A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, September 30, 2005

And how did YOUR day go, dear?

So try this one on for size:
6:45 am--I arrive at school at the crack of dawn, notice mucho police presence in front, but head to my room and check my email, to find that there has been a bomb threat phoned in. Teachers are encouraged to look for anything suspicious.

7:45 am-- announcement comes over the intercom for teachers to check their email. We are assured that they don't think the threat is serious, but just in case, we're going to have a fire drill to evacuate the building at 9:50.

8:30 am-- sub arrives so I can go to an IEP meeting while my class at the time takes a test. Some kid comes to the door from in-school suspension and wants me to pass an envelope to another kid so that that kid 2 can buy kid 1 a ticket to homecoming. I demur, and wonder why this kid is roaming the halls if he is in in-school suspension.

8:35-9:20 am-- go to IEP meeting.

9:22 am: ask activities secretary if a kid can buy another kid's homecoming tickets for them. No, is the answer.

9:27 am: return to classroom. Explain that they are going to have a formal fire drill with the police and fire departments coming, so urge kids (including 3 pregnant students) to go to the restroom now, since this may take some time. Remember, they are supposed to be taking a test, so already I am envisioning that the distractions have now reached a critical point.

9:50 am: even though they've gotten a heads' up, kids all jump when fire alarm goes off. We all troop outside, where...

9:50- 10:45 am: we move all the kids to an isolated parking lot and then allegedly supervise them, while news station helicopters wheel overhead "riding shotgun in the sky" as Joni Mitchell would put it. I break up two near fights, one amongst a huge group of kids who deliberately jump up and down to hide the fact that punches are being thrown as they cheer on the mayhem. My friend Moose (all 5 feet nothing of her) and I separate kids in the midst of this maelstrom, and suddenly look at each other as we simultaneously realize that the last place we should be is in the middle of this, but it turns out okay and the kids separate although they snicker at the two ridiculous women who have waded in to their scrum, while all nearby male teachers have studiously looked the other way until the shooting was over.

10:47 am-- go back into the school (they found a suspicious package and destroyed it while we were outside). Attempt to finish test. Ha!

10:50-11:15 am-- keep kids in class while we receive 4 email messages telling us how to get lunch in for everyone. Tests seem insignificant now, while kids barrage me with questions about why we were out there for an hour... Oh, and by the way, grades are still due this afternoon by the end of school.

And the rest of the day was all bollixed up. It started to storm-- nothing too big, but definitely loud and wet. Thank goodness that didn't happen while we were outside with a million kids to herd.

3:00 pm--I went to pick up my kids from school to find out that Elder Daughter has band practice, so I pick up the others to avoid aftercare charges and realize that I must go home and then come back in 45 minutes because I am too zoned to go to a store.

3:30 pm-- get home. Cell phone has run out of power, so I plug it into the wall. Two seconds later, the power goes out for the fourth time in six weeks. I mean, downtown Baghdad has power more often that I do, while my neighbors across the street haven't lost it once. Whiiiine! So now I've also got NO phone.

4:15 pm-- go to get eldest daughter, then stop by cell phone store to get a car charger so I can call the $#@@@!!*% electric company to report that my @#@! power is out. The people there actually fast charge my phone in like 10 minutes. I did not know they could do this, and am deeply grateful.

4:20 pm-- call idiotic electric company, where no real human is brave enough to pick up the phone, so am told by a computer that 1000 customers have no power, and that they anticipate it will take until 10 pm to get it going again. The only bright spot about this is that I actually am not going to lose that much food, since I had to throw out over $300 worth last week when I lost power for a day and a half.

6:00 pm-- hubby comes home with food. Weight Watchers be damned! There's a canelloni in my sights!

6:15 pm-- power comes back on.

8:00 pm-- collapse from exhaustion. Drink bottle of wine with hubby. Children play quietly and peacefully in their rooms for once because they know what's good for them.

