Thursday, April 26, 2007

If They Can't Drive, Should They Have This Power?

Our state, Texas, is currently being lobbied via radio ads to support a bill that claims to "support good teachers." That is a bit of a misdirection. What the bill intends to do is pay a stipend to teachers based on their students' achievement. On paper that may seem harmless or even beneficial. But in reality what it will do is leave many teachers at the mercy of their students. In some cases, that isn't a bad thing, but let's face it, out there in lala land, there are parents that think it's no big deal for a kid to take a day off from school. I have had parents write excuses ranging from as serious as a death in the family to as assinine as "getting a tan before prom." Now there are reasons to be absent. As I have posted before, I don't like kids coming to my classroom sick. It isn't healthy, it spreads viruses and I am always the first one to catch anything coming down the pike. In addition, AYP is based on total students in attendance. When kids start taking off for silly reasons, our rating suffers. The final blow with the tie in between testing and income is that there are kids who do not care what they make on the test. They could be brilliant, but they stall and sleep and do everything they can to drag out the test and avoid going to class. TAKS week is a nightmare because I don't see half my classes at all. And that includes my AP classes. Should we really base pay and compensation on the whim of someone who will take an unnamed pill or sneak out to a party? Parents say we must, but those are quite often the same parents who write totally lame and unfounded excuses for everything from absences to missing homework. At what point are the adults going to take charge again? More and more teachers are leaving education due to burn out. Thank God my class isn't a core class, and I would rather cut off my right arm than ever teach a Language Arts class again. What was begun as an experiment to produce drones for H. Ross Perot's little Metropolis, have become the Golem of Doom that stomps and slaughters without rhyme or reason. This type of bill, that would set compensation based on test scores will make teaching even more remote, push those with marginal students to cheat, and lead to scores of lawsuits. I just don't see this as being worthwhile. But then again, according to these same folks teachers should be facilitators and all our technology should be geared to do the teaching. RIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHHHHT.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Back to Reality?

So how soon will the public forget? How long after OKC or 9/11 did we sink back into the sticky goo of complacency and reality TV? I wish I could forget. I was talking to another teacher today and she said, "wow, do you realize all the events we have seen together in the past six years? 9/11, Challenger crash, so many tragedies. I wish I could right of everyday things. I wish things would return to normal. I am not even sure what normal consists of anymore.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Forgotten Hero at Virginia Tech

I think one of the most overlooked factors in the Virginia Tech tragedy is that in many college dorms student employees such as Resident Assistants are often the first line of security. One of the first victims of this madman was a popular student who happened to be a resident assistant. It's an avenue of employment that is sought by many college students because it mostly pays for the most costly aspect of college life, housing. These kids work like crazy. They have to be outgoing, smart, organized and willing to enforce rules. In short, they play parents to the entire resident population under their control. A good RA can help students bond with the school, make friends and feel part of the action.

It hit close to home, because for two years one of my own kids was an RA and knowing how those student employees are trained, I could see her trying to intervene and defend a resident and getting hurt in the process just like the second victim in this tragedy. I don't think that parents sending their kids off to school appreciate the huge load carried by these student employees. RA's are the first faces they see when they move kids in. They are the ones who organize events, who lend a shoulder to cry on and who advise students and refer them to the offices where they can get academic or personal assistance. In short, they are the face of any university housing department.

Resident Assistants have to be the eyes and ears of administrative staff in regards to everything from code violations to criminal offenses. I know my daughter had to deal with fires, drug busts, assaults, theft and vandalism as a 19 year old. There was even one time that she had to deal with a student who threatened to kill his roomate. She called the police, security, the locksmith and then gave the offender a tongue lashing as the police cuffed him. These young people are given an inordinate amount of personal responsibility. And quite often they rise to the occasion. In this sad case, I am sure the RA tried to prevent the initiation of this tragedy. How sad that the messages conveyed by the perpetrators writings were ignored. Sometimes it is wise to trust gut instinct and to choose on the side of error or doubt rather than adhere to the motto of polictically correct blind acceptance.

