Arnold and Brent Steffenson and Joe Moravsky and Kacy Katenczero wowed the nation with their incredible runs on the course. But, year after year the competitors and fans were disappointed when no one could seem to conquer the course to be named a true "American Ninja Warrior."

And then it happened.

Three-year competitor Issac Caldiero was the first to ever complete the dreaded Stage 3, and then a few minutes later sophomore ninja warrior Geoff Britton also completed the task. It was a truly epic evening watching two truly awesome competitors do the seemingly impossible. Of course, after completing Stage 3, the warriors still needed to "climb Mt. Midoriyama," the final challenge of climbing a 75-food rope in less than 30 seconds. It would be a challenge, but we knew they could do it. And then, just before the commercial break, the hosts of the show dropped a bombshell by revealing a seemingly never-before-known-or-announced rule:  the winner of the $1million prize would be the person who "scaled the rope the fastest." Many of us were dumbfounded as the commercials ran, thinking, "What?" (or even "W-T-F!?")

After seven years of not awarding the cash prize (which was only a half million previously) and title, many viewers imagined that NBC could, would, and should "pony up" the prize for both winners. At the very least, second-place finisher Geoff Britten could have been given a smaller cash prize - like perhaps the $500K that was the previous award. Considering other shows give out million dollar cash prizes every year, it seemed like not an unreasonable expectation that NBC could compensate both winners. Considering NBC is a mega-corporation with yearly revenue of $26 billion, and they have earned copious revenue from the advertising over seven seasons, the Powers-That-Be like producer Kent Weed could have compensated Geoff Britton for his brilliant performance. And, while POM Wonderful is not the financial behemoth that NBC is, the fruit drink maker does share some responsibility as the primary sponsor. POM has been conspicuously silent. But the fans haven't, as the outpouring of support for Geoff and seriously lobbying for some cash for him has blown up Twitter. One group has even started up a GoFundMe site for Geoff with the intent of average fans paying him something if the corporate kings won't.

For those who compete and for the fans who follow the competitions, American Ninja Warrior is much more than an obstacle course or a reality show. This competition is about the pursuit of excellence. Period. It is an ideal deeply embedded in our culture, and it harkens back to the days of the early Olympics in Ancient Greece or the stories of epic heroes like Odysseus and Beowulf. This is about being the absolute best and beating the challenge just to prove that we can. American Ninja Warrior is a contest of human greatness, and in the words of Geoff Britten, "I didn't do it for the money." And, that is what makes people like Geoff and Isaac and thousands of others all the more impressive.

And, now, with the course finally conquered, it's time for Ninja Warriors to ask:

What's next?

For Isaac Caldiero, the answer is easy:  "A tougher course."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Flawed PARCC Test Claims ZERO Illinois High School Students Are Advanced

As if the PARCC test wasn't problematic enough with parents refusing to allow their kids to take it and states dropping the PARCC test like a bad habit. Now, with the recent setting of "cut scores," there seems to be even more reason to question the authenticity of PARCC. To begin, the secretive and obscure "PARCC Rangers" have met and set scores, but failed to reveal what they are. And, in a blow to state-by-state comparability, it appears PARCC may have different results and ratings for different states - which makes no sense whatsover. As the scores have come out, the story worsens and the plot thickens. This dubious nature is nowhere more clear than in Illinois.

According to the data released this week by the Illinois State Board of Education, the percentage of Illinois High School students who "exceed expectations" in math is ... wait for it ... ZERO. That's right - according to the geniuses behind the PARCC assessment, in the fifth most populous state in the country, with some of the top schools in the country like New Trier HS in Willmette and Stevenson HS in Lincolnshire, there are zero advanced students. Zero! That is patently absurd, and such results only expose the flawed and inauthentic nature of PARCC, its methodology, and its value as a measure of student achievement.

This is not simply a matter of Arne Duncan's nasty, misguided, and pathetic claim that Common Core simply exposes to suburban white mothers that their children "aren't quite as smart as they thought." That alone was a desperate attempt to bully and manipulate parents and media. No, this is far worse. This is a calculated and deliberate disaster of educational malpractice. Many of these "proficient at best" students in Illinois will gain admission to the top colleges in the world, and they will achieve incredible results as doctors and scientists and engineers and coders and innovators and mathematicians and researchers ... and more.

