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

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Okay, rookie, we're gonna put you in: Suggestions for setting up your classroom

I imagine that there are scads of people out there in the world who have gotten the happy news that they have been hired for the upcoming school year. There are more hopefuls who are currently undergoing that agony known as interviewing as they search for their first teaching contract.

Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as an official Wizened Veteran of the Classroom (I prefer this term to Ancient Hidebound Broad) to share the knowledge I have gained through sweat, toil, and personal peril lo, these many years, as a lion-tamer pedagogue. Several of my edusphere friends have also generously contributed their insight. This post has now become a kind of "Carnival of Classroom Survival," in fact!

First, oh paduan, consider classroom management.

Have only the rules you are willing to consistently enforce, and consistently enforce the rules you have. Have general classroom expectations written up in a succinct style, avoiding "Don't"s, and hand them out the first day of school. Try to keep the expectations to five.

Post the learning goal and agenda for the day on the board every day. Include homework to be assigned and due date.

Never threaten a consequence to a student unless you are actually willing to follow through with it. This is vital in making your life easier for the rest of the year. You must be a person of your word.

Write referrals only after you have attempted lesser consequences, including privately conferencing with the student and calling the student's guardian. If the student is displaying certain kinds of emotional outbursts which seem "over the top" or otherwise unwarranted, you might also consider a non-discipline referral to the counselor, if you have access to them. You will earn the disdain of your administrators if you write up students without following these steps first. Furthermore, some administrators will use your "failure" to attempt to deal with the situation yourself as an excuse to refuse to act upon their part. Linda adds: "Read the student discipline code, and frame any disciplinary referrals in EXACTLY those words. I failed to do this last year, in a new school, and didn't realize that the magic word (level 2 offense) was "disrespectful". When that word was used, the administration acted."

Keep track of each attempt you have made to deal with a difficulty. When the Wizened Veteran was starting out, she kept a binder divided by class period, with a sheet for each student she had had to discipline. I have also used a computer, but a binder is more portable. Whether on paper or on computer, this is an easy reference to use, but keep it secure. I did not fill this out in front of the students.

Don't be afraid to call guardians. If you call a guardian and only get an answering machine or voicemail, leave a message for the guardian asking him or her to call in a pleasantly neutral voice and record when you did this. Don't get into the gory details in a message.

Before calling, find out what the name of the student's guardian is, and what relationship that person has to the student. Don't assume that they share a last name or that they are necessarily the mother or father. Loads of kids are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and even older siblings. In fact, as mister teacher relates, don't make assumptions based on appearance about guardians upon meeting them, either. Everyone used to think that my mother was my grandmother, for instance, because she was older than the other parents. Another teacher adds, "Not all teachers have to worry about this, but in addition to finding out who lives at home, etc, I have to find out what language they speak so I can have an interpreter ready if the need be." This is also something which is a consideration more often than you might think. Of course, I once had a kid whose parents spoke Russian, so there wasn't much help there. For that problem, I have two words for you: Babel Fish. You can type text in and get a pretty reasonable translation back in all kinds of languages. I have used it with great success.

Aprilmay also has an excellent suggestion: "Find the adult who has the most influence on the child when you need to deal with serious issues. It can take some work, but oftentimes a "Nana" or favorite auntie can work wonders when it comes to motivation!" I have had hardened thugs who quaked in the face of a harsh word from Gramma.

Start your conversation by expressing your faith in the student to resolve the issue. Try, "Hello Mrs. Pzzlethwt? I am Junior Pzzlethwt's math teacher at Extraordinary High School. How are you today?"

Then, remember, a gentle word turns away wrath, as this lovely lady once demonstrated. Euphemisms are your friend! "Junior has some exceptional verbal skills, and I was hoping you could help me in persuading him to use them at the correct time." (This means Junior never shuts up.) Always remark that you know Junior has the potential to do better, and thank the guardian for their help in advance.

Don't ever get into a contest of wills with a parent or a student. They don't have to agree with you-- as in, your attitude should calmly be, "You don't have to agree with me, but this is what will happen..." And sorry to say, guardians get to be rude to you with few consequences, but you will be nailed if you are rude to them.

Script the basic gist of what is said during the phone call, and keep that in your binder, along with time and date of call. I once pulled this out when a parent insisted I call her from the principal's office, and very mildly read back to her her own words which she was denying. She had been insisting that I had never contacted her about her darling's difficulty. When she saw that I had a record of every conversation, complete with time and duration of call, she gave up. As our friend nyc educator points out, this also helps cover one's posterior with one's administrators.

Emails, if you have the means, are even better, but still be diplomatic in your wording, because, remember, emails can be forwarded a million times over without your knowledge. And keep a copy of the email you sent-- I printed them out and saved them in the binder.

Start the class on time. Do not cheat the students who are on time in the name of stragglers who stumble in tardy.

Model good behavior. I personally say please and thank you to my students. I somehow have difficulty hearing students who do not extend the same courtesy to me. It's a very strange form of deafness.

Try to get the students on your side when it comes to classroom management. It is actually much more effective if a student knows that his peers will not tolerate his goofing off or disrupting class.

Graycie has another good point: "Walk out amongst'em. Sometimes just standing next to a kid and smiling without breaking the flow of what you are saying to the whole class will stop her dead in her tracks." Slowly move around the room, if your instruction permits it. It will keep all the students on their toes, encourage participation, and keep heads from drooping.

Mr. Lawrence makes an excellent suggestion to which I personally adhere. Consider placing your desk at the backs of your students. This enables you to see what is going on unobtrusively. Students will realize this and they will stay on task with much less prompting. Our district has laptop computers that the students can use. With my desk behind the students, I can view screens easily to see what exactly they're looking at on the 'net- whether they're actually doing research or if they're trying to IM their friends or access Facebook.

Keep the students engaged until the bell rings. Remember, you-- NOT the bell-- dismiss the class. Otherwise, each day the students will knock off a bit earlier.

Mike in Texas reminds us, "Trust, but verify." When a child claims that she has done the technicolor yawn, tossed his cookies, ralphed, whatever-- make sure she has. Oh, and watch for the finger-down-the-throat trick before a quiz or test.

And seriously, if a student feels ill, goes to the restroom, and doesn't come back in four or five minutes, send a trustworthy kid of the same gender to go check on her. She may have passed out in there, or she may be scamming and roaming the halls. In either case, you want to know.

Darren adds: "'Without' is a powerful word. When giving instructions, simultaneously tell students what you want them to do (using concrete terms) and what you don't want them to do. 'Please open your textbooks to page 73 without talking.' Telling students to "be quiet" doesn't work; telling them what to do (take out your textbooks) and what not to do (without talking) does. Give it a try!"

Now, let us consider supplies.

Part of your job as a teacher is to reinforce a burgeoning sense of personal responsibility in your young charges.

If you keep pencils or pens on your desk, they will disappear. If you can afford this, fine. However, a word of warning. If you consistently give out pencils or paper or whatever, expect your students to regularly come to class without them, knowing that you will remove this responsibility from their shoulders. Your choice. I use very bizarre novelty pens for myself, and anyone trying to cadge one of these would be busted immediately.

Same thing with textbooks. If you give out textbooks to those who do not bring theirs, soon no one will bring their texts to class. If you want to distribute ten of them every class period and lose five minutes of teaching time, that's your choice, but plan accordingly. Make sure you take them up at the end of the period (another five minutes lost there) or you will be missing a whole slew of books by the third week of school. And while you're managing this distribution, what are the other students doing?

I like keeping a little box of golf pencils in my desk for those who cannot master their writing utensil management skills. Students tend not to want to borrow these more than once. You can also keep a cup of used pencils you have found in the hallway for distribution. I personally also like to have my dog or a convenient toddler to put chew marks on them so they won't be so appealing to those who seem need some assistance from St. Anthony of Padua in this regard.

On the other hand, be on the lookout for a student who cannot afford supplies. I often claim to have "found" spirals or pencils for these students lying around unclaimed in my classroom, and privately let them know what a favor they would be doing me if they could possibly put them to use instead of forcing me to harm the environment by discarding them. These items are often found for sale in bulk at the end of July through the first few days of September. You can often buy spirals for a dime-- those that are sold this way are called "loss-leaders" because the supply stores take a beating on them to get you into the store. I buy about thirty for myself each year, and those I don't use, I donate to a needy school affiliated with my house of worship.

