A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Education Carnival: With a capital T that rhymes with P and that stands for pool

which rhymes with school. Thespis Journal hosts a Broadway-inspired Carnival of Education this week, and he even awarded me a Tony! I'm about to burst into song, (from, what you should already know, is my Favorite Musical Ever, Naturally!) In honor of the start of school:

Never've I asked an August sky, "Where has last July gone?"
Never've I wandered through the rye, wondering where has some guy gone;
Many a new day will dawn before I do!
Many a red sun will set!
Many a blue moon will shine before I do!

Go see the Carnival! You'll be glad you did!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 28: Eccentric millionaire edition

Hey there! Here we are again with another Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. It's the only thing that makes Monday seem more like Tuesday!

Here's how we play: I give you a few of my favorite quotes from a movie. You comment with a quote of your own from the same movie. A quote! Two quotes! We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday, or, lately, whnever I can get to the computer, so that everyone gets a chance to play!

And now, straight out of Silver City, New Mexico, here we go!

"We're not crazy, lady! We should've bought a squirrel, but we didn't buy a squirrel."
"Which is why we stole the rocket car!"

"Jason, where did you get that?"
"I found it under the seat."
"Give it to me. You can't play that."
"Why not?"
"Because it's Hitler's harmonica. You can't play Hitler's harmonica."
"You're driving his car!"
"Yes, but I'm not touching it with my mouth. I'm not sucking on the dashboard. I'm not getting his germs!"

"It's a race! I'm weeening!"

"I can do whatever I want. I'm eccentric! Rowr! Rowr!"

"Come back here, stupid hardware guy!"

"You girls wanna buy a squirrel? They make crackerjack pets!"

****Wednesday Update: The cure for the End of Summertime Blues is

Rat Race!

Every now and then, the Movie Gods smile upon us and offer as a hilarious ensemble piece just for fun. It ain't American Beauty, or Sideways, or Mystic River-- all of which I positively hated, anyway. No, these are goofy movies in the spirit of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Even actors just want to have fun!

This baby has a collection of lines which just screams out for the MMM treatment. You've got a three day weekend coming up. You deserve to laugh. And that means you, NYC Educator.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

When teaching school is like... a divine comedy

For me, the school year is back in full swing-- inasmuch as one can be when Labor Day still hasn't rolled around yet. For those of you who have forgotten, or who now look back upon your high school years through the rosy mists of fondness for that halcyon era when your head, not your back, was covered with hair and your tricep didn't flop around like a Tibetan prayer flag in a good stiff breeze, high school is organized into concentric circles of despair and Sisyphean drudgery which align quite nicely with the Nine Circles of Hell our friend and eternal optimist Dante Alighieri described so fully.

Circle 1- Limbo, the Home of the Innocent: The freshmen have already had most of the pranks pulled on them-- like looking for a swimming pool on the roof, or looking for the smoking area, or being told that we have open campus for lunch, and so on. They've lost a bit of that dazed look-- unless it's a permanent condition.

Circle 2-The Lustful: The "veteran" freshmen on the two- or three-year-plans are already falling back into their habits of trying to evade class as much as possible and still somehow be able to finagle enough credits to achieve sophomorehood. They lust for a way to get over. Those who lust for each other have tried to discover just where the security cameras don't work.

Circle 3- The Gluttonous: Last year's freshmen who made the cut to sophomores are hoping to have grown some-- the girls hoping to be able to fill out those teeny tanks they wear and the boys hoping to get closer to making that dunk on the basketball court. The boys can eat the weight of a newborn elephant in one sitting. Sophomores bear the grim visage of those who realize that they still must slog through an eternity of high school, and that as long ago as they were seventh graders? That's how long it will be before they graduate. The mathematically inclined have computed this sentence in Hell as the equivalent of 19.7% of their lives thus far.

Circle 4- The Hoarders and the Improvident: Most of the juniors are engulfed in a tsunami in post-high school planning, as the first deadline to register for the ACT was on the Friday after we started school, and they are frantically collecting honors to list on their aplications and recommendations from harried staff. Those who swear that they'll NEVER want to go to college or trade school or sit in a classroom again are sneering at their classmates who are wigging out. They can't wait to get out of school so they'll never have to do what anyone tells them, EVER AGAIN.

