Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is a Rant

Every year I become struck more and more at how entitled younger generations assume themselves to be. They don't pay supply fees, feel others should subsidize them or even that teachers should magically be able to pay for all materials out of their own pockets. Even more, these same students often believe that they should not be held to the same criteria as others. They blame teachers, the schools and indeed everyone but themselves for failure.

While I do have some diligent, intelligent and courteous students, today I was faced again with what I can only call rank ingratitude. I teach an AP Art class. My students have deadlines every three weeks. Sometimes, if a student is struggling or has bitten off more than they can produce, I have been known to extend deadlines. In one particular case a young man slept through the first three weeks of class. Parents were called, but no return calls were made. The second three weeks I did the student the favor of listening to his case and extending deadlines on the first work. Needless to say, all subsequent work was late up to the day of the semester exam, which is a portfolio for this class. Rather than twelve pieces, this student had nine. He said he couldn't find work from earlier classes so I cut him a break and gave him an 80 on the portfolio rather than the 70 he deserved. I also accept work that was weeks late for a late grade to avoid zeros.

So imagine my frustration when this same student comes striding in after school complaining about my favoritism to other students and demanding to know why I was so hostile to him. I admit it, I lost it. I had had to confirm grade changes with my principal in order to give the student credit for late grades and as a result his grade jumped from a 60 to a 72. And after extending deadlines, working to get him a passing grade, he accuses me of favoritism and hostility. I told him he needed to get out of my class if that was his opinion. I have beggared myself to get supplies for kids. I have done without things to get kids enrolled in elite schools, writing recommendation after recommendation. While a few express thanks, more and more I am getting the impression that too many kids are gaming the system through intimidation or extortion to get higher grades. I'm tired of the ingratitude.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Obama Shutdown

 Unemployment among young people in Greece hit 55 percent last week. We're on a similar track — bloated federal bureaucracy, unsustainable social programs, unprecedented millions of Americans on the public dole and more debt to come — it might be time for the young to stop listening to the music of the pipes on their electronic devices.-John Kass, Chicago Tribune

No shutdown is good for the economy. In Kass' column he cast a justified pox on both their houses. That being said rampant and unchecked government spending doubleplusungood for the economy. Right now we have a stalemate. It seems that leadership in both parties were taken aback by the lucid and accurate statements of Senator Ted Cruz. He is making the case that many of us have wanted to hear for years now. It's upsetting applecarts in Washington and that's a good thing. That's good because we have a government made up of people who have been there for decades and who merely visit their districts. These people no more represent their constituents than Miss American represents all American women. The Founders never envisioned that anyone would want to spend a lifetime in Washington, so they didn't write in term limits. I think that the sluggish and thuggish quality of what passes for leadership in Washington begs for term limits.

"A NYT researcher managed to register at 6 a.m. on 10/1. But despite more than 40 attempts over the next 11 days was never able to log in.Her last several attempts were a blank screen."
-----on Affordable Care Act in the New York Times

As for the shutdown, like the sequester, this is an Obama construct. He has chosen why and where pain will be inflicted. And he's doing this so that average Americans develop both a fear and gratitude for what Government gives them. This is not what the Founders envisioned. The Founders saw representatives as the voices of the People. The People were the boss. Now we have elitists in both parties who want to tell us what we're going to think, say and do. And they are doing this in direct conflict with constitutional rights and provisions.  

Do you trust your healthcare to the same folks who shutdown the EBT cards this weekend?

We have had 17 shutdowns in government, the most recent being only a few days. That this has lasted so long so far demonstrates a few things. First, it demonstrates that Obama WANTS a shutdown in much the same way he wanted sequester. Jack Lew of the recent claim not to know how many had enrolled in Obamacare the first week (it was 51,000) was the speaker in this column: from Forbes. The shutdown, milked by the White House for political affect, gives ample cover for the disastrous and laughable failure of his much ballyhooed healthcare website. Given the various public examples of the unworkable nature of this program along with the reasons why it is failing which is documented in The New York Times of all places there is plenty of cause for delay. But Obama seems to be delaying on the shutdown not because of the defunding attempt, but because to inflict more problems onto the system would shut it down through natural attrition.

 “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’--on the Affordable Care Act, New York Times

I don't believe that Ted Cruz minds being the lightening rod for this debate. Washington insiders underestimate him. I've talked with him, he's a nice guy, but makes no mistakes in his political stance. In a way, after hired hecklers showed up at a conservative meeting, I think he's somewhat amused at the antics of the Left. Given the vitriol being spewed by the likes of the Washington Post and New York Times I have to wonder how close to a nerve he's hitting. But as Senator Cruz himself said, " 
“The nice thing is, the left will always tell you who they fear, 
and they fear you, the American people.” -

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And Again, It's Not The Guns

So once again we see a public place shot up with a large number of fatalities and injuries. Once again we have a media intent on playing the Gun Control card. They have already falsely stated that the shooter of the Navy Yard used an AR15. He did not. They have tried to connect this discussion by citing Newtown and Aurora, two evil incidents where deranged individuals killed innocents for what appears to be no reason at all. Politicians want you to believe that guns are the problem.

