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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Golden Hurricane Prevail! Please stay, coach Kragthorpe!


Oh, yes, they were sneering at us before the game began. My alma mater devotes less $$$ to our football team than any other Division I school, but no matter. Lou Holtz didn't like our chances-- of course, that just may be that we managed to scare his Razorbacks a few times when he was coach at Arkansas. San Jose State thought they could manhandle us and "announce their presence with authority." But they were singing a different tune at the end of the Liberty Bowl-- and a Band Geek like me knows that tune and the lyrics:

Down the Field to victory
On Tulsa on.
Fight on University, Battle on and on.
March to the goal line, oh Tulsa,
Score on mounting score.
March to the goal line, oh Tulsa,
Let the Hurricane roar.
Drive those (opponent) back and back,
On Tulsa on!
Gold, Blue, and Red, go right ahead,
Down the field to victory!
And this guy runs like greased lightning! Go Tarrion Adams!

And now, a personal appeal to Coach Steve Kragthorpe: please stay! Resist the allure of bigger programs! You'll never be loved like you are by the TU family-- just ask John Cooper or Bill Self or Tubby Smith or Nolan Richardson.

Is it any wonder I'm a teacher? I love the underdog!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Farris's Christmas break: Any bets as to how long it will take to blame the teacher?

Over at Kauai Mark's, via the EdWonks, there's a fascinating story about a wildly idealistic teen who'll have a great story to tell about what he did over his Christmas vacation, once his parents let him out of the house again (emphasis mine).
Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.

But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.

And he didn't even tell his parents.

Hassan's dangerous adventure winds down with the 101st Airborne delivering the Fort Lauderdale teen to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which had been on the lookout for him and promises to see him back to the United States this weekend.

It begins with a high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager — or naively idealistic — student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask.

As a junior this year at a Pine Crest School, a prep academy of about 700 students in Fort Lauderdale, Hassan studied writers like John McPhee in the book "The New Journalism," an introduction to immersion journalism — a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Hassan, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, hung out at a local mosque. The teen, who says he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Muslim men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.

The next trimester his class was assigned to choose an international topic and write editorials about it, Hassan said. He chose the Iraq war and decided to practice immersion journalism there, too, though he knows his school in no way endorses his travels.

"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he told The Associated Press.

Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on Dec. 11.

His goal: Baghdad. Those privy to his plans: two high school buddies....

Aside from the research he wanted to accomplish, he also wrote in an essay saying he wanted to volunteer in Iraq.

He said he wrote half the essay while in the United States, half in Kuwait, and e-mailed it to his teachers Dec. 15 while in the Kuwait City airport.

So this young man wandered all over southwest Asia, soaking up the local color, inspired by a high school class. Put yourself in the place of the teacher, horrified that one of your students took a lesson so much to heart. I wonder how many times from now on that teacher is going to say emphatically to his students,"Now, I don't want you kids trying this at home..." every time new material is presented? This just reemphasizes the fact that we never know how we are going to influence our students. For you new teachers out there, this might also be a good time for me to remind you to never discuss in class the fact that one can find bomb-making instructions on the internet....

By the way, Farris's mother, in a monument to understatement, is rethinking Farris' personal freedom: "I don't think I will ever leave him in the house alone again," she said. "He showed a lack of judgment." It might also be a good idea to make sure he never has access to that kind of cash or his passport again.

You know, I seem to recall another kid named Ferris who once decided to take a day off, and all he did was bring a German-heritage parade to a standstill by belting out a couple of tunes....

You've got to read the whole story here. The Education Wonks also have a link over at their place.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Merit Pay and teaching-- a cautionary tale from the corporate world

My husband, the Sweet Baboo, is a manager at Mammoth Defense Corporation, and he's been busily working on year-end performance reviews, which are then tied to raises for his staff. A couple of weeks ago, he got finished with his first drafts, set them aside and then looked them over.

"The evaluations are too high," Baboo sighed, setting down his laptop with a sigh filled with weariness. "They're gonna get tossed back at me by Ms. Abderite*, my supervisor, and I will be forced to revise some of them downward."

"Do you think you were too nice in your evaluations? Are you being dispassionate and objective?" I asked, although, being married to the man for two decades, I knew better.

"Of course I am. I work my staff hard. My unit productivity is the highest in the division. But I believe in rewarding great effort and assessing it honestly," Baboo explained. "That's why my employee satisfaction numbers are also the highest in the division, even accounting for the poisonous influence of Ms. Abderite."

"Then why the fuss? If you are being honest, why should you be forced to do that? And isn't that screwing over those employees who get a lower evaluation-- and raise-- than they deserve?" I asked, pulling the wrapper off the newspaper. The Business section popped out first. “Mammoth Defense Negotiation Team demands concessions in taxes, benefits,” the first headline trilled. The subhead whispered, “Executive compensation package increased—“Managers must be retained in time of restructuring,” CEO says.”

