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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Polski tagged me on Saturday with the Four Meme, and so here is the frightening truth:

Four Jobs I've Had:
Wedding musician
radio station board operator and recorder of commercials
Santa's elf and photographer
newspaper delivery person

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over:
Groundhog Day (ironic, no?)
The Quiet Man
The Princess Bride

Four Places I've Lived:
(That's it. I really hate moving.)

Four TV Shows I Love:
Northern Exposure
King of the Hill
Commander in Chief

Four Places I've Vacationed:
Yokohama/Tokyo, Japan
southern Ireland
Utah/Arizona/New Mexico/Colorado

Four Places I Want to Visit/Vacation In: (thanks, Polski)
New Zealand/Australia
northwestern Ireland

Four of My Favorite Foods:
Thai food: Pla Nua- spicy beef!
Lebanese food: Chicken Tawook-- garlic!
Sushi, especailly ebi and dragon roll-- subtle!
Mexican: Chile Colorado

Four Blogs I Visit Daily:
Scheiss Weekly
World of Pig
Lots of teacher blogs that don't post daily, like Polski and Fred and Mike in Texas and Amerloc and k and graycie and an old soul and shut up and teach and you can see my compulsiveness now, can't you? You see it on my blogroll? I read it-- even if it pisses me off....

Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now:

Four Bloggers I Now Tag:
Queen of the Cottage at Life in the Mobile Learning Cottage
Writingsam at clean up on aisle life
elementaryhistoryteacher at historyiselementary


You know who you are, idiot driver

Yeah, you.

The man in the Lexus reading the newspaper while driving. I came upon you as we were in the right turn lane this morning. You were stopped even though the light was green, and it took you a couple of minutes to move. I was trying to be in a Zen place on my way to a thirteen hour workday and didn't honk.

Then I pulled up beside you after you FINALLY woke up, turned the corner, and chose a stupid lane after a quarter mile of weaving back and forth. To see a newspaper business section propped up on your steering wheel as you go ten miles under the speed limit down the road.

You are a moron.

This is now two brushes with-- Lexuses? Lexi?-- under the command of a dope. I sense a pattern here. At least there wasn't an ice storm too.

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The state legislatures are wild: Utah bill attempts to cast doubt on evolution

Utah state senator Chris Buttars failed in his attempt to pass a bill which would have required students to be told that Darwinian theory is not "empirically proven."
The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Chris Buttars, had said it was time to rein in teachers who were teaching that man descended from apes and rattling the faith of students. The Senate earlier passed the measure 16-12.

But the bill failed in the House on a 28-46 vote Monday. The bill would have required teachers to tell students that evolution is not a fact and the state doesn't endorse the theory.

Rep. Scott Wyatt, a Republican, said he feared passing the bill would force the state to then address hundreds of other scientific theories -- "from Quantum physics to Freud" -- in the same manner.

"I don't believe that anybody in there really wants their kids to be taught that their great-grandfather was an ape," Buttars said.

I dunno, one of my great-grandfathers did have a rather heavy brow, but I was told his laugh was more like a donkey than an actual ape....

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Academic freedom in Arizona

An Arizona state senator has introduced a bill in the Arizona legislature to allow college students students to refuse any assignment which they find morally offensive and would require teachers to provide alternatives.
Senate Bill 1331, introduced by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, would allow students from universities and community colleges to reject assignments they find objectionable to their religious, moral or sexual beliefs without financial or academic penalty.

The bill passed the Higher Education Committee on Feb. 15. If it passes the Rules Committee and the rest of the Legislature, teachers will have to provide an alternative assignment at a student's request.

"This legislation would impoverish the higher-education system for students," said Barbara Fahey, a professor of English at Scottsdale Community College.

A student complained about an assignment in an English class to read The Ice Storm, which includes scenes of spouse-swapping and other sexual content.

The whole thing started when a student complained that the book was offensive and wanted an alternative assignment. When the teacher refused, the college offered placement in another class. The student refused this and contacted State Senator Verschoor, who then produced the bill. It was pointed out that the syllabus for the course clearly stated that some material could be adjudged objectionable and reminded students that they could drop the class if they so chose.

