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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Putting the brakes on drivers' ed

Apparently, drivers' ed in many Ohio districts has been on a long, strange trip to extinction.
As students went home for the holidays, Northwest High in Stark County -- which offered the last district-run classes in the Akron-Canton region -- permanently put its program in park.

District officials regret dropping the course, which provided 52 hours of instruction, compared with the 32 that most private schools offer.

``Driver's education has the potential to save your life every day,'' Northwest High guidance counselor and driver education instructor John Balas said.
But the program ``is just not cost-efficient anymore,'' said Northwest High Principal Steve Jones, who, like Balas, has taught hundreds of Northwest students to drive.

Enrollment has dropped significantly. As in other areas, the school's students have flocked to the private courses that require fewer hours of training for about the same cost. Northwest charged $250 this school year.

"Students are saying, 'I want to get this (license) and I want to get it quick,'" Jones said.

Previous state law prohibited the districts from offering high school credits for their courses, and apparently high school require more hours of instruction.

So it's not like drivers' ed is ending-- it's just that students will have to go to private schools. Which may be just as well. I distinctly remember my drivers' ed instructor challenging me to see how fast I could go down Lynn Lane outside of town (answer: over 65 mph. And that was in our school's beat-up Oldsmobile. My lead foot is congenital).

But driving laws are another matter. Here is this area, a person who is legally blind-- and I mean someone who requires 48 point Times font to read-- can get a drivers' license quite easily. You can probably marry your 14-year-old cousin here, too, though, so no real surprise.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

In which the History Geek decries that perversion of natural rights known as Life, Liberty, and... eminent domain?

Apparently, a Philadelphia-area school district has thought better about
trying to take a neighboring property through eminent domain:
To the school board of Chester County's Great Valley district, Patrick and Karen Cassidy's 1.5-acre property, just over a fence a few feet from a new wing under construction at the high school, looked mighty attractive.

If the board could buy it and tear down the Cassidy house, the land could serve as a staging area for the school construction. Later, the parcel, which is bordered on three sides by district land, could be turned into much-needed athletic fields.

To the Cassidys, however, the "parcel" was their home and a spacious, partly wooded yard.

"Everything I'm used to is here," Patrick Cassidy said in a recent interview in the living room of the one-story pine house he and his father built 25 years ago in East Whiteland Township. "I've built every stick and stone, I've laid every tile, put in every piece of drywall, every piece of trim. Why would I want to go" anywhere else?

The clash between those viewpoints sparked a contentious nine-month battle that was resolved only this month, leaving hard feelings on both sides.

The dispute serves as a cautionary tale for school boards acquiring land for nonessential purposes. It also comes at a time when property rights advocates across the country have pushed back against the government's power to acquire land for public use, known as "eminent domain."

Great Valley still needs land for expansions, but will be more careful how it goes about acquiring it, said school board member Jay Levin, the board president until earlier this month. "Any district that went through something like this... is going to be a little gun-shy."

The dispute began in 2002, when the district planned to expand the high school and needed more land to meet open-space zoning requirements.

District officials approached Eleanor Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy's mother, seeking to buy about 4.5 acres, next door to Patrick and Karen Cassidy's property. Eventually, she agreed, selling her house and the land for $625,000, but Patrick and Karen Cassidy said she was bullied into selling by the threat of eminent domain. She was allowed to stay in her house until she died in 2004, but regretted her decision, they said. "She said to me, 'That's the worst thing I ever did,' " Karen Cassidy said. "I said, 'Mom, it's the only thing you could do.' "

Patrick and Karen Cassidy said they told district officials repeatedly they were not interested in selling their property, which is bordered on one side by the high school and on two other sides by the still-vacant land the district bought from Eleanor Cassidy.

But in February, the school board passed a resolution calling for the acquisition of their land and house "by either negotiated agreement or eminent domain," and then filed court papers to condemn the property.

Levin said the goal was a "friendly condemnation," in which both sides agree to a sale that would include tax advantages to the seller. "The friendly condemnation was our entire plan, our entire basis to move forward," he said.

Friendly condemnation? Wow, that's almost as good a piece of oxymoronic doublespeak as I can recall! What about filing paperwork to force someone to sell their home can be described as "friendly?"

The Cassidys didn't see it that way. Eminent domain was the "big stick they have," Patrick Cassidy said. "Even if they don't come out and actually threaten with it, it's always there."

The Cassidys began talks with the district, fearing that if they did not, their home would be taken against their wishes, they said. But their goal was to keep the house and land. "I would rather die than have someone come and take my house," Karen Cassidy said. "If they can come and take everything away, what's the value of your life; what's the point?"

Patrick Cassidy seriously injured his back soon after the February board meeting, leaving him bedridden for months. But help arrived in the person of Audrey Van Loan, a regular at school board meetings who has often jousted with district officials.

Though Van Loan did not know the Cassidys, the board's actions outraged her, she said. "I said, 'This is America, and we should feel safe and secure in our homes; that they're not to be taken away... to build a playing field," she said. She put handouts in mailboxes and posted them in stores. One said, for example, "The Great Valley School District is using eminent domain to seize a private home and property!... Tell your school board members you are outraged and you want them to cease this action."

Van Loan's campaign hit a chord. "The feeling was, if it could happen to [the Cassidys], it could happen to anyone - no one is safe," she said. "The school district didn't need to do this."

As many as 70 people turned out for school board meetings, and many showed up month after month.

Levin says Van Loan distorted the facts; the board still believed, he said, that the two sides would reach an agreement. But it was besieged by residents convinced it was trying to force the Cassidys out. "Any time those two nasty words - eminent domain - are used... it is interpreted as negative, and you cannot do anything to fix that," he said. "Eventually, we had to put up the white flag and throw in the towel."

In November, the board scuttled the purchase attempt; early this month, it withdrew the condemnation filing. "It's over," Levin said.

The experience left the Cassidys thankful but shaken. "A lot of people that we don't know took the time out of their lives to help us," Patrick Cassidy said. "It's very humbling - when you're down and everything is crumbling and people come out and pull you back from the edge... . There are a lot of good people out there.

"I've finally been able to start sleeping," he added. "But I still have a fear that something is going to happen. I can't have a sense of security... the security of feeling that I've provided a nice home for my family... . Maybe, over time, if it all calms down, it will come back."

Now, kiddies, pull up a chair by the fire-- except for you, California Teacher Guy, who rubs our faces in the fact that we're freezing while you are basking in toasty warmth, while the History Geek explains a bit about an idea called "natural rights."

Natural rights were first described by Thomas Hobbes, who is so much more than the inspiration for a cartoon tiger. Hobbes was a philosopher who famously talked about life being "nasty, brutish, and short;"-- quite the cheery fellow. John Locke, another philosopher, in his Two Treatises on Government, characterized these natural rights as "life, liberty, and property." An American writer named Thomas Jefferson later changed the formula a bit to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in a little thing he wrote called the Declaration of Independence.

But anyway, one could definitely say that trying to jealously guard our property-- since taxation is the taking of property, at least a part of it, and our ancestors took umbrage at not having a say in having their property taken from them-- was a prime cause of the American Revolution. And later on, the potential future theoretical taking of property (which many thought a person had no moral right in the first place) was claimed to be a cause of another nasty little bit of work known by the imprecise moniker of "The Civil War" (When is war ever civil?) in the mid-19th century.

But, as Arlo Guthrie famously said, I'm not here to talk about that.

I'm here to talk about "eminent domain." Eminent domain arose as a royal prerogative in English common law in the Saltpeter Case, in which the King seized a mine from a private owner so that ammunition for a war could be manufactured. Traditionally, the understanding has been that property could be forced to be sold to the government for a fair price only to promote the public good, such as for the building of railroads or highways or to fulfill other community needs.

Lately, however, eminent domain has been perverted to support the taking of property from one private person to enrich other private entities, such as developers. Cities have been convinced to cooperate in this endeavor on the promise of increased tax revenue that would then be created by taking relatively inexpensive homes and replacing them with condominiums or an aquarium and conference center or a hardware store, among other things. And our United States Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of such actions in the 2005 case of Kelo v. City of New London. Since the Kelo decision, the pace of these spurious condemnations has indeed accelerated, especially since many localities and states (such as New York and New Mexico) are now considering their own laws curtailing the practice.

Now, the Great Valley School district wanted the Cassidys' property so that the heavy equipment could access their construction site. Later it would probably be turned into a playing field of some sort.

The need here does not seem to rise to the level that a reasonable person would agree justifies the forced sale of someone's home. Shame on the Great Valley school board. They no doubt have a lot of p.r. work to do to clean the egg off their faces on this one.

Honors list recognizes educators

The Queen's New Year's Honors lists recognizes several British subjects who labor in the field of British education.
Susan Wade, a teaching assistant at Hethersett High in Norfolk, and Norma Maclellan, clerk at Caol Primary, Fort William, are both appointed MBEs.

