Monday, October 31, 2005


Today I was trying to think of alternatives to drowning one's sorrows in the bottle. Nothing much came to mind. At first I came up with cigarettes and coffee, but that is less like drowning your sorrows and more like winding them up very tightly and injecting them with speed. TV and chocolate eating are other options, but I already employ those and they don't seem to be working.

Not very many kids came to school today because it was Halloween. Somehow I didn't think they were missing much. And it was sadly peaceful without them, as a disproportionate number of the missing kids were also the disruptive kids. Surprise, right?

I have nothing much of note to express today, except the sinking feeling that my indignation is slowly becoming resignation. Or, not so much resignation as boredom and desolation.

One strange thing was that I got a sample lesson plan I wrote back from one of my instructors. It was a lesson on human evolution and pre-history (ie Australopithecines, Homo habilis/erectus/sapiens, etc). She liked it, but said that in the lesson I needed to address the tension between evolution and creationism. I thought that was really weird. It's not even intelligent design. And creationism takes many different forms, depending on the particular belief system. I don't think I would feel comfortable bringing it up in class. Perhaps if a kid asks about it, we could have a discussion, but I think that kind of thing falls in the realm of the parents, not the teacher. I mean, we don't teach the many religious/social/ethnic/gendered/etc sides of all issues, so why this one? Personally I don't feel there's much of a controversy regarding evolution, if we're talking about science and generally accepted scientific fact, so I don't know why I would have to say there is one. Students can still believe whatever they want to, but it's not going to come from me.

I have also come around to the fact that, for the first time, I am an academic outsider. Socially, well let's just say I owned a shirt with giraffes on it. But that didn't really matter. It's so strange now to know that people see me as some kind of outcast, or malcontent. The whole thing just makes me so tired. And you know you're in trouble when you start identifying with Churchill's speeches from the late thirties.

Friday, October 28, 2005


[The conversation about the ethical issues of posting this stuff has been very interesting. I'm not really sure what I think. I agree with the author who said, "if you feel you need to hide something, it probably isn't right." That gut feeling always bothers me. But at the same time, what is going on in schools is hidden and not right. Which is the greater sin? I don't know.

To clarify the situation, these quotes are from responses that the students posted on a secured website, to be read by their classmates and teacher. They knew that others, including peers, would read it, but probably did not expect that others would.]

Today's post is simple. It is a series of paragraphs written by 11th grade students in my school. I do believe that posting these paragraphs is mildly unethical. However, I think the fact that these kids are allowed to get to 11th grade and write like this is positively immoral, and I think people should know about it. These excerpts are written responses to questions about a novel on the American Revolution. Just for extra safety, I took out the name of the book when it is directly stated and replaced it with brackets like this: [Title]

  • "I like how they showed how the black people got there freedom and what white men did to the blacks I did not know black men had to go to the army to get freedom"
  • "1 thing i liked about the book "[Title]" was that she kept on fighting for freedom and never gave up no matter what happen. She stood strong even when she witness her fathers die. I really didn't have any dislike's about the book. I would really recommand this book to other 11th graders."
  • "I agree with almost everything and specially when you said that this book isn't 100% accurate because it shows at many times that [character] had escaped many times and in real life she wouldn't get away that easily so I agree. Even though this book is a fiction I still think it should have been atleast close to being 100% accurate. And I kinf of disagree with the part when u said there is no sympathy in [character] losing her parents because remember back then they didn't prison women for fun but they would prison women to take away a right of a women which is what happened to [character]'s mother but maybe the author meant as prisoning her mother for fun who knows since this book isn't 100% accurate."
  • "i think the book [title] is a book that shows the struggle of african americans during the worst time in history for us . i think that [character] was a strong girl that fought for her freedom from every one when i say that i mean that she had to prove herself to every one that she came across being that she was a freeded slave . i don't think that the war was very revoloutionary and the picture that this book painted for me made me upset so in general i didn't like the book but it was a good read for a class"
  • "in [title]. [character] has to deal with alot of racism bieng that she is a nigga during slavery. she sees her father get killed and then have to go home and find out that her mother is tooken buy the british. then will y goes to her aunt house and [character] try to put her back into slavery. then she goes to new york to have a better life and then after evry thing that happen to will she if free with the help of [character] and also help her uncle."
  • "I like the book [title]. this book changes what i thought about freedom and not getting the freedom you suppose to have. [character] went through a lot for where she at now. she gain a lot of freedom from the Revolution. In my mind and thought if [character] didnt posed as a guy she probably wouldnt be where she at today. [character] is a strong girl. even though [character] struggle so much to get frredom by hiding her idenity. she overcome her mom and dad deaths. and she got freedom for her uncle to be free by getting a white lawyer and getting a right to be free herself , cause of [character] trying to take a freedom away and being unsuccessful. [title] was a good book and got my attention some of the times. but that what afican americans need to be equal and to have the rights. my thoughts.........."

Monday, October 24, 2005

be consistent in your stupidness

I would like to address the notion that I am using my terrible experiences as "fodder" for this blog, rather than taking the high road and trying to change teaching placements. Seriously, I wish that were the case, because then I would feel I had some choice in the matter. I have very few options open to me. Staying in grad school means going along, to some extent, with this crap. The student teaching, in particular, is hard to rearrange once you are placed. I know because I have tried to get out of it. Quitting grad school means I have wasted a lot of money and don't get to be a teacher, unless a charter or private school hired me with no experience, which is possible but difficult. Really this blog is for me. Writing about the crazy things I see helps me step back into the world I've always known, where knowledge is good, achievement smiled upon, and intellect encouraged. Please do not believe that I am glad to witness any of the things I do. I wish to God I didn't see any of it. Many days I feel nauseous and near tears with the futility and the tragedy of the thing. It makes me crazy, just crazy. The only thing I can do, besides steeling myself against it all, is to write here. So that's why I do it.

Class today, my methods class for the Teaching of Social Studies. Not the one with the crazy Marxist guy, a different instructor. Anyway, today we were discussing lesson plans that we had written individually and turned in last week. She handed them back, with comments. I got a B+ and a note that I couldn't use any more presentation/teacher-centered techniques for the next four lessons we have to write. She told the class that, if we don't use all the cooperative learning techniques we've been learning about, we will get a bad grade. I might just go for the bad grade. Or I might turn in two lesson plans, one with her crap and one with what I would really do, labeled "What I would really do." Just to stick it to her that I know how to plan these stupid lessons, but I just don't want to use them because they're stupid.

The major incident in class today involved my friend, who I'll call Mark. Mark is literally a godsend in class. If it weren't for him, I would feel totally marooned in this sea of absurdity. He keeps me somewhat sane, as at least we can exchange "oh my god" looks in class, argue and back one another up, and giggle after class about how everyone hates us. Mark and I have gained a reputation in the department as "trouble-makers" and "traditionalists." I think our instructors actually talk shit about us when we're not around. We both think it's hilarious.

