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, April 29, 2008

From the Acme Teacher Innovation Co.

After the last week, here are some things that I wish had been invented or that I possessed:

1. Wood stain with natural repellent to dogs with no sense who like to chew wood-- the more expensive the wood, the more delicious, apparently. Bitter Apple washes off, and that's a problem.
1a. Carpet that would naturally repel dogs from piddling on it.

2. A handheld scanner so that when a kid is in violation, I could simply scan their ID --or their fingertip, since kids seem to never have their ID on-- and the referral would write itself and send itself to the appropriate principal. This scanner would also translate slang words immediately into my ear so that I wouldn't have to wait until I could get to a computer and go to urbandictionary.com for enlightenment.

3. Pencils that would magically teleport themselves back to my room when kids cadge them.

4. Paid vacation time for teachers. It wouldn't take much, just maybe three days, but most people are not aware that we're one of the few professions that get no paid vacation. News flash: our summers "off," as you so charmingly put it, are UNPAID. I would use my vacation to go and supervise my children's school activities. I find a strange disconnect between the school wanting parents involved and giving us no ethical way to get involved if we are teachers. Obviously, calling in sick would be an easily discoverable fraud. And you would think they'd be glad to make it possible for trained professionals to come along and help supervise. But perhaps that makes too much sense.

5. As a prom special, I would like to invent a car that samples the air when people get in it, and locks the ignition if ANYONE in the car tests over the limit for alcohol or tests positive for the aroma of certain smoked substances that make people act stupid and drive recklessly. Of course, this could have other applications as well. But I'd like my model to lock people IN the car while parents or police are called.

6. Some sort of current or forcefield that would prevent grackles from eating the good bugs in my garden and dumping huge caterpillar sized turds in the garden fountain. This forcefield could also be used to prevent my neighbor from parking his vomit-colored 1959 Buick Skylark station wagon directly behind my driveway. This piece of crap leaves a little bread-crumb trail of rusted-off pieces every time he moves it.

7. A jet-propelled giant cork that could be shot from my yard to my neighbor's mouth when he is cursing loudly at his kid.

8. Special x-ray glasses that would allow besotted girls and guys to see their significant others as they really are BEFORE they've spent six hundred bucks getting ready for prom.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 112: Tiger Woods recovery edition

Here we are again for this week's Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game, and I decided it was the perfect week to watch one of America's iconic television figures get the bejeezus kicked out of him. So, of course, this came to mind. Then I thought about how Tiger Woods is recovering from surgery right now, so everyone else on the Tour finally is getting a chance to win-- if anyone is paying attention.

You know the drill-- put your quote from this movie in the comments section.

"What's this about you breaking a rake and throwing it in the woods?"
"I didn't BREAK it-- I was merely testing its durability, and I PLACED it in the woods cause it's made of wood and I thought he should be with his family."

"You know that alligator that got your hand? Well I got his HEAD!"

"Damn you people. This is golf. Not a rock concert."

You like THAT old man? You want a piece of ME?"
"I don't want a PIECE of you, I want the whole THING!"

"I thought we were just going to be friends."
"What? Friends listen to Endless Love in the dark."

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

In which I learn what "servant leadership" really means

You know, every day, I try to learn something. It may be something unpleasant, but those are the risks one takes.

Today's knowledge nugget came courtesy of two assistant principals. Now, if you're a regular reader here, you know that we are undergoing massive administrator flight. One of these of whom I speak is already on the wing and one is frantically on the lookout for a new job like an emaciated robin looking for a worm fool enough to pop its head up.

Half the principals were missing as I headed to duty-- who knows where they were, but hey, the halls still awaited clearing so I just shrugged the shoulders and headed back to the dungeon, the remote part of the building where I cast a wide net for all kinds of lurkers who should be in class and doing other inconsequential tasks like learning. So I had just had an extraordinary encounter with a young person who was pretty out-of-control, and so I had to do the paperwork, which I hate to do. I really try to avoid even getting to that point for my own sanity, but this couldn't be avoided, and there are lines that can't be crossed. But when I tried to turn in the referral, neither one of them initially wanted to take it, and basically asked me what I expected THEM to do with it. The bitter taste from swallowing all the smart-aleck comments that rose unbidden in my throat was almost more than I could bear. One shunted me off to another guy, and the other guy tried to shunt me off elsewhere, but I wouldn't be shunted at that point, and I think I got a glint in my eye so that at least I could hand off the damn thing and head back to my post like a good soldier.

