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, September 22, 2009

Brutality on the bus

I imagine you've probably heard about this by now:
The [Belleville, Illinois] School Board on Monday handed out the harshest punishment allowed to two students accused of violent attacks on another boy on a school bus last week, saying it was sending a message by expelling the two boys for the rest of this year and all of next.

Board President Curt Highsmith said the kind of violence caught on the school bus' surveillance camera and shown widely on TV and the Internet has "never been tolerated and never will be tolerated" in the Belleville Township High School District.

The video taken a week earlier by a camera on the bus showed a 17-year-old Belleville West High School student get on the bus and look for an open seat. He took a seat next to another teen, who after a few moments attacked the victim, punching him in the head several times. At one point, the attacker held the victim by the neck with one hand while he punched his face with the other.

A few minutes after that beating ended, another student argued with the victim and then punched him in the face several times. Each time, other students intervened in an effort to stop the attacks.

The victim was treated by a school nurse after the beatings and later was released to his mother.

Police initially said the attacks may have been motivated by race but later backtracked, saying it appeared to be a case of bullying, not racial animosity. The victim is white, his two attackers are black.

Most of the 50 people attending Monday's School Board meeting appeared to support the expulsions, which school officials said were the harshest penalties allowed by law.

Parent Angie Brown said she backed the board's decision but wanted to make sure the expelled boys still attend school somewhere.

"Everybody deserves an education," she said.

But Tami Graham said she was more concerned about the safety of students who follow the rules than about the schooling of boys expelled for the attacks.

"I don't care about their education," she said.

Some were unhappy about the way video footage of the attack thrust Belleville briefly into the national spotlight. Parent Alicia Bradley said she was angry that the video had been released and that so many people had made hateful posts on blogs and websites. She said it was a poor representation of Belleville and the school.

Some speakers said the incident made them more concerned about bus overcrowding and gang issues at the school.

Several students have been suspended for cheering on the attacks or laughing as they took place. Tabasha Holloman, the mother of one of those students, said her son was in the wrong but questioned whether the district was imposing punishments fairly.

"That's the way teenagers react to fights," she said.

She said her son had been the victim of an attack at a football game on Sept. 4 and that school authorities had not done anything about it. She said problems at the school go beyond what was seen on the school bus video.

Six Belleville police officers were stationed at the meeting but were not needed to keep order.

Both of the accused attackers were charged with felony aggravated battery on Friday. Illinois law shields the names of juveniles charged with crimes because they are minors.

The first boy, a 14-year-old, pleaded not guilty Monday at a detention hearing before St. Clair County Judge Walter Brandon.

"This is shocking in its violence and its brutality," said William Clay, an assistant state's attorney.

Clay said the victim didn't provoke the attack and had simply been looking for a place to sit on the bus. He said the first attacker "clearly lost control that day."

Prosecutors argued for holding the teen until trial, but Brandon released him to his father, a pastor. The teen will be under 24-hour curfew and must get a court order if he wants to leave his father's home for anything other than attending school.

John Hipskind, the teenager's public defender, said he has no prior juvenile delinquency cases, attended school regularly and made good grades before the attack.

The other teen, a 15-year-old who is accused of beating the victim later in the bus ride, turned himself in to authorities on Monday. He did not appear before a judge.

Clay said that teen flashed apparent gang signs after the beating.

Here is an edited version of the video from the school bus from the CBS Morning News:

The 15-year-old was placed under 24 hour house arrest after a hearing before a juvenile judge today. He will not be allowed out of his house without a court order, and is being held in custody until his father, who is a minister, gets a land line so that his monitor will work.

The bus driver, after an investigation, has been removed from that route.

There are links to related stories here, and here.

The full, unedited video, which lasted 13 minutes, is here.

I am disgusted with kids who think this is funny. I am disgusted that the second attack was not prevented, much less the first. It seems these kids had no fear of consequences. I am disgusted with the parent who said that her child was wrong for laughing but excused that behavior at the same time, because the laughter helped prolong the first attack and provoke the second attack. I am disgusted with the parent (who is a minister) of the fourteen-year-old attacker who talked about how his family's life was harmed by the publicity and reaction, when he should be wondering why his child felt free to attack someone in such a vicious manner.

God help us.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Avast, scurvy dogs!

And today? Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day!!!!!!

You Are 80% Pirate

Shiver me timbers! You be a tried an' true buccanneer.

Yer likely the captain - shoutin' orders to scrub the deck or walk the plank.

If anyone questions yer shipmate skills, ye'll jus' crush the'r barnacles!

Ye have been flying the Jolly Roger fer a long time. So long that you likely be havin' a bad case o' scurvy.

Now, who be surprised?


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

President Obama's "Liberal" Agenda for Education

Well, now that the speech has been made, we see that President Obama's evil, socialist, partisan agenda to indoctrinate our nation's schoolchildren is this, summarized from the text of the president's speech:

1) It's not just the job of teachers and parents to make sure students learn. You, the students, have responsibility in this process, too.

2) Education provides the opportunity to discover your talents, but you have to develop those talents.

3) You not only have a responsibility to yourself to make the most of your education, you have a responsibility to your community and your country to become educated.

4) No matter what difficulties you have to overcome, there are no excuses for not making sure you make the most of your education.

5) Being successful is hard work no matter what impression you may get from tv or music, and you will have to overcome setbacks and failures in order to become successful. The key is to persevere.

6) Ask questions.

7) Ask for help.

8) Never give up on yourself.

9) Do your part to improve this country.

