A Shrewdness of Apes

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Treating teachers like #&*$!, part 2

If you teach for more than a couple of months, you will begin to collect stories. The sad part is that these stories are TRUE. So our discussion about the level of discourse in my previous post brought to mind a story from early in my teaching career. And I give you my word that this is true.

There was one young man we had that year who was particularly troubled. Due to special circumstances, I didn't have Al in my class, but I did talk to him in the hallway. Never turned in any work, even that which was done in class, scribbled all over his test papers or drew pictures on them, wore a great big chain from his wallet to his belt loop that looked like it was from an anchor for an aircraft carrier. On top of this, Al was an angry little man, confrontational, racist, and misogynistic. When we called home, they blocked the school's phone number. When Al would get suspended for fighting or whatever, we had to call the grandma, who would then relay the message to the mom that she needed to come get Al.

It was parent-teacher time, and the team of teachers met in one room so that the parents could speak to all the teachers at once. The system used then was that parents could just show up and see the team on a first-come, first-served basis. They would just add their names to the list outside the door, and as we finished one conference and sent the family on their way, we would call another. It was at a lull in festivities that night, and we had run through our list of names and were just getting ready to lean back in our chairs and maybe run to the potty when Assistant Principal Good Ole Boy showed up and said that Al's mother was there, and she was angry about Al's grades since she'd never been notified (of course, there had been the phone calls, the messages left with Gramma, to certified letter sent home, but never mind). After we got over the shock of AP Good Ole Boy on the top floor at all, since he NEVER came to our classrooms since it involved climbing stairs, and that reminded him too much of exercise, it was suggested that I go run an errand while the rest of the team waited for Al's mom to come up, and AP Good Ole Boy decided he would stay. They decided to use my room.

Al's mom had come to the conference looking for blood, and boy, was she mad. But, there was one small detain the AP had neglected to warn everyone about.

Apparently, Al's mother belonged to the Society for Creative Anachronisms or something like it, because she came to the conference dressed in bright green tights, leather boots, a leather jerkin and a felt cap with a feather in it. She looked like a female, middle-aged, chain-smoking version of Friar Tuck.

She apparently came in loaded for bear, too, because two seconds hadn't passed before she accused everyone in the room of refusing to take her son's papers, of picking on him and refusing to help him. She was particularly mad at the math teacher on our team, who was a cross between an absent minded professor and a grandma.

After increasing the pitch of her yelling to somewhere in the hearing range of dogs, she suddenly let out a shriek and launched herself over the table at the math teacher and looked like she has going to strangle her. AP Good Ole Boy deflected the mom in midair, and basically held her under one arm like a furious medieval package while the teachers made their escape. He tried putting her down, but she tried to get at the teachers again, so GOB just corralled her down the stairs, calmly drawling, "Wayulllll, this conf'rence is OVER!" until he got her downstairs and escorted her from the building as she screamed curses and threats, impotently kicking her feet against the ground.

I got there just in time to see my colleagues scurry from the room and see him carrying the furious, hissing woman in that very interesting hold down the stairs, repeating that line over and over. I just stood in the hall with my mouth agape, trying to make some sense of the part of it I had seen, and then questioning my sanity: "Was she wearing a costume? Did I just see her underwear? What the hell just happened?" The conference table lay with a broken leg in the middle of my floor, papers were scattered from hell to breakfast, and my friends looked like a tornado had swept them up.

And I missed almost the entire thing.

So every time I get a crazed parent, I think of Al's mother. I tell myself it could be worse, and I move on.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Treating teachers like #&*$!

Earlier this week I posted about the increasing amount of cursing that students are doing in school. That very day, a student was talking to me about bands that he likes, and in ONE sentence, he used three rude words for anatomical parts of the body and one curse word. I want to give him credit that after I gave him "that look" he immediately stopped, realized what he had said, and apologized. But for the rest of our conversation about Stevie Ray Vaughan, he had to keep catching himself.

Then a colleague told me about a parent who called him up and began remonstrating with him about giving her child a detention for an obvious violation for which he had been warned beforehand. This student and two other classmates were given detentions at the same time. As this parent continued to talk, she got louder and more overblown in her rhetoric and vituperation. Within three or four minutes, she was shouting into the receiver, claiming that her child was being singled out and discriminated against, and about how my friend obviously was racist. This tirade went on for a few minutes, until finally my friend realized that the longer this woman talked, the more out-of-control she was going to become, and mildly suggested that this woman should call the assistant principal. My friend them hung up the phone-- while the woman was still shrieking and cursing.

Luckily, he gave the assistant principal the heads-up, and sure enough, the mother called her up and began the same pattern: first simply complaining, the getting louder, then shouting into the phone and making all kinds of absurd claims and creating hypothetical situations, and so on. So the assistant principal eventually stated that the conversation was over and hung up on this woman, as well, after suggesting she call the head principal. She then called in the kid, who admitted that he had violated the rule and that he had been warned. He felt that the detention was justified, and wasn't all that upset about it.

The AP told the principal the story, and a few minutes later the mother called the principal. Same story. Forceful language, rage, threats, shouting, loss of verbal and mental control and finally random barrages of verbal abuse, until finally the principal stated that the conversation was over and had to hang up on her. I am sure within another 40 minutes, the mother had called the assistant superintendent and the superintendent and followed the same pattern. Perhaps she got to some of the school board members before the day was done-- who knows?

This woman spent more time yelling, screaming, and cursing about the consequence assigned to her son than the son is going to spend in detention. And untold professional people had to listen to her insanity so that later they wouldn't be accused of refusing to listen to her side of the story, so that her voice would be heard. And a rude, abusive voice, it was.

When teachers are expected to endure any sort of verbal vomit from the public, it is just another example of how the level of discourse in our society has been degraded. It is further proof of the point in the previous discussion about how these kids are hearing and seeing this kind of self-expression modeled at home, and not just from parents, but from video games and movies and their MySpace pages and on and on.

The problem is when parents like these feel that they are entitled to speak to teachers and administrators that way. Her child was spoken to politely but firmly throughout the entire experience. Imagine if a teacher had unleashed a fraction of her rhetorical spew upon a student-- or simply betrayed a similar amount of emotion towards her or her child. Such an action would be unprofessional would be condemned, and rightfully so.

But I have a feeling that having to tolerate this kind of behavior simply encourages it and even drives it to further extremes.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hide the butter knives, because I may be despondent after this.

Are you a history teacher, or a parent? Well go read this, and see how you do.

Here's the actual article from USAToday.

Jeez. I need a drink.

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Heh. Tell me something I DON'T know...

This caught my eye, and teachers everywhere are rolling their eyes that this is news. However, also note the statements I have boldfaced:

Adolescents and preteens are swearing more publicly than ever — especially at school, experts say.

It's conversational swearing — in the hallways and in the classroom — that is on the rise, says Timothy Jay, one of the leading scholars on cursing in the United States.

Teens are more likely to drop casual expletives, or "fillers," than the generation before them and have more trouble adjusting their conversation to fit their audience. That means adults — especially strangers who cannot sanction the teens — hear more of the same language that the teens' friends hear, says Jay, author of "Why We Curse" and "Cursing in America."