10:00 pm-- after seeing no mention of bomb threat on evening news-- how do the PR people pull this off every time something bad happens to our district? There must be a pact with Satan involved-- go to sleep, where I dream about trees knocking down powerlines and oversleeping for work.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Carnival of Education #34: For your edification

The Education Wonks have put out another fine collection of edublogs with the Carnival of Education #34.

I was fascinated by a post at Education Matters about school districts who utilize a four day school week, and then I got good and mad about the Wonks' own post about military recruitment, privacy, and the No Child Left Behind Act, especially since y'all know my recent struggles with the whole privacy issue (see below.)

So go on over and check it out.


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Naked Ape

My colleague Mike over at Education in Texas, whom I pray is safe from the latest storm, mentioned a humorous essay about dress codes at educationnews.org. The author's basic point was that no one seems to be enforcing dress codes in the schools he visits.

Let me illuminate the realities of dress codes, using my high school as an example. We have one female assistant principal. The male assistant principals do not wish to deal with this issue. When students have been sent to the principal if they were either unwilling or unable to don a fig leaf to cover their nakedness, we have typically been given one of two responses: "I've seen worse," (this is an actual quote) or "I don't have time to deal with this," which may be a cover for embarrassment or fear.

I am one of three females in my department, and for various reasons, the other two don't count when it comes to this issue. I do believe that in our PC and litigious time, our mostly young male teachers are potentially asking for a heap of trouble if they confront a young female (can't use the word "lady" for someone dressed like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) regarding cleavage and thigh exposure. I have a few basic principles to which I adhere, and one of these is a plea to only have the rules you are willing to enforce, and another is a belief in the broken windows theory. Further, if I were a Supreme Court nominee, I would babble on about the importance of precedent. Stubborn, stupid me actually therefore spends lamented minutes a week in conversation with Junior Jezebels re: basic modesty. For this I took out thousands in student loans and worked the midnight shift at the front desk of my dorm for four long years?

About once every other day, one of my male colleagues comes scurrying to me pointing out some shocking little piece of eye-candy to ask my intervention. A few days ago it was the young assistant principal who encountered an outfit so provocative he couldn't ignore it, and asked me to corral a young hottie dressed in strategically placed string. So at least he stood behind me with his arms crossed, looking like a bull mastiff with a toothache, while I did the actual dirty work:

MC: "Hon, can you c'mere for a second?"
Delilah: "Whut?"
MC: "You are unfortunately in violation of the dress code, and I need to know if you've got something else to change into."
Delilah: "GHuh? Whut's wrong with my clothes? I've got two shirts on!"
MC: "Actually, you've got two quarter shirts on, one see-through and one crocheted, and basic math says that that still equals, at best, one-half a shirt. See, when you self-consciously tug the hem of the top layer down, you expose too much cleavage. When the hem immediately snaps back up like a rubber band, we see the bottom of your unmentionables both north and south of your navel and about a foot and a half of midriff. So you need to get a real shirt on, please, so you don't put someone's eye out."
Delilah: "Man, this is WHACK! A'ight, a'ight! Geez!" AP nods his massive head toward the end of the hallway. Exeunt.

Why is this important? I think that a school is for students, not strumpets. We're not asking them to wear uniforms or habits. They can come to school in PJs and slippers. And when we ignore a rule, especially one we've made a big deal out of, we look like jackasses, or, if you prefer, the federal government.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Constitution Day

This is a picture of a rock formation I called "The Scream" from my vacation this summer. I have now subtitled it, "Oh No! Another Unfunded Mandate! AAAAIIIIEEEE!!!"

Well, a lot people seem to have their thongs in a twist over Constitution Day. Vanderbilt University apparently assigned the question of whether it was constitutional to force universities to observe Constitution Day (Read about it here and here). Hee Hee! Amusing.