So today he was talking about a technique he likes to use to keep kids on their feet. He used the example of Germany during World War II. What he wanted to do was to argue, to the class, that Germany's actions in invading the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc were not aggressive, but actually defensive and justifiable political necessities. He presumed that his class would protest, then come around to his view, and then he would sort of pull the rug out from underneath them and say, "of course Germany's actions were aggressive. They took over several neighboring countries, without provocation!"

Whatever you think of this teaching technique does not matter. Here is what happened next:

Teacher: But what if one of your students really does believe that Germany's actions weren't aggressive?

Mark: Well, maybe you can try to justify Germany's actions as reactions to the war guilt clause and the economy and everything, but they were undeniably aggressive actions.

Teacher: Is it undeniable? If your student can come up with a reasonable argument as to why Germany was not aggressive, then you have to accept that. You can't point at him and say, 'you're wrong.' You have to let them think for themselves.

Mark: Ok...there must be a textbook definition of 'aggressive' that we can all agree on and that makes these types of actions (invading other countries) aggressive.

Teacher: Textbooks have lots of things in them. That doesn't make them true.

Other student: Yeah, you could definitely make a strong argument that Germany's actions weren't aggressive.

There are many, many important historical controversies out there. They keep historians employed for generations. I have never heard of this particular issue being controversial. Perhaps it was controversial in East Germany. But I think that 99% of creditable historians would accept that Germany, whatever the reason, was being geopolitically aggressive during the 1930's and 1940's. It just seems like maybe there's a solid fact right there. But the conversation didn't end there...

Teacher: ...Of course you don't want to take this too far. I mean, you don't want students walking away thinking that the Holocaust was somehow a positive event in history, since it clearly wasn't.

Mark: But presumably there is some argument one can make that says it was positive. Maybe the argument would be totally awful, but if it was logical you said before that I would have to accept it and couldn't say it was wrong!

I don't remember how she responded. I was smiling at Mark's indignation. This is the kind of ridiculous situation you can find yourself in when you say there aren't any right answers. Without right answers, there is no history and there is no morality. Or, at least, no history or morality that is directly teachable. We all can have our own separate truths, or whatever. I'm sure that would work great. My moral truth says that it's ok to punch someone in the face, and you can't tell me that's wrong. That's what really pisses me off about the fact that she makes up fake primary source documents for her students. What?! How is that letting them think for themselves or find their own internal truth? I mean, if you're going to have a stupid philosophy about things, at least be consistent with it.

That's where I'm planning to be a smart aleck. I'm going to write to her and tell her that I could easily give her a reasonable argument as to why lecture and traditional pedagogical methods are just as good as constructivist ones, so she should let me plan all my lessons that way. If there is no right answer, and if she has to let me think for myself, then she shouldn't be able to control my ideas about pedagogy. This is the logical extension of her claims. I think her response shall be interesting...

PS The White Sox are totally the bomb.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A new level of scary

Today, ah today. A Thursday that began so inauspiciously with me swearing at my alarm clock, just like every day. I brushed my teeth, ate a cupcake, and went to school, just as usual. And yet, somehow, this normal day eventually became a terrible freakshow.

First block was fine. I observed a different teacher, who was pretty good. He did a stations lesson, so I just sat at one of the stations and watched pieces of video about ancient Egypt. The kids were well-behaved and seemed to be productive. I think the day first started going downhill in advisory, probably when a kid actually answered a cell phone call he was getting. When my teacher tried to talk to him, he laughed and was incredibly disrespectful. He couldn't even look her in the eye. He has been disruptful in every context I have ever seen him in. My teachers want him to move to another advisory. I think it's unfair; after all, they've never, ever told him what's wrong with how he is behaving or how he is supposed to behave.

Another problem in advisory was the kids who refused to silently read, and insisted upon sleeping. My teacher could do nothing about this, as there are no consequences to anything.

But really it was second block when I knew it was not going to be a blessed day. The period started out with a kid, who was late, standing at the door talking to his friend, who was outside the classroom. I went up to the kid and told him to sit down. He turned to me and said, "Excuse me, I'm talking to my friend. We have some business." I was just opening my mouth to express utter indignation and shock when my teacher called him in, and he complied.

Unfortunately, the entire class today was "student-centered." Please read "none of the kids had any idea what was going on." We were reading various documents about colonists continual insistence upon taking Native American land after the American Revolution. The problem is that most of the kids still do not really know what the American Revolution was or who was even fighting in it, because they were never actually told what it was, explicity. That would have been wrong...I guess they were supposed to "construct" the two sides of the conflict from various bits and pieces of information thrown their way.

If you don't believe me that 11th graders don't know anything about the American Revolution, here are some student guesses I received today as to who fought who: 1) The colonists were fighting the Indians. 2) The British were fighting the English. 3) The whites were fighting the British. 4) The whites were fighting the English. And we can't forget 5) The Indians were fighting the Native Americans.

As if this were not depressing enough, the kids' behavior in second period is getting out of control. They throw balls of paper. They swear at each other across the room. They hit one another. They rap. They yell. They do anything but the work. When the teacher talks, there are eight other conversations going on at the same volume level. My teacher refuses to do anything about this. Refuses. In fact, she thinks that "the class is going really well!" Whereas I would put it more like, "the class is an unmitigated disaster!" Today, another teacher who works with us suggested that we do something to stop them from throwing paper at each other, since it is completely ridiculous. When we see them do it, all we can do is tell them not to. They laugh it off. But she has tied our hands because she never set any limits or any consequences for acting like a total idiot. She said that their paper throwing didn't bother her. She doesn't want to be "authoritarian" with them. She doesn't want to say "oh no, you can't do that." Because somehow, that is wrong. The other teacher said, well, it's your call. But another thing is that oftentimes you're talking, and they're all talking over you. You respect them so much, and you should demand it back from them. She responded, "in my five years of experience, this type of thing gets better as time goes on and they come to know and respect me more." On the contrary. At the beginning of the year, their behavior ranged up and down the scale from "ok" down to "the worst behavior ever." Now it starts at "the worst behavior ever" and goes downhill from there.

Here's one example of what happens when there are no boundaries. Today this one kid kept playing with a yoyo. (No, 11th grade). I told him to put it away a couple times. Finally I said, if I see it again, I'm taking it. He put it in his pocket and I didn't see it for awhile. But juuuust as the period was coming to a close, he takes it out. I went over. I said, "ok, you made your choice, you need to give me the yoyo." He replied that it wasn't school time anymore, even though the period had not ended and, in fact, he was still in school. I asked for it again. He continued to play with it. I was not going to lose this one. I had stated a consequence earlier and, if I didn't go through with it, I would lose any credibility I had ever had (which was and is not much). So I caught the yoyo end as he was throwing it about. But the string was still tied around his finger. I asked him to take it off, several times. He refused. Other kids told him just to do it. He wouldn't. We sat there as the bell rang, me holding the yoyo, him with the string tied around his finger. "Are you going to stay for next block?" I asked. It seemed as though he would. He certainly was not moving. So I asked another kid for some scissors and cut the damn yoyo string, leaving him with a small piece tied around his finger. I took the yoyo back to the desk and put it away. I told him he could get it back at the end of the day. I was satisfied.

