* Welcome to The Big Jewel, otherwise known as the cutting edge of education reform, led by that most sagacious and perspicacious of reformers, Gardner Mounce. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't even know how to spell sagacious and perspicacious. And as soon as we close the achievement gap, we might even know what they mean.

How To Close The Achievement Gap

By: Gardner Mounce

Dear teachers, administrators and faculty of Tennessee public schools,

I am your new Secretary of Education, Mark Jessler, and I was elected to accomplish one thing: to close the achievement gap between the underprivileged and the privileged schools. As you know, every time the underprivileged schools raise their test scores, the privileged schools raise theirs even more, so that year after year the achievement gap is wider. How are we to fix this?

Easy. We unteach the privileged students.

Unteaching the privileged students will be easy. The state is working hard on rewriting the textbooks incorrectly, but until those are ready, the teachers at the privileged schools should stop using the current “correct” textbooks and start utilizing a little technique I like to call Uplifting Misinformation (UM). UM is the process of transforming the hard facts of life into fun-filled lies. From now on, the Holocaust was a summer camp and the Trail of Tears was a prog band. UM achieves two purposes: it makes our privileged children happy to believe that history is as pleasant as a puppy’s yawn and it ensures that they fail all of their state history tests.

But UM is not enough. That’s why there’s stage two: Evasive Reinforcement by Motivation (ERM). ERM is the technique of praising a student instead of providing them an education. If a student asks who the president of the United States is, tell them that they are if they choose to believe! If a student asks what’s two plus two, tell them nice shoes! If a student says of their shoes, “Thanks,” you say, “George Washington! 5! Your eyes are baby stars!”

Pretty soon our dumb kids will be as smart as our smart kids, and our smart kids will be as dumb as our dumb kids, and then who’s the smarter? Me, Secretary of Education Mark Jessler, that’s who. Or is it whom? Who cares? Now for both cases it’s “whum.”

There are some of you whum may be wondering: “Mr. Jessler, are UM and ERM enough? What should we do about our privileged students whum are about to graduate? Those whum have spent ten or eleven years in our state’s finest, most privileged schools?” In that case we move to the most extreme stage, stage three: Willful Utilization of Ze Actual Truth (WUZAT). It was created by an Austrian colleague of mine. WUZAT may come as a surprise to you, because it is the undoing of everything we have taught our students in public schools. WUZAT means to reverse the traditional teachings of the public schools and divert our students through honesty. If we tell high caliber students the dismal truths about public school and its curriculum, they will inevitably question everything they have ever been taught in our school system, and their fragile psyches will crumble. It is our final stand when UM and ERM have failed. You will all receive the WUZAT pdf that contains the WUZAT truths, but it should only be used in extreme cases. Some sample WUZAT truths:

• Truth #5: We made up Sine, Cosine, and Tangent to mess with you.
• Truth #9: If you suspect that your teacher hates you, you’re right. In fact, all of your teachers hate you.
• Truth #102: Years ago we were supposed to revise the mandatory sixth grade reading list you all received (which includes Lolita, American Psycho (Illustrated), and just the baby-on-a-spit scene from The Road). That’s on us.
• Truth #20: Diagram this sentence: The unemployment rate for young high school graduates is 29.9%.
• Truth #58: You think you choose the prom king and queen? Grow up. This is bigger than you and me.

By using UM, ERM and, in extreme cases, WUZAT, we can save Tennessee. Just think, if the underprivileged schools increase their pass rate by 10% and the privileged schools decrease theirs by 15%, then we can eliminate the achievement gap in two or six or some number of years — I don’t know. Don’t ask me to do math. I was homeschooled.

Mark Jessler

Secretary of Education

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are puzzling over what to make of this piece by first-time contributor Gardner Mounce. We are also wondering what to make of the name Gardner Mounce, but that's another story. Enjoy!

The Reigning Jigsaw Puzzle Champion Of The World Apologizes

By: Gardner Mounce

Dear Residents of Providence, Rhode Island,

My name is Matt “Jigsaw” Sawyer, reigning jigsaw puzzle champion of the world. I take full responsibility for what happened over the weekend in Providence. I now clearly see my mistake. I do not expect for you to forgive me so easily, but please allow me to explain myself.

