A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie Madness Monday 148: Love Your Neighbor edition

Welcome to the Holy Week/Passover edition of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. Let's revisit a movie that truly embodies the command to love your neighbor. Put your quotes in the comment section!

"That boy is your company! And if he wants to eat up that tablecloth, you let him, you hear? And if you can't act fit to eat like folks, you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!"

"Neighbors bring food with death, and flowers with sickness, and little things in between."

"I don't know if it will help saying this to you... some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us... your father is one of them."

"There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible."

"I'm little but I'm old."

"Good Afternoon Miss Dubose... My, you look like a picture this afternoon."

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

I have just one thing to say....

Mercy! Give me a doggone break.

Ever had a nightmare that just wouldn't end?

Well, I'm having five of 'em all at once.


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Monday, March 22, 2010

Movie Madness Monday 147: Sarah Palin accent edition

As we shiver away our spring break, here's a great Coen Brothers film to take our mind off of things. Put your quotes in the comment section!

"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Dontcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."

"Awww, hon, ya got Arby's all over me."

"It's just a three-cent stamp."
"It's terrific."
"Hautman's blue-winged teal got the 29-cent. People don't much use the three-cent."
"Oh, for Pete's sake. Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps."

"So, uh, you married old Norm son-of-a-Gunderson?"

"You betcha."

"The heckya mean?"


**** Weekend Update: How can there be so many layers to one movie as there is in


Frances McDormand displayed such genius in her portrayal of Marge Gunderson, and the Coens delivered a morality play of incredible subtlety.

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Banning basketball teams from post-season play for lacking enough students

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former professional basketball player in Australia, has suggested that NCAA men's basketball team that do not graduate at least 40% of their players should be banned from post-season play. From the New York Daily News: (And here's a link to his actual statement.)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging the NCAA to ban from the Big Dance teams from schools that fail to graduate 40% of their basketball players. That's the right call.

According to a study released this week, 12 of the 64 schools in this year's tournament fail to meet that minimal benchmark - and many have an even more abysmal record on helping black players toward degrees.

At Maryland, No. 4 Midwest seed, just 8% of players graduate. Among black players, the number is a beyond-scandalous 0%.

At Baylor, No. 3 seed in the South regional, 36% graduate. Among black players, just 29%.

At Kentucky, many people's pick - including President Obama's - to get to the Final Four, 31% graduate. Among black players, just 18%.

With numbers like those, Kentucky wouldn't be in the tourney at all, if the President's own secretary of education has his way. And he should. These programs owe their players far better.

An institution of higher education's job is to prepare young people for the global workforce, not the neighborhood playground.

Yet, as NAACP President Benjamin Jealous pointed out in joining Duncan yesterday, the likes of Maryland (0% black basketball player graduation rate) and California (0%) and UNLV (13%) appear happy to exploit talented young people to generate a month-long bonanza of ratings and school spirit and revenue - but care far less that they complete their educations.

Some schools get it right. Marquette graduates all its white and black basketball players. So do Notre Dame and Wake Forest.

But others, to use Duncan's term, "use and dump" players. The result is that a tiny fraction make the NBA - and hundreds leave school without the skills necessary to build careers.

So turn on the tournament. Enjoy the upsets and last-second finishes. Good luck in your office pool. And just think, for a minute, about what happens to the kids when they leave the court.

Some go on to great things; others get hung out to dry. It doesn't have to be that way.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/03/18/2010-03-18_march_sanity.html#ixzz0ikfGpg5H

I read an article which included responses from some of the coaches who might suffer the most under this policy. One of my favorite responses by a coach BLAMED SECONDARY SCHOOLS in this country for the problem. Look, pal, you're the one who offered a college scholarship to a kid who was obviously unqualified to actually be a student on your campus, and you didn't care. All you wanted to do was win. This attitude would be fine if this was the minor leagues of the NBA and the athletes were getting paid. But that's not how it works. The NBA is spared the expense of running a developmental league on its own dime, and so they're happy. But colleges are, first of all, schools, and they should seek to accept the students who will actually be able to attend class and benefit from that experience by being able to earn a degree.

But it's not just college coaches who have things backwards. Someone I know was given a permission slip for a tournament by a student who was failing his class horribly. The teacher has a public policy of not signing permission slips for students who are failing. Now let's remember that usually it doesn't seem to matter what policies teachers actually have if they are inconvenient, and the teacher figured that probably the student would go to the tournament anyway. Instead, my colleague got a long email fusillade from this student's track coach, vehemently attacking him for denying this student a "chance at a college scholarship."

