Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Good Riddance

2008: not my favorite year ever. Lost too many people, had the cancer scare.

Trying to remember that there were good things too:
- friends got married
- friends had babies
- I got to visit friends and family
- I bought a car, perhaps becoming a grownup in the process
- Barack Obama was elected President of the United States
- I am kicking ass this year in the classroom (not to mention taking names)
- I have a wonderful group of friends who live close and far and love me no matter what
- I have a wonderful family who lives close and far and loves me no matter what
- I got to visit the motherland two times, reconnecting with a wonderful group of women who would do anything for me and for whom I would do anything

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Roundup

From the NYT, several things:
- a story on the resurrection of "Scrubs," a sitcom that I love, though have only ever watched on DVD or in reruns
- a story on a psychologist's retry of the Millgram experiment, something that I have taught my students about in conjunction with our genocide unit
- a story about the concept of adding students to the parent-teacher conference mix

I made mittens over Christmas break and I love them. I should start a baby hat soon. Two baby hats, for the children of one of my bosses. (I have many.)

Trying to figure out what to do with myself next summer. The thought of doing nothing isn't fab, but I'm not sure what I want to do. Camp? Could be. It's a good fallback.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Returned, I Have

Interestingly, I made the drive to NH last Thursday in my personal best time, 10 hours and 20 minutes. However, today I made the drive back in 9 hours and 45 minutes, besting my previous record by 35 minutes. Probable cause? The new car. It doesn't rattle to let me know how fast I'm going!

Lovely holiday, although not enough time with family, including my brothers, who zipped back to their homes much earlier than anticipated. Lovely presents -- things to read, wear, enjoy.

Lovely article, from Slate, on the book Rise Up Singing, which I first encountered at Girl Scout camp. There were several counselors who seemed to own their own copies. At any rate... back home. Time to start some school work, as I have actually taken a whole week off!

One of the NPR stations in Boston broadcast a program yesterday afternoon called "The Best of Public Radio 2008." It's a last-ditch fundraising effort for stations across the US... (If you want to give: www.givetopublicradio.org) and had the funniest story about an attempt to take the things that make stories on the NPR website hit the "most popular" list -- but it's not online in consumable form for people who haven't made contributions. Trust me, it was funny. Funny enough to consider making a contribution to a station that I don't even live in range of anymore.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quick Post

Signing off for a week of no internet access... oh boy! Pity me the 12 hour drive each way. :) Or don't, since I am fortunate enough to have a car to drive and a family to visit, even if they do live far away. Be thankful for what you've got and I'll be back just before the new year.

NYT article: private colleges concerned about smaller numbers of applicants, even though early decision applications were up in many places.

Another article, this one on lying -- I don't feel that I lie very often, except, I guess, lies of omission. I'm just bad at it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Being Lazy

There is truly nothing like an actual weekend, a real break from work. They are a luxury that I do not often have the time to take in my profession. I have been lazing about, finishing knitting projects and starting new ones (mittens!), reading, messing about on the internet. I actually took a nap this afternoon.

Latest things of interest from the internet:
- an article from the NYT on people who leave things between the pages of books. Best part? The closing paragraphs which describe a pair of Smith students in the early 70's who pull a trick concerning a famous alumna of their college. You have to read it for yourself.
- another from the same newspaper on small schools sharing buildings
- plus, an editorial commenting that separate is not equal when it comes to marriage

Now it's time to drink some tea.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow.

Apparently, I'm going to have to squeeze in the 12-ish hour drive home between weather events. However crazy it seemed when I made the decision originally, I'm glad that I'm not driving home. Between storms in the Northeast and the Northwest, I'm certain that air travel will be snarled for a while. So off I will drive on Tuesday.

Since people who are dear to me live in Seattle, I was checking out their paper and the storm news. The following story amuses me: "Road Crews Pit Chemistry Against Ice," wherein it tells of local officials using a combination of cheese whey, water, and molasses to combat road ice. Clever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Holiday Preparations

I like living where I do. The weather is good, less cold and snow than where I grew up. But I have this problem every year which is thus: the lack of cold means that I have difficulty preparing for the holidays. It's like my body hasn't received its proper trigger to think about Christmas.

Despite this, the holidays approach. I have bought presents and they are stacked in a pile, waiting to be put in the car. I have to think about packing clothes and finally decide about taking the cat with me.

And I have to practice my freaking music for the choral reunion. I'm still wicked excited, but I'm unable to find time to rehearse given my current cold (boo!) and just general prep for holiday.

Nothing to report from news sources. I just can't wrap my head around it right now. Looking forward to spending time with family and friends.

Friday, December 12, 2008

End of the Week!

Thank goodness, I made it. Only one more week until vacation, much needed at this point. Vacation shall last for two+ weeks and shall involve approximately one week sans internet access, as the house I grew up in doesn't have it anymore. But that will be good, to spend some time off the information grid. It's often a deluge, sometimes good and sometimes overwhelming. Ironically, I'll probably get more done while I'm off the grid and I'll get to spend some "quality time" with my brothers, given that they will also be home for a week or so and also will have no internets.

Driving home in a week and a half, on Tuesday, December 23. 10-12 hours in the car depending on when I leave and the traffic situation. Advantage: probably not taking my cat with me, which makes for a less stressful ride. Advantage: could conceivably be well-rested enough to get up at the crack of stupid (4 am?) to get through either Philly or Harrisburg pre-rush hour traffic and be home in NH before Boston rush hour. Advantage: new car with plug in for iPod = just listening to music the whole way and not being distracted by changing radio stations.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birthday!

Not mine, but the 158th birthday of one Miss Emily Dickinson, poet, enigma, and Mount Holyoke dropout. See this article from the NYT on a way that she continues to be awesome. (A new multimedia work that incorporates her poetry and music...)
-----
Wild nights--wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port--
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden--
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor, tonight,
In thee!

Emily Dickinson #249 from edition edited by R. W. Franklin

Sunday, December 7, 2008

No AP Classes?

From the NYT, an article on how the Scarsdale, NY school district has cut the AP courses from their curriculum, focusing on deep thinking in classes of similar topics. Kids are still taking the AP tests at the end of the year, but they aren't forced to "get through" all of the material.

Fascinating.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Question

Posed by a student in a friend's classroom: would you rather watch "The Sound of Music" on continuous loop for 48 hours OR drive across the country listening to nothing but Barry Manilow?

What's your answer?

The Funny and the Sweet

First, the funny, from webcomic xkcd. Who knew bubble sheets could be so dangerous?

And then, the sweet, the last paragraph from a column in Slate on perfecting morning routines.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stories of Place

From the NYT, several interesting stories of place:
- a small village in Vermont that is trying to undertake responsible development with the help of Middlebury College
- an island in Hawaii that used to house a leper colony
- back to Vermont, an article on the club football team at UVM
- American students attending college abroad

Plus, the slightly *duh* article that college may soon be unaffordable for any but the wealthiest Americans. For first years entering next fall at my alma mater, four years will likely cost twice what four years cost when I attended.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Being an Adult

Today, I went through a rite of passage. I did something that most people my age have done already, and some have done more than once.

I bought a car.

I got rid of the only car I've ever owned, the one that I've had since I was 16 years old (that's 14+ years if you're counting) and the one that drove me back and forth to high school, college, grad school, and my jobs at summer camp, Breakthrough, the Girl Scouts, and three schools. It went back and forth from New Hampshire to Connecticut when I was in a long-distance relationship.

It was registered in 3 different states, had parking permits for two different institutions of higher learning, and a non-resident student sticker from my time in Massachusetts. The Mount Holyoke sticker on the back window had been there since the day I got accepted early decision in December 1995.

I sang, laughed, cried in that car. It held dear friends and family members. The gas that I put in the car when I was in high school cost less than $1 a gallon and this summer cost over $4 a gallon. Bill Clinton was in his first term as President when I got that car and it had campaign stickers from Howard Dean and Barack Obama on it. The car had a tape deck (replaced due to premature death in summer 1999), roll-down windows, no air bags, no anti-lock brakes. I got a flat tire once in all of those years and never got into an accident apart from one minor fender-bender. 2 speeding tickets in all of those years -- seriously, I think that cops couldn't believe that the thing was going as fast as it actually was.