Q's personal legend has a neat system: "I also have a station in the room for stuff the kids can use: stapler, hand sanitizer, hole punch, kleenex, etc. And, (you will laugh), I made large magic marker outlines of these things on the table. It looks funny, but the kids always return it to its 'home,' and I don't have to keep saying, 'Where is my stapler?!'"

And, since teachers are often klutzy because we are rushed, and kids are just klutzy in general, I suggest you keep the following things on hand in your desk in a little box (one of my students made one for me): Shout wipes, plug-in air fresheners, odor neutralizer spray, antiperspirant, a needle and some thread, safety pins, peppermints, lotion, astringent, cotton pads (like the ones used by the nurse), latex gloves, bandaids, and a flashlight with working batteries. I once had the power go out for TWO HOURS in a room with no windows. And we were instructed to keep the kids in the room while they tried to fix it. Fun.

Now, let's deal with presentation and attitude.

Boy Scout motto? Be prepared. Teacher motto? OVERPLAN. Always have more activities on hand than you can possibly use in a class period.

Have a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh gently at yourself. Self-deprecation goes a long way to establishing a sense of rapport with your students.

Keep a folder on your desk in case you ever need a sub. I label it "SUB FOLDER" in really large, bright letters. Include in it your classroom expectations, UPDATED seating charts, complete with pronunciation guides if needed, and an emergency lesson for each class in case you get hit by a runaway oxcart on the way to work and have no chance to send in real lesson plans. Make it simple, but interesting. Mr. Lawrence, who works as a substitute, echoes this advice. You cannot expect the students to read quietly for two hours for a sub. (There are all kinds of books in the bookstore or classroom supply stores that have suggestions for cute little activities, if your brain is befuddled.) I usually include at least one activity which must be turned in by the end of class to keep the students occupied. Once again, OVERPLAN, leaving the sub the option of granting the students a reprieve on a deadline or on an assignment if they behave superbly. Carrots and sticks, people, is better when you've need more carrot rather than more stick. In the classroom expectations, you would be wise to spell out your policies on quizzes and tests, such as "All quizzes are to be done individually by the students, not as group work or in 'Jeopardy' format." I have had subs who have allowed students to use their books on unit tests or to do them as a group. No kidding.

Always err toward joking rather than bitching with your coworkers. You make a first impression only once, but you can ruin your reputation over and over.

Spangles, one of our colleagues, notes, "Eat lunch with your colleagues. It builds bonds, lets you form a friendly relationship, and gets you out of the classroom for at least a few minutes. You might give it up later, but it's a worth a start. I was a young new teacher and I formed a strong bond with my older, wiser team members because I ate lunch with them each and every day. It made it easier to laugh at myself and my students." Excellent advice. Your colleagues are your lifeline.

However, unless you have the metabolism of a three-year-old, avoid cafeteria food and bring your lunch. Cafeteria food includes a percentage of fat and amount of calories geared toward growing young bodies. If you don't want a widening older body, stay away from the ersatz nachos and mystery meat chili and the turkey burgers. But don't skip lunch.

Do not get angry, and strive not to take things personally. If the kids know they can provoke you, they will try to do it at every opportunity. Remember the scene in Finding Nemo when Bruce gets a whiff of Dory's blood? Avoid tempting your students in this fashion. I personally get quieter when students are crossing the line. Work on developing a "look" which strikes wrongdoers dumb. Works wonders.

Our colleague Tree_Story adds: "Your best friends can be the custodians and front office secretary. Be courteous and always say thank you and they can make your year soooo much nicer." Happychyck includes the building or district tech person in this golden circle of demigods, and rightly so.

Graycie reminds us: "Never be afraid to say, 'I don't know. How can we find out?'" Then have the students actually find the answer. The goal of teaching students is to enable them to get along without a teacher. Don't just abandon questions they've asked to which you do not know the answer-- these are the questions which have sparked their interest, and a good teacher wants to fan that spark into an inferno.

And finally, consider health maintenance.

Wear comfortable shoes with some support. Teachers have some of the worst back problems of all professions because we spend so much time on our feet. Avoid heels. You will rarely sit down.

Keep yourself hydrated.

You've heard of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out)? Remember WIWO (Water In, Water Out). Yes, since what goes in must come out, also try to avoid the common teacher pitfall of not going to the can until 4 pm. You will get kidney and bladder problems, and with your insurance, you can't afford that.

Offer students a couple of points of extra credit to bring in two good boxes of tissue at the start of the school year if your school does not provide the good stuff. You'll thank me during flu season.

Have two trash cans in your room: one for student use, and one for you. You'll see why this is health related in a second.

Have two boxes of tissue out at any one time. One box should be hidden away for you, and the used tissues go into your personal trash can, which I stash behind my desk. The other box is for the students, and should be placed away from your desk or where you stand most often in the room. The student trash can goes under this box of tissue, and away from you. You will avoid a LOT of colds this way. Trust me. With your insurance, you can't afford that either, not to mention that it takes FOUR hours to write lesson plans for a seven hour day.

Keep disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer in your desk. Wipe down the surfaces of your desk regularly, including phone, particularly if Mary Typhus, who is hacking up a storm, has just used your phone to talk to her mom. Clean the student desks and the doorknob every once in a while, as well.

Finally, if you are really sick, don't go to school. You will make yourself worse, and end up using the princely number of sick days you have been allotted in one mad swoop.

Well, those are some of my sure-fire, handy dandy tips. If anyone has any others, I'd be glad to add them on with credit given.

Now, go get 'em, Tiger.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flag amendment goes down in flames

In a minor triumph of common sense, the Senate failed to approve the flag-burning amendment by one vote yesterday. I believe this amendment is not only unnecessary but a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment. Burning the flag is a hateful action, but a protected action that happens maybe three times a year. The point of the First Amendment was not to protct popular speech, but to protect unpopular speech.

When you burn my flag, you offend me. But my offense does not justify the abandonment of wise principles embodied in the Bill of Rights. This is why we also have to occasionally tolerate people parading around in sheets and other political and yet offensive behavior.

But you know, someone has spoken of this issue far better than I ever could. From Quaker Dave's blog:
Most of the time, when we see a flag being burned on television, it's being done in some other country. For some reason, somebody over wherever gets mad at us, and out comes a ratty looking faux flag and some lighter fluid. This happens most often in places like, well, Iran. Did you know that no democratic nation on earth has a law in place banning desecration if its own flag? Most other countries don't, either. Know which ones do? Iran, for one. You can burn an American flag there, but you will be in a whole lot of trouble if you burn an Iranian flag. It's illegal - and probably really dangerous - to burn a flag in Communist China. Same in Cuba. Iraq had a law like the one now being debated here under Saddam. Nazi Germany banned flag desecration, too. That's it. Now, I really don't like the idea that our country would be added to that short list if this proposal became law. Do you?

And in answer to those who claim that our fallen soldiers fought to protect the flag, I would simply say that I think they also fought to protect our way of life and our Constitution-- at least that's what my dad told me his reasons were. We are one of the few nations on Earth that allows people the freedom to speak as they wish, so long as they are not physically harming someone. Every time we have abrogated these principles-- John Adams and the Federalists in an attempt to stifle political debate in 1798, the Wilson administration during World War I-- the verdict of history has been opprobrium.

Do not grandstand with the American flag. It is too precious for that.

Carnival of education #73

It used to be the Bonny Glen, but now it's the Lilting House (which makes me think of the Napping House, one of my kids' favorite books....

Anyway, the Carnival of Education is open for business at The Lilting House where everyone obviously speaks with a charming accent.

I've done the linking. Now you do the reading. Just go over and peruse....

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Favoring legal immigration over demonizing illegal immigrants

This guy is completely out-of-bounds. Actually, given his family connection, for some reason the catchphrase "In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts" comes to mind....
A Republican gubernatorial candidate's call for creation of a forced labor camp for illegal immigrants drew rebukes Friday from two GOP lawmakers, who labeled it a low point in the immigration debate.

Don Goldwater, nephew of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, caused an international stir this week when EFE, a Mexican news service, quoted him as saying he wanted to hold undocumented immigrants in camps to use them "as labor in the construction of a wall and to clean the areas of the Arizona desert that they're polluting."

The article described Goldwater's plan as a "concentration camp" for migrants.

Goldwater, a candidate for governor in Arizona, said in a statement Friday that his comments were taken out of context. He said he was calling for a work program for convicted nonviolent felons, similar to "tried and tested, effective and accepted practices" used by state and local jails.

But two Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) and Rep. Jim Kolbe (news, bio, voting record), called Goldwater's comments "deeply offensive" and asked state Republicans to reject his candidacy in the Sept. 12 primary.

