Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The other day, I was a Republican.

The day my honey had her car broken into, that is.

Most days, I'm a fairly bleeding-heart liberal. I voted for Dukakis, for shit's sake. But occasionally, I am not. Every month, when I look at my pay stub and see the taxes taken out, I become a Republican for about five minutes. Then I remember our roads, military, and meat inspectors, and I'm okay again.

But as I realized that my wife and I were going to have to pay our car-insurance deductible because some punk took our stereo, I suddenly wasn't as interested in the deeper socioeconomic root causes that brought about the incident.

I just want to grab the guy, shake him, and say that he can play by the rules like the rest of us. Earn the money, asshole--then you can buy a car stereo just like my wife did.

That thought made me a Republican for just about one entire day...a new record.

(But it says something that I'm only a Republican when I'm angry, doesn't it?)

There but for the grace of God...

Jim describes a tragedy at his school. My heart goes out to him, his colleagues, and his students.

If you count student teaching, this is my eighth year teaching at my high school, and amazingly, we have not had a single student death. Not even one. By now, statistically, there should have been more than one--a drunken accident, a suicide, a natural cause. We've been incredibly lucky. Every homecoming and prom I hold my breath--and every time, we've come back with the student body intact, and I've exhaled. I don't think we're special. I think we're lucky. Or, as one of my bosses put it when I said this to him, "overdue."

When any tragedy happens, they have the emergency faculty meeting before school, just like the ones Jim describes. Every time I hear "We have an urgent faculty meeting in the back of the theater at 7:15," my stomach falls. It's NEVER good news. We've only had three of those meetings. Each was certainly tragic--one was 9/11, one the sudden death of a custodian, and one a tragic accident involving a teacher's adult son. I don't mean to soft-pedal the horror of any of those events, each of which was awful and impacted me, but from what I've been told, they don't have the same sort of local, immediate emotional wallop as losing a student. My older colleagues describe the feeling. You bust your butt every day thinking of kids' futures, and then...suddenly, strangely, unnaturally--there isn't a future any longer.

I plan on teaching 29 and a half more years. This will happen to me. And I'm not sure I'll know how to take it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Starting the holiday season

Happy Turkey Day.


Off to the in-laws'...back on Sunday.

We're in the holiday season now. While I enjoy the holiday season, I thought I'd start off with this question:

What holiday song would you be happy to gather all copies of and burn, thus having it never be heard again?

Monday, November 21, 2005

What We Deserve

In the course of all of the education discussion I've been having (both on-line and off), I've been noticing I'm a bit of a socialist in my views on education. My wife has a capitalist solution--one which I am a tad skeptical about, for reasons I'll go into on her blog after mulling it over a tad more.

In one of those conversations, a colleague at work stated the following:

"People in neighborhoods get the schools they deserve."

His point: in his years working in areas with poor schools, levies would fail and parents would not value education. Therefore, they "get the schools they deserve."

My issue with that statement is this: assuming that the parents are uninvolved, apathetic, and possibly even hostile to education, does that mean the kids deserve to suffer the fallout? This feels to me to be more reason to fund education at the state level instead of the local.

More on that later--maybe.

Right now, though, the use of the word "deserve" has my mind going.

What do people deserve in our country? What exactly falls under our inalienable rights? Yeah, I know we deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But what else do we deserve by virtue of being human?

Let's see what kind of a socialist I am. I'm not interested in making this work yet, but if I'm going to work on a revolution, I need to have some idea what I believe. What do I think everyone should have?

Well, the stuff at the base of Maslow's pyramid, for starters. Everyone should have food, water, and shelter. The shelter should be safely cool in the summer and safely warm in the winter. Nobody deserves to starve or be homeless.

Basic health care. If someone gets a cut on their finger, they deserve to get it fixed whether they can afford it or not. If someone has a heart attack, they deserve hospitalization without worrying about payment. I recognize this could get out of control in a big hurry--does everyone deserve a heart transplant? and if they did, could we pull it off?--but on the whole, I put this about a half a level above Maslow's base, and therefore something everyone deserves.

Protection. All citizens deserve protction from foreign threats--the military should protect us all equally. (If we were invaded, I wonder if this would happen.) We deserve equal protection from domestic dangers from police and fire departments. If there's a natural disaster, our governmental plans for escape must take into account rich and poor.

Education. If we believe all of us have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, then we must have excellent and equal education. It's that simple. If we believe in what our country stands for, education must be equally excellent everywhere, and we must fight loudly when we fall short of that goal. If our government were willingly overlooking starving people (they deserve it), willingly refusing to provide fire protection to the poor (who don't deserve it) while providing constant protection to the rich (who do), or deciding that the homeless deserved to be homeless, well, I think we're failing as a nation.

