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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Let us all remember.


He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.

That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

--Wilfred Owen

From the Encyclopedia of British History:
Wilfred Owen, the son of a railway worker, was born in Oswestry, on 18th March, 1893. Educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School, he worked as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School while preparing for his matriculation exam for the University of London. After failing to win a scholarship he found work as a teacher of English in the Berlitz School in Bordeaux.

Although he had previously thought of himself as a pacifist, in October 1915 he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, he joined the Manchester Regiment in France in January, 1917. While in France Wilfred Owen began writing poems about his war experiences.

In the summer of 1917 Owen was badly concussed at the Somme after a shell landed just two yards away. After several days in a bomb crater with the mangled corpse of a fellow officer, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell-shock.

While recovering at Craiglockhart War Hospital he met the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Owen showed Sassoon his poetry who advised and encouraged him. So also did another writer at the hospital, Robert Graves. Sassoon suggested that Owen should write in a more direct, colloquial style. Over the next few months Owen wrote a series of poems, including Anthem for Doomed Youth, Disabled, Dulce et Decorum Est and Strange Meeting.

Sassoon introduced Owen to H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett and helped him get some of his poems published in The Nation. Owen also had talks with William Heinemann about the publication of a collection of his poems.

In August 1918 Owen was declared fit to return to the Western Front. He fought at Beaurevoir- Fonsomme, where he was awarded the Military Cross. Wilfred Owen was killed by machine-gun fire while leading his men across the Sambre Canal on 4th November 1918. A week later the Armistice was signed. Only five of Owen's poems were published while he was alive. After Owen's death his friend, Siegfried Sassoon, arranged for the publication of his Collected Poems (1920).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reprise: When teaching school is like... a divine comedy

I just felt like it was time to revisit this former post again... Why? BECAUSE THIS SCHOOL YEAR WILL NEVER. EVER. END.

For me, the school year is still in full swing-- inasmuch as one can be when Memorial 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 last deadline to register for the ACT was on last Friday, and they are frantically collecting honors to list on their applications 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 2009 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]


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tunesday 16: Neko Case, Force of Nature

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

Every now and then, you need to listen to something that has a power that just drags you out of your tired brain and sets you on a new path. This album is a powerful example of such art. I don't know how I never discovered Neko Case until this year, but all's well that ends well.

In the few weeks that this has been out, it has become one of my favorite things. Neko Case launches this, her fifth solo album, with her amazing voice in fine, powerful form. Some call Neko an "alt-country queen," but since that puts her in the company of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo (both of whom she can sing circles around for all their genius) this is quite a complement. This album has a finer rock edge to it than previous works, such as her debut The Virginian.

The title track, of course, starts off speaks to the emptiness of heart that this time of year always pulls me toward: "Baby, why'm I worried now, did someone make a fool of me/ 'Fore I could show 'em how it's done?/ Can't give up actin' tough, it's all that I'm made of./ Can't scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love." "This Tornado Loves You" has the great line, "Carve your name across three counties," which is an image with which only someone who has emerged shaken after hours under a mattress to the tune of storm sirens can relate. "Polar Nettles," is haunting and disturbing and lovely, a paean to longing that I think of every time I hear someone rewrite history every time they think of someone they've lost-- with every day that passes, the more perfect that lost love appears to be, and the less reality has any claim upon the memory.

Probably my favorite song on the entire album is "Magpie to the Morning," a somnolent snapshot easing along on a warm breeze of acoustic guitars and Neko's insistent alto slices and slides into the slip skimming along like a purple martin over the tops of prairie grass.

Magpie comes a-calling
Drops a marble from the sky
Tin roof sounds alarm
And wake up child
Let this be a warning says the magpie to the morning
Don't let this fading summer pass you by
Don't let this fading summer pass you by

Black hands held so high
The vulture wheels and dives
Something on the thermals
Yanked his chain
Smelled your boring apex
Rotting on the train tracks
He laughed under his breath
Because you thought that you could outrun sorrow
Take your own advice
Thunder and lightening gets you rain
Run an airtight mission, a Cousteau expedition
To find a diamond at the bottom of the drain
A diamond at the bottom of the drain

Hear the mockingbird sing
In the middle of the night
All of his songs are stolen so he hides
Stole them out from whipporwills
Screaming car alarms
He sings them for you special
He knows you're afraid of the dark
Come on sorrow
Take your own advice
Hide under the bed
Turn out the light
Stars this night in the sky are ringing out
You can almost hear them saying
"Close your eyes now, kid,"
"Close your eyes now, kid."

Morning is too far lit
They are waiting waiting
They are waiting...

Here is her performance of "This Tornado Loves You" on Letterman:

And as a bonus, here's one of my favorite classics of hers: "Hold On, Hold On."