Let's get real: with a GPA of 1.5-- the required (and horrifyingly low) GPA to participate in sporting activities in the area-- and with the student failing not one but TWO classes required for graduation, the idea of a college scholarship at all seemed about as unlikely being struck on the head by a meteorite. What the coach was probably really mad about was that, if his athlete didn't go to the tournament, the coach might not have as many chances to win.

Did the coach care that the athlete was failing? Did the coach care that the student obviously wasn't preparing himself for this hypothetical college scholarship to be put to good use? No. And that is a real travesty.

So Secretary Duncan's proposal is a small but significant step in the right direction. Of course he's spitting into the wind of the money tree that is March Madness, but give him points for trying on this issue.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Everything is bigger in Texas-- except the study of history....

unless you count the size of Mary Kay Ash's hair (and that's pronounced "hay-YUR" for my Yankee friends). Yes, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics gets more mention than Thurgood Marshall or Cesar Chavez, neither one of whom was blessed with such a mane.

Why should we care? Well, as a born and bred Okie, I certainly enjoy it anytime the Lone Star State puts its overly large hoof in it, but that's just for amusement. In reality though, since Texas is one enormous textbook market that chooses textbooks on a state-wide basis, this impacts all of us who teach history, because their standards end up influencing the books all the rest of us use.

The story of the creation of these new standards for the state of Texas is actually pretty interesting.

Back in 2009 we got this statement from Texas conservatives on the existing state history standards. From the Dallas Morning News, dated July 9, 2009:
Civil rights leaders César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall – whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. – are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

"To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" – as in the current standards – "is ludicrous," wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chávez, a Hispanic labor leader, "lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others."

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is "not a strong enough example" of such a figure.

The recommendations are part of a long process as the State Board of Education prepares to write new social studies curriculum standards for public schools. Debate on the issue, which will also include questions of the role of religion in public life, could be as intense as that on new science standards that were adopted by the board in March, when evolution was a major flashpoint.

The social studies requirements will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Although the actual standards are being drafted by teams of teachers, academics and community representatives, the education board appointed a panel of six experts to help guide the writing teams. Three of the experts, including Barton and Marshall, were appointed by Republican social conservatives on the board, while the other three experts – all professors at state universities in Texas – were appointed by the remaining Republicans and Democrats on the 15-member board.

Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that has battled social conservatives on education issues, questioned the academic credentials of Barton and Marshall, and said their negative comments on Chávez are just the start of a "blacklist" of historical figures considered objectionable by social conservatives....

In his report, Marshall, president of Peter Marshall Ministries in Massachusetts, contended that students in government classes must focus on the historic Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion rights, "which has arguably more impacted American life than any other Supreme Court decision in the 20th century." Marshall strongly opposes the ruling.

Barton, a former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said that because the U.S. is a republic rather than a democracy, the proper adjective for identifying U.S. values and processes should be "republican" rather than "democratic." That means social studies books should discuss "republican" values in the U.S., his report said.

Both Barton and Marshall also singled out as overrated Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women's rights and religious freedom, who was tried and banished from her Puritan colony in Massachusetts because of her nontraditional views.

"She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn't accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble," Marshall wrote.

"Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen," he said, referring to colonial leaders William Penn, Roger Williams and others. Williams later invited Hutchinson to help establish a colony in what became Rhode Island.

I find the arguments about the use of the terms "republican" and "democratic" about as logical as Glenn Beck's recent claims that support of social justice in churches is a sign of Nazism and Socialism (opposite sides of the political spectrum and both atheistic, there, Mr. Crybaby-who-posed-for-the-cover-of-one-of-his-books-in-a-Nazi-looking-uniform). These words were used LONG before they were the adopted monikers of political parties, people, and both the Democratic and Republican parties have shifted leftward and rightward in their long histories. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the word "republic" is morally superior to "democracy," either-- let's remember that the "R" in USSR stood for "republic" (not to mention the "People's Republic of China") and that Adolph Hitler was democratically elected to be chancellor of Germany. Republics and democracies are only as good or as evil as the people who support them.

Which would be why I believe that the teaching of history without blatant political bias is so vitally important.

