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, March 31, 2006

Ten favorites

My friend Polski3 tagged me with a little meme, and I have been remiss in not getting to it. I've been kind of tired lately, and probably a little sad, but this meme cheers me up, so here goes:

Top ten of my favorite recording artists and two favorite songs, in no particular order. This is really hard, because I am quite addicted to music.

Neil Finn: "The Climber" and "She Will Have Her Way"

Crowded House: "Four Seasons in One Day" and "Kare Kare"

Joni Mitchell: "A Case of You" and "Help Me"

Sarah McLachlan: "Ice" and "Angel"

Stevie Ray Vaughan: "Pride and Joy" and "The House is Rockin'"

Bonnie Raitt: "Angel from Montgomery" and "Stor Mo Chroi" (with the Chieftains)

Aimee Mann: "Cigarettes and Red Vines" and "Jacob Marley's Chain"

Dar Williams: "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono" and "Playing to the Firmament"

Indigo Girls: "Closer to Fine" and "Crazy Game"

Alison Krauss and Union Station: "New Favorite" and "Oh, Atlanta"

These are songs to which I can actually damage my hearing, even if they're not loud rockin' types. But ten artists was very hard!

Thanks Polski. Now I'm going to tag Mr. Lawrence and k.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Education Schools-- Are They Relevant?

Over at Jenny D's place there have been a few people trying to have a discussion about the efficacy as well as the relevance of education schools, plus a lot of other people trying to call each other names. Nonetheless, a commenter named Elizabeth posted the following question/comment:
Help me with something. What makes ed schools so special? In all seriousness are ed schools truly needed and if so, why? Why can students not have a liberal arts major and an education minor, student teach and then go into the classroom with full knowledge of the subject they are teaching. I guess a better question might be if I were to be a teacher what classes do I take as an undergrad and how many (and which) of those classes are truly meaningful and challenging? Which of the classes truly prepare me to teach?
...Just something I have wondered about -- Today, it might help more people want to become teachers if they could teach something they were passionate about. Again, I do not know what classes education majors are required to take.

This is a serious question that deserves careful consideration, by people who have been in education schools and then tested out the theories taught there in the classroom. Unfortunately, serious and civil discussion is all too lacking. So let's try. Here's an expanded version of a comment I made:

The program that I went through lo, many years ago, had education as a minor. I had the equivalent of a full bachelor's in English. I graduated with 145 credit hours.

Nonetheless, precious little in many of my education classes addressed the real nuts and bolts of teaching as it really is. I thought I had been prepared. I hadn't.

It took experience for me to become a good teacher. For instance, I saw that my students had little of what Robert Marzano calls Background Knowledge but I called Frame of Reference-- a common language of ideas, concepts and vocabulary to help make sense of allusions in both fictional and non-fictional reading selections.

My students didn't understand terms such as "Achilles' heel," "having a cross to bear," or "Eureka," -- they thought that last one was a nearby town. They didn't know that Snow White had a sister named Rose Red and that there was one dwarf and he was mean. They didn't know what "indivisible" meant although they said it every day. They didn't know that Wednesday is spelled weird because it's named after Wodin. I was told that students should only read out of their basal reader, (like many of the people who now drone on and on about Direct Instruction insist will work.) I made sure the kids read that and that we discussed it, but I also slipped in fairy tales, mythology, poetry, drama, Bible stories-- this was a Catholic school. I taught them their disjointed spelling words but also Greek and Latin roots and affixes so that they could decode words for themselves in the sciences, in mathematics, in music. You get the idea, and I don't want to go on and on and on. It was teaching as a subversive activity! When the principal saw the improved test scores, she thought it was due to the basal reader, but oh, well. The scores might have been even better if school discipline had been predicated upon something other than an inverse relation between family income and consistent behavioral expectations, too, but that's another topic.

I saw that there is a place for memorization as well as a place for creativity in a child's education. I saw that moderation in educational trends is key. It doesn't have to be "whole language" versus "hooked on phonics"-- they need both! It wasn't "Writing Workshop" verus "Drill and Kill"-- they need time to be imaginative but they also need structure, not to mention exposure to great literature as well as high-interest young adult stuff.

Unfortunately none of that was really the subject of ed school. And a little more practical discussion of discipline and motivation issues would have been great, too.

I think the big question today is how to motivate students to want to craft their own educations-- for education can not be handed to you or forced upon you, nor can you be tricked or bribed into it. It's not always going to be "fun," or entertainment, but it's should never be mindless worksheet completion. It MUST be demanding, which means it is often going to be uncomfortable and, like all things worthwhile, a struggle. Our society today-- especially many students, some parents, and sadly some educators-- believe that education can be delivered to someone like a cheeseburger on a plate: simply put it in front of the kid, and they'll wolf it down. A more troubling question is why some students don't believe that their education is worthy of as many hours of practice as their jump shots. But ed school didn't really give me an idea of HOW to do this high-wire act and solve problems like that.

We live in a society that SAYS that education is important yet looks with suspicion upon those who are intellectual or who would rather read than watch Survivor: Cutthroat Caribbean. We say education is important but vilify teachers as the Root Of All Evil. Teaching is one of the oldest of human activities and yet the least understood. The goofball in me wants to wisecrack that good teaching is like the famous quote about pornography: "I know it when I see it." But good teaching is an art, hopefully art that looks like this

and not like this

It is currently all the rage in our society to paint a picture of abject failure in public education because that supports some personal political goal like the perpetual Cassandras who talk about some "good old days" in which American education was so much better. To them, 2/3 of students are illiterate monkeys who can't add 2+4 but feel good about themselves. To them, teachers are organ-grinders for the monkeys, involved in a nefarious plot to further the cause of ignorance everywhere in order to cover up the fact that teachers themselves were the poorest students. Never mind that if that were true, we certainly wouldn't be facing a teacher shortage right now, would we?