234,296 miles. 20+ years old. Goodbye to my trusty 1988 Volvo 240.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

A little something for the holiday... a short list of things I'm thankful for:
- several coworker and families from school who invited me over to have dinner with their families
- the ability to read and write and the chance to go to college and graduate school
- the fact that I have a job that, most days, I love
- friends far and near

I have enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poem

I Am Learning to Abandon the World

I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills,
moving to a flat, tuneless landscape.
And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago
takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap
as if to make amends.
-----
by Linda Pastan, from PM/AM: New and Selected Poems. New York: Norton, 1982.

1/3 of the way through!

1/3 of the school year is over! Yahoo and yippee. More importantly, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means a few more days off in a row. And in that vein, here's my thing to be thankful for today: my end-of-trimester comments are finished. All 75 of them.

In other news:
- from the NYT, an article on the fact that early decision applications are actually up this year at lots of different institutions despite the fact that the economy is down
-from the NYT, an article on the fact that California plans to cut enrollment at its state university system by 10,000 students because of the economic downturn (ouch for low income kids)
- from the NYT an article on how a student from Dartmouth won a county election in NH
- from Slate, an article on a new book about the Constitution, one of my favorite documents of all time

And that's it for now. Reading on a Sunday afternoon, what a concept!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bah

I thoroughly hate this time of year at school. So busy. Plus, the bigwigs are already starting on plans for next year, which I can't even conceive of at this point. I mean, I get it, we need to plan for next year and I'll never argue with the concept of starting early. But when we're only 1/3 of the way through the year, I have a hard time thinking beyond the 2/3 that are left. Especially when we're worrying over the budget and they want to add new classes but aren't talking about new positions to cover those classes (or if they are, I'm not hearing it).

I don't want to teach 6 sections of class next year.

I won't teach 6 sections of class next year.

Plus, I seriously need a freaking break. I'm so glad that there are only 6 school days left until Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Relishing the Election

From Salon and Garrison Keillor:

"Be happy, dear hearts, and allow yourselves a few more weeks of quiet exultation. It isn't gloating, it's satisfaction at a job well done. ... He was elegant, unaffected, utterly American, and now (Wow) suddenly America is cool. Chicago is cool. Chicago!!! ... The French junior minister for human rights said, "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes." When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment. ... It feels good to be cool and all of us can share in that, even sour old right-wingers and embittered blottoheads. Next time you fly to Heathrow and hand your passport to the man with the badge, he's going to see "United States of America" and look up and grin. Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian. ... Our hero who galloped to victory has inherited a gigantic mess. ... So enjoy the afterglow of the election a while longer. We all walk taller this fall. People in Copenhagen and Stockholm are sending congratulatory e-mails -- imagine! We are being admired by Danes and Swedes! And Chicago becomes the First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels."

Read it all.
-----
Looking for a Rest Area

I've been driving for hours,
it seems like all my life.
The wheel has become familiar,
I turn it

every so often to avoid the end
of my life, but I'm never sure
it doesn't turn me
by its roundness, as women have

by the space inside them.
What I'm looking for
is a rest area, some place where
the old valentine inside my shirt

can stop contriving romances,
where I can climb out of the thing
that has taken me this far
and stretch myself.

It is dusk, Nebraska,
the only bright lights in this entire state
put their fists in my eyes
as they pass me.

Oh, how easily I can be dazzled--
where is the sign
that will free me, if only for moments,
I keep asking.
------
Stephen Dunn, from Looking for Holes in the Ceiling. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1974.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Work, work, & more work

First off, and unrelatedly, an observation: when you're waiting for the phone to ring, it never does.

And now, onto other stuff! Like the busy. Seriously, I don't think that I've worked this hard for such an extended period of time since MHC. So much work! It's the AP/regular US history combined with redoing the 9th grade. I'm enjoying the work, I just wish there were a few more hours to spend doing things for myself.

Outside of my insulated little school life, the rest of the world keeps on keeping on:
- a piece from Slate on how different religions define death
- another piece from Slate on parental expectations for kids and why they are too high
- from the NYT, a story on how Howard Dean will step down as DNC chair -- I adore Howard Dean

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day After

So, here we are, back to "normal." I'm disappointed in California's decision to amend their constitution to ban gay marriage, but that's the way it works sometimes. If you leave those things to the people, it doesn't always work out the way you want it to. But I think that eventually, we will see gay marriage not only legal in all 50 states, but also socially accepted by most places and groups. Look at what just happened in this country! I feel like anything can happen now.

Often quoted Dr. King: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Fascinating elsewhere:
- from Salon, quotes from thinkers and reporters and academics and bloggers on what the election of Obama means -- it's lovely and inspiring
- from the NYT, an article on studies that show that contagious liberalism of professors is a bit of an urban myth, though it seems to indicate that MY liberalism as a high school teacher is far more influential than I like to think
- from the blog Feministing, a "thank you" for female voters on how they affected the outcome of the election
- a really funny blog from two old ladies who have been friends for 60+ years, with absolute opinions on everything and remind me of my friends from college, older and young
- from one last blog, Indexed, on the outcome of the election

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Results

Here's the rub, which I hope that you all have picked up on: Obama won!

Am I pleased with these results? Yes. Do I think they are amazing given our country's history of slavery and discrimination against people of color? Yes.

Are others disappointed, including some of my students? Yes. And seriously, that's ok to be disappointed. We're all disappointed when our guy doesn't win. I thought Obama's victory speech last night was very eloquent and understated-- the following was particularly historically resonant:
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.
It reminds me of Jefferson's first inaugural address, where power transferred for the first time between political parties, from Washington and Adams's Federalist Party to Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. At that time, Jefferson said "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans."

I have many students today who are bummed out by the election results. I have been emphasizing the fact that Obama has said he wants to listen to those who disagree with him, that Senator McCain said in his concession speech that he was committed to helping President-elect Obama help out country through touch times. In addition, the history teacher in me needs to tell them that we are lucky to live in a place that has a long-established tradition of peaceful transitions of power from one political party to another. That our Constitution is a pretty conservative document and that the office of the presidency is designed to be well-balanced by the other branches. That it's wonderful that we live in a place where freedom of speech and the press are enshrined in our Constitution and that it's ok to not agree with and voice your opposition to the government and the president.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

Here I am, sitting on pins and needles waiting for Election Day to be over. I voted early this morning when polls opened and on the way to school. There were probably about 100 people in front of me and I waited in line for about 1/2 an hour.

Since there are no real election results to see, here's some mock election results instead:

With our very own electoral college:
Obama: 79% electoral votes/McCain: 21% electoral votes

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not Election Day Yet

It's not election day yet, so here's some stuff to tide you over:

- from the NYT, an article on the Erie Canal and how it's still used, amusing to me since I just taught about the Erie Canal in AP class
- from NPR, a story on a Supreme Court case involving the FCC and swear words on radio/tv -- the topic itself isn't that funny, but the treatment is, as they have a guest on to talk about the history of the "f word," but refer to that word throughout the story as "floss" -- it's absolutely hillarious

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Don't Wanna

So, here's an analysis from the NYT on the presidential candidates' tax plans. Turns out, normal folks are better off under Obama's plan. And by normal, I mean 97% of us who don't make more than $250,000 a year. At any rate, one of the parts of the article that I find most interesting is the comment that McCain's tax plan would have us paying taxes on our employer-funded health care. Um, seriously? The health care part of my job compensation is the part that makes my otherwise lackluster salary worth it. My health care is excellent, even if my salary isn't. Please, don't tax my health care benefits.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Really Long Week

But, it's almost over, I guess. Not that there's not a lot to do. 4 day week of classes next week, since we'll be at a conference on Monday in Baltimore.

Anyway, enough about my listlessness... here's fun: from the NYT, an article on Seasons 6 & 7 of "The West Wing" -- Santos being elected and the parallels between Santos & Obama.

Tuesday, I'll be voting. Will you?

Drove past a house the other morning that has a HUGE McCain/Palin sign in the yard, one that's supported by 4x4's. At any rate, I was driving by and thought it looked like there were marks on the sign... had someone been taking potshots at the sign? With a closer look, it was obvious that, no, no potshots. Instead, someone had been sticking Obama/Biden stickers on the sign. Ha!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Yeah

So, I think that as of 3:30 Sunday afternoon, I may have finished my planning for the week. Mostly. Ok, so not really, but at least I'm done with what's going to get done for the week right now. (I'll finish the rest of it tomorrow either in one of my free periods or after school.)