Circle 5- The River Styx; the Wrathful and the Sullen: The seniors have slogged their way through all these levels only to discover that they are merely on the verge of true Hell. They've figured out to take AP and honors classes their first semester, and as soon as the transcripts are mailed off to their fifteen dream colleges to "drop them like it's hot" and coast through the rest of the year. The ones who SWORE that they would never want to go to college or trade school have lost a bit of that sneer as they are slowly coming to the realization that after antagonizing Mom and Dad for the last six years, what with the brushes with the law and the suspensions and the phone calls from school and the poor grades, their parents are COUNTING the days until they can tell their offspring that their bedroom has become an exercise room, and seven bucks an hour at TWO part time jobs at fast food joints minus something called FICA and social security will get them a run-down one bedroom apartment with three roommates, rides to work on a bus, peanut butter sandwiches, no vacations EVER-- much less three months in a row off, no health care, and tennis shoes from K-Mart, not Foot Locker. No bling, no phat threads, and no pimpin' any rides. Suddenly four years of sitting in a classroom listening to someone drone on and on about 18th century British literature or the principles of accounting doesn't sound nearly as stupefying as fifty years of soul-destroying repetitive labor where you come home at the end of the day with the smell of fried food permeating even your HAIR, which you now have to get cut at Great Clips four times a year. They've asked their uncle about that job at the Ford plant, but it's shutting its doors in 2007 and outsourcing to Mexico under NAFTA, and soon their uncle may be delivering pizzas and competing with them for jobs-- and he, at least, has a history of showing up to work on time and following directions, which gives him a big leg up on them.

Gosh, is it too late to take the ACT?

Circle 6- The City of Dis; the Heretics: The teachers have once again realized that no matter how thick the student behavior guide is, that the assistant principals have pretty much no interest in enforcing the policies on tardiness, dress code, attendance, cell phones, smoking in the john, or insubordination unless it's directed at them. These teachers will "dis" these administrators with considerable bitterness. They are already huddling in circles in the hallway, disputing the diagnoses buried in IEPs and 504s, and mocking memos from administration. They have their own vision of what the school should look like, but theirs is not a theology bearing the imprimatur of the powers that be, so they just appear out of touch with reality. Those who work hard and strive to inculcate their students with a love of learning are nonetheless vilified by the public and even some of their peers. Those who think that students should be accountable for their shortcomings are considered to be child-hating misanthropes.

Circle 7- The Violent: Many of the parents have already had all the phone calls from school they are going to tolerate. They have blocked calls from any building in the district. Others have been lurking malevolently in the counseling office since the end of July demanding that their kids' schedules be changed about five times, or that an entire class be created to fully meet the needs of their son or daughter. Already two hundred of them have tried to enroll their children in our district by claiming the address of the UPS store down the street, and if they don't get what they want, they will try to intimidate anyone within hearing, including our sweet little white-haired registrar.

Circle 8- Malebolge, The Fraudulent: The counsellors and principals fall into various categories listed by Dante. They either spent two years in a classroom and are 24 years old, or they spent two years in the classroom twenty years ago. But no matter what, they are experts in good teaching methods and writing curriculum, or so they assure the staff. Among them are:
Panderers, who just want to be the students' "friend;"
Flatterers, who will tell you that they think you're a great teacher only to dump more work on you;
Simoniacs, who shower dispensations for referrals upon kids, in a bid to supposedly "save" them from the "Heretics;"
Hypocrites, who will merely counsel a kid who calls a teacher that word for "a person who would engage in carnal activity with his maternal relative" but who suspends a kid for six days for calling the AP a sexual deviate;
Sowers of Discord, Scandal, and Schism, who hang out all day with their favorite staff members in their office, trading gossip and innuendo regarding the rest of the staff-- they think that teachers are all incompetent, hyperbolic, child-hating misanthropes.

Circle 9- The Traitors: The central office administrators and school board. They will bizarrely give permission for five hundred kids who supposedly live at the UPS store down the street to attend schools in our district, and they will refuse to investigate reports that students are being dropped off at bus stops in cars with license plates from a neighboring state. They will overturn suspensions upon a whim. They will go to the National School Board Association meeting in Miami with their entire families while they tell teachers there is no money for raises and their deductible for health insurance will need to triple. They think that teachers are all incompetent, hyperbolic, child-hating misanthropes who are overpaid.

And how would our friend Dante describe this abode?

“And when, with gladness in his face, he placed his hand upon my own, to comfort me, he drew me in among the hidden things. Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air, so that, as soon as I set out, I wept. Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering, and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands—all went to make tumult that will whirl forever through that turbid, timeless air, like sand that eddies when a whirlwind swirls.” [Dante, as he enters the Gates of Hell. Canto III, Inferno]

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's a fine time for a Carnival...

over at The Education Wonks!

You can tell EdWonk is back in the land of technology, (please note the picture of the internet connection he was previously using to the left) and glad indeed we are that he's back. Sorry about the work thing, but glad he's back nonetheless.

