Archive for the ‘Culture & kids’ Category

You’ll never guess what.

nelly_furtado_tube_top1.jpg     “Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.”

Now, who would have thunk it.  I know I am shocked.

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Wanted: Grownups.

JENKS, Oklahoma. – An SUV carrying high school football players having a paintball fight with teammates in another vehicle flew out of control on a highway and flipped, killing a 17-year-old boy, officials said.”

“Results of an investigation into the crash will be turned over to prosecutors, who will determine whether any criminal charges will be filed.”

There were coaches present?  There were grownup coaches somehow involved with this little get-together?  Start with them.

“Test-driven teaching isn’t character-driven.”

peaceflag.jpg     This is an excellent essay by one of my favorite people on the planet, Colman McCarthy. 

I highly recommend his book, I’d Rather Teach Peace.

Read it before the link goes dead!

Have they NO shame?

140x140lmca_parents.gif     First, they were recruiting and forcibly recalling for service people way past 40.  Then it was retaining soldiers past their contracted-for time of service.  Next it was sending a recruiter after an autistic kid.

Now the military is going after pre-teens in the classroom.  This is despicable, and it needs to stop.

Click the logo to find out more, especially if you have a child in junior high, middle school, or high school.

Hang up and learn.

cellphne.jpg     Kids and parents in New York City want the school administration to lift its ban on cell phones

They are wrong. 

I can imagine that, if my children went to school in the city, especially if they went to school in, say, Philadelphia, where so many students depend on public transporation to get around, and where so many kids have to travel through some pretty rough areas to get to schol and home again, that I would probably want  them to have a cell phone.

But, from a teacher or administrator's point of view, cell phones in school are a pain in the neck.  Students – especially older ones – routinely use cell phone text messaging to, amongst other things, cheat on tests, by passing around answers.  In our school, even after we instituted a ban, kids were using picture phones to harass and abuse each other.  Phones were used to take pictures of kids while they were in school, including in the gym locker rooms, and those pictures ended up on web pages, along with abusive commentary.  Boys used camera phones to take "upskirt/down top" pictures of girls, which were then likewise circulated.  Other camera phones came to school with porn downloaded on them. 

Our school district policy now is clear and simple: If you need to bring a cell phone to school, it has to be off and in your locker during school hours.  Phones cannot be turned on or used during the school day within the school building.  If you need the phone to call Mom or Dad or whoever is at home, the one in the office is available.  If you still "need" to use a cell phone, you can't turn it on until school is over and you are out of the building.  There are consequences if you violate the policy that can lead to suspension.  Period. 

At some point, somebody somewhere is going to have to start stemming the tide that says all kids have the "right" to have access in school to all the creature comforts they are afforeded at home.  Kids at school don't need to watch a television broadcast of the news every morning, complete with commercials, ala Channel One.  Kids don't need to play video games at school.  Kids don't need to bring their iPods to school.  Kids don't  need to have access to myspace.com while they are in  school.

And, unless there's really some sort of an emergency, they don't need cell phones, either.

“Retard.” A rant for Blogging Against Disablism Day.

I am not a scholar. I am not an academic. I am a public school teacher who teaches middle school kids. If you're looking for an academic, scholarly, journal-quality piece of writing for Blogging Against Disablism Day, you have come to the wrong place. I am sure that others will be able to wax much more eloquently and informatively than I will. Me, I want to rant.

I'm here to talk about the word "retard."

If you've been here before, you know that I teach eighth graders. As many of you remember from your years in junior high or middle school, kids in this age group can be mercilessly cruel. Sometimes, their behavior crosses the line into downright evil. And one of the things they will do is call each other names. Horrible names. But only rarely do I hear my students using racial, ethnic, or bigoted slurs against each other. Mostly, the name calling is of a sexist / mysoginist bent ("bitch," etc.), or it's homophobic ("faggot," "that's so gay," etc.), or it's the Word You Never Want To Say In Mr. Austin's Class.

That is the word "retard." Or "retarded."

I am on a one-person crusade to stop kids in my school from using this word, and yet, for some reason, the use of it in the popular vernacular only seems to be getting worse. I hear it more and more often in movies and especially on television. And what's really distressing about its use in the media is that it's not just "young" characters who say it, as a way of somehow telling the dullards in the audience that the characters involved are "keeping it real" or whatever. It's the supposed grown-ups – the adults – who use it. The writers who make up this part of the supposedly liberal creative community throw it around like it's just another word. So more and more people hear it, and so figure that somehow it's acceptable.

