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, August 27, 2007

Movie Madness Monday 80: Eve Arden edition

Welcome to a better-late-than-never edition of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game.

Before we get started, I have a couple of questions: Any movies you'd like to see me do that I haven't done? Would you like to switch for a while to Music Madness Mondays, where we identify lines from songs? Whattaya think?

Anyway, here's how we play: I give you some quotes from a movie, and you respond in the comments section with a quote from the same movie. I will then later name the movie, IF my router doesn't hang while I try to edit the post, which has been the problem lately.

Okay??? Here goes:

"Geez! Every teacher I got flunked me at least once!"
"Well, I ain't taking no crap off her this year!"
"If she crosses me, she's gonna find out who's boss!"

"We have pictures of you so-called mooners. And just because the pictures aren't of your faces doesn't mean we can't identify you. At this very moment those pictures are on their way to Washington where the FBI has experts in this type of identification. If you turn yourselves in now, you may escape a Federal charge!"

"Beauty is pain!"

"Attention seniors. Before the merriment of commencement commences, I hope that your years with us here at Rydell have prepared you for the challenges you face. Who knows? Among you there may be a future Eleanor Roosevelt or a Rosemary Clooney, and among you young men, there may be a Joe DiMaggio, a President Eisenhower, or a Vice-President Nixon."

"You mean you're dropping out?"
"I don't look at it as dropping out! I look at it as a very strategic career move."

And go!

****Weekend Update: The movie that brought bakc the musical for me was


Look how adorable they both were! And ya gotta love Didi Conn and Stockard Channing, any time.

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Nightmare in the classroom

It's back to school time for most of us, which is pretty stressful. One thing making this time of year extra fun-- besides the heat and sometimes lack of air conditioning, the money we will have to spend on supplies for our own rooms even though we are tapped out before the first paycheck, and the like-- is that charming little contribution of our subconscious. You know what I'm talking about: the teacher nightmare.

I'm not talking about NCLB-- no, I mean real nightmares.

There are the classics, of course.

1. The classroom full of kids who openly rebel against you as the teacher until complete pandemonium ensues. A spin-off is the one about the one kid who just won't quit until you appear completely insane. Then there's...

2. You arrive on the first day to find that your assignment has been completely changed, and you are teaching the thing you feel least capable about.

3. You are teaching, teaching teaching, but no one is focused on what you are doing, and you feel completely incompetent.

4. There is some kind of horrible emergency, like a fire or a tornado or an intruder, and you are responsible for a classroom of kids. You shepherd them from the danger, but there's one kid missing....

I have numbers one and four most often. I always wake up sweating at about 3:45 and waste a good hour getting back to sleep after each one of these little fright-fests. By then, it's time to get up, and I go through the day feeling just ducky.

What are some of your common teacher nightmares?


Friday, August 24, 2007

Crowded House in concert was GREAT!

Now, if you've been here at all, you know my obsession with Neil Finn, Split Enz, Crowded House, the Finn Brothers-- I love it all. I allow my hubby his obsession with Jewel-- he allows me my unrequited adoration of Neil Finn. It works nicely. Mine's less embarassing because at least he's not over a decade younger than I am, but whatever.... lech. No, no, I'm kidding. Kinda. Maybe I'm still reeling from the five-- FIVE! and she tells the same stories!-- Jewel concerts I've attended over the past 15 years.

Ahem. Who is Neil Finn, you may be wondering?

Okay, let me try. Familiar with the Dixie Chicks' latest album? There was a song "Silent House" on there that was written by Neil Finn (he played on the Chicks' album, too), and the song is also covered on the latest Crowded House album Time on Earth. Strangely, Jimmy Buffett covered "Weather with You," which is another Crowded House song. Neil wrote "Don't Dream It's Over," which was also covered by the late lamented Sixpence None the Richer. Crowded House had some success in the late eighties and early nineties (thanks to friend Chanman) with songs like "Locked Out," "Weather With You," and "Something So Strong." There's a hilarious video on iTunes of "She Will Have Her Way" which includes footage from some kitschy 50s B-list horror movie. Back in the eaaaaarly days of MTV-- remember? They played music then?-- Neil and his brother Tim fronted Split Enz, with notable highlights being "One Step Ahead" and "I Got You."

We just drove several hundred miles on a weeknight to see the band in concert, and it was worth every darn boring mile. If you get the chance, you really need to see these guys live. And Neil's son Liam is an incredible multi-instrumentalist whose use of three looping machines cannot be believed. If the guy sitting next to me would have shut his darn trap earlier, it would have been even better.

I love this music. I love these lyrics. He and his band are completely unappreciated here in the US, but when Crowded House disbanded back in 1996, over 100,000 people showed up for their last concert at the Sydney Opera House. So I guess I should be glad he bothered with the US at all on tour.

So, to help you understand, here is "Don't Dream It's Over." If you know it already, enjoy. If you don't give it a try. This one is with Crowded House's late, much lamented drummer, Paul Hester, may his soul rest in peace:

And here's the acoustic, more current version:

I just want to point out some of the lyrics, for further explanation:

"In the paper today, tales of war and of waste/
"But you turn right over to the TV page..."

Years later, and it still rings so true. If you get a chance, go see this wonderful band. They gave us well over two and a half hours of music on top of the excellent opening acts.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Movie Madness Monday 79: Not what you appear to be edition

Welcome to another round of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. I was incredibly busy if not freaked out last week, so let's go with some real highbrow entertainment this week.

You know the drill: I give you some quotes, you put your favorite quote from the same movie in the comments section. Couldn't be easier!

I'm off to the Crowded House concert tonight, and I have to drive a few hundred miles, but it's worth it! So have fun playing while I am gone!

"Seamus O'Toole."
"Bobby O'Shea."

"She hasn't answered your calls, she didn't respond to any of your letters, she didn't respond to the candygram. God only knows what happened to the kitten you got for her. 'Cause she didn't keep it, and I know you're not raising the damn thing. I think it's very obvious at this juncture that she just flat out does not wanna see you anymore."

"And now for our second reading I'd like to ask the bride's sister Gloria up to the lectern."
"20 bucks First Corinthians."
"Double or nothing Colossians 3:12."
"A reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians...."