He estimates that the average adolescent uses roughly 80 to 90 swear words a day.

"Elementary school teachers report that children are using more offensive language at school than they have in the past," says Jay, who is compiling data for a study he will complete in the fall examining preteens and swearing. "They have been breaking the rules at school more frequently in the last 10 years."

Jay, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass., has been studying swearing trends since the 1970s.

"Our language values are shifting, and it's just different, not better or worse," he says.

At R.W. Emerson Junior High School in Davis, seventh-grader Kaley McGrew, 13, hears peers using curses as fillers when they can't think of another way to express themselves.

"Some people swear, and they don't even think about what they are doing; they just say it," she says. "It's just become casual to them, but to some people who don't swear, it can be shocking."

The Emily Post Institute's Cindy Post Senning, co-author of "Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond," recommends talking to adolescents about the public image they want to convey through language.

"Some people use swear words with friends and nobody is offended," says the etiquette expert. "The problem is that it becomes a habit and it can offend unintended listeners."

Post Senning suggests working on helping teens control their profanity rather than disciplining them for using it. And evidence supports her idea: In a 2006 study conducted by Jay, 94 percent of people who reported being punished for cursing continued to swear.

Cursing is a behavior learned from family members, according to Jay.

"It starts as soon as they learn how to talk," Jay says. "At a young age, they're attentive to emotions. When you're swearing to be funny or when you're angry, that just draws them right to it."

Jay said that although the Internet, television and other media may be making adolescents more comfortable with swearing, it is their parents' own language habits that are the biggest influence.

The solution, says Jay, is for parents to teach the etiquette of swearing.

"Kids should know about the power of language," Michael Leahy, a counselor at Emerson Junior High, agreed. "Parents should remind them about how important words can be and when you should use them."

Okay. First of all, how is it NOT worse for kids to regularly use the "B" word, the "C" word, the other "B" word,the "A" word, the "F" word, the "N" word, the "MF" word and the slew of other words I am too tired from hearing in the hallways today? Jeez, the fact that we are afraid to say that ANYTHING is wrong is how we got in this place to begin with. Moral relativism leads to moral vacuity.

Second of all, the second comment reminds me of the time I called home to a parent to talk about his child's constant use of profanity, and the man responded profanely with a promise to beat a certain part of his daughter's anatomy. I nearly choked from the irony of it all.

Third, it just cracks me up to think of the phrase, "the etiquette of swearing." It just sounds like a complete oxymoron, even though I understand what the point of that comment was. However, as a parent, I really want to emphasize when NOT to curse, rather than to discuss when it is permissible. I think there's quite a bit of difference between the two things.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 104: twinkletoes edition

From the profound to the cheesy, in one fell swoop! Yes, it's Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game, and the wind is blowing me a different direction! Let's see if you can guess this classic!

Put your quotes in the comments section without naming the movie, now!

"I've been thinking about the Domino Effect. Now, if Vietnam falls, does that mean China's next?"

"Just last week, I stole a girl from Jamie, the lifeguard, and he asked her, right in front of me, 'What does he have that I don't?' And she said, 'Two hotels.'"

"Oh, my God. Look at that! Ma, I should have brought my coral shoes. You said I was taking too much!"
"Well, sweetheart, you brought ten pairs."
"But the coral shoes match that dress!"
" This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine, or police dogs used in Birmingham."
"Monks burning themselves in protest."
"Butt out, Baby!"

"Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you."

"Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space."

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Teary-eyed alert: you've been warned

I just got back from watching my daughter's basketball team triumphantly figure out how to win a game and ran into this story from one of my favorite reads, meeciteewurkor from Mah Beloved Home State.

You must read this, and if you don't get choked up, you have no heart.
At a time when youth sports are too often tainted by overzealous parents or callous coaches, Cylie Pastian provides a ray of hope.

You could argue that the fifth-grader from De Smet was the most valuable player of the 16th annual Girls Tri-State Basketball Tournament, which ended Saturday after filling Sioux Falls gyms with 98 teams from five states.

Cylie didn't make a field goal, grab a rebound, dish off an assist or record a steal for the Bulldogs, who finished fourth in their section.

But the 11-year-old fired up free throws with enough care and consistency to make Shaquille O'Neal look like a rec league dropout.

More importantly, she continued to teach her teammates - and every opponent they face - that sports still can play a positive role in shaping the way we live.

Two years ago, Cylie was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma - which led to extended chemotherapy and the removal of part of her right femur.

Her doctors say she can't have physical contact. But it was always her dream to play basketball.

So her coaches devised a plan: Every time one of the De Smet players is fouled and is awarded free throws, Cylie comes in to shoot for them.

Whether she makes or misses, the whistle blows and she comes out of the game to resume her role as scorekeeper. The other team is awarded the ball, no matter who gathers the rebound.

According to her coaches, Doug Osthus and Jennifer Pommer, no opposing coach ever has complained. For a game at least, the hypercompetitive culture of youth athletics is nowhere to be found.

"When you think what Cylie must have gone through, all that other stuff just fades away," Osthus says. "It basically teaches you that when push comes to shove, people put things in perspective. I can't think of one problem that we've had."

As for Cylie, she works on her free throws at every practice, and she has a goal for her basketball career.

"I want to play at South Dakota State," she tells you.

Please read the entire story.

Everyone involved in this story has behaved like a champion. God bless them.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

An unsavory discovery at Hallmark Meat Company

The scandal from the lack of inspectors in meatpacking plants continues to spread, as it was revealed this week that some of the tainted product made it into the school lunch program:
More than a third of the 143 million pounds of California beef recalled last week went to school lunch programs, with at least 20 million pounds consumed, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday.

About 50 million pounds of the meat went to schools, said Eric Steiner, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service's special nutrition programs.

Of that amount, about 20 million pounds have been eaten, 15 million pounds are on hold at storage facilities and 15 million pounds are still being traced, he said.

Officials said, however, that they still weren't able to provide the names of all the places the meat wound up.

"Sitting here today, I cannot tell you how many locations the product has gone to," said Dr. Kenneth Peterson, of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. "Our focus is identifying the locations and making sure the product is under control."

The USDA shut down Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. and issued the nation's largest beef recall after the Humane Society of the United States released undercover video of workers kicking and shoving sick and crippled cows and forcing them to stand with electric prods, forklifts and water hoses.

The plant produces about a fifth of all the meat in the federal school lunch programs, said Bill Sessions, associate deputy administrator for livestock and seed Programs with USDA's agriculture marketing service.

Well I can tell you that some of that beef made it here to the Land Between the Coasts, and several area school districts had their names splashed all over the news for having received some of the recalled beef. Some of these districts are very large, and some are from very wealthy areas.

Interestingly, the school district in which I teach ALSO received some of the tainted product, but somehow we managed to keep our name out of the media. Seriously, you've gotta admire the job our PR folks do-- somebody there HAS to have sold their soul to the devil or something, because the media never hears anything about anything negative about our district. I make this point not to cast aspersions upon the Powers That Be, but to simply say to those of us who are parents: Just because you haven't heard that your district was affected by this story, doesn't mean that it wasn't. At least our school district disclosed it to parents in a letter. Other districts certainly aren't as accountable. So, if I were you, I would contact my school district to find out what had happened in your situation. Food poisoning in small children is very dangerous, and this should serve as a wake-up call.

