Friday, November 30, 2007

Maybe It's Because He Used To Be Fat...

You know, I'm pretty liberal on every issue except education, and I don't think I side with Governor Huckabee on any of his positions (despite what that damned USA Today survey said). But this is funny. It just is. I aplogoize for nothing.

Stop The Presses: Man Has Teeth, Could Easily Bite Dog

Loathe as I am to drop the Teddy Bear Case, since it's generated Actual Comments for the first time (albeit loony ones), I think it's time to move on.

(Oo, I used "loathe" and "albeit" in the same sentence in a blog post. Is that legal?)

Anyway, here's a fabulous Tom Toles cartoon for your Friday. Just a lil something to remind you how hopeless and stupid our mainstream press can be when it comes to covering minor stories like our presidential races.

Enjoy, and have a good weekend.
P.S. If you're the kind of person who sends prayers or vibes or good thoughts to those In Need, see if you can focus a little energy on our friend at Living in Syn, who is dealing with medical procedures best left to the Spanish Inquisition...or Extraordinary Renditioners.

Happy Trails.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Death to Teddy Bear Infidels

And off to prison she goes:
KHARTOUM, Sudan - British teacher Gillian Gibbons has been convicted of inciting religious hatred for letting her pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad and sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation from Sudan, one of her defense lawyers said Thursday...."The judge found Gillian Gibbons guilty and sentenced her to 15 days jail and deportation," said Ali Mohammed Hajab, a member of her defense team.

Emphasis, and incredulity, mine.

Update on Teddy Bear Picnic

The teacher in Sudan is now on trial for the crime of allowing her seven-year-old students to name their class teddy bear Mohammed. For any of you who saw the previous post and are interested in how the story is developing, here you go:
Prosecutor-General Salah Eddin Abu Zaid told the AP the British teacher could expect a "swift and fair trial." If convicted, she faces up to 40 lashes, six months in jail and a fine, with the verdict and any sentence up to the judge's discretion, official have said.....Gibbons' chief lawyer, Kamal Djizouri, scuffled with a tight police cordon before he was allowed in. British diplomats who were initially barred were also eventually allowed to enter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No Teddy Bear Picnic For You

Tragedy or farce, or something in between? You decide:

A British schoolteacher has been arrested in Sudan accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet, after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, said she made an “innocent mistake” by letting the six and seven-year-olds choose the name.... The BBC’s correspondent Amber Henshaw said Ms Gibbons’ punishment could be up to six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Gentle Warning From Your Father

On Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic is a list of some pithy quotes from James Madison, the father of our Constitution.

Here's one gem to mull over as you begin your post-Thanksgiving week:
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

I'm not saying anything. I'm just saying.

But What KIND of Mad Scientist Are You?

Oh, sure, I'd like to think I'm more of a Peter Venkman type. But the data don't lie...

Your Score: Ray Stantz

172 Heart, 159 Genius, 121 Cool, 149 Excitability

Dr. Raymond Stantz - (Dan Aykroyd)
Ghostbusters (1984)

You are Ray Stantz! The heart of the Ghostbusters. You're well-meaning, smart, and you have a childlike sense of wonder about the world. You might get taken advantage of, every once in a while, but it's okay... You're doing your part to help save the world.

"Gozer the Gozerian... good evening. As a duly designated representative of the City, County and State of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension."

Other scientific possibilities:
Gary Wallace
Wyatt Donnelly
Peter Venkman
Jordan Cochran
Egon Spengler
Doc Brown
Newton Crosby
Paul Stephens
Ben Crandall
Wayne Szalinkski
Winston Zeddemore
Ben Jabituya
Lazlo Hollyfeld
Ray Stantz
Buckaroo Banzai
Chris Knight

Link: The Which 80s Movie Scientist Test written by xxyl on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Finally, Enlightenment

Here is a fun little quiz from USA Today on the presidential race, the issues involved, and who stands where. Answer the questions and find out which candidates are closest to you in beliefs on a variety of hot-button issues. And if USA Today says it, it must be true.

Somehow, I ended up with Mike Huckabee at #1, Mike Gravel at #2, and Dennis Kucinich at #3. I'm not sure how that's even possible, and I sure as hell can't figure out what it says about me. Nothing good, probably.