They are honoured alongside many heads and teachers, as well as school bursar Wendy Deakin from Middlewich, Cheshire.

Former Chief Inspector of Schools Maurice Smith is also honoured.

Mr Smith, who was head of England's schools watchdog, Ofsted, from January to October 2006 is made Companion, Order of the Bath.

The same award is made to Peter Wanless, director of school performance and reform.

And there is a knighthood for Keith Ajegbo, head teacher of Deptford Green School in Lewisham, London.

Mr Ajegbo is honoured for his services to education.

The London head sits on the government's External Advisory Group, which makes recommendations for the education of 14 to 19-year-olds.
...Professor George Scott, the vice-chancellor of Kingston University, is knighted for services to higher education.

Professor Scott has been vice-chancellor at Kingston since January 1998. Before this, he was Professor of Education and pro vice-chancellor for external affairs at the University of Leeds.

Yasmin Bevan, head of Denbigh High School in Luton, is made a dame.

Services to education attracts a number of CBEs, OBEs and MBEs.

Congratulations to all whose service to the cause of education has been recognized and honored. Wouldn't it be great to see something like that happen here, across the pond?

He's dead. Now what?

Let us all pray for the safety of our troops.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Show me the money

Should parents engage in massive fundraising to fund their public schools? Should they have to?
In addition to her usual school budget this year, Bryant Elementary School principal Linda Robinson will have nearly $200,000 to spend on student field trips, library materials, instrumental music and artists-in-residence.

The school's Parent Teacher Student Association raised the money in a seemingly endless string of bake sales, pledge drives and other fundraisers — a common phenomenon in schools in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods.

Bryant's group also pays for occasional lectures and workshops at the school, Robinson said.

"We're not a rich school but highly educated, and there's a strong belief in the role of this school in this community," she said.

...State and federal money directed toward low-income students helps supplement schools like Thurgood Marshall, and in some cases that extra money means those schools ultimately collect more than the richer schools.

For the past decade, Seattle Public Schools has also used a funding calculation called the "weighted student formula," which targets money toward schools that have more students in poverty or with special needs. The formula, which the School Board is considering revamping, has prompted parents at more affluent schools to step up fundraising efforts to make up for it.

Two Hundred Thousand Dollars! Good grief! And by the way that pays for three full-time teachers, which I assume they otherwise would not have. I found this little chart included as a sidebar very instructive, since I found that $200,000 in fundraising was far from the apex of loot-gathering:

School fundraising

A Seattle Public Schools report shows that parent fundraising (classified as school "self-help") varies widely from school to school. The report also distinguishes among state and federal money and private grants, but some parent donations may be counted as grants and therefore not part of the amounts listed below. Shown are the elementary, middle and high schools with the most and least "self help" in 2005-06.

View Ridge Elementary School: $325,248

Thurgood Marshall Elementary: $2,046

Mercer Middle School: $137,506

Meany Middle: $25,952

Roosevelt High School: $318,577

West Seattle High School: $42,016

Source: Seattle Public Schools

Check out the entire article.

Of course, the first thing that this points to is that there is not enough funding of public education, no matter how it's sliced. Another thought that occurs to me is that the very amounts that are raised indicate another disparity in these schools: besides monetary resources, there is obviously an ability/willingness on the part of some of these parents to fund their children's schools in addition to whatever taxes they pay to support the broader school system.

In some of the more impoverished schools, there isn't even a parent-teacher organization in existence. We could hypothesize about WHY that is so all day long: is it apathy? lack of time for parents who are working multiple jobs at odd hours of the day? a combination of both?

Another point: there really will never be any such thing as funding parity for schools. Some parents will always give more. Some parents will give nothing extra, either because they can't --or they won't. (We all have encountered parents who tell us that anything having to do with their child's education is the responsibility of the schools themselves. Sad, but true.) This does not mean that we shouldn't try to fund schools as equitably as possible, however.

But is there a point at which one school's massive fundraising too much? Would these parents who have raised six figures for their schools be willing to donate some of their copious funds to another school which was not blessed with such great resources? Is there a societal obligation to try to make sure that all students should have access to extra teachers or materials or field trips? That sense of communitarianism is the basis for public schooling in the first place: we taxpayers support public school systems, even if we have no children in them, even if we have never had children in them, because we value having an educated populace and an educated workforce. This country is based the ideal of Horatio Alger: that we believe that anyone can succeed by taking advantage of opportunity. Therefore, opportunities must be made available for everyone to succeed. That's the real challenge facing our society.

Via Mrs. Walker.

You can't fool the TAKS-man

What happens when a student doesn't pass the TAKS test, which is required for graduation in Texas?

They keep trying.
TAKS troubles kept more than 400 Austin seniors from donning a cap and gown in May.

Students must pass tests in math, social studies, science and language arts to graduate. They have at least five chances to take the test before graduation and an unlimited number after the graduation date.

By August, about 320 still hadn't passed it.

"We have an obligation to work with the kids as long as they will try to work with us," said Ken Karrer, LBJ's academic director, who supervises the Northeast Austin campus' TAKS remediation efforts.

Exit-level tests are designed to measure basic knowledge and skills to ensure that students are prepared for college and career opportunities. Most states that offer such exams have pass rates ranging from about 70 percent to 90 percent; Texas' rate is 91 percent.

Remedial services for students who fail the exams are among the largest hidden costs of state exit exams and can account for nearly 30 percent of a district's exit exam expenses, according to the Center on Education Policy in Washington. Many of the costs go toward students with limited English proficiency, academically at-risk students and students with special needs. Most of the added expenses involves school personnel.

This issue dovetails nicely with my previous post about kids obtaining credit for failed classes through completing packets created by private companies. We've got two sides to the same coin here: in one system, it doesn't matter what the students know, as long as they get the credit; in the other system, it doesn't matter really what credits a student has if he/she can't demonstrate the knowledge on a test.

Now, I'm not that familiar with the TAKS, although I know that President Bush likes to tout ideas like TAKS as an example of why he is an "education president."

Okay, now that we've all collectively shuddered, I have a few questions:
1. What happens to schools that have significant numbers of their students fail the TAKS?
2. Are there exemptions for special-education students or other special cases?
3. Have there been any lawsuits by students who have good grades but who failed the TAKS?
4. Do students who fail to graduate due to their scores on the TAKS count as drop-outs?

Any answers would be greatly appreciated, and will be offered as guest-blog posts. Because I really do want to know.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Carnival of Education #99

... is absolutely Right on the Left Coast. Head on over and check out all the fabulous corners of the Edusphere!

The best Christmas presents I got this year

This one's for you, Janet.

1. A three hour nap-- no, not a three hour tour, a three hour nap.
2. The voice of Freddie Mercury. Because. "Find-- me-- somebody to lo-ove!"
3. Wineglasses. Because wine goes in them. And I don't have to work tomorrow, ha-ha!
4. Good friends!
5. Health and happiness, in spite of everything.

I even know Jim Morrison was in a rented grave in Paris

Rock Star

You scored 96%!

You damn rock star. You know all the basics, and if you got any wrong, I bet it was that stupid Traveling Wilburys question.

Your friends are probably intimidated by your knowledge of classic rock and envy your impressive collection. When a classic rock song comes on the radio, you can probably identify it before the vocals kick in most of the time. You probably get good scores on the "maiden name of Clapton's mom" tests, too.

Link: The BASIC classic rock Test written by allmydays on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

But, of course!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

And now, the Airing of Grievances! (Isn't that what a blog is for?)

It's Festivus time everyone, and so let's air those grievances! (This is actually just about the only thing on Seinfeld that I ever found funny. You can ask my husband. I would usually just sit there and roll my eyes. George and Elaine and Jerry and Kramer usually just annoyed me. And don't even start about Newman. I loved it when he got it in Jurassic Park.) So here are my grievances:

1. TV shows about nothing. Very arch. Tee. Hee. I get it. Which leads us straight into....

2. "Reality TV" shows. First of all, that ain't reality. Second of all, there's no amount of money that could make me hang out with the weird naked guy who's now in jail from Survivor. I would have voted MYSELF off the damn island. Third of all, who doesn't get that these are cash cows for networks who are treating the public like they're doofs? Fourth of all, I can't STAND American Idol, because I can't stand atonal singing.
-------2a. "Professional" wrestling. People, PLEASE!

3. People who read or text-message or do any other attention-demanding task while driving. Blast you.

4. People who claim that teachers are lazy morons with an easy job who then insist they would never want to be a teacher because teaching is not a respected profession that doesn't pay enough. Hypocrites.

5. People who can eat whatever they want and never gain an ounce. Tchah!

6. Kids who complain that they're cold when they're running around half-nekkid.

7. Justin Timberlake. If he's bringing sexy back, then I'm becoming an anchoress.

Blast! Our secret's out!