But anyway, education schools, just like America as a whole, suffer from the Flavor of the Month Syndrome. Has anyone really considered that part of the problem with students' reading and math abilities on tests might be that there has been, for instance, aboout six kinds of "New" math and language arts theories introduced-- and jettisoned--since I was in school as a wee lass?

There's always THE NEXT BIG THING in education. The current BIG THING is teaching students as individuals now-- individualized instruction, for example, and IEPs-- as increasingly my class sizes bloat because my students' test scores are pretty good and my minutes per class shrinks as we try to rejigger the limited school day to meet AYP and still have a championship football team. (As fat as I've become, there's still not enough of me to go around! ) Then we give kids a one-size-doesn't-fit-all test. Those who care about education fail to see that primary disconnect, among others.

Test scores are a flawed indicator when standing alone. For instance, when I was in high school I got a 36 on the ACT in science. My science teacher and I laughed ourselves SICK over that one. It was all about vocabulary-- which I DID have-- versus science knowledge, which was hit-or-miss in my case, unless you count a passion for geology and botany but a loathing of chemistry. That's the objection many of us have against some very unreliable tests that we have had to administer.

Many of the people who propose charter schools-- free schools from intrusive government regulation and bureaucracy!-- ladle ever more layers of bureaucracy onto public schools like ugly on an ape with the very next breath. Many people who want to get reimbursements from tax dollars to send their children to private school nonetheless really don't want to see the exclusivity of those schools dropped if vouchers meaningfully give everyone the means to attend those same private schools. And if you think I'm exaggerating about this possibility, see what a massive infusion of government dollars into higher education known as the GI Bill did to the exclusivity of a college degree in this country from 1945 to 1960, people. Education schools also do not do any real investigation into these questions. I do know that several of the charter schools around here have seen failure to raise test scores themselves, not to mention the ones who have "lost" hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers' money due to that vaunted "relaxed accountability."

Many have suggested that teachers have a bachelor's in a subject and then have graduate degrees to become teachers. I know several teachers who have done that. I personally could not have afforded that option, especially considering that my first teaching job paid the whopping sum of just less than $11,000 a year in a Catholic school. No room for more student loans there. (Hell, no room for health care much less insurance, or even Hamburger Helper, either!)

I do teach what I am passionate about. I do think that many education schools are totally disconnected from the reality of life in the classroom. But you also can't just throw someone who is "passionate" in there, either, even "passionate and strong in content" if they drone like bees when they talk or don't know what to do with young Jezebel if she disrupts the learning chances for others. Some research into cognitive development a bit more recent than Piaget would be good for prospective teachers to learn. Time to actually engage in reflective practice as both a pre-teacher and as a practicing teacher would certainly go a long way if teachers were not shoehorned into a thousand disjointed meetings every time we have a "staff development" day. I think teachers should constantly be seeking to perfect their craft. I think teachers should be primarily able to focus on teaching and that schools should be primarily about learning. Simple enough, right?


Once you get a credential to teach, no matter what you call it, the journey has just begun. If teacher development in this country encouraged this, any number of sins of omission or commission in education schools could probably be ameliorated. If we backed up our supposed support of education with actual deeds and respect, that might go even further.

Oh, and did I mention I would also like to not have to purchase my own dry-erase markers?? Just a thought.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: the New Wave

It's time for Movie Madness Monday! Step right up and see if your taste in cinema is as low-brow and trivial as mine!

Here is the basic outline: each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun. I would especially like to see if my visitors from Japan, New Zealand, Newfoundland, Mexico, the UK, or France know anything about this movie.

I am in mourning over the end of spring break, so before I tear up, let's go!

“Donger's here for five hours, and he's got somebody. I live here my whole life, and I'm like a disease.”

“She's got her period. Should be an interesting honeymoon, huh?”
“Where do you kids learn all this stuff?”
“Good, I'm getting my money's worth.”

“I think you're just acting selfish and immature.”
“Oh yes-- that's it! That's exactly it!”
“I can't believe it. You make someone a bridesmaid and they shit all over you.”

“This is Farmer Fred.”
“Oh, I'm sorry, Farmer Ted.”
“I'm not really a farmer. I'm a freshman.”

“What was he wearing? Well, uh, let's see, he was wearing a red argyle sweater, and tan trousers, and red shoes.” Pause. “What?! No, he's not retarded!”

“Relax, would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls' underpants. We're safe as kittens."

****Wednesday Update, I day late because I drove my automobile into lake--rilly, rilly big lake! Splooooooosh!!!
Sixteen Candles! What does every girl want for her birthday but a cute rich guy in a Porsche?

What's scary is that high school is still so much the same. Keep those quotes coming!

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 26, 2006

NCLB also leaves recess (and art and music) behind

EdWonk has a post today from the NYTimes reporting that many schools are cutting back on untested school subjects in a quest to meet the reading and math standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

(To which I say, those of us in the Edsphere have been talking about that for a while now. No surprises there. Assorted Stuff also got inspired by this today.)

Then there's this little tidbit from the Boston Herald:
With schools scrapping recess to tack on more test-prep time, parents in Massachusetts and across the nation are rebelling against the nose-to-the-grindstone trend that robs their kids of vital play time.

“I think it’s terrible. The school yard is dormant,” said Teresa Pimentel, the parent liaison at the Ralph M. Small School in Fall River, where officials have shelved a 15-minute morning recess in exchange for silent reading and writing until the MCAS tests are over.

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests start this week. School administrators and teachers anxious to perform are drilling third- and fourth-graders.

Nationwide, 40 percent of elementary schools have either eliminated recess or are considering shortening students’ free time on the playground, according to the National Parent Teacher Association, which is partnering with the Cartoon Network for the “Rescuing Recess” campaign.

“A lot of parents and the public are appalled there is no recess in school and they don’t know that it’s happening,” said Anna Weselak, National PTA president. The war on recess has already hit the Bay State in several communities.

Peabody parents have been fighting for more than a year to add play time to the school day after Superintendent Nadine Binkley cut recess to 10 minutes a day.