Guns are not the problem.

Under guidelines signed more than thirty years ago it has become almost impossible for even loving families to have mentally ill, violent and threatening members involuntarily detained. Many of the first victims of the violent mentally ill are the same family members who make excuses for them. Indeed that appears to be what happened in both the Gabby Gifford's shooting and in Newtown, where families were unwilling to admit their members were a danger to themselves and others. In both cases outsiders, teachers, peers, coworked knew that the individuals were escalating their behavior. In Aurora and in this case with the Navy Yard shooter, the individuals were either under treatment on their own recognizance or scheduled for treatment but still left out in the general population as in the case of the Aurora shooter.

Guns are not the problem.

We are discovering that the Navy Yard shooter had a violent history. He had anger problems where he self admittedly blacked out in Seattle, and a neighor in his Ft. Worth apartment who was terrified of him. Even his friends admitted he would start drinking at 9:30 in the morning, drink huge quanitites of liquor and play violent video games for days on end to the point where friends had to bring him food after two days straight of playing. These are not normal behaviors taken individually and as a cluster demonstrate someone who is seeking to quiet voices and self medicate. In short. the Navy Yard shooter was deranged and dangerous but under current law could not be denied employment or freedom because of these issues.

Guns are not the problem.

While I would agree that people with criminal intent or those who are seriously mentally impaired should not be given access to guns or other weapons, does anyone really think that someone under the pressure of delusions will let mere legalities stop them? I notice politicians wringing their hands in regards to this situation. I am curious if proximity is the issue because these same political creatures seem ready to label the Ft. Hood shooter as "workplace violence." I notice that these same political creatures ignore the slashing attack on several Houston students by an equally insane individual. The killing of innocents is always an evil act done by evil individuals. Using a gun does not make this more or less so.

Guns are not the problem.

So what is the common thread? A shooter in Tuscon, noticeably insane allowed to roam free until someone gets hurt. A shooter in Aurora, noticeably deranged, allowed to go about his day because it's just not politically correct to question odd behavior. A shooter in Newtown kills children after years of public and private schools accommodating what was probably escalating violence and manifestation in his actions. Now a former military man with a history of violence, mental illness and behavior oddities kills people. With the current laws in place the mentally ill are medicated and released. The public is not allowed the luxury of discrimination but must endure their behavior in public places as demonstrated by many confrontations encountered with the homeless and mentally ill. Nobody can do anything until someone gets hurt. And even then all politicians want to do is blame guns.

Guns are not the problem.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Teacher's View At 57

While I'm a teacher and this reflects a teachers sensibilities, I think what I have to say applies across our society. I'm tired of change. I know-change is "good for the soul." And certainly change that improves or amends is desirable. But what I am seeing is a society that is so fluid in its affections that change has become the norm. This constant state of change is creating individuals that are insecure in all aspects of their lives and is resonating in the things we see in the classroom.

Let's begin with toddlers. One of the first things someone told me as a young parent is that children need parents to give them both roots and wings. Roots means stability. It means having a family you know, not a parade of insignificant others trailing through your life. It means having your vaccinations when they are required. It means knowing that your parents will focus more on reading and playing with their children than they do with their cell phones or game systems. When I read stories like one locally where a toddler drowned while a woman was playing games on her cell phone, I have to honestly wonder where our priorities lie?

As children get older, too many parents substitute things for time. I'm sorry, I was a working Mom and a stay at home Mom during my younger years. I am not saying this to put a guilt trip on Moms who increasingly have to work outside the home to make ends meet, but....your children need you. And that need doesn't go away because you are too tired, too frustrated or too busy. In schools we see far too many kids raising themselves. And it's not just the kids of low income and middle income families. Too often people get so wrapped up in the acquisition of things, especially things with prestigious labels. Unless you program your child to only seek the most au courant labels, kids don't care if their clothes and toys come from Macy's or Target. And many times the things they claim to want are really just their way of getting your attention. I had to laugh when in a Big Bang Theory episode Leonard claimed to have built a hugging machine when he was a child to substitute for his very frigid mother. But then I think, how many kids just need someone to sit and listen. When I was a stay at home mom, I would have friends of my own kids show up even if my kids weren't there. They asked for help with homework, they wanted a snack, but more than that they wanted someone older and more powerful to listen to them.

