Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Guidance counselors giving poor advice?

This report from the Christian Science Monitor discusses what happens when school guidance counselors give poor advice to high schoolers aiming for college. A variety of factors can come into play when it comes to advising, but overall, not a good thing when a counselor encourages a student to aim low just to spare him or her from "reality."

Friday, May 27, 2005

Harper's features articles on Evangelicals (Dominionists), but also other interesting things

Harper's magazine for May 2005 features a set of articles on Evangelicals in the United States. I would link to the online Harper's, but they only give the table of contents with no actual content. So, you can likely pick up a copy at your local library.

  • The Jeff Sharlet article, "Inside America's Most Powerful Megachurch" provides a look at the New Life Church led by Pastor Ted Haggard in Colorado Springs, CO. The article details how the church was founded and how it has raised to prominence, its influence on the White House, as well as small stories about members of the church. It is interesting to note that while most people will think of Dr. Dobson when it comes to evangelical influence in the White House and the government, it is Pastor Ted who actually wields a lot of influence, but he does so in a more quiet way. However, he has done so by embracing a corporate market economy with the rhetoric of spiritual warfare. For those who want to see exactly how these groups work, the article provides some insight.
  • Chris Hedges writes about the National Religious Broadcasters Association. The article, "Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters" covers their annual convention in an article that gives much to think about and much to be concerned about for those who value concepts like tolerance and diversity. The description of the exhibits, especially the presence of the Israeli Tourism Ministry as one of the exhibitors, really brings home a degree of irony (to put it mildly). The article also describes some of the speakers as well. The new president of the NRB, Frank Wright promises to fight anti-hate crime legislation which is something that Christian broadcasters fear would hamper their attacks on the gay community. Readers must keep in mind that these people believe that Christianity is under attack. So, ok to attack anyone who does not agree with you? Apparently it is. According to the article, "but Christians who challenge Dominionists, even if they are fundamentalist or conservative or born-again, tend to be ruthlessly thrust aside." When an organization rejects even those who could help it, I think it is not a good sign. The article provides a definition of Dominionism, which is an alliance of sects with a common goal to achieve political power through a militant biblicism. Any opponents, Christian or otherwise, are viewed as agents of Satan; in this movement, "the only legitimate voices in this state will be Christian. All others will be silenced" (58). The author ends the article with a reflection on lessons he learned from his ethics professor at Yale's Divinity School. Dr. James Luther Adams warned that the new face of fascism would take a Christian form. When he did it 25 years ago, it seemed fantastic, but it was at the time that Pat Robertson and others were just coming into prominence. This last paragraph can be particularly chilling:
"Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right's persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications. Then came raids on the places where the homosexuals gathered, culminating on May 6, 1933, with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Twelve thousand volumes from the institute's library were tossed into a public bonfire. Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first 'deviants' singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next" (61).

I don't know about readers out there, but I am certainly not waiting until they come for me. People like this need to be called out on what they are doing, and they need to be denounced for their hypocrisy, intolerance, and overall lust for power. If anyone needs a further incentive, maybe the words of anti-Nazi activist Pastor Martin Niemoller, may provide a reminder of why those who value freedom must remain vigilant and active. He said, referring to Nazi Germany,
"First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me."

Additionally, not all is gloom and doom in this month's issue of Harper's. A couple of additional features of interest:

  • There is a small feature in the Annotation section that provides explanatory notes about Shiite posters seen in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. For those who believe that one should strive to know what your opponent thinks, this may be a little learning tool. The brief piece carefully explains the symbols and their significance. Whenever possible, I think one should try to see things from the other side's point of view. It does not mean one condones their violence, but it means you can understand where they are coming from.
  • There is also a photo essay by Peter Turnley on dancing. It presents photos of dancers in Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba from dance halls to carnival in Brazil to the 82 year old lady in La Habana. Very nice photographic work.

Quotes for thought

I came across these through the Liberty Street blog. I think I will leave it to the readers to compare the quotes and decide for themselves. As for me, I don't think there is much more to say after that. I do know FDR has not been the only one to say something along those lines, so if I find something else, I may add it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Another school censors its school newspaper

This story on CNN tells about a group of students in California who is suing their school because the principal chose not to allow the publication of the school newspaper. The students had interviewed young people who are gay or lesbian, and the principal feared the publication would incite violence. I personally think it sounds like censorship given that there is no indication violence is a danger, but readers can read the story here and decide for themselves.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And then people wonder why other religions hate ours. . .

