Archive for the ‘Misc. Ranting’ 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.

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.

Back in the saddle again…

schools_out.jpg    Time to re-open my blog.  Stay tuned for updates.

“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.

My letter to Oprah.

Dear Ms. Winfrey:

Yesterday I happened to be doing a little channel-surfing as I sipped some afternoon coffee, just before diving into a stack of student papers that needed to be graded, which I wanted to knock out before grabbing the dinner that I wanted to gobble down before heading out to my Ad. Psych. class, the one I'm taking for my second certification requirements.  I happened to land on your program.  I don't know if it was a re-run of an earlier show or what, but I was pretty disgusted by what I saw.

You had on a teen-aged boy, along with his parents.  This young man had apparently been the victim of a sexual predator, one who had been lurking about in the guise of a middle school teacher.  This horrible woman had victimized this boy, along with a few others, from what I could tell, before this victim came forward and reported what was going on.  I gather this criminal is now in jail.

So, once again, we had the enticing tale of a young man seduced by an older woman who used her position of power and authority to get sex.  In other words, this was the story of a rapist.  Let us not mince words here.  That's what she is.

Here's my question:

WHY DID YOU NEED TO SPEND AN HOUR ON THIS? 

Why all the lurid detail?  Why the exploitation?  The kid sat on stage the whole time, mumbling answers to the questions you threw at him, with a blank stare on his face.  He looked as if he were ready to either burst into tears and bolt for the exit.  He looked ashamed.

I know there seems to be a lot of this stuff going on lately.  It's disgusting and terrible, and criminal.  It also gives the people who already have an agenda to do so even more ammunition to bash teachers and the whole public education system.  You know better than anyone that when a child is sexually assaulted, a CRIME has been committed.  We really don't need to spend a lot of time rehashed the gory details, as if this is somehow about sex.  It's about sickness, and, at the root of it, violence.  Violence against children.

You claim to love teachers.  You've done shows that have honored teachers.  That's nice.  On this particular day, you did not honor us.  You disgraced our profession by giving the enemies of public education (and they are myriad, and their ranks are powerful and growing like a virus) more tools with which to bash us.  This was not a story about information, as in educating parents or kids or anyone else.  This was a story about titillation, about exploiting this boy and his pain for entertainment purposes.  If we need to, we can read this stuff in the newspapers.  We can lobby our lawmakers to stiffen the penalties for criminals who do these things.  We get it.

Stop it.  No more exploitation, please.  The bad guys are doing that job just fine without your "help."  Hundreds of thousands of teacher like me, who go to work every day with love in our hearts for our students and for the job we do, don't need to hear this day after day.  We work hard at what we do.  Stop making our job even harder.

Respectfully,

David, A Teacher.

Is History being “left behind”?

wheres_ben_franklin.jpg     Yes

Our state assessment for eighth graders, the dreaded GEPA, spends one day testing kids on science (although failing this section has no bearing on placement in remedial science classes in high school, because such classes don't exist), one LONG day testing math, and TWO really long days testing literacy.

Not one minute is spent on social studies.  No history.  No civics.  No geography. 

Why is that?  These are required courses in every grade of a kid's public school education here in the Garden State.  Why is it not important enough to include in standardized testing, especially the tests that determine whether or not a student graduates from high school? 

Are we really trying to, in the end, graduate educated citizens?  If that truly is the goal – and not just using schools as vocational training factories – shouldn't we be determining whether or not our students are fully informed citizens, who understand where they came from so they can have an idea of where they are going, who know how their government is supposed to work, who know what their rights are and how to protect them, who can actually find places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and, say, Nepal, on a map?

An interesting opinion piece on this from The Boston Globe.  I have my own ideas about this, but they involve wild and warped conspiracy theories, so I'll keep them to myself…

Another sure sign of spring.

the-dark-lady.jpg     School budgets going down to defeat in South Jersey. 

Our local budget question was defeated, as did the regional high school district's proposal.  Oh well, no varsity ice hockey or synthetic turf for the athletic fields.  (Now, to be fair and balanced here, those two items were each listed on separate questions on the ballot, so we could vote for the basic budget while voting against each of those proposals.  Which is what I did.)

Now, of course, in New Jersey, having a budget question defeated doesn't mean it's really "defeated."  It depends on what your definition of "defeated" is.  Now the local town council gets to deal with it, and that means we usually get most of what we want.  But with all the tax issues now facing us here in the Garden State, I'll be willing to bet that we're looking at cuts.

Big cuts.

Our school board also had three seats up for grabs, and two will be filled by newcomers.  Not a bad thing, but we lost our current board president, which is a shame, as she was apparently quite instrumental in hammering out our recent contract agreement.  She's a good person, and was a good board member.

The fact that we held this election over Spring Break, when many families who have kids in our schools are on vacation, did not help.  We warned them.  Now they have a bigger problem.

Tomorrow is Election Day.

Tomorrow is our annual school election day.  We have eight school candidates running for three seats.  We (our teachers' "association") just settled our contract negotiations, and got a decent deal for the next three years.  A reasonable raise, no real cuts in benefits, no change in working conditions, including workload.  Not too shabby, considering what's going on state-wide.  So I'm leaning toward at least two of the incumbents on the ballot.  A few of the wannabes are using terms like "fresh ideas" (trans.: privatization) and "fiscal responsibility" (trans.: budget cuts), so they got cut from my list real quick.

We also have to vote on our local budget, and the budget for the regional high school district that our town feeds into.  Of course, I'm going vote for the local budget: I have to vote to pay myself, as I teach where I live.  There's a real question as to whether the budget question will pass.  We're off from school this week.  The Local Powers That Be decided (for some reason I'll never understand) to hold the election this week, even though a significant number of families (the voters who vote to support the budget) will be out of town.  That leaves a few folks like me, who don't go away in the spring, and people who don't have kids in public school to come out and make this decision for all of us.  You see the problem.

I'll also vote for the basic package for the high school district, even though I think that the whole "regional district" idea is out-dated and not very cost effective.  I don't like the fact that some of my school tax money goes outside of my town, at least not this way.  One of the five high schools in the "region" is ten minutes from my house: that should be our town's high school. We don't get to vote to change that.  Yet.

However, there's also another part of the high school budget package I won't be supporting.  There's an item on the ballot asking parents to pay for an interscholastic ice hockey program (male students only) for the high schools.  Now, these schools have had ice hockey for more than ten years.  The program is run as a club, with all funding coming from the families of the players and from independent fundraising.  And frankly, that's as it should be.  Taxpayers should not be expected to pay for this.  We have serious school funding issues in our state.  We are always living on the edge when it comes to asking the locals for more property tax money for our town's schools.  This is asking too much right now. Here's some other reasons:

1.  Ice hockey is a hugely expensive sport.  All sports cost something, but hockey is in an entirely different time zone, expense-wise. 

2.  There is no comparable program for girls on the ballot.  Anyone ever hear of Title IX?

3.  High school hockey, around these parts, is a goon's game.  The behavior of players, coaches, and especially parents, at youth ice hockey games is deplorable.  I don't want my money paying for this, thanks.  You want to pretend your kid is Dave "The Hammer" Schultz (again showing my age), do it on your own dime.

Now, I say all this as a life-long hockey fan.  I live for my Flyers, and frankly, went through a major funk last season when the knuckleheads who are involved in the NHL shut down the league last year.  I love the game.

But, with all the other things our kids need, I really don't want to pay for it.