As a teacher I see change for the sake of change far too often. Change this system, tweak that one, alter another. In the past year we've changed our grading system, curriculum, school hours, attendance system, three different principals and dress codes. I don't have a problem with improving what we've already got to make it better. But far too often a new crew of administrators get in power and simply change things to make it appear they are doing something. They have little regard for how change impacts down the line. It's difficult to monitor enthusiasm for the start of a new school year knowing that once again the rug will be pulled out from under us. If classroom teachers have one thing we agree on it is this-let us do our jobs. Stop interfering and imposing unnecessary and distracting programs on us. My career is heading toward retirement, possibly sooner rather than later. I'm still a good teacher and I will continue to do my job to the best of my abilities, but I have to wonder what will happen after teachers like me leave the system. I'm simply not seeing the kind of structure kids need. And all the technology in the world won't make up for a system that is so distracted in its own right that we can't capture the attention of our distracted students.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Best Column Ever (An Excerpt and Link)

Just a bit of one of the best columns I have read in a long time. This puts in a nutshell everything that many of us have been saying for a long time. I'm just putting an excerpt, but use the link below and read the entire column. And please, share it.

"...One of the strangest things about the modern progression in liberal thought is its increasing comfort with elitism and high style. Over the last 30 years, the enjoyment of refined tastes, both material and psychological, has become a hallmark of liberalism — hand in glove with the art of professional altruism, so necessary to the guilt-free enjoyment of the good life. Take most any contemporary issue, and the theme of elite progressivism predominates.

Higher education? A visitor from Mars would note that the current system of universities and colleges is designed to promote the interests of an elite at the expense of the middle and lower-middle classes. UCLA, Yale, and even CSU Stanislaus run on premises far more reactionary and class-based than does Wal-Mart. The teaching loads and course responsibilities of tenured full professors have declined over the last half-century, while the percentage of units taught by graduate students and part-time faculty, with few benefits and low pay, has soared.

The number of administrators has likewise climbed — even as student indebtedness has skyrocketed, along with the unemployment rate among recent college graduates. A typical scenario embodying these bizarre trends would run something like the following: The UC assistant provost for diversity affairs, or the full professor of Italian literature, focusing on gender and the self, depend on lots of graduate and undergraduate students in the social sciences and humanities piling up debt without any guarantee of jobs, while part-time faculty subsidize the formers’ lifestyles by teaching, without grading assistants, the large introductory undergraduate courses, getting paid a third to half what those with tenure receive.

The conference and the academic book, with little if any readership, promote the career interest and income of the trendy administrator and the full professor, and are subsidized by either the taxpayers or the students or both. All of the above assumes that a nine-month teaching schedule, with tenure, grants, sabbaticals, and release time, are above reproach and justify yearly tuition hikes exceeding the rate of inflation. The beneficiaries of the system win exemption from criticism through loud support of the current progressive agenda, as if they were officers with swagger sticks in the culture wars who must have their own perks if they are to properly lead the less-well-informed troops out of the trenches."

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Is Your Cell Phone a False Idol?