Oh, and if you go back and read the rest of the article, you will see that an employee caught on film abusing the downer cattle has turned himself in to police. Let's hope that the accountability doesn't stop with employees but goes up to the management and ownership of Hallmark Meat Company.

And the next time you hear someone rail against taxes, think about what it would be worth to you if the government actually could afford to put inspectors into these plants more than once in a blue moon. Another thing that would be nice would be if our government would make this a priority, too, but that's just wishful thinking....

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Generation Tech: Students teach elders a thing or two

A group of middle schoolers in Missouri have started volunteering as technological tutors for the older adults in their community who may feel cowed by all the techno-babble. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
At 70 years old, Loretta Stadler is trying to understand the difference between a user name and a password. Caylen Erger, 13, is biting her lip, searching for the best way to explain it.

"You have to type in both so nobody can just sign into your e-mail and read it," Caylen says.

"Oh," says Stadler, of the Affton area, her eyes beaming behind her bifocals as if a light just went on behind them.

Similar scenarios are playing out at several computer terminals around them Monday in the library of Seckman Middle School in the Fox School District. For an hour every month since December, students have invited technologically challenged adults to come in for lessons on how to use their latest gadgets.

For some, like Stadler, it's learning to do more than play solitaire on her computer.

For others, it's learning to use their cell phones, satellite TV boxes, DVD players, VCRs and GPS systems.

Patience in teaching seems to have come naturally to the children, said Gina Beuhner, 33, a math teacher and adviser to the program.

"I'm a nervous wreck over here," says Barb Wiethuchter, 67, of Arnold. "Or maybe I'm just a wreck."

"That's OK," replies Carlie Firestein, 14, of Imperial. "There is plenty of things I don't know how to do."

Carlie, along with Caleb Doyle and Alex Baum, all 14, came up with the idea of offering the free technology consulting hour. They dubbed the effort, Project TEAM, or Teens Educating Adults on Modern Technology.

"I realized there was a need to strengthen the bond between my generation and the older folks, and what better way than to teach them something we know a lot about," Caleb said.

What a wonderful idea that could be duplicated anywhere. As more school districts require community service hours as graduation requirements, we teachers often see kids claim that helping mom at work or cutting their own grass should qualify. Here's an example of true service to the community, and it seems pretty simple to set up.

Kudos to these kids and their teachers, not to mention the school district for giving access to their computers to community members.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Each moment an adventure...

You've heard the old saw about if a monkey sat down at a keyboard and typed for a million years, it would reproduce the works of Shakespeare?

I have a student whose brain works the same way.

You just never know what's going to come out of his mouth. I could say the strangest of words, like, say, I don't know, "effervescent," and out will come some strange mishmash of ideas and imagery-- kind of like a John Dos Passos novel, but drawn completely from pop culture and in particular Nick at Nite.

Frustrating? Fascinating? Entertaining? Endearing?

Depends on how well rested I am on any particular day.

Today? I was tired.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fifty Years! Fifty! Years!

This gentleman has coached baseball and basketball at the same New York Catholic high school since 1958.
Jack Curran has been the basketball coach at Archbishop Molloy since he replaced Lou Carnesecca in 1958.

“I was living in West Springfield at the time, selling building materials for a living,” Curran recalled last week. “I read in the paper that Lou Carnesecca, the head basketball and baseball coach at Archbishop Molloy, was leaving for St. John’s. I thought, hey, I know the area and I like coaching and working with young kids, maybe I should look into it.”

Curran got the job, and for the past half-century, he has not had to look for another. Still strolling the sideline at 77, he has won more basketball and baseball games — 2,491 — than any high school coach in the United States.

“He’s won everything except World War III,” Carnesecca said in a telephone interview this week. “No one in the country has Jack’s record in both sports, no one. And along the way, he has become more than just a great coach, he has become one of the great treasures of New York City.”

On Friday, after Archbishop Molloy’s basketball game against visiting St. Francis Prep, Curran will be honored for his 50 years of service to the school. Entering the game, he is three victories shy of 900 for his career. He needs 6 in baseball to reach 1,600.

Throughout the changing seasons, Curran has become as much a fixture in Queens as the Mets, the Lemon Ice King of Corona and the World’s Fair Unisphere.

“As a human being, he’s probably one of the greatest around,” said Kevin Joyce, who played for Curran at Archbishop Molloy. Joyce later played for the Indiana Pacers of the American Basketball Association and is now an institutional sales trader in New York. “As far as coaching goes, I always measured every coach I had after high school against Coach Curran, and none of them ever measured up.”

Since arriving at Archbishop Molloy, a perennial power in the Catholic High School Athletic Association’s AA Division, Curran has compiled a two-sport record of 2,491-826, including Tuesday night’s 66-65 overtime victory at Xaverian of Brooklyn. He has won 5 city championships in basketball and 17 in baseball. And while no other New York City coach has ever won a title in both sports in the same year, Curran has done it four times — in 1969, ’73,’74 and ’87.

He has been inducted into nine Halls of Fame, including the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.

Read the whole thing.

What an incredible story! Think of the thousands of lives he has touched, and the success that he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his career. It's awe-inspiring.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 103: American masterpiece edition

It's President's Day, and I'm in the mood for a hero. It is high time for a classic-- one of the few books that was also turned into a magnificent film.

So you know how the game works: Put your quotes in the comments section, and tell me if this isn't one of the greatest movies or books ever.

"Somehow, it was hotter then. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their 3 o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go and nothing to buy... and no money to buy it with."

"Jem's up in the tree. He says he won't come down until you agree to play football for the Methodists."

"I'm little but I'm old."

"You can pet him, Mr. Arthur. He's asleep. Couldn't if he was awake, though; he wouldn't let you. Go ahead."

"What kind of man ARE you?"

"There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible."

"Good Afternoon Miss Dubose... My, you look like a picture this afternoon."
"He don't say a picture of what."

****Weekend Update: This week's hero was Atticus Finch, fantastically portrayed by Gregory Peck in


--one of my favorite books and movies ever. So often the movie version of a book disappoints, particularly when you take a classic. Every missing word is like a wound to the heart. But not in this case. A wonderful, wonderful cinematic experience. If you haven't read the book recently, you need to revisit this one. And then watch this masterpiece.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Line of the week (non-politician category)

Happychyck has nailed it with this one:

"Oh, that's right! I'm a teacher! I drink a shot of bitter disappointment blended with martyrdom each day for lunch. Its builds healthy cynicism."



Friday, February 15, 2008

One week in February: Another cataclysm of gun violence in American schools

This may have been one of the bloodiest weeks for violent incidents at schools within my memory. The sad litany:

February 7: A teacher is shot and stabbed by her estranged husband in an Ohio elementary school classroom.
The man who allegedly shot and stabbed his teacher wife at a Catholic elementary school in front of her students Thursday is dead of what police believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Portsmouth, Ohio, Police Chief Charles Horner said.