I'm hoping to get more of my grading done, but seriously, I'm so tired. I think I might be better served by, you know, doing something for myself. I'd really like to read something that didn't have to do with 1984 or relatively early American history.

We'll see what happens. I'm not going to beat myself up just to finish these tests and quizzes. Ultimately, they're just not that important.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Science?

From the NYT, scientists discover that peeling Scotch tape... releases x-rays.

No, really.

It doesn't work with duct tape and they haven't tried with masking tape, yet.

Stop laughing! It's science!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A funny

From Slate, a piece on the "birthday dinner." It's pretty funny.

In other news, I find myself dreading parent conferences as they have the potential to be heinous. Of course, I always dread parent conferences and come out of them feeling ok, so we'll see what happens. I'm hoping to have some time this weekend (yeah, right!) to go out and test drive another car, but who knows? I've also been crashing when I get home, unable to bring myself to do more schoolwork, so it's starting to back up like an ice floe. I'll have to unstop the river soon.

(What a metaphor, eh?)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cheating & Education

Here's an editorial-type article (?) on cheating in schools. Fascinating to me mostly because my research in graduate school was on cheating and academic honesty. I've got a lot of data on this stuff!

Also, working 50 hours a week really, really blows sometimes. It's like the weekend doesn't even exist.

The Power of Books

From the NYT, a story about a man in Columbia who brings books to people via burro...

Plus:
- a story on a man who designed school buildings in NYC
- one on people who decide not to send their little kiddos to school (probably one of the paper's semi-famous bogus trend stories, but still interesting)

And a nod to the Red Sox with their nice run this season. See you again in the spring.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Presidential Debate

I haven't watched the previous ones. They raise my blood pressure too high to be safe. But I watched this one. First, an observation from a history teacher nerd: McCain described himself as a federalist. He's not a federalist. The original Federalists were the ones who supported the strong central government of the Constitution and when they later became a political party, continued to support a loose interpretation of the document. They believed that the power of the central government came directly from the people, not from the states.

Anyway, here's the other thing, what I wish I had heard from someone in the debate(s): America is a place of freedom. You get the freedom and the privacy to make the decisions that are best for you. I may not always agree with the decisions you make, but hey, they're yours and as long as you are living without hurting others then those are still your private decisions to make. We'll try to help you out so that you don't have to "choose" between two bad options, like eating or taking one of your kids to the doctor. It's disgraceful that we live in one of the richest countries on earth, even after our recent financial troubles, and we have kids and adults who go to bed hungry every day. That we have people who live in our country who are afraid of their neighborhoods or their local law enforcement, people who feel they have no other option than to sell drugs or resort to violence to make a living, to put a roof over their heads or feed their children. It's disgraceful and disgusting that we're seriously arguing about taxes on people who make more than a quarter million dollars per year when there are people who can't afford to eat, who send their kids to the shittiest schools imaginable. No one likes taxes, but they're the price we pay to live in a society. No one likes taxes, but I'd gladly pay more if it meant that all of our kids, regardless of parental involvement or location or color or class could go to good, safe schools, if all people could have a roof over their heads and enough to eat every single day and access to good medical care. The rest of it is all really bullshit.

Economic justice now. Bring it on.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Racing Non-Gas Vehicles

From the NYT, an article detailing a race called "Escape from Berkeley," where participants use non-gasoline vehicles. I especially like the idea of the wood-fired car.

In other news, I am now well-versed on the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison, including the War of 1812. Still left to learn about this week: Monroe & his doctrine.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beautiful Day

I went into DC this morning to meet a friend for brunch and it was an absolutely beautiful day. The weather was perfect and the company was excellent. Bright blue sky, no clouds, abundant sunshine. After brunch, I walked down to the National Gallery of Art to see the new photographic exhibit (which was disturbingly small...). Two miles of walking through some beautiful neighborhoods, past the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Capitol building. Speaking of the Capitol, there are already parts blocked off with signs that say "for the 2009 presidential inauguration." After the NGA, I walked past the National Archives on the way to the metro, where there was a big banner hanging with the date 1783 -- and I wracked my brain thinking "1783, 1783, what's 1783?" Then I figured it out: 1783 is the year that the Revolutionary War ended, the year the Treaty of Paris was signed -- it's apparently the 225th anniversary of that event. Awesome American history teacher, right here...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Laughing is Good

Friday in school, I was giving an example while talking about 1984. I was trying to get the kids around to the idea that in order to make friends with someone, you have to trust them, since you share things about your life with them. But in 1984, you can't trust anyone, so therefore, there's not really friendship. I was telling the following story:

"So, let's say I'm a student and I have a class every day with Mary. And before class, I say things like, 'Hey Mary, how are you today?' and she replies, "Not bad Cynthia, how about you?'" When I said my first name, the kids started to freak out: "That's your name? Cynthia?" I ran to the classroom door, busted out into the library, and yelled "Hold the phone! Teachers have first names!"

The kids were giggling uncontrollably. It was funnier than funny and just the right thing for last period on a Friday afternoon.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Taking a Break

I'm taking a break from mid-trimester grading to say the following: this is funny.

This evening last year, I was packing my suitcase to head to Seattle. Grading is far less fun. And far less anticipatory. No birthday visits with 95-year-old grandmothers or other non-family visits to look forward to.

Bright side? No time on airplanes. And I probably will get to see a friend this weekend, just not one who lives on the other side of the country.

Crap. There's still planning to do. And more grading. Late night? Why, don't mind if I do!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Love

From Salon, an article by Rebecca Traister on the enormous number of times that election 2008 has shown up on daytime TV this year. The View, Ellen, etc. Love what Traister has to say about the ghetto of women's daytime TV:
"But this isn’t anybody’s usual campaign, and what the (still mostly male) political pundits are coming to grips with is that the election cycle is not just playing out on their news shows and their 24-hour networks but also in the traditionally feminine — and therefore traditionally marginalized — world of daytime television."
Not to mention her recapping of the progressive stories that have been told by daytime TV, from soaps to the marginalized "characters" on talk shows like Jerry Springer.

So funny!

Ok, so this news item isn't funny by itself. What's freaking hilarious is the pronunciation guide for Gloucester, MA.

News Roundup

From the last week or so in the NYT:
- On French Catholic schools which are becoming havens for Muslim students who veil
- On the dearth of reporters who cover the doings at the NY state capital (what I like most about the article is the accompanying photo, of the newsroom -- it's so old school!)
- On the resurgence of Latin as a foreign language
- On the Ad Council's new ad campaign encouraging teenagers to stop the use of phrases like "that's so gay"
-----
The Nobel Prizes are being announced this week. Love them.
-----
From the "circle of concern" and regarding things I can't control, here's the latest polling data on the Presidential election (the electoral college anyway), from Slate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Contemplation

Here is an unfinished thought, stemming from current political issues and combined with the things that my kiddos are studying in American history class, namely the writing of the Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified with the rest of the Bill of Rights in 1791. The Anti-Federalists, or those who opposed the proposed government under the Constitution, held up the ratification of the Constitution because there was no bill of rights, as had been written into several state constitutions during the Revolutionary War. (Which, incidentally, was not that revolutionary. But that's a story for another time.) The position of the Anti-Federalists was that since there was no list of specifically protected rights, the new government of the United States would be prone to morphing into a authoritarian state. They were concerned, though not in these words, about the concept of power causing corruption. The Federalists countered that with a list of specific rights, perhaps the government would feel free to violate any and all rights NOT enumerated in the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists won that argument and ratified the Constitution with the agreement that the new Congress, when they were seated, would take up the issue and pass a Bill of Rights onto the states for addition to the Constitution. The Congress passed 12 amendments and sent them to the states in 1789; 10 were ratified in 1791.

I'm a big fan of the Bill of Rights -- all of them -- but what I want to address here are the first and fourteenth in relation to my current political wonderings.

The First Amendment, as we all know, contains five freedoms: speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. The clause I'm specifically thinking about deals with religion and has two parts: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

And then here's how this is all connected to politics: there are several states which this year, on their ballots in November, will be asking their citizens to pass a ban on gay marriage. California, Florida, etc. What gets me is thus: many of the supporters of these bans are using religious rhetoric to encourage people to vote for such a ban. But I'm thinking that would violate the establishment clause, if such reasoning were explicit in the amendments. Religious beliefs were used as justification for years in the prohibitions against mixed-race marriages and those prohibitions were overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1964. The Supreme Court also cited the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
The text of the Fourteenth Amendment actually makes no note of race:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
I'm no Constitutional scholar, I'm thinking that such bans will eventually be found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, if there is to be any fairness in this world.