I was sitting in church, reflecting on the sermon and how it applied to the week that had passed and the week to come when I noticed the teenager in front of me clutching her cell phone. At various times I noticed she flipped through messages and sent a couple of texts. Then it dawned on me-are our cell phones the “false idols” warned of in the Gospels? A false idol would lead a person to behaviors that were not good for the rest of the society in which they lived. A false idol would encourage these behaviors with rewards like power or fame or wealth. For ages we were led to believe that false idols included golden statues or even money and the things it can buy, but those things are not worshiped necessarily. Try taking a cell phone away from a teenager and be ready for a fight.
                It isn’t that I dislike technology. If my microwave did nothing else but make popcorn quickly and do a baked potato in under ten minutes it would be worth it. But I do not find myself staring at the microwave with adoration. I do not feel the need to upgrade my microwave unless it stops working entirely. I like my television and I even appreciate being able to get photos of my grandson via my computer or phone. For all the good that technology can do it is a good servant, but a bad master.  Some things are acceptable as long as you don’t let them take over your life. What concerns me, especially as cell phones become more common even in middle and elementary schools, is children who have become so entranced by their phones that they have trouble disengaging. This is especially true with  young tweens who have no basis for comparison. I have observed that some of the students with the most academic challenges have the most electronic gear in school. Coincidence?
                I admit that I am what would be called a late adopter in terms of cell phone use. I didn’t get a cell phone until my daughter was heading to college which was almost ten years ago. Now cell phones have become so familiar to me that the one day I headed off to work without it, I felt uneasy. In previous times I was quite capable of going to work, to the store or even out of town without the need to be constantly connected to a cell phone signal. It is as if cell phones have become our technological security blanket, like a lucky charm that will protect us from all evil. Many parents who get cell phones for very young children make the case that it’s for security or safety. Just like pagers back in the 1990’s, cell phones have become a virtual substitute for knowing what your kids are doing.
                Why do we need this constant validation of our worth? It’s similar to the number of friends one has on Facebook or any other social media. In a way it seems to be more like gaming the system to give the appearance of popularity over real popularity itself. While I carry my cell phone in my purse, most days it is turned off when I’m at work. Compare that to my students who are far more engaged in the latest Tweet than in what is going on in the classroom.  Even when asked to put away phones, students will surreptitiously text at will. Students have been known to stream videos, play games and do almost anything other than the work at hand.
That distraction gets down to an even more serious issue. The lure of popularity and the dissolution of civility have led to more access to outlets to bully and denigrate others. There are people who make it their business to relay every negative piece of gossip, who make up lies and who alter photos or take photos with the sole intent being to pick on peers or teachers in the school in 140 characters or less. Students have uploaded photos of tests and assignments. When is the last time you checked your child’s phone or Ipod?
Most parents avoid checking their teens’ phones under the assumption that as long as they don’t run up the bill everything is okay. Actually, there are some very serious adult things going on with teens and cell phones. With internet access students can gamble or even download inappropriate images, videos and games. Cyberbullying and Sexting have become a serious issues even in students as young as middle school. Finding salacious images of a peer or sending such images of one’s self or others could lead to some daunting consequences because if the other student is young enough it could be labeled as child pornography. Such images tend to live forever on the internet. This is also true of images of students partying or engaging in inappropriate behavior. Those kinds of images can haunt a person for life. It can result in loss of scholarships, jobs and relationships. Even when these facts are brought forth, many teens believe their identities are cloaked in secrecy. All it takes is having a friend ID you on Facebook to make everything crystal clear to anyone who wants to see the image. This doesn’t even touch on the far more common occurrence of rampant cheating.
If it seems I am picking on teenagers, it’s because they are the most accessible demographic for such activity. That doesn’t exonerate adults. I have heard cell phones go off in meetings, at weddings and even at funerals. It seems that the veil of civility has been ripped away by the need to be engaged at all times. I have been sitting at dinner at a social occasion and watched as one or another person at the table spent time flipping through texts and emails rather than engaging in actual person to person conversations. I have heard from twenty-somethings that phones have become so invasive that when they go out all phones are placed face down on the table and the first to pick up their phone before leaving has to pay for everyone. Last, but not least, there are the carpool Moms and Dads who swear they drive well while texting. Having been behind you as you swerve all over the road, driving alternately too fast or too slow, I can assure you that I’ve seen drunks on Dallas North Tollway that are driving better than you.
Probably the saddest thing I have seen is when I have taken my grandson to the playground and noticed young mothers gazing fixedly at their phones while their children take risks that could lead to serious harm.  Watching a toddler trying to get Mommy’s attention away from Angry Birds is simply pathetic. How many accidents involving young children could be avoided if the adult in charge would simply put down the phone or disengage from the computer? This points to a sobering reality that many of us are addicted to our phones and that addiction is leading to antisocial, unsavory and even dangerous behaviors. My theory is that unless you are a transplant surgeon or the patient on the transplant list, you probably are not so important that you can’t set down the phone for a real person to person conversation. So once again I ask, is your cell phone a false idol?

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Change, they say, is good for the soul.
But change just for the sake of change is nothing more than a type of bullying imposed by those who want to demonstrate their power. We've seen this on a national scale with the various issues crammed through Congress with little concern over the opposing views. We are now seeing this worldview unwinding as their more egregious and illegal actions come into sight. Way to ingratiate the press Obama by tapping their phones.  But I digress

In my own small corner of the world, this has been a year filled with change. New online gradebooks, new attendance programs, new protocols and now an entire new mandate. See our district is experimenting on children under the guise of advancement. Next year first graders will get IPads rather than books. Desks and tables have been replaced with couches and beanbag chairs. The new paradigm is that teachers are facilitators and children will magically learn on their own. This is what passes for New Age educational memes. This year we were treated, at no small cost, to a program that was essentially glorified Venn diagrams that we were supposed to use to train our children to think. I have no doubt that last summer top administrators attended a lovely catered open bar affair that promoted how this silly program would increase our "good data". Each binder probably cost upwards of $200 and when you multiply that by the total number of teachers in the district, the cost is ridiculous. Most of those binders have not been opened since last August and for good reason-those of us who use various graphic organizing systems have been doing so for years and don't need a silly binder to teach us how to do it.

Next year, despite the fact that my district has shunned Apple products for years, we will convert to all Apple products. The problem is that existing programs do not work with Apple. Our foreign language class programs and listening labs won't work. Flash doesn't work. And years and years of material that have been shaped and honed will not work with this program. This puts experienced teachers at the mercy of both learning a new system, new programs and having to continue to teach at a higher level. The irony is that three years ago I wrote a grant for Apple computers and printers only to be told that if I got the grant, they would not provide support. So I changed the grant request. I got the grant and now those PC computers, with Photoshop and other graphics programs I need in class will be replaced by Apple Airs which will not have these programs available. Add to that the removal of teacher's printers in our classrooms and it is forcing a situation where already overstressed teachers are now having to reinvent the wheel. My district has more electives teachers leaving than the entire region does in comparison. I have five years before I can retire. I'm hoping their overspending on hardware we don't need just for the sake of change will result in the need to buy out teachers at the upper end of the payroll so I can leave earlier.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Soft Targets

We have plenty of protection for politicians. They are well defended by layer upon layer of private and military and quasi-governmental strongarms. So bully for the politicians. But what about the rest of us? In a perfect world Sheriff Andy and Constable Phyfe would be right around the corner ready to talk down bad guys in thirty minutes. The real world isn't quite that cut and dried. People who live in rural areas, small towns and even in remote gated resort style retirement communities often have to rely on whatever muscle is available. If they can't afford to hire private security firms, they count on local constables and the sheriff. It's not that crime doesn't happen in small towns, it's just that with a smaller population, it's not as likely. Why have a fully staffed police force if you seldom need it?

