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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

CARNIVAL with a Lone Star Spin: Carnival of Education # (70-1)

Go check out the Carnival of Education over at Education in Texas. This week has quite a few thought-provoking entries, such as the return of Fred, at long long last,
my bete noir, field trips, and then there are several posts about freedom of speech, fear, and the internet.

See, this way you get to visit Texas without actually going there-- it's perfect! (snicker!)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: Memorial Day

Welcome to the Memorial Day edition of Movie Madness Monday! Let us today remember the actions of brave men and women everywhere who have served the cause of freedom and justice in the defense of our nation.

So here are my quotes from today's movie. You respond with a quote of your own from the same movie. Let's see how you do:

"I have here a very old letter, written to a Mrs. Bixby in Boston. 'Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln.'"

"Hey, Wade, I got a mother, you got a mother, the sarge has got a mother. I'm willing to bet that even the Captain's got a mother. Well, maybe not the Captain, but the rest of us have got mothers."

"Is that what I'm supposed to tell your mother when she gets another folded American flag?"
"You can tell her that when you found me, I was with the only brothers I had left. And that there was no way I was deserting them. I think she'd understand that."


"War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man."
"I guess that's Emerson's way of finding the bright side."

****Wednesday Update: The film for this week is


which includes probably one of the most intense Normandy experiences ever cinematically rendered. Here was the scene that really got me, though:
There's the adult Ryan saluting the grave of Captain Miller. I have seen grown men, hardbitten men, weep at this scene.

A few years back, the state of Oklahoma passed a law that anyone who did not graduate from high school because they joined the military would be given an actual diploma, from their original school district, if possible. My father dropped out of high school to join the Navy in his senior year of high school to serve during World War II. At the age of 79, he and all of his family-- from California, Missouri, and from Tulsa-- went back to his hometown for a special graduation ceremony for my father and one other gentleman who had also served in World War II.

The entire school district turned out for this Veterans' Day presentation. Some of the high school students made a special presentation, which included some footage of the Normandy invasion from this film. Then my father-- the same father who would not wear anything that looked like a tuxedo to my own wedding, who almost never was seen in anything but work clothes or jeans, replete in electric blue cap and gown, received his diploma as a member of the class of 2002 at his old high school in southwestern Oklahoma. At my Dad's memorial service, the cap, gown and diploma were among my father's most treasured possessions to be displayed.

I still have very emotional memories of this film.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fight Club

Over at NYC Educator's place, there have been several posts about whether teachers should break up fights. NYC and other noble souls in that area tell us that they have been instructed NOT to intervene, and that if they get injured the DOE will not support them.

I wonder what the correlation is between this kind of policy and how many fights there are? I wonder if the viciousness of the fights that do occur is affected by this type of policy, of which certainly the students must be aware.

My school district aims the other direction. The last time I broke up a fight, I got hugged. By the principal. And the slugger's mom. And the slugger's dad. And by the way? I could have lived without those last two, since I felt that my yearly quota for physical contact with that family was already gravely exceeded.

Once a kid with "little man" syndrome, let's call him the Elf, smacked a BIG GUY upside the head at the lockers. Apparently, the Elf had been picking on BIG GUY all day. BIG GUY lost it and within five seconds had punched the Elf about four times and shoved him back through a doorway into my petite, 50ish friend, who was just walking toward her doorway. BIG GUY then had the Elf on the ground kicking him in the torso and the head.

Several kids ran and got me. A guy I taught with stood there softly chanting "stop" sotto voce. Yeah, that was effective. And he had witnessed his colleague being levelled.

I did my Voice of God "HEY! STOP!"-- BIG GUY looked up, and I put both my hands in the center of his chest and firmly but steadily pushed him off the Elf and back into a classroom. Did I mention that the Elf had a seizure disorder? No? Well, no WAY was I going to watch him getting kicked in the head, no matter how much he may have goaded the other kid.

So I broke BIG GUY out of his rage by asking him if he knew who I was. He blinked, mumbled, "Ms. Cornelius....." and suddenly got teary-eyed. I asked him if he was done, and he said yeah, and the other kids in the room began talking to him about cooling down and comforting him, because he really wasn't at heart a fighter.

I turned back, and the Elf was actually getting up off the ground to try to get a second helping of ass-whupping. So, keeping my eye on BIG GUY, who was now out of harm's way, we decided to keep the Elf on the ground, since he was far more dangerous on his feet.

Upshot? Suspensions for both, twice as long for the Elf as instigator, and we only had one more fight on the hallway the rest of the year, and no one was seriously hurt. It was all on videotape, so there was no question who had started it.

We never know what could happen to a kid in a fight. They could fall and fracture their skulls. They could bleed all over the place. They could break every bone in their hands. They could pull out bloody hanks of scalp and cause permanent nerve damage. I don't just fly in there uncontrollably. I once felt bad vibes when I walked in a hallway while I was subbing, and I turned around, walked right out, and got the cop. If I see an opportunity to intervene safely, I reserve the right to make that judgment for the greater good, and I do have a bit of training. I realize that I am taking a chance, but I have never seen our district not support a teacher trying to make the environment safer for everyone.

And kids rarely fight near me.

I can't imagine being told to just watch kids assault each other.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Honesty is such a lonely word... especially at finals time

So what do I do with this????

I am frantically hunched over my desk grading essay questions, because I am a fool who didn't just do multiple choice for her final exams. I am excited because I think I may get an entire class done and their final grades entered when in walks one of my students' special ed aides. She completely ignores the fact that I am working, and that it is the end of the day, and that if I don't leave in 10 minutes I will be charged for afterschool care for my kids, which she knows. She has come in earlier when I was teaching and asked for a copy of my final. She now wants to know what the answers are.


So I try to give her some help, but I don't want her just giving the kid the answers. Blah blah blah, she tells me how much she's enjoyed my class this year. When she finally leaves, she has just cost me twenty bucks in afterschool care charges.

So today our young charge took the final in the special ed testing center.

He got the highest grade in the class. Including my gifted students. And that handwriting isn't his. Not to mention that he just turned in twelve-- TWELVE-- late assignments, some of which are 5 weeks old. But his IEP is wide-open, and that means I have to put up with it.

I've adapted this kid's grade all year. I feel like "adapting" this one too-- but in the other direction.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Carnival of Education visits Noo Yawk

over at NYC Educator's place. As usual, a fun time is had by all, but I just gotta say, after looking at the lovely picture that accompanies NYC fabulous job:

"Alfalfa, will you push me on the swaaaang??"

Swing on over. Consider this YOUR push.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Blog It Forward-- kudos to Mamacita

Mamacita at Sheiss Weekly has suggested picking someone from your blogroll and encouraging people to go visit them.
So I am going to pick the Ramblin' Educat, whose dad has been very ill lately. Thus far, the father crises are really noticeable round these parts, since Mamacita picked a very nice lady whose father passed away today.

Educat is funny and smart and lives in the Very Best State in the Union-- exceptin fer teacher salaries, where it ranks slightly lower 'n a snake's belly in a wagon rut.

So go see educat! And Blog It Forward. Leave a comment here and I'll visit yours!

RIP Manual High-- even Bill Gates couldn't save you

Manual High School in Denver has occupied its home in east Denver since 1894 and is one of the city's oldest high schools. It's seen its fortunes change over the years, but was apparently hard hit when busing ended in 1997 and the school had to draw from its largely poor, minority neighborhood alone for students. It had over a thousand students, but only about 60% graduated.