Aaaand go!

****Weekend update: Nothing is more charming than those who seize upon the celebration of Love's Young Dream and use it as a chance to behave abominable, as in


Even after this, I still don't get Vince Vaughan. Or Owen Wilson, for all that. Funny? Yes. Sexy? Like Woody Allen, and not as funny, unless of course you're talking about Purple Rose of Cairo funny, in which case, they're about right.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Movie Madness Monday 78: Faulty test results edition

Hmmm. Ever had a lovely little letter from a lab saying that you need more tests? Ever had it arrive early on a Saturday so that then you got to spend all weekend stewing about it? Then you'll know why this movie is the choice for this week. Don't let me down, now.

You know the drill: I give you the starter quotes, you put your quotes from the same movie in the comments section.

"Who was it who said 'Adversity is the stone on which I sharpen my blade?'"

"You went through my stuff?"
"Ja, I go through everyone's stuff. Forgive me."

"Lunch is served!"

"This can't be right."

"i just love these sheets. I was just takin' them for a ride around the block."

"I really wanted to meet you. And I shoulda ate that. I shoulda ate all that stuff. Especially that. Shoulda put my FOOT in that."

"Ohhh LORD! Why ME?????!!!!"

****Weekend Update: Queen Latifah was sweetly understated in this one:


which was the remake of an Alec Guinness film. I liked this, and it's good to see that LL Cool J is still mighty fine! Not to mention Gerard Depardieu.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Religious charter schools: just another way to draw students?

Can a charter school about Judaism not teach Judaism?
A school opening this month is named for a Jewish high priest, is directed by a rabbi, will have kosher food and will teach Hebrew. It's also a public school, funded by public tax dollars and following state curriculum guidelines.

Ben Gamla Charter School, billed as the nation's first publicly funded Hebrew-English school, has prompted fears of religion creeping into public schools and has even drawn criticism from groups that defend Jewish causes. Similar criticisms have been raised against Arabic-language charter schools elsewhere, with some saying those schools teach Islam.

Organizers insist that while Ben Gamla will teach Hebrew language and culture, it won't cross the divide between church and state.

"To me, it's very obvious that we're not teaching religion," said Rabbi Adam Siegel, the school's director. He previously directed two private Jewish day schools in Miami Beach. "Religion is prayer, it's God, it's Bible. And so if you stay away from there, you're not teaching religion."

Ben Gamla is the brainchild of former U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, who said he was as surprised by the controversy surrounding the school as he was by the interest in it.

Its new building, set to open Aug. 20, will replace earlier quarters leased from a synagogue that had only enough room for 100 children in kindergarten through third grade. Within weeks of publicizing its opening, Deutsch said, the school received more than 800 applications. The three-story building the school is moving into has space for more than 400 students, through eighth grade.

"If we had 50 kids I would have been happy," said Deutsch, who hopes to open other schools in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

Charter schools are publicly financed and run independently, sometimes by private entities. Some specialize in a language, a trade or some other subject.

Ben Gamla students will follow state curriculum, but also will take a Hebrew language course, and one of their core subjects — math or physical education, for example — will be taught bilingually.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the school sets a dangerous precedent.

"Whenever you have a public school, a public charter school, that focuses on a particular culture that has an intense religious connection, there is the risk that you will end up teaching that religion," he said. "It could happen because some people believe culture and religion are inseparable, or it could happen because many of the teachers and administrators are of one religion and don't recognize the problem."

Even the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Broward County have expressed concerns.

"There are unanswered questions as to how the subject matter of Jewish culture can be taught without also teaching the Jewish religion," said federation head Eric Stillman.

Maybe someone needs to explain to me why charter schools need to pursue some sort of exotic niche in order to succeed? We've got charter schools that focus on weightlifting. We've got charter schools that have a military theme, charter schools that have a Greek theme (the language kind, not the Delta House kind, hopefully), charter schools that have a weightlifting theme, even. Maybe it might be more effective if, instead of being boutique schools, they might actually concentrate on, oh, I don't know, excelling at teaching their students the subject matter necessary for literacy in core subjects, the arts, and the like? I guess they're trying to mimic magnet schools. But I imagine that they couldn't beat off the students with a stick if they simply excelled at providing their students with an education.... instead of some appearing to be stalking horses for eroding the wall (currently composed of jello, apparently, in some places) between church and state? (Please see my previous post for the history of the meaning of the 1st Amendment's Establishment clause.)

The story goes on to discuss Arabic language charters being accused of being Islamic schools in disguise. Recently there was some controversy over the principal at New York's Khalil Gibran International Academy over her affiliation with a group selling T-shirts with the legend "Intifada NYC." I understand the principal resigned over the controversy, but I do not know enough about it to have an opinion. Anyone from NYC want to take a stab at it?

For a while there in my junior high years, my school seemed like a Baptist themed school when I was growing up, but no money officially went into the local preacher's pockets, at least. If there are Jewish day schools in Hollywood, Florida, why does there need to be a publicly funded one? Does it get back to the idea of subsidizing people's religious education, as I talked about previously? I wonder how a Catholic-themed charter school would go over?

It would be one thing if we were talking about a language with future economic or foreign policy import, such as, say, Mandarin or Spanish, or yes, Arabic, if it is done right. I know there's a difference between a language and a culture or religion. I wonder if the people running this school are as clear on that point as some of the rest of us are, though. I just question the need for this type of niche marketing.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Another consequence of NCLB: What to do with students from failed schools

When a failing school is shut down, where can the students go? This is a burning question faced by many students across the country, and its made particularly more difficult under NCLB. Students living in an African American suburb in southern Illinois are finding the doors of neighboring districts locked tight against them as their school has closed its doors. The interesting thing is that the antecedents to this story go back to the 1950s. The whole story is interesting, but note the paragraph in boldface in particular. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Georgina Gustin:
Earlier this year, the [Venice, Illinois school] board that ran the city's remaining high school — Lincoln Charter School — voted to close it, citing dwindling enrollment and limited cash. Now, parents have to decide where to send their children before the school year begins.

...Residents in Venice are upset and bitter — and many say those feelings stem from something that happened decades ago and that few even remember.