Followup thoughts on what exactly the Founders were thinking in regards to the establishment of religion and the fact that there's no mention of god in the Constitution and most of the founders were Enlightenment-types who were Deists.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Food!

Here's a recipe taken from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook:

2 c. flour (can be half white/half wheat or all white)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. grated Cheddar cheese
1 T. caraway or dill seed (optional)
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt
2 T. butter, melted or vegetable oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the dry ingredients, the cheese, and the caraway or dill. Beat the eggs until thick and light. Add and beat in the sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing just enough to blend.

Bake in a lightly greased 5x9 inch loaf pan for 50 to 60 minutes.
-----
I have accidentally made this bread with only 1 t. of baking powder -- no worse for wear. I also put in more butter this last time, 4 T, because I felt it needed a little more moisture.

Tasty.

Manifesto: What a Week/end!

Teachers are busy people. We appear to not work all that many hours in a day, if you compute hours worked by time actually in front of a classroom full of kids. By that measure, someone might calculate that I work for 200 to 275 minutes per day, which is 3.3 to 4.6 hours per day, give or take. Cushy! If only that were so...

I arrive at school at about 7:30 am, 45 minutes before school begins. In those 45 minutes, I check in with colleagues, print and photocopy papers to hand out to children, write and answer emails to colleagues and parents, and check in with kids to see how they're doing, plus grade, plan, or compute grades.

During my "free time" at school, I evaluate lessons that I have already given, plan new ones, try to divine which one of my students might be having trouble and why, grade papers. I often stay at school until close to 6pm, working on the same sorts of issues as I do during my "free" periods at school, plus going to department, faculty, and other types of meetings. Then I often work another 2+ hours at home.

My weekend was full of school commitments too, with Homecoming on Saturday -- floats to watch, parents to schmooze, games to watch, and a dance to chaperone, until nearly midnight. Not to mention the 12-ish hours that I put in doing planning and grading between Friday night and late this afternoon.

Admittedly, I have a heavy load this year, with new classes to prepare for and some extra voluntary commitments for school. But I don't know a teacher worth their salt who doesn't put in this sort of work. It's why the teacher burnout rate is high and its hard to keep hardworking people in the job, especially given the money that is paid. (Yeah, I only get paid for working 40 weeks of the year, but if you think that good teaching doesn't require summer work, you'd be wrong. This past summer, I spent about 2 hours per day working, without extra compensation.)

I love my job because I love hanging out with kids. There's no better place to laugh and it's possible to be so silly and instill such a love for history and learning and have an influence on the individual development of young people. I don't know what the answer is to a teacher shortage and high burnout rate -- the people who are drawn to teaching are often those who thrive on a high level of activity and stress. People understand what my job title is, but they don't understand why I teach.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On Molly Ivins & Civil Discourse

Or the absence of her thereof, there's an article in Salon today from Anne Lamott. Parts I like best:

"She'd have been pissed at the Democrats for not being as robust as they should have been on civil liberties, even as she reasserted her heartbreaking faith in American democracy, the faith that if we stuck together, we'd figure it out in the end. We'd somehow help the poor.

She would have celebrated the tidal roar of support from younger voters, who have the vision and stamina to fight for someone who would hold the nation's leaders to account, people who would fight to make this a country where it was once again safe to be a small child, or a very old person, which it has not been for approximately 7.6572 years."

I'll be voting soon. And my vote will make me feel good. I haven't voted for a national ticket I felt this good about since Clinton-Gore '96. (I wish Al Gore had been as compelling in '00 as he is now.) I'm starting to feel as good about Obama-Biden as I did about voting for Howard Dean in '04.

I have to constantly say to my students, "Look, the other side honestly thinks that they are doing the right thing for this country. It just happens to be different from what you think might be the best course of action." And I think it's important to say, to retain civility in political discourse. But I'm ashamed to say that although I believe it of the Republicans, I don't think that they would think it of me. I fear that my positivity is all for nothing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Let them eat cake!

The 11th grade kiddos are taking a test tomorrow, so I've made cake for them. Vegan cake. Wacky cake. Chocolate cake. Yum!

On the bright side (brighter side? 'cause what could be better than cake?), I think that all of my planning work is done for this week. Next week is an entirely different story, but this week is all set. There's grading to be done, but pfft. That will get done eventually.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Politics and My Home State

See this article in Slate on the presidential election and who might win NH. Funny to me is the commentary at the beginning on the politics of the state, the fact that the state was taken over by Democrats in 2004, that it has a strange executive group under the governor called the Executive Council, and the fact that it was the only state that the Current Occupant didn't repeat in 2004.

And this too:
New Hampshire's license plates have made its "Live free or die" motto famous, but it's not just a motto. This is a state with no sales tax and no income tax on wages. It's the only state in the union without an adult seat-belt law. It's a state that grants its citizens an explicit "right of revolution"—see Article 10 of the state constitution—should the people's liberty ever become endangered.

More Convergence

So, there's an article from the NYT about the fact that Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashana and the Muslim holiday of Ramadan are coinciding this year. It's a pretty fascinating article, but the best line ever is this:

"The result has been a kind of monotheistic traffic jam in September along the paths of the tiny walled Old City, especially as dawn approaches each day."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Convergence

So, I saw the exhibit on Jim Henson last weekend at the Smithsonian, which was awesome. (Weirdly, I ran into one of my cousin's ex-girlfriends at the exhibit.) In a total convergence of stuff, there's an article on the Muppets in the NYT.

College Days...

Actually, more like summer job days. Here's an article from the NYT that describes a street version of the game that I played with my summer teaching job colleagues during the summer of 1999. A game I wouldn't want to play anymore, but it's certainly fun to read about!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grumpy

Today started well, but the grading is getting intense and starting to aggravate. A friend guessed that I may be having post-Mountain Day blues, so I choose to blame that rather than losing my Zen due to grading. Somehow, that's a better reason than work being slightly overwhelming. I'll get it all under control tomorrow and feel better before the weekend, hopefully. With any luck, I'll also be able to go car shopping on Saturday to look for something snazzy to replace the 20 year old car... Methinks it's time. At any rate, since I can think of nothing else, here's a song lyric and a poem that have resonated in recent days:

-----
"...it's a dirty trick I play on myself, imagining [he] might call, just because I've waited patiently..." --We're About 9, "Telephone Booth"
-----

Summer Nocturne
Let us love this distance, since those
who do not love each other are
not separated. --Simone Weil
Night without you, and the dog barking at the silence,
no doubt at what's in the silence,
a deer perhaps pruning the rhododendron
or that raccoon with its brilliant fingers
testing the garbage can lid by the shed.

Night I've chosen a book to help me thing
about the long that's in longing, "the space across
which desire reaches." Night that finally needs music
to quiet the dog and whatever enormous animal
night itself is, appetite without limit.

Since I seem to want to be hurt a little,
it's Stan Getz and "It Never Entered My Mind,"
and to back him up Johnnie Walker Black
coming down now from the cabinet to sing
of its twelve lonely years in the dark.

Night of small revelations, night of odd comfort.
Starting to love this distance.
Starting to feel how present you are in it.
-----
Stephen Dunn, from Everything Else in the World. New York: Norton, 2006.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Science and Education...

though not at the same time. First, a little moping about Monday -- if I don't believe in them anymore, does that mean they won't exist? The same goes for the fall and the fact that we're past the equinox. I didn't vote for that!

And now, on to the show:
- From the NYT, an article about a glacial pothole that has been found under the site of the World Trade Center construction site. Very fascinating for the geologists among us. And for me too.
- From the Christian Science Monitor, an article about people who might want to become teachers.
- Also from the NYT, something about the call for less emphasis on SAT tests. Dude, that debate is SO 10+ years ago!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Treading Water

I feel swamped but not overwhelmed with schoolwork at the moment. I think I would be overwhelmed if not for the summer work I put in. Thank goodness I did. I'm relatively caught up on grading, relatively on top of what I'm doing at any given moment. Of course, I'm already "behind" in the freshman class, but that's ok, I think. It'll all work out the right way, even if we don't read all of the last book. Fortunately, the last one that we're scheduled to read this year is a series of short pieces, really, so we can skip around if needed.

Wednesday, more than halfway through the week, yay!