I say, have some irreverent fun with it, since the begininng of the year giddiness has now given way to the occasional pangs of the ol' familiar weltschmerz. Just start off your presentation next year with this:

"Once upon a time, children, there was a man who liked to keep a copy of the Constitution in his shirt pocket, near his heart... right under his white sheet when he was going out to nightride with the Klan, possibly so he could explain to his victims how the Constitution didn't apply to THEM. This man later became a senator, repented his youthful racist ways, but he still likes to force people to do things, like most senators do. So he decided that American schoolchildren were woefully ignorant about the Constitution-- of course that might just be because, due to No Child Left Behind, which this man also sponsored, we spend all our time and money emphasizing writing and mathematics, which are tested, while classes that build citizenship become the red-headed step-children of the school day, because they aren't tested. This senator decided to make the lazy good-for-nothings in America's public schools teach the Constitution on one day each year, since obviously if students don't know something, it's because teachers haven't taught it. And thus was born Constitution Day."

Have fun now.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Privacy rights?

I got some distressing news the other day, and it's only because I badgered it out of a counselor. One of my students has been sitting in my class for over a month, and I was not informed that he hears voices and sees menacing presences who follow him around most of the time. This boy is a wonderful young person who is intelligent and thoughtful, and remarkably in control-- he simply asks to leave the room when he feels overwhelmed and goes to a safe room in the school.

It doesn't matter how I got suspicious-- let's just say I observed a strange episode that made no sense when he was leaving another teacher's classroom.

I am nonplussed, to say the least. Apparently, his guardian does not want his teachers to know, and has insisted that his 504 simply say that he is "depressed."

How is it legal or ethical for this information to be deliberately concealed from me? How is it legal to put a lie on a 504? I have read FERPA. Here's what I found on the Ed dept website, since I began to question myself as to whether I remembered the law correctly.

"Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR ยง 99.31): School officials with legitimate educational interest;" etc.

Is a teacher who spends an hour or more a day with a student not a school official with a legitimate educational interest? How can I be expected to educate this young man if a condition of this magnitude is considered none of my business? Elsewhere on the Ed dept website, I found this:

"As first enacted, FERPA contained five exceptions to the prior written consent rule for disclosures to...other school officials, including teachers within the educational institution or local educational agency who have legitimate educational interests. The 1974 amendments clarified that the agency or institution determines which school officials have "legitimate educational interests." The 1994 IASA amendments added a requirement that the specific educational interests of the child for whom consent would otherwise be required are included among legitimate educational interests of school officials.

"The 1994 amendments also clarified that nothing in FERPA prohibited an agency or institution from disclosing information about disciplinary actions taken against students to teachers and school officials, including those in other schools, who have legitimate educational interests in the behavior of the student. The No Child Left Behind Act amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require each State to provide an assurance to the Secretary that it has a procedure in place to facilitate the transfer of disciplinary records regarding a student's suspension or expulsion to any elementary or secondary school where the student is enrolled or intends to enroll."

So here's the conclusions to which I have come:
1. The concern for the safety of this student has been sacrificed, since he has been placed with educational professionals throughout the day who have been willfully misled about conditions which definitely can cause him to harm himself or others.
2. The concern for the best and least restrictive education for this student is endangered, since the educational professionals who work with him every day are willfully deceived about his condition.
3. The concern for the safety of other students is not even considered, which is a violation of their rights.
4. The concern for my safety has been abrogated, which is a violation of my rights.
5. Apparently the powers that be in my school (assistant principals, principals, counselors) believe that I and my fellow teachers are not professionals with the best interests and intentions toward our students.
6. These people have decided to willfully misinterpret and misrepresent the law since they feel no obligation nor concern for anyone involved... merely because they fear a legal challenge, probably?

And before you think I am jumping to conclusions, let me emphasize that this is far from the first time I have caught these people at my school engaging in such behaviors as concealing and lying about student discipline and/or diagnoses, whether it involved one of my students or even when it involved a student behaving in a threatening manner toward me personally. I have had referrals not returned to me and referrals "lost" in some amazingly coincidental snafus. I have never been anything but circumspect and above-board in my dealings with the behavior, discipline, and education of my students.

I am grateful that nothing bad happened while I am in the dark. I will continue to teach, guide, and care for this student no matter what.

But some other people are on my list right now.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Humor and bluster married in the face of tragedy

I love this picture. It shows the strength of the human ability to laugh. As Robert A. Heinlein explained in his classic Stranger in a Strange Land, we can only laugh when we grok the pain of the human condition.