The man, whom the chief identified as William Michael Layne, barricaded himself in his home after apparently going to Notre Dame Elementary School in the morning and shooting and stabbing his wife, fith-grade teacher Christy Layne, authorities said.

February 8: A female student at Louisiana Technical College kills two other students and then herself.
A female student shot and killed two classmates and then herself this morning in a classroom at Louisiana Technical College’s Baton Rouge campus, United Press International reported.

Police officers responding to a 911 call around 8:30 a.m. found the three already dead. Twenty other people were in the classroom at the time, the police said. The women’s identities have not been released, but the shooter was 23 years old, while the victims were 21 and 26.

February 11: In Memphis, the second shooting in EIGHT DAYS:
Memphis City Schools administrators and board members pleaded for the community's help in curbing school violence in the wake of the second school shooting in eight days.

A Mitchell High School student was in critical condition Monday night after he was shot multiple times during a gym class in the cafeteria at 9 a.m.

Police arrested a Mitchell student who gave a pistol to teacher and coach Darryl Montgomery right after the shooting, saying, "It's over now."

"We have to answer: 'Why are our kids so angry?' " said Memphis Board of Education president Tomeka Hart. "It's going to take a total community effort."

Board members met Monday night, and after a moment of silence they took up their scheduled business, the new budget.

Corneilous Cheers, 17, a sophomore at the Southwest Memphis school, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, reckless endangerment, unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon and carrying a weapon on school property.

On February 14, Valentine's Day, we have TWO deadly incidents: First, In California, one middle school student shoots another student in what may be a hate crime:
Ventura County prosecutors charged a 14-year-old boy with the shooting death of a classmate Thursday and said the killing in an Oxnard classroom was a premeditated hate crime.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox declined to discuss a motive in the shooting or why prosecutors added the special allegation of a hate crime against Brandon McInerney, who was charged as an adult.

But classmates of the slain boy, Lawrence King, said he recently had started to wear makeup and jewelry and had proclaimed himself gay. Several students said King and a group of boys, including the defendant, had a verbal confrontation concerning King's sexual orientation a day before the killing.

Then, the same day, at Northern Illinois University, a former student opened fire on a geography class and killed 5 others before killing himself.
If there is such a thing as a profile of a mass murderer, Steven Kazmierczak didn't fit it: outstanding student, engaging, polite and industrious, with what looked like a bright future in the criminal justice field.

And yet on Thursday, the 27-year-old Kazmierczak, armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action shotgun he had carried onto campus in a guitar case, stepped from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opened fire on a geology class. He killed five students before committing suicide.

University Police Chief Donald Grady said, without giving details, that Kazmierczak had become erratic in the past two weeks after he had stopped taking his medication. But that seemed to come as news to many of those who knew him, and the attack itself was positively baffling.

Why are guns so readily available for those who are unstable? And more important, why don't we have the will to declare an end to the madness?


Did prejudice doom Mitt Romney's campaign?

Here's a report on the death of Mitt Romney's candidacy that has some pretty interesting claims (emphasis mine):

Mitt Romney isn't the only casualty in his failed presidential bid. The Mormon church, yearning for broad acceptance, also took a beating.

Extremists denounced Romney's campaign as a Mormon plot to take over the country. Some Evangelicals feared that a Mormon in the White House would draw more converts to his faith.

Mormon practices were picked apart, even ones that had been abandoned long ago such as polygamy. Romney tried to focus on politics, but was often asked about sacred Mormon undergarments.

"It is prejudice," said Richard Bushman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University, who is a leading historian and devout Mormon. "Underlying all these questions is that these beliefs are basically crazy so you've got to explain them to us."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints anticipated some of the backlash and tried to get ahead of it. Well before the former Massachusetts governor officially announced his candidacy, Mormon officials started traveling the country, speaking with reporters and editorial writers about the LDS church and its political neutrality.

The goal was to protect the church. But nonpartisanship handicapped the denomination when it needed a vigorous defense.

"I'm not questioning the policy of neutrality. That's not in any doubt," said Michael Otterson, the church's media relations director. "But I think the very reality is that we've had to be very careful about choosing our words and not appearing to either be supporting or not supporting a particular candidate."

Before Romney ran, Mormons thought they were generally accepted in the mainstream, especially after their previous success in the world spotlight: the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

Yet, in November, half of respondents to an Associated Press-Yahoo poll said they had some problems supporting a Mormon presidential candidate. Among white evangelicals, more than half expressed reservations about backing a Latter-day Saint.

"I was surprised at the level of intensity and sometimes flat out animosity," said Lowell C. Brown, a Los Angeles attorney who is Mormon. "I had no idea. I'm in my 50s, I've been a Mormon all my life, I've lived in L.A. for 25 years, and it floored me."

Many Christians said they were raising legitimate theological concerns, not Mormon-bashing.

The news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, which considers the LDS church a cult, ran a six-part series through December explaining why they don't consider Mormonism to be Christian. (They also profiled a distant Romney relative who is Protestant and manages a Southern Baptist-affiliated bookstore in Salt Lake.)

In just one example of the practices that set Mormons apart, LDS church founder Joseph Smith revised — and in his view corrected — parts of the Bible.

Brown said it was "nonsense" to consider questions about Romney's faith simply a dialogue about religion. Mormons were especially outraged when GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist pastor, asked whether Mormons consider Jesus and the devil brothers. Latter-day Saints say Huckabee's question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine.

"If you're making a decision about whether or not to vote for someone because of their religion, you're flirting with bigotry," said Brown. He monitored the commentary on his blog Article VI, named for the constitutional provision barring any religious test for public office....

Mormon leaders posted videos on YouTube explaining their faith. A church elder, recently speaking to Mormon college students, urged young people to post about the Latter-day Saints on blogs — a major move for a denomination with a history of quietly answering its outside critics. After Romney's Dec. 6 speech in Texas defending his faith, a Mormon leader went on al-Jazeera television, the Quatar-based network, to discuss the church.

"Gov. Romney has, perhaps without intending to do so, rendered the church a service," said Robert Millet, a scholar of the church and professor at the LDS-owned Brigham Young University. "It's served as a kind of wakeup call for Saints themselves to the fact that we're not as well understood as we think we are. How can it be the case that Gov. Romney and his feelings about Christ and his feelings about religion have been so little understood?"

Hmm. How can it be that "Governor Romney and his feelings about Christ and his feelings about religion have been so little understood?"

Well, coming from someone who is NOT in any way a fundamentalist but who takes her faith pretty seriously, let me just say: Maybe because he kept dodging questions about his faith. Most people do not have either the time or the interest to read the Book of Mormon themselves (I did read it once after my mother got fascinated with something called Family Home Evening or something and we visited the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.) If Romney hadn't acted like he had something to hide, a lot of suspicion could have been dispelled.

In his December 6 address on his faith, Romney said the following (boldface mine):
""There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.