"Because Ms. Abderite uses a bell curve called Bonus Integrand Resources Diagram for all evaluations. I am only allowed to have so many top ratings, and if I have more, then she’s gonna flip me the BIRD and make me revise downward."

"What?? People still use the bell curve? Why is this considered valid?" I yelped.

"Because we are only given so much money for employee raises, and the MD Corporation sets the amount of the raise based on the Final Annual Rating Table. If I have too many top performers, that costs too much money, and it sets off alarm bells up at Corporate.”

“So because you have put together a great team, hired great people, and they have performed wonderfully, almost everyone will get a LOWER raise than if they were on a lower-performing team or under a better boss than Ms. Abderite?”

“Yes, that’s basically it,” Baboo grunted. “And then, my rightfully resentful staff will start looking for other jobs where they can get the recognition they deserve, where they will stand out more obviously as being exceptional—not to mention the added bonus of escaping Ms. Abderite. Then, when performance goes down, I will be called upon the carpet by Ms. Abderite and screamed at for losing so many good employees.” Baboo stood up. “Let’s go watch ‘Lost’ and forget about this.”

I got up to follow him after I turned over the paper to the news section. “Opt-in period completed for Denver teacher ProComp plan,” popped out at me. I hope that the same mindset doesn’t take over in Denver. But tax money is always more limited as a source of revenue than defense contracts, with their guaranteed profit percentages. What will happen at Lake Wobegon Middle School? Will all teachers be justly compensated? If so, it’ll be a first.

In some states, the only way a teacher can make a decent wage is to get National Board certification. I’ve known some absolutely cracked-up teachers who have managed to get this credential, and the scars they inflicted upon their students lingered even after graduation. I like my boss and I know he likes me in a vague, distant pat-the-nice-doggy kind of way, but if he was able to determine a raise for me, I’m not too sure he could name three specific things that I do in my classroom—my last observation lasted 15 minutes, and my post-observation conference was done by his secretary after being rescheduled three times due to some emergency. I’ve been recruited for years to become an administrator, and if I ever move back to my hometown, I may just do it even though my heart is with the kids and with those Eureka moments you only get in the classroom. It’s the only way I could make an actual living.

My students score well on their state tests, but the only reason why I know that is that I break out my students’ scores from the rest of the population every year so that I’ll know where I screwed up for next year. My AP scores are pretty high, especially considering the socioeconomic spectrum from which we draw. Even though I hate the thought of using student scores for raises—so many variables completely out of my control, not the least of which that many of the kids have realized that they have absolutely nothing at stake if they blow off the tests-- we all know that’s what would happen with merit pay. That, or my charming colleague Mr. Toady would be the richest teacher in school, since he LIVES in the principal’s office. I’m too busy grading papers, preventing altercations, and writing curriculum, damn it.

But my hubby’s experience gives me pause for another reason.

*-from the ancient Greek. Look it up.

Monday, December 26, 2005

You know, Jeb was doing great... until that last part....

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is pushing for tougher science standards in Florida schools, according to a news report I was reading about over at Assorted Stuff. It all sounded fine-- Gov. Bush was talking about how science standards for the state were due to be revised in 2007 or 2008, and that it was possible that someone would push for the inclusion of ID, and he thought the greater concern should be whether the standards were exacting enough-- until I read this last bit from the article in the Miami-Dade Herald:
The Watchdog Report asked a follow-up question: Does the governor believe in Darwin's theory of evolution?

Bush said: "Yeah, but I don't think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you. And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum.''

Just how should one teach biology without teaching the main theory regarding the development of the diversity of species? This seems a classic case of a politican waffling in the face of a really not-so-hard choice. Jeez, get a spine.

Remembering Desegregating the Military

From the Chicago Sun Times, courtesy of History News Network:
Truman K. Gibson Jr., a Chicago attorney who had been the last surviving member of the World War II-era "black Cabinet" of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, died Friday at Mercy Hospital after an illness of five weeks. He was 93.

As an advocate for African- American soldiers in the War Department from 1940 through 1945, Mr. Gibson fought tirelessly to break down the segregation that ruled the U.S. Army, to persuade the military leadership to commit black servicemen to combat instead of relegating them to service and support duty, and to protect the rights and even the lives of African-American soldiers trained at camps mostly in the Jim Crow South where white violence was a constant threat.

"Truman Gibson was one of the great resources of the civil rights battles who was never acknowledged as he should have been," said Abner Mikva, the former Illinois congressman, federal appellate judge and White House counsel.

That story was the heart of Mr. Gibson's memoir, Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America, published this year by Northwestern University Press.