The Frank M. Silvia School in Fall River also recently traded in morning recess for reading time, said Principal Denise Ward.

The Whitman-Hanson Regional Schools have been without morning recess for seven years to accommodate learning demands and MCAS pressure, according to Superintendent John McEwan.

“Success-driven adults are forgetting we have children in schools. They are not business executives. They are not 7-year-old CEOs. They are children and they need to have a break in the middle of the day,” said Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, a Peabody School Committee member and mother of a third-grade girl. Dunne is pushing a “social development” curriculum that would add 10 minutes of play time to the school day.

Some commenters at Ed's place have commented that this is a good thing. After all, shouldn't schools teach reading and mathematics above all else? And, further, if schools are "failing" at teaching reading and math, should they really be "wasting" precious instructional time on frills? You know, frills like recess for six year olds, art, music, and history?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Censorship or caution?

There is a dispute at a California high school regarding the selection of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones as a reading project for grades 9-12.

Malibu High School students chose the book; second choice was George Orwell's 1984.
The book, "Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold, rocketed to bestseller lists in 2003. It is written as a narrative in the voice of a 14-year-old girl who had been raped, murdered and dismembered by a neighbor. The girl watches from heaven as survivors grapple with her death, and as her family falls apart.

"This is adult material, and I am trying to grasp why you would pick a book that is so controversial?" asked parent Barry Schoenbrun at a Parent Teacher Student Association meeting at the school last week. The hour-long exchange in the school library was described by participants as calm, respectful and deliberate.

School principal Mark Kelly said he would take the messages he heard to a meeting with the school's English teachers this week. A decision on whether to continue with the planned assignment will come after that, Kelly said.

"I would like to point out that the book was selected by the students, and we would like to respect that," said English teacher Bonnie Thoreson. "The book was approved by the California Department of Education, with the notation that the content was for an adult readership with mature content, and that teachers should be sure to know the child given the book."

At the meeting, parent after parent, who described themselves as liberal and realistic in outlook, raised problems with the book.

Now, I have to be honest. I could not make myself read this book-- I tried. I do not want to read about young teen girls being raped and chopped into pieces. I also couldn't read Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World for the same reason. I just have a really hard time thinking about children being killed or drowning.

Nonetheless, I stand by the right of others to read this book. Perhaps, though, there might be other students who could not get through this book as well. In which case, having an alternate book for students to choose might be the right choice.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Technorati turns its nose up at me

So can anyone tell me why I can't claim my blog at Technorati?

After that, can anyone tell me why they have a email link to tech support, if obviously no one answers these messages-- (four times over)? Is Technorati not too technically minded?

After that, can anyone guess how freaked out my cable company is that I sicced the BBB on them? (And by the way, that freaks me out, since the BBB is usually a toady to the business interests around here) NOW, suddenly, I'm getting NAMES. NUMBERS. ASSUAGING. A HUMAN VOICE. REPEATED PHONE CALLS FROM THEM BEGGING TO MAKE ME HAPPY.

This couldn't have anything to do with a certain state bill allowing competition in the cable industry AND recent reports that there were over 1000 complaints about these people to the BBB, would it?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Avast there ye scurvy dogs! Ahoy the Carnival of Education!

Aye, ye know me as the Wild Ms Cornelius-- but in truth I am

My pirate name is:

Iron Charity Read

A pirate's life isn't easy; it takes a tough person. That's okay with you, though, since you a tough person. Even through many pirates have a reputation for not being the brightest souls on earth, you defy the sterotypes. You've got taste and education. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from fidius.org.

Now, ye landlubbers, get over to the Carnival of Education number 59-- the number of scalawags I've made walk the plank-- before that ship sets sail! A treasure awaits ye! Aarg!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

History Carnival #27

I now interrupt seven hours of compulsively neurotic Sudoku-puzzling and reading Bob Marzano and playing my guitar and nursing my bruise from sparring in taekwondo last night to alert all history geeks who are as clueless as I am to head on over to the new thing I just found: History Carnival #27!

This is so cool! I am excited by all the news blogs I just read, not to mention that our pal elementaryhistoryteacher gets the first shout-out on the Midway there!

Wander on over for some thought-provoking discussion. I'll be waiting here for ya when you come back.

What does it mean if NCLB wants to leave history behind?

A few of us from the high school got together with a couple of our middle school counterparts a while back. They wanted to meet with us to see how they could help align the skills and content they teach to help support their students who want to take AP level courses in high school. This was a watered down version of a concept known in AP world as "vertical teaming."

What finally came out after we got finished talking about specific things like creating a thesis statement and analyzing documents and pictorial evidence was this: they have gotten the message from administrators that their only function in an NCLB world is to reinforce the English curriculum. They were meeting with us in a bid to justify their existence as an independent department. Of course, this situation is already in jeopardy when you have not one soul teaching a social studies class in two of the three grades in one of the middle schools who has an actual major in social studies or history.

Not. One.

We actually have two-person and three-person teams in several situations in which the teachers all split up the social studies classes in addition to their "regular" discipline. All that means is another prep which teachers are supposed to juggle, inevitably shunted aside in both interest and importance to both teacher and student alike due to a lack of content knowledge. It's a miracle the students learn anything about history under those circumstances.

Because social studies is not tested under either federal or state guidelines, the administration (this word has multiple meanings in this context, and I use all of these meanings deliberately) has devalued history education as just a wonderful way to teach some basic writing and reading skills. This is not the first time I have heard something of this nature around these parts, either. Many schools-- elementary and middle level-- are doubling up on the minutes devoted to language arts and mathematics in a frenzied quest to meet AYP.

If one does the basic math (ahem!), one can see that some other subject or subjects somewhere will have to lose out. And around here that is history, since there is a groundswell of support for supporting more stringent science education, with which I agree, BTW (see here and here and here, just for starters). Regular readers know how I feel about mathematics education from previous posts. Nonetheless, several of my friends tell me that their elementary-aged children currently receive about 10 minutes of her day devoted to social studies content as their classes prepare to descend into the maelstrom of testing that ever and anon is bearing down upon us.