How long would it take some of MY students to object immediately to every assignment I put before them? And further, who is this student to be able to have such pull with a state senator? I could use his help with a few matters....

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

It's a crowded world, after all....

Well, according to the number crunchers, at 6:17 pm (here) today the planet groaned under the weight of 6.5 BILLION people.

At 7:16 p.m. ET on Saturday, the population here on this good Earth hit 6.5 billion people, according to projections.

Along with this forecast, an analysis by the International Programs Center at the U.S. Census Bureau points to another factoid, Robert Bernstein of the Bureau's Public Information Center advised LiveScience. Mark this on your calendar: Some six years from now, on Oct. 18, 2012 at 4:36 p.m. ET, the Earth will be home to 7 billion folks.

What's really scary is that we didn't reach our first billion until around 1850. Read the whole article-- it's very interesting.

Furthermore, today the planet groaned a little bit more under MY weight, since I have all but abandoned dieting in the last month-- stress, y'know. So I better get on that.


Friday, February 24, 2006

HaloScan scare

Wow, I just flirted with Haloscan commenting... and was APPALLED to find out afterward that all my comments disappeared!!!!! Hey Haloscan, a little warning ahead of time would have been nice. I do appreciate the fact that you provided a backup so I could-- hopefully-- fix it.

But about making my comments disappear? No. Freakin'. Way.

If anyone knows a way around this, I'll try again. But for now, forget it.


Which is more important: process versus product

The discussion over the post on innumeracy and memorization got me started thinking, and so I will throw it out to you all, hoping a few people might de-lurk:

k mentioned that students can get partial points on the math section of the NCLB-mandated tests in her state if they demonstrate using the correct processes:
My classmates and I were surprised to learn that, on our state's high stakes do or die test, a student can have the wrong answer but get more points, because they labeled, graphed and explained, than the student with the right answer who didn't jump through all the hoops.
The very next week one of our school districts announced a huge immediate cut in programs and technology, followed by a staffing cut next year. Why? Because the budget contained an error to the tune of millions of dollars.
Now, I'm sure, that the budget report was neat, tidy, with graphs, labels and explanations...
but, darn it, that wrong answer doesn't seem to be getting the school district many points with parents and staff.

graycie said this:
The reflection of your post in the world of reading is looking at the first letter of a word and then just sorta guessing at it. In literature it's the Disney-fication of everything. Aaargh.

I have heard many involved in education trumpet this emphasis of process over product. Think Frank Lloyd Wright here: beautiful designs, exquisite buildings-- which often leaked like a sieve and needed major repair work almost constantly because he seemed to skimp on the boring engineering side of the job.

Perhaps this gets back to our emphasis on style over substance; yeah, yeah, human nature, right? But isn't part of education about overcoming human nature for the better?

So should we reward process over product? Is it good to know how to do something even if you can't do it?

An open thread for you.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Carnival of Education number "I-Can't-Drive" 55!

Come and see it right here. Lots of cool stuff to read and get either inspired by or incredulous about!


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Innumeracy and the Persistence of Memory

All of my grades are based on percentages. I'm not one of these teachers who wants to convert someone's scores in my head, so I just weight grades differently. But all grades are based on 100 possible points. I can tell at a glance how a student is doing this way.

But this habit often makes it interesting when students are trying to figure out their grades on quizzes. I usually have a rather simple number of questions in terms of being able to calculate grades easily: 5, 10, 12, 20, 25, or 33 items. As I watched several of my AP students struggle with figuring out their grades, I had to suppress a groan of frustration. It was a 20 item quiz-- therefore each question would be worth 5 points, right? Young Frederick wanted to pull out his calculator to figure out what his score would be if he missed 7.

"No calculator. You can do this," I urged.

He couldn't begin to figure out how to determine his grade without a calculator. He is 16 years old and taking pre-calculus and other college-track classes (I never took a course beyond algebra 2, much to my chagrin). He doesn't immediately know that 7x5=35, and then subtract 35 from 100, nor can he figure out that 13x5=65. As a matter of fact, he stumbled over the 100-35 part and insisted the answer was 75.