The Denver Public Schools turned to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its "small schools" initiative to turn Manual around. In 2001, Manual was divided into three semi-autonomous schools: Arts and Cultural Studies High, Leadership High and Millennium Quest High. The attempted transformation was trumpeted in a 2002 article in the Denver Post:
Colorado's most closely watched school downsizing was last year at east Denver's former Manual High School. Manual Educational Complex now contains three more or less autonomous schools: Arts and Cultural Studies High, Leadership High and Millennium Quest High.

The end of desegregation in 1997 left Manual with big problems to match its hefty enrollment of 1,100. Students, almost all of them minorities, were getting low test scores, and few were graduating.

Former principal Nancy Sutton wanted to help teachers and students work better together.

"We didn't think small schools initially," Sutton said from the University of Indianapolis, where she leads a teacher-quality program. "What we were thinking of was personalization: How would you take students who have multitudes of issues into the teaching environment and address those?

"We went through all kinds of configurations," she said. "Small schools was kind of an 'aha."'

The Manual split is a work in progress. Out-of-town evaluators found school climate last year was generally good, but problems remained, including abysmal grades, surly students and an aborted teacher-training plan.

"To ask everybody to change so much, so quickly, was asking a lot," Schoales said.

Though smaller schools are more expensive, they save money in the long run by better serving students, Schoales said.

The three mini-Manuals spend $104,000 a year more than Manual High School did. But the campus attendance rate is 90 percent - five points better than Denver's high schools, on average - suggesting its below-average 63 percent graduation rate may also rise.

"It may cost a little bit more to have a focused, small school, primarily because of administrative costs," Schoales said. But districts can save money on programs they create to hang on to kids, he said.

High school leaders across the country are coming to the same conclusions as those in Colorado, said Michael Carr, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

In a smaller setting, "kids are not just a number in the school, just some unknown entity, they're someone who is known by faculty and other members of school staff," Carr said. "It's a big deal to us."

Since a wave of small-school construction is unlikely in this sluggish economy, many schools are exploring Manual-style breakups, Carr said.

But trouble continued at Manual, and it lost fifty percent of its enrollment in the last four years. Blogger Mike Klonsky claims that the leadership at DPS never really allowed the small schools model championed by the Gates Foundation to take root.

In February of this year, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet announced that the school would close, possibly to be renovated and reopened in 2007 with a new freshman class. Meanwhile, all of the students have had to apply to transfer to another DPS high school.

So this week Manual High School will close its doors. And according to Klonsky, there are already threats of lawsuits by those who attended a rally to protest the closing of Manual High back in April.

I have heard good things about the "small schools intiative." It is troubling to hear of the failure of a school associated with this idea. However, I certainly don't think a failing school should continue out of some misplaced sense of tradition if every avenue has been exhausted. We'll see if Manual reopens in 2007, and what DPS plans on doing differently if it does.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: Taking stock of our lives edition

It's time for Movie Madness Monday! Step right up and see if your taste in cinema is as arcane and bizarre 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 I know where you live.

So as we face the end of another school year, let's reflect on our lives and go a little philosophical. Go!

"It's true what they say Oatman - you can never go home again, but I guess you can shop there."

“Hi, how are you? Yeah, I'm a pet psychiatrist, yeah. I sell couch insurance, uhm-hm, uhm-hm. And I test market positive thinking. And I lead a weekend men's group, we specialize in ritual killings.”

“Don't kill anybody for a few days, see what it feels like.”
“Alright, I'll give it a shot.”
“No, no, don't give it a shot! Don't shoot anything!”

“They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? ‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?’”

“I am at home with the me, I am rooted in the me who is on this adventure.”

“There's a contract out on your life. Believe me. I was hired to kill you, but I'm not going to do it. It's either because I'm in love with your daughter or because I have a newfound respect for life.”
“That punk is either in love with that guy's daughter or he has a newfound respect for life!”

“Do you really believe that there's some stored up conflict that exists between us? There is no us. We don't exist. So who do you wanna hit, man? It's not me. Now whaddya wanna do here, man?”

“Did you go to your reunion?”
“Yes, I did. It was as if everyone had swelled.”

****Wednesday Update: Come on back to the Old Oak Tree, Pointers, it's

A lovely little dark comedy with a set of brilliant performances by John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven, and a violent little cameo by my favorite kickboxer, Benny "The Jet" Urquidez!

Note the cool music listed on this, the second half of the soundtrack. If you don't have both the soundtracks, and you listened to college radio in the 80s, you are missing quite a treat. The Pogues! Joe Strummer!

Here's Joan, in her "Sergeant Pepper" outfit:
"It's out of my hands, here, sir. The gods want you to go back home, and they want you to delete someone while you're there."

"Would you describe their position as inflexible?"

"Intractible, sir."

So thanks for playing! Keep those quotes coming, and spread the word to your friends to come play....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Too Good to Make Up: How does Mexico treat its LEGAL immigrants?

Hmmm, I guess when your economy is in the crapper, you export all the possible malcontents somehwere where they can send hard currency back home and then practice a little hypocricy:
Even as Mexico presses the United States to grant unrestricted citizenship to millions of undocumented Mexican migrants, its officials at times calling U.S. policies "xenophobic," Mexico places daunting limitations on anyone born outside its territory.

In the United States, only two posts — the presidency and vice presidency — are reserved for the native born.

In Mexico, non-natives are banned from those and thousands of other jobs, even if they are legal, naturalized citizens.

Foreign-born Mexicans can't hold seats in either house of the congress. They're also banned from state legislatures, the Supreme Court and all governorships. Many states ban foreign-born Mexicans from spots on town councils. And Mexico's Constitution reserves almost all federal posts, and any position in the military and merchant marine, for "native-born Mexicans."

Recently the Mexican government has gone even further. Since at least 2003, it has encouraged cities to ban non-natives from such local jobs as firefighters, police and judges.

Mexico's Interior Department — which recommended the bans as part of "model" city statutes it distributed to local officials — could cite no basis for extending the bans to local posts.

After being contacted by The Associated Press about the issue, officials changed the wording in two statutes to delete the "native-born" requirements, although they said the modifications had nothing to do with AP's inquiries.

... Some say progress is being made. Mexico's president no longer is required to be at least a second-generation native-born. That law was changed in 1999 to clear the way for candidates who have one foreign-born parent, like President Vicente Fox, whose mother is from Spain.

Fascinating. Let's bring this up if Mexico ever gets around to filing its lawsuit against the fencing that is proposed to go up at key spots on the border.

And now, from the "Damned-if-you-do, Damned-if-you-don't" department...

Parents at a Fort Worth elementary school are protesting the school's decision to remove the word "God" from a design placed on the school yearbook cover.

The design utilized the new 2005 nickel design with the offset profile of Thomas Jefferson that commemorated the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These coins feature a reverse of either a buffalo or of the view of the Pacific Ocean with a quote from Lewis and Clark's journals.

Here're the highlights of the story from television station WOAI in San Antonio:
A yearbook cover that omits the words "In God We Trust" from a picture of an enlarged nickel has angered some parents.

Liberty Elementary, a new school in suburban Fort Worth, chose the coin because the nickel's new design prominently features the school's name in cursive.

The coin also has "In God We Trust" along the right edge, but the phrase was removed from the yearbook. Instead, the $16 book came with a sticker that gave students the choice of putting the phrase back on the nickel.