In many universities it is campus policy that students who were suicidal or violent were told to leaving housing due to the potential for injury of student employees. In some schools there are teams to evaluate seriously sick and disturbed students. But in too many cases abhorrent thoughts and erratic behavior is dismissed as being normal, because too many times the odd is seen as normal in the light of college life. To attend a party where you know no one is "exciting" to take drugs or drink drinks that you have no idea of the contents is seen to be a rite of passage by some. Our schools, in seeking intellectual freedom have forgotten that it must be tempered with caution and responsible behavior. When the system fails, as it did in this case, there needs to be change. Maybe there needs to be a more authoritative presence in college dorms to avoid such events. In decade past a dorm mother would control the activities of the house. In the past, curfews were enforced for reasons of student security.

Too much freedom can be just as scary as too little. We could simply eliminate student employees to take them out of harm's way, but then we end up depriving students of much needed campus employment. Perhaps in the end we should consider dissolving some of the research programs and providing enough money for scholarships so that students won't end up having to work to attend college and for adults on site with the authority to provide a safer environment for all students on campus.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cocoons and Why They Can Be Deadly-Va. Tech

There is no question in my mind that the actions today at Virginia Tech were the actions of a madman. In many ways your average preschool class is far more wary of strangers than the average college student. We spend all our time and effort pressing kids to ignore differences and embrace diversity. This attitude has made is an anti-social act to declare someone unbalanced or just plain nuts. We have conditioned an entire generation to the Sesame Street philosophy that everyone is "okay". Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Our society's insulation of this generation of children from the dangerous, the stupid and the outright deadly has made them believe that they are made of titanium and cannot be destroyed. Your average teenager already has the idea that they are invincible, but our overprotective culture has fostered the idea that there is always someone else to blame-some corporation, some political party, some faceless group. But most serious crimes are perpetrated by individuals. It's much easier for an individual nut to cause serious harm than a group, because like your average rodent, they are harder to catch individually. That's why suicide bombers are so deadly. And so rightly feared.

But when it comes back to how we have raised kids dually to think that their every whim is to be fulfilled and that nobody can harm them, we set up a situation where the common sense ideas of personal security and personal responsibility become secondary to personal wants over needs. I am not in any way saying that these victims deserved this fate because no innocent person deserves to die like this. When I have students who have never seen the towers fall from 9/11 or who have no concept that doors are locked and curfews imposed for their own safety, then we have a problem.

There is no cocoon more complacent than a college campus. People leave doors unlocked to sneak in and out playing the eternal games of boy meets girl. People loan books, keys, laptops, apartments and cars to those that they barely know. Parties are thrown where even the host has no idea who most of the people attending are, or where they came from. This makes for good film footage on MTV Spring Break, but unless we start expecting our young people to use basic common sense on a daily basis, we are going to end up with a generation that runs cars into walls expecting insurance companies and lawyers to run to the rescue. Our nation was founded on the ideal of personal responsibility. When pioneers moved west they lived on their own, miles away from others. To fail was to die.

Today, failure is seen as a process, often one to be encouraged. And while I don't think failure should be met with death, sometimes in the real world, that is what happens. When you fail to alert an administrator or a boss that someone is acting odd or when you allow someone to enter without knowing who they are, or when you fail to use the instincts with which we are all blessed and allow bad things to happen through absentminded neglect, you are setting into motion situations that don't need to occur. There is no doubt that this is a tragedy. And it's one that people will talk about for awhile. That's good, but unless everyone is willing to take the steps necessary to make sure our kids are taking responsibility for their own safety, then it will someday happen again.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Breaking the Social Contract

Part of what has kept our nation together is a shared vision of what is acceptable and unacceptable within our society. For a long time there were social taboos such as cursing, nudity and such that were not part of the fabric of everyday life. There was this mutual agreement between total strangers that such things weren't part of what our society considered "normal". Fast forward to today and you find that even the word "normal" is seen as suspicious and even derogatory. At what point did we as a group decide to allow our society to be co-opted by the seamy underbelly of life? I recall refusing to let my elementary aged children access to The Simpsons. Their friends made sure that they felt left out and backward, but in truth, I have never thought that The Simpsons, no matter how funny, were meant as a show for kids. Similar words and concepts that would never have been mentioned in polite society are now part of everyday conversation. I really can't believe that everyone is comfortable with this. I still squirm when I watch some shows and my now 18 and 21 year old sons are in the room. It's not a false sense of modesty, instead it's sense that there are some things that the average person doesn't need to make public. I personally don't give a damn about what people do in their private lives so long as it doesn't impact me or my family. Marry a hamster for all I care, but dont' tell me the gory details of the wedding night.