"That Mr. Goldwater is either unaware of or indifferent to the loaded symbolism, injustice and un-Americanism of his 'plan' to address the many serious issues caused by illegal immigration reveals his flaws as a candidate and a stunning lack of respect for the basic values of a generous and decent society," McCain said in a statement.

Kolbe said that if the comments are true, Goldwater "has demonstrated his complete unworthiness for public office, and I am confident he will be soundly rejected by Republicans from the party of Barry Goldwater, who consistently demonstrated his compassion and respect for all people. This is a sad day in the national debate on immigration policy."

McCain and Kolbe favor a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants.

Goldwater made a similar comment at an April anti-immigration rally.

"Build us that wall — now!" Goldwater said, referring to a proposal to add 700 miles of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border. He promised then that if elected, he would put illegal immigrants in a tent city on the border and use their labor to build the wall.

Barry Goldwater, the former Arizona senator, was the Republican presidential nominee in 1964.

First, let's note that the comments were printed in a Mexican paper, an the obvious agenda here must be noted. Nonetheless, he has made these statements in public previously.

I understand why illegal immigrants want to come to this country. Unfortunately, I also understand why many business leaders support their quest: to pay them substandard wages and have them endure sustandard conditions where they can't complain for fear of being unceremoniously dumped back home. And there are laws on the books that make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants. These laws are unenforced.

Increasing the supply of workers drives down wages, which makes it more difficult for workers to fulfill their real role in the economy: as consumers foolishly enslaved to rampant use of credit.

The last time our country faced this kind of labor problem was the turn of the 20th century. Native born workers attempted to form unions, but employers turned to immigrants to keep labor divided and to keep wages low. This then caused a very emotion-laden backlash against immigrants. The problem of workers being unable to earn a living wage was only solved in the ensuing era of immigration restriction, which was unfortunately also caused by the kind of rampant nativism espoused by the younger Mr. Goldwater here.

I believe we have to encourage people to come to this country legally. Providing amnesty only encourages further waves of undocumented, unprotected immigrants who, whether in this country or their home country, are treated as less than pawns by the governments in question. Is it the duty of our country to decrease the righteous demands within other counties to attempt to ensure economic and social justice for their people? Vicente Fox seems to think so.

But to use concentration camps? Not only is it morally indefensible, but it's attacking the problem from the wrong side. It's the people who illegally hire these workers and encourage the breaking of our laws who are damaging our country and our economy. Perhaps they should be ponying up for the increased costs of monitoring our nation's borders.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Just call me "Spot..."

I guess that means the new puppy has just been trying to blog all over the house. That makes it better.

Movie Madness Monday: Hey 19! edition

Time again for my little game of movie quotes and trivia known as Movie Madness Monday. I supply some quotes from movie, you include a favorite quote of yours from the same movie in the comments section. On Wednesday, I reveal the name of the movie. What could be simpler?

So here we go!

"That was the end of Grogan. The man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible."

"My minimum price for taking a stranded woman to a telephone is four hundred dollars."
"Will you take three hundred and seventy five in travelers' checks?"
"American Express?"
"Of course."
"You got a deal."

"Those were Italian!"
"Now, they're practical."

"Oh, God, I do love those flyboys!"

"They told you I had a car? They are such comedians! They mean my little mule-- Pepe!"

"But if there was one law of the West, it was 'Bastards have brothers, who seemed to ride forever.'"

Have fun, now!

****Wednesday Update: This week's flick is that classic adventure/action/romance

Romancing the Stone!

Michael Douglas never looked finer, and let's see, his current bride was about 11 when this came out, wasn't she? This movie really changed my attitude toward alligators, too.

If you haven't seen this one in a while, head over to the video store and give it a ride-- it's held up really well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Equal opportunity to cheer?

Apparently, Missouri is not the only state discussing cheerleading this summer.

Michigan's state athletic association is being asked by the American Civil Liberties Union to reconsider its ban on boys in postseason cheerleading tournaments:
The American Civil Liberties Union wants the state's governing body for high school athletics to reconsider a policy keeping boys out of the postseason tournament for competitive cheerleading.

But the Michigan High School Athletic Association questioned the timing of the ACLU's request, since the rules about boys in competitive cheer tournaments were changed in December 2003, The Detroit News reported.

In a letter dated Friday to the MHSAA, Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of ACLU Michigan, said the ACLU wished to "strongly urge" a change in the rules. Steinberg told the newspaper that litigation is possible.

"Postseason competition is a big thing in high schools, and to forbid participation on the basis of sex hurts both boys and girls," Steinberg said.

When Michigan high schools start the 2006-07 year in August, boys no longer will be able to participate in the competitive cheerleading postseason tournament. The ACLU says that violates federal law.

MHSAA spokesman John Johnson expressed puzzlement at the timing of the letter.

"There certainly was enough time for a response to be made earlier than five weeks before those rules officially take effect," Johnson said.

Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Saturday that the policy was only recently brought to the attention of the ACLU.

By MHSAA rules, Johnson said, boys are not allowed in MHSAA postseason tournament competition for girls in any sport but could compete in regular-season competition if competing schools agree.

In my previous post about cheerleading, there was also a mention in the comments about boys being kept off cheerleading teams.

In my previous post about Title IX, I mentioned that "...the law prohibited sex discrimination in not just athletic opportunities but also in admissions, courses, financial aid, and educational counseling, among other things, for students in American public schools."

People need to remember that the term "sex discrimination" does not merely apply to actions against females. Sex discrimination involves prohibiting anyone from participating in an activity for which they are physically and attitudinally qualified. That includes boys who want to serve as cheerleaders. After all, what is so preposterous about this idea? Cheerleading has become a highly athleticized activity. Cheerleaders don't just memorize insipid little quatrains and wave pompons. They build human pyramids and balance other cheerleaders upon their legs, shoulders, and even outstretched arms. They throw other cheerleaders through the air ("flyers," as my friend Fred tells me). Cheerleading today requires strength. Even the most hardened chauvinist will agree that males are known for having strength, and thus, would be an asset in an activity which requires strength and agility.

It seems pretty obvious that cheerleading is not just a female activity. Ladies. and gentlemen, I present exhibit one:
the HEAD CHEERLEADER of Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1963. You probably now recognize him as the chief executive of the United States, George W. Bush. Some might even say that his experience as a cheerleader is useful to him in his current occupation, as well. (I've placed his picture on the right, so he'll feel comfortable.)

Yes, Philips Academy was an all-boys school. Yes, he primarily led chants and heckled the other team, rather than serving as the foundation for a human pyramid, but cheerleading back in the day did not really involve athleticism in the way that it does now. Nonetheless, if George can do it, so should today's Ryans or Jakes, should they so choose.

Yet the first cheerleaders were male. As this interesting (and humorous) article from slate. com notes:
The cheerleader has grappled with her identity since at least the early 1900s, as Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis explain in their delightful book Cheerleader!: An American Icon. Originally, male cheerleaders (or "rooter kings") patrolled the sidelines at college football games, trying to organize the yells of spectators. The male cheerleader was something of a campus eminence, regarded as an up-and-coming entrepreneur and future captain of industry. In 1911, The Nation declared that "the reputation of having been a valiant 'cheer-leader' is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of being a quarterback." (Not everyone saw cheerleading as a benevolent exercise in vocational training. A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, called it the "worst means of expressing emotion ever invented.")

World War II drained the universities' supply of able-bodied males, and cheerleading became almost exclusively the province of females. A new type of cheerleader emerged: a future housewife—the '50s ideal of womanhood packed into a varsity sweater. The cheerleader dressed as a pillar of moral rectitude: colorful hair bows, an ankle-length skirt, and saddle oxfords. She was, by unanimous acclaim, one of the most popular girls in school and also one of the most beautiful—and her elevation to the squad was usually determined by a schoolwide vote. She wasn't a jock. She demonstrated little athletic ability, rarely performing a move more daring than a modest jump or a split—certainly nothing like the pyramidal artistry that would come later.

The modern cheerleader was forged in 1972 when she was waylaid by two distinct cultural forces. First was the passage of Title IX, which invigorated women's sports programs at colleges and high schools. With more girls drifting toward soccer and volleyball, cheerleading seemed antiquated. Along came Jeff Webb, a former University of Oklahoma cheerleader, who turned his passion into a legitimate athletic pursuit by making it more like gymnastics. Through camps and workshops, Webb taught complicated flips and ditched the sweaters and long skirts for more aerodynamic uniforms. Cheerleading morphed from a purely social enterprise into part of a young woman's athletic regimen: A 2002 survey cited by authors Adams and Bettis showed that more than half of cheerleaders participated in other sports.