Politics depresses me right now, as I'm desperately scared that the wrong people will win the Presidential election in November. On the other hand, I'm always up for talking about the state of education, so here are a few things of note:

- from the NYT, something on a public prep school in Yonkers
- in addition from the NYT, their blog on teaching

Monday, September 15, 2008

On a Plane

So, ladies and gents, here's a tip from your friendly neighborhood single person: no matter how attractive the person sitting next to you on an airplane is, it's rude to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to talk to you "because you're bored" when that person is wearing headphones AND reading a book. Yes, this happened to me on the way home from NH. Luckily, he shut up when I told him I'd been in NH for a funeral. The other option, I suppose, would have been to tell him that I'd been visiting my boyfriend, which would have been an outright lie, rather than just an exaggeration. Sheesh!
-----
Quote from a book I'm currently reading, The Gathering by Anne Enright:
"And what amazes me as I hit the motorway is not the fact that everyone loses someone, but that everyone loves someone. It seems like such a massive waste of energy -- and we all do it, all the people beetling along between the white lines, merging, converging, overtaking. We each love someone, even though they will die. And we keep loving them, even when they are not there to love anymore. And there is no logic or use to any of this, that I can see." p. 28

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Traveling

I'm back in NH this weekend, for the briefest of moments. I arrived on Friday evening and go back to MD on Sunday morning. Purpose of my trip? My friend Stacy's memorial gathering. It was good that I came, but it was a weird gathering, to me. So different from the Greek approach, with TONS of people, food, conversation about the person who is missing. This was very sterile in some ways.

I was sad, cried, and it made me think about how so much of life is such a crapshoot. You live your life, hoping that you're doing the right thing, hopefully doing something that makes you happy. With any luck, you find someone to share it with you who is good to you and to whom you are good. And hopefully you get to spend a lot of years with that person.

It's not fair that Stacy only got three years with her husband, 30 years on earth to do her thing. I know that some people get far less and others waste the time they have, but still, it's just not fair.
-----
Back to Mary Oliver I go, for some insight:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thinking is Hard!

Ok, not most of the time. But some of the time, yes. Mostly at school first thing in the morning. Hence, the decision to go back to coffee in the am. O caffeine, my one vice in the world. It's a truly love-hate relationship.

The teaching is going very well -- I feel like I can see things coming this year that I couldn't see before, that I'm really getting better at the whole thing.

There's a lot to balance this year, between the new preps, the CFG group, and the outside distraction of the beginning of reunion planning. (But on that note, I activated the nominating committee and know who I'm going to call for adding to it! So, check!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Too Much Fun

I had so much fun over the weekend, starting the reunion planning process and just generally gallavanting around old South Hadley. Cider doughnuts from Atkins, lunch from Tailgate, running through the pouring rain, reconnecting under the trees by the grave. There was funny too, and in that spirit, I present to you, dear readers, our rejected reunion themes:

- Balls.
- Rap Show.
- What's in my box?
- Where are we? Reunion!
- Listen, bitches...
- We (heart) Sarah Palin.
- Straight women unite!

Rarely ever do I do so much giggling as when I am with MHC women.

One of the other favorite quotes for the weekend:
"It's just not a trip to Atkins if you're not crammed in a car with lots of other MHC women." --Anna B.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another

Any politician who promises to end partisanship is lying.

How would they be able to raise money if there wasn't conflict between the parties?

The party that knows they're going to lose comments about ending partisanship.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More Lies

Definition of conservative: one who resists change.

Party of conservatives? Republicans.

How have McCain/Palin been framing themselves? People who advocate lots of change!

BS.

Bring on the revolution.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Politicians and Taxes

Any politician who tells you that they are going to cut your taxes is LYING.

Lying.

Lying.

Lying.

Sure, increase the federal deficit now! No problem. Just bill my children for it, would you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Economy Down!

A story from the NYT about the falling prices of lobster and how that's affecting lobstermen in New England. That's what my stepfather does...

Another, same source, about the difficulties that schools are facing with rising numbers of kids who are homeless or who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. And that's on top of slashed budgets due to general belt-tightening or reduced tax income. No good.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Into the Fray

Quite frankly, this is true:

"Asked if Ms. Palin will be able to judge the demands of the vice-presidency with her complicated family life, Mr. Schmidt [chief strategist for the McCain campaign] said, 'She’s been a very effective governor and again I can’t imagine that question being asked of a man.'" --from the NYT, article here

It's not a fair question -- each woman (family) has to decide for herself and her own family how to balance best and it's nobody else's business what she chooses and why. That's feminism's legacy to her.

On the other hand, I do think, since they brought it up, that it's valid to point out that the Palins have described the decision to remain pregnant as Bristol's choice and that Sarah Palin and her ideological counterparts want to take that choice away from all American women. If they had their way, they wouldn't be able to crow triumphantly that she had chosen life -- there wouldn't be a choice to make.

Still, to imagine that in this world of the 24-hour news cycle, where no topic is off-limits that they could have actually have been deluded enough to think that people wouldn't pass judgment on the family...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Katha Pollitt on Palin

Without talking about the validity of the "experience" of Palin to be VP (b/c after all, VP is a pretty useless job), here's a quote from Katha Pollitt's blog entry on Palin:

"Sure, Palin is cool -- she's pretty and vivacious and athletic, a former beauty queen who runs marathons, hunts , fishes and eats mooseburgers, plus she's got five kids with unusual names like Willow and Track, including a newborn with Down's syndrome. I feel tired just thinking of what her daily life must be like, and if she were my neighbor I would probably like her a lot. It shows how deeply feminism has penetrated American culture that even anti-choice, right-wing-Christian women are breaking out of the old sugary-submissive pastel-suited stereotype. And if life were a Lifetime movie, Palin would do just fine running the country should McCain keel over. Girls can do anything! and look great doing it! ...

Here's the reality: Palin is a rightwing-Christian anti-choice extremist who opposes abortion for any reason whasoever, except to save the life of the girl or woman. No exception even for rape, incest, or the health of the woman. No exception for a ten-year-old, a woman carrying a fetus with no chance of life, a woman on the edge of suicide-- let alone the woman who is not ready to be a parent, who is escaping domestic violence, who is already stretched to the limit as a single mother. She wants to force over one million women and girls a year to give birth against their will and judgment. She wants to use the magnificent freedom the women's movement has won for her at tremendous cost and struggle--the movement that won her the right to run those marathons and run Alaska -- to take away the freedom of every other woman in the country."
-----
Personally, I can't wait for someone to ask her what the punishment for abortion should be (i.e. "how much time should she do?") in a world where the procedure is newly illegal. Can we prosecute women for miscarriage too?

Dig It

I love Sarah Vowell. An essay of hers was published in the NYT yesterday. Love it.

Favorite lines? Too many to count. Perhaps:

"I am a registered Democrat. That first night’s convention speech by Senator Kennedy about his life’s work reminded me what being a Democrat means. I have spent the last eight years so disgusted with the incompetent yahoos of the executive branch that I had forgotten that I believe in one of the core principles of the Democratic Party — that government can be a useful, meaningful and worthwhile force for good in this republic instead of just an embarrassing, torturing, Book of Revelation starter kit."

Or this:

"But I would have been content with any one of the Democratic candidates in the Oval Office — Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, even John Edwards (because it is possible to make bad decisions about one’s private life and still have good ideas about health care). Each one has his or her gaping drawbacks, of course, but that’s always going to be true of people seeking a job only a damaged lunatic would want."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflections on Summer Camp

The general temperature & humidity here in MD remind me of the middle of summer in NH, and there is the sound of crickets coming in the wide open windows. It reminds me of the summer I spent living in a yurt, the time spent playing outside. I remember playing Ultimate Frisbee with a light up frisbee in the deepening twilight, until it was too dark to actually see the other people running around the field. The number of stars is amazing. There's nothing like teaching a kid to light their first match, make their first campfire, and eat their first s'more.

Essentials for camp:
- Showers are only necessary every few days (two hours off are often better spent sleeping)
- Coffee is one of the best treats known to humankind
- Don't drink liquids after 7 pm
- Counselors are pretty much the coolest adults on the planet to children
- There's something magical about a place where you get called by something that doesn't remotely resemble a proper name

Friday, August 29, 2008

Life

I feel like I've got the professional stuff down at the moment -- meetings scheduled and planned and run efficiently, classes planned and materials prepared ready to deliver on Tuesday and for the following 175 days.

