Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Absentee Students

Recently my district had an entire week off for Thanksgiving break. Nine days from Saturday before Thanksgiving until the Sunday after is no short weekend. This evolved from what was earlier a four day weekend when my kids were in school. Then the parents would complain they had to leave early to get to grandma's house. So the districts changed the vacation period to five days. Parent then assumed that "it's only two days" and took their kids out the entire week. So again district buckled and the entire week was given to them. But that wasn't enough. I had kids leaving the Wednesday prior to the week off and one student whose family stayed in Mexico on vacation until the week after the break. Whatever happened to requiring students to be in class?

Oh sure, we have a 90% attendance rate requirement in Texas, but instead of enforcing some rules, our administrators willingly give permission to miss up to six days for "college visits" (which many times take place on ski lifts...) and allow students to miss time for cruises, family trips, etc to the point that make up work is almost impossible. And who gets to take up the slack and endure abuse from parents? The teachers.

When I was in school excessive absences were shown to be negative influences on a student's progress. When I had chicken pox in first grade and had to miss two weeks, serious consideration was given to holding me back in spite of my grades. Now students are allowed to make up "seat time" by sitting in an empty room biding their moments to make up missing classes. In talking to many students, they admit that if the advantage of seat time wasn't available, they probably could have made it to class.

We are teaching these future employees a poor lesson about accountability, responsibility and maturity. This is being aided by parents who seem unwilling to pay attention to a calendar and made worse by competition seasons that sometimes require days out of class. In the Spring we can look forward to soccer, golf and tennis students missing one day a week for the three months they compete. That's 20% of their class time. And THAT time is forgiven. But once you add in band trips, AcDec trips. Latin Club, Spanish Club, college trips and more and soon students are prolonging and delaying every project and exam. It makes grading impossible. But it makes learning negligible-with a dismissive attitude toward the process and the idea that graduation can be bought via threats and manipulation.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

On "Culture"

Some people believe culture is something you acquire via experience, travel or training. Other people believe culture is strictly defined by geography-where you were raised and what resources were available shape how you develop. And then some people believe, mistakenly I think, that culture is solely a matter of race. Let me explain why I think this last group is wrong.

I have known people of color who were born in Ghana, Jamaica and other locales. When matters of "race" as defined in American politics comes up, they admit to being mystified at how so many people can allow history or their own behavior to hold them back. I have to admit all these folks were college educated and came here legally and intentionally to pursue careers. So how come people who come here legally can overcome hurdles that people of color seem unable to surmount? If "culture" as defined by the Left, by BLM, by ACLU, by DNC and by all liberals, is a matter of race, how come so many people of color come here and succeed, often without the educational or social props our nation current provides many citizens?

What is "culture" anyway? The visible aspects of culture include how we dress, how we act, what we eat, and sometimes what we drive and where we live. Those used to be the sum limit of culture. There was a time when everyone listened to music from every culture. Unfortunately a kind of narrow asceticism has entered our nation where one must declare to be within the limited norms of stereotypes set not by the individual, but by others within the society who claim special knowledge. Thus a six year old white girl dressed as a fictional Disney princess Moana or Jasmine is accused by the media elite, such as Comsopolitan Magazine, of being racist and "appropriating culture." I'm confused by this because these are made up animated characters and as such really have no culture to speak of. While I certainly wouldn't encourage anyone to put their child in blackface or don a sombrero and claim to be a Mexican, what harm is it to dress like a cartoon of another little girl?

I'm not sure who is in charge of this cultural definition thing. It seems that like so many school elections, universities have allowed the very few who want the title to have the position. It's probably so that they can be left alone to play beer pong in peace. These mouthy little snowflakes are very open in pointing out the offenses others make to culture. This exercise prepares them to be trapped in Academia as either a student or adjunct professor for the rest of their lives because honestly, who else is going to hire them? These puffed up little twits have an entire new vocabulary of offenses to match the slate of gender nuances that everyone else is supposed to embrace. I think I speak for millions when I say-I don't give a damn what or who you do, just leave us alone.

Going along with culture is the "new racism." According to these same arbiters of cultural norms-you're racist and I'm racist and we just don't know it. If we lock our doors, we're racist. If we avoid dangerous neighborhoods, we're racist. If we don't adhere to policies that support turning over most of your income to the nearest person of color even if they make more than you do....you guessed it-racist. Racist as a term has become almost meaningless. It's just something mobs like to shout along with "death to cops" and "f*ck---whoever". I see their mouths moving but none of their sounds make any sense. And that is because the claims of racism have become so outrageous that only the most doctrinaire liberal believes all of them.

