Indie, Seen!

20 05 2009

I tried to draw Indonesia on my hand today for a 7th grader’s homework.  It was probably the most flattering representation Indonesia has gotten in a long time.

* *  *

I feel bad tonight:

Eggs for breakfast (2) on toast (buttered).

Peanut Butter & Honey sandwich for lunch, with chips.

Round Table Pizza (Many Slices).

Coldstone Ice Cream (Cory’s fault).

I want to eat nothing but broccoli and water for a week.

* * *

I like manipulating children into enjoying education.  I am good at it.  I am not that great at actually educating, but I can manipulate.

Of Penalty Kicks and Pride

1 02 2009

I’ve always wondered what holds islands up.  How deep does their land mass go?  I assume, even for the smallest ones, that it extends all the way to the ocean’s floor, otherwise they would drift around.  Still, I’ve never really been able to shake my initial conception of them as bobbing land masses, hovering on the surface of the water until some whim sends them away.

I don’t think I would ever want to live on an island, but I think it would be nice to live close to one.  That way, I could always look over at the island when I was having a bad day and say, “Well, at least those suckers can’t go mini-golfing like I can!”  I think that would really brighten my day, unless I had a bad day at mini-golfing and had no desire to be involved with it at all.  That would probably make looking at the island a little more strange.  Perhaps I would begin to see myself as an island; I am, after all, quite a land mass.  I have been doing well with running and such for a while now, but I still enjoy calling myself fat.  Probably because I think that, as long as I’m not self-conscious about my weight, I can joke about it.  If I ever get so fat that I can’t joke about my weight, then I think I would be unhappy.  Besides, I’d constantly be thinking that I was the person that I always made fun of at fast food restaurants, you know?  “Oh, there goes Mr. Super-Size Me with a double western bacon cheese burger again.  What a turdpants.”

Actually, I’ve never called anyone turdpants, that I can remember.  I did tell a kid named Maverick once that Brittany was his “true princess” in like 4th or 5th grade after he was flirting with her (Her name may have been Kimberly) and then he told me to shut up.  I don’t remember ever being told to shut up before then, which is a surprise considering how brazen I could be at times in my childhood.  I always regret that I didn’t work harder at my bullying — then I could be one of those kids who just expressed himself badly instead of a little turdpants.  Although, to be clear, I have near turded my pants that I can remember.  I did have one incident in Paso Robles or Porterville before a soccer tournament, but that didn’t end up mattering.  I ever got taken down on a breakaway in that tournament, but Coach decided to have Sam take the penalty shot instead of me, mainly because Sam was left-footed.  I’ve always been resentful of left-handed athletes since then.  Somehow, despite John and my many years in all-stars, neither of us ever managed to score a goal.  I do remember some really nice ones I had during the season, though, including a PK I put in off the crossbar.  I think Brice hugged me after that, or maybe it was after my header on a corner kick.  That was definitely my best season, I would say.  We beat “No Fear” in the championship game, which was very impressive considering that they hadn’t lost a game during the season.  I remember our coach doing a backflip and getting dogpiled afterwards.  That was around 6th grade, I believe.  Kids started getting meaner after that, though.

One of the 7th graders at PACE yesterday started telling one of the 6th grade girls to shut up and to stop looking at her.  There was something about her tone of whiny bravado that made me instantly purse my lips and stare at her.  Thankfully, one of my coworkers (who has like ten years of teaching experience) managed to defuse the situation pretty easily.  It’s not that I was afraid of dealing with it, but I do believe in letting kids work things out to a reasonable degree.  It’s good for people to learn how to deal with conflict, especially when the other person is being stupid.  It’s not good, however, to let younger kids get verbally abused just because some 7th-grade latchkey kid has something to prove.  Why is there such a focus on pride over integrity?  I’ve seen a few different instances of older kids defying younger ones to say something to them, and I finally realized why it bugs me so much:  The same attitude is just as present in adults.

I know that kids–especially adolescent ones–are constantly battling their insecurities, and this often works itself out in shows of arrogance to those they deem to be inferior.  Adults, however, can be just as prone to such displays.  I’ve heard more than a few people, even coworkers, who will lecture other students about something without any indication that they actually care about imparting their idea.  Rather, they seem to be seeking to wow the child or other person with their knowledge or pretense.

After all, if I know that X works this way, then for you to not know it either proves your ignorance or my prominence.  Thankfully, our egos can receive a large boost from either of these things, so I’ll be safe either way.

