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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Well, it's better than being Emma....

I am Anne Elliot!

Take the Quiz here!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tunesday 3: The Works, by Johnatha Brooke

Jonatha Brooke, The Works

This week's Tunesday allows me the chance to sing the praises of this amazing CD. Jonatha Brooke is a fabulous singer/songwriter in her own right who doesn't combine more songwriter than singer in that label. But in this CD, she travels new ground.

Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, allowed Jonatha into the archives of his songs, and from these Jonatha created thirteen songs by adding music. This entire album creates a fascinating arc of the lyrics of this seminal artist and poet, whom I would love even if he wasn't an Okie. The fact that he was and is an Okie makes this CD resonate even more forcefully with me, perhaps.

Favorite songs from this CD include "New Star," a deceptively simple meditation on eternity and love; "There's More True Lovers Than One," a fascinating uptempo extended metaphor of the sea and shore for which we all long; "King of My Love," a 5/4 update of the idea of the gambling we do in life; and "Madonna On the Curb," a song that breaks my heart in its truth:

On the curb of a city pavement, by the ash and garbage cans.
In the stench of rolling thunder of motor trucks and vans,
There sits a little lady with brave but troubled eyes,
And in her arms a baby that cries and cries and cries.
She cannot be more than three, but the years go fast in the slums,
And hard on the pangs of winter's cold, the pitiless summer comes.

The wails of sickly children she knows, she understands,
The pangs of puny bodies, the clutch of small hot hands.
The deadly blaze of August that turns men faint and mad,
She quiets the peevish urchins by telling of dreams she had.
Of heaven with its marble stairs, and ice and singing fans.
And God in white, so friendly there, just like the drug store man.

On the curb of a city pavement by the ash and garbage cans.
In the stench of rolling thunder of motor trucks and vans,
There sits a little lady with brave but troubled eyes,
And in her arms a baby that cries and cries and cries.
So when you're giving millions to Belgian, Pole, and Serb,
Remember my beautiful lady, MADONNA ON THE CURB.

Here is a video about the making of the album:

This CD is truly a work of art, and I have already bought several copies for my friends. If you are already familiar with the work of Woody Guthrie, this will lead you in a new and evocative direction. If you know Jonatha Brooke, this is a must-have for your collection.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Standing Advice for New or Naive Teachers

Okay, after a few things have caught my attention regarding teachers being accused of inappropriate behavior, I feel that it is time, once again, for the Wizened Old Broad to grab her younger, more naive colleagues by the ear and shake some sense of them. All out of love and concern, of course, with a healthy dose of "please don't bring shame upon my profession."

The roll call of shame is endless. Mary Kay Letourneau. Debra LaFave. The Tampa Bay Three-peat. Then there's this shameful compendium. The list is nauseating, and, personally, makes me want to smack a bunch of people.

So obviously there is a need for this little chat. So let me just be blunt:

1. Never be alone with a student in your room with the door closed, whether they are male or female and whether you are male or female. Always be visible in front of your door if there is a single student in there with you. Better yet, be out in the hallway.

2. If you are a coach, never be alone with a student in a dressing or locker room, no matter what, but especially if you are the opposite gender of your athletes.

3. If you take students on overnight trips, like for band or debate, never have a room to yourself-- have another staff member share with you or at least be next door. Try to have teachers of both genders represented as sponsors of these trips. Never never I MEAN NEVER allow a student into your room, door open or closed, it makes no difference. If a kid comes to you in the middle of the night and says that he/she has been tormented by their roomies and can't go back to his/her room,and you don't have another adult available, take the kid to the lobby of the hotel and sit in a brightly lit place with you on a completely different piece of furniture from the student, and be willing to sit there with the kid, but under no circumstances leave a place where you are in the presence of others, and hopefully on camera.

4. Never allow students to stay overnight at your house, no matter how innocent the circumstance.

5. Never allow students to move in with you, even if they would otherwise claim that they would be homeless. An unstable kid is trouble, no matter how much you may care for him or her.

6. I would also advise against current students being babysitters for you. Again, I did this all the time for loads of my teachers, but times are different. Former students (especially college students) are better, if you can't find kids who haven't been students at your school. I am sad to say that this a concern you must heed in today's day and age.

7. If you are male and see a young lady unsuitably clad, try to have a calm, rational female colleague address this issue if you find the attire to be detrimental to the learning environment but especially if you can't look at the student without feeling uncomfortable. Sorry to say, since I am all about gender equality, but a male teacher should see nothing below the chin on any young female person. If you comment, a defiant child will try the gambit of asking loudly and embarassingly why you would even be looking, and the conversation will degenerate from there very quickly to charges of lechery.

And here's a point: you can be sexually harassed by a student. Stand up for your right to work in an environment free of harassment.