I hate this word. I hate all that goes along with it, all that it implies. This is not just because I used to work with our county Special Olympics. It's not just because my niece is autistic. It's not just because my neighbor's son is autistic. It's not just because of the kids who have been through my classrooms at all grade levels for the past twenty-five years who have inspired me so much with the way they went about their day-to-day struggles, not just against their "disabilities," but against the stereotyping and indifference that they had to fight against as well. This is not just because many of the students who have to hear this word being thrown about by their peers as if it means nothing are either dealing with their own disability issues themselves, or have family members who are.

It's because it's hate speech. And because no one seems to care that it is.

The first time each school year when some unsuspecting chuckle-headed kid uses this word in my class, as in "You are so retarded," or "You ree-tard!," I usually make a really big deal out of it. I will stop the class cold and reel on the kid, if I can pick out the perp easily. If I don't know exactly who said it, I go off on the whole class. If it's handy, I whip out my niece's sweet-faced portrait. "You see this picture? This is my niece. She's autistic. She's what a stupid person would call 'retarded.' DON'T USE THAT WORD IN MY ROOM!" (Now, to be fair, realize that on the first day of every year, in every class, when I am going over my class ground rules, I give the kids fair warning: no one in my class is allowed to use hateful speech of any kind, and this word is specifically mentioned.) I ask the kids – all of them – would they use "the N word" on a Black classmate? Even as a "joke"? This is because so many of them respond to my ranting by saying, "It's just a joke" or "We're friends" or "I was just kidding!" So I respond: "Would you call a person a _____ as a joke?", filling in the blank with an offensive slur of some kind. The fact that some word that they will associate with hate is coming from my mouth in a classroom really shocks them.

At that point, after I have figuratively grabbed them by the throat, we will have a calm conversation about the meaning of words. And about how words hurt. And about how they should think about what words mean before they choose to use them. What ae we saying when we use that word that way, I ask them? That a person with disabilitites is somehow less than human? Less worthy of respect, of dignity? Less worthy of life? Who might you know, I ask, has to deal with some sort of physical or mental challenge every day? A family member? A friend or neighbor? How would you feel if that person was insulted by the use of that word?

After that, I usually don't hear that word again. really. One crazed, exaggerated hissy fit can make a big difference, especially since I very rarely raise my voice in class at all, let alone yell. Or, if I do hear it again later, I almost always hear the kids policing themselves, with other kids telling the guilty party not to "say that."

And I feel good about that. Like I actually have taught them something.

So today, I ask you to join me in my quest to rid the world of this particular form of hate speech. If you use it (and you young 'uns do, a lot. I hear it all the time on the college campus where I take night school classes), stop it. If you hear someone else use it, tell them it offends you, as you would (or should) when you hear people saying hateful things. If for no other reason, you'll be setting a good example for kids like my students.

They need more of those.

To a former student, who died too young.

Mike Lutz was a good kid when I knew him.  Quiet, funny, a bit silly.  A good boy.

Somewhere along the way, after he went on to high school, he lost his way.  Now he's gone, dead because someone sold him some "killer" heroin.  And it killed him.

In our local newspaper, his parents were quoted as saying that they knew Mike had a drug problem. They just didn't know how bad it was. “I think we were just clueless, absolutely clueless,” his father said. They tried and tried to get their son some help, but apparently, Mike's habit was stronger than their love. And that is the real shame.

Rest in peace, Michael. Maybe now at least you'll find some.

You could smell this coming.

my_space_for_murder1.jpg     "CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Del Mar College students now have to use computers outside the school's system if they want to visit the popular Web site MySpace.com. The community college has blocked the site in response to complaints about sluggish Internet speed on campus computers."

Oh.  It's about the bandwidth.  I thought maybe some of their students might be, oh, I don't know, planning a massacre or something…

(Sorry: that was in bad taste.)

The Dark Lord of Censorship comes to Gwinnett County, Georgia.

you_know_who.jpg     "LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) – The Gwinnett County School Board will hear a parent's request today that the Harry Potter book series be removed from all school libraries in the state's largest school system. Laura Mallory says the books promote witchcraft and are NOT appropriate for elementary school students. She is a missionary and a mother of four."

There's a much more complete story here.

This is the best part.  The woman who is causing all this fuss "… admitted that she has not read the book series partially because 'they’re really very long and I have four kids.'”

Right.  Censor something you haven't even bothered to read

And my parents used to worry about my Kiss albums.

kiss_1.jpg     "LONDON (Reuters) – Young people who adopt the "Goth" lifestyle of dark clothes and introspective music are more likely to commit self-harm or attempt suicide than other youngsters, according to a study on Friday [14 April]."

I have to be honest: I have had a number of kids in my classroom over the years – at the middle school, high school, and college level – who would fit into this category, if we were judge them just by their adopted look.  I admit to being a bit "disturbed" by this particular choice of uniform, but, upon further review (like, actually getting to know them), most of these kids have struck me as being pretty well adjusted.  They also tended to be more mature and more creative than their peers.