I fully support a more rich and meaningful science education in our schools. I mean, really, any time you've got nearly a majority of Americans thinking the world was created at 8 am on a Monday morning in 4004 BC or something, you KNOW you've got a crisis on your hands, not to mention a certain state where they also believe that babies are found in the cabbage patch and that's all kids need to know, except that God hates America's alleged tolerance of gays so much that God laughs when soldiers die in Iraq.

History is not targeted by any high-stakes tests. Does that mean that history doesn't count? Should history class merely function as an outpost to teach language arts and math and science? These are things I cover incidentally in my classes, but by no means do I believe that my sole purpose is to help kids pass federally mandated tests outside my subject area, much less IN my subject area, were they to even exist. That kind of education is a poor excuse for an education.

I believe all knowledge and all content areas are important. I explain and encourage discussion of math and English and science content whenever I see a question arise in class. To me, it's all about background knowledge and frame of reference. At this point, I must disclose that I am also a certified English teacher with 7 years' experience as an instructor in that content area. I expect correct grammar and spelling on work turned in in my class. For that matter, I expect correct computation on questions that I include in my students assignments which require mathematics skills. My middle name is "Multidisciplinary." Sue me.

Is the study of history and the social sciences irrelevant in fact as well as in testing?

I hold an unshakeable certainty that students need to be able to evaluate what it REALLY means when a current political figure is compared to Hitler, or to understand how hard it was to develop democracy in this country, and how hard it has been to develop it in other countries, not to mention that they need to be able to evaluate the benefits ans well as limitations of democracy. I think students need to understand why there is a difference between their gross pay and their net pay, and understand where that difference goes, and why. I think students need to understand why the math teacher gives them interest problems to compute.

I think students need to understand how religion affects societies both secular and theocratic in this world. For instance: why are people willing to die for their religious beliefs? Why are people willing to kill for their religious beliefs? Why is the term "crusade" an emotionally charged term in some parts of the world, just as "jihad" has become an emotionally charged term in other parts of the world? Why are some people of the opinion that faith and reason are diametrically opposed to each other?

It is these and a thousand other questions which are the duty of social studies education to address. An ignorant citizenry in any subject is a citizenry that gives up its liberty to think, much less to create and to lead. Some of my students tell me that the hardest thinking they do all day is in my class-- partially because there is often no verifiably "right" answer to the question with which we wrestle.

What a bizarre world to live in where NOT being a subject of high-stakes standardized testing is a cause for concern.

Monday, March 20, 2006

ACT: a better solution to NCLB testing woes?

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.com:

Every high school junior in Missouri would take the ACT college entrance exam, and they'd do so free of charge during school hours, under a proposal presented to the State Board of Education Thursday.

The approach would mimic what's done in Illinois, where the ACT is used in conjunction with other exams to ensure high school students are meeting state standards.

Under the plan, the state would ditch most of the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, for 11th-graders and use the ACT.

But a number of concerns could derail the plan in Missouri. Some members of the state board question whether the exam is fully compatible with what ought to be taught in high school.

"You certainly haven't convinced me that the students have any material benefit" from the plan, said Peter Herschend, president of the state board.

The board took no vote on the plan, which is supported by a 27-member task force aimed at improving high school instruction. The idea will be debated across the state next month in a series of public hearings.

Supporters of the plan say that using the ACT will prompt students to take the test more seriously, since they would know it could affect their college choice. That isn't the case with the current state exam, which carries no consequences for students, some administrators complain."

There's more to the whole piece. I am wondering what effect this would have on students, first, before I wonder about the effect on test scores themselves. Every year I have a few students who SWEAR they will never go to college, and I wonder if they would take the ACT any more seriously. But for the college bound kids, this would definitely increase their interest, and would hopefully make the test less subject to the whims of test-writers who have laid some doozies on us in the last few years.

Another problem with this might be that NCLB requires that students be tested in reading and math. Of course, that hasn't kept Missouri from testing WRITING as a majority of the language arts test since its inception. I believe that writing as a discipline is much harder than the kind of reading that ends up on tests, and thus, the scores suffer. But I'll never forget the year we had the 32 Constructed Response Items on the language arts tests. 32. You know, if you can't figure out if a kid can write after about 9 or 10 of various types, then you've got no business evaluating students. A further peeve of mine concerns the Constructed Response format, which has become the default limit of length and complexity of student writing in many schools and classrooms around here. Students need to learn to sustain an idea, much less a thesis, for longer than 2 sentences.

But hey, no one in the Educracy around here apparently cares what I think.

Illinois has apparently been using the ACT for a while as their high school assessment. Anyone out there from Illinois with any info? Inquiring minds want to know.

Movie Madness Monday: One Step Beyond!

Ahh, yes, it's spring break and it's a Monday, so it must be time for Movie Madness Monday, my little attempt at levity and mental dexterity. For those of us who carry around this kind of trivia in our heads, here's a chance to express some of this clutter, leaving more room to think about your latest Sudoku.

Here's how it works: I provide an anticipatory set of quotes from a movie. You provide other quotes from the same movie. I will tell you the name of the movie on Wednesday. You can still post quotes after that time, though.

I am in a giddy mood because I actually am blogging in my pajamas, and it's not midnight. So I'm going to pick a film that should resonate with a lot of us who get by on nerve and our sense of humor.

Okay, try to spot this one:

"When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, and valiantly, he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat."

"What are you doing now?"
"Averting our eyes, Lord"
"Well, don't. It's just like those miserable psalms-- always so depressing."

"Who's that, then?"
"I don't know-- it must be a king."
"He hasn't got shit all over him."

"Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?"

(And I am thinking of certain administrators here....)

"What I object to is you automatically treating me like an inferior."
"Well, I am King."
"Oh, King huh? Very nice. And how'd you get that, huh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society."