8. If a student is showing signs of being troubled, send him/her to the counselor or the principal.

9. Be friendly to your students. Treat them with concern. Be their advocate (and this doesn't mean believing everything they say or taking their side in everything). Never sell them short by accepting less than their best effort. But do not be their friend or intimate. You are their teacher. This is far more precious of a responsibility and a relationship.

Again, sadly, it wasn't like this when I was a student. I was myself was a kid in a bad situation who was saved by a teacher who is now a beloved friend of long standing, and I thank God every day for her help in my life.

But today's students are far more sexualized, and parents are sadly often looking for any excuse for their children's behavior. Combine these with the lawsuit madness that infests modern America, and the tendency to claim victimhood, and the myriad infamous instances of inappropriate behavior on the part of educators or clergy, and this is an atmosphere in which you must be vigilant.

Do not be naive. Do not think that this could never happen to you or that your circumstances are so unique that the rules were made to be broken. Protect yourself. Even if you are proven innocent after an accusation, you will lose your livelihood and your reputation. You can lose your family or your home.

Be safe. Be wise. It could happen to you.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Darn code.

I hab a code. It has been bugging me for two weeks. I cough and I wheeze. De only time I don't cough is when I am asleep. First it was the flu and then it was a code.

I hate dis code.

Sniff. Achoo!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When life is like a movie... or not.

I was sitting in the mall-- which, let me tell you, is about as fun for me as a root canal-- while my husband stared open-mouthed at some sort of electronic doodad in some electronics store when I heard a familiar voice over my left shoulder. It was the Nightstalker.

The Nightstalker is a former student who says that he is a vampire. I mean it.


He has even sharpened two of his teeth to resemble fangs.

I swear I don't make this stuff up.

Anyway, for some reason, you know that this kid took a shine to me, whyohwhy I do not know, but since he spent most of his time wandering the hallways trying to fascinate girls who didn't normally garner a lot of teenaged-boy attention, and he didn't actually do too well with the whole grade thing, and then he got one of his ghoulfriends girlfriends pregnant and dropped out of school permanently. He complained about the fact that the girlfriend's parents hated him and wouldn't let him see the baby, and I tried gently to explain to him that maybe-just-maybe it was because he talked about drinking blood. A lot. And yeah, THERE'S a conversation I never envisioned having when I was training to be a teacher. Just goes to show ya.

But anyway, there at Retail Hell, there he was. I surreptitiously quick-checked to make sure I still had a pulse and delicately sniffed the air for traces of sulphur as he slid onto the bench beside me. I barely recognized him. Previously, he had modeled his hair on a character from that '80s Kiefer Sutherland flick The Lost Boys. But of course, unless you've been living under a preteen-free rock for the last several months, you should know that there're some new bloodsuckers in town. So guess what he looked like now?

Muh-huh. It was too dark to see if he's covered his skin with glitter, but I'll bet you anything...

There IS one thing I'd like to see him emulate about Edward Cullen though-- and that would be the stack of mortarboards indicating graduation from high school.

I think online shopping is great, don't you?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tunesday 2: Inauguration day playlist

For our second Tunesday, we've got a to celebrate the peaceful transition of power in one of the oldest democracies in the world. Welcome, President Obama!

January 20, 2009 Playlist

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'
The Beatles, Revolution 1
Billy Joel, State of Grace
Paul Simon, American Tune
Brooke Fraser, Saving the World
Crosby Stills, Nash, & Young, We Can Change the World
Dhani Harrison and Jakob Dylan, Gimme Some Truth
Elvis Costello, Peace, Love, & Understanding
Eva Cassidy, People Get Ready
The Finn Brothers, Won't Give In
Fleetwood Mac, Never Going Back Again
Dar Williams, Troubled Times
Indigo Girls, Get Together
Crowded House, Recurring Dream
Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come
Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land
Cat Stevens, Morning Has Broken
Bob Marley, Redemption Song
Peter, Paul, & Mary, We Shall Overcome

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Incredible lack of judgment, part II

"SEATTLE — Washington state law does not bar teachers from having consensual sex with 18-year-old students, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in dismissing a case against a former high school choir teacher.

The teacher, Matthew Hirschfelder, was charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor for allegedly having sex with a Hoquiam High School senior in 2006. He challenged a judge's refusal to dismiss his case, arguing the student wasn't a minor because she was 18.

Hirschfelder, who was 33 at the time, also denies any sexual relationship occurred.

A three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the case should be dismissed. While the law was written vaguely, a review of legislative history shows that lawmakers only intended to criminalize contact between teachers and 16- or 17-year-old students — not those over 18, the court said.