Thanks a lot, Daniel. You have violated the Super-Duper Secret Teacher Club Code of Behavior through your revelation of professional secrets. We shall have to break your chalk and strip you of all official insignia.

Via Dr. History.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Wishing You a Blessed and Holy Christmas

Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever." (Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 1, verses 46-55)

This is why were are here.

I found this beautiful window at the website of St. Hilary's Church, in Hesperia, CA.

Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope you have a joyous holiday season. Peace on earth, please God.

Movie Madness Monday 45: Walk into the Light edition

Ahh, the holidays, and I just got the best present ever-- a three hour nap, with only the sound of a child play an electric guitar to trouble my slumber. And, it didn't. Because I am THAT tired.

Here's the drill (which my hubby got for Christmas): I give you a few quotes from a movie. You respond with a quote of your own in the comments section. WE DO NOT REVEAL THE NAME OF THE MOVIE UNTIL THURSDAY, SO EVERYONE CAN PLAY.

So since everyone is probably busy with family and friends, I am tossing you a stuffing-filled, Christmas turkey:

"Did we check every bulb?"

"You surprised to see us?"
"Oh, Eddie... If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."

"I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."

"I think it'd be best if everyone went home... before things get worse."
"WORSE? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here. We're at the threshold of hell!"

"It was an ugly tree anyway."

"I don't know if I oughta go sailin' down no hill with nothin' between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic."
"Do you really think it matters, Eddie?"

"If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is. Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?"

****Thursday Update: Pass the Tylenol, it's
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!

Chevy Chase (whose real first name is CORNELIUS!) keeps it real at Christmas Time, and we are all the richer as a result.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shortcut to a dead end street

One of my favorite sci-fi authors was Robert A. Heinlein, who used the following acronym in his masterpiece The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress:TANSTAAFL, which stands for "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." After reading the following article, one wonders if he was right.
By the time Spencer Taiti graduates from [Salt Lake City's] Woods Cross High School, he will have spent hours of school time doing everything but learning. An inveterate class-skipper, the junior guesses he has failed or will fail as many as 10 classes, often because he didn't bother to show up.

But he will graduate, the teen says. If he has his way, Taiti will make up all those failed classes by completing packets provided by private companies such as Layton's Northridge Learning Center. The course packet his friend Meleana Otukolo completed in about five hours earned her the credit she should have gotten attending nine weeks of class for about 90 minutes every other day. At Northridge, that "quarter" credit costs $45.

"I want to get done with school the easiest way possible," he says.

At a time of increasing academic standards in Utah, teachers report an epidemic of students making up classes they couldn't bother to attend by buying course packets or going to workshops offered by private educators. Students say cheating is simple and happens frequently. It's easy to copy a buddy's packet, and not all students have to take a final test, they say.

Many educators have long-standing doubts about the quality of education provided in these programs. Dixie Evans runs one of the schools that provides credit packets described in this article, and defends the service she provides as necessary:
Evans said the school can show how it has met all the requirements of accreditation. Programs like hers fill a need, she says.

"What about students who aren't successful in a classroom situation? What do you do with those?" she asks. "Public education is mandatory in our country. We have to find some way to help these people succeed."

I imagine young people like the young man at the start of this article would have been able to succeed if he's been able to bestir himself into actually showing up and paying attention. One Utah high school counselor in the article states that he thinks the programs are a good thing:
"If a kid can get out with a diploma, the rest of their life is better for them," said Orin Johanson, a West counselor. "If we have to send them to some less-than-appropriate make-up [program], I, for one, think it's OK if a kid is dealing with certain circumstances."

He points to major life crises and changes such as pregnancy, death and divorce. Some kids work and are unable to attend an after-school make-up credit option.

Though he doesn't want to see the system abused, Johanson remains practical.

"Until we as a school system set up a larger variety of school-sponsored options, then we should be open, in the best interest of kids, to other options to help kids get diplomas," the counselor said.

I highly recommend reading the entire article.

Here's what troubles me about the whole thing: Apparently people have forgotten why we go to school, and what an education actually is. Schools are not merely places to pick up credentials. Pell-mell granting of diplomas which are hollow and representative of no actual knowledge in recent years is what has gotten us into the current mess we are in in education.

I have had students plead for extra credit so that they could raise their grades at the very last minute. I do offer extra credit projects which require a lot of thought and effort to complete, and only to students who have done all of their regularly assigned work. The purpose of this extra credit is to increase the student's understanding of the subject, not merely to plump up a lackluster grade. But basically, as much as I can establish a system within the parameters of school policy, grades in my classes are evaluations of the level of understanding students demonstrate. I require that students who are dissatisfied with their grade come for extra help outside of class time or during some other time when I can give them some one-on-one attention. But the time to get concerned about your grade is when you see those low quiz or essay grades and realize that you are not demonstrating "A" level work, or whatever grade it is you wish to receive.

There's a mistaken notion in the situation described in the article that if a kid has a paper labelled "Diploma" in their hand, they can know absolutely nothing, but having that paper will still open all kinds of doors for them. And the impression of public schools as failing to accomplish what should be their only goal-- to help create an educated populace-- will be further enhanced.

To me it's not about the grade, it's not about the credential-- it's about the learning. Otherwise, why are we here? I know this sounds somewhat naive-- to many parents, students, and, sadly, some teachers and administrators, it's the grade or the diploma that matters. I have told my own children that I would rather see them get a C in a difficult class that challenged them than an A in a class that did nothing to further their education.

The door may initially open for these ersatz high school graduates, but as soon as it becomes obvious that the "graduate" does not possess basic skills, unless their family owns the company, they will be shown that very door out in the real world. And besides content knowledge, there are other skills that are valued in the real world, like: showing up on time, showing up regularly, being willing to do mundane tasks in the achievement of a greater goal, and being able to sustain effort for longer than a session of DOOM on the ol' Playstation.

Many schools have turned to contracting with these easy credit factories in a frantic attempt to lower their drop-out rate so that their accreditation may not suffer. Generally, I think we can agree that there's a delicate equilibrium between drop-out rates and academic standards in a school. Make earning credit too hard, and kids will drop out. Make earning credit too easy, and you will produce graduates who are ignorant of even the most rudimentary knowledge, and even honors classes will be watered down as a result. God knows we've all known people with graduate degrees like MBAs from Harvard who didn't seem to know what a civil war is.

Is the system a game or are the students gaming the system? Ultimately, an education is only as good as the real work each of us puts into creating it for ourselves.

When Teddy Bears Attack

This sounds interesting:
Making a movie in which evil teddy bears attack a teacher got two budding filmmakers expelled from their high school, but a federal judge says it was the school that was wrong.

However, the judge said the boys should apologize.

Cody Overbay and Isaac Imel, both sophomores, must be allowed to return to Knightstown High School for the second semester, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker said Friday in Indianapolis in granting a preliminary injunction. She also ordered the school to allow the students to make up any work they had missed since their expulsions in October.
The boys worked on the movie “The Teddy Bear Master” from fall 2005 through summer 2006. It depicts a “teddy bear master” ordering stuffed animals to kill a teacher who had embarrassed him, but students battle the toy beasts, according to documents filed in court.

...The judge said the movie was “vulgar,” “tasteless,” “humiliating” and “obscene,” but ruled that school officials did not prove it disrupted school.

The judge said she did not believe it was a coincidence that the teacher in the movie had the same name as a math teacher at Knightstown Intermediate School. She urged the teens to apologize to the teacher and the school administration.

“School officials need to know you've learned a lesson,” Barker said.

I wonder what they've learned?

This one gives you renewed hope for mankind-- especially the "kind" part

What better story for the holiday season?
When Pearl Ziegler sat on Santa's lap this year, she asked for one thing - her very own violin.
The 7-year-old has Asperger syndrome - a form of autism that causes speech, social and physical disorders - and a love and gift for music.

"Music is what she uses to make sense of the world," said Pearl's mom, Lauren Ziegler, 40.

But Pearl's interest reached its crescendo this summer when Lauren took her to a classical concert featuring an autistic musician. "It really inspired her," Lauren said. "All she talked about was learning to play."

The $500 cost of a violin was too much for the Zieglers, who face thousands of dollars in therapy and treatment bills each year. Pearl's dad, Dustin, is working two jobs just to make ends meet. The family's Danbury, Conn., home is on the market. And Pearl's college fund is already gone.

"But I had to find a way to make this happen," Lauren said.

On a whim, Lauren called Western Connecticut State University, a school with a well-known music program, and reached professional violinist Eric Lewis of the Manhattan String Quartet, who met Pearl last week.

"She has tremendous potential musically," Lewis said. "She actually hugged the violin. To me, it was impossible that she wouldn't get a violin this Christmas."

So today, Lewis is going to surprise Pearl with a Christmas gift she'll never forget - a violin, sheet music and free lessons.
"This will open a new world for her," Lauren said. "This truly is a Christmas miracle for us."