Keller ISD spokesman Jason Meyer said a parent's group at the school approved the decision before the book was published. Liberty Principal Janet Travis wanted to avoid offending students of different religions, Meyer said.

As you can see, the words "In God We Trust" are larger than the scripted "Liberty."

I feel for the leaders of the school. If they'd have left the phrase visible, there would have been an outcry. Did they really think that taking the phrase off would solve their problem? I mean, this is Texas, the "Buckle of the Bible Belt." People are going to notice.

Further, the use of "In God We Trust" is hardly a new development. US coins have borne the phrase since 1864, when the motto was placed on a two-cent piece. The other suggested phrase, by the way, was "Our God and Our Country." Later, the Coinage Act of 1873 allowed the secretary of the treasury to place the motto on any coins. Some designs have precluded space for the motto, but the motto has been very widely utilized for over 140 years.

I personally would have laid out the design of the yearbook showing both sides of the coin, overlapping a bit-- say, right where the phrase is along the edge. This would be a much more subtle way of avoiding offense, if one was to insist on using the coin in the first place despite fears of protest. It's like being offered a lovely beachfront home --in front of the flaming lakes of Hell: sometimes, you just shouldn't go there.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ms. C Battles the Pink Robots

-- Musical interlude courtesy of Oklahoma's favorite non-country bands, the Flaming Lips, (no offense to the All American Rejects or Leon Russell or a host of others)--

Her name is Ms. C,
She's a black belt in karate,
Working for the district
She's decried as being too strict...

We come to the dog days of the semester, dear friends, when one's past inaction comes back to haunt one. Behold the conversation betwixt moi and a young lady I will call "L'enfant avec un enfant." L'enfant was out of class for the last half of first semester having her baby. She then missed part of second semester. Her homebound teacher claimed she completed tons of work to the tune of a 90%, which is about 50% higher than she ever attained when she was in actual attendance in my class, and this with a newborn home, to boot. She has been meeting with a guidance counselor for hours now to figure out how she's going to "get her credits." Counselor had called me, and I told her L'enfant was not passing, but with a good exam grade, she could pull it off.

She is not passing any class. She passed my class first semester due to the miraculous intervention of the homebound instructor. When she came back, her preferred position was trying to see how long her head could stay down before I made her sit up. Four unfinished assignments turned in during that time, and quiz scores in the mid-40s. I saw her after school with her baby, but she did not come to tutoring.

I warned her-- gently, but repeatedly at the time, that I do not give extra credit in place of assigned work, and she would regret those missing assignments and low test grades, but to no avail. If she expected me to "yell" at her so I could be the Bad Guy, she was in the wrong place. She's been working real hard-- for the last 6 weeks. She is not passing now, although she turned it on the last few weeks and has now entered the same star system as a possible passing grade.

L'enfant saunters into my classroom with a smile on her face. "Ms. C, I am here to BEEEEGGGGG!"
Moi: "What in the world are you begging for?"
L'enfant: "I need to pass!"
Moi: "Yes, you certainly do. But isn't the last week of instruction a bit late to be having this realization?"
L'enfant looked at me, a bit taken aback, but wheedled: "Can't I please have some extra credit???"
Moi: "Now, kiddo, I warned you that I don't do that. You're the one who decided to take an extra six weeks off after missing the first two weeks of the semester..."
L'enfant: "But that stuff was BOOOORING..."
Moi: "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm sure you will never encounter anything else in your life that you need to do-- even if it's boring. And now you want ME to make up something "fun" so that you still don't have to learn the material..."
L'enfant: "You mean, you won't do it????" And her mouth drops open and she walks out the door.

By the way, this entire scenario was played out in front of other students. The only way they could tell I was annoyed was by my narrowed eyes and clenched jaw. And one of my kids brought me a brownie so that I would unclench my jaw-- how they know me!

So whose affrontery galled me more: the counselor, or the student? Unsure, but how dare that counselor send her into my classroom filled with students (and about five others, apparently) to try to manipulate me? And by the way, she can still pass the class-- IF she does well on her final. But that would require work, and would not be a SURE THING-- not like a bunch of ersatz extra credit (which she would do a half-hearted job at, if patterns hold, AND I would have to design it and grade it) to remove the pressure of ever actually demonstrating that she has finally learned the material.

She is behind the 8-ball right now, in more ways than one. The only way she's going to get through life successfully is through development of discipline and a work ethic. And no, I think because she has another person depending upon her, she especially needs to demonstrate some knowledge, not just earn an empty credit.

Confessing a bad thing, or does Barry Bonds have a target on his steroid-swelled back?

Russ Springer, I'd like your autograph. You are a man of action. You had a goal, and you accomplished it.

Phil Garner, bravo, but y'all DO know that the 'roids can cause violent impulses, right? So you're lucky you didn't get a bat cracked over your head.

I know it's not nice for me to feel this way. I've had stern talks with myself, and yet--

I still feel this way. I mean, yes, Russ, you could've accomplished the same thing with rolling the ball to the catcher four times, and I really don't want you to aim at the Juicer's head or anything, but still, a small smile crossed my face when that first pitch went behind his back.

I wish every pitcher would make sure Mr. Cheaterpants gets nothing to swing his drug-addled bat at. I mean, really, Babe Ruth did it the old-fashioned way-- bat speed and a heft brought about by a love of food and beer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Carnival at Edwonks! Carnival at Edwonks!

There are no stuffed bears to win, but you still must go the Midway at the Education Wonks!

Then again, there are no creepy carnies, either.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Testing fatigue and the SAT: Is it too much of a brainnumbing thing?

How good would you be at sitting taking a high-stakes test for nearly four hours?

News reports last week announced that SAT scores, on average, declined 5 points since the new three part version of the SAT was made mandatory in March.
The new SAT, which debuted in March 2005, now officially lasts three hours, 45 minutes, but takes longer if instructions and breaks are included.

"Right now, it's longer than the GRE, the LSAT and the GMATs, and those are all taken by college students or college graduates," said Brad MacGowan, a guidance counselor at Newton North High School in Massachusetts, who has asked the College Board to let students split up the exam.

Counting tests taken through January, scores for the upcoming college freshman class are down between four and five points on the combined math and critical reading sections, according to the College Board, which owns the SAT. Full-year numbers are expected to show a "small additional decline."

Among other possible explanations for the decline, some speculate that since the College Board raised the cost of the exam from $28.50 to $41.50, many students are foregoing taking the test multiple times, although I fail to see how that would already be apparent immediately after the first time they gave the test. Students haven't had time to take the new version of the test more than once.

I personally never took the SAT-- most colleges I wanted to attend did not require it, and money was tight in the Cornelius household. I barely scraped together the money to take the ACT twice. I remember how it seemed like the GRE took forever, too.

However, I don't think it would be a bad idea to allow students to take the writing portion, which added 45 minutes to the length of the test, one day, and the other portion on another day.

Happy Confederate Day?

May 10 is the anniversary of the death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. It is also the anniversary of the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

So in South Carolina it is Confederate Day, a state-mandated holiday. In 2000, it was created by state Senator Robert Ford, who is African American, in a compromise measure that established a permanent holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"We live in the South. Those people who died have descendants. For us to say to them they don't have a right to respect their descendants, that's just crazy," said Ford, who is black. "The whole thing's about history and understanding."

Ford hopes the two holidays will help South Carolinians learn about and respect each other more. But for Lonnie Randolph, president of the state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Confederacy had nothing to do with respecting people.