Lots to see! Lots to read! Lots to think about! Give it a go!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Charter schools, test scores, and assumptions

I pulled myself out of the stupor I was in as I collapsed on the couch this afternoon just long enough to hear a news report about how some new study "showed" that students at charter schools scored worse on tests than students at regular public schools. I'm sorry that I'm so vague about the particulars, but the last few days have been a BEAR.

Now, I am rather neutral on the whole charter chool issue in general-- although the ones that have opened around here have been cited for sloppy record-keeping and shady financial deals, not to mention unqualified teachers. But that may not be the case everywhere. I can easily imagine that they COULD be done well-- unfortunately, I just haven't seen it.

So once again, this got me thinking about studies and statistics. First, do people not really understand that most "studies" in this country are hardly performed by disinterested third parties? Rather, many studies are created by interest groups as propaganda, and the statisticians compiling them are far less interested in ascertaining the "truth" than in gaining ammunition to support their particular point of view-- or at least the point of view of the people holding their leash providing the money to fund the "research." I mean, it's like those ads from the cigarette companies in the 1950s claiming that "4 out of 5" doctors doctors recommended Tarleton cigarettes because they "soothed the nerves."

Second, there are several variables for which it seems this study did not control. Consider: in many places, students whose parents place them in charter schools are fleeing chaotic former schools. A successful student is probably not going to prompt a parent to uproot their child. But a struggling student would be most likely to provoke a parent into taking a chance on an alternative school setting. Hence. how do we know that the students at charter schools didn't enter these school already behind in skills and test scores?

It's like comparing public school students to students at chi-chi private schools. Private schools can and do limit which students they accept, whereas public schools must take all comers. But control for income and other factors, and a different story emerges.

The study gets reported because it's news. People accept the story because it's on TV. But that doesn't prove the claims to be true.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 27: Metaphysical edition

Welcome back for another edition of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game! Here's how we play: I post a few quote from an unnamed movie, and you add a quote or two you like from the same movie. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday.

Let's really test the geekiness this time. Here we go!

"Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions."

"Don't think you are, know you are. Come on. Stop trying to hit me and hit me!"

"Okey dokey... free my mind. Right, no problem, free my mind, free my mind, no problem, right...."

"To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human."

"I know what you've been doing... why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You're looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn't really looking for him. I was looking for an answer."

"Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth."
"What truth?"
"There is no spoon."
"There is no spoon?"
"Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."

****Update: This week's movie is the dystopic fantasy


We are all looking for The ONE.

Thanks for playing!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

And filed under the category of: "DUH!"

This one's interesting.
Across the country, middle and high school students like Oakley are being required to spend more class time on English and math as officials try to raise test scores and meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Variations of the double-dose approach are being used in districts in such places as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, New Jersey and California.

Some students attend two class periods each day of English and math, and often one of those English classes is devoted to reading instruction -- something that traditionally ends when students leave elementary school.

Some schools offer longer classes, or classes that meet every day instead of every other day, or classes that are offered for a full year instead of a single semester.

The approach appears to pay off at test time, but some educators worry that youngsters forced to give up some of their electives are being deprived of a well-rounded education and the opportunity to explore new subjects.

Havenscourt Middle School in Oakland, California, decided to require two class periods of the core subjects for all students. The change left no time for electives and forced the school to drop wood shop, art, music and Spanish. Now, those electives and others are offered before and after school as extras.

"We can't say it's OK to spend so much time on the basics that we let the broader curriculum slide," said American Federation of Teachers spokesman John See, a former math teacher.

The union said 87 percent of its members -- across all grade levels -- reported in an April 2005 survey that increases in testing have pushed important subjects and activities out of the curriculum.

In March, the Washington-based Center on Education Policy released a survey that showed 71 percent of a sampling of 299 of the nation's 15,000 school districts were spending more time on math and reading to the exclusion of other subjects.

In Kansas, students at Oakley's high school have switched to a new program that requires freshmen and sophomores to prove they understand math concepts on two tests to get credit for a skill. Also, all ninth-graders are enrolled in two English classes, with one aimed at improving their reading skills.

Steve Gering, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in the district, said it is a balancing act between basic skills and electives.

"We are constantly trying to figure out, how can we get this young person in band because it's the right thing and double-block math and English," Gering said. "What's wrong is to wholesale eliminate electives."

I've seen it among some of the people in my own district who teach social studies. They've been informed that their sole raison d'etre is to raise English scores.

And if the kids learn a bit about history, sociology, or citizenship?

Pure bonus. But not considered important.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Education Carnival from the Wilderness

Even though I completely lost my faculties after sitting through three faculty meetings this week and didn't get a submission in because I was asleep on my living room floor immediately after coming home from school, the 80th Carnival of Education is up at EdWonks, whose voice calls to us from the wilderness of the Carolinas.