In the 1950s, when the state set about consolidating its school districts and redrawing district boundaries, the city of Venice was effectively split into two districts.

Children who lived in southern areas of the city stayed in the Venice school system, while children in the northern areas of the city were sent to the adjacent Madison school system.

At the time those boundaries were drawn, much of downstate Illinois was farmland, and today those haphazard boundaries make for some odd district configurations.

In Maryville, for example, there's a subdivision in a former cornfield where the residents of all but one of the streets go to the Collinsville district, while the residents of the remaining street belong to the Edwardsville district.

But in Venice, some residents believe the district was carved up via a political deal designed to distribute black students evenly between Madison and Venice, which were both majority white at the time.

Those boundaries still exist today.

"Madison and Venice are unique in that a portion of the city was cut in half," said Cullen Cullen, assistant superintendent for the Madison County Regional Office of Education. "That was unusual. There are a few examples of that in the state, but even fewer were based on race."

Over the next five decades, school administrators looked the other way as students who lived in the Madison school district in north Venice attended Venice schools and vice versa. Seven years ago, though, the then-Madison district superintendent complained to authorities that Venice was taking students who belonged in Madison and claiming them as their own. A state audit later showed that Venice was taking as many as 200 students from Madison, doubling its enrollment, and getting state aid based on the inflated numbers.

"They were drawing kids that weren't theirs and getting the money," Cullen explained.

The resulting drop in state aid and enrollment compounded budget woes already triggered by a change in state law that prevented the district from collecting corporate personal property taxes from the rail yards.

In 2004, Venice residents voted to close the crumbling high school after years of deterioration and neglect. Afterward, the district applied to 12 neighboring districts to take the school's 55 students and none would. Eventually, the state ordered East St. Louis to take students who wished to attend. Last year 16 went. (About 90 students still attend the Venice grade school.)

Harry Briggs, former superintendent for the Madison County Regional Office of Education, said he pushed for a cooperative high school that would take students from Venice, Madison and Brooklyn, but the idea met with resistance from each of the communities.

"They could've offered more classes, more athletics," said Briggs, now superintendent of the Granite City School District. "But they were petty."

This year, in the absence of the charter school, the remaining 31 high school students can attend either East St. Louis or Brooklyn school districts, both of which have agreements with Venice already. But many residents and school officials want the students to attend Madison Senior High School, arguing that the historical ties and proximity make that a more logical option. Besides, they say, dozens of Venice residents already attend Madison schools anyway.

The Madison School Board, however, voted against accepting the students. Nearby Granite City won't take them, either.

"It's my intention to get in touch with the Madison superintendent and board members and find out what their concern is about accepting students from the southern end, seeing as the kids from the northern end already go there," said Venice Mayor Avery Ware. "What's the issue? I want to get to the root of it."

Of course, many cities and towns don't have high schools of their own. But in Venice the lack of a high school hits a nerve.

"I think its important to this community and it would help the community itself," Ware added. "But our main concern now is to figure out where are kids going to go to school this year."

It's not too hard to imagine why Madison and Granite City won't take the students. Chances are, that under NCLB, adding more academically distressed African-American students could be just the tipping point to plunge a district into failure according to at least one and possibly two disaggregated groups under the law. The extra money the districts would get from the state for the new students would not make up for the hit in test scores the schools would take.

A similar thing happened after the St. Louis Public Schools lost their accreditation and were taken over by the state of Missouri. The elected board of the district-- now displaced by an appointed board but still attempting to maintain the facade of influence-- asked neighboring school districts NOT to accept SLPS students if they applied to transfer, as students are allowed to do in such a situation under Missouri law (as well as, I believe, NCLB). And the neighboring districts were more than happy to oblige, (here's an example from a district next door to the city of St. Louis) unsurprisingly. No one needs to take the hit in test scores that would occur if they took in students from a failed school district.

And that's the rub. Private schools certainly can pick and choose who they take, and they are also unaffordable for most students. Remember that even if people could be given vouchers, that money would be a fraction of what tuition costs in most private schools. Charter schools are expensive to run and cumbersome to regulate, and most universities and school districts want nothing to do with the hassle. It's too risky under NCLB for other public schools to accept students whose test scores will probably be very low.

Most proponents of vouchers whom I have met are people who already send their kids to private schools, and thus can already afford it and have already met the entrance requirements. They would just like a discount in the way of tax dollars. Unfortunately, if those schools are sectarian, this infusion of tax money would violate the establishment clause in the First Amendment. (My alter-ego the History Geek reminds you that an "established religion" is one that is supported by tax dollars. That's what those words meant when they were written, at a time when, for instance, Virginia taxed residents to support the Anglican church and Massachusetts taxed residents to support the Congregationalist church.)

So it's no surprise that students can find themselves unwanted if they try to abandon failing schools in this post-NCLB world. Isn't it ironic that NCLB could lead to the further erosion of educational opportunity for our most at-risk students?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Carnival of Education #131 is all bright and shiny!

Over at Mike in Texas' place again. Boy, is he ambitious, and he's got some hilarious subtitles in this one. There are several new entrants, too.

Go see!

UPDATE: There is an annex to the Carnival this week, and unlike most Carnival annexes, this one is not filled with creepy people trying to take your money. Go see the Bloggers That BlogCarnival Forgot, or, what Mike calls The Lost Children Addition rightchere.

'Cause we love everyone around here.


Slang-o-pedia, volume 1: Drug slang

As we prepare to reenter the hallowed halls of academe, it's time to start getting ready to decode all the slang you will hear flying around your head. So today, I am going to attack slang references to drugs and alcohol. C'mon --we heard 'em as kids, and today's teens and yes, pre-teens, frustratingly do not always use the same terms we heard growing up. That's the point of slang.

So, courtesy of WebMD and CBS news:

Cold Medicine Abuse

Dextromethorphan (DXM): This is a drug contained in over-the-counter cough suppressants. After 900 milligrams, it becomes a hallucinogen. Synonyms for DXM include Candy, Dex, DM, Drex, Red Devils, Robo, Rojo, Skittles, Tussin, Velvet, Poor Man's X, and Vitamin D. "Tussin is a very popular name that’s has been catching on lately," says Pollock.
"Cold medicine abuse is a very serious problem, from what I have seen, because it is so available."