A Santa's Helper Salute to Eric Lewis! Who knows how much of a difference this will make in this family's lives? Being able to play music is one of the greatest gifts I ever received. Music is a comfort when all else fails.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Everybody Hurts

Just a year ago, my dad called and told me that he had cancer. The word "terminal" never really made it out of his mouth, but when your tough-guy daddy starts talking about how he's had a long life and so on, you get the drift. Actually, I knew it was bad when he actually placed the phone call himself, since my father never did that for probably the same strange reason he would never actually operate a microwave.

Six weeks later, he slipped away.

Now since then, we have muddled through every succeeding day. Many of you have helped me more than I can express with words of support and sympathy, and, unfortuntely, in some cases, personal experience of your own.

But there is one area of my life that has not been, let us say, helpful. I now want to say this as gently as possible, just because I am afraid I am going to explode completely if I don't vent somewhere.

Dear family:
Just because I have not had to self-medicate myself into a stupor in the past year does not mean I am not hurting. I personally think that doing these kinds of things makes your pain far, far worse, and who needs this to be any worse than it already is?

Just because I have not held conversations with my dead father's eidolon or visitant or haint or whatever you want to call it does not mean that I am not just as authentically in mourning as you are. Furthermore, I do not want to hear about how you commune with his apparition or huddle over an Ouija board-- this is just not something in which I believe. So, for the love of God, would you please stop blathering on and on about this, because it is making me absolutely tense, and it sounds completely nuts.

Now, you may wonder why I am not just speaking to the people who are bothering me in person. Fair enough.

Because you never ask me how I am doing, nor are you interested. I am supposed to sit here and absorb all your problems and sorrow and vile emotional crap, and when I try to actually converse about my life or how I am feeling, you change the subject righhhhht back to yourself or the other members of the family and how they are incredibly troubled or annoying or hurtful, or how they are to blame for all of your problems. I am tired of listening-- can't say "talking"-- about death all the time. And just because you are in mourning too doesn't mean that I am going to let you play the "I loved him more than you did and that's why I get a moral pass to treat everyone else like garbage" steeplechase. Every time you tell me some vicious thing about someone else in the family, all I can think of is, "I wonder what you say about me behind my back?" Just because you have taken up a long sojourn in Crazy Town doesn't win you a trophy in the great Sweepstakes of Sorrow, either. I have tried not to be judgemental about this. But this is not a competition. What makes it even worse is what little family we had has come completely unglued and everyone is taking turns attacking each other, and just one flailing, drowning person can pull everyone else in the water under.

It is just not my way to fall apart for days or weeks or years on end or behave irrationally or slide into a deep depression. You don't know when I have sobbed or screamed or gotten angry. Someone had to keep it together. Decisions had to be made, and things had to be done. Fine. It's perfectly normal to fall apart, though, and I understand why you have. I just would like to see you accept my way of mourning as equally valid and my pain as equally real as yours. Just because I manage to put one foot in front of the other and haltingly navigate through each day doesn't mean that you should discount my sorrow, or think that I don't think about my dad several times a day. We all of us had a complex relationship with dad because he was a complex figure-- so working through that presents itself in a myriad of bizarre ways that back up on you at the most unexpected times.

I truly believe that my Dad is no longer in pain, and he was in pain long before he got cancer. I believe that his soul is freed. Everyone dies, and I believe that there is something after this life, but even if there's not, it doesn't change the fact that everybody dies. He was not a perfect person, by far, but then again none of us is a perfect person, by far. The thing that is the most difficult for me is that I will never speak to him again-- not even in hallucinations. He was the one person in the family who actually listened to me, on occasion. But I wouldn't want him to be back here with as much as he was suffering.

Everybody hurts. Everyone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Where there's a will, there's a high

Now, this is nothing new, but it certainly doesn't hurt to remind people that work with kids that over-the-counter medications can be abused by teens:
Teens increasingly are getting high with legal drugs like painkillers and mood stimulants, and they're turning to cough syrup as well, says a government survey released Thursday.

The annual study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted by the University of Michigan, showed mixed results in the nation's longtime campaign against teen drug abuse.

It found that while fewer teens overall drank alcohol or used illegal drugs in the last year, a small but growing number were popping prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin and stimulants like Ritalin.

As many as one in every 14 high school seniors said they used cold medicine "fairly recently" to get high, the study found.

It was the first year that the government tracked the frequency of teens who reported getting high from over-the-counter medicine for coughs and colds.

"It's bad that kids are buying cough syrup and using it this way -- it's not good for them," said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The study found about one in 10 high school seniors have abused the painkiller Vicodin, and Walters said kids may be pilfering the pills from their parents' medicine cabinets.

This has been going on since I was in high school. Kids (and adults) who had a drinking problem would often chug cough syrup on Sundays, when all the liquor stores were closed in Oklahoma. Some people even drank hairspray or rubbing alcohol. Since then, it seems that the public's general familiarity with various drugs has become more prevalent, what with advertising on TV for everything from Viagra (which was originally a heart medication, ironically enough) to Paxil to Singulair. And let's not forget about the ease of huffing things like correction fluid or industrial deodorizers.

Many of you work with kids and teens every day, like I do, you know the basic warning signs. But here are some others to consider:
--frequent use of Visine or other things that could mask bloodshot eyes
--change in friends
--sudden, violent outbursts
--loss of interest in the future or consequences for behavior
--sleeplessness/excessive sleepiness
--lack of sensitivity to pain/ bleeding
--constant runny nose/ chemical breath (huffing)
--rashes around the nose or mouth (huffing)
--changes in appetite/ weight loss
--pupils dilated
--stained fingers or teeth
--illness for longer than two weeks combined with any of the above

We teachers can be the front line of defense. We just have to be aware.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Once more, with feeling: Linky goodness

Pal Polski3 has a great post up about the threat to history education in light of its red-headed-step-child status under NCLB.

Darlin'elementaryhistoryteacher also has a post sparked by Polski that is wonderfully written.

And Matt at Going to the Mat also is moved by Polski's musings to speak out eloquently about the philosophical underpinnings of a good historical education for our youth.

I've mused about the same dilemma here.

Some paranoid people would see a conspiracy in encouraging our students to be ignorant of history, democratic processes, government development, and the like... but I'm not paranoid. Yet.

And meanwhile, Carol at The Median Sib has a immensely dense and satisfying Carnival of Education number 98 up over at her place. You can wander about for hours and never get bored! I promise!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Thanks to everyone who voted for A Shrewdness of Apes in the Weblog Awards for 2006. We came in a very respectable fourth-- given that we are just a poor, humble edublog with no particular axe to grind except to call for America-- parents, politicians, educators, and students-- to support the goal of making sure every child and teen in America has access to great public schools.

That simple goal, and the occasional chuckle, screed, or cheap diversion. This is my schtick.

I am humbled by your support.

Good news!-- Oh wait, that still makes it 20 million people....

Given how we're always hearing about how the American educational system is getting our clocks cleaned in technology by Asian countries, you's think this would be comforting: Only 2% Indians above 15 yrs have technical education.

Until you do the math.

Well, proportionally, we might be doing all right.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Accessorizes well with the white hood

So why are they out running around loose?

First, there's this:
Minutes after he shot four of his children, his girlfriend and his cousin, Hersel M. Isadore Jr. made one last phone call, leaving a message on his sister’s answering machine.

He wanted her to know why.

In a voice that his sister described as clear but sad, Isadore said he didn’t want his family to go through the pain they were suffering. He sounded beaten and tired, his sister said, but he told her he loved her, he apologized for the killings and said he didn’t mean to hurt anybody.

Seven minutes later, he killed himself.

Aja Isadore, his sister, wanted to play the suicide message at her family’s prayer vigil Sunday night, organized by GateKeepers of Kansas City, but cries from the crowd stayed her hand. She said she had wanted to show that her brother was not angry or on drugs or alcohol.

She believes the message shows he was depressed about not giving his family enough, but she respected the crowd’s wish not to hear it at that time.

The message that community leaders want to get out is that people should reach out if they’re hurting. The Christmas season is about more than buying gifts. It’s about loving your family and leaning on each other, said Ron Hunt, a community activist.

“How many of us are living on the edge right now?” he asked. “We can’t be afraid to call for help.”

What could make a person think that killing their children and loved ones is better than another day, another chance to try again? I don't care if he wasn't angry. He still killed or injured the people who loved him.

Then there's this waste of protoplasm.
Prosecutors charged a 19-year-old man today with stabbing and critically injuring a two-week old infant.

Rickston T. Spikes of Kansas City was charged with first-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action.

According to court records, Spikes had been released from Western Missouri Mental Health Center a few days prior to the stabbing. On Saturday, Spikes, his brother and his brother’s baby daughter were at a home in the 1900 block of Lister Avenue. Spikes’ brother was asleep on the sofa, and the girl was sleeping in a baby chair.