So our story moves to January 15th of this year. From the Houston Chronicle, we had this report, with a nice crack about skin color thrown in for fun:
Conservative rallying points like the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority and National Rifle Association made it into a preliminary set of new curriculum standards for Texas public school students, but an effort to include other groups in the political arena — like ones that fight discrimination — failed Friday, causing some to question the effect of the partisan balance on the State Board of Education.

After two days of wrestling over what to teach lower grades, the board postponed a first-round vote until March because it could not finish a review of proposed social studies standards for high school students. The March vote will produce curriculum standards for a public hearing in May, when final action is expected.

Postponement will mean controversial votes on the standards covering history, government, geography and economics will occur after the March primaries. Four of the board members, who are elected, are fighting challenges in their own parties.

So far, conservative groups are generally pleased with the early look at the new standards that will influence a decade of school textbooks for more than 4.7 million Texas public school children.

“The reality is history has not changed. The religious heritage of our country has not changed,” said Jonathan Saenz of the Texas Free Market Foundation. “Major victories were corrections that the State Board of Education made to huge mistakes that the (expert) writing teams made.”

The board restored Christmas as an example of a significant religious celebration, overturning a much-criticized expert recommendation, and explorer Christopher Columbus is slated for more mention than businesswoman Mary Kay Ash.

Member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, was not happy after colleagues rejected her amendment that would have exposed students to the historic significance of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, League of United Latin American Citizens, GI Forum and Raza Unida.

“That was very upsetting. They obviously had the votes, so even if I protested, it wasn't going to do much good,” Berlanga said later. “It is very obvious that they were carrying forward a political agenda.”

Republicans dominate the board, 10-5.

Berlanga accused some of her Republican colleagues of being narrow-minded.

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader of the board's seven social conservative members, considered Berlanga's accusation sour grapes.

“If Ms. Berlanga, whose only criteria is skin color, had the votes, she would name us ‘the Hispanic Education Agency,'” Bradley said.


How what does a respected historian have to say on the issue? Here is an essay by noted historian of Reconstruction (and textbook author of Give Me Liberty! Eric Foner:
The changes to the social studies curriculum recently approved by the conservative-dominated Texas Board of Education have attracted attention mainly because of how they may affect textbooks used in other states. Since Texas certifies texts centrally rather than by individual school districts, publishers have a strong incentive to alter their books to conform to its standards so as to reach the huge Texas market. Where was Lee Harvey Oswald, after all, when he shot John F. Kennedy? In the Texas School Book Depository--a tall Dallas building filled with textbooks.

Most comment on the content of the new standards has focused on the mandate that high school students learn about leading conservative figures and institutions of the 1980s and '90s, specifically Phyllis Schlafly, the Moral Majority, the Heritage Foundation, the Contract With America and the NRA. In fact, there is nothing wrong with teaching about modern conservatism, a key force in recent American history. My own textbook has a chapter called "The Triumph of Conservatism" and discusses most of the individuals and groups mentioned above.

More interesting is what the new standards tell us about conservatives' overall vision of American history and society and how they hope to instill that vision in the young. The standards run from kindergarten through high school, and certain themes obsessively recur. Judging from the updated social studies curriculum, conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners.

Here are a few examples. The board has removed mention of the Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention, the letters of John and Abigail Adams and suffrage advocate Carrie Chapman Catt. As examples of "good citizenship" for third graders, it deleted Harriet Tubman and included Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, and Helen Keller (the board seems to have slipped up here--Keller was a committed socialist). The role of religion--but not the separation of church and state--receives emphasis throughout. For example, religious revivals are now listed as one of the twelve major "events and eras" from colonial days to 1877.

The changes seek to reduce or elide discussion of slavery, mentioned mainly for its "impact" on different regions and the coming of the Civil War. A reference to the Atlantic slave trade is dropped in favor of "Triangular trade." Jefferson Davis's inaugural address as president of the Confederacy will now be studied alongside Abraham Lincoln's speeches.

In grade one, Veterans Day replaces Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the list of holidays students should be familiar with. (Later, "building a military" has been added as one of two results of the Revolution--the other being the creation of the United States--an odd inclusion, given the founders' fear of a standing army.) The Double-V Campaign during World War II (blacks' demand that victory over the Axis powers be accompanied by victory over segregation at home) has been omitted from the high school curriculum. Japanese-American internment is now juxtaposed with "the regulation of some foreign nationals," ignoring the fact that while a few Germans and Italians were imprisoned as enemy aliens, the vast majority of people of Japanese ancestry who were interned were US citizens.