It is obvious that his only problem is NOT that he didn't do his reading for my AP US history class carefully enough last night. His problem begins with a basic innumeracy. Of course, many would say that he is a victim of a larger educational trend which I pray to God is finally being placed on the pyre of idiotic educational theories: that rote memorization is bad, bad, baddety bad bad.

Frederick has to THINK about what 6x9 is, and he doesn't get that 6x9 is the same as 9x6 is the same as 3x2x9 is the same as (3 cubed) x2, and so on-- that's a related but different problem we could talk about all day. I think it's a crime that Frederick has to waste valuable thinking time on matters such as 6x5, much less 100-35. Frederick has much more complex things to think about, but by the time he gets there, his poor little thinker is all worn out on information he should have committed to recall 7 or 8 years ago.

The greatest civilizations of the ages depended upon rote memorization. The Torah was preserved through the power of memory for hundreds of years. The Iliad and the Odyssey were memorized and sung for generations. But somewhere along the line in the last forty or so years, memorizing was a skill that became shameful and vilified by someone among the educational cognoscenti. In the words of some of my students, I would like to find this dude and kick him in the shins.

I still remember huge chunks of poetry and music that I had to memorize over twenty years ago.

"Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
To wash the cups and saucers up and brush the crumbs away,
And shoo the chickens off the porch and dust the hearth and sweep,
And make the fire and bake the bread and earn her board and keep..."
...and I could keep going for the next 30 or so lines, trust me....

"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks!
It is the East, and Juliet the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon
Who is already sick and pale with grief...."

Not to mention the lyrics to almost every song on the pop charts since 1974, much to my enduring shame in some cases (Some people call me the Space Cowboy, yeah; some call me the Gangster of Love; some people call me Maurice, 'cause I speak of the pompitous of Love-- YIKES!)....

My two youngest kids learned the names of the presidents in order to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." When they were 4. In preschool. Before they could read.

What is all the more appalling is that we live in the "Information Age." Never has so much information been at the fingertips of so many but been manipulated or understood by so few.

In this year's State of the Union address, President Bush called for creation of the American Competitiveness Initiative, the goal of which is to encourage more study of math and science. This is all well and good, but when students lack a fundamental understanding of the way that numbers work, I fear their ability to go any deeper into the subject. Let's also not overlook the fact that mathematics is also the language of science. Combine innumeracy with the frightful lack of vocabulary (there's that darn memorization thing again) and you've got a seemingly insurmountable problem. Further consider the default response of 90% of our students to delayed gratification, frustration or struggle-- which is to quit--and you've got a major crisis on your hands.

Then you've got this bubble headed bozo who assures students that algebra is unnecessary. More kicks in the shins for this dude.

I am on the verge of promising young Frederick and his classmates a pizza party if they learn their times tables. If we don't get them now, we may never get them. And this is too important to ignore.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: the inaugural edition

I am trying to cheer myself up, so I'm going to invent a new blog game for all 10 of you out there who still come around to see what the crazy lady is saying lately. I'm calling it Movie Madness Monday.

Each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun.

I will start off easy, since this is the inaugural edition.

"We'll never survive."
"Nonsense, you're only saying that because no one ever has."

"We are men of action. Lies do not become us."

"Your ears you keep, and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish, every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out: "Dear God, what is that thing?" will echo in your perfect ears. That is what "to the pain" means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery, forever."

Wednesday Update: The movie is: The Princess Bride!

If you have not seen this one, you simply must run --RUN-- to the nearest video store and grab yourself a copy. For some reason, teachers seem to be especially fond of this film. What's it got?

The Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That's right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
The Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

You can still contribute quotes-- it's been great fun so far!

Let the games begin!

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Snowed in in Oklahoma

As you may know, my father passed away nearly three weeks ago. We were supposed to have the memorial service and burial in his southwestern Oklahoma hometown today. However, any of you who are anywhere near this part of the world know that we have had sleet, freezing rain, and snow here starting yesterday afternoon. My mother made it out as far as El Reno, but stopped at a motel due to conditions. We drove here yesterday evening, and it was mostly fine until the end.