What's that he's saying?

"I'm..... still...... on...... vacation....... Neeeener..... neeener.... neeener!"

Go look! Go read! Wake me up when you come back! Bring caffeine!

Tiiiiiiiiired. So Tiiiiiiiiired.

First week of school. I have cafeteria duty. This is what THAT feels like. If someone could give me a B-12 shot or six uninterrupted hours of sleep, I would be forever grateful.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

See, I TOLD you punctuation matters.

This is great.
It could be the most costly piece of punctuation in Canada.

A grammatical blunder may force Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13-million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal's cancellation.

The controversial comma sent lawyers and telecommunications regulators scrambling for their English textbooks in a bitter 18-month dispute that serves as an expensive reminder of the importance of punctuation.

Rogers thought it had a five-year deal with Aliant Inc. to string Rogers' cable lines across thousands of utility poles in the Maritimes for an annual fee of $9.60 per pole. But early last year, Rogers was informed that the contract was being cancelled and the rates were going up. Impossible, Rogers thought, since its contract was iron-clad until the spring of 2007 and could potentially be renewed for another five years.

Armed with the rules of grammar and punctuation, Aliant disagreed. The construction of a single sentence in the 14-page contract allowed the entire deal to be scrapped with only one-year's notice, the company argued.

Language buffs take note — Page 7 of the contract states: The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Rogers' intent in 2002 was to lock into a long-term deal of at least five years. But when regulators with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) parsed the wording, they reached another conclusion.

The validity of the contract and the millions of dollars at stake all came down to one point — the second comma in the sentence.

Had it not been there, the right to cancel wouldn't have applied to the first five years of the contract and Rogers would be protected from the higher rates it now faces.

“Based on the rules of punctuation,” the comma in question “allows for the termination of the [contract] at any time, without cause, upon one-year's written notice,” the regulator said.

Rogers was dumbfounded. The company said it never would have signed a contract to use roughly 91,000 utility poles that could be cancelled on such short notice. Its lawyers tried in vain to argue the intent of the deal trumped the significance of a comma. “This is clearly not what the parties intended,” Rogers said in a letter to the CRTC.

But the CRTC disagreed. And the consequences are significant.

The contract would have shielded Rogers from rate increases that will see its costs jump as high as $28.05 per pole. Instead, the company will likely end up paying about $2.13-million more than expected, based on rough calculations.

Despite the victory, Aliant won't reap the bulk of the proceeds. The poles are mostly owned by Fredericton-based utility NB Power, which contracted out the administration of the business to Aliant at the time the contract was signed.

Neither Rogers nor Aliant could be reached for comment on the ruling. In one of several letters to the CRTC, Aliant called the matter “a basic rule of punctuation,” taking a swipe at Rogers' assertion that the comma could be ignored.

“This is a classic case of where the placement of a comma has great importance,” Aliant said.

I really like that last sentence best of all. Thanks to Scribbling Woman for the link.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 26: Summer's lease hath all too short a date

Well it's Monday, which means it's time for Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game, and I was thinking: Some people get to go out of town during their break, and go to exotic places like the Caribbean (Mr. Lawrence) or Disney World (NYC Educator) or Oregon (Ms. Teacher) or Babylon (Mike in Texas said he was going to Sumer) or Massachusetts (Ramblin' Educat), which the BeeGees loved so much they even sang about it. Me? I got a puppy.

So how better to celebrate (?) the fact that I will begin to press my nose to the grindstone today than a little bit of Movie Madnes Monday? What would Mondays be without it?

So here's how we play: I post a few juicy quotes from a movie. You respond with a quote of your own from the same movie WITHOUT revealing the name of the movie, so everyone get a chance to play. On Wednesday, I reveal the name of the movie and usually some more trivia about it.

Simple, right? Then let's go!

“I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!”

“Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun.”

“Oh, Ellen, the old west was dirty. Everything isn't like home. If everything were like home, there would be no reason for leaving home.”

“I'm going steady, and I French kiss.”
“So? Everybody does that.”
“Yeah, but Daddy says I'm the best at it.”

“I think I broke my nose.”
“I stabbed my brain.”
“I just got my period.”

“You were the one's who sent me the fruit cake for Christmas. It made me so sick.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. We thought you enjoyed fruit cake.”
“You enjoy throwing up every five minutes, Claude?”

“You know, if I wasn't in uniform, I'd split your skull with the butt of this revolver, faster than you could say ‘police brutality.’”

Have fun!

***Thursday Update: This week's ironic choice is

National Lampoon's Vacation!