"I don't need a holiday to respect people," he said. "I don't have any reason to get happy and say I'm overjoyed for this holiday because it has nothing to do positive in the lives of people who look like I do."

However, only one school district closed in observation of Confederate Day this year. Many blamed state-mandated testing and the requirement to have 180 days of instruction.

Read the entire article. I had kin who fought on both sides of the Civil War. Although they doubtless all fought valiantly, I don't need a day set aside to remember their contributions, and I do not condone the causes that the Confederacy supported.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: Comedy isn't pretty edition

Yes, even though you thought I would be distracted by a sick dog at the Cornelius house, I have BARELY gotten in my weekly trivia geek contest known as Movie Madness Monday.

Here's the deal: Each Monday, I post some salient quotes from one wonderful example from the world of film. You then respond to said quotes by posting a quote of your own from the same film. As I am addicted to quotes, I get validation, and you help me feel that I am not the only geek in the world that quotes huge blocks of text from movies that I have seen. I seek to delurk you through geekiness! Who can resist?

So here we go, with one of my VERY FAVORITES EVAH:

"And I was just thinking: as much as I really admire your shoes, and as much as I'd love to have a pair just like them, I really wouldn't want to be IN your shoes at this particular place and time."

"Naughty: uh, pardon me, sir, some of the ladies have asked if you wouldn't mind putting that thing away."

"I think it's brilliant! What an idea! And I was there! He took the idea! He saw it ripe on the tree, he plucked it, and he put it in his pocket. It's, it's, dare I say... genius? Ah, no, no! But maybe, ooh! ah! maybe it is! Maybe I'm in the presence of greatness, maybe I just don't know it. But I saw it... "

"Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don't get that here. See, uh, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony's not really a, a high priority. We haven't had any irony here since about, uh, '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at."

"He's got a great ass."
"Too bad it's on his shoulders."

"I notice you do not have any tattoos. Wise choice. Jackie Onassis would not have gone so far with an anchor on her arm."

"Who designed these steps? The Marquis de Sade?"

"Hey, Sophie. Do you know the old saying about a man's nose?
"You mean how the size of a man's nose relates to the size of his...?"
"Oh, my God!"

***Wednesday Update: The movie is Roxanne, with Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, and Shellly Duvall among others-- Steve's brilliant update of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. This one makes me laugh every time!

"Your name wouldn't happen to be Dick, would it?!"

"You must LOVE the little birdies to give them THIS to perch on!"

Autism and Recruiters: Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

This entire thing is disturbing.

From the Oregonian:

Jared Guinther is 18. Tall and lanky, he will graduate from Marshall High School in June. Girls think he's cute, until they try to talk to him and he stammers or just stands there -- silent.

Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Jared is polite but won't talk to people unless they address him first. It's hard for him to make friends. He lives in his own private world.

Jared didn't know there was a war raging in Iraq until his parents told him last fall -- shortly after a military recruiter stopped him outside a Southeast Portland strip mall and complimented him on his black Converse All Stars.

"When Jared first started talking about joining the Army, I thought, 'Well, that isn't going to happen,' " said Paul Guinther, Jared's father. "I told my wife not to worry about it. They're not going to take anybody in the service who's autistic."

But they did. Last month, Jared came home with papers showing that he not only had enlisted, but also had signed up for the Army's most dangerous job: cavalry scout. He is scheduled to leave for basic training Aug. 16.

Officials are now investigating whether recruiters at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Southeast Portland improperly concealed Jared's disability, which should have made him ineligible for service.

Jared's story illustrates a growing national problem as the military faces increasing pressure to hit recruiting targets during an unpopular war.

Tracking by the Pentagon shows that complaints about recruiting improprieties are on pace to approach record highs set in 2003 and 2004. The active Army and the Reserve missed recruiting targets last year, and reports of recruiting abuses continue from across the country.

A family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and the fact that records about his illness were readily available.

In Houston, a recruiter warned a potential enlistee that if he backed out of a meeting he would be arrested.

And in Colorado, a high school student working undercover told recruiters he had dropped out and had a drug problem. The recruiter told the boy to fake a diploma and buy a product to help him beat a drug test.

Violations such as these forced the Army to halt recruiting for a day last May so recruiters could be retrained and reminded of the job's ethical requirements.

The Portland Army Recruiting Battalion Headquarters opened its investigation into Jared's case last week after his parents called The Oregonian and the newspaper began asking questions about his enlistment.

Maj. Curt Steinagel, commander of the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, said the papers filled out by Jared's recruiters contained no indication of his disability. Steinagel acknowledged that the current climate is tough on recruiters here and elsewhere.

"I can't speak for the Army," he said, "but it's no secret that recruiters stretch and bend the rules because of all the pressure they're under. The problem exists, and we all know it exists."

Diagnosis and struggle
Jared lives in a tiny brown house in Southeast Portland that looks as worn out as his parents do when they get home from work.

Paul Guinther, 57, labors 50 to 60 hour weeks as a painter-sandblaster at Sundial Marine Tug & Barge Works in Troutdale. His wife, Brenda, 50, has the graveyard housekeeping shift at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas.

The couple got together nearly 16 years ago when Jared was 3. Brenda, who had two young children of her own, immediately noticed that Jared was different and pushed Paul to have the boy tested.

"Jared would play with buttons for hours on end," she said. "He'd play with one toy for days. Loud noises bothered him. He was scared to death of the toilet flushing, the lawn mower."

Jared didn't speak until he was almost 4 and could not tolerate the feel of grass on his feet.

Doctors diagnosed him with moderate to severe autism, a developmental disorder that strikes when children are toddlers. It causes problems with social interaction, language and intelligence. No one knows its cause or cure.

School and medical records show that Jared, whose recent verbal IQ tested very low, spent years in special education classes. It was only when he was a high school senior that Brenda pushed for Jared to take regular classes because she wanted him to get a normal rather than a modified diploma.

Jared required extensive tutoring and accommodations to pass, but in June he will graduate alongside his younger stepbrother, Matthew Thorsen.

Last fall, Jared began talking about joining the military after a recruiter stopped him on his way home from school and offered a $4,000 signing bonus, $67,000 for college and more buddies than he could count.

Matthew told his mother that military recruiting at the school and surrounding neighborhoods was so intense that one recruiter had pulled him out of football practice.

Recruiters in Portland and nationwide spend several hours a day cold-calling high school students, whose phone numbers are provided by schools under the No Child Left Behind Law. They also prospect at malls, high school cafeterias, colleges and wherever else young people gather.

Brenda phoned her two brothers, both veterans. She said they laughed and told her not to worry. The military would never take Jared.

The Guinthers, meanwhile, tried to refocus their son.

"I told him, 'Jared, you get out of high school. I know you don't want to be a janitor all your life. You work this job, you go to community college, you find out what you want. You can live here as long as you want,' " Paul said.

They thought it had worked until five weeks ago. Brenda said she called Jared on his cell phone to check what time he'd be home.

"I said 'Jared, what are you doing?' 'I'm taking the test,' he said -- the entrance test. I go, 'Wait a minute.' I said, 'Who's giving you the test?' He said, 'Corporal.' I said, 'Well let me talk to him.' "

Brenda said she spoke to Cpl. Ronan Ansley and explained that Jared had a disability, autism, that could not be outgrown. She said Ansley told her he had been in special classes, too -- for dyslexia.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, there's a big difference between autism and your problem,' " Brenda said.