The girl’s father told police that he woke and saw Spikes apparently stabbing the child in the head and neck with a kitchen knife. He jumped up, chased Spikes around the home and started hitting him with a drinking glass. Police eventually arrived and arrested Spikes.

So who would let someone just out of the mental institution around their tiny baby? Why wouldn't it occur to someone that this might not be a good person to be around a small child? Why hit him with a drinking glass?

It makes me sick.

Movie Madness Monday 44: God Only Knows Where I'd Be Without You edition

Time for Movie Madness Monday again, and I almost did a Peter Boyle film, but that would be too obvious-- plus in my favorite one, he only had three lines that weren't grunts.

Here's how we play my little weekly game: I give you some quotes from a movie, and you respond in the comments section with a quote from the same movie. We DO NOT spill the name of the movie until Thursday, so everyone gets a chance to play while they're having their time taken up wrapping presents or standing in line at the mall.

So here we go again!

"We've been given our parts in the nativity play. And I'm the lobster!"

"Sometimes things are so transparency, they don't need evidential proof."

"But wouldn't it be great if number one this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price?"

"Oh for the love of God, say yes, you skinny moron!"

"What is this we're listening to?"
"Joni Mitchell."
"I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell."
"I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel."
"Did she? Oh well that's good. I must write to her some time and say thanks."

"We may be a small country-- but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that."

***Thursday Update: What can keep you from feeling blue during the holiday season?


A fabulous ensemble cast including the incomparable Bill Nighy (AKA Davy Jones in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick) --seen doing a fabulously arch Robert Palmer take-off here-- and Hugh Grant (yummy!), my favorite female actor Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Rowan Atkinson, Laura Linney, and yes, Keira Knightley, who is an absolute babe, according to Mr. Lawrence. Not to mention a cameo by Claudia Schiffer, speaking of babeness. Filled with love and laughs, you definitely need to see this one. I've probably watched it thirty or forty times.

Join Mamacita and me round the TV. I'll bring the popcorn.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Shout out with gladness! Sing out for joy!

Our friend Polski3 has decided not to abandon us after all and has decided to remain in the Edusphere!

If you do not read Polski3 already, you should!

If you do read Polski3, you know what I'm talking about!

Either way, go over and drop him a line! He's a great teacher and a great blogger!


(Now if he would only spell my name right in his Blogroll.... But 'tis of small consequence. He's BACK!)

And let's all thank everyone who helped convince Polski to stay!


Friday, December 15, 2006

Well, one small victory.... or two

The kid who was going to miss my class YET AGAIN, this time to go to a baby shower in Omaha?

His mother decided that that might not be a good idea, and so he was here today.

And a kid with whom I have been very firm all semester in the cafeteria, came up to me and hugged me out of the blue. It was like an attack hug-- it was over so quick, I almost missed it. Up from behind, a squeeze, and gone. He thinks he'll have enough credits to graduate at last after finals week.

I take 'em as I get 'em.

2006 Weblog Awards Voting

A Shrewdness of Apes is a finalist for Best Educational Blog at the 2006 Weblog Awards, along with several other much more worthy entries. Head on over and take a look by clicking on the icon in the sidebar directly under my profile. Apparently you can vote every 24 hours.

I am amazed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

T-minus 10 days to Christmas-- I mean Winter-- Break. Not that anyone's counting.

Dear (Lazy A**) Guidance Counselor:

Today I approached you, 'at in 'and and very 'umble, guv'nah, and asked you if you knew a kid who was on your counseling caseload. I am concerned about this kid because he is acting spacy and out of it, he's missed nearly eight days of school in the last two weeks, and he is definitely not his usual self. He came to school the other day bleeding and didn't even know it.

You said you did not know this kid. Now, I suppressed a comment about how, since he's a senior, maybe you should at least KNOW him since he's been on your caseload for four years, but I didn't. I simply asked you to speak to the kid and see if you could find out anything, because the mama's in denial and the kid claims nothing's wrong. Even the other kids in the class have come to me and said that they think he's out of it.

Your response? For me to fill out three different forms that will take three weeks to clear and shunt him off onto someone else. Those forms clearly state that the kid is supposed to have been referred to the counselor before I refer him to the crisis team.

Now look, I am already mentoring/counseling/wiping the noses of four other kids on your caseload for whom you haven't had time, and dealing with the one unmarried pregnant girl who hides herself in my room at lunch and the other girl who is no longer pregnant (--by the way? Has anyone thought about this sudden spike in pregnancies??) and the one kid from last year who comes by every day and today was so excited to show me the 83% he got on his paper in government after scraping by with a 60% all last year and emailing the helicopter mom who strangely thinks it's a great idea to take her son out of school the last three days of the semester before finals to go with her to a baby shower in Omaha when he's missed my class 4 times in the last two weeks, and to whom I must point out to her that her son has skipped missed math class 15 times this semester and Harvard will probably look askance at that F on his transcript besides his plummeting grade in my class.

On top of teaching 140 kids and grading their papers and preparing my lessons and my finals-- none of which you have to do. I'm not complaining. About that, at least.

I come by your room, and there you are, NOT counseling someone, every time I walk by. Or you're not there at all, but are walking in the building with a bag of fast food, the aroma swirling around your head like visions of sugarplums.

I'm just saying, "Do. Your. Job."


Either that, or grab a red pen and a stack of essays on the influence of the railroads in the late nineteenth century, brush up on your editor's marks, and get cracking.

Talk about your Grinchiness!

We rate below pets. Is anyone really surprised?
Of the consumers responding to a survey conducted by the Gap, a mere 8 percent said they planned to exert undue influence on academic outcomes by sucking up to the teacher with a holiday gift.

On the other side of the ledger, 25 percent of the respondents said they intend to place a gift for Rover or Garfield under the Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush.

It's all about priorities.

Why honor self-sacrificing individuals with untold contributions to the intellectual and social development of human kind?

When you have the opportunity to shower gifts upon species that will demonstrate gratitude with a sniff, a scratch, a trip to the litter box or an opportunity for you try out your new pooper scooper?

It's nothing less than a commentary on the decline of Western Civilization.

Not to mention the fortunes of the economic sector dedicated to the manufacture of gifts with variations on the apple theme.


I will admit that I don't get nearly the number of Christmas gifts that I got earlier in my career. But I have to say I had never really thought about it, and let's face it-- I do have all the apple ornaments I could ever use for my tree at home.

Maybe I've just gotten meaner.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Soooper Dooooper!

In honor of the genius Peter Boyle:

If you're blue and you don't know
Where to go to why don't you go
Where fashion fits?
Puuiin ooooon da REEEEEEEEEEEETZ!

And do you know what else is putting on the Ritz? The 97th Carnival of Education over at the Education Wonks!

Adieu, Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle, former Christian Brother and outstanding comedic actor, passed away today at age 71.

He was so much more than Frank on Everybody Loves Raymond, although he was a genius on that show.

No to me, he will always be "Mama's angel, and we LOVE him!"

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh sweet mystery of life, at last I've found it!"


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dear Harvard: I, for one, WANT cheap tuition!

If someone can explain this, and assure me that I didn't get redirected to The Onion, then please do (Warning: this is from the NYTimes, so it may throw a roadblock in your way if you want to read the rest of it):
COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. — John Strassburger, the president of Ursinus College, a small liberal arts institution here in the eastern Pennsylvania countryside, vividly remembers the day that the chairman of the board of trustees told him the college was losing applicants because of its tuition.

It was too low.

So early in 2000 the board voted to raise tuition and fees 17.6 percent, to $23,460 (and to include a laptop for every incoming student to help soften the blow). Then it waited to see what would happen.

Ursinus received nearly 200 more applications than the year before. Within four years the size of the freshman class had risen 35 percent, to 454 students. Applicants had apparently concluded that if the college cost more, it must be better.

“It’s bizarre and it’s embarrassing, but it’s probably true,” Dr. Strassburger said.

Ursinus also did something more: it raised student aid by nearly 20 percent, to just under $12.9 million, meaning that a majority of its students paid less than half price.

Ursinus is not unique. With the race for rankings and choice students shaping college pricing, the University of Notre Dame, Bryn Mawr College, Rice University, the University of Richmond and Hendrix College, in Conway, Ark., are just a few that have sharply increased tuition to match colleges they consider their rivals, while also providing more financial assistance.

The recognition that families associate price with quality, and that a tuition rise, accompanied by discounts, can lure more applicants and revenue, has helped produce an economy in academe something like that in the health care system, with prices rising faster than inflation but with many consumers paying less than full price.

Average tuition at private, nonprofit four-year colleges — the price leaders — rose 81 percent from 1993 to 2004 , more than double the inflation rate, according to the College Board, while campus-based financial aid rose 135 percent.

The average cost of tuition, fees, room and board at those colleges is now $30,367. Many charge much more; at George Washington University, the sum is more than $49,000.

