Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm one of ten percent...

I get a lot of hits from, among other things, people who are searching on "I don't want to be Catholic anymore." A surprising number, actually. (That search lands them here.)

This article indicates that neither the searchers nor I are alone in our desire to leave Catholicism.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping, the survey found. While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics.
10 percent. 28 million of us. That's a heck of a lot.

I'm surprised that 78 percent identify as Christian. That feels high. I'm also surprised that only 4 percent identify as atheist or agnostic...perhaps because I believe we're all agnostic at the core.

But if you're looking here for permission to not be Catholic...well, look at the stats. There are loads of us out there.

(Of course, calling myself Episcopalian in the last 6 months is a bit of a stretch. We're still looking for a faith community, but having a heckuva time getting out of bed on post-debate Sundays to do it.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My new favorite student of all time

Gave my AP Language kids a quiz today on some rhetorical/syntactic terms. One is epithet...the attachment of an adjective to a noun in a specific fashion. (Example: "Dawn the yellow-robed."

My question was as follows:

"TeacherRefPoet The Brilliant" is an example of what kind of syntactic device?"

One student's answer:


I should give her credit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not even Cats? Not even King Lear?

In tonight's state quals meet, I learned something interesting from a student:

Hate crime sentencing enhancements, the student argued, is policing thoughts. And in a democracy, that's simply antitheatrical.

Not a slip of the tongue, either. He repeated it in CX. Antitheatrical.

I never heard why being antitheatrical is unjust.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Accidental Tourists

This year's Spring Break Baseball Trip will bring my wife and I to the Ozarks. We've slated games in Springfield, MO and Little Rock, AR (the 26th and 27th states in which I will have seen a minor league game), and will clamber around northern Arkansas and southern Missouri for a few days to boot. We've been cobbling together rental cars and hotels and such for the last few days. It's going to be a cheap trip: we're cashing in frequent flier miles to go and are spending one night in a B&B by using a gift certificate a co-worker got us for our wedding two-and-a-half years ago.

As we did this, the in-laws very kindly offered us a birthday gift: a night of time-share in Branson. Branson is conveniently located not far from where we'll be, and we were planning on at least looking at it.

But now we'll actually be in Branson for one night.

Seems like we should see a show.

West-coast liberal that I am, I just don't think I'm Branson's target demographic. It's not quite as far gone as I thought Pigeon Forge was, (and my wife thought too) but it's still not aiming for me.

But crap, we're gonna be in Branson, why not see a show?

Today, we began research by looking at this page. Any of those shows tickle your fancy?

Yeah, me neither.

But my wife and I are plugging along.

Our interest was piqued for Andy Williams, although we figured we might have to don grey wigs to gain admission. I wasn't sure...I mix him up with Anson Williams sometimes, and I wouldn't be into a Potsie show...but once that was figured out, we were excited to see a real-live crooner.

He's not playing that night.

Once we plowed through the list, there were really only two shows I'd consider. One is the Oak Ridge Boys. I'm not much into country, but I like tight harmonies, and Swankette has them doing a kick-ass cover of "Carry On My Wayward Son." They were leading.

But $43 for a group I'd just sorta like to see?

I'd rather spend $35 to see Yakov Smirnoff. I'm astonished he's still doing his schtick. Communist-bloc jokes still work nearly two decades later? My wife keeps saying "I just don't think he's funny." I don't either. But be able to say "I saw Yakov Smirnoff in concert?" Worth the money somehow. (Alas, he's not playing that night either.)

We've settled on a scientific selection process that might land us a John Denver tribute (tolerable for this Colorado boy), but it's up in the air.

Suggestions? If you strangely found yourself in Branson as we would, which show would you pick?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Obama dream

Help me out, armchair shrinks...what does this dream about my chosen candidate mean?

I dreamed that Barack and Michelle Obama invited us over to their place for dinner. Dinner was newspaper with maple syrup on it.

What does eating newspaper at the Obamas mean?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sometimes, I teach good

We got our butts handed to us at a debate last month. I didn't yell at the kids, but I made it clear that we, quite simply were outworked. They hadn't completed cases very early, they hadn't worked together very well, and we got beat.

Tonight, they were much improved, and one of my teams won the meet.

Life lesson learned. TRP--1. Laziness--0.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I don't fall far from the tree

I asked my mom which candidate she supported the other day, and she responded in song.