Military rules prohibit enlisting anyone with a mental disorder that interferes with school or employment, unless a recruit can show he or she hasn't required special academic or job accommodations for 12 months.

Jared has been in special education classes since preschool. Through a special program for disabled workers, he has a part-time job scrubbing toilets and dumping trash.

Jared scored 43 out of 99 on the Army's basic entrance exam -- 31 is the lowest grade the Army allows for enlistment, military officials said.

After learning that Jared had cleared this first hurdle toward enlistment, Brenda said, she called and asked for Ansley's supervisor and got Sgt. Alejandro Velasco.

She said she begged Velasco to review Jared's medical and school records. Brenda said Velasco declined, asserting that he didn't need any paperwork. Under military rules, recruiters are required to gather all available information about a recruit and fill out a medical screening form.

"He was real cocky and he says, 'Well, Jared's an 18-year-old man. He doesn't need his mommy to make his decisions for him.' "

Question of comprehension
The Guinthers are not political activists. They supported the Iraq war in the beginning but have started to question it as fighting dragged on. Brenda Guinther said that if her son Matthew had enlisted, she "wouldn't like it, but I would learn to live with it because I know he would understand the consequences."

But Jared doesn't understand the dangers or the details of what he has done, the Guinthers said.

When they asked Jared how long he would be in the Army, he said he didn't know. His enlistment papers show it's just over four years. Jared also was disappointed to learn that he wouldn't be paid the $4,000 signing bonus until after basic training.

During a recent family gathering, a relative asked Jared what he would do if an enemy was shooting at him. Jared ran to his video game console and killed a digital Xbox soldier and announced, "See! I can do it!"

"My concern is that if he got into a combat situation he really couldn't take someone's back," said Mary Lou Perry, 51, a longtime friend of the Guinthers'. "He wouldn't really know a dangerous thing. This job they have him doing, it's like send him in and if he doesn't get blown up, it's safe for the rest of us."

Steinagel, the processing station commander, told The Oregonian that Jared showed up after passing his written exam. None of his paperwork indicated that he was autistic, but if it had, Jared almost certainly would have been disqualified, he said.

On Tuesday, a reporter visited the U.S. Army Recruiting Station at the Eastport Plaza Shopping Center, where Velasco said he had not been told about Jared's autism.

"Cpl. Ansley is Guinther's recruiter," he said. "I was unaware of any type of autism or anything like that."

Velasco initially denied knowing Jared but later said he'd spent a lot of time mentoring him because Jared was going to become a cavalry scout. The job entails "engaging the enemy with anti-armor weapons and scout vehicles," according to an Army recruiting Web site.

After he had spoken for a few moments, Velasco suddenly grabbed the reporter's tape recorder and tried to tear out the tape, stopping only after the reporter threatened to call the police.

With the Guinthers' permission, The Oregonian faxed Jared's medical records to the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Carlton in Portland, who on Wednesday ordered the investigation.

The Guinthers said that on Tuesday evening, Cpl. Ansley showed up at their door. They said Ansley stated that he would probably lose his job and face dishonorable discharge unless they could stop the newspaper's story.

Ansley, reached at his recruiting office Thursday, declined to comment for this story.

S. Douglas Smith, spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, in Fort Knox, Ky., said he could not comment on specifics of the investigation in Portland. But he defended the 8,200 recruiters working for the active Army and Army Reserve.

Last year, the Army relieved 44 recruiters from duty and admonished 369.

"Everyone in recruiting is let down when one of our recruiters fails to uphold the Army's and Recruiting Command's standards," Smith said.

The Guinthers are eager to hear whether the Army will release Jared from his enlistment. Jared is disappointed he might not go because he thought the recruiters were his friends, they said. But they're willing to accept that.

"If he went to Iraq and got hurt or killed," Paul Guinther said, "I couldn't live with myself knowing I didn't try to stop it."

Apparently, some military recruiters are willing to go to any lengths to make those quotas. I know that most of these men and women strive every day to maintain standards and encourage enlistments from people who truly can volunteer. People like Recruiter, who has taken down his blog due to pressure from higher ups. But the people involved in the enlistment of Jared Guinther ought to be drummed out of the service. Not only would his service be a travesty, but imagine how his disability could affect his squadmates.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Necessity is a Mother: NY Schools vs. the Electronic Leash, Part 2

They're smuggled in sandwiches. They're slipped in in pieces. They're slipped low in pants below the pat-down line. They are the objects of obssession worthy of a 12-step program. Their presence is deemed a threat to truth, justice, and blahblahblah.

Illicit drugs?
Illegal immigrants?
Yellowcake from Niger?
Nukes in Iran?
Cheat sheets for my US history final?
Proof of ETs?

Nah. We're talking cell phones in NYC schools.

Earlier this month, the Great and All-Powerful Oz and the Little Man Beind the Curtain Mayor Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein announced they WEREN'T KIDDING AROUND NOW and that the cell phone ban in the New York City Schools, which dates to the days when mobile phones were the size of a cement block, was going to be rigorously enforced, no foolin'.
Parents have written angry letters and e-mails, staged rallies and news conferences, and threatened to sue. Some City Council members are introducing legislation on their behalf.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein have staunchly refused to drop the ban. They insist cell phones are a distraction and are used to cheat, take inappropriate photos in bathrooms, and organize gang rendezvous. They are also a top stolen item.

Students have refused to give up their phones, saying the devices have become too vital to their daily existence and to their parents' peace of mind.

"My mother, she needs me to have the cell to call me and check up on me," said Steven Cao, 16, a sophomore who lives in Staten Island and attends Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. He called the ban stupid.

Some parents would prefer a policy that lets students have cell phones but prohibits their use in classes.

New York's 1.1-million-student school system has banned beepers and other communication devices since the late 1980s. But schools have long used an "out-of-sight, out-of-trouble" approach. Then, late last month, city officials began sending portable metal detectors every day to a random but small set of schools to keep out weapons. And the detectors have led to the confiscation of hundreds of cell phones.

New York has one of the country's toughest policies on student cell phones, and also bans other electronic devices such as iPods.

Detroit bans cell phones, and a two-time violator will not get the phone back. Boston relied on a school-by-school approach until recently, when it changed the policy to let students have a phone, but only if it is turned off and out of sight. Los Angeles lets kids have cell phones, but they can use them only during lunch and breaks.

Kenneth Trump, president of Ohio-based National School Safety and Security Services, said his research indicates most schools ban the phones. Others require students to turn off the devices during school hours.

New York principals said the ban is tough to enforce, especially in large schools without metal detectors.

Apparently, reinforcing that there are a million ways to make a buck that I am WAY too simple to ever think up myself, some nearby businesses have found a way to profit from the addiction to the electronic leashes: "Some students leave phones at nearby stores that charge small holding fees." Genius!

As I have stated previously, my district allows kids to have cell phones on their persons, but they are supposed to be turned off. Nonetheless, every week, at least one rings in my class, and I end up getting to collect it with a LOT less enthusiasm than Howard Hughes collected Mormons. Several times it has been a parent calling smack dab in the middle of class to remind the kid to go to the orthodontist.