"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

"We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'"

That's pretty vague, and is more about the interpretation of the Constitution than about religion. The problem is, Romney and his supporters wanted to have it both ways: they decried any "religious test for public office" while repeatedly using religion and religious impulse as an absolute means to attract voters to candidates who would otherwise be excluded as standing for platforms that are absolutely at odds with most citizens' self-interest and basic values. The Religious Right would not exist if it did not absolutely utilize a very narrow religious test for public office. So complaints about this standard being applied across the spectrum are just absolute nonsense. Even if you accept his claims about "secularism," Romney is guilty of the very thing he decries: he is deciding what is and is not a legitimate belief system or basis for behavior.

And unfortunately, for many of us who take religious principles seriously while eschewing fundamentalism, it all just seems like a smokescreen anyway. Those inclined to support politicians of Romney's ilk talk and talk about Christian values. Even a cursory examination of scripture demonstrates that there is often a focus on snippets of verses on marginal issues while entire emphases are ignored. Witness, for instance, the lack of discussion or substantive proposals for how to deal with the problems of poverty in this country or throughout the world. Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23 both command that the poor receive deliberate provision. The Book of Job inveighs against those who oppress the poor. The Psalms and Proverbs resound with warnings to do justice to the poor or face dire consequences. The Prophets warn that calamities befall those who crush the poor. Matthew and Mark tell the story of the rich young man who was commanded thusly: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." And it continues beyond these few paltry examples. However, regardless of how you feel about the tragedy of the practice, there is not one mention of the term "abortion" in the Revised Standard Version of Holy Scriptures. But you could never tell that by the emphases each of these topics receive at the hands of those who definitely do wish to impose their religious beliefs upon others.

As to Mr. Huckabee's question about whether Satan and Jesus are considered brothers by Mormons (which was a common belief in dualistic cults that threatened the early Church such as Arianism), all I can say is that in the Book of Mormon, there are several places where Satan claims to be a son of God-- but apparently just as all people are believed to be sons and daughters of God. In the Book of Mormon's Book of Moses, chapter 6, verse 22 it is explained, "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen." So that question seems a bit mean-spirited and leading. But then again, a bit more transparency on the part of Romney would have allayed suspicions. After all, Mr. Romney has served as a Mormon bishop, and he certainly has appeared to be a sincere and intelligent person.

It was Romney's own discomfort with discussing the tenets of the very faith he attempted to highlight as a qualification for office that led to suspicion regarding the singular character of that faith. You can't be like Casablanca's Captain Renault claiming to be "shocked-- SHOCKED!" that religious questions are being used to vet you as a candidate as you yourself use religious values as a test against your opponents.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love pulls us together

Our lives are circumscribed into such a small space, but instead of a limitation, this can be seen as a gift. We are pulled into the orbit of certain places and people either through choice or by happenstance and held there by the gravity of love. All of these people make up the constellation of our lives and experiences. Sometimes, though, we forget to look up and be glad for the light with which they bless us.

Tonight tell those you love how you feel about them. Each chance to do so is precious. Do it, not because it is Valentine's Day, but because every day in which there is love should be a day you rejoice and celebrate.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carnival of Education 158 is up!

Instructify has done a right delightful job putting up the 158th edition of the Carnival of Education! Once again, this is where to go to find out what's going on in the Edusphere.

Head on over, won't you, and learn something!


Monday, February 11, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 102: paranoia edition

Here is this week's Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game, and for this week's edition, I felt the need for a little laugh. Who'da thought the tough guy could go for the laughs?

"I will be watching you and if I find that you are trying to corrupt my first born child, I will bring you down, baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown. "

"You can milk just about anything with nipples."
"I have nipples, Greg, could you milk me?"

"I'd have to say Jesus. He was a carpenter and I figured if you're going to follow in somebody's footsteps, why not the steps of our lord and savior?"

"Yeah, you gave me the wrong suitcase. Uh-huh. Yes, it's a black Samsonite. Uh-huh. Ok, well don't you think that the Samsonite people, in some crazy scheme in order to make a profit, MADE MORE THAN ONE BLACK SUITCASE?"

"I understand you may have had sexual relations with my daughter before, but under our roof, it's my way or the Long Island Expressway. So just keep your snake in its cage for 72 hours."

****Weekend Update: Nothing is so frightening as when it's time to


De Niro showed a brilliant comic side on this one. And the cat steals the show.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Justifying Murder as "Going to War"

Tragedy struck tiny Kirkwood, Missouri yet again this last week:
Some left flowers, balloons and memorials on the steps of City Hall. Others gathered at a prayer vigil where a bell tolled six times as mourners clutched white candles. Residents of this St. Louis suburb struggled to heal as they tried to make sense of a shooting spree at a City Council meeting that left five people dead and the mayor fighting for his life.

"This is such an incredible shock to all of us. It's a tragedy of untold magnitude," Deputy Mayor Tim Griffin said at a news conference Friday. "The business of the city will continue and we will recover, but we will never be the same."

Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton had a long history of fighting with city officials over a litany of code violations, fines and citations. Police searched his house Thursday night after the rampage and removed placards containing protest slogans that Thornton often carried to City Hall, his brother said.

St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said authorities were still trying to piece together the details of the attack.

Over the years, Thornton racked up thousands of dollars in parking tickets and citations. The asphalt company owner raged at council meetings that he was being persecuted, mocking city officials as "jackasses" and accusing them of having a racist "plantation mentality."

His outbursts got him arrested twice on disorderly conduct charges, and he filed a free speech lawsuit against Kirkwood, but lost the case last month.

On Thursday night, he left his home and headed to one more City Council meeting, carrying a loaded gun. On his bed back home, his younger brother Arthur said he found a note that read: "The truth will come out in the end."

Before he was shot to death by police, Thornton, 52, killed two policemen, Tom Ballman and William Biggs; council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr; and Director of Public Works Kenneth Yost.

Mayor Mike Swoboda was hospitalized in critical condition with gunshot wounds, and a newspaper reporter covering the meeting, Todd Smith of Suburban Journals, was in satisfactory condition.

Thornton's dispute with City Hall had been escalating since the late 1990s, when he "was promised" a large amount of construction work on a development near his home, said Arthur Thornton, 42. The vast majority of work went to other contractors, he said.

"They just gave him what I'd call the scraps," Arthur Thornton said.

Standing in front of City Hall, another brother, Gerald Thornton added: "They denied all rights to the access of protection and he took it upon himself to go to war and end the issue."

Thornton's first shooting victim was Biggs, who was on duty outside City Hall, then walked into the council chambers carrying one of the slain officer's pistols to continue the rampage.

After the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at the start of the meeting, Thornton then squeezed off shot after shot. At one point, he yelled "Shoot the mayor!" before he was shot to death by police.

"We crawled under the chairs and just laid there," reporter Janet McNichols, who was covering the meeting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said in a video interview on the newspaper's Web site. "We heard Cookie shooting, and then we heard some shouting, and the police, the Kirkwood police, had heard what was going on, and they ran in, and they shot him."

The shooting brought a violent end to a feud that had gone back years.

Thornton had developed an especially tense relationship with Yost, Arthur Thornton said. Yost would often complain that Thornton was parking his commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods. Some were parked in Thornton's driveway, some in a lot across the street.

Charles Thornton received roughly 150 tickets over the years, and would often complain about the treatment at City Council meetings. He called the fines against him a "slave tax," according to accounts of the meetings in the town's paper, The Webster-Kirkwood Times.