Students in several grades will be required to understand the "benefits" (but none of the drawbacks) of capitalism. The economic system, however, dares not speak its name--it is referred to throughout as "free enterprise." Labor unions are conspicuous by their absence. Mankind's impact on the environment is apparently entirely benign--the curriculum mentions dams for flood control and the benefits of transportation infrastructure but none of the problems arising from the exploitation of nature. Lest anyone think that Americans should not fall below a rudimentary standard of living, the kindergarten curriculum deletes food, shelter and clothing from its list of "basic human needs."

Americans, the board seems to suggest, do not need to take much notice of the rest of the world, or of non-citizens in this country. Kindergartners no longer have to learn about "people" who have contributed to American life, only about "patriots and good citizens." High school students must evaluate the pros and cons of US participation in "international organizations and treaties." In an original twist, third grade geography students no longer have to be able to identify on a map the Amazon, the Himalayas or (as if it were in another country) Washington, DC.

Clearly, the Texas Board of Education seeks to inculcate children with a history that celebrates the achievements of our past while ignoring its shortcomings, and that largely ignores those who have struggled to make this a fairer, more equal society. I have lectured on a number of occasions to Texas precollege teachers and have found them as competent, dedicated and open-minded as the best teachers anywhere. But if they are required to adhere to the revised curriculum, the students of our second most populous state will emerge ill prepared for life in Texas, America and the world in the twenty-first century.

The upshot? If textbook manufacturers hope to capture the Texas market, they will conform to these standards. Which means that is what all the rest of us will get, as well.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When "what's best for the kids" ISN'T.

Apparently our principal has been going to the movies lately, because she has been doing her best impersonation of Helena Bonham Carter (whom I already found icky) in her role as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

With a preremptory wave of her hand, the Red Queen has declared that "doing what is best for the kids" means killing the AP program in our district and replacing it with college credit classes through local universities. The reason why is that "not every kid passes the AP exams."

Well, of course not. If every kid passed them, they wouldn't be considered to be valuable assessments. This is a concept that too many people who make their living talking about education seem to completely misunderstand.

First of all, our district has an open enrollment policy for AP classes, at least for the ones which I teach. I have one student now whom I have recommended to be moved to a regular class for 7 months now due to attendance issues, and yet there's his name on my roster-- next to a failing grade-- every single day. So if you are going to make passing the tests the criterion for determining a program's value, perhaps you should empower teachers to save students who are not excelling to be more appropriately placed.

Now in reality, I don't mind open enrollment. If a kid wants to take my class, I'm more than happy to let him or her try. I've had kids, classic underachievers, who earned Ds in my class and yet were still happy with the experience, and since they and their parents were satisfied, and I couldn't convince them to try harder, that was that. They said they enjoyed the discussion, or they wanted to be with their friends, or whatever, but I certainly didn't try to kick them out of my class in a short-sighted effort to boost test scores. The scores that my students earn are THEIRS, not mine. But to get back to this topic-- if you're suddenly going to make passing the national exams your measure of value, then we teachers should be able to weed out those who are weaker. Sounds like the law of the jungle, but there it is.

Furthermore, nationwide there are hundreds of thousands of kids who take AP tests and do not pass them. Is our very average high school supposed to somehow bust the curve-- and AP scores are curved to represent a certain score distribution each year, make no mistake about that-- just to justify the value of the AP program? Once again, though, here's reality: for the amount of work I am allowed to assign, and the average amount of dedication my students show when a few of them won't give up working 40 hours a week outside of school or whatnot, my students score nicely above the national average on the test in my subject area. However, "above the average" certainly doesn't mean "every kid passes." Yep, for the Red Queen, "better than most" is still not good enough. Gee, why does that sound familiar? Apparently, someone's been drinking the NCLB kool-aid.

Then there's the concept that every kid would pass college credit courses. Traditionally, students have passed college credit classes because.... now pay attention... they have certainly not been taught as college classes. They have not been taught up to college standards. Which is why they were at once both immensely popular with students and looked at askance by the colleges which these students eventually attend. College credits earned through these dual enrollment classes are not as transferable as one might imagine due to the wildly variant quality of standards that vary from high school to high school and from teacher to teacher. At our school, teachers teaching college credit classes were certainly ...encouraged... to keep the classes as easy as possible by administrators who don't want the parents screaming about their kid "being failed by Ms. Mean Teacher" even if they refuse to do the work or study.