"I am just so thankful that he got to do that book, to say what he wanted to say," said his daughter, Karen Kelley of New York. "He lived nearly 94 years pretty much on his own terms, and it was such a wonderful life."

No one should underestimate the roel that desegregating the military had upon the struggle for civil rights, and Harry Truman, for all his very coarse language (and the fact he married into a pretty bigoted family), deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to do it. Given the strong presence the military had in segregated towns, there was certainly a lot of institutional resistance to the move, to say the least. Mr. Gibson used reason and persuasion to achieve wonderful things. I hope to read his book soon, after I finish all the others I have been saving up for Christmas break.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

An oldie but a goodie

It's official. I have now watched "A Christmas Story" 17 times this Christmas season. I still love it. So there, family, as you roll your eyes at me.

I have a new guitar! And it is beautiful, and it sounds great! I have only had a new guitar four times in my life, and this is the first one I got to pick out. I am now trying to avoid making my fingers bleed.

I hope my dad feels better. I hope my parents and siblings love each other first and forget everything else.

I hope that you all have a wonderful, peaceful new year. I hope that we all do the best we can. Every day.

Peace. Sweet, blessed peace.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Christians and the Pagans

I actually went to a Christmas meal like this one sung about by Dar Williams. If you are having a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas, like I am, listen to this song. It will make you laugh.

Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay."
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, "It's Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style..."
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it's been awhile."

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning!" and she hit the kitchen
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian,
But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere."

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from, I think magic's in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, "Really, no, don't bother."
Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father
He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year
He thought he'd call him up and say, "It's Christmas and your daughter's here."
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve saying
"Can I be a Pagan?" Dad said, "We'll discuss it when they leave...."

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

In which my alter ego the History Geek explains the separation of church and state for a Dover board member

Apparently, a former Dover school board member has a question.
Former School Board member William Buckingham, who advanced the policy, said from his home in Mount Airy, N.C., that he still feels the board did the right thing.

"I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state," he said. "We didn't lose; we were robbed."

I’m avoiding saying, “We wuz ROBBED!” Tee hee hee. Oh wait-- I said it anyway.

Well, okay. Lemme put on my History Geek hat and grab a nice cup of tea.

Let's start with the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits Congress from making any law establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. "Establishing" in this sense means providing support with tax dollars. There have been many “established” or “state” religions in modern history, such as Shintoism in Japan; Islam in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East and southwestern Asia such as Iran; the Anglican Church in England; Lutheranism in Sweden; Buddhism in Tibet, Nepal, and Thailand; Roman Catholicism in Italy and Spain; and the Latter Day Saint church in Utah, to name a few.

In the history of early America, "established churches" were certainly the norm and included the Congregational Church in several New England states and the Anglican (later Episcopal) Church in several Southern states, including the largest state in the early years of our republic, that of Virginia. These churches maintained "established" status until the 1830s. Everyone in the state had to pay money for the support of these churches, even if they didn’t belong to these churches. By the way, in many of these states you could also be fined if you did not attend worship services. The state of Rhode Island was established by Roger Williams, a minister who protested these kinds of practices and possibly established the first Baptist church in what was then called the English colonies in 1639.

Interestingly enough, many of our “founding fathers” were adamant about ending these practices. Most notable were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the former the author of the Declaration of Independence and the latter commonly known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Jefferson wrote a “Bill For Establishing Religious Freedom” for the Virginia legislature as early as 1777, before our Constitution was even drawn up. I like the following quote:
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry;

Jefferson’s bill was finally adopted in Virginia in 1786.

But of course the Constitution bound only the federal government, not the states in the original understanding. Several states required the holding of Protestant beliefs to hold elective office, and Jews were forbidden to vote in some southern states until 1860—and Jews had been famously exempted from protection under the Maryland Act of Toleration of 1649. Other states, such as New York, Delaware, and Tennessee, went the other direction and forbade clergy members from holding office.

In the early years of the 19th century, those who were in favor of separating religion from tax support were very religious people known as “New Lights” who were also very interested in education: they founded the College of New Jersey (we know it as Princeton) and Brown and others of what we could call “Ivy League” schools. These “New Lights” believed that the "established" churches had become so hidebound and soul-deadening and overly intellectualized at the cost of emotional appeal that the only way to loosen their grip on power was to end tax support of all denominations and sects. The “New Lights” believed in spiritual revival—the original proponents of being “born-again.” And so we had the most fervent Christians fighting FOR the separation of church and state. Through their efforts, and the efforts of other people who disagreed with the beliefs of the established churches, tax support of churches ended by the 1830s in America.

So, yes, our tradition of separating religion from the apparatus of government is "only" about 180 years old, Mr. Buckingham.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

And then there are liars in Pennsylvania. I sense a theme here.

