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

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Clayussss, clayusssss.... Pretty please give me your attention as long as I don't bruise your delicate self-images in this PC time!!!!!!! Thank you.

When I was in 4th grade I had a really wonderful teacher named Mary Jane Farha who taught our music class. I'm going to put her actual name in here because she really made an impact on my life. I remember her as middle-aged, but that could mean that she was twenty-three, for all I know. She played guitar. I play guitar. She taught us a really eclectic collection of songs and taught us about reading music and harmony: we heard Beethoven and "Roll Over, Beethoven." I listen to all kinds of music thanks to her, and played cello for the past thirty-some years because she told me I had talent. She also had a way of not talking down to us and not looking down her nose at the music we listened to, which, if you consider that this was 1974 and we were 9-year- olds, was quite an accomplishment: we're talking Elton John-with-the-weird-outfits-before-we-knew-he-was-not-just-being-eccentric and the Bay City Rollers here. ("S!-A!-TUR!-DAY!-- NIGHT!") At least she talked us out of listening to "Billy, Don't Be a Hero." Ugh.

Thank you, Mrs. Farha, for transforming our musical tastes.

Unfortunately, she also transformed our tastes in comedy. Once, when we had a few minutes before what we actually used to call Christmas break, she played us (warning: writer is about to use several underscored technical terms which will seem nonsensical to anyone under 35. Hold on to the tops of your heads!) a forty-five of Cheech and Chong's Sister Mary Elephant on the record player we had in class. Now, first of all, living in probably the most Protestant state in the entire nation, we were entertained by the whole idea of a nun named Mary Elephant, not to mention Rosetta Stone, and we got that joke because nobody ever told us that just because we were nine we couldn't understand things like Lord Carnarvon and the Rosetta Stone. But I digress.

We thought this was hysterical. It also transformed discipline in Mrs. Farha's class. Because from that time on, if we seemed to be drifting or getting a little chatty, she would simply nasally intone, "Clayussssss...." and we would all snap back to attention with little guilty grins on our faces. She never had to raise her voice, she never had to finish with the "SHADDUP!!" that poor Sister had to use. We loved that class. We loved her. We loved the fact that she could use something we thought was naughtily fun to keep us in line.

Polski3 got me thinking about this in his post of October 2 about kids not being able to follow directions. Two days after he wrote about this, I was sitting in a faculty meeting with our district Computer Diva while she talked about "internet aliens" (that would be anyone older than 20) and "digital natives," who would be our students. She claimed that the kids of today can simultaneously text-massage on their cell phones, listen to an MP3, IM seven pals, and plagiarize look up information for a report for school. Successfully! (She also internally cracked us up with her claim that these kids do all their editing of papers on the screen versus having to use a paper copy; evidence of any editing at all seems to be purely mythical from the papers I see, but that's a post for another day.) They don't need paper copies! They can multitask!

I think she's propagating a fairy-tale bigger than the Curse of Tut's tomb, here. I have told you that I have sweet kids, and they work very hard, but the lag time between ending one's conversation about the baseball playoff game, getting out one's notebook and actually finding a pencil is now approaching infinity. And I'm just asking for ONE thing at a time. I have two kids who are constantly late to class because of the band class running over-- (the band teacher claims he can't hear the bell -and apparently lacks both a wristwatch and a clock- and can't write all these passes, and so he just sends out mass non-apologetic emails an hour after the fact which then force us to go back and change the attendance codes for twenty kids. I would doubt his story about not hearing the bell, but I've heard our band. It sounds like Prokofiev in a fight with John Cage with a bit of the Anvil Chorus thrown in for whimsical effect. Once again, thank you, Mrs. Farha) and they never hear my instructions nor seem to have time to read the agenda on the board because they are already late.

Multitasking, HA! Bring your textbook. And your homework. Have a pencil or pen. Write legibly. The bell means it's my time. Maybe if I was doing my instructing via PDA or a Podcast or a website, that would enable them to follow instructions. Or I could just bring in my MP3 of "Sister Mary Elephant" on my shiny iPod.

Because I'm no alien.

I'm just a fossil.

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At 10/18/05, 8:22 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

YOU got to listen to Cheech and Chong in class! Wooow Man! Never at the schools I attended.....C&C and George Carlin were only for rare occasions when someone's parents were not at home so we could listen to such 'forbidden hippie/druggie' stuff. And, in our experiments, C&C and George Carlin WERE funnier when we'd had a Mickey's Big Mouth or two or three or a bottle of Boone's Farms finest 'Tickled Pink'....

On a more serious note, glad my post made you think. I also appologize for that. Don't we think enough at work? :-)


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