Chevy Chase! Beverly D'Angelo! Dennis Quaid! And some blonde chick.... who was that woman?

Oh yeah, Christie Brinkley, which anyone would agree is a goddess.

Thanks for playing! Come back next week-- if I survive my first week of school....

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Some California Charter Schools Play "Stash the Loot"

A chain of charter schools overcharged the state more than $57 million over three years, reimbursed its top executives for expensive SUVs and paid thousands of dollars for employee parties at Disneyland, a state audit released Wednesday found.

Jack O'Connell, superintendent of public instruction, said he will seek to ensure that the state is reimbursed by the for-profit Opportunities for Learning and the nonprofit Options for Youth schools. He has sent the audit to Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who may pursue legal action.

The eight schools and more than 40 independent-study satellite centers serve students who otherwise would quit school or fail, said Kerry Mazzoni, spokeswoman for the schools.

"We deal with the arguably most at-risk students in the state -- students that have dropped out of school," Mazzoni said. "Our program is comparably very good, and we're just really puzzled why they would want to suggest that our program was not good."

Auditors found the charter schools transferred $10.8 million to a corporation run by the daughter of husband-and-wife owners Joan and John Hall. That corporation is not subject to state education laws.

The audit, which covered the 2002-03 to 2004-05 school years, said the charter school companies claimed $57 million more than they were entitled to by incorrectly reporting data that included the number of credentialed teachers, student-teacher ratios and student attendance rates.

Charter schools receive public funding and must follow state laws, but they often use alternative teaching methods.

Hmmm. Hey, Edwonk: How’d you like a shiny SUV to drive back from the Carolina wilds? And NYC Educator! Apparently if you teach at-risk students, the state should provide you with an SUV. All you gotta do is move to California.

Maybe Ahhhnuld will give you one of his Hummers.

Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, I think that just about says it all. And by the way, and I am serious here, someone needs to give this poor woman a sandwich. And make sure she eats it.

Because, you know what? To accuse other people of being "Godless" while engaging in hate-filled actions yourself reminds me of someone. Who is it? It's coming to me now....

Oh yeah. Osama bin Laden, Abdul Mahid, the Taliban, and all the rest of the people who bastardize religion to promote hate and division in our world.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Custodians from hell

Okay, so I just went back into my classroom, and the first thing that comes to mind that is not incredibly profane is:

"Rowrbazzle! TANSTAAFL! Mule Fritters! Dingo Kidneys! Rackin'-frackin' son of a mule-skinner!"

Yes, apparently the custodial staff had been hard at work in my room-- listening to music on my radio, watching music videos on the classroom tv, and dumping my things in a big pile in the middle of the room and OUT IN THE HALL.

When I left school in June, I had put away almost everything. A summer school class spent part of the term in my room, and I assured my friend who was teaching in there that she could use whatever she wanted, but I KNOW she didn't leave things out to just be thrown around. Strangely, there is a diagram of my room drawn on the chalkboard, which states where everything WAS when they took out the furniture to do the once-a-year floor cleaning (oooohh, gross!), but apparently it was just put there for artistic purposes, since they didn't actually USE the diagram to put anything BACK. It looks like a tornado hit that room-- and I KNOW whereof I speak. And my fan is missing.

Oh. And they broke my chair. Irretrievably. The leather one I paid for myself, that replaced the cracked pumpkin-colored plastic one that I inherited.

This is not the first instance of this type of fun. I had a window that would not latch when I moved in. It had been like that for over five years and two previous occupants. Countless work orders had been placed on this bad boy, which resulted after four visits from three different custodians, in some nice shiny duct tape (or, as the maintenance supervisor calls it "duck" tape) being slathered across the two panes like braces on a twelve-year-old. But I guess I shouldn't complain too much about that one-- another colleague swung her window open... and watched it slowly pirouette away from the frame like Frank Poole's corpse in 2001: A Space Odyssey and plummet three stories to the ground.

When the custodian finally came to the room, he looked through what was now a insect portal in her wall and said, and I quote, "Hey. The window's broken." I actually heard my friend's knuckles crack like microwave popcorn as she clenched her fists.

Combine that with the wires hanging from my ceiling, the broken clock with the cracked plastic cover and the 3'x2' obsolete intercom system with yet another clock that hasn't worked since 1967 but yet somehow still has been left to adorn the walls and you've got a lovely refugee college student motif going on that would give Carson Kressley a fit of the vapors.