Usually, religion would be a topic I would stay away from. It is one of those things I learned that one does not speak of in polite company. More importantly, I stay out of it because I really happen to believe in the Freedom of Religion part of the Constitution, that little detail of the First Amendment, you know, the one that says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." I may not be a legal expert nor do I pretend to be, but part of that I am sure is the freedom not to worship at all or to worship something other than the Judeo-Christian tradition. And yes, I know this country was founded by those who believe in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but for the most part those people were Deists, and in a way, very far from the fundamentalists we see today trying to reshape the country into the a theocracy of their liking.

So, why am I getting into this? Well, it is the story of this pastor in North Carolina who has a sign in front of his church advocating that the Koran be flushed. You can find the story here. He is totally unapologetic about it, and he stands by his decision. According to the article, "' "My creed is the Bible, which tells me I am supposed to stand up and defend my faith," said the Rev. Creighton Lovelace, pastor of the 55-member Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City. "I don't hate Muslims, I just hate their false doctrines.'" Now, I think it is a good thing if your faith moves you to stand up and defend it. I don't think however it means you get to disrespect someone else's beliefs and still call yourself an American. I am sure if the situation were reversed, and some mosque in the Middle East had a sign saying the Bible should be flushed, the outrage from Christians would be heard around the world. And before anyone sends me some negative comment, I am not advocating that anyone's sacred book be flushed (or burned or anything else for that matter). So, why the intolerance on the part of that Baptist pastor, a minister of Jesus?

When it comes to religion, and here I am going on a limb, I am far from perfect. I am not very religious for one. I was raised within one of the Christian traditions, but I have pretty much abandoned it. But what always remains with me is something I learned when I was a young boy. When I was a young boy, I was a Boy Scout. I made it all the way to be an Eagle Scout, and those out there who have made it, know that you take that with you the rest of your life. One of the things I learned as a Boy Scout was to respect the religious beliefs and traditions of other people. One of the rules in the Scout Law is that a Scout is Reverent. So, when we were called to prayer or silent reflection, it was always done with the note that "each could pray in the manner most convenient to them." This meant you could pray to God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, the elders, ancestors, nature or not at all. This also meant that we knew people had different religious and spiritual paths, so we had to respect them. After all, respect was something we believed in as well. Being reverent included respecting the beliefs of others. This is what I grew up on, and even though I may be a bit more sceptical as an adult, I still live by those ideals. So when I see someone so blatantly disrespect another tradition, and then justify it using his faith, it simply upsets me. But more than upset, it makes it clear to me why people in the Middle East and Muslims in general may have a bad or negative opinion of Christians. The good pastor is not exactly helping ecumenical relations.

At the end of the day, each person has their faith (or lack thereof). There are many different paths. Who is to say your path is better or more worthy than his or hers? Sure, you could say your good book tells you so, but his or her good book tells him or her so as well. One of the things that make this country great is that we all have the freedom to read and abide by whichever good book we chose, or none at all. When a minister decides his book is better and that someone else's needs to be flushed, not only is it disrespectful, it threatens that basic freedom people enjoy in this country; it threatens the ideals this country was founded on. Rather than get all rhetorical and political, I like to remember that little quote from the George Burns film Oh God!. It's the part where John Denver's character asks God, played by George Burns, if Jesus was his son. His answer I think is a classic. He told him that Jesus was his son, that Buddha was his son, that Moses was his son, that Mohammed was his son, that Krishna was his son, and so on. I think readers get the idea by now. Imagine then all the different paths that lead to truth or heaven, or whatever you wish to call it. I can't think of a better reason to have respect for other beliefs. At the end of the day, they are all the children of God, however He/She is named.

Then again, we may all be going to hell anyhow because every religion pretty much says that if you don't belong to their religion, you are going to hell. Since you can't belong to all religions, it means we are all going to hell. This is all explained in the answer to the question is hell exothermic or endothermic? At any rate, I just think that pastor is just giving a bad example.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On the Patriot Act, and gay books, and on parenting

Jane at Wandering Eyre has pointed out a nice piece on the Patriot Act. So follow the link and go read about defending Tim McVeigh's right to check out gardening manuals. She also makes a little note about the latest on removing books with gay themes from children and young adult sections at public libraries. She writes, and I could not agree more, "Call me crazy, but if you want your children to learn your values and not society's, maybe you should try teaching them yourself and not relying on others."