I don't think people who have squandered a legitimate educational opportunity deserve anything beyond what I've described above (unless I'm forgetting something obvious, which I probably am). I don't think I'm at Sweden levels up there.

But if we truly provide equality of opportunity in this nation, we have to provide all of the above to all citizens, even (especially) equal and excellent education. And, since separate education by race (or, I believe, by class) is inherently unequal, I believe we need to be integrated as much as possible to reach this goal.

If we don't believe in equality of opportunity, let's stop saying we do. If we do, let's get busy creating it. We can argue about the plan--that's fine.

But not having a perfect plan does not mean it is acceptable to maintain the status quo. Let's hash something out. I don't have a perfect plan--just a few ideas. My wife has a better plan. I like plans, even ones I disagree with. They at least acknowledge that the status quo is unworthy of our nation.

We deserve better. We all deserve better.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Babies

Two of my coworkers/friends have had babies in the last week. At a baby shower for one (a shower after the birth because the baby was premature...everyone, thankfully, is fine and making progress), I was introduced to the other. 5 days old. I stroked her head and talked to her for a little while. Her dad definitely still has starry eyes.

"Check this out!" he said to me.

He lifted his daughter's tiny little pant leg and said "Feel this!"

I ran my index finger along this baby's calf. It was incredible...feeling a muscle that had literally never been used. Tender. So indescribably soft.

Am I wrong for having the folowing thought? I actually thought (but didn't say): "This is why people like veal."

Very bad, then very good

Check out this actual play-by-play from the Steelers/Ravens game on NFL.com. Pittsburgh has the ball in Baltimore territory when we start:

***
1-10-BAL20 (5:24) T.Maddox pass incomplete to H.Ward.

2-10-BAL20 (5:24) PENALTY on PIT-C.Okobi, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at BLT 20 - No Play.

2-15-BAL25 (5:19) T.Maddox pass incomplete to D.Kreider.

3-15-BAL25 (5:13) T.Maddox pass to H.Miller to PIT 19 for -56 yards (A.Weaver, P.Boulware).

4-71-PIT19 (5:13) J.Reed 83 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-G.Warren, Holder-C.Gardocki.
***

Perhaps it was a highly unusual strategy to go for the negative 56 yard pass. But when faced with a 4th and 71 situation deep in his own territory, I feel like Bill Cowher could have been ballsy and gone for it. He could have played it safe and punted. But no--instead, he went for the middle ground and kicked the 83 yard field goal...nearly 33% longer than the previous record. And he MADE IT! That's a wonderful way to recover from the 56 yard loss (also a record) on the previous play.

Way to go, Steelers!

Customer Service Survey

Last month, I took my car in because I had a busted signal light. It turned out it was more serious--a wire had melted and could have caused the whole car to shut down at once. They kept the car. They fixed the car.

About two weeks ago, they called and left a two-minute message BEGGING me to fill out the customer service survey that I'd receive, giving them 100% "completely satisfied" ratings. If they get a certain rating, they get new equipment from the car company. If anything--anything--is preventing me from checking "completely satisfied" for any reason, I should PLEASE call him to say why.

Now I have the survey sitting here. They did fine. Does it merit grade inflation because they gave me an obsequious phone message? It'd be like going on a date with the girl who's begged you to go out with her. I mean, even if she's nice and cute, the begging makes her unattractive.

I think I'm going to take the wimpy way out and just not fill out the survey.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

You should see Shopgirl.

Shopgirl is the best movie I've seen in some time. The first three minutes are astonishingly beautiful, and by the time Claire Danes's character said a word, I was totally sympathetic to her and on her side for good. That's a hell of a good bit of cinematography. The movie develops slowly--I could print the whole plot in six or seven sentences, not many of them compound or complex--so you can really admire the acting (Claire Danes is awesome, and Jason Schwartzman pretty dang good too) and settle back and think about the characters, really digest every nuance in Claire Danes's character...I loved it. See it.

UPDATE: The wife liked it too.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reliant on technology

Yesterday morning, I was checking blogs while watching the news. I thought I heard somebody from the Heritage Foundation say something that made me double-take. "Huh? He said something that offensive and stupid? Nah...he couldn't have."

I hit the "back seven seconds" button on my Replay TV.

My Replay TV was malfunctioning and wouldn't go back seven seconds.

I will never know what the guy said or if it was as stupid and offensive as I thought it was.

It's amazing how quickly I've grown to rely on the "back seven seconds" button.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Set a new record yesterday...