Syrup heads: Users of DXM

Dexing: Abusing cough syrup. Synonyms include robotripping or robodosing because users tend to chug Robitussin or another cough syrup to get high.

Triple C: This stands for Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold. "The triple C or CCC is something that we are seeing a lot of, and that is specific to Coricidin, but anything with DXM is abused today," adds Kevin M. Gray, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

More Teen Drug Use Terms

Special K: A medication used as an anesthetic in humans and animals, ketamine is sometimes abused as a "club drug." It can cause hallucinations and euphoria in higher doses. Synonyms include vitamin K, breakfast cereal, cat valium, horse tranquilizer, K, Ket, new ecstasy, psychedelic heroin, and super acid.

Crank: The stimulant methamphetamine. Synonyms include meth, speed, chalk, white cross, fire, and glass. "Crystal methamphetamine is called ice," says Cleveland Clinic's Pollock. "Crystal meth is smoked, but meth can be injected, snorted, or taken as a pill," he explains.

Antifreeze: Heroin. Synonyms include Big H, brown sugar, dope, golden girls, H, horse, junk, poison, skag, smack, sweet dreams, tar, and train, according to the web site of Phoenix House, a national alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention facility.

Crunk: This is a verb that means to get high and drunk at the same time.

Snow: Cocaine. Synonyms include Charlie, crack, coke, dust, flake, freebase, lady, nose candy, powder, rock, rails, snowbirds, toot, white, and yahoo, according to Phoenix House. "After all this time, alcohol and pot are still the most used drugs by teens, but cocaine is really a strong third, especially with females, because of the weight issue," says Janice Styer, MSW, a clinical coordinator-addictions counselor at Caron Treatment Center in Wernersville, Pa. "The drug of choice among women with eating disorders is almost invariably cocaine." A stimulant, cocaine can decrease appetite.

X: Ecstasy or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Synonyms include Adam, E, bean, clarity, essence, lovers speed, MDMA, roll, stacy, XTC, according to the Phoenix House.

Georgia Home Boy: This refers to Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), a central nervous system depressant can produce euphoric, sedative, and body-building effects. Other synonyms include Gamma-OH, Grievous Bodily Harm, Liquid Ecstasy, Liquid E, Liquid X, Organic Quaalude, and Scoop, according to Phoenix House.

Roofies: This refers to rohypnol, a.k.a. the date rape drug. Synonyms include the forget pill, La Rocha, Mexican valium, R-2, rib, roachies, roofenol, rophies, roche (pronounced roe-shay), and rope.

Kibbles and bits: The attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug called Ritalin. It is sometimes also referred to as pineapple, says Pollock.

Teens and Drugs on the Web

Cheese: This is a hazardous mix of black tar heroin and Tylenol PM or other medicines containing diphenhydramine). It looks like grated parmesan cheese -- thus the name. There were more than 20 teen deaths in Dallas and surrounding neighborhoods that have been attributed to Cheese since it was identified in 2005.

Candy flipping: This term refers to a high that’s achieved by combining LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) or acid with ecstasy. "The new thing, especially with kids on the Internet, is which drugs are best and safest to combine," explains Styer.

A new study by the Caron Treatment Centers found that one in 10 messages on the Internet involved teens seeking advice from their peers on how to take illicit drugs. The messages were posted on common online message boards, forums, and social network sites such as MySpace.com.

When it comes to teens and drugs, "You will never know everything, but you don’t want your kids to think you are an idiot," Styer says. "You need to keep communication open and talk to your kids about the dangers of the Internet."

Then there's this drink I heard a kid talk about: Lean, which is Sprite mixed with Promethazine w/Codeine VC and a Jolly Rancher-- this is usually purple. Also called sizzurp or aunt jemima or drank or purple.

Another dangerous pastime is huffing, or inhaling the propellant in aerosol cans. Other words referring to this activity are: fweep, gas, gasoline, ropies, or Scotch Guard. (And watch the use of Wite-out.)

Surprisingly, there are those terms which still have some usage that you may know.

For marijuana: weed, pot, smoke, grass, herb, reefer, bud, ganja (thanks, Bob Marley!), chronic, dank, hydro or dro (for hydroponically grown pot), skunk (a particularly potent smelly form), buddha, spliff (half pot, half tobacco cigarette), blunt (hollowed out cheap cigar with pot inserted), bone (and by the way, just don't ever use this word, because it has about eleven meanings, and none of them are good), j or jay (for joint), fattie (see blunt), bowl (for the little place on the bong where you put the drug to smoke it), and pipe (for a device used to smoke with-- also a dangerous word for other reasons). Then there's 420, which is, according to some of my students, both a day in April upon which to smoke pot all day, and the time of day to smoke pot, and the etymology of this term is just fascinating.

And urbandictionary?-- don't leave home without it.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reprise: Tips for setting up your classroom

This is a reprint of a post I originally wrote in June of 2006. I have been asked to repost it, and so, here it is!

I imagine that there are scads of people out there in the world who have gotten the happy news that they have been hired for the upcoming school year. There are more hopefuls who are currently undergoing that agony known as interviewing as they search for their first teaching contract.

Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as an official Wizened Veteran of the Classroom (I prefer this term to Ancient Hidebound Broad) to share the knowledge I have gained through sweat, toil, and personal peril lo, these many years, as a lion-tamer pedagogue. Several of my edusphere friends have also generously contributed their insight. This post has now become a kind of "Carnival of Classroom Survival," in fact!

First, oh paduan, consider classroom management.

Have only the rules you are willing to consistently enforce, and consistently enforce the rules you have. Have general classroom expectations written up in a succinct style, avoiding "Don't"s, and hand them out the first day of school. Try to keep the expectations to five.

Post the learning goal and agenda for the day on the board every day. Include homework to be assigned and due date.

Never threaten a consequence to a student unless you are actually willing to follow through with it. This is vital in making your life easier for the rest of the year. You must be a person of your word.