By the way, memo to parents: I know that's important, but do you have to call in the middle of class? Imagine the effect if just THREE parents do this in one class period. C'mon! At the very least, call the kid at lunch or something. And remind your darling child to turn the thing to vibrate. When you call in the middle of class, you are saying that what is going on in class isn't important. I don't need to hear Good Charlotte come blasting out of the Cheerleading captain's purse every damn day when it's time to take her medicine (and yes, awhile back one girl used the alarm on her cell phone to remind her to take her birth control pill. In front of me, and as bold as daylight. THAT was a fun parent phone call, let me tell ya.)

However, if our policy of "Don't Ring, Don't Tell" was actually ruthlessly applied, it would work. If kids knew that their cell would be confiscated if it rang, I would hope parents would support it-- if they considered what the alternative is.

In which case, thanks Mayor Bloomberg! You might make MY life easier.

But who wants to bet how long it'll take for the first lawsuit in NYC? Anyone?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tests and Scandal in Camden, NJ

Over in New Jersey, which is NOT the home of Pace Picante Sauce, the Camden school district has disciplined fourteen employees who may have attempted to manipulate standardized tests.
The Board of Education on Monday night unanimously voted to discipline 14 employees at two schools that were under suspicion for cheating on standardized tests.

Two principals -- Michael Hailey of H.B. Wilson Elementary School and Juanita Worthy of Wiggins Elementary School -- were suspended with pay.

Pat Johnson, a school district literacy coach, also was suspended.

Pay increases for all three will be withheld until next year.

The contracts of two aides at Wiggins School -- Aida Guzman and Valerie Cooke -- will not be renewed.

A combined four employees at the two schools received written reprimands. They were Javier Roman, Alton Booker, Roquetta Reed and Sandra Rose Finger.

Five others received letters of reprimand and had their pay increases withheld. They were Denise Tucker, Janice Jones, Janette Duran, Rosalyn Vinson and Keah Worthy.

Tucker, a teacher at Wiggins School, had been chosen to serve as acting vice principal of the school starting in July.

The board voted to reverse that recommendation.

The board released a statement attributed to President Philip Freeman that cited "acts of wrongdoing" as the reason for the discipline. The statement said "no one is above the policies of the Board of Education," and added that the board will continue its investigation.

Superintendent Annette Knox recommended the disciplinary actions.

State officials are reviewing soaring test scores at Wiggins and Wilson elementary schools. Both had sharp increases in standardized-test scores and ranked among the top performing schools in New Jersey.

In March -- amid the state's probe, as well as allegations by another principal who said he he was pressured to rig a state test -- the school district's cable television station broadcast the text of a letter written by Knox.

In that letter, Knox contended that "hatred of poor people and people in Camden in particular" was driving the questions about the rising scores.

But Wait! There's MORE! (Sorry, Leesepea) On May 1, the Camden School District fired a Joseph Carruth, the above-named high school principal who said he was pressured to rig a state test. Turns out that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is now investigating the firing of Mr. Carruth:
During a meeting with the Latino Leadership Alliance in New Brunswick, Corzine said his staff and Attorney General Zulima Farber are looking into the termination of Brimm Medical Arts High School Principal Joseph Carruth.

The Camden Board of Education voted to terminate Carruth on May 1, five weeks after he went public with allegations that Assistant Superintendent Luis Pagan directed him to alter student test papers.

Pagan, who has denied Carruth's allegations, did receive a new contract.

Asked by school-choice advocate Angel Cordero to intervene on Carruth's behalf, Corzine said he was aware of the situation and that his staff and Farber are working on it.

Under a 2002 state law, Corzine has the authority to veto any action taken by the Camden board.

Corzine spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said he does not know when the governor's review will be complete.

In the meantime, former Camden County Prosecutor Edward Borden said Monday that he has begun interviewing district officials as part of his probe of Carruth's allegations and the unrelated release of a Terra Nova test at Sumner School.

Carruth, who has threatened to file a whistle-blower's lawsuit, said he is seeking an explanation of his termination.

In an article on May 3, the Camden board said they may hire Mr. Carruth in another position, but Mr. Carruth claims he is being targeted as a whistle-blower:
Although the Board of Education voted 7-1 on Monday against renewing Joseph Carruth's contract, the panel could opt to re-employ the administrator, the district's labor counsel said.

State law allows Carruth to seek an explanation of the move and to argue his case before the board, attorney Jennifer Mazawey said....

Carruth called the board's action against him retaliatory, adding he expects to sue the district.

Carruth's allegations are the subject of review by state and federal investigators. The state Department of Education also is reviewing test score increases at several Camden schools.

Board President Philip Freeman said Carruth's performance would have cost him his job, regardless of the allegations.

A recent evaluation said Carruth's management style has been lax, but administrators who spent a week at Brimm in 2005 praised his leadership skills.

The termination baffled Martha Wilson, the only school board member who voted against it.

"No one has told me why" the recommendation was made, Wilson said.

Apparently, the Philadelphia Inquirer questioned test results at two middle schools in February:
Camden's superintendent has recommended firing the principal who publicly said an assistant superintendent had pressured him to rig state tests at the city's most prestigious school....

Carruth's allegations of cheating drew widespread attention because they revealed the pressure on educators to continually improve test scores. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts can face sanctions, including state takeover, if schools do not improve.

Camden's plan to terminate Carruth surprised many, including Carruth.

"I'm in shock," said Carruth, reached at home last night. "The rumor I heard is that they were moving me to another building."

He added: "I definitely think it's retribution."

...Officials from the state Department of Education's Office of Compliance arrived in the district [the week of April 28] to begin questioning employees about Carruth's cheating allegations.

Separately, state officials began examining unusually high test scores in at least two elementary schools in February after The Inquirer raised questions. At one school, H.B. Wilson, fourth graders had the highest average math scores among 1,300 elementary schools in New Jersey. The probe was expanded outside Camden to 12 schools with unusual gains. The state has not identified the schools or the districts.

At last night's meeting, no reason was offered for Carruth's termination. The district said it had no obligation to say why Carruth's contract would not be renewed. As a second-year principal, he does not have tenure, which would have allowed him to fight his dismissal from the $107,000-a-year job.

"Unlike tenure, you don't have to have specific grounds," said Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "Sometimes it's just not a good fit."

...Carruth recently received a scathing five-page evaluation by Assistant Superintendent Fred Reiss, who concluded that Carruth had "achieved a needs improvement evaluation."

Reiss wrote that Carruth had failed to revise the school's mission statement as required, had not reconciled how students fared poorly on SATs yet got high marks in college-prep classes, needed to obtain more parent support, had fallen down in collecting sign-in sheets from departmental meetings, and did not fully stress performance standards at faculty meetings.

"The school lacks the guiding hand of data," Reiss wrote in the April 12 evaluation, which The Inquirer obtained. He also cited "a laissez faire management style" that was "inappropriate for an urban district."

Carruth called the evaluation "a regurgitation of lies" and stood by his performance.

Referring to Luis Pagan, the assistant superintendent he accused, Carruth said: "Obviously, they are of the mind-set that Mr. Pagan did nothing wrong and that I did."

Carruth was among more than 250 employees, including several principals, who were notified that the board could discuss their status at last night's meeting. The notices did not specify what, if any, action could be taken.

The Inquirer reported in early March that Carruth had contacted state education officials to tell them that Pagan pressured him in 2005 to alter answer sheets submitted by 11th graders taking the High School Proficiency Exam.

The goal was to achieve a higher passing rate in math over the previous year. Carruth said he would not go along with the plan and found the 2005 results suspicious.

More than 91 percent of Brimm's 11th graders tested proficient in math, a 21-point gain between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.

