After much debate, the Texas State Board of Education passed new high school textbook standards that recast U.S. history from the point of view of a conservative movement.
The AP reports on the 9-5 vote by the Republican-dominated board:
The partisan board has amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, slavery, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. … They dictate how political events and figures will be taught to some 4.8 million schoolchildren in Texas … for the next decade.
The new standards state that students must “discuss alternatives regarding long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio.” Another clause says students must “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schafly, (best known as an opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment – which has yet to be adopted), the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.”
In the video below, note how Republican board member Cynthia Dunbar begins the meeting on Friday May 21, 2010. She says (amongst many other things that made my jaw drop), “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England … the same objective is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles,” she says.
Call me crazy, but if people want their children to be “governed by Christian principles,” they might consider sending their children to private Christian schools, from which there are many to choose. But we are talking about public education here. Public schools have always served as the place where children of all races, classes and religious beliefs meet up to learn skills that will help them become productive members of our society. Christian principles non-withstanding, these new curriculum requirements in Texas are so slanted to the right, they seem to actively discourage critical thinking skills.
My ethnically diverse neighborhood in Western, New York is home to Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and atheists. Personally, I was surprised that Ms. Dunbar was allowed the begin the school board meeting with this kind of invocation, as I always thought that Thomas Jefferson strongly advocated a separation of Church and State. I guess in Texas that baby was tossed out with the bathwater, too.
If life were a playground game of “Mother, May I,” it would seem that the Texas Board of Education has just taken one giant leap towards revisionist history. A good educator can work with any kind of textbook (even without a textbook), but it is difficult when such strong bias is presented as Truth to students who simply don’t know to ask about the other sides(s) to these complex issues.
On an up-note, in this miserable economy, I guess it’s a good time to be a textbook writer.
What do you think about the textbook decision in Texas?
As a general rule, unless someone has an Individualized Educational Plan, I require students to turn off all electronics for the 50 minutes they are in my class. iPods and MP3 Players? Off. Laptops? Off. Cellphones? I don’t even want them on vibrate as I find the buzz distracting. No one has ever balked; however, this past fall I did have a weird experience that caused me to learn about something new in the ever-evolving world of technology.
In this one particular classroom, students generally sat in straight lines facing front: Not my favorite configuration, but we didn’t have many options in our tiny, sterile, windowless space. One day, for no apparent reason, several students looked sharply to the opposite side of the room at the exact same moment while other students covered their ears. Thinking nothing of it, I simply continued my lesson. After class, a most loyal student told me about The Mosquito Ringtone, a tone specifically designed to ring at a decibel that is not easily detected by adult ears. This student also told me that some students use it to cheat.
Apparently, British inventor, Howard Stapleton discovered an ultra high frequency that drives away teens much like a dog whistle affects dogs. His idea was to use his invention to keep teenagers from loitering outside of shops at night, thus making the area around his storefront uncomfortable for loitering teens while leaving the money-spending adult customers unaffected.
As stated in the website for Mosquito Ringtones:
… teens from the inventor’s hometown caught on to what the company was doing and decided to put turn the idea into something they could use. They took the ultra sonic frequency and converted into to a cell phone ringtone which they aptly named “Teen Buzz.”… The ringtone caught on like wildfire in the UK and quickly spread throughout the reaches of the Internet to teens everywhere. Teens learned they could hear each others phones ringing at school but their teachers couldn’t.
Initially skeptical, I was amazed when tried the hearing test experiment with my 10 year-old son and learned that I simply could not hear certain tones beyond a certain frequency. I kept saying, “Can you really hear something?” and he kept saying, “Yes, I can hear it. Now can you turn it off!” I thought I had great hearing! Sheesh! Since that day, I have remained ever-vigilant in class, relying on my eyes as well as my ears. Students are clever and always a step ahead when it comes to technology – especially when it comes to finding a way to use it to cut corners or keep up with their important social lives!
I must admit, I have been waiting for a similar incident to occur. It hasn’t (yet), but at least now I am prepared.
Have you come across this technology in your life? What do you think about it?
For years, I worked as a Professional Organizer, helping people declutter their little messes. I learned a lot on that little job. I saw how things could represent people and discovered that people could be connected to the strangest things: pantyhose, flip-flops, even mismatched drinking glasses.
I’m not the most sentimental gal, but I collect Fiestaware. The brightly colored pieces make putting the dishes away less of a chore and more of a joy. One or two of the pieces are from my grandmother’s own collection and, though I rarely eat from them, I like opening my doors to my cabinet and seeing them there all nestled in amongst the rest of the pieces. Since she passed away, these few bowls have served as a daily special reminder of our connectedness.
A few years ago, a shelf that held a lot of my beautiful Fiestaware collection caved in and I found myself desperately trying to catch the dishes as they fell, rainbows-colored disks crashing around me. Strangely, in that instant, I remembered all the smashing and crashing in my life. Broken teacups and broken hearts. I realized that when things break, a person has to make choices.
Initially, I wanted to try to Super-glue the smithereens together and attempt to make imperfect things perfect again, but I learned long ago perfection is temporary, at best. I briefly considered taking the busted up pieces and trying to make some kind of mosaic out of all the funky colors and sharp edges, but who has time for that, really? Eventually, I shrugged my shoulders, got my broom and old green dustpan, swept everything up, vacuumed for good measure, and threw all the pieces-parts into the garbage. Not everything can be saved.