But I was pretty annoyed by the time I was finally relieved of my little stack of paper. I am directed to help them with their supervision, and they give me grief. As a teacher, I already understand that I am here to serve the students. I don't have an office door that I can shut to get some work done, like some, so I'm always pretty busy. But apparently this "servant leadership" thing that I keep hearing all these administrators and candidates suddenly talking about means that they are leading a bunch of THEIR servants. Here I thought it was in a kind of Biblical meaning, as in Jesus admonishing the apostles that he came not to be served but to serve. We, the teachers, live to serve at their pleasure! Now I get it!

Lesson learned.

****Updated: I very gently and tactfully expressed my feeling about this encounter to the two individuals involved. Result? One immediate, very sincere apology, and one justification for behavior. Comme si, comme ca.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blender purees its attempt to list the fifty worst songs of all time

Mike in Texas had a link to Blender's list of the Fifty Worst Songs of All Time. Apparently, these guys had NO sense of humor, because I find some songs like "Two Princes," by the Spin Doctors, amusing-- not great, but there's so much out there that is worse! Now I can hate on anything by Uncle Kracker. That's just gross. But what a missed opportunity! This is such a fertile field in which to cultivate an appreciation of the truly awful.

So here are just FIFTY-ONE of the ones they missed. I am not even going to repeat any of those with which I agree from the original list. I even will break them down into categories for clarity's sake. But we haven't even begun to plumb the depths here.

Okay? Let's go!

1. The Macarena, by Los Del Rio-- Convinced millions of people to caress their own behinds in public, usually while wearing formal wear.
2. Le Freak, by Chic-- Disco zombies who could come up with four whole words in French to repeat over and over.
3. Mickey, by Toni Basil-- never let a dancer sing. There's a lesson for you, Madonna.
4. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, by Wham!-- Sure, I bought the straight act from George Michael. Uh-huh. Choose life. And avoid public restrooms.
5. On the Radio, by Donna Summer-- Disco didn't die because of this song, but it started staggering soon afterward.
6. Fly, by Sugar Ray-- I just want to puke. People who host Entertainment Tonight have to be stopped, musically speaking.

7. I Want Action, by Poison-- if only this was, "I Want Poison," by Action.
8. Karma Chameleon, by Culture Club-- there is no excuse for Blender missing this one. If you're going to use the "too easy" standard, then half your list disappears. Boy George bragged that he couldn't read music. We could tell.
9. Come on, Eileen, by Dexy's Midnight Runners-- Two different songs, keys, and tempos all at once! It's twice as awful!
10. Superfreak, by Rick James-- I always figured he was bound to get arrested as some sort of sex offender. What, he did? Oh.
11. Girl You Know It's True, by Milli Vanilli--The greatest shame in the whole sorry tale lies with those who actually SANG this crap, not the puppets dancing in the videos.
12. Electric Avenue, by Eddie Grant-- "Out in DE STREETS! Out in de PLAYground! In de DARK side of TOWN!" And the synthesized motorcycle revving added that certain je ne sais quoi of tastelessness that Eddie's patois lacked.
13. Rock You Like a Hurricane, by the Scorpions-- Oooh, fake German Metal and tight perms!
14. Photograph, by Def Leppard-- Those high notes. Those tight pants. Righteous.
15. Take It On The Run, by REO Speedwagon-- Kevin, if only you'd had those adenoids removed....
16. Separate Ways, by Journey--Bom bom BOM bom BOM bombombom BOM bomBOM! And it didn't take Steve Perry too long to go his separate ways from Journey. They're touring this summer with Heart and Cheap Trick, and I just paid waaay too much when I don't even want to see the headliners because I adore the Wilson sisters. Sorry, Neal. The word is "Overwrought."

NEPOTISM (People who got a record deal by being related to someone famous):
17. Kiss Kiss Kiss, by Yoko Ono-- Oh My God, how much love-- blind, deaf, besotted love-- did it take to put a microphone in this woman's hand?
18. Cherokee Outlaw, by Tim McGraw-- How hard would it be to know that your wife AND your Dad were more talented than you?
19. She's So High, by Tai Bachman-- I wonder who really was high when this one was written.