This is the "why" behind the gun issue. Most folks who have guns know how to use them. They are every bit as much of a tool as a tractor, a truck or a harvester. Farmers and ranchers living in remote areas know that some fools try to eak out a living making meth or stealing equipment and they know that the law isn't going to get there in time. Most folks who own weapons respect them enough to care for them and not wave them around like idiots.

 If you want to know who is in the most danger of having a gun tragedy not directly related to crime, look no further than the very same cities that have the strongest gun laws. These cities often have the largest amount of crime, largely because an unarmed population gives criminals power over people. Single women, living in places that due to their low income are not as safe often feel that to protect themselves and their kids that they buy guns, sometimes unlicensed, stolen guns, just to have peace of mind. These women often work two jobs, leaving young kids alone at home. One of them finds a gun and tragedy strikes. But it isn't the gun that causes the problem-it's the crime and the unwillingness by politicians to admit that we have a real problem when it comes to gangs, and the mentally ill, and in keeping bad people locked up.

There are those who honestly believe that taking away guns will make us all safer. Just the actions of the last week have refuted those claims. A crazy man wielding a craft knife attacks 14 in a Houston community college, a pressure cooker laden with bearings placed by persons unknowns kills three and injures many in Boston. Neither incident featured a gun. Both incidents were the product of people actively seeking soft targets-places where they can attack unimpeded by police or other officials. We've seen this happen over and over-every school shooting from Columbine to Newtown-every mall shooting. Aurora features Holmes as a known crazy who was supposed to get "counseling" but who instead was allowed to be free long enough to amass a startling amount of weaponry. Lanza had a mother who, bless her heart, was blind to the monster her son had become until it was far too late. Every time, it's another seriously deranged person, allowed to roam free because we the PC public are not to judge, ever.

Political correctness will kill us yet. The imposition of attitude that insist we can't call people out for obvious features, attitudes or behaviors is allowing all kinds of criminals and crazies have free rein to act out in dangerous and sick ways. Just this past week's unwillingness by the media to say that the guys who probably placed the explosives was more likely than not Middle Eastern continues to play into this "oh we're not biased" game. Like it or not, for all of Napolitano's tapdancing, profiling grandmothers and seven year olds is not going to stop these problems.

Soft targets will continue to be hit by a variety of actors because the artificially imposed sensibilities of the Left won't allow them to recognize a perpetrator when they see them. The Leftists are the ones who rail about single women who lock their car doors when they see a group of young minority males-but they ignore the stories when a single woman is attacked by a similar group. These same Left leaning groups support every manner of "freedom" by any number of groups in escalating order of radicalism, but never seem to see the impact made when members of those groups victimize others economical, physically or emotionally. As a nation we used to have a fairly clear view of who our friends were and who our enemies were. I guess the old Pogo cartoon was right "I have met the enemy and he is us."

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Stark Economic Reality of the "Affordable" Healthcare Act

Teachers' health insurance usually runs from September 1 to August 31 of the following year. Such is the nature of our contracts that we straddle the years economically. Teachers were the first to feel the surge of rising premiums back in 2011. I told the tale often, how the premiums were going up 15%, how the deductibles were rising, how the care was more limited. I was laughed at metaphorically. Online by the bloggers and tweeters and in real life by friends and families. "Oh you're just a teacher. You don't understand" was their dismissive comment.

Last Fall I issued another warning. Rates were rising again, another 15%. Deductibles rose from $2500 to $5000. And copays were eliminated forcing me to pay $135 out of pocket for even the briefest of office visits. There were simply times I was sick and could not afford to go to the doctor. Yet...I was insured! On top of that, strange pricing came into play. A prescription would be $35 one time, $5 the next. Generics and name brands played tagteam as the insurance formulary changed often day by day. A mammogram using my insurance would be $379 out of pocket, but without insurance would be $179. I couldn't even afford to schedule a long overdue colonoscopy.

Today I was in a meeting with the head of our HR department. The topic was next year's premiums. My district subsidizes $350 a month toward the cost. Even at that, this year my insurance premium was $491 a month. Starting in September, it will be $691 with a $10000 deductible. So unless I need to go to the hospital, why bother having insurance at all? My policy will never pay. On top of that Flexible Spending Accounts are limited by the Federal government to $2500, so I can't even shelter enough to cover my deductible. Health Savings Accounts are limited as well and come with all kinds of IRS warnings that would make it possible that just being prudent would mean an IRS audit.