He was cuffed and dragged from council chambers, and the council considered banning him permanently after that meeting. Ultimately, the group decided that while his behavior was disruptive, he had a right to be there.

In a federal lawsuit stemming from his arrests for disorderly conduct during two meetings just weeks apart, Thornton insisted that Kirkwood officials violated his constitutional rights to free speech by barring him from speaking at the meetings.

But a judge in St. Louis tossed out the lawsuit Jan. 28, writing that "any restrictions on Thornton's speech were reasonable, viewpoint neutral, and served important governmental interests."

I am sure the murderer felt abused by the system. I am sure he was angry. But none of it justifies killing people. Period.

We live in a society in which any words or actions that seem to contradict our image of our self-worth provoke violent or even deadly reactions. We must find our ethical center again. We could start by decrying immoral actions done in our name.

And by the way, the murderer's brother Gerald Thornton himself has killed someone in a fit of anger and served time in prison.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Borrowing: yes. Sharing: yes. Stealing: NO.

I was walking down the hallway after inexplicably running out of copies of an activity I was doing in my US history classes. I had had to send a kid to make copies for my last period class, even though I KNOW darn well I ran off enough. Up walks a colleague we'll call... Adlai Stevenson.

Adlai: "Hey, Ms. Cornelius! Have you seen this cool activity on summarizing? It's really great!"

Me: "Why, yes. I'm glad you think that activity is cool... because it's MINE. I wrote it."

Adlai: "Uh... oh. Really? Well, good job there!"

And that would be how I ended up being 25 copies short for my own students. I mean, I would have been only slightly cheesed off if he'd just taken one, but--

Apparently my photocopies were like Pringles-- you can't eat just one. He took an entire class-sized stack of my copies. He didn't just take my activity and shamelessly pass it off as his own without so much as a by-your-leave, he caused me to have a gap in my instruction while I questioned my sanity, not to mention my ability to count, as he was too lazy even to make his own darn copies. I now know why he spends so much time hanging out in the copying room: he's running a trot line for lesson plans.

Now THAT'S gall.

So I guess I have to stand guard over my copies each time I make them. Right. Like I have time for that.

Oh, and did I mention-- I swear upon my honor-- that Mr. Stevenson is currently looking for a job in administration?

I guess I should be glad-- last year a several teachers of freshmen "borrowed" a lesson I made up on World War I, and then when I used it with the same kids unknowingly, they recognized it. THAT kind of blew that lesson's effectiveness.

Adlai's lucky I was as amused by the irony of the situation as I was annoyed, or I might have just karate-chopped him in the trachea.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Whoa! You go to work, and look what happens....

Mitt Romney suspended his campaign for the president today.

He missed it by thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much.

Well now the way is clear for Senator McCain. If only I could make myself overlook that Iraq thing....

And the immigration thing, and the kowtowing to Bush thing.....


Just who do you think you're hurting here, kid?

I just got finished grading a stack of essays, and once again, there is a troubling pattern that emerges. A certain student-- let's call him Timmy-- has once again slapped together a mishmash of an analytical essay, even though he had over a week to write three pages... in a college credit class. I had a feeling from the smirk he gave me when he handed it in that it was going to be the purest moonshine, and the essay didn't disappoint. Undeveloped, unresearched, unwept, unmourned, unsung... sorry, I got carried away for a second. I asked for a minimum of 750 words, and he used the word count feature in his word processor and printed at the bottom of the page that it was 752 words exactly.

Since it was typed, and he doesn't have a study hall, the best that I can say is that he didn't do it the hour before it was due. It was chock-a-block with comma splices, sentence fragments, random abbreviations, slang (for example, one does not use "Dude" in an academic paper unless perhaps it is an analysis of The Big Lebowski, but I digress), and cliches. There was not a single reference to a specific event in the entire thing. Then there was the section where he committed major historical errors on the scale of claiming that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and Moses led the animals two by two onto the ark of the covenant.

From what I understand from some discreet inquiries, he spends much of his time outside of school playing basketball and hanging out with friends. He is a bit of a party animal. He boasts about not doing school work. That's all fine, and it's a free country. He is welcome to waste my time grading the dreck he deigns to turn in, and he's welcome to wallow in the grade that he has gone to more effort to earn than if he just put his head down and did a half-decent effort at the assignment. He is also a potentially intelligent young man with an IQ of probably about 125, were we privy to such things, which we are not.

I feel like telling him that I can outlast him, so if he's waiting for me to "yell" at him (the generic term used by kids for any sort of word other than praise), he's going to just keep on waiting. But the poor little guy thinks he's being clever and putting one over on the system. He'll get his ridiculous little D and pass the class, sure, but someday....


Someday, he'll find out he can't get in to State U with that GPA, much less the out-of-state school he's been talking about. I've tried gently to counsel him; I've called mom, but...

he just... doesn't... believe... us.

And he is only hurting himself. Sad.

Thanks to this site for the cool illustration.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Echoes of the Bugle Fade Away

There is only one US veteran of World War I still alive, after the death of Harry Landis on Monday:
Harry Richard Landis, who enlisted in the Army in 1918 and was one of only two known surviving U.S. veterans of World War I, has died. He was 108.

Landis, who lived at a Sun City Center nursing home, died Monday, according to Donna Riley, his caregiver for the past five years. He had recently been in the hospital with a fever and low blood pressure, she said.

"He only took vitamins and eye drops, no other medication," Riley said Wednesday. "He was 108 and a healthy man. That's why all of this was sudden and unexpected. He was so full of life."

The remaining U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles, 107, of Charles Town, W.Va., according the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, John Babcock of Spokane, Wash., 107, served in the Canadian army and is the last known Canadian veteran of the war.

Another World War I vet, Ohioan J. Russell Coffey, died in December at 109. The last known German World War I veteran, Erich Kaestner, died New Year's Day at 107.

Landis trained as a U.S. Army recruit for 60 days at the end of the war and never went overseas. But the VA counts him among the 4.7 million men and woman who served during the Great War.

The last time all known U.S. veterans of a war died was Sept. 10, 1992, when Spanish-American War veteran Nathan E. Cook passed away at age 106.

In an interview with The Associated Press in April in his Sun City Center apartment, Landis recalled that his time in the Student Army Training Corps involved a lot of marching. VA records show his entry date into the service was Oct. 14, 1918.

"I don't remember too much about it," said Landis, who enlisted while in college in Fayette, Mo., at age 18. "We went to school in the afternoon and drilled in the morning."

They often drilled in their street clothes.

"We got our uniforms a bit at a time. Got the whole uniform just before the war ended," Landis said. "Fortunately, we got our great coats first. It was very cold out there.

He told reporters in earlier interviews that he spent a lot of time cleaning up a makeshift sick ward and caring for recruits sickened by an influenza pandemic.

When asked whether he had wanted to get into the fight, Landis said, "No."

There are more fascinating reminiscences to read; so please follow the link to read the rest of the story. Mr. Landis later tried to enlist in World War II, but was told he was too old at age 42 (If he was attempting enlistment today, he would still be able to enlist under new government policies).