Went home from school sick yesterday at 10:00. Slept from 10:30 until 3:00. Then sent back to sleep at 11:00 AM and slept all the way to 7:00 AM. That's 12.5 hours out of 20.

I feel much better! Believe that's a new record...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Short-term memory weirdness

I went in for my TMI surgical procedure today. I was told I might fall asleep, but that I might be able to stay awake and watch the whole thing (oh, joy!).

I got the IV. 7:45 AM.

I followed the doctor's instruction of "Roll over on your left side, please." 7:46 AM.

I woke up on my couch. 2:10 PM.

In the interim, I actually said something quite sweet to my wife, received help getting dressed (again, from the wife), was told the results of the procedure, received instruction about my upcoming prescription, got a ride in a wheelchair to the car, rode home, talked to my wife about usage of the carpool lane, trudged into the house, fell asleep on the couch, answered the phone to give my wife my insurance card information, and then woke up and called my parents and sister.

I REMEMBER DOING NONE OF THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH.

This freaks the hell out of me, to be honest. What if I had done something illegal or immoral?

This has led to some strange interactions with the World's Best Wife today. To wit:

"You got me a prescription? What for?" This statement ignores conversation with my doctor (thank goodness my wife was there for that!) and the phone call with my wife. I was coherent enough to get my insurance card out of my wallet and read her the relevant information from it, but I'll be damned if I could remember doing that.

Weirder still was this evening, when I called my dad.

"Hi, Dad."
"TRP! Do what do I owe this honor?"
"Well, just wanted to let you know everything went okay today."
"You told me that when you called me earlier today."

(long, awkward pause)

"I called you earlier today?"

This disconcerting drug-caused memory loss has happened to me twice before.

I had nasal surgery in 1994. My dad, an anesthesiologist, was in the room, and said I wouldn't be able to remember anything. I said I bet I would. So, after the IV went in, he gave me "the password." I couldn't remember it later. (It was "Afghanistan.")

In high school, I had my wisdom teeth out. The sedation entailed taking a pill the night before and another the morning of the surgery. The morning's memories are soft fades in and out...I'm in the shower...I'm stumbling to the car...I'm waking up during the surgery...and then, I'm awake on my couch. I'd asked my folks to set aside my game of Statis Pro Baseball for me. My buddies Peter and Ian and I were doing a 72-game season (which took us 4 years to finish), and I thought I could play a few games while I convalesced. I propped myself up to play a game...and found I had played a full game, and had the full box score and updated stats right in front of me. I COULDN'T REMEMBER PLAYING THE GAME. The handwriting was fuzzy, and there were drops of blood on the box score...but I had played it. I had gone through the whole game, pitching changes, strategic decisions for both teams, and all that, and I couldn't remember.

That was damn bizarre. I hated it then, and I hate it now.

So two lessons:

1. I will never drink until I black out. Never have, but now no way I ever will.
2. I will avoid boxing, football, and other activities that might lead me to a concussion.

At least I didn't blog today. It'd be really weird to find a post here that I don't remember writing.

Update: Swankette just told me I told her the story about the wisdom teeth and Statis Pro Baseball earlier today. I'll take her at her word, because I don't remember that happening, either.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Us vs. Them in Education

I taught sixth grade for two years in the Teach for America program in a military town in the South. My situation was a little unusual. My class was about 2/3 military brats, and while a good chunk of the remaining third were desperately poor--I made a few home visits to dilapidated trailers because the family didn't have a phone--on the whole, there was quite an economic mix. There were sizable percentages on free lunch, sizable on reduced, and sizable without. So the reason the school needed TFA teachers wasn't because it was struggling with economic or even educational issues, but because most of their teachers were military spouses who might have to pack up and leave on a moment's notice. They were, quite simply, thrilled that anybody was planning to stick around for two years.

Out of the five sixth grade teachers in my school, exactly one was certified in the state--Kathy, a 14-year veteran teacher, well-respected in the community. A second was not yet certified in the state, but was certified out of state. The remaining three were emergency certified (two of us through TFA, the third not). All were teaching for the first time in our lives. The TFA teachers had a couple of weeks of classroom experience from our summer institute. The non-TFA, to my knowledge, had nothing.

The school had a policy where parents could choose which teachers their kids had--but it did not publicize the policy. It's pretty easy to see why. Not every student would get what they wanted. What parent in their right mind wouldn't pick Kathy? She's the known quantity, she's good, and the rest of us are unknown quantities and, for the most part, neophytes. When only those parents who are (a) super-duper in the know and (b) care enough to make a few phone calls get to pick their children's teachers, their kids (who, due to the positive aspects of this kind of parenting, are almost invariably very strong students) are going to wind up in Kathy's class. Kathy's class won the math facts award nearly every year. Some of that was her skills as a teacher, yes...but some of it was that she always got the kids whose parents valued education. Kathy's kids got a doubly-good education (a better teacher and sharper classmates). And, since those kids' parents got to choose every year, that impact was exponentially compounded over time.