"The name of the statute is 'sexual misconduct with a minor,'" said Hirschfelder's attorney, Rob Hill, stressing that the state recognizes that an 18-year-old is no longer a minor.

The state's code of professional conduct for teachers still prohibits any sexual advance toward or contact with pupils, whatever their age, and teachers can be fired for it. Sexual contact with students younger than 16 is considered child rape or molestation; the age of consent in Washington is 16.

Hirschfelder has not been able to work as a teacher since late 2006, when he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the school board. He was arrested and charged in spring 2007, after a former choir student told police she had a monthslong affair with him that began shortly before she graduated.

His case did not go to trial because it was stayed pending the appeals court ruling, Hill said. He has been tuning pianos to make ends meet.

Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Stew Menefee did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press, but he told The Daily World newspaper of Aberdeen that he would consider appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Some state legislators are set on changing the law. On Monday, six state representatives introduced legislation that would make it a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for a teacher to have sex with a student up to age 21, as long as the teacher is five years older than the student and at the same school.

Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, the main sponsor of the bill, said he offered it at the request of the Richland School District, after a judge dropped a sexual misconduct charge against a Richland High School teacher because the teacher's alleged victim was 18.

"This is a real concern of mine, and with the court decision today, that just strengthens this bill," Haler said. "We need to protect our students as long as they're in our public schools, irrespective of age."

I understand the reason why this law doesn't apply. I do. But it needs to be clear that teachers should not EVER be allowed to "date" students, even if they're twenty-one (and we've got two of those around this year, and they better stay the hell away from my daughter, much less me). But I am confused by the provision in the proposed replacement law about the teacher being five years older than the student. So are they saying it would be okay if the teacher were, say 22 and the student were 18? Why would that be okay?

Of course, I didn't date high school boys when I WAS in high school, so perhaps my knee-jerk antipathy started then. But-- really. Yuck.

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Incredible lack of judgment, part I

Good golly-- strip searches over ibuprofen.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether a public school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a strip search of her for ibuprofen.

The school argued in its appeal that the Constitution allowed a strip search of a student suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen in violation of its policy that prohibited medications on campus without permission.

School officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered the search in 2003 of Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade. Following an assistant principal's orders, a school nurse had Redding remove her clothes, including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if she was hiding ibuprofen, a common painkiller.

School officials did not find ibuprofen, which is found in over-the-counter medications like Advil and Motrin. Higher doses require a prescription.

The strip search had been prompted by an unverified tip from another girl who had Redding's school planner and some ibuprofen pills. She claimed Redding had given her the pills.

Redding denied it and an initial search of her backpack and pockets did not turn up any ibuprofen. The assistant principal then ordered the strip search to be done in front of the nurse and his administrative assistant, both women.

Redding said she was embarrassed, scared and about to cry. She said she felt humiliated and violated by the strip search.

A federal appeals court ruled the school and school officials violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment right that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

It said alleged ibuprofen possession was "an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one." Instead of forcing Redding to disrobe, school officials could have kept her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or could have sent her home.

The appeals court also ruled the assistant principal may be held liable for damages for the search.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the school argued that the ruling has alarmed administrators and teachers around the country.

The decision "places student safety and school order at risk by impairing the ability of school officials to effectively carry out their custodial responsibility," it said.

Redding's lawyers opposed the appeal.

"A school official simply cannot order a strip search any time a frightened student points an accusatory finger at another student," they said.

If the school wins, strip searches could become as prevalent as "the common practice of students tattling on each other," her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The case could he heard by the justices in April, with a decision likely by the end of June, a court spokeswoman said.

Good grief, grow some common sense. I think the idea of keeping her in the office was the best choice, if they were worried about her distributing painkillers willy-nilly. Of course, that would require that the personnel in the office would then have to keep an eye on her.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

It's time to redefine what a "free public education" means

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will use some sense on this one.
The Supreme Court will try again to resolve the difficult issue of when taxpayers must foot the bill for private schooling for special education students.

The court agreed Friday to hear an appeal from an Oregon school district that contends students should at least give public special education programs a try before seeking reimbursement for private school tuition.

A federal appeals court sided with a high-school student identified in court papers only as T.A., who enrolled in a $5,200-a month private program and sought reimbursement from the Forest Grove School District.

The Supreme Court heard a similar case from New York in 2007, but split 4-4 on the outcome.

The case is Forest Grove School District v. T.A., 08-305.

If you want to go to a private school, pay for it yourself through scholarships or loans like the rest of us. And when will any consideration be made about how lawsuits like this damage the educations of all the rest of the students in the district-- those who will be making do with much less and eventually trying to make their way in the world?