20. Shannon, by Henry Gross-- An Irish Setter drowns. If she'd been on a leash, you moron, that wouldn't have happened unless she'd have taken you with her. Hmmm.
21. Ben, by Michael Jackson-- a song about a rat. That's a kid's best friend.
22. Wildfire, by Michael Martin Murphy-- "She ran calling, "WILDfire!" The poor horsie was lost in a blizzard. That bothered us more that the girl dying in the killing frost. What does that say about us?

23. Honey, by Bobby Goldsboro-- and to make it worse, he then vocally vomited all over the animated version of The Hobbitt, which was all we had for so many years until Peter Jackson promised us rescue. Gaah!
24. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, by the Bee Gees-- the breathy quality of that "AHHHHHHHH..." shrunk testicles everywhere.

25. Up Where We Belong, by Kim Carnes and Joe Cocker-- "Who knows what tomorrow brings/ In a world, few hearts survive/ All I know is the way I feel/ When it's real, I keep it alive...." There ARE mountains in our way. That's why Mr. Nobel created dynamite.
26. Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor-- cheesier than the Rocky movie that spawned this piece of tripe.
27. Do You Know? (Theme from Mahogany), by Diana Ross-- what happens when a diva is given a star vehicle in which to act? Three examples: The Jazz Singer, with Neil Diamond, Glitter, with Maria Carey, and Mahogany, with Diana Ross. This song was the prettiest thing in the whole mess.
28. One Night in Bangkok, by Murray Head-- picture a bunch of Broadway producers completely hopped up on something in the halcyon days before they came up with the brilliant idea of turning commercials or movies into Broadway plays in a subversion of everything that is good and right in the world. "Hey, let's have the guys from ABBA write a musical about a board game!" Yeah, and someone still hasn't been punished for this: "The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free/You'll find a god in every golden cloister..."

29. This Girl is a Woman Now, by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap-- And, speaking of Thailand, this one's a pedophile's manifesto. I wonder if Gary Puckett ever trolled Bangkok with Gary Glitter?
30. Me So Horny, by 2 Live Crew-- Not if you were the last men on Earth.
31. You Were Meant for Me, by Jewel-- "People been used" when they spent money on this nauseating nervous breakdown. Let him go, already. He's just not that into you.
32. Sunglasses at Night, by Corey Hart-- Needs no explanation, but now you're hearing this one in your head, aren't you? Bwahhahaha!
33. I Want to Kiss You All Over, by Exile-- More cowbell! MORE COWBELL! Nothin' says sexy like cowbell....

34. Do They Know It's Christmas? by People Who Should Have Known Better-- Yes, it was for a wonderful cause. But write a check next time, or do a real song and forbid Cyndi Lauper to wear so many bracelets.
35. That's What Friends Are For, By Elton John, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Dionne Warwick-- That's what you get when you party with Dionne's niece before recording a song. And she ruined poor Bobby Brown too. I think we can blame Whitney for the whole thing.

36. Hollabackgirl, by Gwen Stefani-- Spell "bananas" for me. Girl, you are too white bread to pull this off.
37. Fergilicious, by Fergie-- And here I thought it was "dulishus...." The message here: I'm not a tramp, I'm just a tease. Sets back the women's movement singlehandedly.

38. Fernando, by ABBA-- Nothing like the Spanish Civil War for some stirring pop music.
39. The Night Chicago Died, by Paper Lace-- "I heard my mama cry/ I heard her pray the night Chicago died..." That's all I need to say. Just say no to joining the mafia, kids-- that's a lesson we all could follow.
40. Kung Fu Fighting, by Carl Douglas-- Whoa-hoa- HOAAAAAAAA! Even made David Carradine cringe. And HE was easy.

41. Venus, by Bananarama-- did they name the razor after the song, or the song after the razor?
42. Intuition, by Jewel-- another razor marketed to help us denude our gams. I got the irony of what Jewel was trying to say about having to sell yourself in the music biz. I just didn't like it.

EVEN THE REALLY GOOD ARTISTS CAN HAVE AN OFF DAY (Or, don't force it just to round out the album, please, because some radio stations will play ANYTHING)
43. Leaving Las Vegas, by Sheryl Crow-- Darling, I've heard you sing before you were famous, and you can do so much better than that.
44. Sowing the Seeds of Love, by Tears for Fears-- Please, even when the Beatles used those sound effects, they should have told Sir George Martin to shove it. Shamelessly derivative and yet random at the same time.
45. Physical, by Olivia Newton John-- It wouldn't have been more shocking if Amy Grant had done a cover of "Superfreak."
46. Hurts So Bad, by Linda Ronstadt-- This one would have sucked even in her Spanish phase. Perhaps more. I'll have to think about that.
47. Little Jeannie, by Elton John-- All of a sudden, Captain Fantastic loses his mind and marries a German frau. The result? He tries to dress butch and ruins everything.