Now, let's take a look at the impact of this policy on the rest of the sixth-grade classrooms...in other words, the doubly-bad education that was an inevitable side-effect of the doubly-good education happening next door. These kids were already at some disadvantage for having untrained teachers. On top of that, the tip-top students were already scooped out of their classrooms--so we were left with a combination of (1) the kids whose parents didn't know or care enough to make a choice, and (2) military kids, new in town, whose parents no doubt wanted their students to have as good an education as possible, but who would instead get an untrained teacher and no contact with many of the other really sharp kids. We did our best--we even did some very good work--but still, it seems obvious to me that these children were the victims of an injustice. Yes, all teachers should be quality, trained teachers. But if they aren't, it's not fair to reward a kid because her parents care--because that means penalizing a kid whose parents don't. And we can't penalize any children for things they have no control over.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a parent who was also a fellow teacher at the school. She got very angry--I could practically see smoke coming out of her ears--because I told her I was against the policy of parent choice. She said "But I have the right to choose what's best for my child!" My response: I respected her choice to do that as a parent, but as teachers, we have the responsibility to look out for what's best for all children. I could have put it another way: we can't be valuing "us" (parents who care, or non-military local kids) over "them" (everyone else).

Another example: A friend of a friend is really angry because of a situation involving her high-school aged daughter. The daughter is taking a high-level math course. There was one especially strong teacher at the school who the high-level math students' parents wanted to teach their students. The principal decided the school and its students were better served by this teacher's teaching low level math. The parents were livid. Their response was along the lines of "Why should this teacher's efforts be wasted on a bunch of kids who aren't ever going to amount to anything?" This statement is based on the assumption that "us" (high-achieving students) are more important than "them" (low-achieving students). That's utter bullshit. It comes very close to dehumanizing the lower-achievers...it justifies giving "them" less of an education than "us," as though 16-year-olds have done anything to deserve that. How many of us, our friends, and our children struggle in math? Are they less worthy of the best teacher than the superstars are? I can tell you that it is far more difficult to teach lower-achievers than higher-achievers--so in that sense, the principal's decision to put her better teacher with the tougher class was absolutely logical. But these parents refuse to value the education of all kids--just "ours."

So let's expand the pool back to national issues. Similar to the above two situations, we have differences in quality of education--some of them dramatic. Given that there is some "choice" for the advantaged, it's easy for those of us with racial and/or socioeconomic advantages to ignore the problem by just making sure our kids get the best. (Keep in mind that I put myself in that group--when my wife and I move, I'll be looking for the best possible school we can afford.) We may feel guilty about it, but for the most part we'll have to shrug it off and say: "I'm just looking out for my kid. Anyone else can do the same." Well, first of all, not everyone else can do the same. If everyone could, it (1) wouldn't be an advantage and (2) the system wouldn't work. (Given a chance, all parents would demand Kathy or demand the talented math teacher.) But as it is, parents with the means, the energy, and the desire can find their way through the system.

The problem here is that, unfortunately, this is at other kids' expense. Saying "I demand my kid have the best education available" is inextricably interwoven with saying "I demand that my neighbors have educations not as good as my kid." It is impossible to say the first statement without simultaneously saying the second. And I don't want to live with a system that forces me to either say "to hell with my fellow citizens' kids" or to throw my kid into substandard schools.

One way to "solve" this is to emphasize the "us" vs. "them" divisions in our society. "Well, those kids aren't good at math, they don't deserve the good teachers." "Well, rich kids are ultimately going to lead this country anyway--therefore, they're the msot important, and deserve the best education." "What about parenting? Obviously, their parenting skills are for crap--our kids is succeeding because of our superior love and support of our children." That's the route we're taking now, and although it's good for the children of the advantaged (like me), it's not worthy of what we as a nation are supposed to stand for.

The alternative is to demand the best possible education for all children. And, as I see it, the only way to do that is to throw us all into the same educational pot. At that moment, we'll be required to actually care about all of our children. With the system set up as it is, it acually helps the advantaged not to care...you can't have an advantaged education without a disadvantaged education. But when all of our kids and all of our money are together, suddenly the advantaged and disadvantaged will have to work together for the common good of their children.

Then, maybe we can get something done for all kids.

Monday, November 07, 2005

My wife shouldn't read this. If she reads it and becomes upset, it is her fault and her fault alone.