Talk about radical ideas in librarianship, or rather in just plain common sense. I personally live to see the day when parents will actually take some responsibility for their brood instead of inflicting them on the rest of us and then expecting us to do their job for them. Of course, my favorite tends to be when we do go ahead and do the parenting and then they sue if they don't like it. Teachers get a lot of this. That recent incident with the little brat in a principal's office climbing on tables and then getting handcuffed comes to mind (I found the link on a quick Google search. I am sure there are other places with the story). Of course, I know I will likely incur the wrath of the PC Police for suggesting the misbehaving kid was a brat with a poor parent who did not discipline the kid when she should have, but hey, someone has to have some common sense in the whole thing. A lot of people came down on that labeling it as child abuse, but the kid in the video clearly looks out of control. I guess however the option was to just leave her inside the office and let her wreck the place until the tantrum passed. At any rate, it's old news now, but it makes a good illustration.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cows can blog, but those students better not write for the school paper

I could not make this up, even if I tried. The Blog Herald points to an MSNBC report about the Maryland Lottery's "Bovines Unite" campaign that uses a fictional cow with her own blog. I know it is all about marketing and making business, but you do have to wonder how low can they go? Amusing, if nothing else.

Also, through Jeff Jarvis's Buzz Machine, a report that a school in Georgia shut down a high school's newspaper because the content of it put the school in a less than favorable light. While the principal claims he did due to issues of quality, he also states, "I did have some issues with the paper. . . ." While I understand that a school newspaper is controlled by a school, I don't think this sends the right message about training and educating students to exercise their First Amendment rights and learn to be better citizens. However, the students went on to create their own blog, which includes links to the newspaper they published. If nothing else, readers can read it all and decide for themselves. And maybe in the process, they are also learning about the power of the internet and how to use other resources to express their views.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bill Moyer's Speech to the National Conference for Media Reform-Must read

Just a brief note. A colleague of mine forwarded me the link from Salon.com with the text of Bill Moyer's recent speech. It is not only a moving piece, but it is definitely something everyone should read, if for nothing else to remember what good journalism ought to be. Regardless of where readers stand on Bill Moyers, it is still a good speech with some elements to think about.


Another example of teaching to the test

The Herald-Tribune (Florida) had an article on May 13 entitled "Poor Schools Work Hard to Improve Scores on FCAT." The article opens with the tale of Mariah, a girl stuck in the third grade for three years because she could not pass the FCAT until her third attempt. The article asks the question: "How does a school teach Mariah to read?" From the initial impression and the fact that she was left behind, even though there is something called No Child Left Behind Act, I would say the answer is not very well. She finally passed the exam, but only after being involved in an intensive reading exercises program. Her school takes students like her out of the regular classes for a daily half hour of intensive reading exercises. Of course, the girl is happy she finally passed, and she can thus move grades, but in the meantime, her self-esteem suffered because of having to teach to an exam that likely does not measure how smart and capable this little girl can be. Another example that illustrates the unfairness of using one high stakes test to measure the ability of a kid who is likely a good learner otherwise. And this boils down to yet another example of, as they put it in the article, how schools have to "shift focus of their curriculum to get children ready for the test."

I made a note of a study about how Social Studies is losing ground to focus on the test in my other blog. I think it just adds a bit more to the discussion.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

File under "Excusing the parents yet again, or how not to teach accountability to your kids"

What are the odds that I write about a topic (see previous note on McEwan book) only to have the news validate it somehow? Actually, I was not terribly surprised when I heard about this. Through NCTE's Inbox Newsletter, I heard about a teacher in Georgia that was pressured to change a student's grade. The brief note on the newsletter indicated that this was an example of how teachers often see their principals side with the parents no matter how right a teacher may be. So, what else is new? I decided to check the story myself, which came out of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. Unfortunately, when I used the link from the newsletter, I found that the newspaper is one of those in an increasing number of newspapers requiring registration. Since I am not about to become a regular reader of an Atlanta newspaper, as fine a publication as it can be, I had to find the article some other way. Also, I happen to value my online privacy as much as possible, so I resist registering as much as I can. What I did was I used Lexis-Nexis Academic, to which we have access in the library, and I read the story that way. A search for "teacher and grades" set to last week and to look for the newspaper itself will yield the story and the follow-ups. Again, this is a nice opportunity to promote public libraries if you need access to the database. If they don't have Lexis, odds are they will have something like Newspaper Source.

The story started with the May 4th issue. The story is that a science teacher of 23 years was banned from school property after he refused to raise the grade of a student athlete that slept during class. School officials claimed that the teacher was insubordinate for refusing the order and because a teacher is not supposed to use grades as a form of discipline. The parent of the slothful student claims that the fact the kid was a football player had nothing to do with the request to alter his grade. The teacher points out that he has had the same policy in place for ten years that states "students who waste time in class--by sleeping, playing games or engaging in other mindless activities--receive a penalty grade. The penalty can be a zero or half credit depending on the assignment. . . ." This is the first time, according to the article, that the teacher had been pressured to change a grade. There was a hearing scheduled, and he had hired a lawyer. In an interesting note, interesting because it can be revealing, the students actually rallied and made a petition drive in support of the teacher. The teacher noted that he reviews his classroom policies on the first day of class, and the policy has been in place for ten years. One of his students went on to say that "we all know that if you sleep in Doc's class you can get a zero."