The eyewitnesses to "the Great War" are dwindling every day (My grandfather fought in World War I, but if he were still alive, he would have been 119.). As it was, Mr. Landis never saw combat. No doubt that was a blessing. God bless him, and all who have served.


My work here is OBVIOUSLY not done....

As we geared up to talk about Super Tuesday in the Cornelius classroom (and after I dodged 24 questions about who I voted for and what party I supported), one of my students talked about how he was going to be eligible to vote in the presidential election in November and how excited he was to be able to participate. I was feeling that warm glow of accomplishment until he said this:

"Yeah, I can't wait to cast my first ballot!"

One of the other kids questioned him: "So who would you vote for?"

"I don't know but I'm a--"My young friend then rustled around in his notebook and pulled out a piece of paper with notes from a previous class discussion in which I had explained the histories and basic platforms of the parties. He looked at it for two seconds and then finished, "a Republican, because I like to hunt! Yeah, that's it!"


Well, he's got until next November to be sure, I guess. I just hope he doesn't have to take his cheat sheet to the polls.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 101: underdog edition

Well, well, well, Super Bowl XLII is history and the Tale of the Tape says: "Hey Patriots! What happened? Did your video camera break?"

So of course that brings to mind Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. Put your quotes in the comments section without naming the movie-- and that means you, Polski3!

"The only thing better than a crawfish dinner is five crawfish dinners."

"Everything is the devil to you, Mama! Well, I like school, and I like football! And I'm gonna keep doin' them both because they make me feel good!"
"And by the way, Mama-- alligators are ornery 'cause of their Medula Oblongata!"

"I haven't seen a tackle like that since Joe Montana."
"Joe Montana was a quarterback, you idiot!"
"I said Joe Mantegna."

"Things are about to get awful, awful physical around here... and I don't think you want that."

"I made a few little changes to your lawn mower...."

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On autopilot....

You know what? Nothin' says lovin' like an evaluation in a plain brown envelope shoved into your mailbox.

For a second, I was afraid it was something disgusting. Instead, it was just monosyllabic. Makes me feel great about the untold hours I have spent pitching in during various crises.

I'm feelin' it! You may say, "Surely she's joking!"

And you know what I say: "I'm doing everything I can... and stop calling me Shirley."

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Belichick and Beals: Separated at birth?

You decide.

Mad Football Schemer

Bad Flashdance Dreamer

Or just two sartorially challenged, misunderstood kids?

Dude, I loved the '80s as much as anyone, but give up the ripped sweatshirt look.

Oh, and too bad about that Super Bowl Thing.


And now: the "Pre-college" Program

This seems fascinating, via the New York Times:
WHEN Jeremy Grant of Roslyn, N.Y., was 16, he decided not to return for another summer of sleep-away camp, opting instead for a precollege program at U.C.L.A. In the mornings he took courses in SAT prep and public speaking; in the afternoons he hopped on a van to the beach, a museum, or a TV game show.

“It was the best summer of my life,” recalled Mr. Grant, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. “It boosted my confidence to learn that I could get along on my own.”

At winter fairs in high schools around the country, precollege summer programs are now being pitched to teens and parents, many of whom see these “taste-of-college-life” programs as a vital part of the college planning process. Recession or not, interest in these programs, which can run as high as $7,800 for six weeks (excluding airfare), is intense, with many programs fully booked by early spring.

When it started offering precollege programs in 1986, Summer Discovery, which organized Mr. Grant’s trip, sent just 170 students to U.C.L.A. Last year, the Long Island-based company had programs at 10 universities (three overseas), with more than 2,000 high school students participating.

Another company, Summer Study Programs of Melville, N.Y., sent 150 students to Penn State University when it began a precollege program there in 1992; this past year 600 attended the program, which includes college courses taught by accredited professors, Kaplan SAT prep classes and organized leisure activities. The company also has added programs in Paris and Boulder, Colo. Precollege programs let students choose classes that, in some cases, give them college credits — and dress up a college admissions application. Students stay in dorms, use college gyms and dining halls. Perhaps best of all, to hear teens tell it, they live and travel without parents or camp counselors lording it over them.

“We let 15- and 16-year-olds operate more like young adults,” said Bob Musiker, executive director of Summer Discovery (888-878-6637; www.summerfun.com), adding that the responsibilities involved in a precollege program (picking courses, doing laundry) and the diverse mix of participants in the programs (like a “mini-United Nations”) widen students’ horizons.

“This is college but college on training wheels,” said Jason Lubar, executive director of American Collegiate Adventures (800-509-7867; www.acasummer.com) of Chicago, which offers a precollege program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison that starts at $2,795 for two weeks and goes up to $6,795 for six weeks. While students may choose courses taught by university professors and mingle with college students on a big campus in a colorful college town, there is still a higher level of supervision to ensure safety.

Precollege programs also benefit the university at a time when the college is open for summer session but when facilities are underutilized, said David Black, academic program manager at the University of Wisconsin. “These programs showcase Wisconsin as a first-class university,” he said. He added that they may also generate admissions applications from out-of-staters.

Read the whole thing.

Here in the Land Between the Coasts, we're always the last to hear about anything that isn't featured on American Idol. This thing seems like a cash cow for the schools, and yet another chance for students to test their wings, although the price definitely puts it out of reach for most students I know. I am sure students of more modest means would benefit greatly from programs like this.


Tragedy in Austin

A seven-year-old boy at an Austin charter school was injured last Wednesday, and has now died.
A 7-year-old boy who was found unconscious hanging by his shirt on a dressing room coat hook died Friday, as police investigated whether he was the victim of abuse or an accident.

The boy was found Wednesday by a teacher at the Not Your Ordinary School charter campus for children in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

Austin police refused to immediately release the boy's name out of respect for his family's wishes, police spokeswoman Helena Putnam said.

"The Austin Police Department offers its heartfelt sympathy to the family, students teachers and school administrators during this tragic time," a police statement said.

School officials did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages Friday.

The boy had been excused from an assembly to go to the bathroom. When he didn't return, staff went looking for him. They found him caught on the hook by his shirt. The shirt collar had cut off oxygen.

Police opened a criminal investigation on Thursday, citing "suspicious" circumstances on how the boy was found. Investigators interviewed students and staff.

By late afternoon, police also acknowleged that it could have been an accident. The hook was low enough for the boy to have placed himself there, although police did not rule out the possibility that he might have been assaulted.

The boy's pants were down to his ankles when he was found, but investigators said Thursday they had no evidence of sexual abuse and described no external injuries.

A statement posted on the school Web site on Wednesday said, "The safety of our students is our first priority. As information regarding this incident comes to light, we will determine what, if any, campus safety issues need to be addressed."

The school earned an exemplary rating, the highest possible, from the state for the 2006-2007 school year.

How very sad. Hopefully, if anyone knows any information, they will come forward.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Principals' Life Lesson 24: Inspired Leadership

Just as so many schools of education and teacher training programs provide NO real-life, practical instruction for classroom management besides some packaged, theoretical or dated programming, it seems many principal-certification programs also lack instruction on how to guide and mentor teachers. One would think that anyone with a passing knowledge of life would understand that an atmosphere of teamwork, respect, and shared expertise foster the best chance at success in a school as well as in the business world. One would think that, but one would unfortunately often be wrong.