Thanks to all who commented on the education post. I have more to say, mostly about how those of us with means have a stake in keeping education bad for part of the population, and how the best way to change that is to mix us all up. But I don't have the energy to post that now.

Instead, I will ask this unrelated question:

Let's suppose that Star-Trek style beaming technology became as easy and inexpensive to use as cars are now. You could be in Madagascar as easily as you can currently go to the store. The exception would be international beaming, which would have to go through some sort of customs. (I don't know technologically how that would work...but it would.)

What would the big and small impacts on our world be from that? Answer before you skip down to my friends' answers.

***

My dad says "terrorism would increase greatly."
My wife says "It wouldn't ever get that cheap--business would capitalize."
I say "Kansas City Royals attendance would drop even further than it already is. Nobody could afford Broadway tickets or London West End tickets or Yankees tickets."

My dream--to teach where I teach now while living in Waimea, Hawaii, would be impossible. Too many other people would have that dream. Also, there would be no local--no real reason to know your neighbors at all.

What would happen if everyone who wanted to go to Rio or (once and in the future) New Orleans for Mardi Gras could go?

How would our world change?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

My wife literally ruins my day.

Swankette posts about this article which says that what I thought was misuse of the word "literally" is actually not misuse.

Okay. This article has ruined my day because it's eliminated one of my biggest holier-than-thou grammarian smug corrections. That literally kills me.

I'd argue that all contranyms are bad ideas when used against their usual meaning. Take "man." When I tell kids not to use the word for people who could be of either gender, my backing is this: even if you buy that "man" or "he" can be used to represent people of either gender (as in "every person should do what he wants" or "mankind continues to progress,") it is AT BEST confusing. It could mean what you want it to mean, and it could mean the exact opposite.

So, if I say "I literally drove a thousand miles that day," that could mean two things:

1. I drove a thousand miles that day.
2. I didn't drive a thousand miles that day.

What the hell kind of usage is that?

Conclusion: The OED guy can literally suck my left nut.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Kozol again

Last time I read Kozol, I felt powerless and sad.

This time, I'm feeling angry--like I have to do something.

I've thought about the inequities in education in this country quite a bit. In the past, my response has been "we need to make all schools good schools."

Kozol has me realizing that this goal--and the goal of many other people in this nation--is actually a concession speech, a confession that integration is dead. The goal of "let's make all schools good schools" is, at its heart, a drive to live up to the promise of Plessy vs. Ferguson.

Kozol's in-your-face presentation of our still-segregated schools has me thinking that this country ought to give Brown vs. Board of Ed a try first.

I'm also convinced that this is about race, not about class. Even within cities, white parents have an alarming tendency to carve out city schools that are de facto white oases.

Honestly--go to the nearest big city school and look at the faces. Then head to the suburbs and look at the faces. Then tell me--tell the Little Rock Nine--tell Rosa Parks that we've done enough.

Of course, my school is guilty of this. It's affluent, which means it's overwhelmingly white. Just like my high school was, and my wife's, and most white people's.

And that's the point. We don't meet each other. We've abandoned the dream of integration, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

I have to do something.

I might start with a note to my elected representatives, simply asking "Have you or any of your staff read The Shame of a Nation? What can you do to help make Brown vs. Board of Ed a reality?"

After that...

Well, what about my own kids? The description Kozol gives of inner-city schools is so bleak and sad that I don't think anyone should have to endure it. Throwing my kids into these dream-crushing factories won't aid in the cause.

We need to integrate. We can't live as "us" and "them" anymore.

Once we integrate, there is no them. Only us.

Kozol says it'll take a new movement to fix our nation's apartheid. He refers to "teachers marching in the streets."

For the first time, I really want to be there. I want every kid in this country to have as good an education as suburban kids get. I want every school to be safe, exciting, and committed to serving every student. I want kids of all races and classes to have the honest-to-God equal shot that our education is supposed to give--and I want them to have it together.

I do not believe that a five-year-old in Scarsdale is more deserving of good kindergarten than a five-year-old in the South Bronx.

But our nation believes that some of its children are more important than others, and spends its money accordingly. (Kozol's numbers are terrifying...some suburban districts spend as much as twice as much per child as some urban districts.)

And the kids we find more important tend to have skin similar to my color. The kids we find less important tend to have darker skin.

This must stop.

I've got my marching shoes on. I just need some friends and someone smarter than me with a plan of where to walk.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

You'd think this would have made the news...

Megan calls my attention to this.

The following is TiVo's description of a recent Oprah show:

Oprah's offering of a $100,000 reward helps capture another child molester, actor Leonardo DiCaprio. CC, Series, First Run.