He was angry. He tried to tell my teacher on me. She had no idea what he was talking about and shuffled him out the door. I told her what happened and she just kind of laughed it off, even though he was obviously really mad. As the next period was starting, he actually came back into the room and tried to talk to her about it again. Later she saw him outside at lunch and, as befits her friendly/nonconfrontational style, tried to joke with him about it. From the limited amount she said, I gathered that he began saying very nasty things about me. I'm sure she didn't even reprimand him.

The kid was not mad because of the yoyo. He was mad because he is not used to not getting his way in school. Everyone just indulges everyone else. The fact that I broke the mold with him was jarring. I mean, really I had no real right to do what I did, because I'm supposed to follow the lead of my cooperating teacher. But seriously, sometimes I just can't take the outright disrespect and childishness that goes on in there. How is this kid ever going to exist in the real world? He wouldn't put away a yoyo when asked. No one is telling him how he is expected to act, so he acts like a big baby.

Ok, so at this point I took some Advil, and went on with the next block, which went much more peacefully. HOWEVER. After lunch I was working on a project in the same room as my other cooperating teacher's fourth block class. He has a slightly different style, but generally kind of lets things slide. Toward the end of the period, these two girls got in a slight tiff, which quickly, very quickly escalated to a screaming match, then to both of them getting up in each other's faces, and one girl trying to strike the other. The special ed teacher, who was in the room, had to physically get between them and kind of muscle the one girl outside. It was insane.

After that, the class was all a-titter. The teacher couldn't get them to stop talking, which had been a problem all period. Finally, he screams at the top of his lungs, "SHUT THE HELL UP!" They quiet down but still aren't really listening. The two girls get a talking-to by the Principal. When I saw the teacher later, he didn't really think it was a big deal. He should have. It was his lack of classroom management and his inattention to small infractions of discipline that directly led to those two girls fighting. He set up a classroom environment that would allow it. Yet he was totally unconcerned.

Finally, school was over. Tomorrow I am teaching a lesson and being observed by someone from my school. I had been working all day on getting everything set for it. We were wrapping things up when one of my cooperating teachers says, "you know what, let's hold off on that until next week. I know something we can do tomorrow: a book jacket!" So out comes this whole other lesson plan, seemingly from nowhere, although I think it might have been from hell. I was stunned. It had happened so quickly. And this kind of thing happens all the time. They wouldn't even allow me to make up my own lesson plan for the new topic. I had to stay while we cobbled together something crappy. I was so depressed at that point that I just had nothing to say. I still don't, really. What do you say after a day like that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I love Bill

[I edited some parts of this post because I wrote it really late at night and was dissatisfied with it.]

This will have to be short because I'm tired and also because today made me want to hammer a bullet into my skull.

A small taste of the day: I was back at my regular school. I left at 3 pm (so early!) with most of the kids. One of the women who works at the school was standing on the corner, sort of marshaling kids onward and making sure they didn't block the sidewalk. There was a whole crowd sort of surging down the sidewalk. One kid, probably about 14, was yelling something to his friend which included the animated use of a swear word. The school woman started to yell at him, but he cut her off and snarled, "It's after school! Fuck! Shit! Bitch! ..." and continuing on with some other words particularly offensive to women. The kid was already past her, and I'm not sure if she knew who he was. I was already on edge from witnessing yet another pointless day filled with non-learning, and I really almost cried right then and there. The kid had so little respect for school, the other kids, the woman, himself, or anyone else around him. I felt I should do or say something, but I didn't know what. It's the kind of thing that can (with a ton of work and stress) be prevented, but not stopped, if you see the distinction.

Oh, and in class we're making history mobiles. I really prefer dioramas, as long as we're going with 6th grade type projects, but whatever.

Now then, if you are a New Yorker subscriber (aka snobby jerk) like I am, you can find a great article in this week's issue. It's called "What Money Can Buy," and it's about the Gates Foundation's work on global health issues, particularly malaria. Gates also supports domestic education reforms, particularly the small school movement (breaking up huge urban high schools into smaller schools or programs). I think small schools are definitely a great idea and are particularly helpful in cutting down on school violence and dropout rates. However, I think of them more as a prerequisite for high academic achievement than as a catalyst for it. You can go to a warm, safe, enjoyable place every day for years and not learn anything. For example, graduate school. But anyway, what I think is important about this article is Gates's will to do something about a terrible tragedy. He's not interested in sitting around and talking and bemoaning the problem. He talks to scientists and researchers and says, what can we do about this? What will work? And then he helps them do it. And if it's not working, he cuts off funds and goes for something else. Some selected quotes:

--"It would be hard to overstate the impact that the Gates foundation has had: the research programs of entire countries have been restored, and fields that had languished for years, like tropical medicine, have once again burst to life. In a world where a fast reaction to the threat of disease is imperative, bureaucracies like the W.H.O.--which make decisions by consensus--are often too cumbersome to compete at the speed of a maturing virus. Gates and his wife need consensus only between themselves."

Is there a parallel here to the lumbering speed of public schools, and the potential agility of charters (or any independent school), to meet the needs of students?

--"The rock star and anti-poverty evangelist Bono put it: 'This isn't about compassion. It's about results. It's not some sort of well-meaning-hippie stuff. Bill Gates is not into nice sentimental efforts or whimsical support of hopeless causes. When Bill walks into the room, we are not expecting to have a warm fuzzy feeling."

Seriously, who can say it better than Bono? This is the kind of hard-hearted, driven attitude we need for education.

--This quote starts with Gates speaking. "'Human suffering as a result of malaria is incomparable. By many measures, it's easily the worst thing on the planet. I refuse to accept it. I refuse to sit there and say, O.K., next problem, this one doesn't bother me. It does bother me. Very much. And the only way for that to change is to stop malaria. So that is what we are going to have to do.'"

I love it. I seriously love it. This man, who has the worst bowl cut in the history of the world, is standing there saying, 'I do not like this disease. And because I am so incredibly wealthy that sometimes I involuntarily throw up all over, I really don't think I should have to stand for it.' That is some awesome logic, and sooo American. But who says it can't work? The guy has so much money that IRS computers literally cannot handle his tax return. They have to use some kind of special computer that allows more digits in the income column. I'm not kidding. Plus, who knew the guy had a soul?

--"'there has always been this sense of malaria fatalism. There has been the idea that this is just part of Africa and being African.'" urban education fatalism? That the failure is just part of America and being African-American (/poor/Latino/lots of other things)' ?

So you're going to think that, to fight malaria, we need some kind of breakthrough discovery or vaccine. That's what I thought. And certainly that's being sought. But guess what could save 30-50% of malaria victims, according to the article? Nets sprayed with insecticide. Nets! You put the nets over your beds, and the mosquitoes die and don't bite you and you don't get malaria. And actually, you don't even have to sleep under the net to benefit! The article says, "death rates, the incidence of anemia, and even the level of parasites in the bloodstream were lowered in children who lived within three hundred metres of houses that had nets." The nets have to be replaced or resprayed with insecticide fairly often, but even so they would significantly impact malarial infection rates. Additionally, new types of nets with imbedded insecticide are being developed that would last a lot longer. NETS, for God's sake! And they've known this for 20 years!