Male cheerleaders as sissies? I don't think so. As you can see, it takes a lot of muscle to be able to cheer at the top collegiate level today. Many people stereotypically believe that men are more avid sports fans than women (and by the way, come by my house during the world cup or the football season if you want to see that that's a total canard). It's only natural that males as well as females be able to channel that passion for their school and their team into participation on the cheerleading squad.

Cheerleading: it's not just for the quarterback's girlfriend any more.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Title IX turns 34 today

Last week I posted about Missouri's high school activities association withdrawing support for competitive cheerleading, and there was quite a good discussion about how skillful cheerleaders today are, as well as some observations about the way that young ladies are still struggling for equity in high school and collegiate sports.

So it seems an interesting convergence of coincidences that today is the 34th anniversary of Title IX. Most people, when hearing that phrase, immediately think about school sports teams. Maybe they go a little deeper and think of people like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Brandy Chastain, whose skills playing world-class soccer would not be possible without Title IX. Maybe they think about the stars of the WNBA like Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, or Sheryl Swoopes. Other people may think of Title IX and blame it for the demise of male sports such as wrestling or men's gymnastics at some schools as institutions tried to expand opportunities for women without spending more money-- not exactly a fair indictment: it's kind of like blaming cars for the need for roads.

But Title IX is about much more than sports. The law prohibited sex discrimination in not just athletic opportunities but also in admissions, courses, financial aid, and educational counseling, among other things, for students in American public schools. As some of my commenters to the cheerleading story pointed out, there is still a long way to go in ensuring equal opportunities in schools.

So what do you think about Title IX? The floor is open for polite discussion.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Carnival of Education does the ABCs

... at Why Homeschool.

There's a whole bunch of new stuff and new contributors there, so head on over for a gander!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Charges in schoolbus beating

Two teen assailants have been charged in the beating of a ten year old on a school bus in New Baltimore, Michigan. The assault took place on May 12.
Two teenage boys have been charged with assault in the school bus beating of a 10-year-old that was recorded by a surveillance camera.

The tape shows the 13- and 14-year-old boys taunting and teasing Chester Gala on their way home from Anchor Bay Middle School North on May 12. Gala told police that he was hit about 15 times on the head and face.

One of the teens was suspended for the remainder of the year, while action against the other boy was not disclosed, principal Timothy Brisbois said Tuesday.

The tape shows one of the teens standing up and punching Gala repeatedly.

"He's twice the victim's size," Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith told The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens. "It's really sickening to watch."

The student who was shown punching Gala was charged with assault, a one-year misdemeanor. The other student, who was shown poking his finger at Gala, was charged with misdemeanor assault, which carries a penalty of up to 93 days in jail, Smith told The Detroit News.

Both were awaiting pretrial hearings in juvenile court, authorities said.

Gala did not miss any school because of the beating.

Despite the altercation, the bus driver continued her route and yelled for the boys to stop fighting, Gala told New Baltimore police. She also asked if he was all right and handed him a paper towel for his bloody nose, he said.

Brisbois said he has no problem with the way the bus driver conducted herself. "She told the students to stop, and they stopped the hitting immediately. This could have been a much worse situation," he said.

Assault charges are certainly warranted. I once witnessed a much smaller student get punched in the face by an older and much larger student as they were walking home from school. After intervening, I got the names of the kids, provided first aid to the victim, and then took him back to school so that the nurse could help him.

I called the victim's father, who said that the assailant had been tormenting his son for weeks. When I suggested he file assault charges with the police, his response was, "You can do that?" Since the tormenting that led to the fight started at school, we took disciplinary action, and the young thug was charged with assault. The thug's dad protested his son's suspension, since the assault hadn't occurred on school property (the thug had planned it so that he hit his victim across the street from school property).

However, he soon found out that a fight that starts at school, even if it's only verbal while at school, can indeed lead to school discipline. In addition, his son was indeed found guilty of assault under the juvenile code and received consequences through the system. Legally, the school district stands in loco parentis until the student gets across his own threshhold, whether they are walking home or on the school bus.

May They Rest in Peace.

PFC Kristian Manchaca and PFC Thomas Tucker have apparently been found dead. There is evidence of torture, as well.

Let us all pray for these young men, their families, and all the rest of our troops who are in harm's way.

Let us also pray for the safe return of the other twelve Americans-- civilians as well as military personnel-- who are missing in Iraq and believed being held as hostages.

Those wacky corporate mergers!

So apparently the Swiss conglomerate Nestle is buying diet giant (no pun intended... well, maybe just a little) Jenny Craig. Of course, Nestle is known for its chocolate, not exactly a dieter's friend.

Mind-numbing TV shows about kids' slothfulness, and now this. What's next --YUM brands (owner of KFC and Taco Bell among others) buying Lean Cuisine? Philip Morris buying Blue Cross and Blue Shield? Weird.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: Summertime, and the livin' is breezy edition

Okay, sorry I'm late, but the Cornelius house got a new puppy who likes to get up at 4 ack emma to go potty-- at least he doesn't foul his crate-- but I'm beat.

So anyway, here's this week's entry for Movie Madness Monday. I list a few quotes, you comment with some other quotes from the same movie without spoiling the secret, and then on Wednesday, I name the movie. Fun for everyone! So here goes:

"What's the urgent urgency? You act like you're getting married."
"I am."
[pause] "Wow. Is it Melinda?"
"Wasn't there a Melinda in there somewhere?"
"No, there's only been Melissa since you."
"Boy, not much for browsing, are you?"

"He really is in love with himself. I thought it was just a summer thing."

"He didn't keep his part of the bargain, did he?"
"Which part?"
"To spend his life pining for you, and die miserable and alone."
"Is that too much to ask?"

"Trust me. Rabbit is good, Rabbit is wise."

"Julia, I gotta go. We got cows!"

"I got to find this road-- it's like 'Bob's Road.'"

"Okay, I'll go, but I'll drive myself."
"Honey, your car is in a tree around the corner."

"Yeah? Well, Kansas is a mess-- there's a big crease right through Wichita! ROLL the maps!"

****Wednesday Update: Hold on to your britches, this week we are focusing on the sky and looking for greenage in


Having grown up in Tornado Alley, and had tornadoes hit my neighborhood on more than one occasion, not to mention that my great-grandparents died in the Giant Oklahoma City Tornado of '42, I think it was, I do not see why anyone would willingly put themselves in the paths of one of these nightmares, but hey, it was for science, right? And this film was a LOT of fun. The special effect were particularly great! This is a great summer time flick.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Dad story

I got a little teary the other day when I was moving my files over to the new computer. I accidentally played an mp3 file of the University of Oklahoma marching band performing "Boomer Sooner." I found that for my dad on the internet and burned it onto a CD for him. He took an evil delight in calling up his friends who were from Arkansas or Texas and playing that into their answering machines. He'd sit there and chortle every time he thought of another person whom he could victimize in this manner.

So here's a story about my dad on this, my first father's day without him.

I started playing softball and baseball when I was just six. My father nearly never went to my games because he worked shifts as an aircraft mechanic and was exhausted most of the time. If he wasn't working, he was recovering from working (meaning, napping). My mom was always there at the games though, because she was scorekeeper.

But one time, when I was in third grade, my dad managed to come to a softball game. Now let's face it, I now know that a third grade softball game is not the last word in scintillating entertainment, so my dad got a little restless. He decided he would whittle, and sent me to go get him a good stick. Now I wasn't supposed to bat for about four or five players, but anyway, when my dad told you to do something, YOU DID IT.

So of course I went running aaaaaaalll the way across this big field to where the trees were and was looking around for a good stick-- thick enough, hardwood, not too dry, and so on. Next thing I know, I hear my name wafting on the summery breeze. It was a chorus of people, and there was a touch of panic in the tone of their shouts. I jerked my head up, and the entire field was screaming, "You're UP! Get over here!!!!!"

So I ran like a third of a mile back to the diamond. Of course, I gave my dad his stick first. My coach was muttering under his breath and rolling his eyes in disgust, but he just shoved my bat in my hand and a helmet on my head and into the batter's box I went, even though I could barely breathe, because NO ONE should run a flat third of a mile in an Oklahoma July (temperature: 100, humidity, 80%) and then try to do anything except be glad they got away from the mugger. Otherwise, don't try it.