Although the Education Wonks do a great job over at their place, I would be remiss to let this one go by without a tip of the ol' bippy. US District Judge John E. Jones has ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board against the attempt to insert "intelligent design" theories into the science curriculum of public high school science classes. As the Associated Press reports here:

The ruling was a major setback to the intelligent design movement, which is also waging battles in Georgia and Kansas. Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force.

Jones decried the "breathtaking inanity" of the Dover policy and accused several board members of lying to conceal their true motive, which he said was to promote religion.

A six-week trial over the issue yielded "overwhelming evidence" establishing that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," said Jones, a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the federal bench three years ago....

[T]he judge said, "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom."

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.

Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which represented the school district and describes its mission as defending the religious freedom of Christians, said the ruling appeared to be "an ad hominem attack on scientists who happen to believe in God."

...In his ruling, Jones said that while intelligent design arguments "may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, (intelligent design) is not science."

"The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources," he wrote.

The judge also said: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the (intelligent design) Policy."

Oooh, "ad hominem!" To lapse back into the I Ching for teachers, one of the best movies ever, The Princess Bride, "I dunna think that means wha you think it means..."

Just because one cannot completely prove something does not then lead us to then to fill in the gaps with religion-- which also cannot be proven, I might add. That's what makes it a matter of FAITH.

I like fancy ideas, too. How about this one: Ockham's Razor. "The simplest solution is usually the correct one, all things being equal."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A request for prayers

I just got off the phone to my mother. The news about my dad is not good. Please keep Mom and Dad Cornelius in your prayers, as well as one scared, five-year-old feeling Ms. Cornelius.

Rarely in your life do people love you the way you want to be loved. The trick is to be content and happy with the love you receive and to try to do the best job loving others that you can possibly do.

Lies, lies, and more lies

Of all the lies that most set my teeth on edge right now, here's a beaut:

"Illegal workers are simply filling jobs that Americans are not willing to do."

In the treasured tactic of "If you repeat it enough, people will believe it," we hear this mantra repeated continuously. No one questions this statement. It is parroted in the so-called "liberal media," without so much as a glint of a doubt about the veracity of this claim. I saw this load of horsemuffins in my own hometown paper last week, without a drop of irony.

For instance, there's this claim from President Bush in January of 2004:
Reform must begin by confronting a basic fact of life and economics: some of the jobs being generated in America's growing economy are jobs American citizens are not filling. Yet these jobs represent a tremendous opportunity for workers from abroad who want to work and fulfill their duties as a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter..... The situation I described is wrong. It is not the American way. Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans have are not filling. (Applause.) We must make our immigration laws more rational, and more humane. And I believe we can do so without jeopardizing the livelihoods of American citizens.

There are people who work as morticians-- my uncle is one. There are people who work cleaning up places after someone has died violently. There are people who clean up after the incontinent in nursing homes and who perform autopsies and work on that "Body Farm" in Tennessee. One of my college roommates worked in a Tyson chicken plant pulling chicken entrails out of chicken corpses and thereby covering herself in chicken excrement eight hours a day to earn the money to go to school so that she wouldn't smell like chicken shit for the next forty years.

There is NO SUCH THING as a job Americans won't do. I resent it being implied that we Americans are too lazy or spoiled to do a good honest day's work by people who are all too willing to trumpet The American Way when it comes election time. And by the way, don't think that the attacks that these same people make upon all American public schools is not part and parcel of manufacturing a sense of failure and unworthiness of the America worker (ironic use of the word "manufacturing" in this discussion is intentional). These same people also give tax breaks to companies that outsource jobs overseas. I don't mind the outsourcing part so much as I resent my unlowered tax dollars paying for it-- the ultimate insult to someone who would not be a college educated person if it were not for union wages.

There IS such a thing as a job Americans cannot do and be able to make a living. There is such a thing as a living wage in this country. Allowing illegal immigrants guest worker status in our country is simply a shameful attempt to cut the legs out from under all working people, particularly those like my students who will soon be entering the labor market. Enhancing and exacerbating a glut of workers equals lower wages for everyone on the lower end of the spectrum, and that eventually works its way up into the middle class, folks. The only people who will not suffer are the ones who get to hire these guest workers or their unlucky US citizen competitors at two bucks an hour as gardeners and landscapers and poultry plant workers. These would be the same people who have received all the tax breaks under the trickle down theory.

Let's start our own chant. Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a job Americans won't do. There is NO SUCH THING as a job Americans won't do. THERE IS NO SUCH THING! There are only jobs that pay wages Americans can't live on.

And I am not in any way unsympathetic to the plight of the illegal immigrants. But let me toss down a challenge to those who are trumpeting this trumped up need for workers: If it is as you say, let's open up the restrictions and the quotas and accept all comers. Let's show compassion for these people by opening up the borders-- we are already doing this in practice anyway. But I don't think that what would be entertained by this administration, and not just because of national security concerns, which is useful as a scare tactic when you want to erode civil liberties, anyway.