A Tanzanian health entomologist told the reporter, "I am sitting here watching my hair go gray and waiting for those nets. Every year a million more kids die. A decade ago, they were saying 'Let people die; there is nothing we can do.' Then Gates came along and he said this is not acceptable. That was more important than his money."

There are so many parallels here with education. Just as they know nets and insecticide work for malaria (they helped to eradicate it among officials in the British Raj in India), we know that discipline, hard work, and attention to academic rigor work for urban education. What's missing is merely the will to do it, someone to come and say "this is not acceptable." Everyone would rather wait for a magic bullet that's easy and cheap. Or perhaps they just don't care. The Tanzanian scientist said, "We already know how much eight hundred thousand African children are worth to the rich world. We have known it for a long time."

I hope that's not true, for African children or American children. But it's sad that a cold fish like Gates is the guy who has to save the rest of us from the collective guilt of a natural holocaust in Africa. We should take his initiative for ourselves here in America, regarding education. We should say something like, "The underclass in this country, who are disproportionately minorities, have hardly a chance to improve their circumstances. And the only way for that to change is to give everyone a good education. So that is what we are going to have to do." In other words, "This shit is not getting done. Therefore, we will have to do it."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Through the Looking Glass

Today I discovered a whole new world, despite the fact that Aladdin was not there to help me. Apparently he was at "that tiger's head that rises out of the sand." Whatever, it's totally over between us.

My roommate works at one of the KIPP schools here. She brought me along today so I could meet the principal and sit in on some classes. Note that this school does not select kids; it's an open lottery system, and most of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most are minorities. I'm not going to say everything was perfect, even though I want to, because then people will accuse me of seeing it through rose-colored glasses just because I agree with its methods. It's funny, because I actually was wearing actual rose-colored glasses.

Ok so here are some of my observations.

--The principal sitting at a school desk in the middle of the hallway, in front of a long line of little boys. Apparently the boys were tardy. The principal talked to each as they got their turn, then called their parents right in front of them. After that, they were sent to class.

--An 8th grade history class that was discussing the attempted impeachment of Andrew Johnson. One little boy asked about checks and balances. The teacher replied, "this was a massive check."

--A fifth grade class of 35 kids who were quieter, more polite, and harder-working the class of 10-15 kids I work with on a regular basis.

--A wall of eighth grade history essays that were clear, made sense, were neatly written, contained a crapload of historical content, and had been revised several times. I am not exaggerating when I say these kids' writing is 1000 times better than the kids' in my 11th grade class. These eighth graders are ready for high school. My 11th graders aren't even ready for junior high.

--Quiet in the halls, kids laughing and smiling in and out of class, neat binders, teachers who worked together, lots of mission reinforcement, repetition of chants and rhymes to memorize basic skills, grammar being taught, plaques of alumni colleges, pride.

I also went to the school on Saturday to help out at a practice interview event. The eighth graders often apply to selective high schools, including elite boarding schools, and have to do an interview to get in. We were their interviewers and asked them typical high school entrance questions. I had this one little eighth grade girl who was awesome. She was articulate, self-aware, outgoing, and enthusiastic. She described how much she had improved since she entered KIPP and how important schools is to her now. She talked about her parents' divorce years ago and how it had negatively impacted her school performance, but after a long talk with her mother about priorities, she decided that school should be first. She loved her history class and she used the word "complacent"! She was amazing. I don't have to hope that she'll do well in high school because you can just see that she will. It was a whole new experience for me, seeing all these kids like her in this school. It was hopeful.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

thank you

First off, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has been posting comments and emailing me with support. Some days I am very discouraged and frustrated. Examples of such days are today, yesterday, and the day before that, and probably tomorrow. It really helps to know that other people support what I'm saying. It makes me feel like I'm fighting for all of us, instead of just my own little opinion. Really, thank you.

Now, back to being angry and bitchy.

Today is Thursday, which will now be called Angry Day. This is because on Thursdays I have a seminar taught by Fidel Castro's beardless younger brother. If you look back to last Thursday's post, you can see the history of this class. Actually, I was considerably angrier earlier today right after class, but since then I have eaten some mint chip ice cream and an Oreo cookie. There are few problems that an Oreo cannot solve.

Today I told the class about my student teaching experience and how demoralizing it is. Others expressed similar sentiments about their schools. We discussed why we thought our schools were like this, why they permitted low standards and bad behavior, the reasons and ideas behind it. I said I thought some of it was guilt about kids' situations and some of it was thinking the kids actually couldn't achieve very highly. Some others agreed, but not everyone.

One kid said he thought that the schools were "just trying to do something new." He said that the "old model" of strict discipline in urban schools was administrators trying to "train the kids for the military and jail." He said that more democratic school discipline would take awhile to work. Well, my school has existed for 12 years, and it hasn't worked yet. It might start to work in the next week. Bookies are taking bets right now.

And saying that discipline in schools was to get them ready for jail is like possibly the most asinine thing I have ever heard. And I have heard George Bush speak several times. The point of discipline is to create a quiet and peaceful learning environment so that kids don't end up in jail. This same kid, along with several other people in my class and my instructor, think it's super important to teach kids about these social justice issues, like drug sentencing, military recruitment in urban areas, and the social structures that keep the poor oppressed. They think it's good for teachers to do liberal political organizing with the kids. This is fine, if kids are interested, but the real social justice issue is the fact that they aren't being educated. The point is not to get them on your side politically, but teach the skills they need to be successful and informed and so they can develop political views of their own. They know enough about prison; teach them math instead so they won't have to know it first hand.

Another kid said that the home and the community are more important than the school in a kid's success, so if someone has a bad family situation than the school can't do anything. That is also stupid. Lots of kids have tough family situations, but they are able to make it if someone gives them a chance.

My instructor then interrupted and told us we weren't going "deep enough." He said, "what makes families and communities the way they are?" He was trying to make us talk about societal structures of oppression. Again. We never talk about teaching, we always have to talk about the societal structures of oppression. I raised my hand and said, "well you want us to say that there are societal structures set up that perpetuate poverty, blah blah blah..." I probably shouldn't have said 'blah, blah, blah' because it really pissed him off. I was going to go on to say that the way to overcome these structures was to make sure we did our jobs as teachers and to make sure we were in schools that would work. But I couldn't get to that because he interrupted me, very angry, and said "blah, blah, blah--that is so dismissive." And then he called on someone else who would probably agree with him. That is intellectual bullying. He's the one who tells us not to indoctrinate our kids. But what does he do? Constantly try to indoctrinate us with his politics, which have little to nothing to do with our actual teaching. I know good teachers who are incredibly liberal, and others who are incredibly conservative. Personal politics do not matter, if your goal is to teach kids well and teach them to value truth and knowledge. He wants us to teach them to be little liberals.

He says that social studies has been taught in a "rah rah America" way in the past that has glossed over controversial issues, and he's right. But the solution is not to teach it in a "boo America is bad and so is capitalism" way, because that glosses over just as much. History is what happened, not our judgment about what we think should or should not have happened.