But aid is now so extensive that more than 73 percent of undergraduates attending private four-year institutions received it in the school year that ended in 2004, not even counting loans.

“We can cushion the sticker shock,” said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, which distributes aid on the basis of financial need. “We focus on both middle-income and low-income families.”

So net prices vary widely on a given campus. On some, as many as 90 percent of students receive support, primarily from the college itself or the federal government.

And financial need is not the only basis for it. Many colleges, competing for the students with high grades and standardized test scores that help a college rise in rankings guides, offer merit aid ranging from a few thousand dollars to a full scholarship.

But officials of private colleges and universities say they fear that unless other steps are taken, the middle and upper middle class could ultimately be squeezed out.

“Eventually, if we’re going to keep raising tuition at rates much more than the increase in family incomes, then something has to be done to make the places more accessible to the middle class,” said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

As it is, some students may not even apply to private colleges, scared away from the start by tuition and unaware of the available discounts. After all, tuition and fees at public colleges and universities — though growing recently at a faster pace than those at private institutions — remain vastly lower, at an average of $5,836, the College Board says.

It can be argued that everyone studying at a private liberal arts college is getting a discount. At institution after institution, officials say they offer an education costing tens of thousands of dollars more than even the college’s “sticker price.”

Take Swarthmore, the elite college half an hour’s drive from Ursinus. With an annual budget of $106 million to educate just under 1,500 undergraduates, Swarthmore spends about $73,690 a student. But its tuition, room, board and fees in the last academic year were little more than $41,000.

“The half of our student body whose families are paying the full sticker price are paying $41,000 for something that costs $73,000,” said Suzanne P. Welsh, the treasurer. “So they’re getting a great discount.”

The other students receive a bigger subsidy: on average, aid totaling more than $28,500, most of it from the college itself. (Swarthmore limits its aid to students with financial need, but that can mean those from families earning $150,000 a year if, for instance, there are circumstances like having multiple children in college.)

What makes it all work is Swarthmore’s $1.3 billion endowment, which throws off enough income to cover 43 percent of the operating budget.

There's more here. But I want to point out this section:
Other colleges have tried the opposite. Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, cut tuition and fees drastically in 1996, to $10,285 from $14,240.

“We believed that if we lowered tuition, we would open access to the middle class” and “that we would continue to serve the higher socioeconomic-background students by becoming a best-buy institution,” said Anne C. Steele, Muskingum’s president.

Revenue increased, with enrollment of more students who could pay full price. Muskingum has also grown, to 1,600 undergraduates from about 1,000.

Yet the same strategy proved disastrous for North Carolina Wesleyan College. Ten years ago that college cut tuition and fees by 22 percent, to $7,150. But it attracted fewer wealthy applicants and more poor ones, who needed more aid even as the revenue generated from tuition declined.

“It didn’t work out the way it had been hoped,” said Ian David Campbell Newbould, the college’s president. “People don’t want cheap.”

Listen, I went to a very nice pretty small private school that did NOT cost an arm and a leg, because there is not way we could have afforded it, and as it was, I spent many, many hours a week earning the money to help pay for it, through work study and music scholarship and running a proofreading service. I didn't go to the big state schools to which I had been accepted not because they were cheaper, but because they had gigantic class sizes and the lack of the personal touch. I don't think I would credit this to a desire for exclusivity and clubbiness.

Who ARE these people? All that happens when the price is increased is this, says the mother of a middle school child for whom college is looming seemingly tomorrow:

Parents get freaked out. We think about selling a kidney (you only need one, right?) and buying lottery tickets, even though we know the lottery is really a tax on the mathematically challenged. Too much in this world is not priced according to reality: look at how much it technically costs to go to the doctor, or the hospital, or for medicine, or the sticker price of a car, to name a few ridiculous examples.

The attitude here seems to be that it doesn't matter what the official price is. Try telling that to my wallet.

Open thread: What would you like to see in a superintendent?

Just hypothetically: What would you consider to be the characteristics of a great superintendent, especially of a suburban school district which is pretty diverse?

I'm serious. And the last time I had an open thread, I got like three comments. So, a little help here, please, people!

And voting at the 2006 Weblog Awards continues over here-- and you can vote every 24 hours. There're some great blogs out there-- go check some of them out!

Monday, December 11, 2006

On thin ice

Many years ago, I lived in a neighborhood that surrounded a small lake. It was beautiful and there were all kinds of ducks and birds and squirrels. One day, when we had a snow day, the lake had frozen over and was covered in ice with a dusting of snow. I heard the voices of kids playing in the early afternoon, and I could hear the voice of two kids calling to someone else to come on. The next thing I heard was the sound of cracking ice, and-- a silent echoing second later, shrill screams. I grabbed a broom that was lying in the kitchen and ran down the hill frantically. I nearly broke my neck on the ice-covered sidewalks, but I rounded the corner and reached the lake, where I saw two kids wet from the waist down on the shore, and two others wading out of the water. I sat there gasping for breath, and they climbed out the hill and shivered their way home. They looked at me with wide-open eyes, and I didn't say anything to them other than that they were lucky.

Now, sweetheart, you came to me and told me you were in trouble. We talked a while longer, and I realized that there was some of your story that was not the truth. Maybe you were protecting your illusion of yourself.

But I was left with a decision. I finally had to think of what I would want if I was your mother. I would want to know, even if it made me cry-- which is what your mother did on the phone.

I'm sure you are angry. I hope that one day you will understand that I was afraid for you, and had to make sure someone would take care of you. I will not speak of this with you again unless you bring it up. I was afraid you would fall through the ice and in get in over your head, and not be able to get out. I could hear the cracking, and you could too.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Movie Madness Monday 43: Poor Max edition

Our second Monday in Advent season, and it's time to bury a message here before I completely collapse into the swell of commercialism known as "The Mall."

So this week's Movie Madness Monday is a wide-open extravaganza. Even Polski should be able to post a quote to this 'un.

Here's how we play the game: I give you some preliminary quotes from a movie; you post a quote from the same movie in the comments section without just blatantly outing the name of the film. I will then officially reveal the name of the movie on Thursday.

So here are my teaser quotes for you:

"Oh, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or maybe his head wasn't screwed on just right."

"Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"

"If I can't find a reindeer, I'll make one instead."

"Why, Santie Claus? Why?"

****Thursday Update: Hold on to the Who Hash, It's


Take 2 parts Dr. Seuss-- add 1 part Chuck Jones. Add a twist of Thurl Ravenscraft and Boris Karloff, and you've got a rare and tasty Roast Beast Dinner!

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

The cure for the Season's Grumpiness, in verse

Feeling grumpy? On the edge? You need some holiday cheer!
Go over to California Teacher Guy for some Teacher Carols
here, and here, and here, and here, and here!

If you can't laugh at all of these, you need a mental health day.

The New Citizenship Test, part 2: Could you pass it?

I've previously posted about the new citizenship test that was unveiled, and yet neglected to link to any of the questions. So first, I thought I'd throw a few of the questions from the pilot exam that deal with more than rote memorization at you, and then, if you want, you can answer them and then check here for the answers.

What? You weren't expecting a pop quiz? Bwah ha ha ha ha!

1. Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence.
3. What does the Constitution do?
4. What does “We the People” mean in the Constitution? (Gee, I though an entire war was fought over this one!)
11. What does freedom of religion mean?
29. Why do we have three branches of government?
30. Name one example of checks and balances.
54. What is one thing only a state government can do?
55. What does it mean that the U.S. Constitution is a constitution of limited powers?
80. Name one promise you make when you say the Oath of Allegiance.
82. Name two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy.
95. Why were the colonists upset with the British government?
97. Name one famous battle from the Revolutionary War.

By the way, I will give EXTRA CREDIT for those who can find an error in the answers provided on the website from which I got these questions.

Now keep your eyes on your own paper, and let me see you turn off those cell phones and place them within view. No, you may NOT play your iPod.

When dealing with kids, it pays to be specific.

Talk about your servant leadership! Principal Scott Davies really went out on a limb to encourage his students to read (Well, maybe not a limb, but at least it was a roof in December.)
The principal spent a frigid night on the roof of Harrington Park School in Harrington Park, N.J., after students met his challenge to read 10,000 books months before he expected them to. The school has about 700 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Davies had agreed to let them choose their reward, and they decided to shave the school's "HP" logo in his hair and send him on a rooftop camping excursion.

Davies, 40, headed up after school ended Thursday with a tent and a sleeping bag.

"I knew it would be cold. But I didn't know it would be that cold," he said.

Temperatures plunged into the 20s Thursday night and Friday morning, but Davies -- somewhat steeled by several years of living in Montana -- said he managed to get a few hours of sleep.

I'm not too sure he would have survived in Montana, but at least the students brought him hot chocolate.

This is one brave soul. I'm not sure our roof would hold up under the strain if anyone actually camped out on it, since I'm pretty sure it has the structural integrity of swiss cheese.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yes, that just about sums it up....