So, of course, the first pitch comes, and I am shaking and gasping, but KaPOW! I knocked that sucker just over the head of the right fielder, and then it hit the grass and took off like butter on a hot skillet. Needless to say, more running was now required, and I scampered my way around first and second purely on adrenaline. I get to third, and the ball is being thrown in, but the coach waved me on. I beat it toward home, everyone screamed "SLIDE!" but the only voice I could hear was my dad's. "SLIDE BABY!" and I hit the dirt.

Now, of course I was safe. You knew that. Strawberry on my leg the size of Texas, but safe.

I got up and everyone was laughing. The coach came up and hugged me. "We're going to have to send you to fetch sticks more often!" It was my first home run, and my dad was here to see it.

Miss you, Dad.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In which the History Geek discusses whether concrete floats

Oklahoma State University is the site of a contest this week sponsored by the Society of Civil Engineers which encourages students to see if they can construct concrete watercraft that can float:
Twenty-three student teams from around the country are competing in a concrete canoe competition to find out.

Staying afloat has a lot at stake — there's even a national champion.

The 19th annual competition is organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The teams competing for the championship put their boats through aesthetic, presentation and swamping tests on Thursday, with technical presentations on Friday and, finally, a series of races Saturday on Boomer Lake in Stillwater. Teams came from coast to coast and from Canada to the Gulf.

Mike Carnivale, chairman of the national competition committee, said designing, building and floating these concrete canoes pushed students to learn in a way they might not elsewhere.

"They learn about concrete, design, project management, the works," Carnivale said.

Hmmmm, this story has caused the involuntary unleashing of my alter-ego, the History Geek. Can concrete float? Once again, history provides the answer. The first concrete boat, a rowboat, was exhibited in 1855 at the Universal Exposition in Paris. Those whacky Frenchmen-- they'll try anything.

In 1917, a California businessman founded the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company in response to the US government's interest in building a concrete ship fleet; his first ship, accurately called the SS Faith, was in service from 1918 to 1921, when it was scrapped and turned into a breakwater off the coast of Cuba. Apparently being turned into breakwaters was a common fate for these ships, some of which have also been retired to that task in British Columbia and off the coast of Virginia. Several companies took part in the construction of this concrete fleet. About twelve concrete ships in all were built under this Emergency Fleet Corporation program. However, when the post-war steel shortage turned to a steel glut, the program was abandoned. Nonetheless, several of the ships in this program went on to have absolutely bizarre careers.

One of the ships built for this post World War I concrete fleet is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anyone who has ever been to Galveston may have happened upon the remains of the SS Selma, a concrete oil barge which was abandoned off Pelican Island in the 1920s. With that typical Texas sense of humor, this hulk is the official flagship of the Texas Army. No foolin.'

Another ship, the SS Palo Alto, became an amusement park for a while at Seacliff beach, north of San Francisco.

The SS San Pasquale at one time was a floating prison for Che Guevara during the Cuban Revolution and is now a ten-room hotel in Cayo las Brujas.

Some of these ships were unpowered barges serving as part of the Service Force Pacific Fleet in World War II, relying upon being towed by other ships. This is a link to a fascinating first-person account of a Navy supply officer who was adrift on one of these concrete barges during a typhoon.

So, yes, kids, concrete can float. Here endeth the trivia-fest.

Ahem. I'm Just Sayin'.

Hello, lurkers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Carnival of Education #71- the Teacher Cocktail Hour Edition

Head on over to the Science Goddess's little get-together at What It's Like On The Inside for the latest edition of the Carnival of Education!

It's a great time for all, and no one has yet put a lampshade on their heads....

A Tale of Two Companies: A Fable About Customer Service

Wow, this post should look pretty cool to y'all-- it certainly does to ME. And why, you may ask? Because I am typing it on my brand new shiny MacBook. I wish you could see how good this looks on THIS side of the screen.

Let me explain. I bought an iBook three years ago in July. It suffered intermittent motherboard and other sort of computer neurological disorders from time to time, but all in all I loved that little machine.

But my loyal readers may have noticed that last week's postings were mighty slim. This is because my poor little laptop was freaking out again. So I made an appointment at the nearest Apple store's genius bar, hoping to get the little thing fixed.

It was worse than I thought when I got there. The Genius who helped me, named Eric, told me that it appeared my hard drive was failing. I must have looked like I was about the wail like a banshee. He then took off the keyboard and saw all the stickers for previous work that had been done on the poor thing.

Eric paused. "How long have you had this computer?"

I told him, "I bought it at the end of July three summers ago."

"Looks like you've had a lot of work done on this. Frankly, if this is the problem, we'll probably just see about swapping out your CPU for a new one." He then got a firewire drive and started encouraging me to download my really important stuff onto it, waiving the fee that is usually charged for this process.

Due to technical difficulties, we could not do anything else with it that night, and so he said he would talk to the manager, and asked if I would bring it back the next day.

So I brought the computer back today, and, sure 'nuff my poor little laptop was terminal. I figured I was screwed. Then he did some checking of my history with the iBook on his computer, and said, "Well, it looks like we can set you up with a new MacBook."

Wha??? "How much will that cost me?" I asked with a lump in my throat. I figured I was going to get a refurbished iBook, maybe, or be told that I was on my own.

Then, the clouds parted. "It'll be free, because you have had to send this machine in more than three times and you haven't had it for three years yet."

I tried not to show how stunned I was. He went into the back to get one. He came back out in about ten minutes.

"I'm sorry, we don't have the model that would be equivalent to yours. You can wait until the weekend, when we should get in a new batch, or, if you want, you can use the credit for your old machine toward an upgrade to the next model."

"How much would THAT cost me?"

"Oh, maybe a couple hundred dollars."

I thought that seemed fair, so he went and got one of those. He then filled out a form for me to sign turning over my old laptop to Apple in exchange for the new computer. Then the manager came out to complete the transaction. Now I had decided to buy the Sweet Baboo an iPod for Father's Day, so I had them pick out one of those so I could just pay for everything at once. I handed him a paystub so I could get my educator's discount.

The manager paused in the middle of a bunch of typing and said, "Oh, you're a teacher? Hmmmm..." and then he says, "Good news! With your teacher's discount, the upgraded MacBook is free."

I restrained myself from a completely undignified happy dance atop the Geunius Bar and instead stuttered my complete and total appreciation. We completed the transaction, fired up the new machine, and transferred my old data from the firewire drive they had saved for me from the previous night. He talked to me about all the new bells and whistles on my new Snow White Beauty. I thanked Eric profusely, and walked out of there a very happy woman.

This is how customer service should be. They stood behind their product, even though there was only a month left on the warranty, and I now have a far, far nicer computer than I had previously.

Now I have a purpose in telling this story. Let me now regale you with a story about what a company should NOT do to its customers.

Two years ago I let the cable company talk me into allowing digital cable into my house. I wanted to be able to watch Six Feet Under, and they no longer allowed mere analog people to get the premium channels.

The damn thing never worked right. Time and time again, I would have to schedule a service call and then stay home at least half a day because the picture would freeze, turn green, do this thing called "tiling," lose the sound, and so on. It was maddening. It had a particular habit of freezing up when I was watching something like the Super Bowl or the World Series, where you can't catch a rerun. (You know, I really don't watch a lot of TV, except for CNN and the History Channel. But when I am paying for a service, I expect it to work.)

Every time I called, there was some stonewalling. The customer service rep would refuse to schedule an appointment for the technician until two weeks in the future, or would claim that I couldn't request a service call because my name wasn't on the account and would then demand that my husband had to call (Oooh, what was this? The middle ages?), or the technician wouldn't come out with the right tools and would have to come back later, or he'd change the cable from the house to the box and leave it lying on top of the ground so that I had to call again and again asking them to bury it. The customer service reps would refuse to give me their names or let me talk to their supervisors.

One particular smartass, when my husband asked to talk to his boss, claimed that his supervisor was named Paul Allen.

Paul Allen. As in the gazillionaire owner of the cable company who had helped found Microsoft with a guy named Bill Gates.
THAT Paul Allen. And he suggested that we had to talk to him if we wanted to complain.

I have to say that I thought The Sweet Baboo was going to rupture an artery over THAT one.

Maybe the thing would work for two days after a service call, and then-- BLOOIE-- right back to the same old problem.

I have lost my temper with these bozos only once-- the rest of the time I have been patient and calm-- obviously too patient, since this apparently gave them the idea that they could continue to treat us like crap.

