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


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


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...

- 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


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


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


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.


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.