Write referrals only after you have attempted lesser consequences, including privately conferencing with the student and calling the student's guardian. If the student is displaying certain kinds of emotional outbursts which seem "over the top" or otherwise unwarranted, you might also consider a non-discipline referral to the counselor, if you have access to them. You will earn the disdain of your administrators if you write up students without following these steps first. Furthermore, some administrators will use your "failure" to attempt to deal with the situation yourself as an excuse to refuse to act upon their part. Linda adds: "Read the student discipline code, and frame any disciplinary referrals in EXACTLY those words. I failed to do this last year, in a new school, and didn't realize that the magic word (level 2 offense) was "disrespectful". When that word was used, the administration acted."

Keep track of each attempt you have made to deal with a difficulty. When the Wizened Veteran was starting out, she began to keep a binder divided by class period, with a sheet for each student she had had to discipline. I have also used a computer, but a binder is more portable. Whether on paper or on computer, this is an easy reference to use, but keep it secure. I did not fill this out in front of the students.

Don't be afraid to call guardians. If you call a guardian and only get an answering machine or voicemail, leave a message for the guardian asking him or her to call in a pleasantly neutral voice and record when you did this. Don't get into the gory details in a message.

Before calling, find out what the name of the student's guardian is, and what relationship that person has to the student. Don't assume that they share a last name or that they are necessarily the mother or father. Loads of kids are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and even older siblings. In fact, as mister teacher relates, don't make assumptions based on appearance about guardians upon meeting them, either. Everyone used to think that my mother was my grandmother, for instance, because she was older than the other parents. Another teacher adds, "Not all teachers have to worry about this, but in addition to finding out who lives at home, etc, I have to find out what language they speak so I can have an interpreter ready if the need be." This is also something which is a consideration more often than you might think. Of course, I once had a kid whose parents spoke Russian, so there wasn't much help there. For that problem, I have two words for you: Babel Fish. You can type text in and get a pretty reasonable translation back in all kinds of languages. I have used it with great success.

Aprilmay also has an excellent suggestion: "Find the adult who has the most influence on the child when you need to deal with serious issues. It can take some work, but oftentimes a "Nana" or favorite auntie can work wonders when it comes to motivation!" I have had hardened thugs who quaked in the face of a harsh word from Gramma.

Start your conversation by expressing your faith in the student to resolve the issue. Try, "Hello Mrs. Pzzlethwt? I am Junior Pzzlethwt's math teacher at Extraordinary High School. How are you today?"

Then, remember, a gentle word turns away wrath, as this lovely lady once demonstrated. Euphemisms are your friend! "Junior has some exceptional verbal skills, and I was hoping you could help me in persuading him to use them at the correct time." (This means Junior never shuts up.) Always remark that you know Junior has the potential to do better, and thank the guardian for their help in advance.

Don't ever get into a contest of wills with a parent or a student. They don't have to agree with you-- as in, your attitude should calmly be, "You don't have to agree with me, but this is what will happen..." And sorry to say, guardians get to be rude to you with few consequences, but you will be nailed if you are rude to them.

Script the basic gist of what is said during the phone call, and keep that in your binder, along with time and date of call. I once pulled this out when a parent insisted I call her from the principal's office, and very mildly read back to her her own words which she was denying. She had been insisting that I had never contacted her about her darling's difficulty. When she saw that I had a record of every conversation, complete with time and duration of call, she gave up. As our friend nyc educator points out, this also helps cover one's posterior with one's administrators.

Emails, if you have the means, are even better, but still be diplomatic in your wording, because, remember, emails can be forwarded a million times over without your knowledge. And keep a copy of the email you sent-- I printed them out and saved them in the binder.

Start the class on time. Do not cheat the students who are on time in the name of stragglers who stumble in tardy.

Model good behavior. I personally say please and thank you to my students. I somehow have difficulty hearing students who do not extend the same courtesy to me. It's a very strange form of deafness.

Try to get the students on your side when it comes to classroom management. It is actually much more effective if a student knows that his peers will not tolerate his goofing off or disrupting class.

Graycie has another good point: "Walk out amongst 'em. Sometimes just standing next to a kid and smiling without breaking the flow of what you are saying to the whole class will stop her dead in her tracks." Slowly move around the room, if your instruction permits it. It will keep all the students on their toes, encourage participation, and keep heads from drooping.

Mr. Lawrence makes an excellent suggestion to which I personally adhere. Consider placing your desk at the backs of your students. This enables you to see what is going on unobtrusively. Students will realize this and they will stay on task with much less prompting. Our district has laptop computers that the students can use. With my desk behind the students, I can view screens easily to see what exactly they're looking at on the 'net- whether they're actually doing research or if they're trying to IM their friends or access Facebook.

Keep the students engaged until the bell rings. Remember, you-- NOT the bell-- dismiss the class. Otherwise, each day the students will knock off a bit earlier. If you need to, introduce a small quiz at this point rather than at the beginning of class.

Mike in Texas reminds us, "Trust, but verify." When a child claims that she has done the technicolor yawn, tossed his cookies, ralphed, whatever-- make sure she has. Oh, and watch for the finger-down-the-throat trick before a quiz or test.

And seriously, if a student feels ill, goes to the restroom, and doesn't come back in four or five minutes, send a trustworthy kid of the same gender to go check on her. She may have passed out in there, or she may be scamming and roaming the halls. In either case, you want to know.

Darren adds: "'Without' is a powerful word. When giving instructions, simultaneously tell students what you want them to do (using concrete terms) and what you don't want them to do. 'Please open your textbooks to page 73 without talking.' Telling students to "be quiet" doesn't work; telling them what to do (take out your textbooks) and what not to do (without talking) does. Give it a try!"

Now, let us consider supplies.

Part of your job as a teacher is to reinforce a burgeoning sense of personal responsibility in your young charges.

If you keep pencils or pens on your desk, they will disappear. If you can afford this, fine. However, a word of warning. If you consistently give out pencils or paper or whatever, expect your students to regularly come to class without them, knowing that you will remove this responsibility from their shoulders. Your choice. I use very bizarre novelty pens for myself, and anyone trying to cadge one of these would be busted immediately.

Same thing with textbooks. If you give out textbooks to those who do not bring theirs, soon no one will bring their texts to class. If you want to distribute ten of them every class period and lose five minutes of teaching time, that's your choice, but plan accordingly. Make sure you take them up at the end of the period (another five minutes lost there) or you will be missing a whole slew of books by the third week of school. And while you're managing this distribution, what are the other students doing?