I've seen this kind of thing happen-- a parent decided to suddenly halt giving his child the prescriptions that had kept her from suffering terrible delusions and tics and other psychological difficulties, so that the student would struggle and act out, and then the parent could sue the school district to pay for an incredibly expensive private school. And he didn't care how much his daughter suffered while this went on. But those that spent hours with her every day watched her decline into near madness. It was horrible. And wrong.

A few years later, I ran into this monster, and he actually bragged about what he had tried to do-- and was angry that he hadn't prevailed in the courts. And the type of medication that his daughter was taking wasn't the type which was supposed to be summarily withdrawn, and the girl was never the same.

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And those of us with teenagers just felt the nausea rise

Tuition keeps on out-stripping inflation.
Why has college tuition been rising so high and fast? Will college costs ever drop back to more affordable levels?

Those questions have been frustrating parents and students for years. A new report provides some surprising answers that will, unfortunately, probably only frustrate and anger them even more. At public colleges, tuition has generally been driven up by rising spending on administrators, student support services, and the need to make up for reductions in government subsidies, according to a report issued by the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

In some cases, such as at community colleges (which educate about half of the nation's college students), tuition has risen while spending on classroom instruction has actually fallen. At public colleges especially, the current economic troubles will likely only accelerate the trend of rising prices and classroom cutbacks, says Jane Wellman, the author of the report. After analyzing income and spending statistics that nearly 2,000 colleges reported to the federal government, Wellman concludes: "Students are paying more and, arguably, getting less in the classroom." (Watch video)

Among the more surprising findings:

--The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges. In 2006, the last year for which Wellman had data, state taxpayers sent $7,078 per student to the big public research universities. That's $1,270 less (after accounting for inflation) than they sent in 2002.

--Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years. Flagship public universities' spending per student has risen from about $12,400 in 1995 to $13,800 in 2006 after accounting for inflation. But since 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation.

--Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent.

--Big private universities, powered by tuition and endowment increases, have increased spending dramatically while public schools have languished. Total educational spending per student at private research universities has jumped by almost 10 percent since 2002 to more than $33,000. During that same period, public university total spending was comparatively flat and totaled less than $14,000 a year.

That growing gap between rich schools and poor schools worries observers like Wellman. The cost of attending a public university, even after subtracting out aid and inflation, rose more than 15 percent in the last five years, according to the College Board. But almost all of the recent price increases at public universities are "backfilling for cuts in state funds," Wellman says.

Some college presidents say the report shows they haven't been raising prices irresponsibly.

"Virginia Tech" explained David Hodge, president of Miami University of Ohio. "Everybody expects us to do a lot more security. Students are coming with more physical disabilities and emotional needs. There are greater expectations for career services," he says. And that kind of administrative and support spending "is a really good investment. It helps the students."

In addition, public schools tend to serve many low-income students and minority students who need more remedial classes and extra counseling services than better-prepared students who attend elite private universities, says F. King Alexander, president of California State University--Long Beach.

One of the reasons that Duke University costs about $51,000 a year is that the elite schools are in a bidding war for top faculty and better services for students, says college spokesman Michael Schoenfeld. In addition, competition for the best students forces schools to offer bigger and bigger scholarships, which means few students actually pay the full sticker price, he notes. Duke's record-breaking flood of applications for the next academic year shows there's still plenty of demand for what private universities offer, he says.

But as more and more states facing budget crises consider further subsidy cuts and tuition hikes for public schools, parents and students are increasingly objecting to price increases for any reason. "Enough is enough," says James Boyle, president of the College Parents of America. A tsunami of applications at lower cost schools such as the California State University campuses shows that students and parents are voting with their feet. "The changing market for higher ed will cause colleges to hold down their expenses and state legislators to increase their subsidies," Boyle predicts.

I personally think Boyke is kidding himself. We haven't seen tuition hold steady in the last thrirty years, regardless of the economic exigencies.

So if tuition increases cause colleges to increase scholarships, why do they continue in this vicious cycle?

I also know that a lot of it has to do with all the amenities colleges feel they have to offer to today's students, most of whom have never shared anything much less a room, in their brief little lives. My own beloved alma mater now has a top of the line set of athletic facilities, a huge, shiny student union building, and a fabulous new basketball arena. When I attended TU, we had to go downtown to the Convention Center for basketball games, and the student union building had a bookstore the size of my current bedroom, just about. I'm not jealous -- good for them!-- but you know that tuition has had to rise to allow this kind of slew of building projects. And I just don't think a working class kid today would be able to afford it, which is a real shame.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Music for change

Here's to the last weekend of eight long years in the wilderness....

Thank God.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Madam: Take a deep breath and step away from the school doors

You know, my own high school years were nothing I would ever want to repeat. They weren't horrific, mind, but they certainly were not frothy with intellectual rigor or lighthearted bonhomie. Maybe, if more people had had that kind of experience, they wouldn't try to do this:
GREEN BAY, Wis. — A Wisconsin woman who enrolled in high school under her daughter's name and tried out for the cheerleading squad has been committed to a mental health facility for three years.