Pagan has told The Inquirer that such a conversation had never taken place. The district has not taken any action against Pagan, who remains in his $125,000-a-year post overseeing secondary curriculum and instruction.

Wow. This is an incredible story. Anyone from New Jersey or Philadelphia have any insight? No matter what, it appears Camden is a district in crisis.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Carnival of Education: Blog as if your life depends on it

The Carnival of Education is up this week at HUNBlog.

All thanks to Brad Hoge for putting it all together. Gotta love a guy who's a scientist and a poet.

Go take a gander!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Creationism and the public schools, part IV

Yesterday, Potosi MO superintendent Randy Davis invited a speaker from Answers in Genesis, an anti-evolutionism group based out of Kentucky, to address high school and middle school students in their science classes.
Riddle said in an interview that his presentation, entitled "Fascinating Facts About Origins," will focus on such things as "the laws of thermodynamics," and ask such questions as, "How could a protein originate by itself? Is that possible?"

He said one of his goals was to encourage science students "to think about the different ways things could have happened."

Randy Davis, superintendent for the Potosi R-III School District, said Riddle's background as a trained mathematician and former public high school teacher with a graduate degree in education helped convince the district that he was an appropriate guest for the science classes.

He said he was not worried that Riddle's talks would bring religion into public classrooms or serve as another touchstone in the debate about creationism versus evolution in public schools.

"We reviewed the presentation with our science teachers, and this has been presented at other school districts," Davis said. "This is simply a factual discussion of science…. It is not religion-based."

Bill Mayberry, a biology teacher at Potosi High School and chairman of the science department, would not comment.

Riddle characterized the extent of his public school presentations as "not very many."

"We don't get invited in very often," he said.

Asked why Potosi chose not to bring in a scientist unaffiliated with the creationist movement, Davis said Riddle was giving talks at local churches Sunday, and his presence in the area was a factor in the district's decision. Potosi is about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Answers in Genesis, perhaps the nation's biggest creationist organization, is building a 50,000-square-foot, $25 million Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati, that is scheduled to open next year. Creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and have calculated Earth to be about 6,000 years old. Traditional science has pegged Earth's age at about 4.5 billion years.

Also informative today was an editiorial in the St. Louis-Post-Dispatch, the major newspaper closest to Potosi, entitled, ”Origin of the Specious.”

The website for Answers in Genesis, linked above, is very interesting, offering questions for contemplation such as “Is interracial marriage biblical?” and “Where did Cain find his wife?” The website also claims that Darwin and his proponents espoused female inferiority—a belief that I hardly think one could merely pin on Darwinists, as my memories of my mother dragging me to a church that did not allow women to speak or lead prayers in public come flooding back to me. The group also warns people away from being “theistic evolutionists," or believing in God and evolution simultaneously, warning that the price may be “too much to bear,” and arguing:
Jesus treated Genesis as though it actually happened, so that settles it. We may not be able to master a lot of complex arguments against theistic evolution, but even a child can grasp this one. Among those who claim to be Christians, Jesus' own treatment of Genesis closes the question.

I was not aware that Jesus mentioned the creation story as described in Genesis. But, hey, I’m just a theistic evolutionist. And actually, I studied the Bible in my public school English classes. Twice.

Yes, that’s right. In both my freshman and senior years of high school, the Old Testament was a subject of study, and no, I did not also study McGuffey’s Reader, nor did I come over on the Mayflower. I am talking late 1970s and early 1980s here, smarty-pants.

Anyway, the lady who taught it the first time had a religious axe to grind, and continuously tried to make sure that none of us were going to Hell on her watch—including the Jewish kid in the third row who had not accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. During this unit, our spelling tests consisted of memorizing and correctly spelling the names of all the books of the Bible. Fun. Amos was easy, but Deuteronomy was a killer for some of my friends. Asking Mrs. Falwell* the “Who did Cain marry?” question resulted in a severely unpleasant reaction, like we were trying to be snarky when all we were doing was asking a question.

The second teacher who covered this material, Mrs. Verdad*, taught the Bible as literature—which was, of course, the stated purpose of the course both times. She introduced us to the poetry of the Psalms as interpreted in several translations and compared the female characters in the Old Testament to those in the other great religious texts of the world.

The point is, it is certainly possible to address religion in a public school setting, as long as one avoids interjecting one’s own personal beliefs into the mix and one avoids telling kids what to believe. I’m just not too sure bringing in someone from Answers in Genesis to our science classrooms is the right tack, since their stated purpose is to tell people what to believe and to undermine the teaching of science.

*- Names changed to protect the people involved

Monday, May 08, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: Full speed ahead edition

Welcome back once again to Movie Madness Monday! Here’s the deal: Each Monday I pick a movie and drop 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. No cheating, now!

“I’ve never had a dead man buy me a drink.”
“I’ve never met a live one you bought one for, neither.”

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”
“He spoke!”

“To wives and sweethearts!”
“To wives and sweethearts!”
“--May they never meet.”

“Those who die under my knife or from a subsequent infection—for my part I remind myself it was the enemy that killed them.”

“Subject to the requirements of the service.”

“Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate.”

“A nautical phasmid, doctor—at least to the naked eye.”

"Here we go again-- scrape scrape, screech screech-- Never a tune you could dance to, not if you were as drunk as Davy's sow."

****Wednesday Update: Staying with a nautical theme for two weeks in a row, I give you, the best that Russell Crowe has looked since Gladiator-- umm, for you guys, let me just ask, did you see all that blood? It's

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World!
Based on the swashbuckling novels by Patrick O'Brien, this was a quite stirring tale of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The History Geek in me was delighted, and if you missed this one, you really should rent this one this weekend! So give it a try, MellowOut!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In which the History Geek relates the History of the Star-Spangled Banner...

History Geek here, with a brief reminder about the Star-Spangled Banner and its history.

It was during the War of 1812, or, what my AP book likes to call "The Second War for Independence." Great Britain had supposedly acknowledged American independence in the Treaty of Paris of 1783, but then proceeded to ignore their promise to abandon forts along our western border in the Great Lakes region and to cease the impressment-- or forced enlistment-- of American sailors into the British Navy when they were encountered upon the high seas.

And our sailors were certainly encountered on the high seas. In the early years of our republic, we had built up a quite sizeable merchant marine, which is understandable given our distance from European ports. The US merchant marine was a particularly important cog in the trade between the West Indies and Europe. All this would have been fine if it hadn't been for the minor dust-up between Britain and Napoleon.

At the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Nappy had lost most of his navy to the English. So of course, what did he do but declare the closure of the European continent (at least, the part controlled by France or its allies) to British trade-- and neutral trade, like us-- in his Berlin decree of 1806 and his Milan decree of 1807. Britain, of course, was having none of it. The end result was that all we wanted to do was sell stuff, but both France and England threatened to confiscate our ships AND our stuff.

But we feared the British navy more than the French one, because the British navy often seized our sailors and impressed them into their navy. Why did they do this? Because, British ships were known as "floating hells." Conditions were so bad that even native-born Brits didn't want to serve, and would often be forced into service by "press gangs." Of course, these sailors often deserted at their first opportunity-- and sometimes they ended up in America, where they put their skills to work in the US navy or the merchant marine as naturalized citizens. We looked upon them as Americans-- but the British navy saw them as deserters. When an American ship was stopped at sea by the British, any sailors on our ships deemed to be deserters would be seized. Actually, any British-born naturalized citizen would often be seized. Actually, who carried papers showing they were native-born at that time? Sometimes the British just grabbed warm bodies-- and record-keeping and identification was so haphazard. In the summer of 1807, when the commander of the US naval frigate the Chesapeake was stopped by the British HMS Leopard and refused to allow them to search for "deserters", the Leopard opened fire, and when our commander surrendered, the British boarding party dragged four crewmen off to serve as British Limeys. But Americans were quite angry at the British, even when the Brits later recalled the commander of the Leopard and returned three of the four men-- one had been hanged in the meantime-- oopsy.