"You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!"

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."
"This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."

"I'm French. Why do you think I have this outrageous accent, you silly king? "
"What are you doing in England?"
"Mind your own business."

****Wesnesday Update: You silly ki-niggits! It's

Monty Python and the Holy Grail! One of the greatest classics in humor! These were the giants! If you've only seen Spamalot-- go check out this movie!

We --Want --A --Shrubbery!

Keep those quotes coming!

Labels: ,

Monday, March 13, 2006

What if they don't want to be saved?

I was working in my room the other day during a prep period when I overheard raised voices down the hall. One of my colleagues, Mr. Spector*, was debating with a kid from his classroom. It was obvious the kid was lipping off to Mr. Spector and basically refusing to do anything but sleep in Mr. Spector's class. When Mr. Spector insisted he remain upright, the kid took exception.

Mr. Spector is a fifty-ish second-careerist who is caring, funny, and an ultraconservative. (I forgive him and I love him anyway.) The man can squeeze a quarter so hard that snot comes out of George Washington's nose. He tries every day to do right by his students and expects them to learn something, and that's what matters to me.

So, I hovered out of sight for a few minutes to see if the kid was going to cross the line or if Mr. Spector might need me to escort young Mr. 'Tude to the office. After trying to reason with the kid for about three minutes, he took him over to a colleague's room so that the kid wouldn't wander around the hallway for the rest of class. I walked up right after he had deposited the little blister in the other room.

I asked him if he was okay as he walked back to his room. He turned to me, and there was such an intense look of pain and frustration in his face. He said, "I have done everything I can for that kid. I have worked with him individually. I have called home. I have tried patience. I have tried pushing. I have tried the School Health Intervention Team Referral." (otherwise known as SHIT referrals) "Then he turns on me like this and basically tells me to fuck myself. He's been accepted at an alternative program for next year, so he's decided he's done. Right now I am so mad at that little SOB that I could punch a hole in something!" Mr. Spector was shaking, and tears were almost swimming in his eyes.

I tried to comfort Mr. Spector as best I could, and encouraged him to take a deep breath. I told him that everyone expects teachers to care about their students, but then not let their feelings show when kids are hurtful or hateful or spiteful, and that's really hard. I offered to watch his class while he got a diet Coke or a cup of coffee but he turned me down, and he thanked me and went back into his room where there were other students, waiting.

One of the hardest things to learn about as a teacher is to understand that a few kids really don't want to be helped, and to tread that knife's edge between giving them room to make bad choices and giving up on them completely. The hardest thing in the world is to have someone throw your concern back in your face. We are not supposed to take this personally. Mr. Spector does care, because he is a good teacher. He just hasn't acquired the veneer of distance that would enable him to not take this kid's sneering, calculated indifference as a wound. And of course, this kid was trying to wound. We are not supposed to take this personally, but every teacher has days in which we ache over the hopelessness of some students and their intansigience.

Teachers believe every kid can learn. But some kids see our attempts to teach them as a power struggle. As was beautifully depicted in the poem written by graycie here at Today's Homework, we can't MAKE them do anything. We just have to practice a form of what meditation teacher Tara Brach calls radical acceptance, to have compassion on these lost kids-- can't call them students, and they're certainly not young adults-- while accepting that right now they are not willing to accept what is being offered to them. In doing this, we also have compassion on ourselves, and enable ourselves to go to school tomorrow morning and try to help others who may be more open to what we offer.

*-so named because he loves do-wop music and girl groups

Movie Madness Monday: Revenge of the Madness

Once again it's time to play Movie Madness Monday. Here's the deal: I provide a few opening salvoes of quotes from a movie. You provide other quotes from the same movie. I will tell you the name of the movie on Wednesday. You can still post quotes after that time, though.

The goal? To get some of my lurkers to delurk and to amuse my constant playmates here.

This one may be a bit tricky-- it's older than any of the others I've done so far. But that's good for ya. And here we go!

"There'll be no locks and bolts between us Mary Kate--except for those in your mercenary little heart."

"Could you use a little water in your whiskey?"
"When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water."

"Well, it's a nice soft night, so I think I'll go join me comrades and talk a little treason."

"Is this a courtin' or a donnybrook? Have the good manners not to hit the man until he's your husband and can hit you back."

"He'll regret it till his dying day, if he ever lives that long."

"Two women in the house-- and one of them a redhead!"

****WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Yes, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, the movie is: The Quiet Man!

One of my favorites any time of year, but especially now. If you have not seen this one, you've missed out on John Wayne in a role more well-rounded than any he did with the exception of Rooster Cogburn. Humor. Action. Romance. Ireland. It's got it all.

"Marquis of Queensbury Rules!"

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Support the Troops" Wars over war

My eyes just about popped outta my head as I saw this story about an Army wife being fined for a "Support the Troops" yard sign.

Get this, as posted on aol,
When Stacey Kelley's husband, Army Pvt. David Kelley who is serving in Iraq, sent her a cardboard sign expressing support for U.S. troops overseas, she put it up in the yard of her suburban Tampa, Fla., home.

Kelley, 24, never imagined that it would raise controversy, or that she would be threatened with a $100-a-day fine if she refused to take it down....

It was an issue that caused a conflict for the association's president, who is also an Army reservist. Daryl Manning, an Iraq War veteran, said he hoped that some compromise could be worked out.

"I've been there. I know right where her husband is. I've been in [the] country. I was over there for 20 months," he said.

A compromise was reached Thursday night, but it doesn't mean Kelley won't be facing a fine -- just one a lot lower than the amount originally threatened. Instead, the seven-member board voted to impose just a $1-per-day penalty for as long as the sign stays up.

The fine will eventually go up if Kelley doesn't take the sign down, Manning said.

"There's a violation to have any sign in any homeowner's yard, regardless of what it says," Manning said.

Manning said the association's rules about signs, which only allow "For Sale" or "For Lease" signs, were in place to keep the community clean and keep the peace.