Now, dual enrollment college credit classes are ENORMOUSLY popular with the universities that sponsor them. Why? Because the high school teachers teaching these classes are not compensated for being adjunct instructors through these programs. So that means we get to do all of the paperwork required of faculty at these institutions with the only compensation for this extra work and responsibility being the "respect" that the term "adjunct instructor" provides. And anyone in higher academe can tell you-- that would be less than zero. And yet, Local U will charge each one of my students $200 a semester for zero investment upon that university's part. They don't provide texts, they don't provide materials, the kids don't use the college facilities, and they don't compensate their servants-- I mean, their instructors. Now if those students go on to attend Local U, that school will miss out on the full tuition for those courses for which the students received credit-- but that actually doesn't happen as often as you might think. It's a cash cow! And I'm the one chewing the cud, as the teacher.

Yes, I am already an adjunct instructor. And 38% of my students last semester failed the elective course that I taught. Flat out refused to do the papers, but wouldn't drop the class either and would not come for help. Why? Because they were allowed to enroll even though they did not meet the minimum requirements of prior grade point average to take the class. One counselor baldly stated that she enrolled a student with a GPA of less than 1.0 in my class because she couldn't put him anywhere else. So if we're hoping for 100% of students to earn a credential of college credit, no matter how hollow or tarnished, this is not the way to do it.

So it has been decreed that we are going back to college credit without the solicitation of any faculty imput. Since these will probably be easier than the AP classes, our AP program will probably be knocked on the ropes. Kids still will not be learning as much as they should. And, on a personal note, since I am one of the few qualified to teach these classes, I will see the AP program that I have worked so hard to build up over all these years be gutted, and I will be rewarded with at least six different "preps" each year. And if I thought this would really be good for the kids, I wouldn't mind. No really-- I am more gung-ho than most when it comes to sacrificing for the good of the kids.

But, if I could actually get the attention of my redoubtable Queen, here's one last thing I would ask her to consider. Happy teachers do a better job than unhappy teachers. Teachers value strong leaders who support them more than pay increases. And with this, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" attitude, you are alienating the last group of people in the world that you should if you want to look successful in YOUR career. You may have heard of the results from the recent Gates Foundation survey of 40,000 educators-- of which I was one:
While higher salaries are important, teachers say they are less important than a supportive leader. Fewer than half of teachers (45%) say higher salaries are absolutely essential for retaining good teachers. More teachers say it is absolutely essential to have supportive leadership (68%), time to collaborate (54%), and quality curriculum (49%).

Right now, I'm batting 0 for 3 in that list of priorities.

To be blunt, the teachers who have worked the hardest for the students, and who have been the most flexible in issues of scheduling and providing opportunities for students, should be the LAST people whose lives you would make into a living hell. All for the sake of making it easier-- NOT better-- for the kids.

Off with our heads!!!!

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Movie Madness Monday 146: We'll Always Have Paris edition

Welcome back to MMM, the movie quote trivia game. I'm going through a classic movie phase, and I'm reading classic novels I've told myself I haven't had time to read.

This movie is an absolute MUST. LOVE IT! Put your quotes in the comments section!

"You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he's just another blundering American."
"You mustn't underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they "blundered" into Berlin in 1918."

"I don't mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one."

"What is your nationality?"
"I'm a drunkard."
"That makes Rick a citizen of the world."

"You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."
"Well, what of it? It'll be out of its misery."

"Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects."

"In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain, on the Loyalist side."
"And got well paid for it on both occasions."
"The winning side would have paid you MUCH better!"

"There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

*****Weekend Update: Here's looking at you, kid, because this week's movie was


Bogie. Bergman. Magic!

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Asylum for Home-schoolers

A German family has been granted political asylum because they home-school their children. From TIME magazine:
The Romeikes are not your typical asylum seekers. They did not come to the U.S. to flee war or despotism in their native land. No, these music teachers left Germany because they didn't like what their children were learning in public school - and because homeschooling is illegal there.

"It's our fundamental right to decide how we want to teach our children," says Uwe Romeike, an Evangelical Christian and a concert pianist who sold his treasured Steinway to help pay for the move.

Romeike decided to uproot his family in 2008 after he and his wife had accrued about $10,000 in fines for homeschooling their three oldest children and police had turned up at their doorstep and escorted them to school. "My kids were crying, but nobody seemed to care," Romeike says of the incident.