In spite of support from much of the community and his students, the board voted 4-1 to fire him. This was reported on May 7th in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It pretty much became a move by the board to save face since they could not have a teacher simply doing what he wanted, even though it was both reasonable and consistent. It is just another example of a school board bowing to a pampered athlete; after all, can it be honestly said that this pressure would have been exerted on the teacher if the student was just your average non-athletic student? The board saw sleeping as a discipline problem, and they claim that grades can't be used as a discipline tool. But it makes more sense, and it seems more apparent that is also an academic issue, but more importantly an issue of work ethic. I would like to ask if any reader out there knows of any workplace that would allow an employee to sleep on the job and then fire the boss or supervisor for calling the employee on it. This kind of behavior would not be tolerated, yet it is the type of behavior that apparently this school is more than willing to overlook for a kid and his parents who apparently think the rules don't apply to them. And in this case, it does send that message: you don't have to be respectful or responsible in class. Go ahead and sleep in class junior, it does not matter whether you participate in class or not, whether you cooperate with your classmates and your teacher. At the end of the day, what matters is that you play football. Is that really the message we want to send our young people?

School is one of the first places where students learn manners and values like being on time, being on task and basic respect and civility. In addition to content knowledge, they learn how to behave in society. Even the students who work in addition to going to school know they can't sleep on their job. Not only is it bad behavior; it is an issue of productivity; you can't work if you are asleep. So, what does this incident teach? For one, as I mentioned, a spoiled kid can simply go to mommy and daddy and complain to get his grade changed because he himself fell asleep in class. He knew about the policy, and he chose to ignore it, but it is ok because he has parents willing to bail him out. Second, we have to look at the parents as well. What message they send their kids? You don't need to respect your teachers. Sure, we claim that we entrust them with your welfare and education while in school, but wink wink, if he does something we don't like, we just go over his head. The principal is really the one in charge anyhow, and if not, there is always the board. Again, does this message translate to later in life for that kid? Probably, odds are he will be goofing off in college as well and maybe his workplace. Why not? He has already been getting that message now. Third, and this is something I have seen first hand, principals are more than willing and able to cut ties to a teacher if it means looking better in front of parents. It does not matter if it is a good teacher. It does not matter he has had a policy in place the principal could have objected to earlier. It does not matter how many students may go out of their way to try to support him. All that matters is that one football player get his grade up so he can continue to play. The result? The school and the rest of students lose a fine educator over some kid who clearly has been led to think he is too special to have rules apply to him. This is just another example of how a good teacher is undermined by a pampered kid with parents who probably have too much time on their hands, a principal catering to them, and a board not wanting to look incompetent, which they did anyhow. I just hope that community remembers this incident when the next election comes around, and I have faith the teacher will likely land a good job someplace else. Schools, except the one that fired him, can always use a good science teacher.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Educational Administration is Weakest Program Colleges Offer

A short note to point out a small feature in the April 15th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article "Change in the Principal's Office: the Role of Universities" written by Arthur Levine discusses the poor quality found in programs to educate future principals and other educational administrators. Levine discusses his report on "Educating School Leaders." I actually read part of the report, lead to it from another link. It should be of concern to those such as teachers considering graduate work in the field as well as those doing the hiring.

Booknote: _How to Deal with Parents Who are Angry, Troubled, Afraid, or Just Plain Crazy_ 2nd ed. (2005)

I picked up this book from our new books cart with some interest. I was a secondary school teacher at one point, and I had to deal with my share of parents who fit the descriptions in the title. My initial cursory look over the table of contents was not encouraging. Under Reason #2, "Educators Do Things that Upset Parents," one finds a laundry list of peeves that "make parents upset." Some of these issues include, but are not limited to: intimidation, control, power and blame. I have to wonder about these given my experience as a teacher since more often than not I was the one being intimidated by parents that always saw fit to remind me of their higher status as lawyers and such, who wanted to control my classroom for the sake of their kid, take away any sense of power I may have had, and then blame me for their problems. Another issue the author lists: rudeness. Now here is something I can definitely disagree with. In my time as a teacher, I was never rude to any parent, in spite of the fact that a few of them likely would have deserved some rudeness on my part given their begavior. I just figured there was no sense stooping to their level. As for the issue of respect, in my book, that is something you earn. You are not automatically entitled to it. You are entitled to be treated with dignity, but respect is earned. However, I will say I more often displayed respect than I ever received. My point from this is that so far, the book seemed nothing more than a treatise on parent appeasement. After reading through the book itself, that is not far from the truth. I did however do my best to read the book and give it a fair chance. The author notes that the book is designed for administrators and teachers, but the teachers referred to are mostly the ones looking to leave the classroom and become administrators.