Speaking of humor, not to mention an occasional dose of pathos, come on out to visit the 31st edition of the Carnival of Education, guest-hosted by the Science Goddess at What It's Like on the Inside. Ruminating Dude has a great post about the cost of applying for a teaching job in the Providence schools, and Muse tells a scary tale about forcing out older teachers in the name of educational reform in Israel. Rhymes with Right details inspiring efforts of schools in Houston to help those displaced by Katrina.

God bless us every one.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Carnival of Education #30: Come visit the midway!

As a total blogging newbie (before July I had never even read a blog), I really appreciate the Education Wonks for hosting the latest edition of the Carnival of Education, not to mention including little ol' me.

From a View From Here, Polski3 has a good post about what top teachers look for in their students, and Tim at Assorted Stuff details more NCLB follies.

If you are interested in education check it out.

And as a totally unrelated aside:
GAAAAAAAH! That crackling sound you hear is hell freezing over, because Oklahoma just lost to the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian!


A Poem for the Victims of Katrina

At the round earth's imagin'd corners
John Donne

At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattered bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Answers about New Orleans

Well, I post a thought, and a few minutes later I find out that I'm not crazy paranoid. Here follows a gem from my personal goddess of reason, Molly Ivins at Working for Change:

New Orleans: It's about us
Molly Ivins - Creators Syndicate

09.01.05 - AUSTIN, Texas -- Like many of you who love New Orleans, I find myself taking short mental walks there today, turning a familiar corner, glimpsing a favorite scene, square or vista. And worrying about the beloved friends and the city, and how they are now.

To use a fine Southern word, it's tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people's lives.

This is not "just politics" or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.

This is a column for everyone in the path of Hurricane Katrina who ever said, "I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in politics," or, "There's nothing I can do about it," or, "Eh, they're all crooks anyway."

Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my life, nothing I can do about any of it. Look around you this morning. I suppose the NRA would argue, "Government policies don't kill people, hurricanes kill people." Actually, hurricanes plus government policies kill people.

One of the main reasons New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes is the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms coming in from the water. The disappearance of those wetlands does not have the name of a political party or a particular administration attached to it. No one wants to play, "The Democrats did it," or, "It's all Reagan's fault." Many environmentalists will tell you more than a century's interference with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river's great delta.

But in addition to long-range consequences of long-term policies like letting the Corps of Engineers try to build a better river than God, there are real short-term consequences, as well. It is a fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies -- ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands.

Last year, four environmental groups cooperated on a joint report showing the Bush administration's policies had allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands.

Does this mean we should blame Bush for the fact that New Orleans is underwater? No, but it means we can blame Bush when a Class 3 or Class 2 hurricane puts New Orleans under. At this point, it is a matter of making a bad situation worse, of failing to observe the First Rule of Holes (when you're in one, stop digging).

Had a storm the size of Katrina just had the grace to hold off for a while, it's quite likely no one would even remember what the Bush administration did two months ago. The national press corps has the attention span of a gnat, and trying to get anyone in Washington to remember longer than a year ago is like asking them what happened in Iznik, Turkey, in A.D. 325.

Just plain political bad luck that, in June, Bush took his little ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. As was reported in New Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant "major hurricane and flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

The commander of the Corps' New Orleans district also immediately instituted a hiring freeze and cancelled the annual Corps picnic.

Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such as "Floods: A National Policy Concern" and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management." Unfortunately, the office was targeted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.

In fact, there is now a government-wide movement away from basing policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of choices based on ideology. If you're wondering what the ideological position on flood management might be, look at the pictures of New Orleans -- it seems to consist of gutting the programs that do anything.

Unfortunately, the war in Iraq is directly related to the devastation left by the hurricane. About 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is now serving in Iraq, where four out of every 10 soldiers are guardsmen. Recruiting for the Guard is also down significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if they join, leaving the Guard even more short-handed.

The Louisiana National Guard also notes that dozens of its high-water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators have also been sent abroad. (I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water vehicles in Iraq?)

