Sunday, April 27, 2008


I haven't lived in the DC metro area for very long. I think that at this point, I have a good idea of how the roads all work, which came in handy this weekend. I picked up my cousins at Union Station, which was painless. We made it to the hotel, and again, painless. I then volunteered to drive ('cause I'm crazy) to Arlington National Ceremony and then back to my uncle's house for food, a post-funeral "reception." Saturday I drove around again, to visit my great aunt, back to the hotel, and then again to my uncle's house, just our family. I sat around the dining room table with my mom, my aunts Melanie, Lauren, & Lindy, and my great aunt Alice. They all told stories about driving mishaps and how they met their husbands. It was pretty neat to sit around and hear those stories.

It was also really nice to see my family again. I know I'm biased, but I think they're awesome. I'm excited that we'll be gathering again (at least some of us) in NH this summer.

Now that I've done all of this driving, I feel like a real DC-area resident. I navigated not only the beltway, but also the back roads too, plus missing a turn on the directions from Arlington to Ken's. It was a long weekend and it was also short.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More on Education

Some history of school reform, in the form of what exactly went on the 1980's with the report called "A Nation at Risk" and what the author sees as the risk today. I think that he probably has it right -- that the challenge is making sure that all of our students have access to good quality education, even those traditionally underserved by the system. What's amazing about that? I have no idea. I feel like that's what the Breakthrough Collaborative (formerly Summerbridge) has been saying for years. Seriously, this is news?

Also from the NYT, "Informal Style of Electronic Messages is Showing Up in Schoolwork, Study Finds." First: they did a STUDY on this? And second, duh.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Family in Town

Well, my family is in town, and my mom and aunt unexpectedly showed up at school... This doesn't happen to me very often, as most of the time they live far, far away! But all of a sudden, there they were! Everyone's in town for my aunt's memorial service at Arlington tomorrow.

(Ok, so she wasn't really my aunt. But that's the easiest relationship to shorthand in this case, given the closeness of the extended Greek family. Technically, she was my mom's first cousin, my first cousin once-removed. But who wants to explain that? And she did once introduce me to someone as her niece. So, she was my aunt.)

I get to drive into DC tomorrow to pick up my cousins at Union Station, which should be ok, as adventures go. DC's not bad, the grid and all that, and it's midday, so traffic shouldn't be an issue.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Election

I can't believe that there are still just over six months until the general election. I read somewhere the other day that pundits/pollsters/media talking heads are getting sick of the election.

Um, the rest of us are too. It's nearly enough to make a girl not vote in November as to protest the length of this presidential election cycle. (Only I certainly will vote. I'm genetically incapable of not voting.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I'm the adviser to my school's chapter of the National Honor Society. I was a member back in the day and one of the only things I remember doing was selling candy bars to raise money for a scholarship that we gave at the end of the year. I also remember answering letters to Santa that local kids sent -- we got to write back to them, as Santa. It's a struggle sometimes, getting these busy kids to jump in and take on something else, a project for NHS. But my kids did it, for only the second time this year... I don't think it's part of my job to hound them about getting service projects organized. They have enough to do, you know? Plus, if they're seriously unmotivated, my riding them is just going to make our relationship messed up. So, I leave them alone and support them when they decide to get up and make something happen. That being said, this week:

My kids organized an observance of the Day of Silence at our school. They're selling the stickers that they ordered and they're sending the money back to GLSEN as a donation so they can continue their work. How awesome... They got up at assembly today to announce the event, explain the reasoning behind it, and invite everyone to participate. I wonder how many kids will? I know that it also doesn't really matter. Knowing that it was spearheaded by kids makes it worth it no matter how many of them participate.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Putting It Off

I'm finally getting around to writing a condolence note to the mother of a friend of mine. Stacy died in February, about a week before my birthday. Even thinking about writing the note is making me cry. I don't really have a good excuse for not writing before now, other than that I knew it was going to hurt to write. I don't, of course, know yet what I'm going to write IN the note, not specifically. I chose a brightly colored notecard, which seems right somehow. I do have experience getting sympathy notes and I think that the best ones are ones with specific memories, so I'm going to try to come up with a selection of the right ones.

Stacy and I had been friends since about 3rd grade and we lived just down the street from one another. On the bus on the way home from school, she taught me how to blow bubble gum bubbles. We were Junior Girl Scouts together in elementary school, sang together in chorus in high school, and traveled together to Disney World senior year on a chorus trip. Stacy was my perennial defender in elementary and middle school and while I have forgotten most of the mean things that classmates said to me, Stacy still knew every single one, even when we were nearly 30 years old. She was creative and funny and smart and kind and brave and I miss her so much.