Wendy Brown was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to a charge of identity theft. The 34-year-old woman apologized Tuesday in court.

Records show Brown attended one day of classes last August at Ashwaubenon High School and practiced with the cheerleading squad while posing as her 15-year-old daughter, who was living with a relative out of state.

Investigators learned her true identity after she was reported as truant and found that she had been jailed in a forgery case. Brown told investigators she wanted to relive her high school experience.

Jeez, lady. I guess she wanted to relive that high school experience since, if my calculations are correct, a 34-year-old woman with a fifteen-year-old daughter would probably have gotten pregnant with said daughter in high school. But I'm just guessing here. (I mean, I remember the first time I had a parent who was younger than I was. I was twenty-seven. She was twenty-six. And her kid was almost fourteen. That was a surprise.)

Of course, I've also seen some students who LOOKED like they were thirty-four, and they were the envy of their peers, if only because they were never carded.

And there was that instance in which an overage student claimed homelessness to get around the lack of paperwork so that he could ply his trade in illicit retail sales of herbs within the hallowed halls of academe. But that's a different story....

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tunesday 1: Fleet Foxes

It's time to talk about music, and since several of my friends have asked me about music to which I am listening, I thought I'd just start a feature on my blog. So here's episode number one of Tunesday!

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes and Sun Giant

I have recently discovered the band Fleet Foxes, which I also hear is going to be on SNL on Jan. 17.

Coming out of Seattle, this five-man group produces an intelligent, intricate folk-pop with undercurrents of baroque styling.

Who are they like? Lead singer Robin Pecknold's voice is reminiscent of Jim James of My Morning Jacket and James Mercer of the Shins. In fact, I find the Shins' songcraft very similar in many respects, although with more of a rock/electrified feel. Both bands are also deserving of far more attention than they have thus far received.

I currently own the EP Sun Giant, from 2008, and the full length eponymous album, also from 2008. The album is not to be confused with an EP from 2006, also named Fleet Foxes. Apparently, these guys channel so much thought into the lyrics of their songs that they ran out of words when it came to the titles of their releases. But no matter.

Favorite songs are: "Mykonos," from the EP, and "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "White Winter Hymnal" from the full length album. "White Winter Hymnal" is an amazing little gem, telling the story of a school field trip as well as the universe of detail within a castaway memory:

I was following the pack
all swallowed in their coats
with scarves of red tied ’round their throats
to keep their little heads
from fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go
And, Michael, you would fall
and turn the white snow red as strawberries
in the summertime....

That's the entire lyric, and the song is rounded off in less than two and a half minutes. And here is the amazing video, which adds an entire new dimension to the song:

If you haven't heard these guys before, give them a listen!

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Whoa. Remember the "Twinkie" defense?

Oh, yes-- an addiction to VIDEO GAMES certainly ameliorates matricide. At least-- that's what his lawyer says....

ELYRIA, Ohio – Although a teenager's obsession with a violent video game may have warped his sense of reality, the boy is guilty of murdering his mother and wounding his father after they took "Halo 3" away from him, a judge ruled Monday.

"I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever," Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge said.

Nonetheless, Burge rejected the defense attorneys' argument that Petric, 17, was not guilty by reason of insanity.

The defense didn't contest that Petric shot his parents in October 2007 after they took the game away from him, but insisted that the teen's youth and addiction made him less responsible.

Petric may have been addicted, but the evidence also showed he planned the crime for weeks, said Burge, who found the teenager guilty of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and other charges.

Tried as an adult, Petric faces a maximum possible penalty of life in prison without parole. The judge didn't set a sentencing date.

The teen's mother, Susan Petric, 43, died of a gunshot wound to the head. Her husband, Mark Petric, a minister at New Life Assembly of God in Wellington, also was shot in the head but survived.

After the verdict was announced, Petric turned to look at his father seated behind him in the courtroom. Mark Petric, who previously said he has forgiven his son, gave an encouraging nod.

Mark Petric and other relatives left the court without comment.

Prosecutors said Petric planned to kill his parents because he was angry that his father would not allow him to play the video game, in which players shoot alien monsters that have taken over the Earth.

On the night of the shooting, Petric used his father's key to open a lockbox and remove a 9 mm handgun and the game.

Mark Petric testified that his son came into the room and asked: "Would you guys close your eyes? I have a surprise for you." He testified that he expected a pleasant surprise. Then his head went numb from the gunshot.

Deputy prosecuting attorney Anthony Cillo argued during the trial that the teenager had planned to make it appear to be a murder-suicide by putting the gun in his father's hand.