I don't think this guy should be allowed to be a teacher, for us or anyone else. He doesn't care about our development, just about our agreement with his views. Sometimes I really feel like crying, or throwing something at his head, imagining that his head represents all the stupidity in the world of education (which it may). Instead I write here, for you good people. And hope to stay sane.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

a book for young readers

I would like someone to guess the approximate grade level of the book the 11th graders in my school's humanities class are reading.

No, guess lower.

Barnes and Noble dubs it a "book for young readers," appropriate for 3rd-6th graders.

I wonder: are there colleges nowadays that use books for young readers, or in the case of the more academic colleges, books written for grades 7 and 8? We should look into that.

I feel like I'm in some kind of absurdist play, and the joke's on me. Or maybe it's a Truman-show like situation, and we're waiting to see when I finally explode and start "throwing personal invectives around like Rudy Giuliani on a bad day." (That was from a NY Times book review article. The book is '1491,' by Charles Mann. Looks to be awesome, I would check it out.) I imagine the situation would be quite humorous to viewers. Although, I guess a reality show for which a city and a fake ocean had to be created would not be constructed around the life of an education grad student. And if that is the case, somebody should really be fired, because the most exciting thing I've done this week is paint my living room an unfortunate shade of pink. We were going for warm country homestead, but instead it ended up more like warm country Pepto-bismol. (By the way, never, ever go to bed right after eating or drinking Pepto-bismol. The ingredient 'bismuth' reacts with your spit enzymes to produce this black coating on your tongue. Then you wake up in the morning, freak out when black stuff comes off on your toothbrush, wonder if someone stuffed your mouth full of dirt, reject that possibility because your door is locked and your roommate is a tiny Asian girl, consider what having mouth cancer will be like, consult the Mayo Clinic online, and learn about your condition: "hairy tongue." It's better just to circumvent the entire process).

Anyway, back to this book business. Last year at MATCH, the first thing the ninth graders read was Roots! They almost died, but they got through it. When the teacher asked them about it at the end of the year, many of them said they liked having that challenge right at the beginning, that it helped them gear up for the rest of the year. And they were proud of themselves for getting through the whole thing. I don't know that these 11th grade kids will be proud of themselves for reading an elementary school book.

This whole thing is such a moral dilemma. What is going on at this school is just plainly wrong. Should I quit, then? Refuse to student teach? Quit grad school? Switch grad schools? I want to become a teacher as soon as I can, and I don't want to waste the time (one month) and money (I'm not even going to say because it makes me want to eviscerate myself or someone in the student accounts department) I've spent here. But I also hate having to endure this situation and, worse yet, be a party to it. I'm not even allowed to criticize it openly to the people there, not that it would do any good. I feel like I'm an enabler or something. I'm going to try and switch my student teaching placement, but it might not be possible. If any of you out there have advice or words of wisdom, they would be appreciated.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Baseball, anger toward Joe Buck and other things

I am currently watching the Yankees-Angels playoff game. I am not a fan of either team, but I love baseball. Although Joe Buck definitely thinks he's hot stuff, and it's irritating. I guess he can't help it, what with his name. Also, there's a guy on the Angels named Vladimir Guerrero. I said, Vladimir? Is he from St. Petersburg, Honduras? [I thought he was Cuban, thus explaining the name Vladimir as a leftover vestige of communist nostalgia. However, a more informed reader explained to me that Guerrero is Dominican. So now I have no explanation for the name Vladimir showing up. If someone else does, please contribute. Or else I might have to name my own child Trajan, or Juan Peron.]

[Ok I looked it up myself, and thus have to willingly bow down to the god of ignorance, who, by the way, fully supports constructivist learning. Apparently the Dominican Republic, like much of Latin America, flirted with communist ideology during the 1950s and 1960s. Don't worry, though, the U.S. invaded just in time to screw everything up even more. I guess Vladimir's parents were hoping things would turn back the other way when he was born, in 1976. Turns out they were kind of on the losing side of things. Except Vladimir, since the Angels won today. So I guess what goes around, comes around, right? Yes.]

These are just some thoughts to make your day brighter. As I've said, I'm here to serve.


Instantaneous Joe Buck quote: "The Angels are killing Mussina softly."
This guy needs to be taken down.

Update II:

The Yankees lost, and I'm sure many people are sad. I, however, am still angry with Joe Buck, and intend to do something about it. This might include going to his house, sitting next to his TV when he's watching something, and making annoying comments.

However, perhaps I should instead redirect my anger away from Joe Buck and toward important issues, such as education. Although anger regarding education is more exhausting than other types of anger, because anger regarding education exists every minute of every day, including today, when I was forced to do a pencil drawing of what I thought Hiroshima looked like after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on it during a "stations lesson" activity in my methods class. If this is not trivializing an important event and turning it into a pointless and aggravating activity, I do not know what is.

In the same stations lesson, we were also asked to write a short story about the burned military uniform of a Japanese soldier. We had to make up the person it belonged to, what happened to the person during the bombing, etc. I found it incredibly disturbing. Abraham Lincoln once said, "History is not history unless it is the truth." The point of studying history is not to create new history. The point is to learn about our own world, reality, the universe we do live in rather than the ones we create in our silly little heads. I found these activities somewhat of a betrayal, both to the people involved in the events and to the study of history as a discipline. You don't make up science, you don't make up math, and you don't make up history!

(By the way, I had to do an assignment where we looked up history quotes. I'm not one of those people who can quote legendary individuals off the top of his or her head. Although someday I hope to be, god willing. I like those people.)

I felt somewhat redeemed later when we took out some questions from the state history tests. We had to go through and answer some of the questions, and they were pretty tough! I was quite impressed. Our instructor asked us smugly, wouldn't we be able to answer these questions after that stations lesson? Everyone in the class said no, we hadn't learned enough. HA. EAT IT, CRAZY PEOPLE.

I hate the whole reasoning behind this smugness about "not lecturing" and "being creative" and "letting the students learn for themselves." It's like these people are saying, 'all of our teachers thought they were so great, but they didn't have all the answers. They tried to imprison us in their mental universe, but we wouldn't let them, cuz we're rebels! And now we're stickin' it to the man by saying that we don't know any more than the kids do because we all have good thoughts!'

I don't ever think I would say to a class, "I know everything, I have all the answers." [Actually, on a bad/cocky day, I might.] But I would say, "I don't have all the answers, but I do have quite a few more than you do, since I went to college for four years, and then graduate school, to learn all of this stuff, whereas you are 13 and don't know Greece from your ass. Fortunately, I feel generous enough to want to share some knowledge with you here today, and every day for the rest of the year." This is what makes traditional teaching generous, and new teaching stingy. In new teaching, we say we don't know the answers, even though we do, thereby keeping the answers for ourselves while trying to make the students "figure out" or "find" or "discover" things that would be more efficiently and effectively transmitted from us to them. That's why we have teachers in the first place. Granted, many teachers don't know the answers to things, including "Why are you such a bad teacher?" But I'm talking about a better world here, folks.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

throwing down the gauntlet

You know, I am a laid-back person. I don't get too ruffled up about things. Like, when I trip and fall in the street, eliciting gasps from onlookers, I don't make a big deal about it. I pick myself up, dust myself off, try to push my shame deep down, and continue on with life. Yes, I try to take life as it comes.