I also read the note provided about the author. Elaine K. McEwan is a former teacher, principal, librarian, and assistant superintendent who is now a partner at a consulting firm. She has her own website, which I actually took a few moments from my reading to look over. It mostly provides a promotion for her workshops and other resources she and her firm produce. I did try to see if there was actually any price listing for the workshops, but you have to e-mail for a quote. However, if it is anything like the consultant my school district once brought in, it is probably not cheap, and given that I can't recall what the heck that consultant was brought in to speak to us about, I am guessing about as memorable, but very nicely packaged. Of course, I will add, this is a guess, but probably an educated one I am sure a few other teachers out there will identify.

In other words, she is one of those educators that got the classroom experience and went into the business of educational consulting. While I have nothing against good old fashioned capitalism and making money, I do wonder about people who leave a profession to then tell the professionals from the outside what to do within the profession. Thus I have a suspicion about businesspeople who charge huge fees to tell teachers things that teachers likely know already, or that teachers could be teaching to each other. If you want a good model of teachers teaching teachers, you may want to look over concepts like the National Writing Project. Unfortunately, consulting happens to be one of the few advancement options available to teachers who may want to actually make some money out of their training and skills. However, this makes some consultants at least to look like Stephen Covey. Nothing wrong with Mr. Covey, if you like that sort of thing. It is a sad commentary when teachers have to leave the job they likely love in order to get either better pay, better benefits, or just some respect. Ironically, when I was starting out as a secondary school teacher, someone jokingly told me that I could write a book someday about my experiences as a student teacher and then go on a lecture tour, you know, sort of to give some guidance to those coming behind me. I never gave it further thought, but I will note it has been done by others, in much better fashion than I could have likely. I may still write a book someday, but in the meantime, I am not quite ready to leave the trenches yet. And though I am not in a high school anymore, being an Instruction Librarian in an urban university means I do a lot of work with students. I just do it differently. And speaking of Mr. Covey, Ms. McEwan uses a quote of his as an epigraph in her first chapter.

I noticed as I read through that first chapter, that in a two page passage, out of six citations to outside resources, three were to previous works of hers. This may be picky on my part, but I get leery when people start citing themselves a little too much. If you said it before, why recycle it again?

As I read through the first chapter, all I saw was a litany of how poor parents are stressed out by today's society and its workings, and as a result, it is acceptable for them to be angry and disrespectful to teachers and administrators. The book is basically too apologetic to parents. Here is an interesting line: "Education is characterized by broad swings of philosophy and methodology, a steady stream of innovations that often demand logic. . ." (7). I would simply say that much of those "broad swings" are due to outsiders trying to tell the professionals what to do, even though they themselves would never dare to put a foot in a classroom. Usually, these outsiders are "educated" parents (yes, Ms. McEwan has a very high regard for parents who are well educated and thus likely know more than the teacher. Read the book if you think I am making this up. The tone is quite condescending coming from a former teacher). At any rate, these "educated" parents and legislators and assorted types come up with all sorts of fad initiatives which they push upon their boards of education to implement. If they work, they take the credit, but if they fail they move to blame the teachers. Also, this first chapter, as I mentioned, is nothing more than an excusing of parent behavior. I definitely have to disagree on this one. Regardless of their good intentions, or their knowledge (I am sure some parents may know more than I do, I would only hope they would share some of it with me so I can learn something), parents who behave rudely or "crazy" simply lower their own respectability and credibility the moment they abandon reason in favor of intimidation and threats. Civility, courtesy, and calm reason are good values to have. Parents should be called on this when they misbehave, not simply excused for it because they may be "stressed." The rest of us may be stressed as well; it does not mean we go and take it out on someone else. In addition, what kind of message does bad behavior from parents send to their children? For one, it sends a message that one does not have to take responsibility. It also sends the message that one does not have to be able to discuss issues in a calm and reasonable way. It basically says, "if we don't like the teacher, and we yell loud enough, the school will get rid of him or her." Is that really what parents want to transmit to their children? I would hope not, but I have seen it happen often enough that I have my doubts.