Defense Attorney James Kersey said that when the teenager fled the grisly scene, he only took one item with him: the "Halo 3" game.

A message seeking comment was left Monday with a Los Angeles public relations firm that represents the game maker, Bungie LLC.

Just when I think that the lack of shame has reached an all-time low, I get brought up short. A teenager not understanding that "dead" is forever. Killing-- or trying to kill-- both your parents over a video game.

Makes me feel a little less like an ogre for my rules about this kind of stuff at Casa Cornelius. Even if I AM the meanest mother ever in this Facebook-free, Myspace-free, text-message-free, instant-messenger-free house.

But somehow I don't think that those kinds of things are the problem here. There is something else seriously, seriously wrong with a society that wants to make excuses for this kind of behavior, no matter what.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Open thread: Sounds "questionable" to me...

A friend of mine has a daughter who is looking for a teaching job next year, partly due to this policy: Teachers in her high school have been instructed to allow students to retake tests repeatedly until they pass them, no matter how many times it takes. The district doesn't want any students failing.

I doubt that ANY district WANTS to see students failing. But where is there ever accountability in this kind of set-up?

What do you think?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

News of the weird, pt 2

Kid+anger management issues+gun=predictable results...
Police in Jackson, Ohio, a small town near Columbus, are trying to figure out what to do with a 4-year-old boy accused of shooting his babysitter.

The child apparently became incensed on Sunday when 18-year-old Nathan Beavers, who was looking after him, accidentally stepped on his foot. Cops say the enraged youngster ran to a nearby closet, grabbed a gun that was stored inside of it, and fired it at his temporary guardian.

The victim suffered wounds to his arm and side and was treated in hospital, but his injuries were thankfully minor. Another teen was also slightly hurt.

Beavers was watching the child at the mobile home of the boy's grandmother when the incident occurred. Several other teens and a few additional kids were also present.

Authorities have revealed that when the babysitter stepped on his foot, the child boldly announced he was going to go get a gun. Everyone figured he would come back with a toy.

Instead, he found the real thing, even retrieving a shell from a drawer and loading the weapon as he marched back into the room where the others were gathered.

The child is now in the custody of his parents. His father claims his son had seen others shoot a gun before, but he had no idea that the youngster knew how to load and fire the weapon. He maintains the little boy simply thought it was a toy and calls the incident an "accident."

Cops are now investigating, but agree the alleged culprit may be too young to be charged. His father has arranged from his son to receive counselling instead.

And probably get ready for a lawsuit, too. I hope he's realized that just leaving the gun around-- even unloaded-- is a pretty idiotic thing to do.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

The SAT changes the rules again...

and again, colleges balk.
This March, high school juniors taking the SAT will have the option of choosing which scores to send to colleges while hiding those they do not want admissions officials to see.

Students in White Plains take an SAT prep course. A new policy will let students choose which scores to release to colleges.

The new policy is called Score Choice, and the College Board hopes it will reduce student stress around the SAT and college admissions.

But when it comes to college admissions, few things are ever simple. Some highly selective colleges have already said that they will not go along with Score Choice, and the policy is stirring heated debate among high school counselors and college admissions officials.

Some argue that it is really a marketing tool, intended to encourage students to take the test more often. Others say that, contrary to the College Board’s goal, the policy will aggravate the testing frenzy and add yet another layer of stress and complexity to applying to college.

“In practice, it will add more anxiety, more confusion, more testing for those who can afford it and more coaching,” said Brad MacGowan, a college counselor at Newton North High School in suburban Boston and a longtime critic of the College Board and standardized testing.

Many students take the SAT more than once, and the College Board automatically sends colleges the scores of every SAT test a student takes.

Under Score Choice, students can choose their best overall SAT sitting to send to colleges, but they will not be able to mix and match scores from different sittings. (Each sitting includes tests in critical reading, mathematics and writing, with a top score of 800 in each area.)

There is no additional charge if a student selects Score Choice, which also applies to SAT subject tests, formerly called SAT II and given in areas like history, sciences and languages.

Score Choice is not a new concept. From 1993 to 2002, students were allowed to take as many SAT subject tests as they wanted and to report only their best scores to the colleges they applied to.

In ending that policy in 2002, the College Board said that some students who had stored their scores had forgotten to release them and missed admissions deadlines. It also said that ending Score Choice would be fairer to low-income and minority students, who did not have the resources to keep retaking the tests.

Now, the College Board sees things differently.

“It simply allows students to put their best foot forward,” said Laurence Bunin, a senior vice president with the College Board.

With Score Choice, Mr. Bunin said, students can “feel very comfortable going into the test center because, goodness forbid, if for whatever reason they don’t feel comfortable, it won’t be on their permanent record forever.”