48. Cherokee People, by Paul Revere and the Raiders-- If they'd only pursed their mouths and gone, "Woo-woo-woo-wooooo!" by hitting their lips with their hands, it would have been even more perfect.
49. Half-Breed, by Cher-- Bob Mackie's outfits were definitely the best thing about Cher's performance here. And since we're talking about music here, that's not a complement.
(see also Cherokee Outlaw. Why are my people victimized so?)

50. I Write the Songs, by Barry Manilow-- "I am MUSIC! And I WRITE THE SOOOOOOOONGGGSSSSSS!!!!!"
51. Riding With the Wind, Christopher Cross-- you have to be really mellow to produce an entire album this comatose, and this was the edgiest thing on there. Recreational drug use might explain it.

Hello, by Lionel Ritchie-- "I've been alone with you inside my mind..." Thank God they have medication for that now.
Three Times a Lady, by the Commodores-- Is this guy thanking his lady for dumping him? Man, she's GOOD.
Brick House, by the Commodores-- "She's mighty mighty; just letting it all hang out..." There's hope for us fat girls yet. Now if Nicole would only EAT something.

And there you have it.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

High Stakes Cheating

A Certain Young Lady came to her mom with a dilemma recently. She had observed two of her classmates trading answer booklets on a, shall we say, Very Important Test. Even though she knew there would be repercussions, she went to the principal. Even though she knew that one of the students observed in this action was very close to this principal. Even though she knew that her identity could not be protected. Even though she knew this would be a big deal, for good or for ill. Even though the consequences assessed did not seem commensurate to the offense.

Her mother is so proud.

Her mother is not so thrilled about the teacher who then paired this Certain Young Lady with one of the miscreants for a project a scant few days later. Yo! NOT such a good idea, there, and if her mom hears about anyone trying to make her daughter's life miserable, she's going to show a whole 'nother "Mama Cougar" side to her normally placid mien, so to speak. Use a little common sense, for God's sake!

What in the world was going on in the thought processes of those involved? Yes, this can be blamed on the incredibly high stakes of these Very Important Tests, but "moral relativism" is not really spoken here.

That Certain Young Lady is growing up quickly. Too bad she had her illusions cracked a bit, and one wonders how prevalent this kind of thing is. But the pride in seeing a kid do the right thing-- it truly is priceless.

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A word of warning about Ritalin

Kids should have their heartbeats and blood pressure checked before being put on Ritalin.
Children should be screened for heart problems with an electrocardiogram before getting drugs like Ritalin to treat hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder, the American Heart Association recommended Monday.

Stimulant drugs can increase blood pressure and heart rate. For most children, that isn't a problem. But in those with heart conditions, it could make them more vulnerable to sudden cardiac arrest — an erratic heartbeat that causes the heart to stop pumping blood through the body — and other heart problems.

About 2.5 million American children and 1.5 million adults take medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, according to government estimates. Stimulant drugs, like Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta, help children with ADHD stay focused and control their behavior.

The medications already carry warnings of possible heart risks in those with heart defects or other heart problems, which some critics said were driven more by concerns of overuse of the drugs than their safety.

The heart group is now recommending a thorough exam, including a family history and an EKG, before children are put on the drugs to make sure that they don't have any undiagnosed heart issues.

You know, now that I think of it, this seems to be something you would think would be absolutely mandatory, anyway. The idea that a doctor would put a kid on a stimulant with the mere assumption that he or she is healthy is pretty frightening. I imagine that there are certainly occasions when this has happened, but what horrible consequences should there be an underlying problem!


Monday, April 21, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 111: Edmond Rostand edition

It's a new week, which puts us one Monday closer to summer break! Look how profound I have become! Whoo!

So for this week's MMM, I will leave the Planet of the Apes for just a moment and head to the Planet of Plays That High School Kids Don't Read Anymore, updated through one of my favorite "stand-up guys"-- a wild and crazy guy, even.