The social contract goes beyond matters of taste. Just the idea that we all stop at a four way stop sign is something based on mutual trust. But do you really trust that stranger across the road? More and more the answer should probably be no, because red lights, speed and roadrage are all acceptable behavior in our shredded social fabric. Even those things that are against the law have armies of apologists waiting to make nice when someone drives under the influence and kills someone else's kid. This is one of the big reasons I would never support legalization of pot-we already have parents willing to buy their kids' popularity with an unsupervised house and a keg of beer, I can't even imagine the carnage if kid start getting into their parents stash. And what about the way that children and infants are seen more as money sources than as people. Just this week a nine month old was killed when his psycho mom stole an SUV on a test drive and got into a police chase. The baby was lying in the front seat when the Mom flipped the car. Other mothers keep quiet when their live in boyfriends or sometimes husbands abuse their kids physically, mentally and sexually. And the mothers stand by and watch. Are we so desperate to fit into this illusion of life that we sacrifice innocents? Where is the outrage in the community, because this is far more devastating than any remote racism or perceived slight? Where are the protests over stupid mothers that sacrifice their kids? And when did it become okay to do anything you please? Are we a nation of three year olds, incapable of deferring our pleasures for even a moment? We seem to need to be tied into a web of communication and honestly, I don't think anyone is really saying anything important. That's probably a good thing, because I dont' think anyone is really listening.

All of these precedents are filtering down to our kids. While their are great kids out there, there are also kid who think the Bill of Rights includes a new car on your sixteenth birthday. Some kids think that school and work and anything else is only worth as much as it gives you pleasure or money. They are becoming shallow and vain and very very spoiled. And this isn't just the rich kids, but all of the kids. Their parents either simply do not pay attention to them and shove money instead OR they are too busy trying to be their buddies. This isn't the way to build a nation. We need some rules. And some shared values. And some serious talk about deferring immediate gratification for higher, bigger and better life goals. We need to do this soon or we are going to end up with kids that live their lives as if they are on a reality show=except nobody is there to rescue you if you fall.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Our "Exceptional" Society

ex·cep·tion·al - [ik-sep-shuh-nl] –adjective
1.forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary: The warm weather was exceptional for January.
2.unusually excellent; superior: an exceptional violinist.
3.Education. (of a child)
a.being intellectually gifted.
b.being physically or esp. mentally handicapped to an extent that special schooling is required.

Once upon a time, being exceptional was not the norm. It meant you did incredibly better than your peers. You were to be admired and respected. Such was the past of exceptionality.

Fast forward to today and now EVERYONE is exceptional. But today it doesn't mean that you are necessarily good at anything. Or perhaps you are good at one thing. And that would be avoiding the rules, restrictions and laws that control everyone else. These days it isn't a rare occurence for a schoolday fight to be countered with the excuse "but he's on" or for a drinking binge to be excused by the comment "but she's a cheerleader." What follows is amazing and will probably result in the child's destruction somewhere down the road. Because what follows is the parental expectation that the oh so strict rules they desire in place will be applied to every child but their own. Our courts, our school yards, our dormitories and our offices are filling up with a generation that thinks they can do no wrong and that their very words are golden. Every sniffle, every small milestone is puffed up into an event status. And those true rights of passage events like prom and graduation take on the trappings of a coronation. It is frightening to see seventh graders arrive for their first day of school in a limo. It is equally terrifying to overhear supposedly concerned moms talk about providing "safe places to drink" for after prom. What happened to the rules?

If you listen to the media, there's public outcry and demand for harder rules and strict and swift punishment. But what actually happens is that when an incident occurs-whether as simple as a kid getting a zero for not working or as serious as drug use or weapons on campus, there's always a parent there with a ready excuse. Sometimes these excuses go so far as to exemplify the young person as a "wronged" individual. Something like this happened in a city north of Dallas, where a fourteen year old shoved a teachers' aide, breaking her arm. She was sent to court and offered probation if her mother would supervise her better and make sure she got counseling. The mother refused. And the girl ended up in juvenile custody for over a year. But the story doesn't stop there. The student is African American. Since she is a minor, her record is sealed-but while her mother claims the girls was an innocent victim, others in the community cite the girl as a problem child. The mother gets a local hiphop station to protest. The girl is ultimately released, but only because of overcrowding. Now I ask you, what would you do with a student, and this girl isn't a petite thing, who shoves and breaks the arm of a school employee? Do you look the other way? And what of the mother? Why would she rather her daughter spend time in juvey than accept probation and serve it out? Doesn't that smack of dependent neglect?