Assorted Stuff has a neat link and commentary on an article in Teacher Magazine about all the hats we teachers are supposed to wear in order to fix everything that's wrong in the world.

Go over and check it out!

Wow! Another Milestone!

Sometime today, I registered my 100,000th page viewing since I started this blog! Thank you to all of you for stopping by and visiting! I get so much satisfaction and pleasure from the conversations we have!

I feel like Miss America, but without having to give up eating! I just want to thank all the really great people who have made this possible...

Music Calmes ye Sauvage Beeste

The end of the year doldrums have struck with a fury, and we are all counting down the days until finals week-- although some with a oppressive feeling of dread and doom.

So imagine my pleasure when one of my students presented me with a mix CD with music he had chosen just for me! It was obvious he had put quite a bit of consideration into his choices. I was really touched. And all this new music I get to explore! It has considerably brightened my day.

Some of the artists I already knew: Andrew Bird, Radiohead, and Belle and Sebastian, for instance. But Neutral Milk Hotel was one I'd never heard of before. They have an entire album about Anne Frank that is really fascinating. The Decemberists are also a very interesting group with a kind of folkie alternative sensibility whose album Castaways and Cutouts revolves around the theme of seafarers and castaways, and their latest, The Crane Wife, is just amazing and impossible to describe. I also like the Elliot Smith track he chose-- this was a name I'd heard before but had never actually listened to the music.

And turnabout is fair play-- I introduced him to the wonders of Wilco, of U2 before they became big mainstream sellouts and to the fun of They Might Be Giants. I mean-- kids with whom I can talk at lunch about Morissey! See, just when I despair about the popularity of Ashlee Simpson and Justin Timberlake, along comes some kids with some taste and independence to give me hope. Of course, these are kids who read literature and poetry for fun. They remind me of someone....

So I am happily listening to this new music, and am so grateful to have students who are so thoughtful. Between that and the really cool Moxy Fruvous avalanche I received from a dear friend, I am really dwelling in musical bliss. This early Christmas gift was so much better than another apple ornament for the tree. And if you haven't heard these artists, you should give them a listen.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Carnival of Education is Elementary, my dear Watson...

Go over and see the 96th edition of the Carnival of Education at History is Elementary!

ElementaryHistoryTeacher has somehow managed to put together a fabulous edition with all kinds of entries from all over the edusphere!

Go see!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Good thing it didn't ask about the plural of "you..."

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Now, who's surprised? Anybody else who says I come from the Midwest gets a mouth full of knuckles, hear?

How long until you think I get asked about this one?

I have a classroom full of ninth grade boys.

Yes, weep for me. Unless you do that all day. Then I will weep for you.

But anyway, how long do you think it will take for them to bring THIS ONE up in conversation?

I'm betting first thing tomorrow. Any takers?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

School security-- how important is it?

There's a mixed bag in the latest report on violence in the schools.
At least 21 people were killed at school during the 2004-05 academic year, a slight increase from the year before, the government reported Sunday.

The study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics does not include data from fatal shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania this fall. In Pennsylvania, five Amish girls were killed by a milk truck driver who then turned the gun on himself.

Overall, fewer students reported being the victims of violent crime at school or school-sponsored events in 2004-2005, the study by the Justice Department agency shows. Additionally, school-age children remain far more likely to be assaulted, raped and robbed off school grounds than on.

The study looked at violent crime against students over several periods.

The 21 killings at school-related events, between July 2004 and June 2005, targeted victims between age 5 and 18, said Katrina Baum, co-author of the 2006 Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Over the previous year, 19 people were killed.

It was not immediately clear whether all the victims were students. Still, the preliminary data indicate that students were about 50 times more likely in the 2003-04 school year to be killed away from school than at school, the report shows.

Overall school violence has shown a declining trend, although it has increased lately.

The study notes that four of every 1,000 students in 2004 reported being the victim of violent crimes, compared with six of every 1,000 in 2003. Researchers polled students between 12 and 18 for that part of the survey, co-written by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.

Younger students were found to be more likely crime victims — including those injured by bullies, the report showed.

Last year, 28 percent of students polled said they had been bullied.

Also last year, 24 percent of students questioned said that gangs were at their schools — up 3 percent from 2003. The rates of fights, drinking alcoholic beverages, and weapons found at schools remained at 2003 levels, the report noted.

This year we've seen some horrific incidents: the slaughters in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, in Colorado, in Vermont, in Tennesee.

Last week we had a secret intruder drill, and the person found an open door on the side of the building and was moving about in the building for several minutes until he was finally stopped by an administrator.

Why does this happen? I don't know. I do know that we are supposed to have kids wear photo IDs, although we are not allowed, supposedly by the school board, to insist they wear them until they have actually arrived in their first period class, nor are they required to wear them as soon as the final bell rings.

I do know that I probably ask students where their IDs are at least-- no exaggeration here-- 40 times each day, including in the cafeteria. Many of the people I ask attend our alternative program, which is regrettably onsite, in which they are not required to wear IDs even though it is school board policy. Many of these students look like adults (and some look like they could play drums for System of a Down) and they don't get challenged until I see them. I don't know why they are allowed to ignore a policy that supposedly is so important to the security of our building. I don't know why I am the only person on cafeteria duty who asks kids to put on their IDs. I know that if I actually wrote referrals on these kids, that is all I would do all day long-- and no matter what is occasionally said, this would NOT be a welcome move from an administrative standpoint. Now in the first weeks of school, when I would ask these kids to put on their IDs, they would tell me that they didn't have to because they were in the special program. When I continued to calmly insist they put their IDs on, they said that they were told to leave them with their teachers so they wouldn't "lose" their IDs-- why this matters, since they never have to wear them, I do not know. So now, when they come to the lunch room, they are wearing temporary ID stickers to make the mean lady happy.

So I know that we could do a far better job on security in our own district. I just don't know how that is going to happen if we are supposed to have an ID policy, but we are supposed to ask pretty please every time a kid blatantly ignores the policy.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Another brick in the wall, and a leak in the ceiling...

Over at NCLBlog they issue a challenge regarding the state of facilities for our schoolchildren. And I am willing to do my small bit.

Here is the Land Between the Coasts, we often see the many problems with facilities. In my suburban school district, we see the following:
1. They put flat roofs on buildings in areas that get a goodly amount of snow and rain, then wonder why the roof leaks. Idiocy. It may have been cheaper in the beginning, but I guarantee it has cost more in upkeep over the years to repair the leaks. I once had a room that leaked so badly I had to cover my computer with a tarp when I went home at night. It leaked so badly that we had an actual waterfall flowing down the wall. It leaked so badly that one of the ceiling tiles completely disintegrated overnight, and walked in in the morning to find a sodden pile of pulp and rivulets of water extending all the way to the wall. It took 8 years to get it fixed. I have only had to teach without buckets dotting the floor for two years now.

2. During asbestos abatement, they kept us in the building, which could have been fine. But when the ceiling tile mentioned above disintegrated, it exposed a sign in the ceiling warning of the presence of asbestos. The assistant principal told me that I would only be exposed to a small amount of asbestos and should ignore the sign. Instead, I buttonholed the superintendent the next day at district HQ. It still took a week to get the holw covered.

3. The mold and mildew problem in this building was so bad that one staff member had to have polyps removed from her sinuses. I was placed on three different inhalers after never needing an inhaler before in my life.

4. Mice travel along the dedicated cables for the electrical infrastrure connecting the rooms-- the holes for the cables were too big, and they never re-spackled to seal the holes shut. Now that it is wintertime, I know I will be called on by numerous screaming staff members to catch the mice that invade their rooms, since I believe sticky traps are horrifyingly cruel and am pretty good at catching them.

5. It took me two years to get a maintenance person to fix the window I had with the broken latch. I have previously regaled you with that little tale.

What does it say to our students to spend the day in crumbling facilities? It says that this is is not a serious place for learning. It says that kids are expected to put up with substandard facilities and that they don't matter. Not to mention the fact that this type of environemnt is extremely unhealthy for them. And what does it do to us, the staff? Allergies, asthma attacks, sinus polyps, headaches-- and even worse, time off from work!

Our schools should be clean and safe, inside and out. The AFT has announced a new campaign, entitled "Building Minds, Minding Buildings," and you can find the report and an outline of the program here. If this country can help a major metropolitan area recover from a devastating hurricane-- no wait, scratch that-- if we can help Western Europe recover from the devastation of World War II, we need to be willing to direct just as much effort toward showing that children and education are really part of those vaunted family value everyone likes to talk about so much.

Movie Madness Monday 42: The duck is smiling at me edition

Movie Madness Monday time! Here's how we play: I give you some quotes from a movie, and you respond with quotes of your own in the comment section. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Thursday so that everyone gets a chance to play.

