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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Backbiters and hypocrites

So how do you handle it when people who refer to your principal as "the Precious Leader" or "Madame Chiang" somehow also have managed to grab her ear and hang out in the office giving advice to her all the time? And then return to regale all who will listen about how clueless she is and how she would be completely lost without their "help?"

From the get-go, they've been afraid of her based in sexist fears of women in power, and they actively work to undermine any policies. But when a new policy is announced, if she is adamant that it be implemented, she is an arrogant "ball-buster" who is out of touch. If she listens to objections and modifies the policy, she is a "spineless woman who can't make up her own mind."

I'll admit, I'm stumped. And I begin to wonder if I should even care.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Professional courtesy during Educator Appreciation Week-- an impossibility?

I emailed a question to a support staff person in my favorite support department three weeks ago. This person still has not deigned to reply.

Anyone else have similar experiences?

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Monday, November 16, 2009

CE and BCE: An evil plot or a non-issue?

A school district in the St. Louis metro area in undergoing a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of the disgnations of CE and BCE in lieu of BC and AD in social studies classes. From Tim Townsend, religion writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Dean Mandis, insurance executive and father of two students in the Rockwood School District, stood before the district's superintendent and seven School Board members Thursday night at Crestview Middle School. He had three minutes to broach an issue that had been bothering him for a month or so.

Wearing a navy, pinstripe suit with a patterned purple tie and black leather loafers, Mandis adjusted his rimless glasses, took a breath and began.

Mandis' daughter, an eighth-grader, had come home from school recently with evidence that she was being taught something other than the traditional calendar dates of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for "in the year of the Lord.")

Instead, her teacher was quizzing social studies students on alternative calendar designations that are increasingly common in higher education — C.E., for Common Era and B.C.E., for Before the Common Era.

"Introducing B.C.E./C.E. in conjunction with B.C./A.D. in the classroom is to deny the historical basis of the dating system and ultimately leads to confusion," Mandis told the board. Mandis said this teacher's decision was "irresponsible" and possibly "a dangerous and slippery slope."

In the hallway outside the meeting, Mandis initially said he was uninterested in the religious issues at stake. But he eventually admitted he wasn't bent out of shape because of an affront to the Gregorian calendar.

"This is a movement that's occurring nationally," Mandis said of the adoption of the B.C.E./C.E. system. "The intention is to secularize our schools and our country."

Thomas Madden, a history professor at St. Louis University and director of the school's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, said the movement to use C.E. and B.C.E. in western academia began in the 1980s and is "much more prevalent" now.

"B.C. and A.D. are references directly to Christ, so B.C.E. is supposed to be more sensitive to non-Christians," Madden said. The idea is that when B.C. and A.D. are not used, "non-Christians don't have to be confronted with numbers that reference Christ's birth."

A similar debate surfaced in Kentucky in 2006 when a staff member at the Kentucky Department of Education proposed substituting the newer designations for B.C. and A.D. in middle and high school social studies classes across the state.

But Christians fought the proposal, and it died before it could be implemented.

"Since our inception, Christianity has played a key role in the formation of our nation, and there's no reason to back away from that reality simply because some bureaucrat authorized a shift," said Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Kentucky Family Foundation, which led the charge against the change.

Last year, former state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, filed legislation to make B.C. and A.D. Missouri's "official dating standard," so the state could not "use any other designation."

"It was met with a jaundiced eye," Loudon said. "People said, 'No one's deliberately trying to scrub the calendar of any mention of Jesus Christ.' But, in fact, there is an effort, as evidenced by what's happening in Rockwood."

Craig Larson, Rockwood School District superintendent, scoffed at the suggestion that his teachers are attempting to secularize their students.

"There's no agenda here," he said. "We're just teaching kids how to understand dates."

Last week, Larson reacted to the debate on his blog.

"Within the last 10-15 years, CE/BCE has started to appear in student textbooks, usually along with AD/BC and sometimes with just one or the other mentioned," he wrote. "Teachers make sure that students are aware of both designations so they are literate when they encounter either notation."

Madden said the hypercompetitive textbook market has meant that more publishers are using C.E. and B.C.E. as a way to distinguish themselves as more religiously sensitive alternatives to traditional texts.

Both Larson and Bill Gerling, social studies consultant for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said there was no official policy on dates.