This is just a small example of what our society is becoming. And if doesn't end there. As these big babies move into employment, the seem to think they can jet off from work with impunity. Imagine their shock when they get fired. And it happens over and over again. Have sex, make a baby, oops too much stress, run away. That's the pattern. Someone is always there to make the excuse. You can almost hear the parents chanting "he's too pressured, she's too stressed, he's an athlete, AEP will ruin her life, she's a cheerleader, he's on student council....." How long do they keep up the chant? I know of students who in college got pregnant. Now in most stories this would cause them to mature and take their lives into control. But not these kids. Nope, their parents pay for a luxury apartment, with a washer and dryer and cable and all the amenities. The pay for their car and car insurance. And the reason is "we want them to finish school ." Well, what was once four years has morphed into seven. The kids still count on that check from mom and dad every month. And as their parents retirement accounts dwindle and their parents keep working into their mid 60's and 70's-at some point the parents will either become too old to work or drop dead trying to support these Big Babies and their insatiable, intolerable narcissism. And the parents support these activities.

Please understand, I am a parent. There are times you support your kids. But there are also times you allow them to learn that they can support themselves. To constantly run interference for every bad decision insulates kids from the consequences. If they don't learn when they are nine or ten that bad decision sometimes created bad results, then we end up with adults who don't understand that they can't cook the books, or steal the profits or insider trade. While much is made of the ravages of street crime and white collar crime, not very much is said about the situations that create criminals. Most experienced teachers can tell you who the scam artists are. They know which kids have parents who offer structure and accountability, because those kids are usually well behaved, responsible and independent. Only those that have serious developmental or disability issues will have parents going to bat. Teachers can also tell which kids have parents too busy trying to be friends rather than enforcing rules. They come to school dressed as a gangster or a thug, or wearing peekaboo blouses and slashed jeans. When parents are called about any violation, the parent either doesn't show up, or starts demanding for teachers to be fired. Kids learn early on how to play people. And when the adult in their lives takes on the people who are demanding accountability, then they learn that rules can be broken and that they can get away with doing so by pouting, appearing remorseful or simply lying through their teeth. And that is just with small things. Locally we have had numerous incidents with cheerleaders drinking and performing aerial stunts, baseball players using steroids and wrestlers charged with hazing and sexual abuse. At what point do these activities stop being "high school hijinks" and become serious repetitive criminal behavior. Are we raising a generation of sociopaths?

Ultimately this creates an Ethic Vacuum where the kid assumes ANY behavior is excuseable. We had this demonstrated locally by the son of a locally placed DA. At age 16, the son was charged with shooting at girls at a local playground with a pellet gun. The result was a case tied up in court for over two years. At age 17, the same boy shot a shotgun at his fence, scaring workers nextdoor half to death. Once again, a case held up in court. Finally, at age 18, he tried to buy beer with a fake ID and when the clerk tried to stop him, the boy punched him and stole a case of beer. NOW he's in jail. But if his issues with authority and behavior had been addressed earlier, he wouldn't have an adult record. Now it becomes a permanent part of his history, one that employers and others can refer to when they need to make decisions about personnel. I do not think our society can endure with an entire generation of self-serving quasi-criminals. At some point someone is going to have to step in and say "enough". Right now these kids are young adults-I shudder to think what havoc they will generate as they age. And I wonder what further exploits the good kids of this generation are going to have to pay for via higher taxes, more laws and further invasion of privacy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

This Is What Fraud Looks Like-

I came across this little film clip from Australian news outlets. It tells about a man who has two wives, claims the right under religious freedom, and then proceeds to pick the pockets of taxpayers via public support. It's not unlike what many are doing here in the US by entering illegally then demanding education,health and social services, for which they do not pay. How long is it going to take for the people of the free world to realize that there is a flock of human locusts whose sole selfish intent is their own welfare-no matter how much it exploits the rights of others.