Then there's the other stuff. Roommates are fine, friends at work are fine. I'm pleased to be going to Mount Holyoke next weekend and perhaps the trip will do me well in lots of different ways -- a little bit of time to reconnect with the motherland is probably a good idea, along with some time with the sisterhood.

Perhaps I can figure out what I want.

Timidity is not cute in adults and regrets are not pretty.
How do I live with what I've got?

These feelings are not productive. Not rational. (I should have given up on rationality a long time ago, but it persists.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Waiting... another poem

Optimism

My friend the pessimist thinks I'm optimistic
because I seem to believe in the next good thing.
But I see rueful shadows almost everywhere.
When the sun rises, I think of collisions and AK-47s.
It's my mother's fault, who praised and loved me,
sent me into the dreadful world as if
it would tell me a story I'd understand. The fact is
optimism is the enemy of happiness.
I've learned to live for the next good thing
because lifelong friends write goodbye letters,
because regret follows every timidity.
I'm glad I know that all great romances are fleshed
with failure. I'll take a day of bitterness and rain
to placate the gods, to get it over with.
My mother told me I could be a great pianist
because I had long fingers. My fingers are small.
It's my mother's fault, every undeserved sweetness.
-----
by Stephen Dunn, from Different Hours. New York: Norton, 2002.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Literary Moment: Quotes & More Poetry

"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too."
--Voltaire, Essay on Tolerance
-----
"If, in the past few years, you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead."
--Gelette Burgess
-----
"From the Manifesto of the Selfish" by Stephen Dunn

Because altruists are the least sexy
people on earth, unable
to say "I want" without embarrassment,

we need to take from them everything
they give,
then ask for more,

this is how to excite them, and because
it's exciting
to see them the least bit excited

once again we'll be doing something
for ourselves,
who have no problem taking pleasure,

always desirous and so pleased to be
pleased, we who above all
can be trusted to keep the balance.
-----
In the poem, I see myself as one of the altruists, not one of the selfish. *sigh* I'm feeling very Stephen Dunn these days.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Poem

The Lost Thing

The truth is
it never belonged to anybody.
It's not a music box or locket;
it doesn't bear our initials.
It has none of the tragic glamour
of a lost child, won't be found
on any front page. It's like
the river that confuses
search dogs, like the promise
on the far side of the ellipsis.
Look for it in the margins,
is the conventional wisdom.
Look for it as late afternoon light
dips below the horizon.
But it's not to be seen.
Nor does it have a heart
or give off any signal.
It's as if. . . is how some of us
keep trying to reach it.
Once, long ago, I felt sure
I was in its vicinity.
-----
by Stephen Dunn, from Everything Else in the World. New York: Norton, 2006.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It Begins Again

It's here, the beginning of the school year. Classes at my school don't begin until September 2, but the meetings have commenced. Yesterday, one scheduled and two informal, today and tomorrow spent with the freshmen, and meetings on Friday too. On some level, it's hard to have it begin this early and on another, at least spending this time together with the kids is some preparation for the school year that awaits. I know I'll be pretty tired that first week.

I have faith that it's going to be a good year this year. I'm focusing on my circle of influence (the things I am concerned about AND have the power to change) and trying to let go of things in my circle of concern (the things I don't have the power to change). I think the more I can get those two to line up this year, the better I'll feel about it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Equity in Education

So, here's an article from the NYT (it's been a while, right?) about the struggle to rebuild schools in New Orleans, post-Katrina. Even more than rebuilding, the educators are in the middle of attempting to re-imagine what schools can be and build that. They don't want to replicate the previous, broken system, they want to try new things and see what happens. They're using a combination of the charter school models to ramp up achievement and achieve some measure of equity for the students in the city. Fascinating use of the "big names" in school reform organizations: Teach for America, KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools. They've all managed to get young idealistic types to leave what they were doing wherever else in the country to go there to essentially experiment on the kids. The level of experimentation is scary, but admirable: no one's arguing that what they had before was a good thing, and no one really knows what the right answer is in terms of doing right by those kids. Something new is what's wanted, needed. Returning to the status quo is not an option.

Friday, August 15, 2008

For Me

On the last day of my class today, we did a touchy-feely activity which was really interesting and cool. It was called "Gratitudes" and each person in our group was asked to thank people in the group, individuals, for something specific. I thanked someone for saying to me that adults were allowed to change and grow, to give my colleagues the benefit of the doubt. I thanked another person for being deliberate and thoughtful. I thanked a third person for stretching their comfort level and trying new things.

It's fascinating to be thanked for something that you think of as just integral to your person. I'm writing this down so that I remember the good things that other people told me, not to brag. I was thanked for volunteering to go first, being enthusiastic and supportive, engaging in "teacher heroics," and one person thanked me for being someone that she wanted to be like.

My group also developed this strange (to me) affinity for these noises I was making while in discussion with others. Sometimes a funny little noise made more sense than words. It's an impulse that I usually don't give in to, especially in professional situations, as it's not entirely typical professional behavior. But it's fun to do and everyone understands the unspoken expressed in those sounds. It's something that I think I gave in to this week because I was so far geographically from my professional home base.

I have a plan for implementing the professional learning community and I'm hoping that I can keep an element of the fun I re-found in myself this week too.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Week

I've spent a week in western NH, attending a week-long session on coaching professional development groups for teachers. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned a lot. It's a type of interactions that my internship school used and that I wanted to bring to my current school. Being back in the environment of these groups and the procedures reminds me so strongly of my internship year -- and that feels good on some level. The thing which initially sparked memories was the language surrounding the ideas -- it's unique and culty, in a good way. I'm excited about asking my colleagues to join my group.

Interesting stuff for the week:
- seeing a black bear cross the road on the way to my class on Tuesday morning
- our group leader quoted the following on Wed:
"Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof." (Rumi)

Other stuff too. I'm so mentally through that I can't conceive of spending another day doing the work. I need to sleep again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Observations

I drove to Brattleboro, VT this afternoon to be closer to the class that I'm taking this week in Keene, NH. The drive wasn't bad and I saw the following sign outside a dog grooming business:

WE LOVE LABS
20% OF LABS

Observation: when one is staying in a hotel, the Olympics are a better TV option than reruns.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

2008 Olympics

Well, the summer 2008 Olympics have begun. I'm spending a little break from some reading watching an event or two on TV. Currently in my time zone, NBC is showing the men's cycling road race, which is 150 miles. Apparently, the cyclists are starting in Beijing and rode past Tiananmen Square and then the Olympic stadium venues.

It's a bit odd to think that I was in Beijing a year ago and saw that stuff all in person.

Also, I can't imagine doing those events in that air pollution. Gross.

Friday, August 8, 2008

NH Part 3

Nearing the end of the NH vacation... I've gotten to spend lots of time with family and getting to do the things I love here. So many of my favorite things are food -- but I think I got to hit all of my favorite food places on this trip: the Ice House in Rye, the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, and the Golden Egg in Portsmouth. I didn't make it to the beach (yet!), but I'm not sure the weather's going to cooperate on that one, especially since I'll be in a class in Keene all week next week. I also got to go to the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen's annual fair in Sunapee, NH. I really enjoy seeing all of the beautiful things that people make: art, rugs, photos, decorations, jewelry, etc. I usually buy a few pieces, whether that's art or something else. This year, I bought two pairs of earrings: one from Milkweed Cottage and another from Caitlin Burch. So beautiful!

I'm rested and ready to return shortly to points south.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Politics and Stuff

First, the politics. So sick of the election it's not even funny. When's November again? But, to alleviate some suffering, I present this from Garrison Keillor:

"And it's an amazing country where an Arizona multimillionaire can attack a Chicago South Sider as an elitist and hope to make it stick. The Chicagoan was brought up by a single mom who had big ambitions for him, and he got scholarshipped into Harvard Law and was made president of the law review, all of it on his own hook, whereas the Arizonan is the son of an admiral and was ushered into Annapolis though an indifferent student, much like the Current Occupant, both of them men who are very lucky that their fathers were born before they were. The Chicagoan, who grew up without a father, wrote a book on his own, using a computer. The Arizonan hired people to write his for him. But because the Chicagoan can say what he thinks and make sense and the Arizonan cannot do that for more than 30 seconds at a time, the old guy is hoping to portray the skinny guy as arrogant.

Good luck with that, sir."