However. Currently, right now, and for the past few hours, I have had the angry inside. Big time. Like, it's time to rumble.

Okay. So I have this discussion class that is supposed to be us sharing things about our student teaching experiences. So far, this has not happened. Last week, as I said, we discussed the prison-industrial complex. THIS week we started off class with a free word association involving the words liberal, progressive, and radical. (We don't even talk about conservatism in this class. It is definitely off the table. Not that I'm particularly conservative, but I would say there's a kind of intellectual bullying going on here). This exercise took about 45 minutes.

The only amusing part was when a girl associated "radical" with "crazy" and our instructor got pissed. He was like, "now you're just disrespecting someone's belief system." It was ridiculous. He is some kind of Marxist/socialist/radical and really does not try to hide it. Meanwhile, he tells us that we have to be careful not to indoctrinate our kids in any particular ideology when we're teaching social studies. I would say this scores low on the self-awareness scale.

So anyway, throughout this exercise I'm thinking, this is not so relevant to teaching. Usually when something is being taught, I pretend I'm about to get up in front of a class of 30 children, and I ask myself, "is this piece of information or idea going to help me in front of these kids?" If the answer is no, I feel frustrated. I would say I feel frustrated about 95% of the time at school.

I figure that I should probably say something about the angry inside me, so I raise my hand and ask, "why are we doing this exercise? I don't really understand. What does this have to do with teaching?" The instructor responds that he didn't just want to tell us the definitions of these words, because then he would be making the mistake of placing himself as the expert, thus invalidating any ideas that we had. Right.

I explained that what I had meant was, "why are these definitions important right now? How will this make me a better teacher?" Some kids raise their hands to respond. They pretty much say that these conversations are helping them to think about and formulate their political beliefs. First of all, where were they in college? Second, do you care about their political beliefs? Will the kids? I don't, that's for sure.

People seem to think that politics is important in this business. But it's not. Charter schools are supported by all kinds of people: from liberals as pink as the day they were born to conservatives who would wrestle a five dollar bill away from their mothers. If you are committed to a system that works, then you don't need politics because we know what works.

Anyway, my whole "let's get back on track" thing was totally aborted, and we continued to discuss these semantic issues. It seemed like we were wrapping up, and I hoped we could move on to something better. But then, all of a sudden, BOOM. With no warning whatsoever, we have started talking about mercantilism. Oh yes, that's right. Personally, I think a mercantilist system would totally help our ailing schools. I think the colonies that we leech from could be located on the moon.

Ok. So then we read a very inflammatory article about the "pedagogy of poverty." I won't go into it, because it was another one of those "our public schools are trying to control the students' minds. We should let them be free!" Really this is not the issue. Also, the guy says that if you want a highly disciplined school, you may or may not be a bigot. He actually used the word bigot.

We got onto the topic of cultural advantages that middle class kids have, such as listening to their parents discuss different issues, going to museums, having more books, etc. Everyone was decrying the fact that poor kids don't have the same things, and that they come into pre-K already behind. When they continue falling behind, middle school and high school teachers complain that "there just isn't enough time" to teach them, particularly with the mandated curriculum dictated by state exams.

I pointed out that, if what people were saying was correct, then that would mean that urban kids should have more time in the classroom, longer school days, and longer school years. This would allow them to catch up and give their teachers the chance to cover everything they wanted. I provided the KIPP schools as an example of a school system that does this, and gets amazing results. It works. More time in school and good instruction works.

My instructor was not pleased with this, though. He thought the idea was too "militaristic." He said, "I mean, what's the end goal?" I was flabbergasted, once again. Doesn't anyone get it? The goal is to give kids the skills and knowledge they need to choose the kind of lives they want to live. Period, end of story, I no longer want to talk to you, stupid idiot. But he has this whole notion of making people "good citizens" or getting them to "think critically" about the world. Ask yourself, what would you want for your child? Would you want her to get a great academic education and be able to do whatever she wanted, or would you want someone to teach her "how to be a good citizen" or "how to think critically"? I know, me too. And if the chips were down, my instructor would admit the same thing. The fact is that schools like KIPP are vaulting kids OUT OF POVERTY. They're giving them a fighting chance. And the concept of the schools is not that complex. Their motto is: Work hard. Be nice. And everything boils down to that in the end. There's no magic curriculum bullet. It's just hard work. This guy, this instructor, he so decries poverty and "keeping poor kids poor" and "the pedagogy of poverty" but it is HIS reluctance to accept WHAT WORKS FOR KIDS that keeps them where they are.

I really don't understand. And I'm so angry about it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Here's a great interview with the Mike Feinberg, one of the two guys who started KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program:

These schools are quite amazing. Middle school kids who go to KIPP get into high schools like Deerfield, Andover, Stuyvesant, etc. And these are not privilieged kids, they're regular kids from the South Bronx or Houston.

If you read this piece, you realize that teachers at KIPP schools are expected to operate on a totally different level than most teachers. They are there from 7am to 5pm. They are held accountable for their teaching. They have to carry cellphones so their kids can call them at night. They have to be damn good teachers.

That's the kind of teacher I want to be. But I'm so terrified that I won't be. I mean, I don't think either my classes or my student teaching is at all preparing me for that kind of rigor. KIPP hires a lot of teachers from Teach for America. They have experience and the academic background that KIPP wants, but the thing is that they basically had to go through 2 years of disappointing hell in a regular public school to get there. The reason I didn't do Teach for America was precisely because I didn't want to start out somewhere that was doing a mediocre to terrible job of educating kids. That is exactly the kind of environment where my soul withers and dies and I have to brush the wilted pieces into a little pile and then vaccuum them up with the new power vaccuum my roommate just bought at Home Depot.

The fact is that Teach for America and regular public schools often drive people out of teaching because the experience is so terrible and so disappointing. I can stand almost any level of hard work, but what I cannot stand is incompetence, laziness, and seeing people letting kids down. I don't know. Maybe a good school would hire me right away. But based on what education school is doing for me, they would have every reason not to.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

uh oh...

wait, I just realized that I just pronounced yesterday that I wouldn't pontificate too much. Do you think that last one on testing counts?! Comments welcome...


I would like to say a little bit about the controversy swirling, swirling, swirling around mandated state testing.

My student teaching school began its life exempt from the state tests because it is known as a "portfolio school." Instead of passing the tests to graduate, seniors compile collections of their work in each of six subject areas: math, science, English, history, art, and foreign language. They present their work to three or more teachers, who ask the student questions. The students also have to participate in "roundtables," in which they discuss and debate with other students on various topics.

Some of these pieces of work seem fine to me. I like the idea of structured debates (and by structured I mean debates where swearing, yelling, and standing up is discouraged), because one will encounter that type of situation in college. Also, I think something like a portfolio could help a child see how far he/she has come since ninth grade (hopefully it farther than the number of yards the Vikings have been getting in recent games) and provide a sense of closure or accomplishment.