I worry when studies like this come out, that we might watch some kids a bit too closely, because of our preconceived notions and stereotypes, while other, more deeply troubled kids, disappear under the radar.

Again, it’s the time of the season…

… for teenagers to die for no reason

"19-year-old Stephen L. Meloni is facing a preliminary hearing Wednesday on charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and others that could send him to prison… And once again, a community is facing painful questions about what happened – and whether young people and their parents will ever learn."

" ' This is a poignant reminder of what happens when teens and alcohol and lack of supervision conspire,' Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said after the death of the Bala Cynwyd teen, Jessica Easter."

That's my question.  The "adults" who were in the vicinity of this "party" heard, saw, and smelled what was going on.  Why did no one call the police?  A CRIME was being committed here. This life could have been saved.  But no one acted like a grown-up.

Unfortunately, every community in America has at least one tragic story like this. Around here, we've had far too many. 

Something needs to change.

MySpace. A place for friends. Where you can plot to kill them.

my_space_for_murder.jpg     Something is really rotten in South Jersey.

"A 15-year-old high school student was charged with harassment after she allegedly posted a 'hit list' on a Web site, authorities said."

We recently had a program for the parents of middle school students in our district, sponsored by our PTA, because it was becoming increasingly obvious that our kids are much more cyber-savvy than their parents.  Additionally, we have had a number of incidents – mostly involving girls – which centered on the use of computers and technology such as MySpace and Instant Messaging to harass, threaten, and generally make life miserable for targeted students.  The kids also use MySpace as a resource to troll for "friends," usually older teenagers (mostly males) looking for sex.

It is absolutely amazing what parents do not know, and what they do not  – and will not – do to stop this from happening.

Too many parents seem to think that their offspring have an unfettered and absolute right to privacy, even when their children are using cyberspace to advertise their personal wares and threaten violence against others.  Too many kids have computers and internet access in their bedrooms, so they can literally stay up all night (or more likely, stay online all afternoon after school, when parents aren't home) to do their dirty work.  Parents don't even know about MySpace, have no clue how to access or navigate it, and far more don't know their kids' screen names or passwords.  So the kids can do what they want, when they want, and Mommy and Daddy are totally and udderly clueless.  Or they choose to be that way, because it's easier.

Meanwhile, other kids are bullied mercilessly, others are at risk for being victimized by violence, and still others place themselves at the mercy of sexual predators.

I'm not some right-winger (obviously) calling for censorship of MySpace.  I am for protecting kids, mine and yours.  My teenagers don't have unlimited internet access.  The computer my 13 year old uses is in a common area, not in his room.  He has his own secure desktop, which does not allow him access to certain programs without permission.  We actually USE the "parental contol" settings on our firewall/anti-virus software.  MySpace is blocked. 

Instant Messager is NOT on our computer.  Period.  It serves no useful purpose.  Using it is a waste of a kid's time.

Parents, teachers, and school administrators all need to wake up to the reality of what kids are doing online.  They need to be educated, so that they can educate – and  protect – everybody's kids.

Remembering Anthony.

anthony.jpg     Sappho, over at The Sappho Manifesto, one of the many progressive/radical blogs I read regularly, brought this story to my attention on Tuesday, after all of the big immigrants' rights rallies across the United States.  It made me really sad.

Now I see that "Members of a coalition of Southern California students say they'll dedicate Saturday's Mass Student March 2006 in downtown Los Angeles to 14-year-old Anthony Soltero."  Read the local news coverage here (video also).  The AP story is here.

I'll be thinking about Anthony on Saturday.  I'll be praying for his family on First Day (Sunday).  You might want to, too.

The “no duh” story of the week.

mortal_kombat_1.jpg  You'd never have thunk it

"After playing a violent video game, young men are more likely to think it's okay to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol, raising the possibility that exposure to violent media could negatively affect health-related behavior."

Frankly, I'm shocked.  Simply shocked.

Now, I know it's not a real "liberal" position to assert that stimuli such as, say, video games, or certain lyrical content in popular music, or violent images in movies, might actually have at least a desensitizing effect on those who partake of these types of media.  I don't really care about those kinds of labels when it comes to an issue like this.  There are all kinds of reasons why the society we live in is as violent as it is.

I'm willing to contend that this is just one reason.

Hair Threat Level Alert: Red Highlights.

this_hair_is_dangerous.jpgWith everything else that's going on these days in your average American junior high / middle school – violence, drugs, bullying, too-early sexual activity, gangs, anorexia, cutting, cyber-harrassment, divorce, STDs, guns, No Child Left Untested mandates, MySpace predators, underage drinking, low state test scores, etc. – it seems to me that the folks who run Bueker Middle School in Marshall, Missouri, just might have more important things to worry about than this.

Good grief.

(Previously posted on Quaker Agitator.)