In other news, I have spent two very beautiful days gallavanting around New England, hanging out with friends from different periods of my life: camp/MHC, grad school, high school. I actually asked the high school friend (who I haven't seen really in 12+ years, but we reconnected on Facebook!) what I was like in high school. She told me I was really quiet, which didn't really surprise me. She also seemed interested in how self-confident and outgoing I was now. It's interesting to reconnect with people from the past. I'd like to keep doing it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Kindergarten Factoid

11 school districts in the country did not offer public kindergarten during the 2007-2008 school year. All of them are in New Hampshire. However, as of the 2008-2009 school year, the town I grew up in will not be on that list. In fact, the list of school districts will be down to 8.

Enlightened state I grew up in, yes?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

To MHC... and beyond!

I had an excuse to drive down to visit Mount Holyoke today, and it was a good one! One of my students has decided to apply early (this fall!) and her family scheduled their vacation to make a visit so that her mom could see the campus. I met them there and took them on a little ramble around campus, answering questions and talking about the dorms and classroom buildings and the like. It was fun and then it got even funner... we went to lunch at Tailgate, where I ran into one of my classmates from MHC. Like what are the chances? Ok, I guess there's a reasonably higher chance of running into someone on campus than, say, the streets of Stockholm, Sweden, but it was still pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Politicians and Simple Answers

The NYT has an interesting story today about Barack Obama's time as a teacher at the University of Chicago's Law School. Apparently, he was a really good teacher, and reminds me of the examples of good teachers that we were given in grad school, at least in our social studies methods class. (The short version of that ideal is that students shouldn't necessarily be able to tell what your political views are -- that class is about their learning rather than indoctrinating them to think like you.) According to the people that were interviewed for the article, it sounds like Obama was a good teacher, forcing his students to think in unconventional ways and debate ideas.

The end of the article:
"But as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next.

So even some former students who are thrilled at Mr. Obama’s success wince when they hear him speaking like the politician he has so fully become.

'When you hear him talking about issues, it’s at a level so much simpler than the one he’s capable of,' Mr. Rodriguez said. 'He was a lot more fun to listen to back then.'"

Although I know that the last quote is meant to be somewhat disparaging, it actually gives me hope. I would like to think that the President can think at a higher level than he gives out in his speeches. I like to think that a President Obama would recruit people to work in the administration who would offer competing points of view. I want a President who knows that the world and decisions about it are incredibly complicated.

(Ok, I admit it, it's a "West Wing"-fueled fantasy, but can't a girl have one or two feelings of hope about politics? I've spent an awfully long time feeling cynical.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old Haunts

After junior and senior years of college, I taught at a branch of the Breakthrough Collaborative. (Their website could use a retool, don't judge the quality of their program on the website design.) BT is a program that serves promising but under-resourced middle school students, putting them on the path to college. The program has been named one of Princeton Review's Top Ten Internships for college students (along with the White House and MTV, of all things). It's the experience that led me to teaching.

Today, I went to visitors' day at the program that I taught at. When you are a teacher there, the program revolves so tightly around the kids and their needs and you get to know the kids really well, both the ones you teach directly in your classes and the ones you don't. It's this relationship between students and teachers that makes the program really intense and positive for the students.

When I visited today, I was tackle hugged by a person who was a student in the program when I was a teacher. She's a teacher now, as are at least two others of the students who I taught during those summers. Re-meeting those students and seeing them teach is amazing. They are such amazing young people. Awesome. On a more personal note, the enthusiasm of those students to see me is reassuring, that I did a good job when I worked there, that there's a good reason for me to be a teacher, that I'm capable of doing a good job at my current employer.

Science Nerding

From the NYT, an article on how scientists don't really understand the nature of glass -- even though it's solid, it looks like a liquid on the molecular level. It's pretty interesting if you can get your nerd on and remember some of that chemistry and physics from high school, but here's my favorite part:

"Dr. Wolynes and his collaborators came up with a mathematical model to describe this hypothetical, impossible glass, calling it an 'ideal glass.' Based on this ideal glass, they said the properties of real glasses could be deduced, although exact calculations were too hard to perform."

Emphasis mine.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Excellent

Standing on my back porch in dark NH, watching the stars come out, when all of a sudden, a shooting star streaked past. Wow.

"Muppets Take Manhattan"

I was watching this movie before I came to NH on vacation and took the time to type out a few quotes from the movie which were completely funny. Here they are for you:

"Ocean Breeze Soap: For People Who Don't Want to Stink" --Gil

"Look, buddy, I don't take off my clothes for anyone, even if it is 'artistic.'" --Janice, to Gonzo

"Hey, they finally made it to Broadway, and I got tickets!"
"Are they good seats?"
"They sure are! They're on the next train out of town!"
--Statler & Waldorf

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sigh.

I love how when you're living along dinner takes like 5 minutes -- heat leftovers, eat, done.

What a drag. The solitary life can be nice sometimes, but I don't dig it when it's raining and gloomy outside.

Not How I'd Say It, But...

Watching TV. Car dealership commercial.

How they describe where they're located: Rt. 114 in [town], across from the Women's Prison.

Editorial on Taxes and the Economy

An unsigned editorial from the NYT, which makes a glorious and often overlooked economic point about the recession we're in. (The good stuff is at the end.)

Yes, the economy is in the toilet. Why? The economy is shrinking, rather than expanding. The value of the dollar is dropping against other world currencies, since the economy is shrinking and the value of the dollar has to do with the value of the overall economy and the faith that government and corporations have in our longer term ability to climb out of the deep hole of our national debt. But it's important to remember that that value determination is two-fold. Some politicians (the Current Occupant and the Republican Nominee) have suggested that what we need to do to get the economy out of the toilet is to lower taxes -- thereby causing people who don't need to pay some money in taxes to use that money to invest and thereby stimulate the economy. However, there's a catch. The government keeps spending money regardless of whether it's coming in or not, so lowering taxes long term might keep the economy from sinking further, but will not convince corporations and other governments that we are going to ever have a healthy national debt.

That's something that's often ignored, but not, at least today, by the editorial board of The New York Times. Economics 101 right? But still worth saying.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Textbooks

From the NYT, an article on textbooks, digitized textbooks, and the illegal electronic sharing thereof. Commentary on the costs of books, the used textbook market, and the new digital textbook frontiers.

I think that maybe if textbook publishers quit sending so many free copies to instructors, schools, departments UNREQUESTED then they might see their costs go down and therefore have less need to pass it on.

That and the practice of updating the damn things every year, especially when it's something that doesn't change all that much...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cool Science & Knitting

From the NYT, scientists have found the trigger for the Northern Lights. Wicked awesome. Also, it's good to be back with my family, a group of Red Sox people who really keep up with the team. Love it.

The rain here! Mom and I spent yesterday gallavanting around going to knitting stores, looking at yarn. I was a good girl and didn't buy much, just two skeins of linen for a bag I want to make. I've got the following projects on the list:
- blue/grey striped wool scarf for the school auction next year
- green-yellow variegated wool mittens (first pair ever, probably with a cable design)
- blue linen sling bag with very interesting Mobius strip strap design

After that, I'd like to make a felted cat bed for Fish and then a sweater, perhaps a cardigan, out of some really nice yarn -- maybe linen, maybe a cotton-silk blend (silk is SO shiny!). But I need to get the supplies for those next projects. And I need to buy some new needles for the linen bag. Sometime after Christmas probably.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NH Part 2

While I'm in NH, I'm hanging out with my family and getting together with a few friends here and there. I have spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who I basically see once a year now -- they're 90 and I know they won't be here forever, so it's nice to spend some time with them. They're still pretty funny and interesting, though their bodies are failing a bit.

I had lunch today with a friend from graduate school and it was very interesting and fun. It's really curious to get together with someone who you used to work with to talk about the people that you both used to work with and that you don't quite remember anymore. There's something else deep to say, I'm sure, but it's just not happening right now.

It's been raining a bunch in NH, so my plans for the beach have been stymied. Mom has stuck around since my car's in the shop (and what a saga that's been) and we've been going to knitting stores. Lots of fun, though I'm just browsing -- trying not to purchase items to complete specific projects until previous projects have been completed!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Local

An article from the NYT about the renovation of the Music Hall in one of my favorite cities in the world, Portsmouth, NH. Yay!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

NH, part 1

I arrived in NH on Wednesday, leaving MD at 6 am and managing to make the drive in a mere 10.5 hours. I think that's my fastest time yet. According to the map sites, if you drive up 95 and through NYC, it should take about 9, but I don't go on 95 and I don't go through NYC. No thank you.