The only time we ever got any satisfaction was when we filed a Better Business Bureau report. Because this company was reported on the TV news as having over ONE THOUSAND outstanding complaints at the BBB at the time, suddenly my phone was ringing off the hook from soothing voiced women in the corporate office who offered me ANYTHING to say that the comlaint with the BBB was resolved. They apologized. They suddenly found technicians who could come out the same day to spend hours following wires around our basement ceiling. They gave me their first and last names. They offered me a partial refund on my bill for that month.

But a week later, the problems would return, and the cycle of customer service ignorance started all over again. We are now on the cusp of getting a satellite dish, beause, even though we may lose reception in a pounding rainstorm, at least we can watch TV when it's sunny. And the last time I made an appointment for a service call, the guy never showed. I sat there all day with kids wanting to go swimming and getting antsy for nothing. When I called a customer service person to complain, she said that the tech had called our house and no one answered, so they didn't bother to come or notify me. She gave me a first name of Zoe and said she would get a tech supervisor to call me that afternoon and that I could call her back if there was any other delay. When I got no appointment, I called back and asked to speak to Zoe, the customer service person who answered said there was no Zoe there. And then she said that my name wasn't on the account again so I couldn't schedule a service call anyway.

So I put another complaint in at the BBB. Suddenly a technician showed up at my door yesterday. The company called me using an automated process SIX TIMES yesterday. And, sho nuff, I got a voice mail from another Professional Soother in corporate asking me to inform the BBB that I was now happy and that the problem was fixed.

Fat Chance.

See, this is a tale of two companies and how they treat their customers. This is the yin and yang of my life. These people at the cable company have NO IDEA what "customer service" means. And they have earned my lasting enmity for it. Meanwhile, I will sing the praises of Apple any day of the week.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Give me a B! Give me an O! Give me another O!

Apparently, sports are really on my mind right now.

If my friends from childhood were reading this now, their jaws would be hitting the floor. I am now going to speak out about an outrage against cheerleaders. Those visions of blonde perfection dressed miniskirts who so tormented many an ugly-duckling girl have changed in the years since I went to high school in Oklahoma, where, remember, the unswerving worship of football rubbed off by association on those perky goddesses. In the years since Title IX started being taken seriously, cheerleading has become more athleticized as a way of providing parity for the money and attention paid to boys' sports in schools. Cheerleaders are now athletes --albeit athletes in incredible skimpy attire which often makes it hard for me to watch their routines at times because I'm afraid of witnessing a "wardrobe malfunction."


Elevating cheerleading to an athletic activity in its own right seemed an easy way to provide girls with athletic opportunities without having to cut a corresponding boys' sport, as has sometimes happpened since Title IX. After all, you're going to have to have cheerleaders, anyway, right? Which is why what just happened in Missouri is all the more surprising.

Like a bolt out of the blue, it was announced yesterday that the Missouri State High School Activities Association will no longer sanction or insure cheerleaders in Missouri to take part in state or regional competitions. Essentially, this reduces cheerleading to a non-competitive activity.
As of July 1, cheerleaders no longer will be sanctioned by the association to take part in regional or state competitions. The activities association will continue jurisdiction over sideline cheerleading at school athletic events. But if squads want to compete at the regional and state levels, they must go as a club.

The activities association's decision means it no longer will provide catastrophic liability insurance to cover accidents during practices for or performances at competitions. The association will continue catastrophic coverage for sideline cheering.

Also at stake is funding for competitions. At many public schools, club sports do not receive district funding. Athletes in club sports pay for their own equipment, insurance, coaches, transportation, lodging and other costs of competitions.

St. Louis-area school districts, like others throughout the state, are now grappling with the fallout as their squads practice routines and head to camps this summer. Each school district must decide whether it will support competitive cheerleading as a club sport.

Some districts, such as Ritenour, Pattonville and Maplewood-Richmond Heights, already have decided they will not fund a cheerleading club, because they do not fund other club sports.

Administrators in districts such as Lindbergh and Rockwood say their cheerleaders will compete while they hash out policies for the future.

Eliminating competition, cheerleaders and coaches say, is similar to telling other varsity athletes that they can play in games but not in district, regional or state tournaments.

"These kids work their tails off for these competitions, and now there are no competitions if they can't pay for it. It's very upsetting," said Jennifer Stanfill, a former cheerleading coach.

...Davine Davis, assistant executive director at the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said the board of directors decided to put the question of competitive cheerleading to a vote among member schools statewide, after hearing the issue come up so often from parents and schools.

Some parents complained that under association rules, their daughters couldn't compete at a national level, nor could they simultaneously cheer with their high school squad and a private competitive team.

Other questions swirled around competitions themselves. Should the association sponsor its own competitions? Should there be more competition? Should competition take place during a different part of the year?

The St. Louis-area caucus of athletic directors with the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association went on record this spring to support the continuation of competitive cheerleading, Nolen said.

But the vote last month was 258-184 to drop governance of competitive cheering by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

"We're living with the decision, but we're very disappointed," said Pattonville's activities director, Terry Funderburk. "I think the schools that voted in favor of this had no idea of what the ramifications would be."

Safety was not the primary concern, officials said. For example, an incident similar to the one involving the Southern Illinois University cheerleader who fell at the Missouri Valley Tournament this spring would fall under the activities association's jurisdiction because it took place during a game, not at a competition.

Nancy Allen, a retired teacher and cheerleading coach at Parkway and co-founder of the Missouri Cheerleading Coaches Association, said the decision sets Missouri cheerleading back decades. Cheerleading advocates have struggled for years to have cheerleading recognized as a sport. Many state high school associations, including Illinois', govern competitive cheerleading.

This seems like an incredibly short-sighted decision. This will affect not only the caliber of young people-- we are beginning to see some male as well as female cheerleaders around here, especially as some of the routines require a lot of lifting-- who try out for cheerleading, but it also throws off the balance that has to be maintained under Title IX between male and female athletes. The competition was what made cheerleading a sport. If cheerleaders are reduced to standing along the sidelines of other sports, that can hardly been seen as a truly athletic activity. The routines cheerleaders put together for competition are often too elaborate to be properly showcased along the sidelines of football or basketball games. Cheerleading will be reduced once more to merely part of the adulation for the boys on the court or field, instead of as an endeavor worthy of respect in its own right.

Marital Differences, ESPN, and the Meaning of Life.

Yes, I have a mixed marriage. It has created difficulties over the years, but every now and then, it becomes very ugly around the Cornelius home.

I love sports. I love dancing. My husband? Not so much on either count. Now five hours on the Playstation Playing SSX Tricky? Him: Yay! Me: Eye rolling disbelief.

It is now one of those bad times. It is World Cup time, and I love what the rest of the world calls futbol. It all started when I was in elementary school, and we played soccer at luchtime recess. I then played casually with with friends in German Club in high school.

Then I became a "soccer mom." I got hooked. I followed the exploits of Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Cobi Jones, Marcelo Balboa, Eric Wynalda, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain as much as I could in a country which is not so soccer-crazy.

See, I wanted to watch soccer on cable, by ESPN usually preempts coverage in favor of the World Dominoes Tournament or some other red-blooded American sport. Plus, the husband kept saying we couldn't afford it for years, so I suffered.

But here we are! Hours of coverage on ESPN2! I was ASTOUNDED that ESPN managed to find time in its thrilling schedule of showing thrill-fests such as bowling, billiards, poker, and dominoes to actually devote programming time to an endeavor in which the participants actually RUN and come into contact with each other and drip sweat. Here are my sentimental favorites, the Aussies, after they kicked Japan's butt in a big upset. Three goals in the last 10 minutes to come from behind! Good on ya, mates!

I would just like to say to the folks at ESPN: Dominoes is NOT a sport, and we don't want to watch the World Domino Championships and a bunch of middle aged guys communicating in code to each other about the domino they're going to play. Give us SPORTS! If you HAVE to go exotic, here are some suggestions: rugby, lacrosse, martial arts tournaments, cricket, Australian Rules Football, and how about some SOCCER?! I mean what's next-- tiddlywinks? Rock, Paper, Scissors? (Oh, please go read this link!)

Now here's a picture that arouses nothing but disgust in me. Who were those people on the pitch wih the Czechs? Everytime the USA had the ball, they were retreating, fer-cryin'-out-loud. News flash: One's chances of scoring a goal increase if you get CLOSER to the goal (that's the "meaning of life" part.) Here's Claudio Reyna continuing to do what our team did for over 90 minutes-- grovel. And has anyone filed a missing person's report on DaMarcus Beasley?

Well, the USA still has the Italians to face. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying this World's Cup. And if you haven't tried it, try tuning in for a game.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Great Gumbo! Teaching for 69 Years!