Maybe that's enough for now. Maybe the rest can wait until her memorial service this summer. Stories about her sense of humor and the questions that she asked in chorus ("So, if someone's singing a little sharp and someone else is a little bit flat, does that even out?" -- Stacy was a visual artist, so this makes sense from a color point of view, but not so much for pitch, eh?). How she just knew to hug me and didn't have to say anything when I came up on anniversaries of my dad's death. How she taught me to be more musically artistic just because I knew that she could hear colors.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Well, here I am, faced with a big old stack of 38 essays to grade. (2 more will appear on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.) I like assigning essays, since I know that it makes the kids better writers to actually do it. But that all goes out the window when it's time to, you know, grade them. Grading is so horrific. I hate that I have to rate students, especially knowing that it affects their self-esteem. (I know it used to affect mine. I rarely ever read a comment on a paper that a teacher or professor wrote until senior year of college.) I wish there was some other way to assess their work without grading. Or testing. Granted papers and projects are better methods of assessment than, say, standardized tests, but still. It's a struggle.

I wonder how much my grading has changed since I was an intern? That year, the kids used to call me "C is for Cynthia." Apparently, I was a tough one. (Seriously, though? There's no excuse for not knowing how to correctly punctuate a sentence when you are in high school. That's the part with rules. Constructing an argument is much more difficult than knowing where to put a comma or whether to use two, to, or too.)

As pain in the ass as my Summerbridge weekly evaluations were, at least they were more descriptive of what the kids could do. I feel like the B+ tells parents and students nothing, which I guess is where our comments come in. But it was easier to be detailed in the weekly evaluations because we only had 8-10 students or whatever. I have 75... (which is nothing compared to some public schools)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

China & the Olympics

So, here's a new article on protests associated with the Olympics, the torch relay, and China's human rights record. Interestingly, this is what I'm teaching about next, somewhat because it's in the mail, somewhat because I've decided that I know enough about China now to talk somewhat authoritatively about it and it's important to know about. I've got excerpts ready to go from Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones, which was fascinating to read, plus several articles from The Christian Science Monitor, which is one of my favorite international papers. Anyone else keeping up with China these days?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Well, kids, that's the end of our squatter days. We'll be moving in a mere two weeks and there's a lot of packing to be done between now and then. Not moving far, about 10-ish minutes from where we live now, into a smaller space (which will, thankfully, probably cost less to heat in the winter). It'll be a three-story townhouse about four blocks off the bay, and will cost the grand amount of $600 per person per month.

Yeah, I wish there was something else to report here, but there's just not. I'm having a good week at school -- wandering around school yesterday a colleague remarked that I looked like "the cat who ate the canary." Not really sure what's up with that.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

News Items

From the NYT, an article about quirky gifts to colleges... If I ever have money, how could I donate it to MHC so as to hamstring them most effectively? (Just kidding... I want a building named after me! Or not. Plus, it's a somewhat pointless exercise to think about, since unless I hit the lottery, which I don't play, I won't ever have the funds to do such a thing!)

Also from the NYT, a bit about the revival of Greek yogurt, which my aunt has been making in her kitchen for years. And now people want to eat it who aren't Greek!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I'm sitting on the couch, reading, with my kitten Fish next to me. The twitching that he's doing while he sleeps makes me think he's having a dream. Cute.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Fun

Sometimes it doesn't get any better than being silly with the kids and getting gently teased by colleagues. If that's not why I teach, I don't know what is.

Have an excellent Friday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Students Changing the World

An 8th grade student at the school where I teach has an idea: to have a memorial day for all of those caught up in the middle of wars, not the soldiers (as we already have days to remember them), but the innocent bystanders. He would like to present this idea to as many people as possible and work up to Congress and the United Nations.

Think he's a smarty pants? You bet he is. (A good public speaker too.)

Sign his petition, link to it, tell your friends.

Got some media influence that you wouldn't mind exercising? Lemme know all about it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some Poems

Machines by Micheal Donaghy

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver (one of my favorites ever, especially the end...)

Girlyman Love

So, my favorite band is called Girlyman. Everyone should definitely take the time to check them out. I've seen them in concert 8 times and have never driven for less than an hour to see a concert. (I have friends who have seen them far more times, but I'm pretty proud of my 8.) I've only seen them once in the state in which I was living at the time. That's a testament to how much I love them. At any rate, their new live album is out, at least to the pre-order crowd. I got mine in the mail today and how I love it already. Some new material (that I had already heard via bootleg), but mostly it's about the funny... These guys are hilarious and have so much fun on stage. I saw them most recently a few weeks ago in Vienna, VA, at the Barns at Wolftrap. They actually moved me to tears. Lovely harmonies and lovely people.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Musical Whatnots

An article from Slate which describes the general misery of players and builders of acoustic instruments. Page two has a big funny regarding the reed obsession of players of double-reed instruments.

I need to sing again in the fall, with a real, somewhat legitimate chorus/choral group. What would really be good would be if I could get back into a women's group, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. There's one in DC that looks good, but the travel time would be too much each week, with rehearsal ending at 10-ish, I wouldn't get home until 11-ish. Not ok, with school starting when it does. But I think one in Annapolis will be ok, good enough for now.