Wow. How dare he???????? What exactly in this message is not prudent and conservative, in the best sense of the word?

And please note that, unlike so many who get their news from the Colbert Report without getting the irony, I refrained from announcing my opinion until AFTER I heard the speech and read the text. Would that all supposedly responsible citizens would do the same.

I will confess that I am ashamed of the initial response my school district chose when this speech was announced. Letters were sent home to parents, which announced a set of limitations which made it nigh impossible for a teacher to have his or her students watch the speech. Parents were basically assured that their children would be protected from being forced to listen to a speech about the importance of education by the president of the United States. The fact that bitter, immature, uncivil, partisan sniping was in any way given credence at the central office was one thing. But then days later, we got a grudging admission pointing out that, well, we need to respect the office of the president, and Barack Obama IS our president. Oh, thanks.

Here's what I resent: when President Bush was still in office, any letter similar to the ones sent home last week would have been decried as unpatriotic and the worst sort of injection of political-- and in particular liberal-- bias into the classroom. But the second that a Democrat is in the White House, it is suddenly fine and dandy to use fear-mongering and smear tactics against the office of the president. We did not see such a response when Presidents Reagan and George HW Bush gave similar speeches to students, either.

It is my policy to never criticize the current president-- no matter who he is-- to my students. (Yes, that's one reason why I have a blog.) I can and do control myself and act like an adult. Furthermore, just because you vote for or against someone doesn't mean you should not continually re-evaluate and judge how well they have represented your beliefs and values. There have certainly been things I have disagreed with done by every president in my lifetime, including this one.

I would hope that our district administration would also follow this policy, and show the same restraint and respect we expect our students to demonstrate to us, whether they like us or not. I was hoping that this letter was just a reaction to a bitter but vocal handful of district residents who were stirred up by their blind obedience to the Limbaugh Lobby to hate any and all things Obama, and by their vociferousness often scared the bejebus out of petty bureaucrats. But by catering to this element, administrators, you appear to agree with them, and that is the injection of political bias into the classroom that should not be tolerated no matter who is president.

However implicit and subtle our district administrators think their very political response was to a non-political speech, our students are no dummies. Many of them realized that a reactionary fringe opposed to civil discourse was allowed to control the day on Tuesday. And that IS un-American.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Health Insurance for Dummies, Old-School Style

This year our insurance plan was "tweaked." At our last faculty meeting we bad lazy no-goodniks were chastised by the District Numbers Dude (henceforth known as DND) for the incredibly high coinage our insurance company has had to pay out in ratio to premiums paid. It is obvious that our refusal to drag our lazy butts in to school is the reason for this slacking when we should certainly just choose to do otherwise.

Apparently the gambit of offering people a hundred bucks for perfect attendance isn't working so well. (Show of hands-- how many of you out there have gotten to the point that you would PAY a hundred bucks to have a day off?)

So yes, we have to be "incentivized" ("I do not think that word means what you think it means....") by having a "doughnut hole" built into our coverage. This means that after a certain point, call it "x", we have to pay 100% of our medical expenditures, basically, until the insurance kicks in again at another certain point, call it "y." And of course, DND and friends don't call it a "doughnut hole" because that would mean that people would actually understand what this little tactic actually is.

Now let me just point out that it has never occurred to DND or any of the other Powers That Be that there are a few simple steps that could help alleviate ever-escalating health care pay-outs, and I bet it would be far cheaper than ever-increasing premiums, substitute pay, days of work lost, and cheap tricks. I mean, really, who wants to spend three hours writing lesson plans when they are sick so they can stay home and be miserable-- besides knowing all the work that is piling up while they're home sick?

Here they are, and these could be done on rotation:
1) Clean the ductwork in the buildings at least every other year. Our ceiling tiles are coated in a black gunk near the air vents which is disgusting. I know one building in our district in which several people have had to have polyps removed from their sinuses. See point number 4 below.

2) Patch the holes in the roof of every building.

3) Replace the ceiling tiles. They are over thirty years old and are coated with mold, mildew, and black gunk.

4) Realize that since we have an industrial site next door to our school, we cannot open the windows, which would help freshen the air. Most of our illnesses are respiratory in nature.

5) Hire a contractor who will provide healthy, fresh, recognizable food in the cafeterias.

6) Create a wellness program which actually interests people-- volleyball leagues, kickball leagues, 5K run/walks.

7) Redo the molding along the floors, which currently has gaps and loose edges granting entree to all kinds of critters.

Look, I know there are other school districts in far worse shape than we are, but that is still no excuse, given the waste and inefficiency that permeates budget decisions throughout the process.

And I'll tell you something: the first time one of my skinflint colleagues drags his sorry behind in to work while he is sick with H1N1 just so he won't lose that hundred bucks, I'm coming over to THEIR house so they can nurse me back to health.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Bring out your dead!

Critics of American public schools keep wanting to declare the death of public education, no matter how much we protest that we are still breathing:

Yes, it's that time again, when the test results mandated by NCLB come rolling over schools like a tsumani. And here's the shocker: about half the schools in our state did not make AYP.

The language of NCLB is laden with the pithiest of platitudes:

All children can learn.
Standards must be kept high.
No student should drop out of school.

All children CAN learn. The question is, WILL they when society tells them it is useless and that they are passive recipients rather than active participants in the process? When society tells them that people who like to learn are nerds or dweebs or geeks, socially inept twitchy wallflowers?

Unfortunately, the standards usually are not kept high in service to the third statement. Or am I just grumpy?

All I've got to say is, I'm fine, really!


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