This is all on the first few pages of the book. On page 8, she makes the following statement, as if to make up for what's coming ahead: "Before you [teachers] get defensive and start making excuses, try to understand these parents." With such a preamble, one has to brace himself for the landry list of "bad teacher deeds" that follows. I understand the parents she describes alright, but unlike her, I am not willing to give them a pass on their bad behavior, especially since I am one of the teachers who, in her words, "may not be guilty of doing any of the things listed here. . ." Actually, in my case, I am not guilty, without the "maybe," which as a choice of word seems to doubt that teachers out there may actually be more civil and intelligent about how to deal with the parents of their students. There are other passages I could point to, but this note is already getting lengthy.

In spite of the apologetic tone of Chapter One, the rest of the book does provide some useful tips for defusing and disarming tenst situations. However, the advice is mostly along the lines of remaining calm, patient, and to use active listening. I think I learned about active listening when I was in grade school. Overall, what little the author offers can be found by anyone who is really interested in other places and in books that are much better written. A lot of the advice given I have seen before in other texts, or I had to learn it along the way. The book, like many books written by educational consultants, has a recycled feel to it. To make this particular book worse, it has a condescending tone towards teachers and an extensive excusing of parent bad behavior, making it simply something teachers have to cope with. This book is definitely not recommended for teachers seeking something new and insightful on the topic at hand.

I will leave with a final remark from the book that exemplifies what I mean when I say the author just let's parents off the hook. She writes that "after my years in education, I have come to believe that if parents could, they would. They want to, but they don't know how. They would like to, but they don't feel qualified" (107). Hmm, so, very often these parents are "educated" and know more than teachers, but they are not qualified? I detect a little contradiction. But more importantly, statements like that eliminate accountability and the potential to actually do something. If someone wants to do something, they will find a way, and parents who want the best for their children I am sure will if they can, and if they don't know how, will find out how. My parents did it, and they never insulted or disrespected an educator in the process, and I am sure many more parents do it as well. Too bad from this book, you don't get to see the few good parents or are even reminded they exist.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Some interesting news items (at least not the usual)

  1. If you are going to "shack up" with someone, don't do it in North Carolina (or Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi and North Dakota). NC has a statute in its books dating back to 1805 that prohibits cohabitation without marriage. You can read the details as reported by the Associated Press today here. The ACLU is challenging the statute, and it looks like it will succeed, but for now, here is another one of those cases of dumb laws no one has bothered to remove from the books.
  2. Gay Men Respond Different to Pheromones is the title of this AP report on a study conducted in Sweden and published last Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the article, ' "It is one more piece of evidence ... that is showing that sexual orientation is not all learned," said Sandra Witelson, an expert on brain anatomy and sexual orientation at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada." Interesting if nothing else. It can be something more to think about when asking questions about whether there is a genetic role in determining sexual orientation. As I understand it, there may be traits that predispose towards one orientation over the other, but environmental factors can come into play as well. A search on a good database like Academic Search Premier using the terms "sexual orientation and (biology or genetics)" will yield various articles. If you need access to a good periodical database, a visit to your local public library will likely provide it. I found one written for sex therapists which seems to summarize the issue quite nicely even for those of us who are not scientists:
    Title:A therapist's guide to the genetics of human sexual orientation.
    Authors:Mustanski, Brian S.1
    Bailey, J. Michael2
    Source:Sexual & Relationship Therapy; Nov2003, Vol. 18 Issue 4, p429, 8p
  3. Why get dressed in camouflage wear, load up your guns and beer cooler and head out to the nearest nature preserve or forest to hunt when you can do it from your computer desk? The article from Sunday's The Washington Post reports on Mr. John Lockwoods Live-Shot business where you can pay to hunt online. You can read about the mounting opposition, including a rare alliance between the NRA and animal welfare activists. I don't know about most people, but I still believe some things you just have to get up and go do yourself in person.
The usual caveats apply about access to periodical articles after a given length of time.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hmm, in retrospect, it did look like pledging and hazing

I read Nicholas Hegen's column in the April 15th edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education with the title "M.A. Students as Pledges." You can likely find it online, but I read it in print since my library carries a subscription to it, and I can get to it as time allows. I included the link, with the usual caveat about access for periodical articles online.