"The problem could arise where it could be a neighbor across the street or across the road that says, 'Bring the troops home. Get out of the theater. Cut and run.' What happens when that occurs? So we cannot make exceptions in this case," he said.

Hmmm, so "Support Our Troops" is a code message for "We're For the Iraq War," and "Bring the Troops Home" DOESN'T support the troops?

No secret that I am opposed to this war, and am deeply suspicious of the myriad excuses we were given for getting into it, or the larky way the mission was declared accomplished incredibly prematurely for a photo op and so on and so on. But I do support our men and women who are fighting and spilling their blood. A few of them are former students of mine. They are following orders, and trying to do their jobs with honor and the best motives. But I don't think the two messages are in opposition. Maybe I am incredibly naive.

I also find it interesting that Manning has no problem banning Kelley's sign on just the CHANCE that it might lead to someone else expressing a slightly different opinion that apparently he wouldn't like. Oh, what WOULD happen then? Maybe a chance for people to debate openly like adults?

Perish the thought.

One Week Until Spring Break: Pray For Me

Is there ANY time of the year less focused than the time before spring break? Last week we had seven or eight fights, and this year had been going so well too. I hope the principals suspended all the kids who were egging it on-- like they said they would-- or this week is going to be even MORE fun.

Prayers accepted here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

Music is a very important part of my life, and I am missing my dad right now, so I dreamt a dream described by this song. At the end, I think all he recognized was my voice.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town
(Lyrics by Eddie Vedder)

I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar, yet I can't seem to place it
Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me
All these changes taking place, I wish I'd seen the place
But no one's ever taken me
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...

I swear I recognize your breath
Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising
Me you wouldn't recall, for I'm not my former
It's hard when you're stuck up on the shelf
I changed by not changing at all, small town predicts my fate
Perhaps that's what no one wants to see
I just want to scream...hello...
My God it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return
But now here you are, and here I am
Hearts and thoughts they fade away...

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...
Hearts and thoughts they fade...fade away...
Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away...
Hearts and thoughts they fade...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why, in the name of everything holy, do they tell me these things?

Subheading: In which your heroine probably gets herself in hot water for her lack of "tolerance"

I love it when we've got academic labs that last an hour. This means that, on a good day, the kids will ask me a million disjointed questions-- "Ms. C, what vitamin is folic acid?" "Ms. C, do you have a chemistry text?" "Ms. C, what's a recessive gene? "Ms. C, who thought up pi?" "Ms. C, are you a Mrs.?" "Ms. C, how much cholesterol in a Cheese Doodle?" "Ms. C, do you believe in ouija boards?"

and on and on. In theory, this is supposed to be time I can get work done. In theory.

Then, there came a big question: "Ms. C, do you think it's fair that my boyfriend is in jail?"

I could feel the ice thinning under me, but one couldn't exactly ignore that one.

"Umm, it depends. Why is he in jail?"

The answer? For statutory rape. With this student. On and on she went about how rich people can get off when they do these type of things, but poor people can't. Didn't want to touch that one. So then she asked,"Do you think it's fair to be in jail? I consented!"

All ears in the room focused toward me.

My answer? I mentally wiped the slack-jawed gape that threatened to burst forth off my mug and said, "Yes. Yes, he should be in jail. Statutory rape should be a crime."

This answer, to say the least, did not please her. "Why do you think that? In this state, if my parents gave their consent, we could get married! How old do you think someone should be to have sex?"

"Okay. I'll give you my honest opinion." Careful here, girl. Mention personal beliefs at one's own peril. "Obviously, your parents did not consent. I don't think anyone should have sex until they are old enough and stable enough and mature enough to handle the consequences of sex, especially until they are old enough to love and welcome and take care of a baby, which is very often the biggest consequence of sex. How many kids have you seen having kids of their own, and no idea about what that means or how that will change not only their lives but the life of that child FOR WHOM THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE. And then that child grows up without the proper care and nurturing, and through no fault of its own it is hurt, and may never recover. Only when you can do a decent job at handling the consequences should you engage in the behavior." (I mean really, a few minutes before I heard her complain that something wasn't "fair." Come on.) "That is my own personal opinion, since you asked."

She was quiet for a second, and looked like she was going to argue, but thought better of it, and at least seemed to be mulling this over. Another kid spoke up and said, "My parents said to wait until I was married." And a few heads nodded. "And that advice still falls under my criteria," I said. And thank heavens, a few more seemed thoughtful, and then one girl stated she wasn't even allowed to date because in her culture, marriages were arranged. And thankfully, that led us off topic.

Well, I could have shook her off, or refused to answer (and oh, was I tempted to do just that!) or mumbled some platitude about how everyone's choices are equally valid. But I don't believe that, and while I may tease or joke, one thing the kids know about me is that I will not lie. Obfuscate, oh absolutely, but when it comes down to it, I am honest. In this case, incredibly uncomfortable, too. I am really a reticent person about stuff like this. Really. Don't look at me funny like that, I mean it.

I don't think these kids having sex is a good idea or a choice that should be given validation or acquiescence through silence on my part when they ask my opinion about it. Further, I don't buy this bullshit that since they are going to do it anyway, you might as well say it's okay. This kid in particular is especially troubled, and frankly, it would be a tragedy for her (not to mention for the child) to become a mother at this time in her life. And no, I certainly didn't want to get into the other consequences, because, trust me, they have heard about them already, and, frankly, the limb I was perched on felt mighty slender already.

But just last week another of my students told me that she was pregnant, and she was all excited and thrilled about it, like she was going to have a new pet to play with, and we've already discussed this week how dangerous being a pet can be in some people's houses (see last Saturday's post).