Here are just some of the things I have heard defined as racist:
Devil's Food Cake
Black Holes in space
Reading to your white children at night. (shame on you!)
Not taking a knee
Intact families

These are just a few of them-I'm sure there are more. I don't mean to pick on these people, but seriously don't they have other things to do? Jobs? School? Something? More and more when you get on social media it's another litany of woes from the Left. I don't think they are even listening to each other anymore. Rant, rant, rant. Scream, scream, scream. Pop in your earbuds and it becomes some sort of hysterical mime troop encountering an obstacle Daddy can't just write a check to make it go away. I'm tired to death of their constructed and constrained culture imposing itself on mine. Contrary to the spox on the Left, everyone has rights. And although it's only implied, one of them is the right to be left the hell alone. I'm asking nicely on behalf of the millions of us who are thinking this, but not saying it for fear of being fired, attacked or making liberals cry.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Reality now

I went to in-service today. I finished up the Dyslexia trainting and then ESL/ELL training. I also sat in a meeting where evidence of how the whole chaotic nastiness of Antifa and the public protests have seeped down to the school level. Imagine my shock at two things revealed today that happened at my socalled "good' suburban school.

1. In protest, someone is taking it upon themselves to smear feces and menstrual blood in the boys and girls bathrooms. No wonder my students ask to go in the restrooms that are fulling in sight of teachers at all times. This is beyond nasty, it's unhealthy and borderline psychotic. In the hands of students the type of things they've seen from Occupy and Antifa and BLM register as normal. So we are beginning to see the new normal in schools.

2. Pot has been around awhile. But now we have dealers selling acid that is so toxic that just touching it with bare hands can get it into your bloodstream. How it was found was on the floor wrapped in a packet of foil. Any teacher or student or custodian could have picked it up and been impacted.

If this is happening in "good" schools, what is going on in others?

Monday, October 09, 2017


When my daughter was graduating from high school, my husband was out of work.

The only thing she wanted was a dog.

My kids have grown up with dogs. Our first "children" were a black Lab with a streak of wanderlust, named Pete, and a Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix,named Sandy. My kids learned to walk clutching Sandy's back. She would circle them in the yard making sure they were safe. The world seemed fresh and bright a new. After Sandy died and we moved, Pete would slip through our fence back to our old house looking for his friend. Sandy died at 14, Pete lived to be 16. here

So there were two chaotic years where we had no pets except for Thor The Thunderbunny. Christi wanted a dog. So looking in the Greensheet, she found a "free" dog. We went over to a nice house in Richardson, an upscale neighborhood, and saw this poor hysterical Golden Retriever. She was thin, she was scared and she was terrified of men. So of course we took her. Only the mother of the family cried. Looking back I wonder if whatever abuse Indy suffered was domestic violence. It took a long time for her to trust.

We named her Indy because we picked her up on the day of the Indy 500. The owner, of course, lied. She was heartworm positive and had to go through two rounds of treatment. She became an inside dog-a hilarious, smart companion who stayed with my husband and me even when the kids moved out and up.

Indy was a very particular dog. She thought our rabbit was a puppy and licked it like one. She didn't chase squirrels, only rabbits because I think she thought they were Thor. She didn't retrieve. She loved what we called the Ch's-Chocolate (yeah I know, just a taste), Cheese and Chicken. I believe she had "cheeseradar" -she could hear me unwrapping cheese from outside. She was queen of our greenbelt park that trails along our backyard. She truly was the Alpha female ruling those that walked by. In her head though, she thought she was a little dog. She was scared of big dogs-never could get along with my daughter in law's chocolate Lab-but loved little dogs. The few times we boarded her she was always with the little dogs acting very much like a babysitter to them all.

Indy slept in our bedroom at the foot of our bed. Many is the time I would trip over her in the dark. She wasn't a cuddly dog-whatever trauma she suffered when she was a puppy prevented that-but she trusted us almost enough to let us clip her nails. Indy hated bathtime although she loved the results.
She was a beautiful, funny, caring friend. And I will miss her smile when I come home from work.