At my previous school, it was not this way. If a table needed to be removed, two guys and a dollie showed up within the hour. The floors were actually swept every day. Teachers were not expected to provide their own classroom clocks, batteries, or surge protectors on top of the million other things upon which we spent our own money. It didn't take three sullen, hard-bitten men two days to bring up a box of paper from the first floor. The maintenance supervisor didn't go out to smoke for lunch for an hour and a half every day, either.

It took me two years in my new school to learn the following things:

1. If you want something done, wait for the night crew to come on duty and ask Louise. Louise will actually get it done, and call you "darlin'," too.
2. If you can't wait for Louise, email the work order to the maintenance supervisor and CC the principal.
3. If it weighs less than two hundred pounds, move it yourself.

So now I will spend about 4 hours rearranging my room.

But, by God, someone's buying me a new chair. One as nice as the maintenance supervisor's.

Happy One Year Anniversary, Scott!

Scott Elliott over at Get on the Bus celebrated his one year blog-iversary on Tuesday. Scott's blog is an outgrowth of his work as an education reporter for the Dayton Daily News.

Scott always has a really good take on education, especially for those of us who live in the Land Between the Coasts. Here are my top five favorite posts of his:
1. This one tried to keep the NYT's John Tierney honest in vaunting private schools over public schools. Scott did a great job in highlighting questions about the veracity of some studies used in Tierney's article.

2. This one piggybacked off a LA Times article and offered a fascinating take on a fundamentalist minister who teaches kids retorts to use toward their teachers when they are presented with information about evolution, one of my favorite topics.

3. This post, somewhat related to the previous one, asks whether Ohio is an "island of ignorance" when it comes to to its science curriculum. (I think we all wonder that, no matter where we live, given the sorry state of science education all across the country.)

4. This post's title says it all: "My Mom made me fat!"

5. This one made me think that Scott has spent some time in a classroom-- it's regarding the ethical implications of a student allowing another student to copy off his work.

If you haven't read Scott's blog lately, go over and take a gander-- and leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


The 79th Carnival of Education is up over at one of my favorite new reads: California LiveWire.

This week's edition is themed around "reading, writing, and arithmatic," and that reminded me of one of my favorite 90s bands-- the Sundays. I think I know what I'll be listening to as I read the collective effort over at the Carnival....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"Clever" is the new "failure" in England

Apparently, this time of year is always good for a story from some of our colleagues in the UK. Last year it was a motion to stop using the word "failure." This year, "clever" is in the crosshairs at the Professional Association of Teachers meeting in Oxford:
Teachers have been told they should stop telling their pupils they are clever, because it is "uncool" and could put them off learning.

Instead, delegates at the 34,000-strong Professional Association of Teachers annual conference in Oxford heard yesterday, they should use words such as "successful".

Simon Smith, a teacher from Sweyne Park school in Rayleigh, Essex, told the conference: "I am sorry to say a culture has developed that mocks being clever. We should fight against it: change the language that we use, change something.

"I have talked to various pupils. They said being clever meant you were boring, lacked personality, were a teacher's pet and other things not polite enough to mention in company such as this. With a few exceptions, including sport, academic prowess is in many eyes not 'cool'. We need to change this, perhaps by changing the language we use. 'Clever' suggests to me a pure academic ability, passing exams at A grades.

"This is how pupils see things. If we were to use the word 'successful' rather than 'clever', we could all achieve it at our own level and in our own way."

Ann Nutley, from Bacon's College in Southwark in south London, said pupils often did not turn up for their awards at school prize-givings "because it is not cool to be seen to be walking up to the stage to receive your prize".

Wesley Paxton, of the East Ridings of Yorkshire, said achievers and Nobel Prize winners were never considered to be celebrities. "Some so-called self-made men can be almost proud of not having done well at school," he said. He cited Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson and David Beckham.

Well, at least this time they're not blaming us for this trend, although I suspect we certainly have kids who think the same way here in the US.

But Mr. Smith's comment intrigues me. Are the words "successful" and "clever" synonymous?

The three men cited later as being role models are certainly recognized as successful. Mr. Sugar is famous in the UK as the billionaire host of the British version of The Apprentice and as founder of an electronics and communications company. Mr. Branson, of course, is even more filthy rich, having founded Virgin Records (where he is hopefully one day going to be held accountable for inflicting Boy George and Culture Club on an already musically-reeling world), Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Atlantic Airways, not to mention doing all sorts of crazy stunts far more successfully than Steve Fossett. He also has had his own reality TV show. Mr. Beckham, unfortunately known to soccer-stupid Americans only as Mr. Posh Spice or as a pioneering metrosexual man not afraid to get manicures or wear a sarong in public, when in reality he's one of the most gifted British footballers and the only British player to score in three World Cups.