You can retake the quiz, or adjust some issue slides to see a potentially different result. Changing only two answers--on Iraq and Taxation--and changing both positions in only very mild ways--I somehow managed to swap out Huckabee and replace him with Chris Dodd. Now I'm even more confused.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And Please Tell Me THIS is a Joke

This is just awful. I'm hoping it's not true but I find myself unable to dismiss it That thing of which I have no more.
The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments. To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases. Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight,
hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Please Tell Me This is a Joke

And I thought the Australians were sensible people. Sigh.
THERE'LL be no ho, ho, ho this Christmas. Aspiring Santas have been told not to use the term "ho" because it could be seen as derogatory to women.

Thirty trainees at a Santa course in Adelaide last month,
held by recruitment company Westaff, were urged to replace the traditional festive greeting with "ha, ha, ha".
I'm hoping this is just a bad joke that some idiot newspaperman took seriously.

Hi! Bye!

Thing 1 did not get a strong, early start in bike-riding. Our neighborhood in New York was too hilly for street-riding, and while we did go down to the park on occasion, it wasn't often enough for him to work his way out of training wheels. Now we're in Tucson, where spring was so hectic it flew by, and only a lunatic rides a bike during summer.

At last it is autumn (yes, it took that long), and we were determined to help him get up on the bike. Last Sunday, we took the boys to a nearby park. Thing 1 rode around on the training wheels for a bit, but the bike was very wobbly. After all, he's seven now, and far too big to be riding on flimsy little wheels.

I took them off and reassured him that everything was going to be fine, and that I wasn't going to let go of him. I ran alongside the bike, holding on to him, but he panicked. "I can't do it," he said. "The OT told me I couldn't ride a bike without training wheels." He begged me to put the wheels back on.

The Wife had taken Thing 1 to see an occupational therapist to help with fine and gross motor skills, and especially with his fidgety-ness, which she claimed (and the OT seconded) was due in part to moving from crawling to walking too quickly as an infant. But I couldn't believe the woman would have told my boy that he flat-out couldn't do something.

The Wife agreed--that's not what had been said. "Well," I said, "that's what he heard. And now he's convinced himself that he can't do this." She went off to talk with him for a while. When she came back, she said, "he's willing to try it three more times, as long as he's going downhill."

Good enough. I took the training wheels off again and we went up a gentle slope. We ran down the hill together, and after about five feet, I was able to let go of the bike. When we got to the bottom, I told him that I hadn't been holding on, and he was amazed.

Well, we didn't do it three times; we did it thirteen times. Down the hill, then straight across the park, then up the hill, then around behind the baseball field. And he fell a couple of times, but not badly. And when he did fall, I said, "You can get upset and throw the bike away, or you can brush yourself off and try it again till you get it right--it's up to you."

It's been a week now, and he's gone riding every single day. We can't keep him off of it.

Yesterday, he zoomed past where we were sitting and said, "Hi! Bye!" And I said to myself: Well, there it is. There's child-rearing in a nutshell. Because everything he learns is a step away from me and into his own, independent life--from talking to walking to reading to bike-riding to whatever comes next. He is as happy to say Bye! as he is to say Hi!

And he should be. I remember what it felt like--the freedom to just go--wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. To be free, and independent, and alone--alone to go places, or to go nowhere--to stop along the way and look at the trees, or read a book, nothing.

I was very lucky, apparently. From what I hear and read, that kind of alone-time is rare and getting rarer. Kids always have someone watching them, guiding them, planning events for them. Which is great. But I loved those times when I had nothing to do and nowhere to go--even when I had no one to do things with. I loved being able to head out on my bike--or on foot through the woods--or onto the lake in a rowboat--all by myself, to explore and imagine and dream. I would march through the woods and find rocks to climb on and clearings to play in. I would row out to my own little Tom Sawyer island in the middle of the lake. And I would bike around our neighborhood for hours--sometimes with no destination, just to ride.

Looking back now, part of me is horrified at the freedom my parents gave me. In today's context, it's unimaginable. He could have drowned! He could have fallen! He could have gotten lost! All true, I suppose. And in many cases, it would have been hours or days before anyone found me.

Fortunately, none of those terrible things ever happened to me.

I'm sure I won't feel safe giving Thing 1 quite that much latitude--the world being what it is today. But I hope I'll be able to give him some. Enough that he can feel the world is wide and free and his for the exploring, and that there is time enough and room enough in it for his own, uninterrupted dreaming.

In the meantime, he takes practice spins around the nest, improving his technique and strengthening his wings.