However, there are a couple dangerous loopholes to this system. Many of the kids really do not have the skills they should have to graduate from high school and, hopefully, go on to college. These gaps show up when you test them, but they are able to hide them or downplay their significance in a portfolio of work. Ignoring these weaknesses only hurts the child in the long run.

Not only does this system allow a child to slip through lacking what he/she needs in the future, it lets the school get away with the fact that they haven't given him/her those skills. At my student teaching school, and at many schools, everyone hates the state standards. The tests are evil demons that are infecting the world with their correct answers and muliple choice bubble charts. The other major objection is that teaching what the state demands takes away from other types of lessons, and can pretty much dictate the entire curriculum.

Here's the thing. In the education business, we are thinking only about the period in a child's life from kindergarten through twelfth grade. We want to do the best job we can, but after that, we're off the hook. But the state has to worry about people their whole dang lives. Politicians are held responsible for people's unemployment, poverty, housing, health care, etc etc. So the state wants high schools turning out kids who have real skills so that they can fill the demands of the current labor market, keep up with the changing economy, be able to afford housing, be able to take care of their families, afford preventative health care, etc. These are major, major interests for the state. Schools are uniquely placed to be able to vault kids out of an impoverished background into the kind of self-sufficiency that makes things easier for government and better for society.

In education, we get too caught up with the here and now. We see these kids every day, and we care about them. They aren't cogs in the education machine to us, they are living, breathing, fun, moody, obnoxious children. So it's hard to be objective with them. It's hard to think like the state does. We not only want to educate them, we want to enrich their lives. We want them to really understand what it means for an object to have torque, not just to know how to calculate for it. We care about their character development, and their happiness, and how much they like us as teachers. Worst of all, we want to make a difference.

Idealism, and love for the kids, and really actually caring can, paradoxically, doom a child. We, who know the kid, don't want to see him struggle and fail. We don't want to see him angry at us, we don't want to see his mean streak or his anti-authoritarianism. So we don't push him in the ways that will elicit strong emotions. We don't make him take tests, we play to his strengths, we shy away from his weaknesses, we let him be. When the state, who doesn't know him, tries to come in and force us (and him) to see what he can really do, we are angry. "But they don't know him," we think. He can't do any math, and his literacy skills are weak, but he is so good at X. And plus, they don't know his background.

But in this case, and it's a rare one, the government seems to be right. It's not the here and now that we should be worried about. Kids are the short-sighted ones, but we cannot be. We have to think longer-term. We should not be concerned with his three or four years with us, but his life. We have to evaluate what he needs to do to pass those tests, to have those skills, and then ask, plead, force, or cajole him into doing it. Maybe he'll hate us. And he might even be driven to another school. But he might not. He might stay, hate us, struggle under our all-knowing thumb, be in the principal's office every week, fail before he succeeds, etc. But in the end he might just pass those tests and come out a goddam educated person. And maybe he'll realize what happened and maybe not. But we will have done our job in society, which is to produce people who have skills for college and jobs and life.

One common objection to all this is that handing the kid academic skills without, like, character education or cooperative skills means he'll be some kind of asocial smart freak who can't interact with others. However, I don't really think schools are the most effective transmitters of social or citizenship skills. Those things come from families, clubs, and sports teams. Schools can't be responsible for everything. That they sort of are held responsible for everything is how they duck out of doing their real job: educating. Secondly, I think a guy who has enough skills to get through college and find a good job is going to be a better citizen anyway than someone who was taught through cooperative learning but wasn't able to graduate from high school, and now works as a cashier. Most likely that guy does not like his society very much, and doesn't really want to be a good citizen. I, for one, don't blame him. We failed.

The fact is that 98% of kids at good magnet schools pass the state tests, while like 30% do at a lot of regular high schools. That is shameful and ridiculous. Maybe not everyone will pass the first time, and magnet schools will always have an advantage. But they shouldn't have a 60+% advantage. The kids there aren't that smart. The fact is, they are expected to pass those tests, they are taught so they have the skills to, and they do.

Now, at my school, the kids have to take part of the state tests, but not all. However, I think they are in political hot water because of the renewal of the standards movement both at the state and national levels. I hate to say that George Bush is in the right ballpark on anything, so I will give this one to the bill's cosponsor (I think) Ted Kennedy. Accountability for schools means skills for kids. That's good, people.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Teaching a lesson in a progressive school

Last week I taught my first student-teaching lesson. The teacher I work with collaborates with two others on her lesson plans, a special ed teacher and another 11th grade humanities teacher. They meet to plan lessons in the afternoons, and usually I'm at class then, so I don't get to input a lot. They are open to my suggestions, up to a point.

For example, the kids' writing is terrible. I mean scary terrible. One essay I just read was almost unintelligible, in that the students' words seemed to have been scattered randomly throughout the "sentence," which went on for like four lines and counted as a paragraph. The girl is bright and articulate, and to my knowledge does not have any type of learning disability.

I suggested I could do some mini grammar lessons in class, and my teacher thought it was a nice idea. She does support the idea of grammar, and recognizes that the kids are pretty weak writers. Although I don't think she has the same fear in her heart that I do for them. But the thing is, she won't let me give any grammar quizzes. The school as a whole is sort of "against" quizzes, although some teachers use them I guess. It's difficult to assess whether the kids have learned the specific principle you taught when you can't quiz them on it specifically. Also, there is every reason for the kids to tune out when I try to teach it to them, since they are not really accountable. But this is a small frustration only.

On Friday, I taught the whole lesson. It was about the Declaration of Independence and what Thomas Jefferson meant when he wrote, "all men are created equal." We read some of his ambivalent and conflicting views on slavery, and talked about what why he was so conflicted.

This is a really difficult topic because you have to closely examine the American situation at the time. Jefferson was so steeped in the politics of his time--the revolution, trying to maintain colonial unity, condemning slavery while assuring southerners of its preservation, a slaveowner himself, a man of thought in an age of events. He saw slavery, and saw its injustice. He saw how it contradicted with his ideals of equality for all men. So he changed the game by claiming that African-Americans were...not quite men. Sort of pseudo-men, perhaps evolutionarily stunted. It was his awful compromise between reality and idealism.

However, in class we hadn't talked about the revolution yet. We hadn't talked about the different ways that the northern and southern colonies developed and why. We hadn't talked about the fragility of the revolutionary will. We hadn't talked about northern attitudes toward slavery and toward Africans.

Why, then, did we do this lesson when we did?

Because although it is a history class, the class is based around themes, not history.

The themes for this unit (colonial founding through the early American period) are roughly as follows:
the racialization of savagery
race as a social construct
what freedom means to different peoples

It's difficult to find room in there for things like a) the development of the colonies, b) events leading to the revolution, c) ideas leading to the revolution, d) dissent regarding the revolution, e) the war itself.

I would imagine that the kids have had many classes based around themes like this. One girl said in class today, "how come we always have to learn about race?" Not that it isn't an important topic, especially in American history, but I think the sentiment stemmed from theme overload.