William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard, shares that view.

“In some respect,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said, “Score Choice will help defuse some of the pressure and give students a sense that not everything is riding on the tests, which really is the case.”

But Jerome A. Lucido, the vice provost for enrollment policy and management at the University of Southern California, said, “Students will like it because they’ll have a sense of control, but my sense is that it’s not worth the trade-off in terms of complexity and more gamesmanship.”

A major concern has to do with how colleges will handle Score Choice.

Admissions officials at some highly selective colleges — the University of Southern California, Stanford, Claremont McKenna and the University of Pennsylvania, among others — have said that, Score Choice or not, they want all the scores — from the SAT and the ACT.

It is in the students’ best interest to send all scores, these officials say, because their practice is to combine the highest subscores from all of the score reports.

“Our plan is to first tell students to relax,” said Bruce Poch, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College. “The habit here is like many colleges, which is to see it all, but consider for admission purposes the highest individual score.”

Gary Meunier, a counselor at Weston High School, in Weston, Conn., said one reason he favored Score Choice was that while he believed that most schools did look at the highest subscores, he had also seen schools rule out students with any scores below 500.

“Some kids, their performance in the classroom far exceeds the way they perform on standardized tests,” Mr. Meunier said. With Score Choice, “they get a couple more shots at it,” he said. “For those kids, they take it with a little less anxiety. At one test, if they blow it, no one’s going to see it.”

Some critics of the new policy note that the SAT’s main rival, the ACT, which has been drawing increasing numbers of test takers, has long had a de facto Score Choice policy.

“Was this a student-centered decision?” said Richard H. Shaw, dean of admissions at Stanford, referring to the College Board’s reason for introducing Score Choice. “Or was it business-centered because they’re worried about losing market share?”

Mr. Shaw added that he was equally opposed to the ACT’s de facto Score Choice. “I don’t want to give them any credit whatsoever,” he said. “I think they started this.”

Score Choice was developed in response to student demand, Mr. Bunin said. “The students were clear,” he said. “They thought that having some control over their scores would reduce their stress.”

The College Board surveyed more than 3,000 high school students from a range of income groups and ethnicities, Mr. Bunin said. It also surveyed 700 counselors from a diverse group of high schools across the country, and 70 percent favored Score Choice, he said.

But other counselors, as well as admissions officials, have expressed concern that the policy will give affluent students who can afford to take the SAT many times an even greater advantage.

Among the questions being asked about how Score Choice will work is this one: What if a student opts for Score Choice and tries to apply it to a college that requires all the scores?

Mr. Poch of Pomona said: “My own view is that tests are a transcript. I don’t get to choose which grades appear on a transcript any more than I get to suppress a driving record from an insurance company.”

I don't know. What do you think?


Saturday, January 03, 2009

How have Pell grants changed lives?

Former Senator Claiborne Pell has passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
Claiborne Pell, 90, a six-term Rhode Island Democrat who rose to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, died Jan. 1 at his Newport, R.I., home. He had had Parkinson's disease since 1994.

A Yankee Brahmin and former Foreign Service officer who was virtually unbeatable at the polls in a largely Catholic, blue-collar state, he was best known for his sponsorship of the 1972 program that has helped 54 million low- and moderate-income students attend college. He also sponsored the legislation that founded the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.

He was committed to maritime and foreign affairs issues, strongly in favor of abortion rights, a consistent vote for labor and an ardent advocate of arms control and the rule of law in international affairs. First elected to the Senate in 1960, Sen. Pell was aloof, diffident, courteous and self-effacing. Unfailingly polite, he also had quirks, such as jogging in a tweed coat. One of his favorite sayings was "I always let the other fellow have my way." Eccentric and occasionally absent-minded, he was asked during a 1990 election-year debate what legislation he had sponsored that specifically benefited Rhode Island.

"I couldn't give you a specific answer," he averred in a famous reply. "My memory's not as good as it should be."

He went on to win reelection by a margin of almost 2 to 1.

The qualities that endeared Sen. Pell to the voters of Rhode Island also endeared him to colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid yesterday called him "a great American and a giant of the Senate. Any student who has ever received federal aid has Senator Pell to thank for his or her education. The Pell Grants he created revolutionized our education system for generations of Americans who might not otherwise be able to pursue higher education."

...Claiborne DeBorda Pell was born in New York on Nov. 22, 1918. The family had lived in New York since colonial times, and its holdings once embraced much of Westchester County and the Bronx. Among his ancestors was the founder of the Lorillard Tobacco Co. Five of his forebears, including his father, Herbert Claiborne Pell, served in Congress. His father went on to be U.S. minister to Portugal and then Hungary during the presidency of his friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Claiborne Pell was 9, the family moved to Rhode Island and settled in Newport.