Please put your quotes in the comments section! Please tell me I am not the only person who loved this movie so much that I have watched it over and over!

"Personal: 'Well, here we are-- just the three of us!'"

"Polite: 'Would you mind not bobbing your head? The orchestra keeps changing tempo.'"

"Sympathetic: 'Awwww, what happened? Did your parents lose a bet with God?'"

"Naughty: 'Um, pardon me, sir, some of the ladies have asked if you wouldn't mind putting that thing away.'"

"I notice you don't have any tattoos. I think that's a wise choice. I don't think Jackie Onassis would've gone as far if she'd have had an anchor on her arm."

"You said you didn't want a coat!"
"I was being ironic!"
"Oh, ho, ho-- IRONY! Oh, no, no-- we don't get that here. See, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony's not really a high priority. We haven't had any irony here since about, oh, '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at.

"I wanna look like--- Diana Ross!"

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Okay! Who can sing with me?

What's been going on at Casa Cornelius, the last few days? I thought we could have a sing-along to help lessen the anxiety (and because she is one of the coolest musician/songwriters ever:

Holy crap! I'll bet Iben Browning is laughing his butt off right now.

We had an earthquake last Friday morning, the first one I have ever really felt (I'm not very motion sensitive, a fact which has helped me avoid seasickness many times). You know, here in the Land Between the Coasts we don't get this very often. Then an aftershock hit right in the middle of class, and that was loads of fun. Apparently, I was so exhausted I slept through the aftershock last night.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

What does it mean when the captain grabs the first lifeboat?

You may notice I haven't been my usual, garrulous self the last few months. You may have wondered why.

Our principal is leaving. He started the year more distracted than usual, which made one wonder. He had tried to move up in our own district last year, but nothing doing. It wasn't long into the year before he announced that he was taking an assistant superintendent job in another district.

Once the decision was announced, he was basically treading water. To be honest, I understand this. When I had my first job, which was NOT a happy experience (to put it mildly), I remember how relieved I was when I informed them several months before the end of school that I wouldn't be accepting another contract. Each day closer to the end of school was a relief. Nothing annoying seemed to really trouble me nor penetrate very deeply. Of course, that could have been interpreted as not caring. It wasn't that I didn't care about what went on around me; it's just that it wasn't worth getting worked up over. I still cared about the kids and my teaching, but I was able to ignore the bitter or dysfunctional parts of the staff and parents. It almost got to the point that, when these people would speak to me, all I heard was the trombone sound of adults talking in a "Peanuts" TV special. You know what I'm talking about: "Bwah-bwah BWAHbwahbwah!" As my students would say, "I was, like, 'Whatever.'"

And if that wasn't traumatic enough, now we are losing several assistant principals. It's like Eisenhower's domino theory around here, let me tell you. Even Assistant Principal Plea Bargain is leaving, which just goes to show that interviews really can be manipulated, and also shows that there are a few silver linings going on around here, too. But sometimes you prefer the devil you know to the one you don't.

But must it follow that when a principal leaves, the assistants all try to leave, too? Could it be that something has been said or done to panic the other administrators in the building?

Then I looked around, and I noticed that several other principals within the district were leaving, too. Further, one principal in our district tragically passed away from cancer earlier in the year. So there has been, and will be, a lot of turnover around here, and a lot of trauma. Other principals are also looking around, so there may be more.

So here's the question: what's going on here?

Here's the deal: we also have a pretty new superintendent. He is a very nice person, but if I was going to give him a nickname, I would call him "Lt. Commander Data"-- and let's remember that I LOVE Star Trek because I am a geek, so this is a playful little jibe. I understand why he adores data so much, I do: it's a NCLB world. But I LIVE in the NCLB world, I and my colleagues. We know that everything is subjective and nothing is objective when it comes to data. Lt. Commander Data is more like a local chief ruling over his corner of the NCLB world. He's kind of like the King Nebuchanezzar of our world, if you're into Biblical allusions. And apparently, several administrators are declining, politely, but resolutely, to climb into the fire for refusing to worship that golden image of data which is of course an illusion. American public schools are in a Babylonian captivity, and the Promised land always lies right over the next hilltop. The problem is, when you climb what you think is that hilltop, there's always another hilltop that pops up.