I cannot imagine why any parent would ever subject their children to being "judged" by such an egregiously flawed measure.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

In Avon, CO? Check Out Loaded Joe's for Coffee, Snacks, & Drinks

Fall is the most under-rated time in the mountains, as its reputation for being mud-season leads many to look elsewhere to vacation while they wait for the snow to fall. Each fall, the Cherry Creek School District breaks for a week, and during that week I can't wait to head for the mountains. This year, we're spending time in Avon and Beaver Creek, and while we were tooling around town, we discovered a gem of a coffeehouse and restaurant called LOADED JOE'S. After a brisk walk and short round of disc golf, we were looking to warm up at the foot of the mountain in the heart of Avon. One look at the menu outside Loaded Joe's and I knew I had to try their warm "Snickers" espresso beverage - a warm foamy concoction of espresso, dark chocolate, caramel, hazelnut, and steamed milk. Served in a deep mug that warmed both hands, I sipped this dessert coffee and gazed up the hill through the "garage door" windows at the mountains of Beaver Creek. We also enjoyed several other drinks from the menu - the Milky Way, Spanish Coffee, and Con Pananna were all delicious and warming. I would add that I asked them to lighten up on the sweetness which allows the coffee/espresso to come through more strongly. For snacks, we munched on the sweet potato fries, cooked to crispy perfection, and the salty, marinated, grilled brussel sprouts that were the most interesting snack I've had in a long time. And the portion was huge, which meant the rest came home to be heated from breakfast. The service was great and the whole atmosphere was fun. Can't wait to go back in the evening for beers and the open mic night. Loaded Joe's is worth the visit while in Avon or Vail.

Friday, September 4, 2015

SAT Scores Expose the Flaw in Education Reformers View of Schools

For those paying attention, the latest news on nationwide SAT scores came out this week, and the news was unstartling. Scores are pretty much flat, or dropping a bit, and the reality is that all efforts aimed at improving test scores for high school students fall dismally short - as dismal as some of the scores themselves. Fordham's Michael Petrilli offers some interesting observations about the obvious "age gap" for school achievement:

What makes this so disappointing is that NAEP shows respectable gains for younger students, especially in fourth grade and particularly in math. Yet these early gains seem to evaporate as kids get older.

And, the problem is, of course, the same across the country. We can make gains in lower grade levels among some specifically targeted populations. But that success will dissipate come ninth grade. And the focus on standardized tests as a measure of achievement is certainly suspect.

Ultimately, the solution is this:  Reformers need to re-think testing & test prep as the key to equitable education. Scores tail off in high schools because it's a one-size-fits-all BS/BA-focused system that emphasizes and rewards only academic, standardized-test based skills. Offer multiple pathways to adulthood, including graduation to trade schools at age sixteen, and that will be a step toward the schools we want and need.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grammar Battle - Whom Are We Kidding?

In spoken English, I admit, I will still tell people I was "laying" around the house, and it takes a vigilant colleague to correct me.  In fact, it's become a bit of a joke, made all the more amusing because I am generally the grammar guru of the department.  I never make the mistake in written discourse, and I am the go-to-guy for questions on grammar instruction and assessment materials.  Yet, I still have a few mental blocks on grammar issues, which is surprising after growing up with a writer for a mother who never mis-spoke.

In The Chronicle a couple professors comment on and trace the development our our modern lexicon with all its confusion and misuse.  Katherine Blanchard asks Who Do We Think We Are, reflecting on her frustration with all the mistakes in written English that have been exacerbated by the dominance of social media.  Lucy Ferris adds to the discussion, wondering Who Says Tomato? which links to the fascinating visual graphics/map put together by NC State student Joshua Katz drawing on the recent Cambridge survey of English dialects.

Plenty of discussion to be had in the world of grammar and dialect.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mike Royko on Guns & Kennesaw, Georgia

During his tenure at the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, Mike Royko was one of America's most astute writers of op-ed social commentary and criticism. Royko was prolific to say the least, putting out five columns a week for decades. And his keen insight, as well as brilliant acerbic wit, took journalism to a new level. A generally progressive voice, Royko skewered anyone who deserved it, and some of his columns remain as pertinent today as when they were written decades ago. One of my favorites is his satirical attack on the pro-gun lobby via his reporting of a new law in Kennesaw, Georgia which actually "required" all households to own firearms. Royko's response to the law is brilliant.

If We’re Gonna Have Guns, Let’s Get ‘em
Out in the Open – Or Else!