But are these men clever? Remember, clever has a different connotation here in the US than it does in Jolly Old England-- we tend to use the term "smart." Probably the American version of Mr. Sugar and Mr. Branson might be Bill Gates, who famously dropped out of Harvard to found a little software company aeons before any of us knew that a computer didn't need its own room. Mr. Beckham, while no doubt an admirable human being who contributes loads of attention to UNICEF and other charities, has not ever been described as brilliant --other than physically.

The second question is this: does praising students for being smart actually discourage them from pursuing knowledge? I have not noticed this with most of my students. Although I have students who wouldn't be seen dead with a book in their hand, I wouldn't quanitfy this as an epidemic severe enough to ban the use of a word like "smart" in the classroom.

Well, what do you think?

It's not my way to love you just when no one's looking

Happy Birthday today to Keith Carradine-- actor, painter, composer, singer, and brother to Caine, Kung Fu master. Currently playing Wild Bill Hickok on HBO's Deadwood, pictured above, Carradine lives on in my heart as the guy who wrote and sang "I'm Easy" for the Robert Altman film Nashville back in 1976, when I was a wee child.

Imagine my horror when I was reminded that that bit of musical treacle actually won an Academy Award AND a Golden Globe for best song in a film. Do you know that it beat out "Theme from Mahogany" for the Oscar, the song that gave us the immortal questions, "Do you know where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?"

Crap. The Seventies really DID suck musically, at least in film-- kind of like last year.

But Happy Birthday anyway, Keith!

So here's a question: What do you think was the worst/most annoying song of the Seventies?

An ancillary question is what group do you consider most annoying? I vote for Starland Vocal Band. Or Rush.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 25: Love Thy Neighbor Edition-- Southern Fried

Welcome to Movie Madness Monday 25, the weekly trivia-fest where we trot out quotes from our favorite movies.

Here’s how we play: I toss you a few fragrant quotes from a movie. You stop your damn lurking and post a quote of your own from the same movie. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday, to give everyone a chance to play.

This week’s selection is in honor of some of the toughest, yet smartest, people in my life. Let’s see how you do on this one:

“I'm just screamin' at my husband-- I can do that any time!”

“Time marches on, and, sooner or later, you realize it’s marchin' across your face.”

“All gay men have track lighting. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick, or Steve.”

“The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.”

“You have the handwriting of a serial killer.”

“Louie brought his new girlfriend over, and the nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.”

“I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don't see movies 'cause they're trash, and they got nothin' but naked people in them. And I don't read books, because if they're any good, they're gonna make 'em into a miniseries.”

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


Now this film apparently inspired a nearly prehistoric-level fight-or-flight response in our male playmates. Further, I deny that this is the "Ultimate Chick Flick"-- first, I detest that term, and second, I think The Bridges of Madison County would win-- and by the way, that had Clint Eastwood in it. Just because it's got a bunch of women in it, and they're fully clothed, you guys get a fit of the vapors! Steel Magnolias was written by a man who based the story upon his own family's struggle with his sister's illness. I love the dialogue!

By the way, take a good look at the picture above. Notice anything about the hair?

Short, Short, Medium, Big, Bigger, Bigger!!! and JUUUUST RIGHT. It's an homage to BIG HAYER!

Thanks for playing!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

You Can Take the Girl Out of the English Department...

but you can't make her stop recoiling in horror at some of the verbal flotsam and jetsam that crosses her desk. Every year I have to explain to my students that spell-check, while a wonderful thing in general, will not catch homophones or other words that are real words but misused in context. It is a speech I am willing to give about 675 more times before I retire. I also gently explain that, because they are young, people will assume that they are not that smart, which is wrong, but writing incorrectly or sloppily merely gives their foes ammunition in the generational war. I hereby proclaim to the world my favorite nitpicks and bugaboos.

Although I am an ardent proponent of free speech, there are certain words I do not allow students to use in written work in my class. Some of them are:
a lot (or, far worse: alot!!!)
stuff (and its cousin, thing)
("There are really, really, really a lot of very good adjectives and adverbs and other stuff that are far more specific and descriptive," Ms. Cornelius wheedled, cajoled, exclaimed, proclaimed, decreed...)
cuz or 'cause