No, this administration wants OUR cake and they want to eat it too, while we serve it to them for two bucks an hour (plus tips).

More on this later.


Meanwhile, The Advocate Weekly is up at Joe Thomas's place over here, and the latest Carnival of Education is being guesthosted by Coturnix at Circadiana and will hopefully be up and running by tomorrow morning.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Do-Over on Dropping Out

I had The Slasher in class last year in the spring semester. He once showed me a picture of his favorite guitarist, Slash (he of Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver fame), so that’s how I gave him the nickname. Very muscular. Perputually clad in a thin A-shirt (popularly called a "wife-beater" in our neck of the woods) which exposed copious amounts of armpit no matter what the weather. Silver pirate hoops in each ear. Heavy beardage. Battleship chain attached to wallet in back pocket. Cologne reminiscent of eau d'cannibis bong with a piquant whiff of shitkicker.

He was in the class I thought of as "The Island of Misfit Toys:" one kid who inhabited some planet within the autistic spectrum, three girls who regaled me each Monday of their arrests the previous weekend, two girls who NEVER shut up, one very effeminate African-American youngster who touched a couple of young men way too high above their knees when he talked to them, two guys on the wrestling team who were constantly wearing plastic suits and eating rice cakes, a girl who would not brook any disparaging comments about Charles Manson, a girl who spoke Spanish, a girl who spoke Urdu, a boy with beautiful penmanship from Punjab, the very troubled son of an assistant principal in another building, and five regular kids with eyes wide open in shock.

When The Slasher came to class, he commonly assumed one of two positions before the bell rang to start class. One: legs splayed in front of him like a deer in rigor mortis strapped to the hood of a beat-up '86 F-150 (rust pockmarks around rear wheelwells), eyes glazed over not unlike that same deer's would be after a trip to the taxidermist's had rendered the head suitable for wall mounting. Two: thick torso sprawled across the desk, coat thrown over shaggy, mastiff-like head in an attempt to make himself disappear so that maybe, just maybe, I would actually let him sleep.

Except for the one time he pulled a folded-up piece of an assignment (and a pack of rolling papers) out of his back pocket to put in my hand, I never actually managed to get The Slasher to possess paper, pencil, and consciousness simultaneously. Except for claiming that his dream was to graduate from high school, the closest he was going to come to that this year was if he reached REM sleep in position two in the sixty seconds I would allow him to keep his head down.

In the many conversations I had with his mom, she talked about how he hadn't been the same since his grandpa died, how she wanted him to pass, how she couldn't keep him at home at night, how he never seemed to sleep. I had to tell he that no matter how much SHE might want that and that I might want that, The Slasher had to want it enough to bestir himself.

In the many conversations I had with The Slasher, I reiterated the need to do some study over the material we covered in class, the benefit that actually having a book with him would provide, and the no-sleeeping policy after listening to him talk about how he couldn't sleep at night. When I suggested that maybe he should take his desk home at night because that seemed to have the soporific effect of a tranquilizer dart on him, he actually smiled with a gleam in his eye. He clapped a breadbasket-sized hand on my shoulder and said, "You crazy!" I agreed.

I did the counseling-department tango for this kid, and filled out an intervention packet on him, and talked to the principal who was responsible for The Slasher's discipline referrals, had the nurses check him for signs of drug use, ad nauseum. He ended the semester with a 31%, which he told me was a new record. However, he was handy one time when a great big kid mouthed off to me in the hall one afternoon, because The Slasher suddenly materialized behind me, flexing his big biceps menacingly.

He showed up in young Mr. Musial’s class at the start of this year, but he didn’t last long. Mr. Musial allows the kids to sleep if they want, and so The Slasher was unconscious about 98% of the time. Considering how well rested he was, he seemed remarkably surly in the halls. He dropped out in October, and came to see me in the middle of a class to tell me he was going to work for his brother in sales and make $100,000 a year—and I’ll bet he wasn’t talking about magazine subscriptions. He told me (and the rest of my stunned AP class, who looked at him during this little dialogue like he had sprouted a third arm) that he had a baby at home and that the state was trying to take her away.

I hoped I wouldn’t hear about him getting killed in a drive-by or blown up in a meth house.

The reason why I thought about The Slasher again is that he ran into me in the hallway last Friday. “What are you doing here?” I asked, stunned. He had stubble all over his head, but otherwise he looked remarkably the same.

“I’m back!” he exclaimed. I’d never seen him so animated. For some reason, they let him come back even though the semester is over in two weeks. He told me he wanted to give high school another try. I hope he takes advantage of the chance he has this time. He’s nineteen-- he’ll be twenty in three months. He has helped stack the deck against himself enough already.