Obama assured us he would "bend the cost curve". Pelosi told us we had to vote on the bill to see what was in it. It seems that three years later, the truth is coming out and it is not pretty. Costs are going up-and they're going up a great deal. I think the euphemism used by our HR department was "substantial". I know young teachers with kids who were literally in tears at the cost. Even with a pay step, I will make less take home pay next year than I did five years ago. We are teachers, we are middle class, we are supposedly the people Obama claimed to care about. But with rising costs to everything thanks to his energy policy and the higher cost of business overall both cost of living and employment are in peril. For all you folks that voted for this type of government, what the hell were you thinking? There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. There never was.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Do Children Increasingly Seem to Hate Reading?

When I was a child, we didn't have cable. That meant on hot summer afternoons when it was too hot to go outside, I would read. My earliest memories are of checking out stacks of books from the weekly Bookmobile that subbed for a library back when north Dallas was the edge of Dallas proper. I was so excited when the Fretz Park Library opened that I went the first day and was one of the first kids to check out a book. I was such a voracious reader that when bored I would read volumes from our set of World Book Encyclopedias or back issues National Geographic that my parents kept. So I read through the wonders of the world, the obscure aspects of our society. I particularly liked the I-J volume for oddities. In junior high I was shy and would check out a book every morning before school, read it during free time at the end of class, at lunch, after school and late at night to finish and begin the cycle over again the next day.

I don't understand it when someone says they hate to read. That's like saying you hate to eat or hate to breathe to me. I get it that some people have reading problems, but what I am seeing is an increasing number of students who seem inordinately proud of their illiteracy. I have heard high school seniors brag that they've never been in our school's media center, which is ironic since it not only has books, but high speed computers AND A COFFEE BAR....but I digress.

Why do our kids grow up hating to read almost from day one? Let's take the very few kids who are truly dyslexic out of the mix-their case is more involved with the way their brains work and the tracking of information. But more and more average kids who should be able to read cannot or will not. I don't say that lightly.

Let's go back a few years to the 1950's. My mother was teaching in a low income district in west Texas in what was known as the Bracero Program. Her second graders ranged in age from seven to eleven. She taught them basic phonics and reading using low tech methods such as flashcards and drills. Being bilingual, she was able to help the Spanish speaking student acquire English reading and writing skills without the imposition of Federal programs or even Federal aid.

Move forward to the late 1980's and kids are being still being taught using basic phonics and drill. My two oldest learned to read under this system and both read and write well. But in the late 80's-90's a new concept came out. Rather than teaching using low tech methods, suddenly high tech computer programs that mimicked the same procedure as low tech flashcards. So the information wasn't different, just the delivery. As time progressed, suddenly education entities felt there was a need to make learning "entertaining." So instead of dry flashcards, gimmicky games were employed which helped somewhat with imparting knowledge, but kids continued to struggle with reading and writing. During this same time, cursive writing was removed from many school curricula. While some may think this is a picky observation, cursive writing provides a crucial link for eye hand coordination that also creates neural pathways that provide control. Because by this point so many of students were struggling just to decipher written words, rather than teach better, programs were simply eliminated.

Something had to fill the gap.So suddenly all the education publishing houses began cranking out educational computer programs. They would sell districts, to the tune of millions of dollars, on these programs based on little more than the piecrust promises of improved test scores. We were in the era of high stakes testing. Scores meant more than actual learning and data trumped all. So little kids were placed in front of computers as a replacement for print on paper learning.

Do you know when most parents of young children find out their children need glasses? It's usually somewhere in the first or second grade. Boys generally don't have tracking abilities until they are nearly seven. That's why it was illegal in the bad old days of the USSR to teach any child to read until they were seven, but I digress. That being the case, many children right now go through years of eye strain which is exacerbated by the flickering light of a computer image. Kids do not know what eyestrain might be. All they know is that when they read on the computer, their heads hurt. Reading hurts. It's a classic case of conditioning in the best Pavlov tradition.

Now what I've just written is all conjecture. If I had a billion dollars, I would want to research this. For school districts I can see the attraction of higher scores and not having to warehouse and inventory and purchase textbooks. But as we go bravely into this new world of education where student pay more attention to their cell phones and Ipads than what is going on in the classroom, I have to wonder if this is wise. Or maybe even if it is deliberate.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Existential Pain of Being Young, White, and Affluent - The Atlantic

IThe Existential Pain of Being Young, White, and Affluent - The Atlantic
I've been deeply concerned by trends I am seeing my classes. I've had to drop entire units because they are increasingly distracted by their cell phones, but worse seem disinclined to do anything beyond bare minimums in the classroom. Maybe that's somewhat understandable, but not acceptable in a basic level art class. But what do you say when the kids who want to get into elite design schools just cannot be bothered to produce? For a long time I thought this was simply an art department phenomenon, but in talking to other teachers in every department, it's not. We are raising children who come up overscheduled. Their lives are filled with enrichment and most decisions made for them. This leaves them emotionally and intellectually unprepared to make basic life decisions. And from the way they behave, they like it that way. Why should anyone want to leave a cocoon where every need is met?