I remember a particular instance last week when one of my kids asked me how Barack Obama could have possibly memorized his inauguration speech.  Recognizing an opportunity to illustrate how flawed our education system is today, I started to talk about how people used to memorize everything they learned, more or less. I was going to give an example or two, but I didn’t have a chance.  As I began to respond to her, I was almost immediately cut off by a coworker who couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk about brain capacity and short-term/long-term memory.  He spoke quickly and patronizingly, using phrases like “Well, haven’t you heard of…” and “Don’t you know about…” often.  He finally ended by cutting her question off with a flippant remark that, I’m sure, really piqued her desire to learn more about the subject:  “Never mind, you don’t get what I’m saying.”

I was incensed.

To end this long-winded and schizophrenic post, I’ll just write the tirade that I desired to release upon my fellow pedagogue’s deserving ears:

Did that feel good?  Have you properly quenched your desire to lord your knowledge over someone a third of your age?  I can’t imagine why our school systems are failing, with people like you being so entrenched in the classroom.  Surely, your uncontrollable need to validate yourself must have only the most positive effect upon the occasional (and increasingly rare) student that wanders across your path with a question.  I hope that you didn’t waste too much of your valuable time on this student who dared to ask a question.  Of course, if your patronizing words don’t sink in on the first try, why should you be bothered to make a second attempt?  I’m glad that you abandoned any idea of simplification or expansion upon ideas in favor of an information dump.  After all, quick, one-time lectures are the proven method for conveying knowledge to children, right?  Questions be damned, childish ignorance be quashed!  We are here to teach the willing and apt, not the confused and inquiring.  How dare you, sir.  How dare you take the mantle of knowledge and use it to shroud and repel those who are seeking its folds?  (Ok, I probably wouldn’t ever say that to anyone. It sounds cool, though.  Also creepy and litigable.)  If you see it so necessary to interrupt me from answering my student because of your obviously superior knowledge, where do you get off brushing them aside after one question?  Are you really so desperate to be seem as all-knowing that you will sacrifice an 8th grader’s question upon your altar of self-esteem?  If questions are so repugnant to you, then do mankind a favor and get another job.  You should know better than most how difficult it is to find a willing student in our age of cynicism, yet at the drop of a hat you proceed to crush a student’s quest for knowledge without so much as a second glance.  This student may not be capable of absorbing your monologues as you may wish, but the students are not the ones being employed and implored to spark the fire of inquiry within this school.  If you ever brush off one of my students like that again, you will find yourself on the receiving end of some childish impudence, sir.  Thank you.

Ok, I think it’s out of my system for now.  Go Stars.

Jane Eerie

11 11 2008

At Pace, one of the subjects under my purview is reading comprehension.  Basically, this entails the children’s reading a story about two pages long and answering some questions about it.  If you’ve taken the SATs, you know the drill.

What I hadn’t thought about, however, was where they got the short stories or essays that are included in the textbook.  I’ve seen everything from the biological reasons for left-handedness to abridged tales of Holmes and Dupin.  While this never really bothered me, I have held occasional curiosity about how these collections come about.

Unfortunately, I don’t care how they’re collected.  I want to talk about Jane Eyre.

One of my 6th graders came up to me towards the end of the day yesterday and told me that she was having trouble understanding one of her stories.

“Well, let me see it and I’ll try to help you with it,” I said.

Lo and behold, I found myself looking at a two-page version of the scourge of literature classes everwhere.

While I try not to disparage the often sub-par textbooks in front of the kids, I found myself having to bite my tongue harder than usual as I realized the task before me: I had to make a two-page synopsis of this (of all books) 400+ page novel seem accessible to a student who grew up in China.

This was going to be tough.

Here’s what Irene probably heard me say:

So this girl who is kind of ugly and plain grows up in a scary orphanage sort of and then gets a job as a governess (yes, like in Sound of Music! That helps!) at an old (but not too old) guy’s house. One night, she smells smoke and saves his life right after hearing spooky noises from upstairs but he tells her not to tell anyone because apparently fires are very low-key sort of things that no one else noticed.  He sort of loves her and finally asks her to marry him but she asks him who that freak up in the attic is and he says he can’t tell her until they’ve been married for a year and a day (wow, that’s a long time not to know that! Yes, it is. He’s weird. They’re both weird). So they get married but except not because some guy says that Mr. Rochester’s wife is still alive and it’s the beastie living in the attic so Jane is sad because she can’t marry the guy who lied to her and she runs away to live at freak village with creepo pastor then comes back and marries the guy because his beastie wife jumped off a roof after burning the house down and now Mr. Rochester is blind and crippled and burnt but she loves him and they kiss (ew!) and they’re happy I guess even though this seems like a sad story.