I’d like to hope that this story has a happy ending. We've all had kids like this. But you know what they say-- insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lousy Wednesday (John Steinbeck was right, oh so right, damn it....)

"Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or job they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.

"On such a day it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoestrings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor, children ordinarily honest tell lies, and children ordinarily good unscrew the tap handles of the gas range and lose the screws and have to be spanked. This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and housebroken dogs wet the parlor rug.

"Oh, it’s awful on such a day! The postman brings overdue bills. If it’s sunny it’s too damn sunny, and if it is dark who can stand it?" --John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

1. My dad, who is, let us just say old enough to remember rumble seats and Black Tuesday, had a bunch of tests yesterday because he felt a mass in his abdomen, and neither he nor my mother called me yesterday, nor picked up their phone, nor answered the cell phone I bought my mother all day yesterday. He's had many health issues in recent years. Really, mom and dad, you can't do this to me. I already have trouble sleeping on good days, and I last night I got about 5 minutes' sleep because of the worry.

2. Got to school and couldn't print anything from my computer for the twelfth time in the last five days. Everybody wanted something from me today, and my plan period was taken up with explaining tech issues with three different tech people.

3. Rain! Again!

4. Finally got the study guide printed out for my US history kids' next test, and tried to discuss the ramifications of the Treaty of Versailles and whether Prohibition was a success or a failure.

5. In the middle of this, my cell phone rings. It is my mother. She starts telling me about what happened with the doctor, which was basically that they didn't know the results yet. Did I mention this was in the middle of class? I do not normallty just yak away on the phone, but this was nervous breakdown time. The kids get to work on the study guide and giggle at how loud my mom's voice was over the phone. One kid started talking to another kid while I was listening to my mom, and the other kids shushed him: "Shh! Can't you see she's on the phone to her MAMA?" And the kid looked abashed and said, "Sorry!" Didn't I tell you I have sweet kids? When we got ready to hang up, all the kids said goodbye to my mom together so she could hear it.

6. We have a good laugh about moms who call on your cell phone when they KNOW you're in class and you're not supposed to use the cell phone at school. Commiseration and bonding ensues. They are also amused that my ringer is "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

7. Tech guys come in 4 more times during the day. Computer check for viruses takes 2 hours.

8. Got an email from a coordinator wanting to know why I haven't sent the thing he wants already. Well, let's see: there's the teaching thing, and the computer thing, and the I-can't-print-or-attach-to emails thing. Grrrr.

Lousy #@!% Wednesday.

But on the plus side, the 45th Carnival of Education is up and running over at The Education Wonks' place. It's inconceivable!

A thought-provoking comment today

Today during class discussion, we were talking about the prerogatives of the Senate versus the House (House initiates tax bills because it was originally the only group directly elected by the people; Senate advises and consents on appointments and treaties), and one of my kids asked me if there were term limits for senators. I explained about Strom Thurmond serving 8 terms in the Senate.

A kid in class said, "Man! You know too much!"

I was surprised. He said,"How can you know this guy's birthday out of the top of your head?"

I didn't know what to say, except that I enjoy knowing weird facts and I have a good memory. I just said, "Oh how can you say that?"

Is it possible to know too much? How depressing....

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How has my week gone in AP US history?

Yep. That about covers it.

Update: An 8-year-old, the law and gall

According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, the case in which an out-of-control 8-year-old girl was taken to school in handcuffs by her mother and then forced to take her medication continues to have repercussions. The principal, Cherri Rifenberg, has resigned for her part in restraining the girl and forcing her to take her medication. No action has yet been taken on the fate of the school psychologist.

Once again, the kids watching were traumatized, and the girl was restrained twice in handcuffs. No one seems to be questioning the decision of the mother to take a human cyclone and dump her off on the school and her classmates.

What made this woman think, "Hmm, my child is so out of control I've had to call 911 and have her handcuffed. I think taking her to a place of learning is a good idea?"

I hold that it is NOT the right of the mother to use the school as a holding pen or dumping ground. Schools are not psychiatric facilities. They are supposed to be places primarily dedicated to learning. This little girl not only could not learn that day, she attacked others and ran out into traffic. Where the school officials erred was letting this woman in the door with her handcuffed child.

Read the article and the posted comments below the article-- it is all thought-provoking. One person claims the mother had taken this child to school in a similar condition several times and dumped her off on the school.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

¿Cuál es incorrecto con Kansas?

No teaching of science in science class, crazy bastards claiming that the casualties in Iraq are caused by coddling homosexuality, and now suspending kids for speaking Spanish.

Jeez... take a person, take away reason and accountability, and you get that principal.....

Friday, December 09, 2005

Well, Topeka will be a lot quieter this weekend

Just got the news that Fred Phelps, Sr., and his vile minions will be venting their insane spew in Virden, Illinois, this weekend at the funeral of another casualty of the war in Iraq.