Sen. Pell graduated from Princeton University and received a master's degree in history from Columbia University in 1946. During World War II, he served in the Coast Guard in the Atlantic. After the war, he joined the Foreign Service. His positions abroad included a period in Genoa, Italy, where he was a consular officer. His foreign languages included French, Italian and Portuguese.

He participated in the 1945 San Francisco conference that drafted the United Nations charter and was a staunch defender of the institution throughout his life, often carrying a copy of the charter in his pocket.

In the 1950s, he went into investment banking in Rhode Island. He also became registration chairman of the Democratic National Committee. When he decided to run for the Senate in 1960, he demonstrated his prowess on the hustings by defeating two former governors for the Democratic nomination. He was helped in the general election by his strong ties to John F. Kennedy.

He was one of the principal figures in creating the government-financed college grants originally known as "Basic Educational Opportunity Grants." The awards, renamed Pell Grants in his honor in 1980, are the federal government's largest need-based grants to college students.

Sadly, I was not able to gain a Pell grant to go to school, even though we were blue collar. But I know people who did get to go to college dues to Sen. Pell's legislation. Does anyone have any testimony?

Sen. Pell was a true iconoclast. Let's hope that our government now turns more attention to making college affordable for everyone who has the ability to succeed.

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Charter schools for inmates

Oh, heck, why not?

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Albert Aragon dreams of working in real estate one day, but the 29-year-old jail inmate is a high school dropout who believes employers don't hire people with general equivalency diplomas.

Now he has a chance to get his high school diploma, thanks to a new Albuquerque charter school, one of a handful of charter schools nationwide serving current and former jail inmates.

"When they see a high school diploma, they see that you stuck in through the thick and thin, through the tough times, and when you're out getting jobs, they don't want GEDs, they want diplomas," he said during a break in his language arts class.

The Gordon Bernell Charter School at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque and the Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco have turned their state laws on charter schools into opportunities to grant high school diplomas — rather than GEDs — to jail inmates regardless of their age.

Wearing orange jumpsuits, students at the Albuquerque jail attend high school math and language classes and science labs in secure rooms next to their pod, which is segregated from the rest of the inmate population. Students are given homework to complete in their cells at night.

San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who helped start Five Keys Charter School in 2003, said it wasn't easy to get the school board to approve a charter school for inmates.

"After they got over the kind of shock of sanctioning a high school inside of a jail, they said they would be happy to support it," he said.

The school board eventually gave Five Keys unanimous support when its charter was approved in 2002.

"A lot of public school advocates believe that the charter schools are taking away the students from wealthier families, are creaming off the better students, and as a result it is diminishing the effectiveness of the public school movement," Hennessey said. "I'm certainly not taking the better advantaged students."

In Albuquerque, classes are fast-paced and allow students to earn high school credit as quickly as they can master each curriculum standard. But they must score 80 percent or better to get credit.

Language arts teacher Kimberlee Hanson wrapped up a recent class with a head-spinning list of upcoming tasks.

"Tomorrow we're typing stories. Write your stories. Your literary analysis is sticking with you. Monday's our final that ends this unit and then it's off to superheroes for persuasive essays," she told her students.

In addition to a basic high school curriculum, both charter schools teach their inmate-students life skills designed to help them be better citizens.

Psychologist Ron Gallegos works with inmates on how to make better choices by teaching them about morality.

In one assignment, the students had to document 10 hours of doing things for other people while not expecting anything in return, which is the antithesis of prison society, he said.

Gallegos said the school helps give inmates a sense of achievement.

"I think they are stunned to discover that they have some ability to be successful in the academic world," he said. "You see a pretty overwhelming sense of joy and pride in them when they accomplish writing an essay or solving a math problem or getting a science project."

Teachers at Gordon Bernell agree that student discipline is the least of their problems. The school has a zero-tolerance policy about drugs, violence and gangs.

When inmates are released, they can continue at the school's downtown campus, said Gordon Bernell's director, Greta Roskom.

Though charter school laws differ by state, Hennessey said the California education secretary and several communities around the state have expressed interest in replicating Five Keys Charter School. Roskom said New Mexico's charter school has attracted the attention of national correctional educators.

First, this gives the inmates another reason to behave, since it seems that they are not allowed to attend if they are behavior problems.

Second, it gives them something intellectual to do while they are in jail-- like seriously addressing what got them in jail in the first place. That's a great idea.

Third, education gives people opportunities and choices. Hopefully, this will reinforce to the inmates that they have choices-- and they had them before they got into jail, too.

It would be interesting to see what the long-term record of inmates who successfully complete this program, if this cuts the recidivism rates versus a control group.

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