When I was a high school teacher, I used to joke around with a couple of my colleagues that running a school was like running a mob family. Think about it. The principal would be the Don, his assistants something like the Consiglioris, the teachers could be the caporegimes. The students, depending on how they lined up, could be family members or those that needed to go sleep with the fishes. Ok, so we did not quite get it pinned down, but one of these days I will likely revisit and refine the idea. At any rate, comparing processes in education to other processes, whether the workings of a mob family or of a frat house is not new, but it is interesting to see when someone puts a new spin to it. So I read with interest the article by Mr. Hegen about his experiences in an English M.A. program in terms of pledging a fraternity. That Higher Education has often been viewed as a medieval guild is not new; after all, universities started mostly during the Middle Ages. So the idea of graduate students as pledges is not far off since very often graduate students are basically trying to earn or work their way into the guild.

He opens the essay by telling us about sitting at a bar with a representative of the Graduate English Students Association where they talked about the usual complaints graduate students have: course load, money, the work load, and overall disenfranchisement. Like him, I worked my 20 or so hours a week. In my case, I was a teaching assistant outside the English department at my institution. As luck or fate would have it, the fact I was fluent in Spanish meant I could be a graduate assistant for the Spanish department, thus getting a break on my tuition. Money was still short though, but what else was new? I had a heavy course load, and I had to prepare papers for conferences, not to mention apply for doctoral programs. Between work, I did read tons of theory as well, some more relevant than other, graded tests and other assignments, and so on. At the time, I have to admit I did not give it much thought, why would I? At the time, I was pursuing my idea of a dream: to become a professor in literary studies so I could share my love of literature through teaching. However, as time marched on, I did see that all this effort was often nothing more than a ritual, a way to get into the fraternity (or the guild) if I only worked hard enough. Seems easy enough, but things are not often as easy as they seem.

Mr. Hengen does give a nice picture of what it is like to be a graduate student in a Humanities program. English is not that much different than fields like History, Foreign Languages, Arts, Philosophy, and so on. I think anyone considering it should read his piece. I wrote previously that my Master's in English served me well when looking for a job as an academic librarian, but I probably could have gone for my MLS sooner rather than taking the extra time to stop and pursue the doctoral degree I left for that MLS. And I mention this because Mr. Hengen writes that "almost everyone from my cohort ended up somewhere they could have just as easily been without the master's degree: law school, publishing, journalism, teaching, coffee slinging." I was one of those who ended up somewhere else. In my case, it took me a bit longer to get there. He writes that doctorals and master's are different. I would argue that is not necessarily the case. Both end up with large amounts of debt given that there is no such thing as serious financial aid, and they both end up doing a lot of the departmental grunt work so the department can function.

I recall shortly before leaving to pursue my MLS that many of my own cohorts had ended up heading in other directions. Sure, a few went on and finished their doctoral, but many either stopped after the master's and took adjunct teaching jobs on the same campus, or they left to do other things as well. I remember vividly one of my classmates who seemed very brilliant; if anyone would finish it would be her, who said when asked about her progress how she had simply dropped off not seeing any meaning to it. She taught as an adjunct in the meantime, and she worked on her playwriting. This was before I had my epiphany that I would go to library school, and I remember wondering how was it she did it, how could she be so peaceful about it? Having made a similar choice to leave and pursue what became my career as a librarian, I can see the peacefulness of it all. Joseph Campbell wrote that we have to follow our bliss. I decided, with a bit of encouragement from a librarian I used to work with, to follow that bliss. I thought it would bother me to have left that graduate program in English, but you know what? It has not bothered me one bit. In fact, I know I made the right choice for me. It is a system, a very feudal system they got going in those graduate schools, and not just Humanities, all disciplines have it in one form or another, though Humanities seem to display it a bit more. Sometimes, once in a while, you have to buck the system. Instead of pledging, why not choose not to pledge in the first place? There are other ways to be popular, or to do something you like. I found I can teach and work with students in higher education in a practical and fulfilling way, and while I learned some from all that theory, I could have likely let go off some of it sooner. But, as writers I used to work with often said in workshops, no regrets and no claims about the work, just read the draft. So, I make no claims and have no regrets. I learned a bit along the way, and I am still learning. Yet, the piece did make me think for a moment because for a moment, it just took me back.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

If I were that guy, I would be running the other way

By now, the account of Ms. Wilbanks's escapade are more than well known. Anyone can open any newspaper, look through the internet, or turn on the TV, and someone somewhere is speaking about it. So, I see no point in adding to it much, but two things did irk me about the whole thing. One was that the way she left put her fiance on the spot. It has to be noted how quickly the police and the community moved to suspect him as they conducted the search. He even had to go take a lie detector test as some began to have visions of another Scott Peterson. And this is the woman that loved him who did this to him without thinking. The second thing that irks me, and this one is deep, is that she created a Hispanic male to be her kidnapper. I definitely agree with the civil rights groups that she should apologize. Her irresponsible lie perpetuated stereotypes about an ethnic group and likely incensed negative racist feelings in some quarters ready to think the worst of Hispanics just as it would have had the same effect had she claimed it was an African American male. I am sure African American groups would be fuming had that been the case, and therein lies the point. By making such a remark to hide the fact she made a mistake, she compounded the problem and appealed to ignorance and stereotyping to mask her duplicity. She definitely should apologize, and she should do so in a timely fashion.