Phelps claims to be the minister at Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. Mr. Phelps (you'll get no honorific of "Reverend" from me) and his followers defile the name and concept of God, it seems, since some strange idea about dead soldiers in the Iraq being God's retribution for tolerance of homosexuality burrowed a wormhole into his brain.

I imagine that the Baptist Convention allows this jackanape to spout off due to the tradition of allowing each individual church to have autonomy. I hope that their silence in the face of his disgusting tactics is not implicit agrement with his bizarre opinions. But since they have purged other members for far less than this, I would think that action would be demanded to preserve the integrity of their reputation.

I am always dismayed by people who claim to be Christians behaving in this way and I am from a town that has more than its fair share of mindless religious self-righteousness. It's so easy to criticize Muslims for the behavior of some who justify violence in the name of their faith, but here's a plank in our own eye.

I will be praying for the family of Staff Sergeant Gary Harper on Saturday.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

1980: The day my music died

Well, we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fun with numbers (that you use to buy gas, food, gas, clothing, gas, shelter….)

Let me take you for a ride on my monetary mood swing, in which the author tries to alternately amuse you and depress you. Fasten the seat belts, and keep both hands on your calculator at all times.

According to the NEA, average teacher salaries rose 2.4 percent in the last year, to $47,808.

Apparently, there is no word on what above-average teachers earned (smirk), but no matter what, it wasn’t what we deserved (snicker).

For more fun. according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the average high school principal earned $86,938 (up 0.9% from 2003-04), the average middle school principal earned $81,514 (up 1.8% from 2003-04), and the average elementary school principal earned $76,144 (up 1.3% from 2003-04).

Average high school assistant principals earned 71,404 (up 1.3% from 2003-04), average middle school APs earned $67,600 (up 1.8% from 2003-04), and average elementary school APs earned $63,140 (up 1.5% from 2003-04).

I have no knowledge of the salary of Assistant Principal Plea Bargain, who repeatedly ignored my requests for help as I single-handedly tried to keep an impending rugby scrum from breaking out (not to mention giving a kid a therapy session instead of consequences when he walked out of my room cursing), but it’s definitely NOT what AP PB is worth, either.

Ahem. Unfortunately, inflation rose 3.1 percent.

Well, now I feel better.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Military Recruiter comes to call....

I was in the middle of giving my class a quiz when a gentleman walked into my class the other day. He was wearing the cool digital camouflage uniform of a sergeant first class. Another teacher, whom I later figured out was his wife, trailed into the room after him. He introduced himself as a recruiter and said he wanted to talk to me.

I thought, "Oh great, Uncle Sam has just found my attempt to register for the draft back in 198_ when I was making a principled stand that women should have the same citizenship responsibilities as men, and now, they're so desperate they're going to try to sign me up." (I have a first name that can be used by males, and back then we all had those unisex haircuts, so the guy took my little card from me. I cerainly was in better shape than my friends who went with me to register for themselves. So, friends, as Arlo Guthrie would say, somewhere in Washington there may be a file with my draft card in it...)

Anyway, he said that one of my former students, let's call him Elvis, was interested in joining the Reserves after having made a previous commitment to the Navy, and he wondered if I "could just fill out this recommendation form?"

Hmmm. I had actually talked to this young man just a few weeks ago, and he didn't say anything about it, but okay, that might be a good move for him (although, frankly, it seems that going regular Army might be a better deal than going reserves, since around here the reserves have gone overseas more than the regular troops, and we've all heard the stories about the difference in equipment and training between "weekend warriors" --I'd like to see that myth laid to rest-- and full-timers, but, whatever...).

So I very quietly said, "Sure, can I see your release form?" Remember the quiz? I had qualms discussing this while other students were in the room, and so on.

He looked at me. "What release form?"

"The one that I need to see in order to release confidential information about a student, including a recommendation in which I would be providing frank assessments of his character and intellectual capability," I said. "Since Elvis isn't here to ask me to write the recommendation, I need a release. You can't be too careful about releasing private information about students in this litigious time..." I smiled encouragingly at him.

He shuffled some stuff around, but no form. I responded that I would fill it out when I saw the form, and we parted ways.

Two days later I got a release faxed to me, and I filled out the form.

I later was talking to a colleague, and he had just blithely filled out the info with no qualms. I dunno. Was I too ... cynical? sensitive? cautious? I was not trying to be obstructionist, but our school district really goes whole hog on the student privacy issue, as I've mentioned previously.

So how do I feel about section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act? I feel that people shouldn't have access to my or anyone else's private records as a default. I feel that this information may not be protected or viewed with the same probity as I would. This gentleman seemed surprised that I would ask to see a release form. The method feels underhanded. I don't think parents are even aware of the fact the information is being harvested by the military, and they certainly don't know that they have to opt out.