This, in turn, goes back to the original policy decision to go into Iraq without enough soldiers and the subsequent failure to admit that mistake and to rectify it by instituting a draft.

The levees of New Orleans, two of which are now broken and flooding the city, were also victims of Iraq war spending. Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, said on June 8, 2004, "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq."

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives.

(c) 2005 Creators Syndicate

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Where's the National Guard?

Here's an unwelcome thought.

Usually when there's a natural disaster, the National Guard is called out. The news channels keep affirming the fact that there are not enough rescuers, and that there aren't enough police to stop the looting.

Why hasn't the Guard been called out immediately this time, as soon as the scope of the disaster was obvious?

I wonder if the war in Iraq has anything to do with it. And how many policemen, troopers, and EMTs are deployed in the war effort right now instead of being available to help with the crisis in the Gulf-- I mean OUR Gulf, not the Persian Gulf? I fear that a military is already stretched to the breaking point just can't be stretched further in this crisis.

This undeniable problem might be something to consider, especially in light of all the base closings and realignments that have been going on in the last few days.

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Hurricane victims

Nothing teaches kids that anarchy is not some harmless, intriguing theory like pictures of the devastation and lawlessness coming out of the tragic situation on the Gulf Coast. I never thought I would be explaining the difference between survival looting and truly criminal looting, but I do believe there is a difference.

I understand people with no access to cash or stores taking water or baby formula or food, all of which would be thrown out anyway, so long as they only take what they need and they offer payment for any goods taken after this horrifying mess is over.

But, as we discussed in class, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. When someone stated that the looters weren't really doing any harm because insurance would pay for the stores for their losses, I had to remind them that there is no such thing as a free lunch or indirect taxes (we were talking about the Stamp Act controversy during the Revolutionary period). Want to raise taxes on corporations? Fine, but expect those higher taxes to be passed on to us as higher prices for whatever it is that corporation makes. Want insurance to cover the cost of these payouts? Okay, but expect premiums to go up, because even if the insurance company posts record profits they will make the case that necessity forces them to do it.

We also had a good laugh about this one: Who would have thought a year ago that we would actually be GRATEFUL for gas to cost $2.70 instead of $3.00 a gallon? And by this time tomorrow, gas will probably be far more expensive than that. But, on a serious note, gas prices are small potatoes compared to losing everything you own or your loved ones to this storm or its aftermath.

We are already getting students from the disaster area enrolling in our schools. Our school is also planning collections for the victims. I am thinking about having my students challenge the students of one of my colleagues to see who can donate the most-- kids love competition.

In another class, we were talking about the genesis of the tradition of the separation between church and state, and one kid brought up the old saw about "There will be prayer in schools as long as there are tests." One kid said that he wished we could pray for the hurricane victims. I responded that I was finished with my discussion and we were now going to have some silence in which they could work or think. I walked back to my desk, and watched the heads bow and eyes close for a few minutes.

So sue me.

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Finally, a game show I can tolerate

I just saw that the Game Show Network is starting a new show in two weeks called Word Slam, which has contestants competing in vocabulary, I think for college scholarship money.

Keep your eye out for this one.


Thank You, Lord

We are now two weeks or so into the school year, and I've got to say that these are some of the nicest students I've had in a long time. They are obedient. They are thoughtful. They are friendly. They are supportive and loving to their fellow students who have developmental delays. They are trying to reassure the new kid from the Middle East who is afraid he's going to fail because he can't do the work that they are doing yet.

Even better, they laugh at my history-geek puns, jokes, and weird stories.

They have willingly taken all the notes I've required with no complaints and they have made sure that my discussions are not lectures, but discussions, and they have asked some really good questions. They have dedicated themselves to learning my word of the day each day and even have used them back to me in assignments without being asked: confluence, caveat, libertarian. They have gently chastised their fellow students who have asked me to repeat something right after I've said it, so that I don't have to.

I give these kids, their parents, and their former teachers the credit. A small voice inside me whispers, "Too good to be true!" but I've basically told that small part to shut the heck up.


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