Now, I am not totally without compassion. I know she is not the first bride to get cold feet and leave a groom at the altar or call a wedding off at the last moment. Those things happen, and they will likely continue to happen. That is not the issue. She was a nervous bride, and like any other bride, she had a right to be nervous and anxious. But to pull the stunt she did without regard for others is simply thoughtless and irresponsible. Had she simply asked to take time off, decided to postpone the wedding, or stated, "I am taking a few days off," no one would have faulted her. Instead she simply chose to vanish, and not just vanish, but create a scenario that would harm others or cause them to lose time and effort for naught. That the girl needs some kind of help, psychological or spiritual, is evident, and I hope she gets it. But she also lied and caused grief and pain to a lot of people who did not deserve such, and there should be consequences for that. As for the groom, maybe he is more compassionate than I would be. If it were me, I would be moving out of state by now.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Hmm, so often the number one network for 18-34 is a Spanish Channel?

The Wall Street Journal had an article today entitled "'Big Four' Networks Get Wake-Up Call--in Spanish." It opens by asking which network is frequently number one among the young adult demographic so desirable by advertisers. The answer is actually Univision. While at the moment, the Spanish language network is not a major threat to the other networks, it is certainly gaining on them, and this looks like another example of how the Latino influence is growing in the United States. Then again, if anyone has seen the Census numbers or read books such as Jorge Ramos's La Ola Latina (The Latino Wave), they would know this is just a fact of life. The article states that "according to Nielsen, 19% of the U.S. population aged 18 to 34 describes itself as Hispanic. The young Hispanics flocking to Univision are for the most part bilingual, which means they are tuning in because the programming appeals to them--not just because the actors speak Spanish." I found that little tidbit quite interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that many people tend to think that the only people who watch Spanish television do so because they are not bilingual. Second reason is that 19% is quite a chunk of the population. Very often we hear in the news all sorts of commentary about immigration, a lot of it negative, much of it reflecting the fears of some in this country that the country will be overrun by immigrants. But what they often fail to take into account are the children of those immigrants born here, who due to their birth here, happen to be legal citizens. There are various reports on this topic. One example I was able to find "on the fly" was an article in Society for May/June 1998, vol. 35.4 which reports on the rising birth rates among Hispanic women in the U.S. These children will grow up in this country and likely add their little contribution (or maybe not so little) to the mosaic that is the United States. Many may grow up not learning both languages, but many others will, so down the road, the numbers will grow. It really is a growing wave, and trying to stop it or pretend it won't happen won't make things better. Politicians are already taking note of this. Ramos explores this in his book, which I highly recommend not only to explain Latino politics but also as a nice "primer" to knowing about the different groups of Latinos (yes, we are a varied bunch) and their concerns and issues. Other further readings that may be of interest are a couple of small articles published in Gale's newsletter, one discussing Latino voting patterns on the basis of values and the other on Latinos and Social Security. The links are:

http://www.gale.com/enewsletters/spanish/2005_04/hispanic_vote.htm On Hispanic Vote

http://www.gale.com/enewsletters/spanish/2005_04/social_security.htm On Latinos and Social Security

So, where am I headed with this aside from the fact that the article in WSJ caught my attention? I am not sure, but I do know it will be interesting to watch as demographics continue to change. If only more people would educate themselves instead of letting their fear and ignorance dictate their actions and policies, and if politicians would stop pandering to those fears, maybe we would have a much better place and future. I know, idealistic on my part, but I always had a little streak of that. Besides, I do enjoy joking around with my Anglo American friends that we are going to be taking over some day, and when we do, that I will put a good word in for them. In seriousness, I don't think it will be such a turnaround in my generation, but things will turn around. So why alienate those who will outnumber you someday? I am probably going to piss off some right wing conservative who thinks we should put barbed wire and a wall with machine guns at the borders, but even if that were to happen, the numbers of those already in here would more than make up for it. We already see some of it in the youth choosing to watch a Spanish channel and from the little not so subtle attempts from the other networks to cater to Hispanics. According to the article, it is no accident that the show Desperate Housewives has a couple of Latino leads for instance. Anyhow, just a little food for thought.