Commonly misspelled (also often "mispelled") words that we learn how to spell and use correctly in the first week and a half of class, and then I never want to see them again, include:
past (not passed)
too (not to)
it's (not its)
their or they're (not there)
where (not were)
are (not or or our)
cavalry (not calvary)
soldier (not soilder or solider)
whose (not who's)
countries and cities (not countrys and citys)
environment (not enviroment or envierment)
government (not govermint)
independence (not independance)
etc. (not ect.)
sergeant (not sargiant)
perseverence (not preserverance)
believe (not beleive or belive)
February (not Feberary)
Wednesday (not Wensday)
occasion (not occassion)
tomatoes and tornadoes (not tomatos and tornados)
seize and seizure (not seeze and seejure)
separate (not seperate)
prairie (not prayrie or prerie)
surprise (not suprise or-- shudder!-- sprise)
psych (not sike)
tomorrow (not tommorrow)
women (not woman for the plural)
loose (not lose)
breathe (not breath)
writing (nor writting or righting)
Australia (not Austria)
Asia (not Aisa)
English and America (not english or ammerica)
piece (not peace)
chief (not cheif)

Furthermore, I am currently waging a one-woman war against the comma splice and the sentence fragment. (We do not start papers with "Hi my name is____" nor do we end them with "And that is my paper on _____," either.) I have also abandoned diplomatic channels when it comes to the misuse of apostrophes. It's a lonely war, and many of my natural allies accuse me of overstating the threat they pose to civilization, but I have proof that they are Weapons of Sense Obstruction.... I may eventually invade a neighboring country known as Three Sentence Paragraph, but my forces are currently stretched thin....

What are your pet peeves as a teacher?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The 78th Carnival of Education is up...

and is a "Ferris Wheel edition" at This Week in Education. Let's hope you don't get stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel... or under someone who's about to upchuck. That happened in front of me once. I tried not to laugh. It was hard.

Save Ferris!

And Kansas swings back again...

Kansas just took one step back from the Middle Ages yesterday (now, if they'd just laugh Fred Phelps out of the state, we'd be getting somewhere), as moderates grabbed control of the state school board that devised science standards favoring intelligent design:
Teachers and scientists joined with moderate and liberal political action groups to campaign for the ouster of the conservatives and return to teaching what they consider conventional science.

The Kansas standards, meant to be guidelines for teachers across the state, were seen as a victory for the "intelligent design" movement, which holds that the world is so complex that a higher authority -- God -- must have created it.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted early on Wednesday, moderates had gained two seats and secured a third on the 10-member board, pushing conservatives -- two held their seats -- into the minority.

"We're going to have a new majority on the school board," said Boo Tyson, executive director of the MAINstream Coalition, which helped fund the campaign against the conservatives. "The people of Kansas have said they want their school board focused on something else than this hot-button issue."

The moderate challengers in the Republican primary gained the advantage by unseating one conservative on the board and giving a fourth open seat to a grandmother and teacher who has been highly critical of the board's anti-evolution actions.

Democrat Janet Waugh also held her seat against a challenger who had been dubbed anti-evolution.

The Kansas vote is the latest development in a renewed U.S. debate over evolution, which has simmered before and since the famed Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee 80 years ago.

The Kansas standards say there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, charge that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory, and say certain evolutionary explanations "often reflect ... inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence."

Inferential? Oh, you mean like inferring that the lack of proof proves something scientifically? Um… sorry. Carry on:
Kansas' school board has shifted repeatedly on the issue. It pushed through anti-evolution standards in 1999, prompting moderates to oust conservatives in 2000. But the conservatives regained power and pushed through the latest anti-evolution standards last year.

In February, the Ohio Board of Education reversed a 2002 mandate requiring critical analysis of evolution in science classes. That followed a federal judge's ruling that teaching intelligent design to Dover, Pennsylvania, students was unconstitutional.

Belief that the complexity of the universe proves the hand of a Creator is just that—a religious belief. In science, one does not infer from a vacuum. Hypotheses are often born in this manner, but not theories. If scientific theory worked in this way, we could say that the fact that an airplane leaves the ground proves that the laws of gravity don’t apply to big aluminum tubes; or perhaps (and maybe this will sound familiar to you) if someone is ill, it’s because they are possessed by demons.

Every time I look at one of my children peacefully sleeping, I look upon it as proof that this universe is a wondrous place, and I pray my thanks to God for all the good things in my life. But that is a religious response—not a scientific one. Purely religious beliefs like intelligent design are being perverted for a political agenda. They are being cheapened by people who claim that they are scientific. Kansas sought to promote the teaching of religion in their schools (ignoring the problem that, if you do that, the next question is whose religion gets the nod?), and worse, they tried to claim that those religious beliefs were science.

As hard as scientists try, there will always be concepts that cannot be proven. The existence of God is one of them. As hard as theologians try, there will always be beliefs that cannot be proven. The existence of God is one of them.

That’s why humans have a capacity for faith. As well as a capacity for reason.

The proponents of intelligent design believe these two gifts are at war within humankind. I personally don’t believe God works that way.

(For previous posts on this topic, look here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Whew!)

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