Even though it's more than a week since Thanksgiving, I am setting the table for you here with a juicy one-- so get to it!

"Only one thing in the world could've dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window."

"Some men are Baptists, others Catholics-- my father was an Oldsmobile man."

"It's... it's... it's indescribably beautiful! It reminds me of the Fourth of July!"

"Oh yeah?"
"Well, I double-DOG-dare ya!"

"All right. Now, are you ready to tell me where you heard that word?"
(Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master. But, I chickened out and said the first name that came to mind.)

"Aunt Clara had for years not only perpetually labored under the delusion that I was 4 years old, but also a girl."

"The duck-- it's... it's-- SMILING at me!"

****Thursday Update: It's time for a classic,


Every kid needs an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! Unless you're afraid of shooting your eye out!

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Maybe the principal didn't say "I REALLY mean it!"

Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville, Ill. has expelled 12 students for a premeditated fight on November 9:
It started with a party invitation — or lack thereof. It ended in a minute-long fight and expulsions from school that could narrow the futures of a dozen young lives.

Between the dust-up in the Edwardsville High School cafeteria on Nov. 9 and a somber School Board meeting at which the expulsions were announced 11 days later, school officials say, they carefully followed a scripted process, including interviews and hearings. The students had an opportunity to bring attorneys, cross-examine, make statements and offer character witnesses.

"It's almost like a mini court proceeding," said Merry Rhoades, the Edwardsville School District's attorney.

In most states, including Illinois and Missouri, the school expulsion process proceeds behind closed doors to protect the privacy of the students. But school officials and lawyers say students are given the opportunity to mount a defense much like in a court of law.

"The school districts try to make it fair, and by law they have to make it fair," said Melanie Keeney, a St. Louis-based attorney who specializes in education law and whose firm represents the Edwardsville district.

But to at least some of the students involved in the fight, the end result doesn't seem fair at all. One parent said she was considering taking the matter to court.

Whitney Blockton is an honors student who was expelled 16 days before a planned early graduation. "I definitely take responsibility for what I did. It was wrong,'' she said. ''Fighting is never the answer. But … I think expulsion was a little too hard. I think they had already made their minds up."

A perceived slight
The feud stemmed from a perceived slight in October, when a handful of girls weren't invited to a party. Tension grew between two groups. School administrators learned of the brewing problem, and, according to Superintendent Ed Hightower, "spent an enormous amount of time with each of the students involved in an attempt to mediate and provide conflict resolution."

On Nov. 3, the administration called the parents of seven students to tell them about the problem and urged them to come to school with their children for a meeting Nov. 6. At that meeting, seven students and some parents signed a pledge saying they would try to avoid the other group and be respectful of them. If they violated the pledge, they were told, they could face police or school discipline.

But on Nov. 8, on the MySpace.com website, "both groups communicated their plans to fight" the following day, Hightower said. And on the morning of Nov. 9, they met in the commons area of the school, and several punches were thrown. There were no weapons involved, no serious injuries, and school officials and police officers broke up the fight in about a minute. Eleven girls and one boy were suspended. Some of the girls were arrested: three were charged with misdemeanors, three others spent the weekend in jail, charged with mob action, a felony.

Last week, at Hightower's recommendation, the School Board voted unanimously to expel all 12 from the district for a year.

Parents speak out
At least two sets of parents say they wish the school had contacted them earlier to let them know about the feud. William Blockton, Whitney's father, said his wife, Nicholee, had called the school to warn administrators that their girls had been threatened. Another parent, Marqueta Lott, said she tried to call the school on Nov. 8 and the morning of Nov. 9 to warn them about the fight. (The school's phone system does not take messages before and after school.)

''I feel like they are getting punished over and over and over,'' said Nicholee Blockton "I agree with the suspension, but everyone had a role." She said she believes the school should have done more than simply "monitor the situation."

Hightower says his team did everything it could to warn students and their parents about the simmering feud and the consequences of a fight.

"We've got 2,500 good kids at Edwardsville High School, and every parent thinks that his or her daughter is the absolute best kid in the world. They should feel that way," Hightower said. "But does that give them a right to go infringing on other peoples' right to an education, even if you're an honors student?"

Discipline process
In Illinois, where 3,322 public school students were expelled last year, the expulsion process is laid out in the state school code. In Missouri the process is decided district by district.

Each school, typically, has a list of expellable offenses in its handbook, and when a student commits one of those offenses, he or she is generally suspended by an administrator. Under the rules in Illinois, an administrator can suspend a student for up to 10 days.

Within those 10 days, the school can enlist the help of a hearing officer who acts as a fact-finder — which Edwardsville does — or the school board can hear the matter directly. If a district uses a hearing officer, that person holds a hearing with the student and parents, plus anyone the family wants to bring into the process — an attorney or character witnesses, for example. The officer, often a school attorney or former administrator, also talks with administrators, teachers and staff members. The officer presents a written report to the board at a special closed meeting, where the students or parents are allowed to make a final statement. Then, in an open meeting, the superintendent makes a recommendation, and the board votes on punishment.

"They can present all the evidence they'd like," said Greg Moats, superintendent of the Belleville High School District. His district expelled 25 students last year, according to state statistics, and has expelled 15 this year. "It's not necessarily a rubber stamp. They ask a lot of questions."

In the Edwardsville case, Hightower said, he sent letters to parents advising them of their rights and telling them that they would be given as much time as they needed to make their case at a hearing on Nov. 16.

At those hearings, Hightower said, the officer tape-recorded the testimony. "He reviews the evidence, the documentation, and he makes an independent assessment and he reports it to the board," Hightower said.

Neither the Blocktons nor the Lotts had attorneys at the hearings, they said. (The families of several other students could not be reached for comment.)

"We had our little hearing, then we had five minutes to make our plea," said William Blockton. "In all honesty, they had made up their minds. I apologized … I just asked them to give her one more chance."

A final decision
For Hightower, the experience was clearly a difficult one, but he said the safety considerations of other students left the district without a choice. "I have 7,500 students in this district and with violence in the schools these days, we take these issues very seriously," he said. "In my 11 years, we've expelled only 21 students. That speaks for itself.

"There's no appeals process within the district," Hightower said. "The board made the final decision."

Rhoades, the school district's attorney, said parents could appeal the decision through the courts. But, she said, school district decisions "typically aren't overturned because there's great weight given to a school administrator's authority in keeping a school safe."

The expelled students now have few choices.

"An expulsion from one public school essentially expels them from all public schools," said Cullen Cullen, the assistant superintendent at the Madison County Regional Office of Education. "They need what's called a 'student in good standing' form to transfer, and they won't have that. They can go to private schools, but there's nothing in the law that compels them to accept them."

The regional office runs a school where the students may be able to make up course work, and they may be able to pursue correspondence courses or wait for summer school.

Whitney Blockton was thinking about going to college and pursing a degree in psychology, with a minor in criminal justice. Now she's unsure how she'll earn her high school diploma.

"She has a battery on her record," her mother said. "It's going to be a struggle for Whitney."

There's some backstory here. On the day the expulsions were decided, Superintendent Ed Hightower remarked, "Generally when a fight occurs, suspensions result. What takes this incident to the next level is the calculation and premeditation involved, as well as the blatant disregard for the efforts of many professionals who attempted to help these students resolve their differences."

These young ladies were willing to get in a brawl over not receiving an invitation to a party. They were given plenty of mediation to try to resolve the dispute, and ample warnings from the school administration regarding what would happen if they escalated the dispute to the physical level. They then exhibited premeditation by planning the fight on MySpace. When they receive the consequences that they were warned about, they claim that they have been unfairly treated. How does the mother think these kids "were punished over and over?" Would it be when the students were counseled over and over to try to avoid the brawl in the first place? What else could the school district have done? What could the parents have done that might have impressed upon these young ladies that they needed to act like young ladies on the verge of adulthood?

The expulsions probably stemmed from the fact that these girls were counselled and mediated and warned, and yet they insisted on DELIBERATELY initiating a melee in the hallways of the school. How many warnings does someone need? After all that, the decision to plan and initiate a fight shows that these girls had no intention of behaving like students, but instead like a wolfpack. Despite all the best efforts of school officials, no matter what the students now say (no doubt at the advice of attorneys), they coolly decided that fighting definitely WAS the answer.

And how was the initial insult commensurate with the resolution? How was it reflective of the initial conflict? Where, in all of this, do they show any understanding of how they disrupted the learning environment, endangered others, and disregarded all attempts to help them behave appropriately? The fighters themselves could have been seriously injured. Bystanders could have been seriously injured. The adults involved in breaking up the fight could have been seriously injured. They plotted the particulars of the fight on a webpage-- newsflash, kids, these can be read by anyone, including adults!-- and then carried this willful decision to fight into the arena-- I mean, the school building.

These were not the actions of the heat of the moment, but premeditated violence. These students have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted not to disrupt the learning environment again, if they should so decide.

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