Miss Hazel Haley just retired after teaching for 69 years in Florida.

Through the years, Miss Haley has taught an estimated 13,500 students, including Lawton Chiles, Florida's late governor and former U.S. senator. But he was no more adorable or beloved than anyone in this semester's three senior honors English classes.

''My inspiration every day comes from the satisfaction of being with these young people,'' Miss Haley says. ``You know, they give you so much back that is stimulating, exciting and fun, and that every day I will miss. That's been an integral part of my life for most of my life. I depend on it. It's not approval, . . . although sometimes I get that, and sometimes I don't. But it's a life force. It's an energy that comes from the children that nothing else can replace.''

Today's text is Macbeth's woeful Act IV, so murky with eye of newt, fearsome apparitions and murder, but the lesson, as always, quickly ricochets from the literary to the personal. ''Dears, we've all agreed that the second or third time that you do something you know is wrong, it's easier,'' Miss Haley says. ``When you sneak out on your parents, and you don't get caught, it becomes easier to sneak out a second and a third time.''

''She doesn't just teach you about English, but she teaches you about life,'' says senior Tori Harvey, whose mother once sat in this classroom, too.

''She just lets you know that you are special,'' says Robin Harris, class of 1987, who named her 11-year-old daughter Haley, because, "when you're in high school, you don't really know which way you're going. She just made me interested in school again. She made it exciting to learn.''

Harris and her daughter were among more than 500 fans -- community leaders, co-workers, friends, students and alums, even Miss Haley's mailman -- sipping punch and nibbling on cake and homemade cookies at the frothy Queen for a Day retirement party at the church. ''She said she remembered me,'' says Jo Kelly of Brandon, class of 1940, who turns 80 in July.

``Of course, she says that to everybody, but she might. I never forgot her.''

Here are a few things to remember about Miss Haley: She was a student here herself, graduating in 1933. She has never married and lives alone, but every student she has ever taught is dearly regarded as ''my child.'' She drives to school in Earl, her 1988 Grand Marquis. She is a lifelong Anglophile and will happily show off letters from Margaret Thatcher and the Queen.

An accomplished motivational speaker, she believes that life is a series of little joys.

She believes it is a long string of choices, that each choice exacts a consequence, and if you choose to say something naughty on the video being shot for your retirement party, you must be genteel when the editor calls your bluff and lets you spill these spicy beans: ``I love being with the children. . . . That's my whole life every single day, but when I come home, then I'm ready to close the door, take off my clothes and run naked through the house.''

Good grief. This is the toughest woman alive. Let us all raise a glass to her, God Bless Her.

Movie Madness Monday: Love the One You're With Edition

This week's Movie Madness Monday celebrates the luster of a glorious spring, where we all long for a little love and understanding.

Here is the basic outline: each Monday I will pick a movie and list a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. So here we go:

"There's this huge space between us, and it just keeps filling up with things we don't say to each other. What's that called?"

"I live with my mom because I chose to. She's the only woman I've ever trusted."

"Wait, why do I get the girl gun?"
"You're kidding me, right?"

"Not for years."

"Your aim's as bad as your cooking, sweetheart."

"Still alive, Baby?"

"We have an unusual problem here, Jane. You obviously want me dead, and I'm less and less concerned for your well-being."

****Wednesday Update: This week's film is:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith! The movie that started it all for Brangelina and now the wee bairn whose happiness one hopes that they will actually place above their own selfish desires.

I enjoyed the action in this flick-- it was very well choreographed. The scenes where they fight each other were hilarious. A lot of the humor was visual, however, so you really need to see it, if you haven't yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Am I the only person who thinks this is seriously messed up?

Being a teacher and a mom hath its advantages. One, I get to spend time with the Offspring in the summer. Of course, it hath some downsides too. I get to spend time with the Offspring's TV choices. That, and I never go to the bathroom alone.

So this is one of the shows that my kids like. It's called Lazy Town. It's about how kids today are too sedentary. It was founded by an Icelandic aerobics star. Apparently, Cindy Lauper's Mini-Me plays Stephanie, another main character.

It's a TV show. About how kids veg out in front of the TV too much. To watch the show, a kid has to sit in front of the TV.

Is it just me, or is that either ironic or ridiculous?

That and the fact that the main character, played by Mr. Icelandic Aerobic Person, calls fruit "Sports Candy."

You know how people used to say that "H. R. Pufenstuff" was about drugs? Check out these outfits. I bet I know what "Sports Candy" the costumer was on. Of course this comes from the land of people like Bjork, who wears dresses that look like dead swans to award shows, so it's nice to see that that that wardrobe mistress found work after that debacle.

I find this seriously disturbing on so many levels.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Race for the Cure meets the Slowest Woman Alive

My neighbor.
My childhood friend's mom.
Two ladies from church.
My mother-in-law.

What do they all have in common? They have suffered horribly at the hands of a horrible killer: breast cancer. Of those I listed, only one is still with us.

A few years ago I was there as my husband's mother lost a decade-long battle against this vicious disease. I thought I had known suffering, growing up in my dysfunctional family. This opened my eyes to what real fighting was.

It is our job to fight as much as we can, too.

64,000 people got up early Saturday and decided to put one foot in front of the other in the name of a dream-- a dream of a day when breast cancer is cured. This was a new record of attendance at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for this area. Last year, over $2 million dollars was raised to fight breast cancer through this event alone. Look at the size of this crowd!

Many people walk this race, but some of us are crazy enough to try a faster pace. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds gathered together under baby blue skies and balmy-but-not-unbearable temperatures. So where is Ms. Cornelius? Here? Nooooooo.... These are people who actually "RUN." They probably could have completed the course twice before I finished...

... and although I greatly admire the panache of this fella, I can only imagine the shin splints the Storm Trooper will have tomorrow. And that Dark Lord of the Sith? I probably sounded like him as I wheezed my way around the course. "Foooossshhh. Fooossshhhh. I find your lack of faith disturbing..."

I am somewhere down here. Can't see me? Well, fine, here's a picture of Ms. Ten Minute Mile Herself:

Fear the Turtle-- YES, fear her. The Turtle will grind away until she finishes every step of that damn 3.1 mile course, and then walk another two miles back to her car. It ain't pretty.

Please, everyone, male and female, promise you will know your body. Do a self-exam at least once a month, every month.

Don't make the Turtle come after you.

Fight Club: an update

Mr. Babylon wrote recently about a fight that broke out in a class he was covering.

Although I urge you to go to the post and read it for yourself, because it has much more impact in Mr. Babylon's own words, let me sum up: as far as we know, girl lipped off to boy, boy called girl b-word with an f-bomb thrown in for effect, girl slapped boy hard, teacher verbally intervened but before he could get help, altercation resumed with boy challenging girl to hit him again, girl obliged, and boy decked girl but good. Girl goes to hospital, boy goes to jail.

Mr. Babylon teaches in the Bronx, which makes him a compatriot of my friend NYC Educator. We have discussed the fact that NYC Educator has reported that the powers on high have decreed that no teacher should physically intervene in a fight. I have talked about how I find instructions like this incomprehensible, although I totally support teachers following them, since the legal beagles in their school district would then totally hang a teacher out to dry were they to defy those instructions.


my bone to pick is with the school administration. Why is there no means to get help, short of sticking one's head out the door and yelling? New York City schools spend about $12,000 per student each year, and they can't manage to find a way to communicate to students that violence will not be tolerated for even an instant?

Way back in the 70s, when I was a wee lassie in school, we didn't have phones in the classrooms, but there was a panic button that called the office. At my district we were blessed to have phones installed a few years back, and I am lucky to also have the School Resource Officers' office right down the hall from me. We have cameras everywhere, too.

I remember what it was like without the phones. See, I am not the type to freak out over kids' bizarreness. Kid gives himself a mohawk with a pair of safety scissors? Mine. Kid carves her boyfriend's name into her arm with a straight pin or a burning cigarette? Mine. Kid wears his mom's miniskirts to school every day? Mine. Therefore, as any of you who are teachers know, this means I am punished rewarded with having every, let us say, unique individual, who needs a little tough love being placed in my little corner of heaven. I have had more kids suspected of self-mutilation, anorexia, huffing, and whatnot than you can shake a stick at. I have oft been given the task of not only educating a poor lost waif as to the finer points of our country's history while simultaneously my bloodhound nose has been given the task of sussing out the slightest whiff of maryjane clinging to said waif's clothing. I have had to explain to administrators what a snowman on a shirt means, that the earring with a five-pointed leaf on it is not schwag from the Sierra Club, that there are about six places kids can get piercings below the neck but above the knees, and that kids now classify about five different flavors of virginity, and so on, that I could puke.