Hi, little bird!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I Pledge Allegiance

To whom do we owe allegiance, as educators? It seems like a simple question, and most of you out there who are teachers--if not all of you--will say "the kids," to the point where it really needs to be capitalized (The Kids) and maybe even have a registered trademark symbol after it.

And we all believe it. Why not? And we're all good and committed educators, so I take your word for it, and I hope you take mine.

And yet, we know that there are some not-so-good and not-so-committed educators out there, all of whom probably say--and believe--the same thing. And so...what's the difference between us and them? And are we so sure there is a difference?

What does it mean to commit yourself to serving the kids? And who are the kids, anyway? Your kids, in your class? Or all the kids in the school, regardless of whether you see them or not? Or all the kids in the district, regardless of whether you ever meet them or not?

When I was teaching, I saw countless instances of teachers shutting their ears and their doors to one initiative or directive after another, to do what they considered best for their students. I was one of them. In my more traditional school, when I thought the principal was wrong about something (and that was daily), I did what I thought was right. In my more collaborative and progressive school, when I thought my colleagues were wrong, I stopped meeting with them to plan lessons. And believe me, I was no loose cannon. I was merely doing what everyone around me was doing.

I've seen principals try to create a sense of school unity and spirit among teachers, but those moments are rare, and usually fruitless. The system is not set up for that. One's allegiance, as a teacher, is with the union, not the school. After all, you can be removed from a school and sent elsewhere fairly easily, when someone with more seniority comes along. You can choose to move to another school yourself, and bump someone else from their position because you have more seniority. Seniority can force administrators to make staffing decisions that are harmful to the students or the school, because the desires of the teachers outweigh...everything. And in the hard times, the bad times, you're expected to walk out and go on strike with your union brethren (and sistren), regardless of what may be going on in your school. It is utterly irrelevant whether or not your administration is taking good care of you and your colleagues. That team is not important. It should not even be thought of as a team.

The union doesn't want you to feel allegiance to your school--because allegiance is a big word--a heavy word. When you pledge your allegiance to someone or something, you are handing over more than what is comfortable. You are handing over--to some extent--your autonomy. You are saying that their needs are your needs; their fight is your fight, and that you will do what is necessary for the common cause. When you pledge allegiance to your country, and your country calls, you are expected to answer--with your life, if necessary. We do not--or we should not--make such pledges lightly. And no teacher union wants you to feel that kind of a bond with your school or your principal. It weakens the union's collective bargaining strength. It is supposed to be us against them--labor vs. management--and you may not--you must not--make a separate peace.

Except, in fact, there is no "us." Because teachers, in most of the schools I've known and visited, do not feel any sense of collegiality, comradeship, or common cause. Where money is concerned, they'll throw their lot in with the union. In all other cases, it's every man for himself. And woman. And, therefore, sadly, child. Other teachers may be acceptable to eat lunch with from time to time--but don't ask me to make any sacrifices for them...or to limit my own autonomy for some so-called "greater good."

So, as we said at the beginning, we ally ourselves with our kids. Or we say we do. I wonder how true it is. I've seen so many teachers fight bitterly and angrily for the right to continue doing what they've always been doing, and in so many cases, I've felt as though what is driving the fight is the desire to do what they want to do. "Don't talk to me about need. This is what I want." I've seen teachers scream against core curriculum because they are afraid they'll lose their freedom and creativity in the though the adult's freedom and creativity are the ends in though the teacher's pleasure and amusement is more important than the student's learning. I've seen teachers scream at a superintendent that their individual happiness and contentment is a more important concern than the economic viability of the district as a whole. Give me a raise, though the heavens fall.

I've seen this before. When I worked with a small, not-for-profit theater company, we had actors who were bitterly offended about not getting paid for their work. I would have loved to pay them, and myself. But we were a tiny, shoestring business, raising just barely enough money to put on our shows. From where I stood, as a company officer, we were all working very hard just to raise enough money to let these people do what they loved doing. From where they stood, though, it didn't matter how much more hard work was required, as long as no one expected them to do it; they wanted the cash. "Pay me a stipend, even if we have to cancel the show."

Lunacy? Of course. But it shows where their ultimate allegiance lay. And because they could not see beyond themselves, they ended up hurting...themselves.

What if a curriculum audit found that what you were doing in your classroom, while fascinating to some students and personally rewarding to you, did not fit in with what was being done elsewhere at that grade level--and that, as a consequence, the students in your classes were moving on to the next year under- or mis-prepared...and were having trouble right now in other core classes because of what you were or were not doing? Would you teach different material? What if a comparison of test scores made it alarmingly clear that something about your pedagogical choices and techniques was less effective than those of your neighbors--that certain practices you disliked were yielding better results than those you liked? Would you teach a different way?