Gerling said the issue had not come up before, and that curriculum decisions are left up to district officials.

But, he said, "there are all kinds of calendars out there — Jewish, Muslim, Chinese — and if you're going to teach world history, you need to introduce kids to different cultures."

But such reassurances have not calmed some of the district's parents. More than 600 people have signed a petition demanding the continued use of B.C. and A.D., and declaring that the B.C.E./C.E. system "is inconsistent with the traditions and principles upon which our country was founded."

As it happens, foundings and births have been standard pegs for calendar measurements through history. A sixth-century Roman monk is credited with calculating the date of Christ's birth, and a century later, the English monk Bede began tying history to that date. The designations B.C. and A.D. were widely used by the 14th century.

"We have to have some way of measuring the year, and that measurement has to be pegged to something," said Madden. "Most cultures peg that measurement to something important to them."

Ancient Romans used the formation of the city of Rome. Muslims use the hijra, Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.

Despite the increased use of B.C.E. and C.E., many scholars feel the designation is more cumbersome than traditional dating and is understood by fewer readers. The Chicago Manual of Style, used by many academics, has no preference for B.C.E. or C.E. The Associated Press Stylebook prefers B.C. and A.D.

But the most fundamental problem with the B.C.E./C.E. system is that at its root, the newer system is still a measurement of time based on the birth of Christ. The definition of "the common era" is the 2009 years since.

"Usually it's used to make the person using it feel better about themselves — that they're more sensitive and aware of other people," said Madden. "But it doesn't change what the numbers measure."

On Thursday night, School Board members sat behind a dais decorated with the slogan, "We do whatever it takes for students to realize their potential."

They had listened silently as Dean Mandis expressed his concerns. Then, as someone informed Mandis his three minutes were up, he came to the crux of his argument.

"Our students in the Rockwood School District," he said, "deserve to know what 2009 refers to."

Ever since the sixth century after the birth of Christ, when the monk Dennis the Short (Dionysius Exiguus) appended the abbreviations of "AD" and "BC" to dates in the Julian calendar (and miscounted, I might add), there has been controversy over how dates are calculated, much less designated, in the Western calendar.

Changing the abbreviations after dates doesn't change the fact that they are calculated-- incorrectly, I might remind you-- from the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a tempest in a teapot by those who see conspiracies in every change. And as a teacher, I would like to know that our students know what the details and the significance of historical events are over what the number may or may not mean.

No matter what letters come after the date, the fact that the date is supposed to be calculated from the birth of the Christian messiah is not changed. So really, the use of "CE" over "AD" doesn't matter that much, in my opinion. Christian beliefs are still driving the calculations, and obscuring that really doesn't make it any more or less of an imposition upon those who are not Christian.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Professional! Abso-friggin'-lutely!

Given that the muckity-mucks in my district think that we should mimic Australia in all things (no offense to Australia-- I would love to visit, and I think Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton-John, the young and sane Mel Gibson, and Cate Blanchett are just fabulous, although I have a hard time forgiving you for the Wiggles) I thought this was interesting, From Australia:
A "HOON" (definition here) teacher banned for tailgating a school bus, swearing at children and allowing students to stand on tables says he deserves another chance to front a classroom.

Alf Hickey, 36, hopes to overturn a Victorian Institute of Teaching ban through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Tuesday.

Mr Hickey, a woodwork teacher, was deregistered in February over a long list of bizarre behaviour during a six-month stint at Vermont Secondary College in 2007, the Sunday Herald Sun reports.

A VIT hearing found Mr Hickey turned up 90 minutes late on his first day, left classes unsupervised and said "f---" when yelling at students.

It also found Mr Hickey let students stand on tables in class, did not call in sick when he failed to arrive and tailgated a school bus on a year 9 camp to Phillip Island. Mr Hickey admitted to the Sunday Herald Sun doing "wheelies" in a school car park and that a colleague had called him a "hoon" over his driving on the school camp.

But Mr Hickey said he did not do anything wrong, despite saying at the time there was "so much dust the bus driver could not have seen us".

"If I'm a hoon, they are a bunch of goons," he said.

Mr Hickey said he was "abso-friggin-lutely" a good teacher.

"If you outshine people when you come to a school, people will try to knock you down," he said.

The VIT panel has allowed Mr Hickey to reapply for his registration at any time.