We watched some idiot woman in a Lexus spin crazily all over the highway, missing a bridge abutment by this much [] (including swerving toward us the wrong way for a millisecond) ALL WHILE MAINTAINING HER CONVERSATION ON HER FREAKIN' CELL PHONE near the Cherokee casino. She paused briefly-- and then passed us again at twice the safe speed. What. An. Idiot. She looked at US in disbelief as in, "You have 4 wheel drive-- why are you being such babies?" I dunno, I have this irrrational attachment to keeping my car in one piece and my family safe, and NOTHING will help you drive in this stuff.

So the memorial service has been cancelled. Anyone who was planning to come -- forget it. There's black ice out there, friends, with another wave on the way. And the last thing in the world anyone wants is to be stuck in southwestern Oklahoma for a couple of unexpected days. Trust me. Even in GOOD weather, I always was grateful I had reading to fill my time when we used to visit this neck of the woods. That, and catching mountain boomers was about all the entertainment to be had.

So we'll just try to get this all put behind us later-- maybe spring or summer.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Return of Mr. Do-Over

I was staring out my classroom window for a few seconds after school when I heard the door open. In walked The Slasher, of whom I wrote in December.

I hadn't seen him around in a while, so I feared the worst. Yet here he was, massive tattooed biceps bare (does this kid even own a sleeve? Some things never change....), camo pants, spiky mohawk and all. We chatted for a while. Here's what he's been up to:

1) He was recently detained by the cops "just for walking through a neighborhood." He says that happens a lot-- and really, I'm not too sure I'd want to see him walking down my street.

2) He's not in school right now, but claims to be selling "magazine subscriptions" door-to-door. I ask you, would you buy a magazine from a person who looks like a meaner version of a cross between the body of Sergeant Slaughter and the druggy beady-eyed overbite of Gary Busey?

3) He is currently "hooking up" with a 34 year old married woman, whose husband wants to kill him. Y'know, I really am puritanical about that kind of thing, so all I could manage was, "Gee do you really think that's wise? Some people do get rather testy about their wives...." Eeewww. Really. I would not have believed this part, but after we talked, I saw him in a lock with a woman who looked like she'd been "rode hard and put up wet," as we used to say. He then got in the car with her.

He has no plans. He doesn't think further than tomorrow. He is functionally illiterate. Every time I try to encourage him to try some education, he shakes me off like Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham. He's getting by on-- not charm, certainly, but some sort of strange animal magnetism, some kind of primitive vibe to which people on the fringe of society seem to resonate.

What are we supposed to do with kids-- can't use the word "students"-- like this?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'd go with Fluorescent Orange around Dick, Longhorns

Yesterday, the University of Texas Longhorns visited the White House to celebrate their National Championship. Word is that Vice President Cheney was on the premises, hopefully without a shotgun full of buckshot. However, Bevo Boys, just to be on the safe side, I'd dump the burnt orange attire for fluorescent orange, if I were you. Even though I'm an Okie, I still don't want ya to eat lead-- literally.

Meanwhile, I'm idly wondering why the quail were still so low to the ground that people would be firing levelly. I've heard that sometimes, people who run these ranch outings for bigwigs clip the wings of the quail to make them a target less like an F-15 and more like a C-130, speedwise (generations of hunters in my family, y'know). Cheney and crew certainly were sneaking up on their feathered foes, since one of the early stories stated that the hunters had stepped out of a CAR moments before.

Today it was reported that Mr. Whittington had a mild heart attack from one of the pellets lodging near his heart, and the vice president has admitted, four days later, that he was at fault in the incident, since he was the one who pulled the trigger. Let's all hope Mr. Whittington has a speedy recovery.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

An inadequate note of thanks

On a personal note, I was so very touched by so very many people leaving a kind comment here, including a lovely poetic tribute over at the Wonks' place, on the passing of my father.

Thanks so much, dan, polski, educat, edwonk, fred, graycie, john, muriel, k, nyc educator, jess, elementaryhistoryteacher, janet, mike in texas, thespis, guusjem, carol, james, shari L, janet, deann, and jenny d.