Of course you would. You are all wonderful people. But don't kid yourselves--not everyone would. I've seen scores of teachers who have refused to budge an inch, even when presented with information that what they were doing was harmful to students in the context beyond their classrooms. Because to them, in their real, day-to-day lives, there was no context beyond their own classrooms. They were islands. It was just them and their kids.

Of course, they claimed that everyone outside their classroom was a fool, and that no one outside really knew their kids--knew what they needed. But it was a lie. They simply used the kids as a front--as a mask. They did what they wanted to do, because they wanted to do it.

Don't get me wrong--these are also teachers who stay late, who work hard, who spend their own money on classroom supplies and books. This is not about laziness, or lack of commitment. It is about limited commitment. It is about the inability or unwillingness to commit to anything beyond a specified orbit--beyond the place where you are in ultimate control.

And just like with my actor friends, that illustion of ultimate control ultimately hurts them. Because when every teacher is a free agent, doing whatever he or she thinks is best, then every September is utter chaos. Five times a day, thirty kids erupt into the room with no common language, no common skills, no common background. And the teachers bitch and moan about all the other teachers--the lack of discipline, the idiocy of the choices. For months they roll their eyes and say "what were they thinking?"

Well, you know what they were thinking. They were thinking, "I'm alone in this." They were thinking, "I know what's best." They were thinking, "I do what makes me happy."

Pogo Possum warned us, years ago: we have met the enemy, and he is us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

You Are Here

Feeling lost? Confused? Unsure of where you are in this dense wood through which we journey, in our three score and ten years (or whatever), and where you should be going?

Well, I can't give you any detailed and personal answers, but here's a road map to get you started.


Sunday, November 4, 2007


At the urging of The Wife, I am participating this year, for the first time, in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Quality is not important--reaching the goal is. Of course, I do care about the quality as well.

So far it's been a lot of fun. And since this is a public endeavor (I have to post my word count nightly), I thought I'd share it with any interested parties out there who read this.

Click here to check on my daily word count...and to read the novel in progress if you so desire. It's a mystery, entitled "Cool for Cats."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Read a ___ Book

(Hey, there's still time to add your Perfect Movie Moment to the post below. As of this posting, we have a total of, well, none)

I'm at the annual meeting of the Council of the Great City Schools this week, in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee. At lunch today, we were treated to an exhortation from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, which was, as you can imagine, 50% inspiring and 50% depressing.

One of the things he complained about was the video below, which he said had been broadcast on BET and was now on YouTube. I went to see it after his speech, and I thought I should share it with you.

Jackson was mightily offended by the video, and said it was degrading and depraved. He especially objected to the repetition of "Read a motherfucking book." He used it as an example of educators' sad history of Just Taking It. He said, "If ten school boards across the country called BET and told them they found this video offensive, you know they would have taken it off. But we don't complain. We don't stand up for what we believe. We don't fight."

Having now seen the video, I find the issue very interesting. If you haven't seen it before, take a look. Then we'll talk.

I think what it's trying to do is say all the things Bill Cosby (the currently vilified and maligned Bill Cosby) is trying to say, but in language aimed more directly at its target, rather than the parents. Is the language harsh? Well, sure--but no more so than in the way any teenager talks to any other teenager. Is the imagery degrading to women? Well, sure--but no more so than the imagery in any rock or rap videos. Are the messages positive and important? I would say HELL YES. And who dares say them? Could I have said any of these things to my students (other than "read a book")? No way. NO WAY. These are things that only a parent or a friend or a very close adult (coach, mentor) can say. And to say them--to say them and have them heard--they have to be said in the listener's language.

But Jesse Jackson was offended, not by the message, but by the medium. I wonder if he feels as though the vernacular is passing him by. I would worry too. I do worry. I would like to think that soaring rhetoric and old-time, passionate sermonizing can still resonate, can still move people. But if you find that they can't, well...use what works, right? What's more important--that you teach, or that they learn?

And what did the rest of the audience think about what he was saying? Well, walking out of the hall, I saw one African American woman shake her head and tell her friend, "Honestly, for a minister to use such language. It's just not right."

For more on this, go to YouTube and see the piece that ran on CNN, where someone says, "People who aren't in our community are not going to see this as satire." I find that sad. But there are a lot of points of view on this.