Another hint that they haven't really learned a great deal of content, in the past or so far this year, is that they don't know a lot of content. I'm pretty sure a lot of them don't know what "Europe" is, or at least the difference between "Europe" and "England." When I talk to them, they try to reconstruct the facts of history logically, from the themes we learned about.

My teachers and others want kids to understand the "big ideas" in history, rather than memorizing facts and details. But I just don't think you can teach these big ideas directly. They are empty and meaningless by themselves. You teach the small stories, the facts, the dates, the chronology, the events, and then out of these, patterns begin to emerge. That's the beautiful part, when the students start to see them. It's like giving them tree after tree after tree, and suddenly they realize it's a forest. Or it's like that painting, by...Seurat? The one with all the little dots. There is no picture without all the dots!

It's funny, because I feel that the teaching strategy I am suggesting is actually more constructivist than my constructivist teachers. It doesn't involve lots of group work, and it doesn't shun facts, and there would have to be a lot of teacher support and prodding, but I think students could come up with a lot of "big ideas" on their own, without us directly telling them. Giving them the facts, rather than a somewhat revisionist thematic interpretation of the facts, actually gives them more power, and a forest full of trees.

In my lesson during the first block, we read a lot of the primary source documents out loud together, and then I led a discussion about them and we took notes together. This was roundly condemned as the wrong approach, and so the next period I had to let them read and interpret in groups. As usual, they wasted a lot of time and I don't really think they understood it. Not that I'm sure they had totally understood it in the first block, since they didn't have the proper historical background and I can't give them quizzes, but at least I got some reasonable answers out of the class discussion. In the second block, everyone got something different, depending on their group. It was so frustrating. I don't want to learn to teach like this because I don't think it's right. But I can't contradict the teacher. But I need the practice. It's an education grad school moral dilemma. The best kind.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Changing previous posts

I took down my earlier post about guilt. I felt uncomfortable when I wrote it, and when I read people's comments, and when I thought about it. It was too general, too spacey. It was driven by inference rather than experience, and thus wasn't authentic. So I took it down. I want to stay focused on reality, on observation.

It's like how I love behaviorism, in psychology. It's so simple and real. You react to someone based on how they behave. You reward them for good behavior, and punish or ignore them for bad. You don't have to make a judgment as to their ultimate "character," goodness, or badness. It's very difficult to do, especially as a teacher. You have kids who you tag as your "good" kids: hard workers, raise their hands a lot in class, no trouble. And then you have your "trouble" kids who keep annoying you. But if, as a teacher, you can rely on objectivity and act on behavior alone, you are more just. And you are a better teacher.

One of the main reasons everyone hates graduate school is because it's such an ivory tower. I want no part of that. So I will not sermonize again. I have learned my lesson. I will rely on observation, and then add commentary to what I think is going on. We all have our theories. I think I am most useful and wise without them. Not to mention less of a downer. Jeez.

Some incidents in the life of a progressive school

Some incidents in the life of a progressive school:

--In homeroom, the kids are telling each other about themselves. One girl, a ninth-grader, says, "I am boy-crazy. And I love to eat! I'm hungry all the time." A twelfth grade boy says under his breath, "If you like boys, and you're hungry all the time, I'll give you something to eat!" He and his friends laugh. The teacher, who probably heard what he said, says, "I'm glad you're comfortable enough to have jokes." This teacher, in the previous period, had taught a lesson on institutional racism, as defined by Cornel West.

--During a similar "homeroom circle," one boy talks out, loudly, again and again. He interrupts people with renditions of his favorite rap songs. No one tells him to stop. Not once. It continues for an hour. No one talks to him after class.

--Someone's cell phone rings in class. There is a rule against cell phones, but there are no consequences attached to breaking it. Another person's cell phone rings. Two kids listen to music on a cell phone. They are told to stop. Two minutes later, it is out again.

--A student who has never done one piece of homework interrupts the teacher at the end of class, chanting "what's the homework? what's the homework?" Annoyed, but joking, she replies, "What do you care? You don't do the homework." The class laughs. The boy is not used to this kind of straight talk. He leaves the room a minute early. The teacher apologizes profusely. She decides she shouldn't be so hard on students. The boy doesn't turn his homework in on Monday.

--During group work, one girl is trying to do the assigned task. Three of her classmates are goofing around, annoying one another and her. There is no accountability for any of them. The girl, distracted by the others, does not finish the task.

--One boy thinks it is appropriate to call me "sweetheart." When he is told not to do it, he doesn't understand why. "I call everyone sweetheart," he says. That I am a teacher does not distinguish me from anyone else, in his mind. I tell him it is incredibly disrespectful, and that he cannot do it anymore. He doesn't.

--One twelfth grade humanities class will spend the entire quarter on the idea of "race as a social construct." Perhaps the teachers believe the students will be more interested in a topic that affects their "daily lives." Instead, the kids seem bored. The material is too theoretical, there is nothing for them to grab onto.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Let's talk about me

(Note: this entry is about my computer problems, not education. I think the two issues are of equal importance, and you should too.)

So my computer is from freshman year in college. That makes it about six years old. When I got into graduate school, I thought about buying a new one. But I thought, no, I'm going to stick with my old friend. Then my roommate and I decided to get cable internet. When the cable guy came (it was Jim Carrey), he couldn't get the cable box to work on my computer. He asked me what version of Windows I had. I said Windows 98. He looked at me as if I had told him that my computer was operated by a crank. Apparently Windows 98 is too old to hook up to cable internet. Apparently it is also too old to interface with a flash drive. So I'm going to have to use some bootleg maneuver to get my old files off it. These files include several very bad short stories and an English paper I wrote about the significance of sky and cloud imagery in Martin Amis's book Money. I got an A on that one.

So long story short, I had to buy a new computer. So I went on the Dell website and did my business. I got the order all done and through, and the thing was shipped out a couple days later. That's when the problems started. You would think that when you spend over $1000 of your hard-earned money,* they would....I'm trying to think of that phrase that means "make things easier for you" and involves butter or grease. I want to say "butter your path," but I'm pretty sure that's not it. Anyway, you'd think they would make sure you get the thing.

*So it was your parents' hard-earned money, which you hope they will continue to be generous with until you get a real job. Which will be never.

Instead, UPS lost the computer. Like, in New Jersey. They were very vague whenever I called about it, insisting that it would be delivered that day. I had to get Dell on their asses. I'm guessing Dell sent them an email with the subject line: "Re: you owe us one thousand dollas, batches." Then UPS started jumpin'. I got this call from a UPS woman that was possibly the most fawning conversation I had ever been a party to. She was SO apologetic and complimentary of my patience. I wanted to say, "whoa, lady, you lost my computer, not my child." I don't know what the real point of the call even was. I mean, if she was trying to get me not to badmouth UPS to my friends, she missed that train like five years ago.

So Dell put another computer in production for me and will send it out again. Although I think this solution might be slightly flawed, as they will be sending it out via UPS.

Personally, I don't know why more people don't use the post office. Those people deliver through everything, like snow and stuff. Although I don't know about New Jersey. That's not part of the slogan.