Despite what all the statistics say about teen pregnancy rates declining, there suddenly seems to be a multitude of student parents around me, and they're all in one of my classes. I actually went to the counselors and said, "Don't put any more girls in my room. They end up pregnant. And as a matter of fact, don't put any boys in my room, either, because someone's got to be getting these girls pregnant. At least they're not doing it IN my class, but still." I was pretty distraught over the whole thing, actually, because I wanted to scream at this kid. Having. A. Kid. Changes. Everything. If you do it right. (And if it doesn't change everything, you're NOT doing it right.) Even when you're two adults trying to handle it all. And no. None of these kids ever thinks about giving the baby up for adoption, either.

So, everyone seemed to handle this little sojourn into Ms. Cornelius's ethics, and I hopefully avoided preaching or injecting religion into it or other sorts of career-ending detours.

But crap. Fifteen minutes later, a familiar voice called for my attention.

"Ms. C, can I ask you a question?"

"Can I in any way stop you?" I half-hopefully asked. "As long as it's not about sex."

"It's not," she assured me.

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

Oh, good Lord. I am going to have to start charging this kid by the word. "For the love of Mike, do some homework!"

****Update: By the way, apparently someone thought that I might be advocating those abstinence-only sex ed programs. I think those things are ridiculous if that's the only info kids get. But I was asked my opinion about when people should have sex-- not what kind of sex ed kids should receive. My parents were too embarrassed to talk to me about sex, so they sent me to a class run by a church and the Camp Fire Girls. We got the straight story in a way that was memorable-- didn't say "Oh well, you're gonna do it anyway so go ahead," but also didn't say "If you have sex you'll go to hell." It made us understand how important a decision becoming sexually active was-- a message sadly lacking in most kids' lives. I also ended up with a lot of funny stories with which to amuse my softball teammates while sitting in the dugout.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Carnival of Education #57

is up at Math and Text, one of my favorite sites when I'm grumping about the lack of math ability I encounter. Go see!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I think that I shall never see/ a poem lovely as a pork barrel project

The latest attempt to look like the Bush administration supports education without actually having to come up with any real funding comes from the attempt to renew the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, otherwise known as “Payments to States.” This law was meant to compensate states which received less revenue from declining timber sales on federal lands within their borders.

According to the Forestry Service’s website,
The President’s fiscal year 2007 budget includes a legislative proposal that would grant the Forest Service authority to sell small tracts of forest land that are isolated or inefficient to manage due to their location or other characteristics. The money received from the sales (up to $800 million) would go towards funding states and counties impacted by the loss of receipts associated with lower timber harvests on federal lands. The legislation would amend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for an additional five years.

First of all, one has to wonder why the timber sales declined in these areas. Could it be due to poor management and overharvesting, especially in Oregon and Washington, two states with strong ties to the lumber industry? These two states seem to be the big winners under the new bill. Second of all, does this really have much to do with schools in rural areas? Third of all, is this just using education as a ruse to cover up the transfer of pristine areas—which one could define as “isolated or inefficient to manage”—at "fire-sale" prices (sorry, couldn't help the pun) to the timber industry?

No one would argue that rural schools face serious deficits in funding, facilities, and equipment, but this land sale actually appears to be a chance to savage the environment while at the same time benefiting some states at the expense of others. The Seattle Pilot-Intelligencer has the full story here:
A Bush administration plan to sell more than 300,000 acres of national forest to help pay for rural schools contains a disproportionate amount of land in the South and Midwest - while primarily benefiting schools in three West Coast states, a new analysis shows.

Nearly 60,000 acres in 13 Southern states and another 50,000 acres in 10 Midwestern states would be sold under the plan, while just 18,000 acres in forest-rich Oregon and Washington would be sold, according to an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Southern states received $37 million for rural schools this year under the program the sales are intended to benefit, while the Midwest received $41 million, the analysis shows. Oregon and Washington got five times those amounts - $210 million, with Oregon alone receiving nearly $162 million.

About 80,000 acres in California would be sold; the state received nearly $69 million from the Forest Service this year.

Apparently, even some in the president’s own party are questioning, if not the ecological consequences, then at least the fairness of the new plan:
Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., also questioned the proposal, saying there was no guarantee that money generated by the sales would stay within Missouri.

"We need to see more of the benefit of this proposal than we are now seeing," Talent told Bush administration officials at a Senate hearing last week.

Under the Bush plan, 21,566 acres in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest would be sold, with proceeds going to a general fund. The sell-off would be one of the biggest in the country, while Missouri's share of the school-funding is among the lowest at $2.7 million.

"Our schools need the money," Talent said.

Now here’s the interesting tidbit (emphasis mine):
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, acknowledged the disparity, but said the law was devised to help those rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks on federal lands. Parcels proposed for sale are isolated, difficult or expensive to manage, or no longer meet Forest Service needs, Rey said.

"They are not evenly distributed" throughout the country, Rey said, although Congress could adjust the funding formula as it sees fit.

Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico also questioned the fairness of the new plan,

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, one of the chief architects of the rural schools law, called questions raised by Talent and Domenici legitimate, and said they were a key reason he opposes the land sale plan.

"I don't want to pit your beautiful forest against school stability in Missouri," Wyden, a Democrat, told Talent at a Resources meeting last week.

About 10,500 acres in Oregon would be sold under the Bush plan.

Wyden and other Oregon lawmakers say the state receives so much money under the rural schools law because it was hurt the most by federal policies that restricted logging in the 1990s.

Other states "aren't half-owned by the federal government, and they didn't see a 95 percent harvest reduction on federal lands," as happened in Oregon and Washington, said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

Money from the six-year-old "county payments" law has helped offset sharp declines in timber sales in Oregon and other Western states in the wake of federal forest policy that restricts logging to protect endangered species such as the spotted owl….

…Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group, said Oregon is reaping what it sowed, when officials allowed its forests to be clear-cut for decades.

"Oregon benefited the most from the pillage of national forests that went on from World War II until ... the courts said they were breaking the law" in the late 1980s, said Stahl, whose group is based in Eugene, Ore.

Stahl said he considers the county payments law old-fashioned pork, Northwest style, and said the land-sale plan puts the law's inherent inequality in stark relief.