We spent yesterday having our annual family reunion, with people who we don't get to see very often, but who are lots of fun. It was nice to have a family gathering sans funeral/memorial service.

Working hard on my schoolwork for next year, which I'm hoping to make a major dent in this week... Here's something from the NYT for today, on methods and formulas for school diversification. The new integration ideas concentrate on multiple measures of diversity, i.e. more than just race -- and are considering socio-economic status, which is probably a good thing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vaguely Problematic

Watching TV. Advertisement for Smirnoff Cocktails -- made in mojito flavor. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Smirnoff makes vodka and mojitos are made with rum. Anyone else see the contradiction there?

Anywho, I am headed north to the ancestral homelands for approximately a month. I'll be hanging out with the family, visiting with friends and family who live in New England, heading to the beach, and taking another class. Plus, you know, working on stuff for school. Lots of planning and reading and stuff. I've made an appointment for my car to be seen by the local expert and for my hair to be cut by the local genius. ('Cause seriously, if I only pull my hair back every day, what's the point of having it long?)

Science, Education, & College

From the NYT, an article on increasing the number of women in science and science departments' relationship to Title IX.

I'm a little bit irritated that the author referenced the idea of women taking up science when there were strong, positive role models and then didn't check on stats/information from the women's colleges. Title IX was only instituted in the early 70's and it's just going to take a while for that effect to fully trickle into college departments -- for there to be women with PhD's to hire in equal numbers who can then encourage college women to go for degrees in science too. 30 years is not long enough to fix the "pipeline problem." Check the stats on women's colleges -- they turn out science degrees (and they go on to earn PhD's) in much higher proportions than at the co-ed schools and I'd bet that it's because of the role models and the can-do-anything atmosphere that prevails at such schools. The bias is subtle at co-ed schools, but I'd bet it's there, same as it ever was.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More on Education

So, I spent the past week at teacher training to teach AP United States history next year. Yes, I will be teaching to the test. Hopefully, the kids will buy in and generate some good scores over the course of the year and then on the exam. I've got about 5 inches of paper that is comprised of lesson plans, activities, essays, multiple choice questions, and the like. I know how the thing is scored and that the multiple choice section drives the test. I have the tools to teach the thing. Now all I have to do is go back and reconsider the syllabus that I submitted to the AP people, since it's probably a tad bit... wrong.

In other news, here's an article from Slate on the hiring of public school teachers. It's interesting, from the standpoint that it links studies done about the effectiveness of teachers in raising test scores and tries to then figure out where the common factors are in having effective teachers. (Turns out, it's nearly a mystery.) And it's also pretty anti-union, but again, that's understandable, since people tend to see the teachers' union as the reason bad teachers are able to stay in their jobs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

American History

So, I'm teaching American history next year, both AP and regular. It will be my first time with both of these courses. And I realized as I was sitting in my AP teacher training class today in Baltimore that I've missed American history. There's so much that I really get frosted about in my country's history, but then there's also a lot that I really like. I wish that women (and African-Americans) had gained the right to vote earlier, but better late than never, eh? Civil rights, more generally, same thing. There's this capacity to take stock and at least attempt to do the right thing, albeit slowly, too slowly, and never quite enough, but change does come in the United States, social and diplomatic and political change does come.

Hence my hopefulness, despite my incredibly jaded view of American history, that change will come in November.

Impressive, eh? A post completely without specifics and linking change in American history to current politics!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tenure for Public School Educators

So, here's an interesting article from The Washington Post which details negotiations between the DC teachers union and the school district. It's ultimately about a proposal which would offer teachers more money to give up their tenure. Teacher tenure for public school teachers is one of those really divisive issues for some in education. I get why some people
are bothered by it, the idea that teachers could be good for three years and then get really lazy once they get tenure, knowing that it's much harder to fire a teacher after they have tenure. Tenure is appealing for school districts because it's not transferable and they know that once teachers get it, they are unlikely to switch districts willy-nilly and there's something to be said for retention of staff. Tenure is appealing for teachers because there's a sense that it allows teachers to be more free with their students & subjects -- especially if you teach a potentially controversial subject like, say, social studies.

From the POV of the school district, I get why they would be willing to do this, pay teachers more with the understanding that their heads are always on the chopping block. On the other hand, the idea of tying teacher pay to student testing is scary to me. So much goes into whether a kid does well on a standardized test outside of the effort that an individual teacher puts into her or his classroom. Kid's sick that morning or just discovered that her parents are getting a divorce and there goes those test scores, no matter how well-educated the kid is. This is especially tricky in a city district like DC, where a higher percentage of the population of children is dealing with the issues that keep kids from learning, like being poor or hungry or homeless or having an otherwise less-than-ideal home life.

On the other hand, we've tried it the other way and it hasn't worked so hot, so let's give it a whirl and see what happens.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

4th of July

It seems like lots of people I know have plans for the 4th of July. It's never been a holiday that was a big deal in my family, so I didn't even think about it this year. I suppose I would have if I worked during the summer, but being a teacher, I kind of forgot that it was even coming up. Just another Friday.

On the other hand, I will say this: last year on July 4, I was in China. Here's a photo I think I took that day in Shanghai:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Too Funny

So, I like the author Jennifer Weiner. She writes a blog. She's really funny. Exhibit A of funny is her latest post. The part I like best is where she describes her telephone call with a guy named Curtis from a company called "Disaster":

"Just then, the phone rang. 'Hello,' said a friendly voice. 'This is Curtis from Disaster.' (You have to imagine this in the broadest Massachusetts accent possible, where 'disaster' sounds like 'disastah.') 'I hear you’re having a crappy day.'

Then he started laughing. Then I started laughing. 'Sorry,' he said. 'I couldn’t resist.'"

I like how she describes the Mass accent. :)

Change in Politics

I like Garrison Keillor a lot sometimes. From his column today in Salon:

"I'm 65 and have a good life and can't claim that the Current Occupant has done me much harm at all. It's when I think about 10-year-old girls I start to get hot under the collar. This clueless man has dug a deep hole for them and doesn't seem vaguely aware of it. He has spent us deep in a hole, gotten us into a disastrous war, blithely ignored the long-term best interests of the country, and when you think of the 4,000 kids who now lie in cemeteries, and for what? -- you start to grind your teeth. For the sake of the girl with the beautiful swing, I hope we get a better president than the disgusting incompetent we've wasted eight years of our national life on. Think twice about who you put your arm around, Sen. McCain."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Re: the List of American History People

Just happened to be doing some schoolwork for next year, rereading some stuff and came across this nugget, related to my past entry regarding "the list" of 10 Americans. From Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen:

"For twenty-five years now, Michael Frisch has been conducting an experiment in social archetypes at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He asks his first-year college students for 'the first ten names that you think of' in American history before the Civil War. When Frisch found that his students listed the same political and military figures year after year, replicating the privileged positions afforded them in high school textbooks, he added the proviso, 'excluding presidents, generals, statesmen, etc.' Frisch still gets a stable list, but one less predictable on the basis of history textbooks. Most years, Betsy Ross has led the list. (Paul Revere usually comes in second.)"

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thought

So, here's the disclaimer first: I'm not Catholic. I was raised a lefty Protestant, in a liberal United Church of Christ congregation.

Nevertheless, I've studied enough Christian theology to know what I'm talking about.

My thought for the evening involves the way that the Catholic Church has become, either through laziness or accident, a two-note body. At least in the United States, the only time that the Catholic Church is mentioned is in terms of abortion or gay marriage. (Additional disclaimer: I'm pro-choice and a fan of gay marriage.) The Catholics used to be involved in other issues of social justice, like poverty and economic inequality (see the Catholic Worker Movement and liberation theology). Perhaps they still are and I just don't know about it. But if I, who pays particular attention to both current events and religion, don't know about it, who else does?

Far, far more children are in poverty than there are gays who want to get married. The cycle of poverty makes women feel that they have no other option than to have an abortion! Do we not see the connections here? Instead of worrying about which American politicians should be denied Communion because they're pro-choice, couldn't they worry about that instead?

Dunno. Maybe I'm just missing some critical information somewhere. Perhaps this is a top of the heap vs. grassroots issue. But also considering the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, it doesn't seem that it would be possible to be different at the top vs. the bottom. It's not like self-governed UCC churches.