All too often, in my experience in the business world, the retail world, and the education world, "teamwork" has been a sham concept when mouthed by one's boss, interpreted as treating employees as mere tools. One in authority can bludgeon his or her followers with fear and intimidation, or can pursue one's own agenda without providing leadership at all, or can utilize one's employees as resources and professionals engaged in a common mission. I've had bosses who were fluffy kittens gamboling innocently within the coils of a rattlesnake poised to strike, I've had bosses who emulated George C. Scott as General Patton; I've had bosses who were Michael Scott, I've had bosses who were Ulysses Everett McGill, and I have had bosses who were doing their jobs not for joy but for money. But no matter what kind of boss one has, the boss sets the climate in the school.

Climate change isn't just something Al Gore is talking about. Climate change in schools is necessary if we are to keep up with the ever-increasing demands being placed upon the educational system in this country.

So just what do inspirational leaders do? What can truly inspirational teachers and principals and superintendents do? The most basic answer is: inspirational leaders share the burdens of the task at hand, they act as a resource for their employees, and they dedicate themselves to success by being real facilitators for their employees. From the UK, I found this in a report from the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and I have tweaked this a bit:

1. They sincerely care for their people
Try to know WHO your staff members are as people. I will never forget how, when my grandmother died and I had to prepare to drive eleven hours across the country, my principal came to me and checked how I was. He put aside everything else and was there for me, and it only took five minutes. I also remember one day, when I hadn't slept for more than 3 hours at a stretch because I had a baby who couldn't sleep, my assistant principal intercepted me, saw the dark circles under my eyes, and drove me home. She then taught my classes herself until the sub arrived. When the principals model this, the teachers will do this for each other, too. And that's the way it should be.

2. Cooperate/involve everybody
A principal needs to trust his or her staff to be professionals (If someone is not a professional, deal with them rather than crafting punitive measures to be applied to everybody, please!). The principal job is incredibly demanding, and there are lots of balls to juggle. Learn to delegate, and be grateful for the help you receive. One of my greatest peeves is the way that many principals withhold important information from teachers (and, by the way, that is a violation of federal law), and how they huddle in groups in an attempt to ward off anyone approaching them. Principals who play favorites or ignore the input of the staff are shooting themselves in the foot. A principal must be willing to be a problem-solver and facilitator.

3. Name and appreciate the contributions of everybody
This flows from my comments on numbers 1 and 2. If you hide in your office all the time, you will be unable to appreciate what is done in the school. I once worked for an administration who came up with this adorable slogan: "It's not about the teaching, it's about the learning." After the English teacher in me got over the comma splice, I was incredibly insulted by this slogan. If it's not about the teaching, then why are teachers blamed for everything that happens? Then I got started making up sarcastic riffs on this stupid idea. But morale was the lowest I had experienced at this school after this little gem was published.

4. Create a climate of fun and create a space for enjoyment at work
If nothing but criticism-- and worse, disdain for teachers-- leaves your mouth or pervades your body language, everything will suffer. Try to knit the staff together as a team. Encourage teachers to form a softball team-- and show up for the games if you won't play yourself. Buy snacks for periodic happy hours. Have a hot dog roast after school. And for God's sake, on teacher appreciation day, don't throw trinkets at our heads, no matter what. I've had principals push the "Have Fun!" mantra, like from that FISH! book, but remain completely aloof from the staff.

5. Demonstrate authentic trust
I see this as two things: building trust and demonstrating trust.
A great administrator doesn't expect his or her staff to do anything he or she isn't willing to do. I once had a principal who expected every teacher to volunteer for two after-school duties each semester (for free) but he was never there. I have donated my musical talents for fundraisers for various student activities (requiring untold hours of practice after school besides the actual event)-- and seen the principal skip the event, not even making a token appearance. That sends a bad message. You're not expected to show up for everything, but rotate the events you do show up for each year, so that the people doing them can feel valued, at the very least. I also resent emails reminding us to enforce a certain policy and then watch principals not say a word as students walk by them or even hold conversations with them while violating the policy.
Likewise, to demonstrate that you do trust your staff, you have to give them substantive tasks to accomplish. Let go of the reins a bit! You'll make yourself happier and more healthy in the long run, believe me. Above all, don't be afraid to ask for help. We are all in this together, and we have to do the job of educating students together.

6. Never avoid an opportunity to listen
Examples of this would be: make eye contact when talking to people; don't read email during a conversation; endeavor to know what each of your employees has done/is doing; talk to your employees at times OTHER than when there is a problem, and be relaxed and comfortable in leaving your office and moving around the school. Don't use your secretary as a guard dog. Respond to emails properly, and promptly. Try walking up to a different person every day and asking how things are going, and if they have any needs you can meet. Then actually listen to the answer. Support your staff in the community-- and that includes in front of students and parents, even parents that are on the school board.

If you didn't love teaching, please don't become an administrator. If you taught for less than five years, please realize that there are teachers who are more experienced in instruction than you are, and utilize that and celebrate it. If you really want to create a great school, manage your staff with the intent to motivate them to excellence, and create a situation in which that is possible. Anything that interferes with that mission should be curtailed. Have a realistic, positive attitude, and that attitude will spread.

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Friday, February 01, 2008


Check out this story:
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. - A teacher who was upset because she didn't get her preferred classroom assignment left more than a dozen scribbled threats at her elementary school and a suspicious device in a student's desk, authorities said.

Susan Romanyszyn, 45, was charged Thursday with 17 counts of making terroristic threats in connection with the incidents at Longstreth Elementary School in Warminster in October.

Authorities said the fourth-grade teacher scribbled messages on school walls and on paper that threatened bomb and gun violence. The messages were written in sloppy handwriting with numerous misspellings and some with crudely drawn cartoons, police said.

A prosecutor said the actions stemmed from Romanyszyn's assignment to teach fourth grade rather than fifth grade. "She was upset or disgruntled at not getting the classroom assignment she wanted," Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry said.

Police also allege Romanyszyn put a water bottle containing white power and screws into a student's desk and scattered nails around the lot where teachers parked, leading to school trips and activities being delayed or canceled.

In an interview with police, Romanyszyn denied having anything to do with the incidents and said she wasn't upset about not getting a fifth-grade teaching position, according to a court document. Her attorney rejected the allegations.

"In a case like this, you go on a person's character, and the character of this woman is out there for inspection," Sara Webster said. "Nobody says she's an angry person. She loved what she did, and she loved her students and she always got good evaluations."

Romanyszyn was arrested after authorities interviewed students, administrators and teachers and reviewed footage from school surveillance cameras, Warminster Police Chief Michael Murphy said.

Romanyszyn, who has been on administrative leave since Oct. 22, turned herself in to police and was released after posting $100,000 bail. She faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Romanyszyn was previously a middle school teacher at Eugene Klinger Middle School, where in 2004 she was one of two elementary mathematics teachers selected as a state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The accused teacher was once a finalist for a state-wide math teaching award. Amazing.


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