"Special places in other states are proposed to be sold so Oregon can get its pork," he said.

Carr, of the Southern environmental group, said he would oppose the sales even if funding formulas were adjusted to ensure more revenue for Southeastern states.

"We don't think they should be selling land in Oregon or Virginia or Alabama," he said. "The need is to fill in the gaps" of hard-won public land, "not get rid of what they've acquired."

You gotta admire the absolute efficiency of this scheme—it’s two for the price of one here: give the appearance of funding schools, and sell off lands that the government is not allowed to clear-cut. I especially like the irony of selling land that I could enjoy in order to provide a windfall to other states. Brilliant.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: deja vu all over again

Here for your enjoyment is the third edition of Movie Madness Monday. Of course, you realize that I will go back after this edition and renumber my first three episodes as episodes IV, V, and VI just to be confusing.

Here’s how it works: Each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday.

*****Wednesday Update: Yes, Polski, the movie isYOUNG FRANKENSTEIN!

And, just for you, Mr. Lawrence, I agree about Terri Garr:

Please keep posting your favorite quotes-- there's plenty more that aren't leeringly suggestive left!

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!"

"Would you give me a hand with the bags?"
"Certainly, you take the blonde and I'll take the one in the turban."

"Isn't it true that Darwin preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case until, by some extrordinary means, it actually began to move with voluntary motion?"
"Are you speaking of the worm or the spaghetti?"
"Why, the worm, sir."
"Yes, I did read something of that incident when I was a student, but you have to remember that a worm... with very few exceptions... is not a human being."

"This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother's angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him. I'm going to teach you. I'm going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think. Together, you and I are going to make the greatest single contribution to science since the creation of fire."

"Wait! Where are you going? I was going to make espresso!"

"You know, I'm quite a brilliant surgeon. I could help you with that hump."
"Hump? What hump?"

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ennui+ Malaise+ Grumpiness= Mad Pedagogue. Beware.

I don't know about you, but I am gritting my teeth right now at school. It feels like the winter will never end. It feels like the whining will never end. It feels like this shiny zit on my nose will never go away, and I'm over forty, so now I may have to go see if it is a staph infection, like I got last year after I broke up the Hellacious Brawl in the Hall all by myself. It feels like I'm the only person in the school enforcing the ID policy or the dress code or the tardy policy, not to mention the headphone policy. I actually had a write up a referral-- my first real referral all year-- on a little twerp who lipped off to me and refused to comply three times when I ASKED her nicely to put on her ID properly, in a pleasant tone of voice, mind you-- and I still haven't gotten the referral back yet, which means AP Plea Bargain is at it again.

It would help if I could see a film with a HAPPY ending, but the only thing out right now like that is Chicken Little. Honestly, Hollywood, we get it that life is short, and then you die-- but we go to the movies to amuse ourselves sometimes, too, and for people over thirty, that DOESN'T mean scaring the crap out of ourselves. Something lighthearted, a little romance, hopefully featuring this guy

or this guy

Then a nice but slacker kid in my Ac Lab told me all the ways to get around the firewall at school. Thanks! By the way, do you think I'm on YOUR side? No way, so off goes the email to the District Computer Diva....

Anyone else with the Midwinter Jitters?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Why a six year old should not have his own pet

This is the third attempt to let my son have a couple of fish in his SpongeBob aquarium. First off let me say that we are nor fish-keeping novices. I have a large African cichlid tank in my front room with a specialty of those from Lake Tangyanika. We have a pond with several Koi. I have had been the guardian of an 125 gallon saltwater tank at a school where I taught and a South American community tank. I have learned many things from each tank I have kept:
1. Middle school students will pour Coke into a salt-water tank regardless (or perhaps especially because) of the fact that even a small salt-water fish costs fifty bucks. This caused interesting and catastrophic chemical reactions.
2. Plecostomus can crawl out of tanks and across the floor until they turn crispy. Pregnant self saw it, thought it was dead because it was dry to the touch, picked it up, and when it wriggled, screamed like a banshee and flung it onto a concrete floor because it spiked me. I finally got a shovel, scooped it up, and put it back in the tank where it slithered to the bottom and sulked at me for TWO WEEKS, which is pretty good sulking for something that looks like a prehistoric nightmare with a brain the size of a macadamia nut.
3. Do not put Advantage flea killing treatment on an elderly dog if there is the slightest chance that it can fall into your pond. Because, if you do, you will find that Advantage works by frying the nervous system of pests, and that fish that come in contact with even a few drops of Advantage in their pond water will basically have every neuron explode in their nervous systems.
4. Two year old Koi are too big to flush. They must be buried, if one wishes to avoid a painful call to the plumber. That means, if you have children, that you get out the Book of Common Prayer and read the Service for the Dead. In a serious voice.

But I digress. Back to my little fella and his aquarium....

The first time, Gary the Apple Snail turned out to be a bloodthirsty psychopath who wrapped himself around the Betta and turned him into disgusting goo-- and then he promptly died too. Explaining about the reality of the "Circle of Life" in explicit detail without a cute meerkat channneling Elton John is impossible, people. I mean, really, it's not like I bought him one of these:

The second time, someone had plugged in the heater and the air pump to the lightswitch. After not having the lights on for an entire December day, the poor little guppies were guppi-cicles. Oops.

This time, his sister came to tell me that he was carrying around one of the angelfish, and when I went to make sure the fish was back in the drink and still alive, I saw that someone had taken the fish food and turned the tank into something that looked like this:

Now, listen, I do not believe that any little beings should suffer unnecessarily. So I just spent fifteen minutes seining out the excess food with a net while the three little fish pressed themselves up against the glass and looked at me like this:

So this is it. I have confiscated the food, made sure the heater and pump is permanently on, and bought NO psycho snails.

But little pal, you are SO not getting a "hamstah."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Carnival of Education #56 is up and running...

Go see it RIGHT HERE.

free statistics