But Mr Hickey said the VCAT action was a separate matter to clear his reputation.

VIT would not comment.

Mr. Hickey thinks his current situation is the result of professional jealousy and backbiting. Okay, uh-huh.

Here in the US, we are so desperate for shop teachers, I imagine that a lot would be overlooked if Mr. Hickey were to come on over. I personally have been stunned by some of the language used by coaches around here toward their players, so I'm not sure that cursing on the job is looked at seriously unless one is unsuccessful in what one does. Not that I'm okay with that, but it's simply a statement of fact.

Here is a man who can't control a classroom. A classroom filled with dangerous equipment. Why is it not obvious that he should be doing something else?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Deep breath... and let the whinging begin!

Okay, so I haven't been the best blogger in the world, and I most sincerely want you to know I am still among the living. I will try to be better, but my family has been diverting my attention-- which is a euphemism for "they've been driving me stark raving mad and I've barely been keeping it together." I'm sure many others can relate to the madness which overcomes one when one is the parent of teenagers.

So I wonder if anyone can also relate to this?

I am being punished by the district IT people. I am being kicked to the curb like a truculent ten year old... and my students are the ones who suffer, as well as my own frustration which of course is no consequence in the calculus of the modern school, as many of those who teach can attest.

I have a computer which is admittedly gimpy. It is about three years old, but has a rotten brain, as they say in Young Frankenstein. And I can't give this benighted piece of crap a "sedagive" to make it all better. But here's the best part, neither WILL the district IT people.

The district has hoops through which one must jump in order to receive the latest technology. These hoops require attending hours upon hours of classes on software that is either A) not necessary for my subject or grade level, or B) requires the use of ancillary items that are practically nonexistent in my building, thereby also rendering these programs useless. For instance, imagine taking a class in GarageBand with no access to microphones, or on iMovie with no access to a digital camera or a decent processor speed or updated hardware.

Imagine being expected to create a website on the district server (which goes down every time it rains, and we've had record rainfall) with software which is four years old and requires a "mere" fifteen to twenty hours to create a cartoony, clunky webpage which has all the charm of a watercolor done by an elephant. A blind elephant. With a broken trunk.

So I began this process, a while ago, but found that I resented the time away from my family to test out on software that would never either be willing or able to use. So I stopped. And anyone who knows me knows that "Never ever ever give up," is not just a quote from Winston Churchill to me, but is actually more of a creed.

So, now, even though the machine upon which I work has been recalled, the IT people refuse to replace it with one that actually is dependable and reliable. Unless I agree to twist my fat, middle-aged, and exhausted Great Dane body through poodle-sized hoops.

Then let us describe the firewall software that allegedly protects us and our students from dastardly images and video clips. F'r instance: type in the terms "Panama canal" or "analysis" or "breastworks" and you will run up against the firewall and its dire warnings that "this attempt to access inappropriate content has been recorded." Extra credit for those who can guess why the firewall is triggered by these terms. It's like smacking a fly with a dead and much-decayed mackerel, and then being surprised by the repugnant and yet completely ineffective results.

This is an IT department that is a confederacy of dunces. This is an IT department that lives and dies by the following sentiment: "Above all, we must abolish hope in the heart of man. A calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom."

So here's the deal: this computer will eventually die. You know it, evil IT bonobos.

And when it dies, I will sadly be unable to do all of the techy things, the mundane, annoying techy things like taking attendance, posting grades, answering parental emails, and the like that have been ladled onto me like two day old gravy by administrators and tech people who think that all I have to do in the world is dance to their evil, tinny, little organ grinding away like a scratchy rewound cassette recording of Justin Timberlake from back when he was a Mousketeer in lieu of this thing which is actually quite difficult called "teaching." I'm sure you've heard of it-- since...

it makes your insipid little job possible at all.

I thought I might remind you of this tiny fact, since if there were no teachers, there would be no students. And no students would equal no taxpayers who pay for you to waste countless hours listening to the Coverville podcast or whatever else you do in your ridiculous TRON T-shirts and anime tattoos.

And if you still don't get it, IT chimps, come on down and take a turn in front of thirty ennui-saturated teenagers and try to penetrate the fog of their existence with skills and curriculum. I dare you. And I'll spend a day in YOUR jobs, imagining that technology will some day replace actual teaching and human interaction.

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