Sing these lyrics to the tune of "Hosanna" from Jesus Christ Superstar:

O-Bama! O-bama, bama, bama, O...Bama, O-bama, Ohhh BAAAAAAAmaaaaahhh...

Anyone who has seen me sing at anything that remotely reminds me of any song won't be surprised at my mom doing the same thing. But is it nature or nurture? Hmmm...

Of course, the following line, "Hey J.C., J.C, won't you fight for me" would have to be "B.O." Not really a great substitution.

Plus, I'm not sure the Obama campaign would like the comparison of him to the Savior...although his more fervent backers might go along with it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Das Boot (The Boot)

During a couple of junior high games yesterday afternoon, my ankle, which had been lightly sore for a day or two, started barking seriously. I went to my partner and said "I'll be able to finish, but bear with me. My ankle is hurting."

"What'd you do to it?" my partner said. It should be noted that she is 20...17 years my junior.

"I reffed a season on it," I replied.

With one game left on the season, and that not for another nine days, I figured I just needed to wait it out. Iced it last night, slept, and woke up today.

I was having trouble walking. I limped along, and it hurt like a mickey fickey.

I couldn't wait, so I went into the same-day clinic. Fortunately, I lucked into a doctor who is an orthopedist and a sports medicine specialist. I was expecting a little PT and a few pills.

I got The Boot.

4-6 weeks of it. Fortunately, it'll be off before Spring Break and our Ozarks trip.

Whoever designed this boot is a genius. I couldn't make it 40 yards without piercing pain without it...but with it, I've managed to clamber through two malls without a hint of pain.

Why through two malls, you ask?

Well, the problem of the boot is that it made me lean over a bit. The doctor recommended a taller shoe for my right foot, as the lopsided walking can cause minor hip pain. "This is usually easier for women than for men," she said.

If only there were a shoe expert in my life!

Oh wait. There is.

My bride took over driving me to two different malls--and a total of seven stores, I believe. We looked for tall shoes that would balance me out, but that I might want to wear later on.

I almost immediately came to love the feel of a Doc Martens shoe...but to dislike the look of it. The yellow sole under the black shoe...not my thing. But man, it felt just right as I walked. I actually tripped a little bit on the sole of the right foot. That was a good sign...but I didn't like the damn sole.

We tried other stores, other kinds of shoes...I tried them with an insert, without one...but nothing quite matched the Doc Martens. The new goal: find a Doc Marten as tall as the one with the yellow sole, but without a yellow sole.

Mission accomplished.

This one has black bottoms to the sole, so when I put my foot up, it's not that snot-yellow color. It's hidden kind of in the middle. And as I walk, it feels just right. But it seems to be as tall as the boot, and I'll be able to walk evenly and without pain.

The bummerest part of all of this is that I have to sleep with this thing on. I'm only allowed to take it off to shower and to exercise my foot for an hour or so a day. That's just no fun. Also, I need to figure out how to work out with a damn boot on. This was going to be the off-season when I finally, actually, really, seriously stayed in shape rather than going into yet another sedentary summer.

I'm actually handling this okay. I was annoyed when I was all lopsided walking, but now that I'm not lopsided, I'm ready to put up with a month of this.

(By the way, one of the shoe-store guys was the first to say "Whoa! Just like Tom Brady!" So you need not.)

UPDATE: Same story, her perspective.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Getting past learned helplessness

I've noticed that my current students tend to quit on tasks, assignments, etc. much more often than my former, more affluent students did. It's frustrating. Very often, when I hand them questions on a story, or even practice WASL stuff, they'll either not do it at all or they will skip portions of it. "Mr. RefPoet, I didn't do #4 because it was hard." "I didn't understand the question, Mr. RefPoet, so I didn't do it." Why didn't you come to me for help? I ask. They reply: "It was just hard, so I didn't do it."

I decided the kiddoes needed a little help with metacognition. These kids are not dumber than the rich kids I had up north. I don't know that their dinner table conversation is as stimulating, based on questions and comments I get that I never would have heard before (like "what's a democracy" or "what does Republican mean" or "I didn't bring a book to read because we don't have any books in the house"). But intellectually malnourished is not the same as weak or stupid, and I feel like I'm up to the challenge.