Attempts to quantify learning should come with a little warning sticker: "Warning- these results are more artificial than they appear." There is an emphasis on numbers over everything else, and a certain tone-deafness on morale and team-building and other sorts of what are considered trivialities. There are other things besides data to running a school, and a school district. That's my naive little news flash, were I asked my opinion. But the NCLB world does not really encourage the hiring of people persons, after all.

And once again, it may just boil down to experience. A lot of these principals, and indeed our superintendent, spent very few years actually in the classroom before they moved into administration, and they certainly haven't been in classrooms very much since then. Many of them haven't been teachers in the NCLB world, so they have no idea what the impact of various policies have had on the classroom.

So we have many openings in administration right now. This is a situation that makes most of the rest of us pretty damned tense, truthfully, and it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. There is something out-of-joint here. Let's see if someone besides the teachers notice.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Carnival of education 167 at CEA blog

Lots of interesting stuff rounded up at your fingertips. See what you might have missed!


Monday, April 14, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 110: Cornelius edition

Okay this has been a tumultuous week, and I have a few things bothering me that are trivial versus merely sad (see post below). So as you know, my moniker here is derived from a couple of things, but one of them is a character in this movie, which I was thinking about because someone in it died last week. Cryptic enough for you? I'll bet not.

So even though this thing was cheesier than a French fromagerie, I just can't help myself.

And Chuck, I guess we can have your musket, now.

But here are your quotes. Cast yourself back in a time machine for this one:

"Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

"The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago."

"Taylor, you are not in command here! Put down that gun!"

"Cornelius, a friendly word of warning: as you dig for artifacts, be sure you don't bury your reputation."

"Doctor, I'd like to kiss you goodbye."
"All right, but you're so damned ugly."

***Weekend Update: This week's movie was one of THE finest works from the oeuvre of the late Chalton Heston, and one of the reasons I am named Cornelius. It is


Look how lucky Ms. Cornelius is, there! I wanna kiss a half-naked astronaut, too!

Au revoir, Chuck!

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

If you teach long enough, sadly, this will probably happen.

I spent this morning before church reminiscing about a former student. As I counted the years backward, he couldn't have been out of his late teens by now. He'd been a troubled young man-- running around loose, mother blaming everyone and everything but refusing to place any limits on him. He'd been expelled from a private school, and we had been charged with trying to turn him around. He stayed out, he drank, he smoked weed, he boasted of exploits with girls-- and this was as a 7th grader.

The first parent-teacher conference we had with his mom was amazing in her lack of influence over her kid. It was one of those conferences where we had to stop in the middle of it and tell the kid that we would not tolerate him talking to any adult in the way he was talking to his mother and basically threaten to kick him out of the conference. It was that bad. He was a good-looking boy, and it was a good-looking family with expensive clothes and all the material advantages. Certainly his family had lots of money, but not a lot of common sense went on in that house, it was obvious. We cared for him, we enforced rules even when his mother threatened to go to the superintendent at every turn, we refused to respond to his tantrums or manipulation, we tried one-on-one with him, but nothing seemed to work. We refused the mother's demand-- and I am NOT kidding-- that we call the house every morning to get him up since she huffed that she couldn't do it herself.

I moved to the high school at the same time he did. I would see him occasionally in the hallways during class time and direct him back to class. Then one day, I didn't see him any more, and was told he was on long-term suspension. That was the last I heard about him except for the occasional overheard story of him at some party from the rest of my students.

I opened up the paper this morning and was working my way through as is my wont on a Sunday after I have done my morning prayer and told my kids to get up and get moving before we go to church. I got to the obituary section, which I usually skip over with a cursory glance, when a picture of that young man jumped out at me. I knew that face.

It didn't say why he died, but it was far too soon. I have no idea what happened to him after he dropped out of our high school and our alternative program. His life was all too brief, and never really happy. He certainly didn't know what to do with himself. I had hoped that he had gotten some sort of plan in place, and thought about him from time to time, especially when conference time would roll around and I would think about some of the doozies I had sat through in all the years.

How very sad. What a waste.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Unspeakable. Hanging IS too good for him.

He killed her mother, her brother, and her mother's boyfriend by bludgeoning them to death. He then kidnapped her and her brother. He raped them repeatedly and then killed the brother with a shotgun. The only one left is one little girl.

I don't care how troubled his childhood was. And this is why I am not a lawyer--either as a prosecutor who would have to make deals with this piece of excrement, or even having to believe that this thing deserves a lawyer at all, much less defending him.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ahhhh, spring! In which I "go all literary and stuff," to quote one of my students

T. S. Eliot had it right. But I'd like to update his opening lines a bit, if I may:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow....