I like keeping a little box of golf pencils in my desk for those who cannot master their writing utensil management skills. Students tend not to want to borrow these more than once. You can also keep a cup of used pencils you have found in the hallway for distribution. I personally also like to have my dog or a convenient toddler to put chew marks on them so they won't be so appealing to those who seem need some assistance from St. Anthony of Padua in this regard.

On the other hand, be on the lookout for a student who cannot afford supplies. I often claim to have "found" spirals or pencils for these students lying around unclaimed in my classroom, and privately let them know what a favor they would be doing me if they could possibly put them to use instead of forcing me to harm the environment by discarding them. These items are often found for sale in bulk at the end of July through the first few days of September. You can often buy spirals for a dime-- those that are sold this way are called "loss-leaders" because the supply stores take a beating on them to get you into the store. I buy about thirty for myself each year, and those I don't use, I donate to a needy school affiliated with my house of worship.

Q's personal legend has a neat system: "I also have a station in the room for stuff the kids can use: stapler, hand sanitizer, hole punch, kleenex, etc. And, (you will laugh), I made large magic marker outlines of these things on the table. It looks funny, but the kids always return it to its 'home,' and I don't have to keep saying, 'Where is my stapler?!'"

And, since teachers are often klutzy because we are rushed, and kids are just klutzy in general, I suggest you keep the following things on hand in your desk in a little box (one of my students made one for me): Shout wipes, plug-in air fresheners, odor neutralizer spray, antiperspirant, a needle and some thread, safety pins, peppermints, lotion, astringent, cotton pads (like the ones used by the nurse), latex gloves, bandaids, and a flashlight with working batteries. I once had the power go out for TWO HOURS in a room with no windows. And we were instructed to keep the kids in the room while they tried to fix it. Fun.

Now, let's deal with presentation and attitude.

Boy Scout motto? Be prepared. Teacher motto? OVERPLAN. Always have more activities on hand than you can possibly use in a class period.

Have a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh gently at yourself. Self-deprecation goes a long way to establishing a sense of rapport with your students.

Keep a folder on your desk in case you ever need a sub. I label it "SUB FOLDER" in really large, bright letters. Include in it your classroom expectations, UPDATED seating charts, complete with pronunciation guides if needed, and an emergency lesson for each class in case you get hit by a runaway oxcart on the way to work and have no chance to send in real lesson plans. Make it simple, but interesting. Mr. Lawrence, who works as a substitute, echoes this advice. You cannot expect the students to read quietly for two hours for a sub. (There are all kinds of books in the bookstore or classroom supply stores that have suggestions for cute little activities, if your brain is befuddled.) I usually include at least one activity which must be turned in by the end of class to keep the students occupied. Once again, OVERPLAN, leaving the sub the option of granting the students a reprieve on a deadline or on an assignment if they behave superbly. Carrots and sticks, people, is better when you've need more carrot rather than more stick. In the classroom expectations, you would be wise to spell out your policies on quizzes and tests, such as "All quizzes are to be done individually by the students, not as group work or in 'Jeopardy' format." I have had subs who have allowed students to use their books on unit tests or to do them as a group. No kidding.

Always err toward joking rather than bitching with your coworkers. You make a first impression only once, but you can ruin your reputation over and over.

Spangles, one of our colleagues, notes, "Eat lunch with your colleagues. It builds bonds, lets you form a friendly relationship, and gets you out of the classroom for at least a few minutes. You might give it up later, but it's a worth a start. I was a young new teacher and I formed a strong bond with my older, wiser team members because I ate lunch with them each and every day. It made it easier to laugh at myself and my students." Excellent advice. Your colleagues are your lifeline.

However, unless you have the metabolism of a three-year-old, avoid cafeteria food and bring your lunch. Cafeteria food includes a percentage of fat and amount of calories geared toward growing young bodies. If you don't want a widening older body, stay away from the ersatz nachos and mystery meat chili and the turkey burgers. But don't skip lunch.

Do not get angry, and strive not to take things personally. If the kids know they can provoke you, they will try to do it at every opportunity. Remember the scene in Finding Nemo when Bruce gets a whiff of Dory's blood? Avoid tempting your students in this fashion. I personally get quieter when students are crossing the line. Work on developing a "look" which strikes wrongdoers dumb. Works wonders.

Our colleague Tree_Story adds: "Your best friends can be the custodians and front office secretary. Be courteous and always say thank you and they can make your year soooo much nicer." Happychyck includes the building or district tech person in this golden circle of demigods, and rightly so.

Graycie reminds us: "Never be afraid to say, 'I don't know. How can we find out?'" Then have the students actually find the answer. The goal of teaching students is to enable them to get along without a teacher. Don't just abandon questions they've asked to which you do not know the answer-- these are the questions which have sparked their interest, and a good teacher wants to fan that spark into an inferno.

And finally, consider health maintenance.

Wear comfortable shoes with some support. Teachers have some of the worst back problems of all professions because we spend so much time on our feet. Avoid heels. You will rarely sit down.

Keep yourself hydrated.

You've heard of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out)? Remember WIWO (Water In, Water Out). Yes, since what goes in must come out, also try to avoid the common teacher pitfall of not going to the can until 4 pm. You will get kidney and bladder problems, and with your insurance, you can't afford that.

Offer students a couple of points of extra credit to bring in two good boxes of tissue at the start of the school year if your school does not provide the good stuff. You'll thank me during flu season.

Have two trash cans in your room: one for student use, and one for you. You'll see why this is health related in a second.

Have two boxes of tissue out at any one time. One box should be hidden away for you, and the used tissues go into your personal trash can, which I stash behind my desk. The other box is for the students, and should be placed away from your desk or where you stand most often in the room. The student trash can goes under this box of tissue, and away from you. You will avoid a LOT of colds this way. Trust me. With your insurance, you can't afford that either, not to mention that it takes FOUR hours to write lesson plans for a seven hour day.

Keep disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer in your desk. Wipe down the surfaces of your desk regularly, including phone, particularly if Mary Typhus, who is hacking up a storm, has just used your phone to talk to her mom. Clean the student desks and the doorknob every once in a while, as well.