How that one made it into Reading Comprehension Level 3A, only Mrs. Rochester knows.

Personally, I prefer Wuthering Heights.


24 08 2008

I actually experienced this tonight:

Overwhelming odor of cheap body cologne


“Oh snaps, that is tight!”


Boy Robert Ocean Sams. Like big time.

Back In My Day

17 07 2008

My mom found this old poem I wrote (I think around 9th grade) in high school. My memory is fuzzy, but I think it’s supposed to be satirical, since I’ve always been rather a stickler about grammar.

Ballad of Grammatical Imperfection

Some may scream and some may shout

While the worst of them all will simply pout

All the above are basic reactions

To slurring, word-mixing and three-word contractions

Most of them teachers, some of them snobs,

A few busybodies and a couple hobnobs

They can’t stand to listen to imperfect speech

They would rather critique than actually teach

They won’t care if you memorized Lincoln’s Address

What matters, they’ll say, is that you missed an “S”

I guess that my grammar really isn’t that hot

It’s simply one thing me just don’t ain’t not got.

…To break a sweat over a dying race

29 05 2008

One of my friends was surprised this morning to discover that he had actually passed his online Spanish 103 class; this meant that he had officially finished his college credits and was now a graduate. After a little bit of friendly ribbing and a mock graduation ceremony (I knew I saved that lei for a reason), he proceeded to talk about how little effort he had put into the class, even deciding not to do some of his homework and a test or two. In fact, he wrote a whole note about how proud he was of having finished college in general without putting in any sort of extraordinary effort whatsoever. Now, while his apparent apathy should be taken with a grain of salt, the fact remains that he sees finishing something like college as a mere footnote; in fact, the whole thing is kind of a joke to him. He sees his success as something to brag about (albeit in a half-joking sort of way) to those that have expended much more effort but might have little more (if anything) to show for it, other than some nebulous idea of self-satisfaction.

Now, this is in no way intended to disparage my friend. He would be one of the first people to recognize the value in hard work and self-discipline, but he simply doesn’t care enough about academics to apply those ideas to his education. He openly admits his apathy for expending effort in what he sees as the inconsequential areas of life, and it is more of a souce of amusement to him and others than anything else.

I simply have to ask myself, though, why such apathy in life is so attractive. In every single class I ever took, I never failed to encounter students who aimed to do the minimal amount of work in order to pass the class. Understanding that you can only put so much time and effort into each class, I still cringed each time someone would ask the professor to describe the lowest level of success they would need to attain, even when I was the one desperate to know the answer. In my classes, I inevitably made a choice about how hard was going to try. In Spanish, for instance, I made up my mind from day one that I was going to do my best on every project. Of course I let myself down at times, but I can trace a very distinct line of thought in my Spanish efforts in comparison to my work in a few journalism classes. For some reason, that sense of apathy just permeates my thought process if I don’t make up my mind to guard against it right off the bat.

Why is it so cool not to care about doing well? I’ve called plently of people nerds, both to their face and behind their back, simply because they were trying a lot harder than I was. Obviously this label might be appropriate at times, since there are always going to be clear instances in which one only needs to try so hard to get the job done well (See Exhibit A: Principles of Advertising). I’ll recognize that this might be more true for some people than others, since I know that we’re all gifted differently, but there is a marked difference between striving hard to do well in class so that you can get those honors or that high grade and trying hard in life in general.

One of my other friends always competed with me (and I with them) in classes that we shared to see who could get the better grade. I always fancied myself better than them because I would expend only as much effort as it took to threaten beating their score. Part of that, I’ll admit, is because I felt myself to be superior to them. I only played the grades game because I had no excuse not to; a C would be acceptable for some people, but to me, an A simply meant that I had not slacked off in the class too much. I know I could have gotten B’s and C’s all throughout school with almost no effort. I say this not because I’m proud of it, but because I can see how the system is really geared to make people like me succeed with ease while pushing those who are not very intellectually endowed. The problem, however, is that people in the former category are rarely pushed at all, and that people in the latter one usually recognize how much harder they have to work to pull a B than those that easily get an A-. Hence, they simply aim to get a B or a C and assume that they simply cannot get an A without expending more energy than it is worth.