Thank you so much for everyone who left a message and who remembered me and my family in their thoughts and prayers. I believe that these thoughts and prayers do have a positive impact.

I am blessed in so many ways.


Carnival of Education Anniversary edition

... is up over at the Education Wonks' place.

This oh so worthy collection of the Edusphere is an excellent place to get a taste of a little bit of everything that those of us who obsess over the state of education in the US and around the world. The Carnival of Education gives real meaning to the term "fair and balanced."

The Education Wonks are so dedicated to providing a forum for bloggers great and small to get their words out. We all owe them a collective debt of gratitude.

Go on over and get schooled!


Flyyyyyy him to the Moon....

preferably the dark side where there are no cameras, microphones, reporters, or the Guinness Book of World Records for Mr. Narcissus.

Yes, Steve Fossett is at it again. Another stupid quest to break or set some stupid record to blow more of his millions. Am I just being grumpy to be tired of this whole navel-gazing, self-aggrandizing circus?

Jeez, when will this guy go broke?

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

AP expands its reach

As an AP teacher, I am always bemused by discussions of the increasing numbers of students taking AP courses. I wish I had had a chance to take AP courses in high school. At the same time, however, I have seen pressure to make an AP class "easier" in order to fill more seats.

It is this kind of "blessing or a curse" situation which is causing the College Board to begin "auditing" courses that label themselves as following the AP curriculum. I personally resisted pushes to "make the AP class easier"--I was told that kids needed time to play sports and work jobs. This may be true, but I believe there is such a thing as "opportunity cost"-- if you choose to work 20 hours a week and play five sports, perhaps you aren't committed to getting the most out of AP. I feel if you want to be able to put the AP label on your transcript, and that's all you want, this is probably not the class for you. The willingness of some teachers to dumb down the class to boost enrollment is what has caused some universities to question the value of these courses. At the time I began teaching AP, we only had about 40% of students in AP classes taking the exam, and of those only about 20% earned a "passing" score of 3 or better, and practically none of those earned a 4 or a 5. At that time, we were transitioning from offering the course as a college credit course, in which the previous teacher had been teaching about Andrew Jackson in February, to an AP course with the goal of preparing students to pass the AP exam.

I tell the students that I wear three hats in class: the high school teacher hat, the AP teacher hat, and the college preparatory hat. I teach them how to take notes; I teach them how to read and analyze primary sources and a college-level textbook; I teach them how to write analytical essays; I teach them how to budget time; sometimes, I teach them that they have to make choices and cannot have everything they want.

I have seen teachers call a class an AP course and actively discourage every one of their students from taking the exam. I believe this is committing fraud. I am also a bit concerned about rankings of high schools, like those in US News and World Report, which use the number of AP courses taken by students as the primary indicator of a high school's quality-- this often leads to just the kind of dilution of the course that is fraudulent.

I welcome anyone into my class who is willing to accept the standard I set. I have had students who struggled mightily all year long, earning Ds, scoring a 1 on the test, but who obviously got so much out of class discussion and who did not try to drag the class down that as long as they were okay with the low grade, that was fine. They have come back to me from college and told me how much the study skills and analytical skills helped them, or that it taught them that they needed to really work harder as a student. I have had some perfectly capable students bail because they didn't want to do the work. This is also an acceptable choice, and they go with my blessing. But this is an AP course, and I feel it would be dishonest in the extreme to try to water it down. I think I have finally cut out anything extraneous while maintaining rigor. So far, the results seem promising. We average about 65-70% passing now with an open enrollment program in a school which has all sorts of socioeconomic groups and ethnicities. About 15% of my students are African-American, which is up from zero.

This class is not easy. When my students succeed, it is because THEY have put in the time and effort to actually prepare themselves, because there is no way I can do it all for them.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Requiem im Pace, Dad

My father passed away yesterday. Thanks to a sweet and loving husband, a wonderful group of coworkers who have written lesson plans, a very supportive principal, and my district's leave policy, I was able to be with him the last few days. Things are tough right now, but there is no more suffering for my dad.

I may be quiet for a few days, I don't know.


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