But it made our blood boil. Especially when the British claimed they had the right to grab sailors off our ships no matter what apologies they had made over the Chesapeake incident. The British may have attempted to make amends for that incident, but they reserved the right to do it again, if only in a less ham-handed manner. It was the principle of the thing.

On top of that, the British used the forts they kept in the Great Lakes to stir up all kinds of Indian unrest on the frontier-- and we really didn't need any help keeping the Indians riled up, thank you very much, since we ticked them off plenty on our own. But many of our westerners blamed the British, and fever for war was high among the "war hawk" faction.

So President Jefferson, never one in favor of manufacturing and trade, got Congress to pass an embargo which forbade any American ship from going to any foreign port. In the world. This made the merchants in New England mad, since their manufactures had nowhere to go. Even after the"Dambargo" was repealed and replaced by other measures such as the Non-Intercourse Act and Macon's Bill No. 2, they felt harmed by the Republican-controlled government's economic decisions. When war broke out, the predominantly Federalist New England merchants were so mad about not being able to trade with the British that they almost seceded in the winter of 1814-1815.

When war broke out in 1812, things did not look good. We invaded Canada, but had to retreat to Detroit. Chicago (then known as Fort Dearborn) was lost to Indian attack, which laid the groundwork for Chicago being the center of the universe when it comes to snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory in baseball. The US won some naval battles in the early weeks of the war, but then the British navy seized the upper hand. We did do well in naval battles on the Great Lakes. We managed to kill Tecumseh, an Indian ally of the British who had been promoting a pan-Indian confederation against us, at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. Down South, Gen'r'l Andy Jackson put down a Creek uprising and marched toward New Orleans.

But in August, 1814, the British invaded near Washington, DC. Washington was put to the torch by the British in retaliation for our burning of the Canadian capital of York, and then the invading force moved to Baltimore. But Baltimore was ready. American ships blockaded the entry to Baltimore's harbor, so the British had to lob artillery from a distance.

"The Star Spangled Banner" was written during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during this seige. Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer, had negotiated the release of an acquaintance from the custody of the British but had been refused permission to return to Baltimore due to the knowledge he and his party had of British strength and its upcoming attack on Baltimore. The war seemed desperate, and many hopes failed in the face of British successes and humiliations. Scott feared that the Fort could not withstand the long attack.

His fears were assuaged after the more than twenty-four hour battle when he saw the flag still flying over Fort McHenry. His poem, entitled "The Defense of Fort McHenry" was later renamed "The Star Spangled Banner," set to music -- yes, a drinking song-- and adopted as the national anthem under Woodrow Wilson's administration.

***Update: More fascinating info can be found at the always charming elementaryhistoryteacher's place!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Yo! Carnival of Education #65 ahead!

Even though he is hip deep in standardized, high-stakes testing, the Education Wonk has crafted together another fabulous spin around the Edusphere this week over at his place. I really don't know how he does it!

There's a bunch of new Edubloggers featured this week, or maybe I just can't remember very well with my hay fever, spring fever, or testing fever, but anyway, you need to go over and check it out. And give some props to EdWonk.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Where's Iraq? Apparently some people don't want to know...

A new survey sponsored by the National Geographic finds that young adults' knowledge of world geography is horrifyingly lacking, even about places that are in the news every day. The study found that about 60% of the 510 subjects aged 18-25 could not find Iraq on a map, not could 88% find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. Prepare to be further dismayed:

Thirty-three percent of respondents couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map.

Fewer than three in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.

Two-thirds didn't know that the earthquake that killed 70,000 people in October 2005 occurred in Pakistan.

Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

Forty-seven percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.

Seventy-five percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.

Nearly three-quarters incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language.

Six in 10 did not know the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world.

Thirty percent thought the most heavily fortified border was between the United States and Mexico.

The lack of knowledge indicated is frightening, even if the sample surveyed is statistically very small. I would like to see a much broader study to see if these results can be replicated.

As a social studies teacher, I am saddened but not surprised, nor do I expect this to get much better any time soon, since many parents I know with kids in elementary school report that their children are getting less emphasis on social studies in the name of instruction in math and reading. But 18 to 25 year olds are not as affected by the testing climate as today's students. My students were stunned to find out that Georgia and Ukraine used to be in the Soviet Union. So we've been doing lots of geography this semester, and they've actually been enjoying it.

I am happy to say, however, that we had enough students indicate an interest in the subject during registration to lead to the formation of a geography elective course next year, for the first time in anyone's memory. (A great step in the right direction-- and I bet I don't need to give you a hint as to who is going to be teaching this class.... Four preps, baby, including two with do-it-myself curriculum! I am CRAZY!)

Nonetheless, it is certainly important for all of us social studies professionals to include geography instruction as part of our courses.

Coming full circle again, and not a moment too soon

At last, some schools have decided to do something about students' atrocious handwriting.
Apparently a program known as Handwriting Without Tears promises a new method to help students abandon the chicken-scratch once and for all.
'It's not just about penmanship,' Heinricher said. 'Legible writing is very essential. Ninety percent of job applications are handwritten; there is also a portion of the SATs that is required to be handwritten.'

In the 1970s, Jan Olsen, an occupational therapist, developed and founded Handwriting Without Tears after her first-grade son had problems with his handwriting. Some of the techniques Olsen developed included the use of basic slate boards, Play-Doh, stamp-and-see screens, music, and body awareness in order for children to learn pre-writing and beginning printing skills.

Its hands-on approach to teaching handwriting is what makes Handwriting Without Tears unique, Heinricher said, where most school curriculums provide students with workbooks and they are taught to form letters by tracing or copying them.

The lessons are also very kid-friendly and fun. 'We don't want handwriting to be monotonous and boring,' Heinricher said.

What? Zaner-Bloser is BORING????

Remember how I talked once about how there's all these trends in education?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: May Day Edition

Welcome back once again to my little trivia-freak Olympiad known as Movie Madness Monday. Here’s the deal: Each Monday I 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. Some people, of course, have no shame. Here goes:

“When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.”

“Listen, I'm a politician which means I'm a cheat and a liar; when I'm not kissing babies I'm stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open.”

“Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms.”

“I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me.”

“’Most things in here don’t react too well to bullets.’—Yeah, like ME.”

"A great day, comrades-- we sail into history!"
**** WEDNESDAY Update: We go into the Laurents Abyssal for this week's film,
The Hunt for Red October!

Now, I am personally of the opinion that Tom Clancy writes great ideas for movies. And I LOVE Sam Neill and Sean Connery, who should have resisted the call for the unfortunate hairpiece, but it matters not! What a great adventure!

And let's not forget
Tim Curry as the ship's physician. It's good to see him in a film when it's not 1:30 in the morning with a bunch of strange, strange people all around me throwing bread and playing cards around a theatre, but still, every time I see him, a little voice inside me chants:

"Dr. Scott!"

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