In a world where people are often untrue and unfaithful, dogs are always honest. If they don't like you, they let you know. And if they love you, you have a forever faithful friend. In the end, Indy could no longer walk. Brian would carry her outside several times a day. She couldn't eat anything, not even chicken. She was ready to go long before we were ready to let her go. She was a good girl and we will miss her. I hope if I am a good enough person, I will see her again, playing with Sandy and Pete in a place where there is no more pain and no more fear.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Bad goes to worse

So after three deaths-the death of my cousin in his sleep at age 53, the loss of my grandson's mother's child halfway through the pregnancy and the tragic suicide of the daughter of family friends it gets worse.

The Las Vegas shooting is terrible. I can't even fathom the kind of insanity that makes this a rational act. It's sick.

But the hits just keep on coming. My husband of 61 was laid off. Again. It seems men of a certain age are expendable in this economy. His friend was also laid off. My daughter in law was also laid off in a so called hot real estate economy. My sister in law was also laid off in spite of her years of experience in medical coding.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Hardest Lesson

I had to do something today that was so hard. It was so difficult that I nearly backed out. But it was also very important that I followed through because the welfare of others depended on my presence-not because I am important, but instead because sometimes people need support in numbers. Today I attended the funeral of the young beautiful daughter of  family friends. She was beautiful-blond and blue eyed. She was smart-a student at Texas A&M with her eyes on becoming a physician's assistant after first becoming an EMT. She was strong-a star player on her high school softball team. She had so much going for her. She was full of vinegar with a quick wit and ready sense of humor.

She killed herself.

Let that sink in. This beautiful, talented, smart and sassy young woman who had achieved so much and who was loved by so many suffered from a broken spirit. I don't know how nor do I know why she made this choice. All we know from the letters from her parents read during the memorial that her shiny, bright veneer hid a very sensitive young spirit which grabbed onto every criticism and allowed it to fester. We have accounts that trapped animals will gnaw off their own legs to escape the pain of the trap. I suppose at some point inner doubt can become just as deadly as cancer and grow into something so painful that death seems the only escape. Bumper sticker claims of suicide as a "permanent solution to a temporary problem" don't even scratch the surface of the situation.

Having met this young woman and hearing what her sister and friends recalled of her life, I can't believe she would intentionally inflict so much pain. Even four days later, I don't think her mother has had one hour of sleep. She's melting into tears and no words anyone can say will console her. There simply are no words in any human language that can heal her pain. Her father is being strong for everyone else and yet I can't imagine that he's not wishing to block out all that has happened, hoping it's just a bad dream. You can see in his eyes that inside he is shattered, blaming himself for failing to protect his baby girl. No loving child, no parent, no sibling or friend would cause that kind of pain unless they were in such irrational pain themselves that nothing else made sense. Some think of suicide as the ultimate selfish act. It is and it isn't. It's self-centered because the main character has bought into a litany of self-described sins from which they think there is no absolution. It's selfish because they fail to trust others enough to be honest.

Why do so many people ignore that there is always forgiveness? Our society has become so quick to blame. So many of our "sins" are more personality quirks than evil. Yet we have become a society where saying one wrong word, wearing the wrong shirt, holding the wrong sign or daring to be different can make someone a target. Even the bravest among us don't want the center stage all the time. And when we fail, for some, it's a hard fact to acknowledge. Call it pride or ego or perfectionism, for some the quest for the best score, the perfect record or the highest praise is the only thing that calms such troubled spirits. The sad thing is that for many one success just leads them to seek the next achievement-the quest never ends. Perhaps this is why some seek to end it themselves-sometimes through drugs or alcohol or other addictions and distractions. They just have to end the game.

No parent should have to bury a child. Whether they are infants unborn or men in their 50's, they are always children to their parents. I admit that I was holding up well during the memorial service until they showed this young woman's photos as a baby. Parents in general, but mothers in particular, have a real problem separating their grown children from the infants they nurtured. Mothers have problems in seeing their children as functioning adults. It's not that we don't admire our children or that we don't wish them independence and success, but it's hard to reconcile with our first images of our babies with the adults they become. This week my 93 year old aunt lost her only son at the age of 58. He died in his sleep. I don't think she mourns her loss any more or less than the parents of the girl whose sad story I first addressed. Children are always and forever young to their parents. So when a parent calls a grown child to warn of dangerous weather heading their way or to gently nag about bills or suggest more grandchildren would be nice, it's not because parents are trying to run their children's lives, but because they are trying to help them avoid the potholes and pitfalls that life can create. Sometimes being a parent is the most terrifying role you can take.