Today, I told them how I'd noticed they quit pretty quickly on things they considered hard. I also pointed out that, by taking a real shot at a question they didn't understand on a standardized test (particularly short answer stuff), they might be able to stumble into a correct response, or at least partial credit.

I asked: What if, in sports, you said to your coach "I decided not to run those sprints because they're hard?"

"But Mr. RefPoet," one kid pointed out. "You know six kids quit the varsity basketball team this year."

Yep, I said, and I have a pretty severe problem with the attitude that leads to that.

I got a laugh by saying: What about relationships? If my wife said to me "I need you to listen to me more carefully," what would happen if I said "Honey, I'm not going to do that because it's hard?"

They pointed out I'd be sleeping on the couch.

So I felt like I had them on my side, more or less, even after one said "Well, I don't quit at important things like sports and relationships, but school is another matter." Thankfully, the kids didn't go along with that.

I gave them some metacognition practice and questions to ask. Most notably, I asked them to focus on what they DID understand when they got stuck.

My technique was to give them reading that I felt was a bit tough for them--not impossible, but a fairly big stretch--and asked them to fight their way through it. I gave a little help for kids who asked, but only if they told me what part of the poem they did understand first.

I picked this wonderful Stephen Dunn poem:


The Substitute

When the substitute ased my eighth-grade daughter
to read out loud,
she read in Cockney, an accent she'd mastered

listening to rock music. Her classmates laughed
of course, and she ept on,
straightfaced, until the merciful bell.

Thus began the week my daughter learned
it takes more than style
to be successfully disobedient.

Next day her regular teacher didn't return;
she had to do it again.
She was from Liverpool, her parents worked

in a mill, had sent her to America to live
with relatives.
At night she read about England, looked at her map

to place and remember exactly where she lived.
Soon her classmates
became used to it--just a titter from Robert

who'd laugh at anything.. Friday morning,
exhausted from learning
the manners and industry of modern England,

she had a stomachache, her ears hurt, there were
pains, she said,
all over. We pointed her toward the door.

She left bent over like a charwoman, but near
the end of her driveway
we saw her right herself, become the girl

who had to be another girl, a substitute
of sorts,
in it now for the duration.


I picked this poem because it had some vocabulary that would be tough for my sophomores ("Cockney," "charwoman"), some tough lines, and a few good but challenging avenues of interpretation.

Kids fumbled it differently from how I expected.

Multiple second period kids, when I asked "What parts did you get, and what did you not get?" said "I understood it perfectly. It's about a girl from Liverpool who's sick of her classmates making fun of her for the way she talks."

You know what? That's wrong, but it's not that far off. All they did was bungle one line, really. They missed the significance of "an accent she'd mastered/listening to rock music," and didn't use their prior knowledge that eight-graders often make fun of subs. So when I got that interpretation, I made certain they got that this was a kid faking an accent.

They also didn't get that the lines "She was from Liverpool, her parents worked/in a mill, had sent her to America to live/with relatives" weren't literal, but the student's creation of a new identity. But the context clues for that are really, really subtle...tough for a sophomore to get.

Anyway. I gave fifth and sixth period just the tiniest shove in the right direction, talking just a nanosecond about misbehavior for substitute teachers before distributing the poem. That pre-reading made all the difference, and taught the kids that their prior knowledge matters when they read, I hope. Their batting average was higher, and I was getting answers like "The message of the poem is to stay true to yourself. Don't try to be someone else or you'll be hurt." A little Aesop-simple, but hey, for a poem this tough, I'll take it. And while they struggled with a tough question where I asked them to interpret the lines "it takes more than style/to be successfully disobedient," well, that's a struggle I can live with. In the end, this is a difficult task that they didn't quit on. Tomorrow, I'll give them another--this time, a tough snippet of a Neil Postman essay.

I hope they hold onto these metacognitive strategies and expand of the work they did today. I'm proud of them.

Of course, it might not matter much. I input the first batch of second semester homework and classwork today..and as of now, 7 days into the semester, I'm failing a third of these sophomores again. I'm working on eradicating "I didn't do it because it was hard," but I don't yet have an effective strategy to combat all the Bartleby figures in my room...kid after kid simply saying "I would prefer not to" on just enough assignments to put a passing grade just out of reach.

I'm not punting on these kids--I never will--but nothing in my playbook seems to work for my Bartleby kids.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Trivia tidbit

I learned tonight that California has a higher population than Canada.