So why did he seek asylum in the U.S. rather than relocate to nearby Austria or another European country that allows homeschooling? Romeike's wife Hannelore tells TIME the family was contacted by the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which suggested they go to the U.S. and settle in Morristown, Tenn. The nonprofit organization, which defends the rights of the U.S. homeschooling community - with its estimated 2 million children, or about 4% of the total school-age population - is expanding its overseas outreach. And on Jan. 26, the HSLDA helped the Romeikes become the first people granted asylum in the U.S. because they were persecuted for homeschooling.

The ruling is tricky politically for Washington and its allies in Europe, where several countries - including Spain and the Netherlands - allow homeschooling only under exceptional circumstances, such as when a child is extremely ill. That helps explain why in late February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement formally appealed the Romeike ruling, which was issued by an immigration judge in Memphis, Tenn. His unprecedented decision has raised concerns that the already heavily backlogged immigration courts will be flooded with asylum petitions from homeschoolers in countries typically regarded as having nonrepressive governments.

"It's very unusual for people from Western countries to be granted asylum in the U.S.," says David Piver, an immigration attorney with offices in a Philadelphia suburb and Flagstaff, Ariz. In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, only five Germans received asylum in the U.S. (The Justice Department declined to comment on specific cases.) Piver, who is not involved in the Romeike case, predicted the U.S. government would appeal the decision "so as not to offend a close ally."

Successful asylum petitions typically involve applicants whose situations are more dire, such as women who were forced to undergo abortions or genital mutilation and men whose lives were threatened because they are homosexuals or political dissidents. But Piver believes the Memphis judge was right to grant the Romeikes asylum, since the law covers social groups with "a well-founded fear of persecution" in their home country.

In Germany, mandatory school attendance dates back to 1717, when it was introduced in Prussia, and the policy has traditionally been viewed as a social good. "This law protects children," says Josef Kraus, president of the German Teachers' Association. The European Court of Human Rights agrees with him. In 2006, the court threw out a homeschooling family's case when it deemed Germany's compulsory-schooling law as compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty drafted in 1950. Given this backdrop, it's little wonder the Romeikes came up against a wall of opposition when they tried to talk to their school principal about the merits of homeschooling.

One of the Romeikes' concerns was about their kids getting bullied. But their main objection involved what was being taught in the classroom. "The curriculum goes against our Christian values," Uwe says. "German schools use textbooks that force inappropriate subject matter onto young children and tell stories with characters that promote profanity and disrespect."

While there are no official figures, it's estimated that up to 1,000 German families are homeschooling their children. Elisabeth Kuhnle, a spokeswoman for a German advocacy group called the Network for the Freedom of Education, says a recent homeschooling meeting attracted about 50 families in the state of Baden-Württemberg, where the Romeikes used to live. She also reckons many German homeschooling families have relocated to countries like France and Britain, where homeschooling is allowed.

In 2007, Germany's Federal Supreme Court issued a ruling - which did not specifically involve the Romeikes - that parents could lose custody of their children if they continued to homeschool them. "We were under constant pressure, and we were scared the German authorities would take our children away," Romeike says. "So we decided to leave and go to the U.S."

German officials, for their part, note that the Romeikes had other options. "If parents don't want to send their children to a public school, they can send them to alternative private schools," says Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Baden-Württemberg education ministry. Homeschooling advocates counter that there are few private schools in Germany, and they tend to be expensive. But beyond that, many religious parents have problems with sex education and other curricular requirements. "Whether it's a state school or a private school, there's still a curriculum that is forced onto children," says Kuhnle.

And then there are the social aspects of going to school. Homeschooling parents tend to want to shield their children from negative influences. But this quest often runs counter to the idea that schools represent society and help promote tolerance. "No parental couple can offer a breadth of education [that can] replace experienced teachers," says Kraus, of the German Teachers' Association. "Kids also lose contact with their peers."

Concerns that homeschooling could lead to insularity - or worse, as Kraus puts it, "could help foster the development of a sect" - are shaping policy debates in European countries. In Britain, for example, Parliament is considering legislation that would create a new monitoring system to ensure that homeschooled kids get a suitable education.

In Sweden, where parents have to apply for permission to teach their children at home, the government is planning to impose even tougher restrictions on homeschoolers. And in Spain, parents are not allowed to educate their children at home. Period. If a child has special needs that prevent him from attending school, a teacher will be sent to his home.