If I was a better writer, I'd have some snappy conclusion that would wrap up this situation. There are no answers. We'll never know what went through this young woman's mind before she made her choice. I've always heard that those who attempt suicide hope someone to save them. In a way it's kind of a test of the rest of the world. Perhaps that was the case here-I hope so. I hope she was counting on a savior or a white knight or a dragon or whatever hero her mind could create. I know that as a Texas public school teacher I will have to go through "suicide lessons" with my classes. They are mapped out by psychologists who claim to know how we can protect young people from making this tragic choice. I also know that ultimately it is window dressing-a type of whistling in the dark that betrays the fact that we will never know what demons haunt those who end their own lives. All we can do is try to insure that those we love know it and that knowing it will be enough.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New "New Math"

Yesterday I was helping my grandson with his second grade math homework. He's a bright little boy-GT identified, reading at a fifth grade level. He's good in science and has a great attitude. He's curious, excited and wants to know more. He's creative and innovative-but that's not what is valued in the new "New Math."

He doesn't understand the new math.
He doesn't understand why he's supposed to guess the answer when he can figure out the answer.
And nothing that previous generations knew about "carrying" numbers when adding applies. In fact teachers actively warn parents against teaching this archaic method of adding and subtracting.
I remember being that second grader-going through exactly the same methods of factoring.
It was 1965 and it was called "New Math." We had plastic slates with wipe off markers, a plastic abacus and an excited grad student leading through an array of math exercises.

I am a "New Math" victim. Although I understand how numbers work and I'm good enough with numbers to do my own taxes (although I have a professional check them....)I did lousy in Algebra1 and Algebra 2. I was great in Geometry and could easily use math in applied science classes, but the aim of "New Math" in 1965 was to prepare students for The Future, complete with the burgeoning promise of Computers. I couldn't do higher math. In fact the convoluted methodology of "New Math" I was fearful of even trying. I had a teacher who would mark correct answers wrong if I didn't follow the exact methods. This isn't how real problems are solved. Any mathematician will tell you there are endless methods to solve problems. Math is training in logic and logic is the product of the mind's organization. How can you read someone's mind? By eighth grade I had basically given up on math, trusting my ability with writing and reading to cover for me. That decision to monkey around with the way a seven year old sees the world can have terrible implications down the road.

I looked at my grandson's homework paper, which included breaking down numbers by ones, tens and hundreds and factoring the individual numbers to "find" the answer. I could show my grandson how to do it, but I could not explain why he had to do it in such a long winded and awkward fashion. What is worse is I know next year he will be expected to perform these twisted problems on the state STAAR test and if he doesn't solve them EXACTLY as taught he will lose scoring points even if he finds the correct answer. The problem is that like my grandson, I wasn't content with estimates and guessing. Bright kids wouldn't ever be content. Yet the methods being used insist that students deal with approximate answers rather than finding the definitive answers. What is worse is this denies students the very intellectual flexibility and independence that the system claims to foster.

If you look at this on a larger scale, this demonstrates what is wrong with our educational infrastructure. We have grad students and education wonks using social theory to impose ideology on everything from race to religion in the context of a school day. Teaching core subjects has become a side issue because from what it appears the methods of teaching every skill from writing and reading to adding and subtracting is being measured and monitored for everything but accuracy. Instead it appears that testing entities are trying to hit the sweet spot where they can congratulate themselves that key demographic groups are "finally successful." This is aligned with the insistence that teachers turn classrooms into entertainment venues complete with games and prizes. In the meantime the truly bright students are bored to tears and either test out or drop out. The rights of the normal kids are ignored in order to create a vast safety net for students who often choose not to excel.

Whatever happened to just teaching the material and expecting students to learn?
What happened to requiring students to attend class and participate?
What happened to administrators worrying more about overall student success than the failures of the random few?
I predict that like the 1965 "New Math" this too will be shelved. Unfortunately, like "Whole Language", by then five or six grades of students will have been negatively impacted. If you don't think "Whole Language" was a bust, ask anyone from age 26 to 30 how much they like to read and if they feel they were well taught or had to play catch up in high school.