Finally, if you are really sick, don't go to school. You will make yourself worse, and end up using the princely number of sick days you have been allotted in one mad swoop.

Well, those are some of my sure-fire, handy dandy tips. If anyone has any others, I'd be glad to add them on with credit given.

Now, go get 'em, Tiger.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Another chance for drop-outs in Tulsa

Tulsa Public Schools have opened up a new alternative program in town for those who are close to graduation:
On Saturday, the [Tulsa Public Schools] district held a grand opening for its new high school credit recovery program, called Tulsa Learning Academy, as well as a Back to School Rally, where student groups from schools across Tulsa performed.

High school students or dropouts needing fewer than 12 credit hours can earn their high school diplomas through TLA, which offers 4-hour morning or afternoon sessions.

Two of the first students to apply for admission said they learned about TLA when they were hired by a temp agency to move furniture into the program's newly leased space at Tulsa Promenade.

Jerrod Grayson and Elizha Whitney said they recently completed their senior years at East Central High School lacking two half-credits and one half-credit, respectively.

"I was going to try to find another way to earn my diploma because I didn't want to go back to East Central and do seven classes when all I need is a half-credit," Whitney said.

Grayson and Whitney were accompanied at the TLA grand opening by Carolyn Duhart, the lead supervisor for furniture and labor in the TPS maintenance department, who told them about the program.

"I found out how close they are to graduating and I just stayed on them," Duhart said. "I want everybody's child to earn a high school diploma. The world is changing so much, you've got to have this."

Duhart vowed to keep encouraging the young men while they're completing their credits at TLA.

"The best thing will be when they get that piece of paper (at graduation) in December," she said.

At the grand opening ceremony, Richard Palazzo, the director of alternative programs and social services for TPS, called TLA a unique and innovative program.

"This program is precisely what we need," Palazzo said. "Our phone is ringing off the wall with people asking how they can get into this program."

There's more to the story, too.

This could be a wonderful program.

IF substantive learning is expected. IF discipline is addressed so that kids who want another chance can concentrate on learning. IF it is an accelerated program. IF earning a diploma means EARNING the diploma.

When I was a kid, TPS had Street School, and one of my friends went to it and did very well for herself. I have often pondered moving to a model in which school attendance is not mandatory and what the effects of that would be. Perhaps kids who don't value education and disrupt the learning environment would then try living in the big world for a while. When they finally realized the value of an education, they could choose to come to programs like this one, and be more focused and dedicated. It could be win-win for everyone. We could actually have real standards for behavior and academics in US public schools. Kids could find out whether or not education is really important for themselves, since we all know kids who don't believe teachers or other adults when WE tell them an education is vital for success.

When you're sixteen years old, you may think that eight to ten bucks an hour is perfectly fine. But I have had former students of mine try that route and then suddenly have that epiphany that maybe mean old Ms. Cornelius wasn't kidding. Sometimes this has happened when they have aged out of attendance at a public school, and so they have had to pay for classes at a community college or prep work for the GED. For those that AREN'T too old, programs like the Tulsa Learning Academy seem like they could be just the ticket.

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Movie Madness Monday 77: Alternative Universe edition

As we approach the end of summer, it's time to unleash the laughs to keep ourselves from crying.

So you know how to play: I give you some hint-quotes from a movie, and you put a quote of your own from the same movie in the comments section without naming the movie. Couldn't be easier!

"Ohhhh, so THAT's puce!"

"You're not supposed to name it! Once you name it, you start getting attached to it. Now put that thing back where it came from or so help me... "

"I was just thinking about the first time I laid eye on you, how pretty you looked."

"Snow cone?"
"No, no, no, don't worry. It's lemon."

"Milking a yak isn't exactly a picnic; but once you pick the hairs out, it's very nutritious."

"Just think about a few names for a second: Bigfoot. Loch Ness. The Abominable Snowman. They all have one thing in common, pal: Banishment! We could be next! "

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Rasing graduation rates-- like herding cats

How does our nation truly improve graduation rates? Can it be mandated a la NCLB?

Dozens of states accept any improvement in high school graduation rates as adequate progress, and several set a goal of graduating fewer than 60 percent of their students, according to a study released yesterday by the Education Trust in Washington.

While the No Child Left Behind law has created a national focus on reading and math proficiencies, it has done little to raise expectations for the number of students graduating from high school, the report said.

Because the law allowed states wide latitude, the goals for graduation rates vary widely. Nevada, for example, says its goal is to graduate 50 percent of its students; Iowa sets a target of 95 percent.

Under the federal law, states must also set targets for annual improvements, but several states say that any progress at all — even just one more diploma — is good enough, according to data collected from the Department of Education.

The report found that state-set goals for raising graduation rates are “far too low to spur needed improvement.”

“The high school diploma is the bare minimum credential necessary to have a fighting chance at successful participation in the work force of civil society,” it said. “Yet current high school accountability policies represent a stunning indifference to whether young people actually earn this critical credential.”

But the report also found that the states’ goals are too modest to raise frequently mediocre rates of graduation. In Wisconsin, a high school can be considered to be making enough progress even it improves to just 60.01 percent, the report said.

The expectations for improvement “serve as an alarming indicator of an unwillingness to address the critical need of our high schools,” wrote Daria Hall, the author of the report. “We need targets that provoke action on behalf of the students, not ones that condone the status quo.”

In a speech this week, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Education Committee and an architect of the original No Child Left Behind legislation, said reauthorization of that law should include changes so that graduation rates were used as a key measure of performance.

The report praised New York City schools for making sizable improvements in the past three years. But while New York has raised its graduation rate by six percentage points over the last three years, it still hovers around 50 percent. For the class of 2006, just 41 percent of Latino students graduated in four years.

The problem, as we have certainly seen from our experiences with NCLB, is the bad consequences of good intentions. I fear that if higher graduation rates are mandated, all that will happen is that standards will be lowered to reach whatever magical threshhold is established to graduate warm bodies.

Just like with NCLB.