Anyhoo, I was once given a particular lost waif who had been placed in state custody after being abused every way a child could be abused by his own parents (damn them to Hell) and who had attacked his last teacher with a pair of scissors. No one knew what the triggers were for this kid, but I was supposed to try to reach him and teach him.

In those days before telephones, I had to pick out a trustworthy kid in class and give him the instruction that if I ever said a certain word, say, "Sassafras," said kid was to run to the office and not come back unless he had an administrator.To preserve privacy, I couldn't say why or who or what would trigger this word. Needless to say, one day the waif went off-- and I swear I don't know why-- but he was having some sort of schizoid episode. "Sassafras" was uttered, and trustworthy kid ran to the office, where he was told that AP NoNeck was busy. Trustworthy kid had to pitch a fit loud enough to bring the Big Cheese himself out of his office, who then realized that my messenger was not kidding, and they finally got there with the cop and the nurse. But in those untold minutes, I had had to interpose myself betwixt my poor waif and the rest of the totally bewildered class, while trying to calm him down.

Administrators at "Shitty High," as Mr. Babylon so aptly names it, apparently can not or will not connect the dots as to why this school and others like it do not function. Step one would be for them to realize that kids who do not feel safe cannot concentrate enough to learn anything. There is no point in coming to school each day to learn in such an environment. Hence, often the only people who come to school are those who understand that their "right" to an education means that they have a place to hang and practice mayhem at will. Years from now they will claim that they were "victims of the system" and were malignly denied the chance to receive an education-- "receive," as in, the student should be filled with knowledge like water fills a passive, empty vessel.

And New York is not the only place where the adults have ceded the fight to the forces of Loki. Apparently, some district officials at this school district are willing to allow gang members to dictate who can be commencement speaker, as my friend the Education Wonk talks about so lucidly here.

For too long we have allowed students with a proven record of violence to inhabit our schools in the name of their "rights." We have sacrificed the needs of the many for the rights of the few. Education policymakers-- and let's face it, that often does NOT include teachers, who are treated as drone bees in the hive, fungible and faceless-- have to be willing to make it "uncomfortable" and "unpleasant" for students to engage in violence in our schools. Of course, if schools were to impose these minimum standards of security, this may mean that these "students" will decide not to grace our hallways with their presence. Rather than have this count against our schools' drop-out rates or daily average attendance, society should realize that, in order to provide the chance for an education to the majority who wish to learn, there may be some students who have not only ceded their own investment in education, but who actively prevent scores of others from maximizing their potential.

In too many schools across the nation, this malaise then spreads to other students who see that the malefactors act with impunity. A kind of "Lord of the Flies" mentality sets in, and soon the entire school is in the grasp of the forces of ignorance and a casual tolerance for sloth, disorder, and apathy, if not more outright violence. The kids see that the leaders of the school do not care enough to set minimum standards of behavior and decency, and so they keep pushing to find out what boundaries, if any, exist.

Kids do this because, really, they WANT boundaries. They want to know that someone cares enough about them to say "No." Kids will keep pushing until those boundaries are set. Having boundaries makes them feel secure. Without boundaries, kids experience the same feeling as an acrophobic does when being asked to parachute from an aircraft.

Each day in school, we ask kids to be willing to take that same terrifying leap of faith out into the unknown. We have to make that leap possible by not setting the plane on fire before asking them to jump. Similarly, the least we can do is let all kids know that their school is a place where they can be safe, and where the leaps will be manageable.

It starts with saying, "No," and backing that up. Sure it is easier to say "Yes." It is easier to acquiesce through silence or apathy in the face of wrongdoing. The kids in schools like "Shitty High" are waiting for the administration to care enough to say something.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Carnival of Education #70- A wonky good time

Go see for yourself!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Race and schools reconsidered

The Supreme Court has agreed to take on two cases that could change the way race is considered in the composition of students in America's schools.

One of the cases, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 05-915, deals with the school system in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville was under a court order from 1975 to 2000 to use busing to desegregate their schools. After the court order ended in 2000, the school district began using racial categories to avoid the blatant segregation that had resulted in the court order in the first place.

Another case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, 05-908, deals with the high schools in Seattle. Students may choose to go to any of the ten high schools, but if too many students want to go to a certain high school, district officials have used race as one of the considerations in enrollment. Since the district itself is 60 percent minority and 40 percent white, racial considerations can be used to try to keep a high school's enrollment within ten percentage points of the overall balance. Students can receive preference if they have a sibling at a school, and their racial classification can be utilized as what Seattle district officials call a "tie-breaker."

The use of this language seems intentionally to call upon the last Supreme Court decisions on racial preferences in educational settings, both involving the University of Michigan and decided in December of 2003. Gratz v. Bollinger involved a young white woman who challenged the denial of her application for admission to the University of Michigan. Grutter v. Bollinger involved another white woman who was denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Michigan used a points-based system, which included extra points for a potential student if he or she was from an "underrepresented minority." Ms. Gratz claimed that the points awarded amounted to the equivalent of an extra point on one's GPA, which counted for the most points of all.

Retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinion for the Grutter decision, which upheld the use of race as one of several factors considered for admission:
The court ruled that the law school's affirmative action policy, which considers race as a factor in admissions but does not assign specific weight to it, does not violate the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment, while the undergraduate policy does.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and O'Connor voted to uphold the law school's affirmative action policy, while Justices Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

O'Connor, writing the majority opinion, said the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

The court agreed with the university's arguments that the law school policy "promotes 'cross-racial understanding,' helps to break down racial stereotypes, and 'enables [students] to better understand persons of different races,'" she wrote.

Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, said, "The law school, of its own choosing, and for its own purposes, maintains an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results. Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy."

However, O'Connor and Breyer switched sides in the undergraduate case, voting to strike down the Michigan undergraduate admissions point system:
Justices Breyer, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas voted to strike down the undergraduate program, with Justices Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg voting to uphold it.

Rehnquist, writing for the court majority, said the program was unconstitutional "because the university's use of race in its current freshman admission policy is not narrowly tailored to achieve respondents' asserted compelling interest in diversity."

Souter wrote, "It is hard to see what is inappropriate in assigning some stated value to a relevant characteristic, whether it be reasoning ability, writing style, running speed, or minority race."

Justice O'Connor has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, who has in the past demonstrated some antipathy to affirmative action. That and the fact that we have a new chief justice in John Roberts makes this a case to watch, aside from its implications.

And just what are the implications? Let's be clear: segregation in American schools still exists, because segregation in housing patterns still exists. Segregation in housing patterns still exists, because economic disparity between the races still exists. One place to attack that disparity is at the schoolhouse door. An equitable education for all must be offered. In places where people have education, they have choices in where they live and what they do that then would render affirmative action unnecessary. Yes, call me a dreamer.

It is also important to note that all states but California stand to be affected by this ruling. California has Proposition 209, which ended the use of race as a consideration in the admissions process. This week UCLA announced that the number of African Americans admitted into its freshman class reached the lowest levels in thirty years. Food for thought.

All students should have access to the finest education possible. If they choose to take advantage of it, their lives will be changed irrevocably. That, to me, is the real meaning of the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The NEA promises a comments-enabled weblog?

My friend the Education Wonk wrote the other day about our discussion calling for the NEA to allow members to discuss its policies on a comments-enabled weblog. I commented about it here. The news is that that day may finally come! Thanks to Scott Elliot, who reportedthat the NEA has stated its intention to get into the game.

Although Eduwonk, whose blog is NOT comment-enabled, thinks this may be an unbelievable disaster for the NEA, I obviously disagree. The NEA needs more transparency. The NEA needs to do some more digging to find out what its members want it to do. I personally would like to see the NEA devote more of its muscle to improving the conditions teachers and students labor under, and less of itsclout on non-education related issues. We've got enough on our plate in the education field, thankyewverymuch.

I fully support the need for a professional organization for teachers. I am pro-union, the daughter of a union man who could have only supported his family with his union-negotiated wages and benefits. In the last few decades in this country, we have seen working people suffer where the ability to collectively bargain has been eviscerated. But the NEA suffers because it is out-of-touch with large numbers of its natural constituents. Every year, I have colleagues who would otherwise support the NEA refuse to join because of some unrelated position the NEA uses dues money to support. I fervently hope that a comments-enabled weblog would help the NEA get in touch with its members.

So we'll see how this turns out. Stay tuned.

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