By Mike Royko, Chicago Sun Times, 1980s

            I kinda’ like the gun law that was just passed by the good ol’ boys down in a Georgia town called Kennesaw. In case you missed it, the law requires every household in Kennesaw to have a gun and ammunition.
            Darvin Purdy, the mayor, says that he and the City Council want the 7,000 residents of Kennesaw to be armed so that they can defend themselves against criminals and any other aggressors.
            Although the new law doesn’t go far enough, I’m all for it.
            That might surprise those who have noted that in the past I’ve been in favor of strict handgun controls. But my views on this subject have changed. It’s become obvious to me that we aren’t going to have effective gun laws in this country. By effective, I mean a nationwide ban on all private handgun ownership, and strict regulation of rifles, shotguns, and other larger weapons. And without a national ban on handguns, the existing laws won’t work.
            So if we are going to continue to have guns, the only sensible approach is to require everyone to have them, as the Kennesaw City Council has recognized.
            But even Kennesaw’s new law doesn’t go far enough in providing citizens with protection against killers, thieves, fiends, communists invaders, and suspicious-looking characters.
            My approach goes this way. All present gun-control laws should be abolished. People should be able to buy guns as easily as they buy ball-point pens, and they should be able to carry them wherever they go – in their pockets, shoved into their belts, in purses, up sleeves, concealed or unconcealed.
            In other words, if we’re going to have guns, let’s really have them. Let’s get guns out in the open where they can do some good. As it is now, most people keep their guns in their homes because in most places there are laws against carrying loaded guns in public.
            The fact is that you’re more likely to be the victim of a crime when you are away from home. Except for husbands murdering wives, wives murdering husbands, parents brutalizing children and friends murdering friends, few violent crimes occur in homes. So if guns are going to be useful in preventing crimes as the National Rifle Association (NRA) wants them to be, the gun must come out of the home. A few hypothetical examples:
            We are always reading about crime on public transportation systems in big cities. Muggers grabbing purses or gold chains. Degenerates whispering lewd romantic overtures to defenseless ladies. Idle teenagers leaping about, shouting and throwing French fries at helpless travelers. In almost every case, the victims and bystanders feel powerless to defend themselves.
            Ah, but if everyone on the bus were packing a gun, it would be different. Somebody snatches a purse. A cry: “That man snatched my purse!” Suddenly 30 or 40 guns are whipped out of pockets, purses, holsters, shopping bags, and briefcases, and everyone begins blazing away.
            Or you’re on an airplane, going on vacation, and suddenly a wild-eyed man stands up and shouts: “Take me to Cuba!” In an instant, 100 passengers draw guns, begin firing, and the skyjacker goes to meet his maker.
            Or let’s say it’s late and you’re walking on a dark street and you see someone coming in your direction. You can’t be certain if that person is a potential threat. But you never know, do you? So, just to be on the safe side, you take out your pistol and casually twirl it a few times. That, you can be sure, will let the other person know you aren’t someone to be trifled with.
            Beyond discouraging criminals, the constant presence of guns on everyone’s person would do much to increase civility and courtesy. Motorists would be less likely to cut each other off in traffic, or blow their horns needlessly, if they knew that the other person had a gun on the seat next to him – and might use it.
            Charges of police brutality would be sharply reduced because the police would be afraid to stop cars or approach people, knowing that everyone was armed.
            People who rudely talk in movie theaters would heed the warning to “Shhh!” for fear that they might get a bullet in the back of the head.
            Oh, there might be a few regrettable incidents. A few innocent bystanders would be winged. An occasional hothead might shoot someone without provocation.
            But that’s the price of preserving our liberty. After all, thousands of innocent people die of gun wounds every year as things stand, and the NRA says that’s well worth the price of gun ownership.
            As a wise man once said: “You’ve got to break a few thousand eggs to make an omelet, right?”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Standardized Testing Criticized in Poll - And, Zuckerberg Fails to "Fix Schools"

Edu-reformers who want to standardized test their way to "better schools" have been dealt a few blows with recent news out of Gallup polls and the great state of New Jersey. As opt-numbers shot through the roof last spring, and tens of thousands of kids refused to take the PARCC and Smarter-Balanced CCSS tests, many pro-testing reformers went on the immediate offensive, arguing that standardized tests are an integral part of any plan to "fix schools" and improve achievement because we "have to know how kids are doing." Well, there are plenty of problems with that mindset - too many to list - but it's worth addressing the current status of "test-based accountability" among parents. In a recent Gallup poll, an "overwhelming majority of Americans" oppose school accountability based on standardized tests. The Washington Post is reporting how significantly Americans are souring on the excessive use of standardized tests in public schools.

A majority of respondents — 64 percent — said too much emphasis has been placed on testing, and a majority also said the best way to measure the success of a school is not through tests but by whether students are engaged and feel hopeful about the future. Many Americans also said they think students should be judged by multiple measures, including student work, written teacher observations and grades. And they overwhelmingly think teacher quality is the best way to improve education, followed by high academic standards and effective principals. When it comes to the role of the federal government in public schools, a majority of respondents said Washington should play no role in holding schools accountable, paying for schools or deciding the amount of testing. Seven out of 10 respondents said they wanted state and local districts to have those responsibilities. Regarding academic standards, more than six out of 10 said the expectations for what students should learn is important to school improvement. But a majority — 54 percent — is opposed to the Common Core State Standards, the K-12 academic benchmarks adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia that have been under fire by critics on the left and right.