There's a couple of interesting things I found here that is very enlightening. Then there was the recent story about the man who found abandoned files from a recruiting center in a dumpster.

I am proud of all of my students who have joined the military (I currently have over 24 in uniform from the last five years alone). I come from a family that has always supported the brave patriots who serve.

And one way I can help, I believe, is to ask questions.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rubbing my nose in it....

Friend Guusje just took me to task over the performance of Texas (shudder) against Colorado this afternoon. Yes, 70 to 3 is quite an achievement.

As I responded to her gentle teasing: "However, at least my actual alma mater won the inaugural Conference USA championship. Woo hoo!!! It's been too long, kids! (Like since the last time I was in school there....)

I will have you know that I have moved through the stages of grief over OU's swooning fit of the vapors to achieve acceptance within the span of this football season, and, while NO ONE better ever call me a "fan," I would love to see the Longhorns wipe the smirk off Matt Leinert's pretty puss at the year's end.

See, I believe in the seven rings of hell when it comes to football. You'll be happy to know that I put the Longhorns MUCH higher up than, say, Nebraska or Colorado (there was this cheating incident a few years ago when they played Missouri which was definitely unChristian coming from Coach PromiseKeeper...)

As Capt. Jack Aubrey says in "Master and Commander," "It's the lesser of two weevils..."

But still.... wait until next year, y'all.

But just to make you smile, imagine me with index and pinkie briefly and tremblingly upraised in hopes of at least a smackdown of USC....

I hope my daddy doesn't read this.....

Nor my brother and sister, who also went to USC....

**Update: in response to certain nonbelievers in the restorative power of football, let me just say: Just a game????????

Just a game? I guess a cheeseburger is just chopped meat with hydrologized vegetable oil on top; I guess Michelangelo's David is just a naked guy who got a little chilly; I guess Shakespeare's sonnet #18 is just a climate report....

Besides, it gives those of us marooned between the two coasts something to fill up the empty hours...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Checkmate for Chess players (and Go is certainly too slow)

Henceforth the Medley Center Mall in Irondequoit, New York is no refuge for chess players.

The new proprietors of the Medley Center mall have decided that people shouldn't be cluttering up the food court playing chess and card games. Apparently the chess players, most of whom are adults and who have been playing at the mall for years, took up too many tables, brought in their own food and were too loud. These rook-wielding rowdies were deemed to be incongruous to owner Adam Bersin's "vision" for the mall.

"I really feel we've gotten jilted,'' 70-year-old retired salesman Ray Licata said in resignation (chess pun alert!).

Their checkered past has somehow caught up with them (snort)....

They are pawns in the hands of commerce (hahaha!).

(Ahem. I'm finished now.)

They will be allowed to play when the mall is open to walkers, from 8 to 10 am.

After eating food court food only when I am forced by possible loss of consciousness (see my previous posts on teacher fridges and cafeteria food), I think these apparently ki-yiping eggheads were probably doing everyone a favor.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What are our out-of-control kids trying to tell us?

Check out this link I got from Nani at Se hace Camino al Andar from the New York Times. A sample:

Most parents, Dr. Kindlon said, would like their children to be polite, considerate and well behaved. But they're too tired, worn down by work and personally needy to take up the task of teaching them proper behavior at home.

"We use kids like Prozac," he said. "People don't necessarily feel great about their spouse or their job but the kids are the bright spot in their day. They don't want to muck up that one moment by getting yelled at. They don't want to hurt. They don't want to feel bad. They want to get satisfaction from their kids. They're so precious to us - maybe more than to any generation previously. What gets thrown out the window is limits. It's a lot easier to pick their towel up off the floor than to get them away from the PlayStation to do it."

Parenting today is also largely about training children to compete - in school and on the soccer field - and the kinds of attributes they need to be competitive are precisely those that help break down society's civility.

Parents who want their children to succeed more than anything, Dr. Kindlon said, teach them to value and prioritize achievement above all else - including other people.

Our kids need us to be their guides and their parents, not their friends. We are cruelly casting them adrift in a terrifying world in the name of loving them if we renege on this pledge to them, a pledge they are holding us to fulfill.

The Carnival of Education Maintains its Standard of Excellence

The Education Wonks have out together another great Carnival of Education over at their place!

The Wonks' own post about the Pledge of Allegiance is particularly instructive, as is their post from The Headmistress at The Common Room about the test her great-great-grandfather had to take in 1900 in order to get a teaching certificate.

Go. Look. Be enlightened.

Fifty years after electrifying those who love justice

Fifty years ago today, Mrs. Rosa Parks took and kept her principled seat, igniting the smoldering Civil Rights movement.

Thank you, Mrs. Parks. Thank you to all who struggled after her.

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