Line 1: There are about eight weeks left of school, so let the bargains with God -- or teachers-- be made. Who else out there is suddenly getting phone calls and demands for meetings from parents of students that you haven't seen all year? Anyone? Or is it just me? And then there's the whole crisis enveloping many of my seniors over the fat envelopes versus the skinny envelopes lying like coiled cobras in their mailboxes. And breeding makes me think of prom. I wonder why.

Line 2: "Lilacs..." I wish that kid in the front row would stop wearing so much Hollister cologne. Although it does help cover up the scent of mildew in my room from the perpetually leaking roof. Let's call it a draw.

Line 3: "Memory and desire"... once again, how many little cads will dump girls the day after prom or conveniently forget their phone numbers? Last year my shoulder was sodden from all the sobbing.

Line 4: "dull roots"... And there's only two more chances to raise that ACT score, and four weeks to prepare for the AP exam! Hooray! What part of the Constitution is about the judiciary, again? Oh, and this week is standardized testing, courtesy of the fine folks in Washington! And we've got so much "spring rain" that the levees are straining, so enough already, God. Please send some of that to Georgia, before they try to annex the entire state of Tennessee.

Line 5: If winter kept you warm, you obviously don't work in a school. Unless the fevers from all the sick kids coming up and hacking all over your desk kept you warm. I redid my seating chart four times in six weeks just trying the keep the sick kids who insist on coming to class all quarantined in one corner. Yech.

Line 6: "Forgetful snow"... I had a kid come to me with a floppy mass of cardboard and wood pulp that was formerly known as a textbook. Guess who left his book out on the back porch... for three days? He actually wanted to know if he would be charged for the damage, I guess because he figured it was an act of nature-- kind of like the people who expect me (which is what "US government" actually means) to bail them out of their foreclosures because they didn't know that ARM meant something other than what Nolan Ryan had.

It really is a waste land, right now.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 109: Giants fan edition

Back in the day, this poor young girl was the most forlorn thing imaginable-- more hopeless than an A cup in a beauty pageant, more futile than trying to eat soup with a butterfly net, more tormented than Cyrano adoring Rosalind.

I was a Cubs fan.

So I know what suffering is. Although I have recovered from this malady, I still look fondly on the Cubbies from time to time. I couldn't help but notice that this year's San Francisco Giants are off to a roaring start that was positively Cub-like-- 1 and 5 and heading toward 1 and 6, the last time I checked. I believe that this is karmic payback for Barry Bonds.

So, Giants fans, I thought of you when I thought of this quote. I am only going to give you one quote from this week's movie. One is all you need.

"Are you crying? There's no crying in baseball!!!"

I leave the rest to you, dear movie buffs. Start those quotes a-flying in the comments section.

****Update: Of course, this is one of the finest baseball movies ever. It's


The best acting of Madonna's life, Geena Davis showing off her athletic skills, Tom Hanks stretching (and scratching) himself, and the dramatized story of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

So here are some other great quotes that no one took:

"Use your head! That's that lump three feet above your ass!"

"Perhaps you chastised her too vehemently. Good rule of thumb: treat each of these girls as you would your own mother."

"Are you coming? See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station!"

"Hey Mae, Mae, your date's here!"
"How do I look?"
"Where'd you get that dress?"
"Borrowed it."
"It don't fit you, Mae, it's too tight."
"I don't plan on wearing it that long."
"Ohh! I don't know why you get dressed at all."

"That's some good peein'!"

"Sound it out..."
"Kimono, kimono. Off. And. Gr-- Gra-- Grabb-d."
"Her. M-- mi-- mil-- mil-- milky, milky. White, white. Milky white.
"Mae! What are you giving her to read?"
"Oh, what the difference does it make? She's reading, okay? That's the important thing. Now go away, go, shoo, shoo. Go ahead, Shirley, you're doing good."

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Words that ring through the ages

Forty years gone. And still we wait. From his speech on April 3, 1968:

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself." But I wouldn't stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."

Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

We want to be free. While any of my brothers or sisters is not free, I am not free. As John Donne reminded us:

"The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

If we want peace in the world, we must demand justice. Justice today. Justice always.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

You think this machine is your friend

Apparently, teachers and students weren't the only things that took a vacation over spring break in Evansville, Indiana. A whole month's worth of grades hit the road too, never to be seen again. By the way, check out the explanation from IBM engineers:
A computer malfunction wiped out a month's worth of grades at three high schools and one middle school, giving struggling students a second chance but dismaying others.

The Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. announced on its Web site that the malfunction occurred during spring break.

Students at Harrison High had mixed reactions, depending on how the second semester was going for them, senior Ibrahim Dughaish said Monday.

"Some are really upset because they worked hard for five weeks," but others saw it as a reprieve, he said.

"My son is an honor roll student and I prefer him keep his grades. He works hard for them," said parent Teresa Hayes.

Upcoming report cards at the four schools will not be issued as scheduled. Instead, the final two weeks of the current six-week period will be combined with the final six weeks of the year into an eight- week reporting period.

Harwood Middle School Principal Mike Raisor said some of his teachers had printed out grades before spring break, but most had not.

"I think the reality set in with everyone that you couldn't do anything about it. They took it pretty well in stride," Raisor said.

The school district's announcement said IBM engineers determined the loss of data was caused by "an unfortunate and very rare combination of hardware problems and backup configuration settings."

Whattaya wanna bet that there's going to be a directive for teachers to start printing out paper copies of grades at least once every few days now? And that's probably a good thing, although it kind of defeats the purpose of the whole "paperless" idea, and creates double work for teachers-- but nothing new there, really.

And I don't know about you, but in most school districts around here, it's high-stakes testing time, and then after that, pull those kids off the fire, because they are done. So the grades that were lost really aren't replaceable in any sense.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I hope this is an April Fool's prank.

Have you heard about this one?
A group of third-graders plotted to attack their teacher, bringing a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape and other items for the job and assigning children tasks including covering the windows and cleaning up afterward, police said Tuesday.

The plot by as many as nine boys and girls at Center Elementary School in south Georgia was a serious threat, Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner said.

"We did not hear anybody say they intended to kill her, but could they have accidentally killed her? Absolutely," Tanner said. "We feel like if they weren't interrupted, there would have been an attempt. Would they have been successful? We don't know."

The children, ages 8 and 9, were apparently mad at the teacher because she had scolded one of them for standing on a chair, Tanner said. A prosecutor said they are too young to be charged with a crime under Georgia law.

School officials alerted police Friday after a pupil tipped off a teacher that a girl had brought a weapon to school, Tanner said.

Police seized a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape, electrical and transparent tape, ribbons and a crystal paperweight from the students, who apparently intended to use them against the teacher, Tanner said.

Nine children have been given discipline up to and including long-term suspension, said Theresa Martin, spokeswoman for the Ware County school system. She would not be more specific but said none of the children had been back to school since the case came to light.

The purported target is a veteran educator who teaches third-grade students with learning disabilities including attention deficit disorder, delayed development and hyperactivity, friends and parents said.

The scheme involved a division of roles, Tanner said. One child's job was to cover windows so no one could see outside, he said. Another was supposed to clean up after the attack.

"We're not sure at this point in the investigation how many of the students actually knew the intent was to hurt the teacher," Tanner said.

The parents of the students have cooperated with investigators, who aren't allowed to question the children without their parents' or guardians' consent, he said. Authorities have withheld the children's names.

Police expected to forward the results of their investigation to prosecutors, Tanner said.

Children in Georgia can't be charged with a crime unless they are at least 13, District Attorney Rick Currie said.

Martin told The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville, Fla., that administrators would follow school system policy and state law in disciplining the students.

"From what I understand, they were considered pretty good kids," Martin said. "But we have to take this seriously, whether they were serious or not about carrying this through, and that's what we did."

Four mothers of other third-grade students at Center Elementary called for the immediate expulsion of the suspected plotters.

Stacy Carter and Deana Hiott both cited school system policy stating that any student who brings "anything reasonably considered to be a weapon" is to be expelled for at least the remainder of the school year.

"We don't want our children around them," Carter told the Times-Union. "The one with the knife could have stabbed my child or someone else's child at lunch or out on the playground."

"This is an isolated incident, an aberration. ... We have good kids," Center Principal Angie Coleman told the newspaper.

Absolutely appalling. Someone is very lucky that this fell apart.

And I hope that these kids get help. Further, however, I hope that they are not able to transfer to another school without this incident remaining in their records for the sake of others.


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