By contrast, homeschooling is legal in all 50 U.S. states, some of which don't require families to notify authorities of their intent to teach their children at home. Tennessee is among the states that require some form of notice as well as periodic assessment tests.

When Uwe and Hannelore heard that the judge had ruled in their favor, they celebrated by taking their five children - who range in age from 4 to 12 - to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream. But the next day, they were back to their regular schedule. Lessons start at 9 a.m. and end at around 4 p.m. The school-age kids are learning all the usual subjects - math, science, etc. - with the help of textbooks and other teaching materials, in compliance with state law. The family has also joined a local group that organizes activities and field trips once a week for homeschooled children.

Meanwhile, the HSLDA says it is working to defend a homeschooling family in Sweden and is investigating cases in Brazil, where homeschooling is banned - all good fodder for a comparative-government class, whether it's taught in school or at home.

The original version of this article has been updated to reflect the fact that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has submitted an appeal requesting to overturn the judge’s decision to grant the Romeikes asylum.

Um, duh- they didn't move to Austria because they could become a cause celebre here, although, frankly, Austria's economy is doing better than ours is right now. But I'm sure they'll be very comfortable in Tennessee, especially if they get financial support from the HSLDA and make the talk-show rounds, including the 700 Club.

I am not so sure that a Pandora's box hasn't been opened here-- if homeschooling is placed on a par with fears of, say, genocide or mutilation, what's next?

I happen to live in a state where there are even fewer regulations on homeschooling than in Tennessee. Sadly, some of the people who homeschool here belong IN an asylum. Seriously-- since there are no standards or oversight at all in this state, we had a mother "homeschooling" who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and had the kids basically working as her caregivers. When the kids were finally placed in school they were absolutely illiterate and terrified. We've had parents "homeschool" their kids who had barely an eighth grade education themselves. We've had step-grandparents claim to be homeschooling who were actually abusing their grandson and chaining him up in his room until the authorities stepped in and released him. The damage that the hated public schools then had to try to undo was staggering in both instances.

Then there's those that barely try. There was the family who lived down the street from me who homeschooled for just two hours a day because both the parents worked. My favorite was the lady who wanted to homeschool her son but called the principal and demanded all MY activities, tests and quizzes that I had made up on my own time in the summer-- PLUS the answer keys! How she got my name, I'll never know, but you can imagine my response. And that's just the tip of iceberg for what I've seen in my own career.

But most homeschooling parents try their best, and some do an outstanding job-- just like public schools do. I just find it suspicious when there are more regulations and oversight on puppy mills (barely, but still) than there are on homeschooling. In the Romeike's case, since they had no intention of sending the kids to school, I don't know how they could talk about bullying, unless they were planning on never having their children interact with other kids EVER. I am sure these people felt that they were being persecuted. I am not sure they had to be given a free ticket to America to escape it, however.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Eight-legged Administrator Rides Again

It's amazing how bosses everywhere seem to think that meetings are actually productive uses of ANYONE'S time. Faculty meetings are no exception. When I first started blogging, there was a great blog called "The Endless Faculty Meeting." I loved it because if faculty meetings were that cutting, we might actually enjoy them.

In one school in which I taught, we had faculty meetings on Fridays after school. It's amazing that someone didn't throw a ninja star made out of overhead projector parts at her head. You can already guess that this idea occurred to at least one person trapped there every other Friday.

My favorite thing is when we have faculty meetings on the shank end of parent-teacher conferences, and the PTB allow the tech dude Mr. Babbage (who smells like what I imagine Snoop Dogg probably smells like, if you get my drift) twenty minutes of every single meeting, even if he has nothing productive to say. So far, the only thing that Mr. Babbage HAS said every single meeting is this: "Well, this isn't working right now, but if it WAS working, this is what you'd see...." and then a fifteen minute wall of sound complete with reverb about what the imaginary techie thing might look like. I am tempted to say: "If it won't work on your brand-new MacBook Pro, it sure as HELL isn't going to work on my ten-year-old iMac," but that would then prolong the meeting, so many of us amuse ourselves by playing BuzzWord Bingo and messing around on our smartphones. I personally have sought to perfect a fixed expression in which I unfocus my eyes and meditate with a faint smile on my face.