And I miss people who live far away from me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Favorite Places

So, a few days ago, I made reference to western Massachusetts as one of my favorite places on earth. I got to thinking about that concept and decided to make a list of my actual favorite places on earth:
- Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA (specifically the library and Abbey Chapel)
- Wallis Sands Beach, Rye, NH
- Camp Farnsworth, Thetford, VT
- my grandmother's backyard, Renton, WA

I'll add to it as I remember other places. I feel like there must be others, but I can't remember what they are. These places are quiet, verging on silent at times. Places I feel like myself.

Monday Morning Nationalism

So, here's an article about the independence of Kosovo causing a minority within Kosovo to want to have independence from Kosovo. Where does it end?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stories Galore

Beyond cute, this is. Sounds just right.


From the NYT, single mothers in China: taboo, but forging ahead anyway!

Tourism in Tibet -- stopped in the wake of protests

Rainy Sunday

Some more on education, from The Christian Science Monitor: a study on the effectiveness of Teach for America teachers -- and it turns out that the program is doing well, better than traditionally trained teachers in some subject areas. What I particularly like about the article is that it makes note of the fact that the program is incredibly selective (21% acceptance rate, from top colleges and universities). Although I adored my program (at a public university in New England) and learned quite a bit, I definitely think that it was a money maker for the university -- if you could pay, they would let you in, or at least that was my perception.

"One challenge with a model like TFA is that it's hard to replicate, says Douglas Harris, an educational policy professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The study suggests more broadly, he says, that people should be open-minded about 'all sorts of possible alternative routes to [teacher] certification.'

Cognitive ability is an important predictor of worker effectiveness in complex occupations like teaching, Mr. Harris's research has found. So alternative programs could be useful, for instance, if they draw in candidates who 'learn faster and learn better,' he says."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mmm, Nerdiness

History alert: article about train tunnels (and building new ones)

Museum in western Mass (one of my favorite places on earth)

Something on the difficulty of creating rules for schools, especially middle schoolers.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Yeah, so it's Friday. And in that spirit, I bring you something to exercise your brain: an article from (where else?) the NYT on the transition of microlending to profit-generating business. Now, I'm a fan of microlending, having first learned about it during my time at Mount Holyoke in one of my women's studies class. Women are often the recipients of microlending, using it to create independence and self-sufficiency, and is no doubt a welcome alternative to prostitution for many. It has revolutionized certain areas of the developing world, and in 2006 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh for this very reason. To me, this is the sort of endeavor that would be more suited to a non-profit situation, with profits being reinvested. On the other hand, I see the point of being able to expand, rapidly, the available credit.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I'm pretty sure that I haven't gotten any smarter lately, so it's for sure that Jeopardy questions have been dumbed down. When my roommate and I can get the Final Jeopardy answer from just the topic, things have gone downhill.

(By the way, the topic in question was "1920's Literature." We said "Gatsby" without thinking twice. And we were right.)

Cricket in NYC Schools

From the NYT: Cricket is the newest sport being played in NYC schools. Wow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Slate: Fixing It

Slate (online magazine) has initiated a series of articles to outline what needs to be done to fix what the Current Occupant (to borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor) has done during his time in office. This one's about education.

"The act is at once the Bush administration's signature piece of education legislation, its most significant domestic policy initiative, and the most intrusive federal education law in our nation's history. The federal government provides less than 10 percent of all education funding, yet NCLB drives education policy in every school district in the country."

Being that NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is one of the reasons I left public education, it's nice to hear someone actually point out the disparities between the requirements of NCLB and the funding provided by the Feds.

Are there things wrong with public education? Don't get me started. But the way to fix them is not with NCLB, at least not as it's currently written. There are good goals in the NCLB: "creating high goals for all schools, ensuring accountability for meeting them, and focusing attention on disadvantaged and minority students who are too often ignored" but excessive standardized testing, exacerbating the culture of shallow, over-broad, disconnected learning is not going to fix it.

"Standardized test results tend to track socioeconomic status." 'Nuf said. You can tell more from SAT scores about the kind of car a kid's parent drives than you can accurately predict their success in college.

I don't agree with their stance that it's time to create national standards in subjects, simply because the Feds aren't providing the funding for all schools in the nation. (That's my Libertarian/New Hampshire streak showing.) Large states with weirdly conservative standards is what has corrupted the textbook industry, at least in my subject, history/social studies -- I think national standards will eliminate the creativity of individual teachers.

NYC Congestion Charge

NYC just approved a congestion charge for driving in certain parts of Manhattan. This follows London's example. I'm sure that some are pissed off about it, but I think it's a good idea, reducing traffic and pollution at the same time.

School News

'Cause this is what schools need (from the Christian Science Monitor) -- a reduction in funds, especially since most of the schools in California aren't even making their No Child Left Behind targets already

Wonder if these things affect high school classrooms too (also from CSM) -- politics of professors

And the improbable physics of Harry Potter (CSM)