You know what? They aren’t always wrong, either. Perhaps that’s just a testament to how flawed our grading system is. Dr. Tarpley always started off his classes talking about how much he hated having to grade students on such an impersonal level. He almost never gave tests in his class, preferring to make students read and talk and give presentations to others about what they learned. Guess what? This pushed me just as much, I think, as it pushed the C students. I dreaded most of those presentation days just as much, if not more, than they did because I knew how well I should be doing. Dr. Tarpley would have been able to tell if I had just phoned it in on presentation days, and this knowledge kept me honest in my work way more than any test or paper ever did. Is it a coincidence that public speaking is so greatly feared by this generation? When you are forced to talk openly about what you have learned and what you think, you have no excuses. I wish I could say that this worked to my advantage all the time, but it took me until my fourth semester (thanks Donna) to realize that I couldn’t coast through college and be happy, much less make my professors happy. After talking to Dr. Thoennes on Friday, I realized that I could have done so much better during my college years but that, like the workers in Matthew 20, I’d rather have come two years late than not at all.

Song of the Week: Apathetic Way to Be (Relient K)

Why I Can’t Trust California

21 01 2008

Thursday evening, I attended a Superintendent Forum for the Norwalk/La Mirada Unified School District. Aside from being the only male, I was also the only person under the age of 35 in attendance, which meant that whenever the superindent was speaking, she made sure to make eye contact with me so I would feel like she valued my attention.

Hey, fine by me. I had to go as part of my journalism internship, and I was trying to absorb all the information I could so as to report as accurately as possible.

As disturbing as that sounds, the frightening part came when the budget was discussed. Try to stay focused as the mire thickens, would you?

So, because California’s economy is in the tank thanks to years of overspending and mysterious drains on our services, education in the K-14 range (Kindergarten through Community College) is being slashed along with everything else this year. Badly. Let’s see some numbers:

K-12 will see a net 2.4% cut in revenue limit funding, but most categorical programs will see the full allotment of a 6.5% cut. This includes everything from field trips to special education to instruction materials to transportation. In fact, the majority of California schools already have or are considering doing away with bus rides for all but special education children.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll keep seeing more of the same cutbacks on music equipment, athletic programs, before- and after-school programs, food services, etc.

Food services are an especially painful cut, with the meal reimbursment rate being slashed by two cents. (this is huge, as the schools have always done everything possible to maintain high nutrition and food service standards.) Fruit and Vegetables are going to become less fresh and more scarce, even with all the incentive programs put in the place within the last decade. There just isn’t any money.

However, the bad news becomes cold irony when it comes to attendance levels. Each school is paid by the state for their Average Daily Attendance, regardless of how many students are enrolled. (so THAT’S why mom always forced me to go to school) However, it gets sticky because former bills that impose severe financial penalties for larger class sizes are not affected by any of the new legislation. For example:

Class size ranges from 20.45 to 20.94 are penalized (in the N/LA USD) $4,004, or 20% of their class stipend. Class sizes from 20.95 to 21.44 are penalized $8k/40%, and 21.45 to 21.84 $16k/80%. Anything above 21.85 students per classroom get hit with 100% penalties, as well as other class penalties if the state deems it necessary.

Unfortunately, the schools make their money from students attending. If funding is slashed, they certainly want more kids to come to increase their cash flow–but this is simply not feasible with the above penalties looming over their heads. As it is now, La Mirada is already putting children on the waiting lists that live within a few miles of the schools for fear of drawing the ire of the state. It’s a catch-22 with some serious teeth.

-End information dump-

So after these and other doomsday items have been addressed, the superintendent then brings up perhaps the most jaw-dropping issue yet.

Most of the schools have advisory/suggestion boards that parents can join in an effort to become more involved with their children’s education. However, there have been recent problems with parents being unable to participate because they do not speak English. So, because this is deemed an invalid reason for turning parents away, our impoverished public schools are now hiring interpreters (where volunteers cannot be found) to allow these parents to participate. One of the moms at the forum commented that it seems a little ___notallowedtosaythatingrandma’shouse___ that people who are already draining resources from the government without paying taxes are now forcing the schools to pony up for interpreters. I don’t feel completely entitled to comment on this aspect of the situation, but I think the situation itself raises enough questions.

Doom and gloom is easy enough to propogate right now, but we should “try to pull together” as the superintendent said. (She also said it is important to avoid internecine squabbles during these cutbacks, but no one knew what that meant either.)

Suffice it to say, I know what state’s public education program my kids will not be enjoying in the coming years.