I was right in the middle of a mantra when I suddenly came back to earth with a bang in the last meeting. First, some backstory: we have the bottom part of an eight-legged administrator on staff (Mr. Leckmichhorst) who haunts the main office, filling our principal's head with loads of sweet nothings for hours on end. He sucks up as only one whose vast incompetence and mental inertia is matched by his naked ambition to rise into the lofty ranks of middle-management can suck up. Only if he started biting on his pinkie finger while wearing a leer and a Nehru jacket could this performance be any more perfect. After his tete-a-tetes at the feet of the Throne of Power, he then comes back and regales his clan of hyenas with how stupid the principal is. Leckmichhorst's unintentional impression of the late Alexander Haig claiming control of the White House is spot on, I have to admit, and just as delusional.

Imagine my surprise when Mr. Leckmichhorst rose upon his hindlegs at the podium and started talking about how our school was going to be absolutely TRANSFORMED by adopting a new behavioral management system that rewards the kiddies with gold star stickers and that utilizes weird acronyms like PAHTOOTY or DERRIERE or something like that. His assurance that this NEW! FABULOUS! SYSTEM! wouldn't put any more work on the plates of teachers was truly jaw-dropping in its disingenuous brilliance. We were led to believe that we would practically be able to play SkeeBall in all the halos sprouting above kids' heads under this system, and that all the old referral forms that would be henceforth obsolete could create a bonfire from that would be visible to astronauts on the International Space Station. There wasn't even a whiff of ozone detectable as this dude sat up there and lied his face off promoting a plan he has ruthlessly mocked for months. So that, in his own words, "I can get a $30,000 raise next year!"

Wow. What a performance-- and just when Oscar nominations are being handed out. But you can't save people from their own moral squishiness OR their own naivete, so back to the meditation.

Om. Om, dammit.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Movie Madness Monday 145: babysitter sanity edition

For some reason blogger claimed it didn't know me anymore-- like that former boyfriend when you see him at the mall and his eyes slide past you and fixate on the window behind you-- even if it's for a maternity shop.

So now that I at least got on here now, we will continue our theme for today. This man helped me keep hundreds of kids quiet while I watched them for two bucks an hour. So put your quotes in the comment section!

"There aren't people that small."

"In my world everyone is a pony, and they all eat rainbows, and poop butterflies!"

"That single "Hellow" traveled all the way down to the speck, to the flowers,
to the fount of the small town."

"This entire jungle is a house of death!"

"I will make monkeys of these monkeys, for it is their destiny!"

"Mom, Mom! Please, you are so weird, don't do this to me!"

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Time to remember a man who reminded us that--

On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool,
In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,
He was splashing …enjoying the jungle’s great joys…
When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.

So Horton stopped splashing. He looked towards the sound.
“That’s funny,” thought Horton. “There’s no one around.”
Then he heard it again! Just a very faint yelp
As if some tiny person were calling for help.
“I’ll help you,” said Horton. “But who are you? Where?”
He looked and he looked. He could see nothing there
But a small speck of dust blowing past though the air.

“I say!” murmured Horton. “I’ve never heard tell
Of a small speck of dust that is able to yell.
So you know what I think?…Why, I think that there must
Be someone on top of that small speck of dust!
Some sort of a creature of very small size,
too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes…

“…some poor little person who’s shaking with fear
That he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer!
I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all,
A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

So, gently, and using the greatest of care,
The elephant stretched his great trunk through the air,
And he lifted the dust speck and carried it over
And placed it down, safe, on a very soft clover.

“Humpf!” humpfed a voice. Twas a sour Kangaroo.
And the young kangaroo in he pouch said “Humpf!” too
“Why, that speck is as small as the head of a pin.
A person on that?…why, there never has been!”

“Believe me,” said Horton. “I tell you sincerely,
My ears are quite keen and I heard him quite clearly.
I know there’s a person down there. And, what’s more,
Quite likely there’s two. Even three. Even four.
Quite likely…

“…a family, for all that we know!
A family with children just starting to grow.
So, please,” Horton said, “as a favour to me,
Try not to disturb them. Just let them be.”

“I think you’re a fool!” laughed the sour kangaroo
And the young kangaroo in her pouch said, “Me, too!
You’re the biggest blame fool in the jungle of Nool!”
And the kangaroos plunged in the cool of the pool.
“What terrible splashing!” the elephant frowned.
“I can’t let my very small persons get drowned!
I’ve got to protect them. I’m bigger than they.”
So he plucked up the clover and hustled away.

Go over to a bookshelf and read the rest. No, no-- READ it first. THEN if you want to, watch the movie.

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