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Her name is Legion

Imagine my shock and disgust as I was cornered by Ms. Legion, the school board member from Heckfire, who tried to sidle up to me and commiserate in an attempt to get me to feed her insatiable desire for the expansion of her power of our tiny, insignificant corner of our little world. She basically wanted to know any dirt on our current administration. This is the woman, mind you, who vowed her unending revenge upon me when I refused to allow her Little Darling to turn in whatever he felt like whenever he felt like it.

Ever been in that position, where you were suddenly confronted with your worst nightmare trying to suck you over to the Dark Side? How many cliches popped into YOUR head upon that occasion? Because I had to choose through
"Oh, HELL NO." (Thanks, Will Smith.)
"Not if you were the last person on Earth..."
"-----, PLEASE."

Look, things are NOT GOOD in the world of Cornelius. It happens in the course of a (cough cough hack) LONG career in education in a relatively small school district. But if anyone out there thinks that that means I am going to ally myself in any way with the Mother of All Lies, -- well, you don't know me very well. This is a woman who started her first conversation with me as the parent of one of my students thusly: "So I said to my son, 'Do you want your mother the School Board Member to go to talk to that teacher?'" 'Pon my honor-- my eyeballs nearly popped outta my hayid.

Maybe I am hopelessly naive. I am most certainly going to pay for my time spent with the Scary One. Okay. What's even more scary than those who don't like you acting openly upon that dislike is when they suddenly start stroking your shoulder and batting their eyelashes at you.

I still smell the brimstone clinging to my clothing. I may have to burn that shirt. Darn.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

With the best of intentions

Dear New Principal:

It's me, the Wizened Old Veteran of the Classroom here, trying once again to help you out, and I'll have to say it here, where maybe someone else can profit from your struggles:

Never judge a teacher based on ten seconds of walking past their class at the end of the day-- a day with a completely bizarre schedule that I know you had foisted upon you by Assistant Principal Mata Hari, who has his eye on getting a cushy central office job just as soon as he can possibly kiss the hindquarters of anyone with the letters Ed.D after his or her name manage it.

You need to get your assistants in line. One of them is actively trying to stab you in the back. One of them never shows up for supervision, and also ignores the behavior guide. I often watch this one leave her office, walk twenty feet, see a staff member, and then pirouette back toward her office, and then repeat this cycle five minutes later. One of them is getting fed up with being the go-to principal since she actually is consistent. One of them is busy trying to be "real" and trying to be friends with the students.

Stop talking to the kids as if they are actually little kids.

Stop talking to the adults as if they were little kids.

Give teachers more than one hour's warning before you demand some project or lesson or bunch of paperwork. We are also expected to spend our time teaching from bell to bell, and these two expectations do not go together.

We all want to see academic standards improve. But if you enrage 90% of the faculty through capricious little decisions that really don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, well, I'm afraid we'll be looking at you, kid. As you ooze right out the door, tired and defeated. And you're a nice person. I feel for you.

You are also making me consider leaving teaching.

I can't believe those words just left my fingertips.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tunesday 15: I Wanna Be Sedated

Hey kids-- what time is it? Depending on where you are, it is
1) Swine flu season
2) Prom season (with all the prama that implies)
3) AP Exam season
4) State testing season
5) Stupid field trip to the amusement park for physics season
6) Commencement season
7) Allergy season
8) or, as a special journey around the verges of Hell, all of the above season!

So here is my special playlist for such fun-doings!

1. "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," Georgia Satellites
2." We Can Work It Out," the Beatles
3. "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," Dean Martin
4. "Over My Head," Fleetwood Mac
5. "Prom Theme," Fountains of Wayne
6. "Drive," the Cars
7. "Head Over Heels," the Go-Go's
8. "Tightrope," Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
9. "Livin' On a Prayer," Bon Jovi
10. "As Sure As I Am," Crowded House
11. "Under Pressure," David Bowie with Freddie Mercury
12. "I Can See Clearly Now," Johnny Nash
13. "Through Being Cool," DEVO
14. "Pressure Drop," the Specials
15. "If I Only Had a Brain," Ray Bolger and Judy Garland
16. "She Can't Dance," Marshall Crenshaw
17. "A Girl in Trouble (is a Temporary Thing)," Romeo Void
18. "My Best Friend's Girl," the Cars
19. "Can't Get It Out of My Head," ELO
20. "The Loco-Motion," Grand Funk Railroad
21. "Treat Me Right," Pat Benatar
22. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the Platters
23. "Tempted," Squeeze
24. "I Wanna Be Sedated," the Ramones

Just keep breathing. It's the only way to get through. And sing one of these songs! LOUD!

Labels: ,

free statistics