On a larger scale, consider how this plays out politically. Those who voted for an administration which seems to epitomize the concept of cradle to grave control were the first products of this kind of smothering mothering. It is destructive. If you don't let your first grader pick out their clothes and suffer the consequences for bad choices, how is your kid going to decide whether or not to steal a bottle of pain pills from Granny's medicine cabinet? It comes down to basic moral education. And the parents of today's teens are largely unwilling to enforce any sort of judgement call until it's too late. This is just an extension to the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality. In life, everyone does not get a trophy. The sooner we stop this nonsense by allowing special education teacher to promote that their challenged charges will all go to college, by insisting that all kids are qualified to take AP courses, by refusing to reveal that sometimes people fail, the sooner our nation and our children will heal.

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Slice of Reality

This figurehead that claims the Oval Office is in serious denial over the impact of his actions. He has divided our nation in ways we never envisioned. He has turned Americans against each other. He is agenda drive and has placed the legacy of the "Agenda" over our future. I didn't vote for Obama, but I didn't want him to fail. I worried about his lack of experience, his fuzzy senatorial experience, his vague personal history. Oh sure, he was slick and young and verbally cleaver-but I've never trusted a celebrity nor have I been in awe of them. At every turn Obama misled. He lied about transparency. His office cooked data on ACA given to the CBO to make it appear deficit neutral. He allowed surrogates to attack people simply for daring to have different ideas. It got ugly. Too many people were afraid to ask questions. They were fearful of being labeled as racist or biased or unfair. So they voted blindly, hoping that maybe it would be good enough to make the racebaiters and those who trade in bullying to go away. But bullies don't stop just because you give them what they want, they begin to demand more.

As a teacher, I talk to collegues over lunch. This has been a rough year. We've had too many Federal mandates pushed on us. Lower property taxes and fewer business means little relief in the form of smaller classes or help in the classroom with aides for what seems to be an increasing number of special needs students. Lunch is our time to vent. Just in the past week I have heard these stories. Obama wants to pretend to champion the middle class. If this is a sampling, Obama's policies are inflicting serious damage.

My story. I'm 56, married for over 30 years to a man who hasn't had a job since 2009. At 56 we can not afford to "return to school for retraining" nor have the time to do so. My health insurance is $500 a month. When I go to the doctor now there's no copay-I have to pay $135 just for the office visit. That doesn't include lab work. My doctor wants me to go get a mammogram but I can't afford it. He wants me to get a long overdue colonoscopy but we can't afford that either. Can't afford dental work. Can't afford dermatology to look at scary moles. Can't afford to even repair water lines leaking into our walls. And after yesterday, it's clear this president means to grind us into the ground with his heel. See in 2011 my husband did some contract work for around $3000. That was all he earned the entire year. Today we got a bill from the IRS for $1088. They want a third of it. Even though our income has dropped every year since Obama was elected.

My daughter's story. She's 28 newly married. She has had a private insurance policy via BCBS for five years. It runs about $140 a month. Her husband has his which runs about the same through his work. They tried to consolidate policies but it raised the premiums to nearly $500 a month. They have student loans and can't afford it. So she's stuck with her current policy. The thing is, private insurance policies aren't written for married women. Sure you can have birth control, even an abortion BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE A BABY. So there's your real War on Women Fluke. Whatever happened to real "reproductive freedom?" Yet if she was an unmarried 15 year old Hispanic, my daughter could go down to Parkland in Dallas and pop out a kid every year for free! This is not a joke, it is a tragedy. My daughter and son in law are teachers and work with special needs kids. They would be terrific parents. But our government is effectively limiting the ability of people like my kids from having kids while simultaneously subsidizing the rise of illegitimate births to low income populations. What is worse, in talking about this at lunch our French teacher started crying. She's 38 and has been teaching for 15 years. She and her husband want kids, but as teachers stuck with insurance that is limited at best, they can't afford it. This is the "Obama Miracle"-he's made us all the same. Now we are all needy and poor.

The German teacher is talking about moving to Switzerland. Her husband is an assistant DA in Dallas. They can't afford to retire here. The head of Foreign Languages is thinking of moving with his partner to Peru. The math teachers are moving to Utah. Morale is horrible and people are very depressed. This is being acted out by the behavior of the kids who zoom in on their parents' and teachers' despair. Make no mistake, this is bad. And I don't think sequester will really make it worse. Only one thing will make it better-a new Congress with new leadership. Sadly, that's not going to happen anytime soon.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

...On Math

The evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?
2. Teaching Math In 1960s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?
3. Teaching Math In1970s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?
4. Teaching Math In 1980s
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is
$80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.
5. Teaching Math In 1990s
A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and
 inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the
preservation of our woodlands.  He does this so he can make a profit of $20.. What do you think of this way of making aliving? Topicfor class participation after answering the question: How did the birds
and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it's ok. )
6. Teaching Math In 2009
Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuantodinero ha hecho?
 7. Teaching Math In 2013
Whocares, just steal the lumber from your rich neighbor's property. He
won't have a gun to stop you, and the President says it's OK anyway cuz
it's redistributing the wealth.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Down This Road

Today it was announced that new Federal mandates will require public schools to open all athletic programs to students with disabilities. On the surface this is an equality issue. In action what will happen is that parents and lawyers will use this new bully stick to intimidate schools into allowing their kids on teams even if they do not qualify for a position.For example, ADHD is technically a disability. So by that rule a student with this condition must be given inordinate access to programs even when their condition is detrimental to other students and to the program at large. Would any coach under the threat of lawsuit dare not allow a student to play? Not in this day and age.