Let me use a little metaphor. We love cheap goods. We need cheap goods. Therefore, we import loads of goods from China. Then we're surprised when those cheap goods from China end up being... well, cheap. Hopefully, the cheapness will make up for the stagnation of wages that makes it imperative to keep those goods cheap. And not just cheap, but sometimes downright dangerous. Toys covered with lead paint. Food augmented with sawdust. Tires that shred at highway speeds. But those goods are cheap, yessir.

Same thing with the current "standards" hubbub, which is positively Orwellian. We reduce education to the lowest common denominator so that we can claim success under NCLB. Rather than actually try to improve the quality of education, we tinker with what "proficient" means so that more kids can be labelled with that word. We claim that ALL children will read or do math on grade level, even as 25% of our students qualify for special education, and the number of students coming to school as non-English speakers-- there's another unintended consequence of our current lack of immigration policy-- mushrooms.

We have already seen the ironic erosion of dedication to a well-rounded education in the name of NCLB. In the name of raising math and reading scores, science and history classes have disappeared at nearby elementary schools. And you know, I could speculate as to why people setting policy are okay with that, but it would just depress me.

Even before NCLB became law, many states attempted to reform school accountability. To be fully accredited by the state, minimum graduation rates were established that seemed pretty rigorous. Schools all around have allegedly met this standard and reeived accreditation. So why is it that classes of seniors eligible for graduation remain so much smaller than freshman classes?

Here's the secret: at some schools, counselors spend untold hours counseling kids who have indicated an intention to drop out. There's several possible outcomes that are sought. They get the kid to claim that they are simply going to get their GED. As long as they are listed as pursuing a GED, or their parents claim to be home-schooling them, these kids do not count against the school as drop-outs. Or, they can go to a strip mall, pass a 5-20 item multiple choice exam on a computer in a room run by a for-profit company, and voila! They can magically receive credit that would have taken weeks to earn in a regular classroom. It's magic!

It's also appalling.

Everyone knows these kids have no intention of sacrificing their time and effort in preparing to pass a GED exam. If they couldn't be bothered to fulfill the very minimal requirements for a regular diploma, or even worse, one from an alternative school, they certainly aren't going to spend hours studying. Everyone knows that their parents have no intention of providing any educational program whatsoever-- they're too busy trying to earn a living, and they couldn't even make their kid attend school. And that multiple choice test at the mall is too revolting to even contemplate.

But, by golly, all of these things make those drop-out rates look absolutely fabulous.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thursday Thirteen Number 8: After a long hiatus, thirteen authors for whom I am thankful

Okay, so I started doing this thing a while back, and then they cancelled it for a while, so I was afraid I was the Kiss of Death to it. But here goes again......


1. P.G. Wodehouse. He maketh my heart laugh as a hart pants for cooling streams. I want my own Jeeves to keep me from my own stupidity. This stuff is laugh-out-loud hilarious! Can lift the vilest mood.

2. Robert A. Heinlein. Even if he was sometimes a tad misogynistic, I still loved him. I think I have read everything he ever wrote. Of course, I'm like that.

3. J. K. Rowling. Please. I don't have to explain, do I?

4. Barbara Brown Taylor. Her sermons have helped me immensely. She is an Episcopal priest who is now a college professor. I wouldn't have made it through preaching class without her.

5. J. R. R. Tolkien. Unbelievable! Although the Silmarillion was not always so thrilling, I loved The Hobbit when I first read it at the age of nine.

6. C. S. Lewis. I am currently trying to get through all of his works. A Grief Observed helped me so much when my Dad died.

7. Eudora Welty. Another one who can make me laugh at any time. "Why I Live at the P.O." is just like my family, sadly.

8. John Steinbeck. Sweet Thursday and Cannery Row are enough. Then there's The Grapes of Wrath.

9. Harper Lee. Who cares if it's only one book? WHAT a book it was!

10. Angie Debo. She taught me so much about history and influenced me so much in my studies.

11. Thomas Merton. Not so fond of the Seven Storey Mountain-- he was a bit too strident there-- but his work in Contemplative Prayer and Life and Holiness were really useful. He died all too soon-- he was just getting to the really good stuff before his untimely end.

12. Jane Kenyon. Incredibly true poetry. It could have been otherwise.

13. Howard Nemerov. I once got to hear him speak at my husband's commencement. He was funny and erudite and joyful. Another great American poet.

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The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

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Don't Know Much About History.... even in Jolly Olde Englande

We've talked previously about how social studies education has been de-emphasized or even dropped completely in the NCLB- dominated world in which we live. Apparently, schools in the UK suffer from the same problem, even without NCLB.

Note the sentences I have highlighted below:

Pupils in primary and secondary schools across England lack an overview of world history and have little sense of chronology, Ofsted inspectors warn. The watchdog said the curriculum was too England-focused, ignoring the rest of the UK and Europe.

They also complained that after the age of 13, only one in three children studies history at all.

Ministers and Ofsted say a new secondary curriculum from 2008 will address many of the points raised.

The watchdog based its findings on inspections carried out between 2003 and 2007.

It said the biggest issue for school history was its "limited place" in the curriculum and that history in primaries had been neglected in recent years with the focus on literacy and numeracy.

"History, along with some other subjects, has been relatively neglected in primary schools in recent years as schools have focused on literacy and numeracy," the report said.

"History's limited role is also apparent in secondary schools. In Key Stage 4 (the GCSE years), only just over 30% of pupils study history and fewer still post-16."

The inspectors said the subject also faced prejudice, with some policy developers, senior school managers, parents and pupils seeing history as less important or relevant than other subjects.

Inspectors identified that pupils were poor at establishing a chronology and did not make connections between the areas they had studied. As a result, they were not able to answer the "big questions".

"Although pupils often know something about selected periods or events - for example, children in Victorian times, Henry VIII and his wives or the Aztecs - they are weak at linking this information to form an overall narrative or story."

The report continued: "Pupils of all ages tend to study particular issues in depth but are seldom encouraged to form overviews or draw wider implications."
We've talked previously about how social studies education has been de-emphasized or even dropped completely in the NCLB- dominated world in which we live. Apparently, schools in the UK suffer from the same problem, even without NCLB.

I just have one thing to say, and it's hardly new:

Those who are ignorant of their history are doomed to repeat it.

Just because that's a cliche doesn't make it any less true....

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