First, let me just say that I am no stranger to solving jigsaw puzzles in extreme conditions. In 2000, I solved “Kittens in a Basket” while on a roller coaster. In 2002, I solved “Colorful Tulip Field, Keukenhow Park, Netherlands” while at the bottom of the Atlantic. In 2005, I solved “Uh oh! Puppy Trouble!” while solving “Neuschwanstein Castle” while in zero gravity. And in 2007, I trained a robotic arm to complete “Apple Harvest!” so that I could get back to completing the double-sided “Apples For Sale!/ Mmm! Apples!” So at least when a person decided to complete a life-scale jigsaw puzzle of Providence on top of Providence, it’s obvious that person was a professional.

Second, my intention was not to start any sort of puzzle-enthusiast crime wave. Have I started puzzle movements in the past? Sure I have. I spearheaded the Edgeless Movement back in ‘98 when I discarded all the edge pieces during the world championship in Toronto. I knew that if I was going to stand out among the giants of puzzle history I’d have to rock the boat a bit. And at the 2010 Berlin Open, I accidentally pioneered the Kein Foto Movement. You see, when I dumped the pieces out of the box during the final round they all just happened to be upside down. I mistakenly thought there was no picture, that they were blank — which I just figured was a German thing. But believe me, I had no intention of inspiring puzzle enthusiasts to print busy urban intersections from Google Earth at life scale and then paste them onto puzzle pieces. I also had no intention of inspiring them to then painstakingly match those pieces onto the actual corresponding urban intersections in midday traffic. It was not at all my intention to inspire this to happen all over the world, in the busiest of intersections, during the holiday season.

I won’t deny that puzzling is my life. I solved my first puzzle when I was too young to even remember it. I’m told that when I was 10 months old I pulled some boxes off a shelf, that I was crushed by a 36-piecer, and that I had to solve my way out from under the bastard piece by piece. You see, I have moved through life by solving puzzles, but every puzzle I have ever solved has now been disassembled and boxed up or digested by sharks. Last weekend it struck me how ephemeral puzzling, as a lifestyle, is (which I realized was a mental puzzle in and of itself — puzzle humor!). I realized that I needed to do something permanent in order to leave my mark. With that said, I now see how actually supergluing puzzle pieces onto real objects was a bad move. For instance, the homeless man I glued his own face to. I’m told that he should only suffer minor permanent damage from the adhesive, but hey, that guy has been sitting there since Google Earth photographed that street corner in 2009! Providence is a major city. You can’t sit on the same street corner for four years and not expect someone to glue something to your face.

Once again, I take responsibility not only for my actions, but for the actions of those I inspired. For example, I apologize to the sleeping Alabama schoolchild who was mis-solved as another similar-looking schoolchild, and to her parents who were subsequently confused but later ecstatic when TLC agreed to make a show out of it. I apologize for all of the puzzlers abroad who defaced cherished monuments. As an aside, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem was not solved! Everyone who took a piece of the wall took a real piece of it!

I take responsibility for the bad outcomes, but for the good outcomes, too. Archaeologists in Niger would have lost the crumbling cranium of the recently unearthed Ardipithecus africanus — an early hominid many are claiming as the missing link — if puzzlers wouldn’t have come by at that moment and solved it into place. And as North and South Korean puzzlers put together all the pieces of their shared border on top of their already existing shared border, they stood in silence as an innocent child put the last puzzle piece in place, thus symbolizing their shared humanity and how they’re all just solving the puzzle of life together. Even Congress decided to solve their own puzzle as a gesture of solidarity but promptly fell into arguing over whether they should solve the budget crisis or “Aww! Penguins!” — I never claimed to be a miracle worker.

I realize that this letter in no way redresses the full extent of the damage done, but I stand by all of the consequences of my actions, good and bad, because I am, and always will be, a proud puzzler.

Yours truly,

Matt “Jigsaw” Sawyer

P.S. Tune in to TLC this Tuesday at 9 p.m. for “Picking up the Pieces: The Alabama Girl Who is a Puzzle of Her Cousin,” because I make an appearance!