 I have no quarrel with the various surrogates trotted out to present this action. A wrestler can certainly compete though blind and deafness is certainly not a hurdle to most sports. But when the Feds start requiring action, parents and lawyers begin to angle for more for their children.Can a lawsuit claiming discrimination for failing to allow someone on a varsity team for reasons as innocuous as mild reading challenges be far behind?  For those who doubt this will happen consider what happened with Title IX. Schools, including universities like SMU, had to rid themselves of successful programs in order to balance the books. With even more demand for athletics for men than women, women get the same amount. That's antithetical to supply and demand, but the Law doesn't care. With even more limited funding, the pie is smaller now. Dividing that up more to make it safe and feasible for a seriously disabled student to be on a team is opening up the door for the dissolution of many programs. All it will take is one serious accident involving a disabled student, and athletics will be removed from the schools.

Once upon a time schools existed for the education of the majority of children. Now it appears that education is to be portioned out based on some formula that is based on the nebulous boundaries of "fairness" rather than appropriateness or even need. While all students, even the so called typical ones, should be allowed to progress to the level of their potential, when you artificially impose such rules on schools or teams or even businesses, you set up a situation where legal abuse will be rampant. If you doubt that, consider the amount of angst and intimidation that exists in regards to special education in the core classes right now. As a teacher, I feel like a hostage to a system in which I am expected to perform over and beyond my capabilities or face the very real threat of legal action.

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Guns, Society and Insanity

Guns have been around a long time. What has not been around long is a societal acceptance of bizarre, even psychotic, behavior as normal. We medicate seriously deranged individuals and release them back into society with little or no oversight. It is almost impossible to involuntarily commit even the most deranged person. And while guns have been the most recent weapon of choice, we have had mothers drown their entire young family, religious despots administer poison laced Koolaid to men, women and children and bombs set off by self appointed political groups in the name of peace. In one of the most horrific killings in Dallas history, a young African American man, high on drugs, killed a father of two young children. The young man had a history of mental illness and drug abuse,yet was foisted out on society because of the difficulty of getting him committed. The twist is that the shooter was the son of the current Dallas police chief. Do you not think this man every single night wishes he had had some means to save his son-who died due to being shot by the police-and the young father shielding his children? Our laws work against even the most loving and vigilant of families.

People who want to kill will find a means to do so. What we as a society must demand is that we stop the politically correct idea of "we can't judge" and start putting people who are dangerous into facilities where they cannot harm others or themselves. Even in classrooms now, courtesy of ADA special education laws of least restrictive environment, seriously mentally ill students, some of whom tower over their teachers, can rail and threaten on a daily basis with impunity. Our children deserve better. Teachers deserve better. Our society deserves better. The idea that we must tolerate insanity in public has to end. This attitude has contributed to the rise in homelessness, domestic violence and child abuse along with a list of other crimes. Like it or not, some people cannot live in the real world.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Some Observations

What Liberals Believe

Liberals think… That embracing a religious cult invented by a drunken science fiction writer that nevertheless supports shallow hedonism is okay

But….Embracing a religion that was created from a Christian base but whose adherents shun caffeine, immodesty and other worldly occupations as sinful is weird.

Liberals think…that guns should be banned everywhere

But….want their own kids and offices protected by armed security guards

Liberals think…all war is wrong

But….continue to support war waged with unmanned drones that cause far more collateral damage simply because Obama says it’s okay.

Liberals think…America is waging a “war on women” that can only be won by offering free birth control

But….ignore that many cultures support sex selection and that far more female children are aborted than male children by these cultures

Liberals think…global warming is real

But….ignore the increasing number of well known scientists that are refuting these claims with scientific fact.

Liberals think…the federal deficit doesn’t matter

But….they are the first to complain about not wanting their subsidies cut when the money for special programs runs out.

Liberals think…that people with disabilities should have no stone unturned in making every school, office, and facility accessible

But…. Ignore the increasing cost of such programs on school districts and businesses and the increasing danger of exposure to seriously mentally ill children and adults who act on their delusions in violent ways.

Liberals think… more taxes is the answer

But…. They try to find every way possible to avoid paying them themselves.

Liberals think…all “big box” stores are evil because they earn profits

But…the love IKEA, which pays their employees less than Walmart because it’s Scandinavian.