And, in another blow to the billionaires and corporate education reformers, the news can now report that we are five years from Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's big foray into education philanthropy, and New Jersey schools have virtually nothing impressive to show for the $100 million that Marky Mark pledged to "fix Jersey schools" and turn Jersey schools into a "national model for public education." In a fascinating bit of investigative reporting, journalist Dale Rusakoff has released a new book,  The Prize, which recounts the story of the naive efforts of Zucky, Newark mayor Cory Booker, and populist tough guy Governor Chris Christie. The story is just one more example of how corporate education reformers are too removed from the realities of education and the struggles faced by our lowest achieving students. Granted, these kids and their schools need more funding, no doubt. But the reality is that this money needs to provide food and social services and intervention programs and community support, and even then it will do little to alleviate the damaging effects that poverty have on these kids. Rusakoff has recounted much of the story in a great piece for the New Yorker.

In Newark, the solutions may be closer than either side acknowledges. They begin with getting public-education revenue to the children who need it most, so that district teachers can provide the same level of support that SPARK does. And charter schools, given their rapid expansion, need to serve all students equally. Anderson understood this, but she, Cerf, Booker, and the venture philanthropists—despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement—have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result. Nor have they acknowledged how much of the philanthropy went to consultants who came from the inner circle of the education-reform movement.

Shavar Jeffries believes that the Newark backlash could have been avoided. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in co√∂peration with people.” Some reformers have told him that unions and machine politicians will always dominate turnout in school-board elections and thus control the public schools. He disagrees: “This is a democracy. A majority of people support these ideas. You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate.” As he put it to me at the outset of the reform initiative, “This remains the United States. At some time, you have to persuade people.” 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Eddie Jackson is the Next Food Network Star

Jay Ducotes, you had us from hello. Alas, it was not meant to be.

By all accounts going into the finale of this year's next Food Network Star competition, all bets were on Louisiana cajun cook Jay Ducotes who was nearly flawless all season, and was, in the words of producer Bob Tuschman, "The only finalist we've ever had who was show ready from the first episode." All the judges found his culinary skills "brilliant," and all agreed that he was absolutely "camera ready" to produce his own show. In fact, his pilot from the Sweet Chick chicken and waffle restaurant in New York was an excellent TV-ready commercial that effectively promoted the locale. As some people noted, "When I'm in New York, I'm going to Sweek Chick." In fact, when the pilots were done, Sweet Chick was the only name I remembered. Bobby said it best in the competition, "I never worry about him in front of the camera. Ever." Clearly, Jay Ducotes was ready to be the next Food Network Star.

But the winner was actually Eddie Jackson.

And, that's OK. In fact, that's great. All three finalists are talented chefs with engaging and charismatic personalities who would all represent the Food Network well. And, that is a great relief after last year's debacle when the FNS viewers voted in the disaster that was Lenny McNab. Thankfully, the Food Network has learned its lesson after the past two seasons, and they realized that turning the decision over to viewers is ... well, there's a reason we have network executives. The masses simply aren't that astute some times. And, former NFL-star-turned-fitness trainer and chef Eddie Jackson is a great choice to helm a show. He is talented and genuine and charismatic. And, most importantly, he is fit. The Food Network could certainly use a strong, healthy, fit athlete in their line-up.  Of course, I hope they actually capitalize on Eddie's health, rather than producing a show on barbeque for him.  I mean, seriously, where did that come from? Eddie's persona all season long was not about BBQ. That was Jay's wheelhouse. Eddie should promote health and wellness through tasty cuisine. I mean, for goodness sakes, his twitter feed is "Fit Chef Eddie." Eddie Jackson is a great choice for the Food Network Star. Let's hope they use him well.

And, Dom? Oh, Dom. It was such a pleasure to see him come back from elimination to make the final three. And, it was great to see him finally find that camera voice. Alas, I don't think network stardom is in Dom's future. That said, Dom is a fabulous chef with a great personality, and someone should bankroll him to open up some new dining establishments in the Big Apple. Dom shouldn't be in a food truck - he should be an executive chef and part owner of a classic new restaurant. While he can't always bring it in front of the camera, Dom could work the room at a classic bistro and have the time of his life. Let's hope that opportunity presents itself.

As far as the disappointment for Jay and his fans? Well, there's no reason that the Food Network Star can't give Jay a show as well. That's something they should have done several years ago when New England chef Michelle Ragussis placed second. The Food Network dropped the ball when they let her go, and the same is true of Nikki Dinki. So, maybe there will be salvation for Jay. But, all in all, it was nice to see a final three of talented chefs, all of whom I would watch on TV. And, let's never let the masses choose the winner again.

Nice job, Bobby, Giada, Susie, and Bob. Great season.