I quickly remembered that I am blessed with good health, a strong family, and good friends. I reminded myself that stuff, while we often like to surround ourselves with it, is just filler.
After I cried a little, I decided I was like an ant whose home had just been knocked over by an unforeseen storm. And everyone knows what ants do; they rebuild. So I pretended that my collection had been cosmically revised and started collecting again. Losing my chartreuse platter was a bummer, but my grandmother’s pieces were spared and, for that, I was grateful.
Over time, I’ve practiced patience, continued collecting, slowly rebuilding. For my 40th birthday a few years ago, several friends bought me a few vintage pieces of Fiestaware; one piece was even chartreuse! Joy can be found in the strangest of places. Who would have thought I’d find so much in my daily dishes?
To what physical items are you connected?
Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson
I loved Mrs. Church, my 2nd grade teacher, from the very first day of school. Among other things, she taught a unit on Hawaii where we made grass skirts and learned songs about “going to a hukilau”: I still know the words. She let us sample real sugar cane and poi, each of us dipping our fingers into the community bowl with our two fingers. Lord knows where she got the stuff. She wore crazy, clunky necklaces that epitomized the 1970s – owls with big eyes, huge butterflies, giant yellow flowers. She wore two-piece, polyester, polka-dotted pantsuits, and her ragged-edged haircut made it appear she did the job herself at home.
Mrs. Church literally had my back, and she rescued me when a certain twit who sat at the desk directly behind me decided that it would be fun to cut my hair with his dull-bladed scissors. She must have read his mind because I barely felt the tug of his hands on the back of my head when she called out, “Mr. So-and-So, you may bring those scissors up to my desk now.”
She encouraged me to write and revise, and – eventually – to enter a writing contest held at our local library the spring of my 2nd grade year. I don’t know if I won or not (probably not), but I remember the way she made me feel: like I could do anything.
Please share a memory of one of your favorite teachers. What did he/she do that makes you remember him/her all these years later?
I know three smart, funny, semi-rambunctious 5th grade boys who have taken to sewing. One has been embroidering, another has been knitting, and the other created a stuffed puppet as part of a biographical research project where he chose to study singer/songwriter David Crosby of the classic rock group, Crosby, Stills and Nash. The puppet resembles Crosby as he appears these days: complete with long gray locks, tie-dye t-shirt and jeans. Sewing “Stuffed Crosby” was no small undertaking, but with a few quick lessons from his mother, this l’il dude learned how to work a sewing machine. And he enjoyed it!
These boys are not weirdos: They all love their video games, have excellent social skills, and plenty of friends. Each of these boys knows how to get down and dirty. One of these boys is downright crazy. That said, each of these kids has recently learned that sewing – whether it be by hand or by machine – can be relaxing and the results rewarding.
I know lately everyone is talking about the obesity epidemic in the United States so everyone has their kids in a million after school run & jump activities. Personally, I’m thrilled to see these boys taking a little time to develop a slightly different skills set: patience, precision, concentration, and the ability to sit in one place for an extended period of time without a gaming device in hand.
Perseverance is potentially the most important quality for any successful working professional, athlete, or individual. Most well known breakthroughs in life have been attributed to perseverance alone. In life, as in sewing, sometimes things go wrong and things get all knotted up. In those moments, one has to persevere – move beyond the frustration – by developing different strategies. For these boys, the outcomes have been wonderful pieces of art, but each has also discovered a new creative outlet.
Who knows? Maybe they might start patching the holes in their jeans. Now that would be something!
Today my son participated in his first fencing tournament. He’s been taking lessons in Saber at the Rochester Fencing Club for just under a year and, I must confess, I still can’t tell who scores. Even when the judge is there officiating, I can’t tell who has won the point. My son tries to teach me about the parry and repost and a host of other things with fancy names that I can’t seem to retain. I don’t know what my problem is because I want to understand it, but I just can’t. It’s not that I’m not trying to understand. It just seems like everything is beyond my aptitude. Meanwhile, my 10 year-old understands everything and seems to pick things up easily and by osmosis.
Trying to understand something but not being able to was humbling and it reminded me that not everyone is going to understand the message I am trying to deliver to them. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many visuals I include, whether my class is web-enhanced or not, some of my students still are just not going to get it.
My son didn’t win the tournament, but he did win a few matches. Most importantly, he is willing to keep trying. He was not broken down by the experience of losing. He wasn’t discouraged. He was actually inspired to be better the next time. I guess in some ways I am like an Intro Level Saber teacher; I provide my students with the basics, and some of them will excel and some will be okay. Others will be lousy, and the least inspired of the bunch will drop out.
It is rather awful to not be able to understand something. Frustrating, for sure. And while I suppose it is not the end of the world to not be able to “get it” when it comes to fencing, I am having a hard time convincing myself that it is acceptable for some students to never move beyond a basic skills set when it comes to reading and writing.
Is it okay to just be okay?
People generally remember a favorite teacher, but what they may not realize is that we teachers also become very connected to our students. We aren’t supposed to have “favorites,” but there are one or two who always weasel their way into our hearts because of their talent or wit, their work ethic or their ability to get their peers back on track. Over the years I have collected many favorite students. They were not always stellar English students when I taught them, but they have all become stellar people. This poem was written many years ago while teaching at Metairie Park Country Day School, but it epitomizes how I feel at the end of each academic year.
To My Students
We pepper the field
sprawled in comfort,
air on faces
in hair, on cheeks, freckled
and sun-kissed, we
relax together, separately
seeking inspiration and
silence in a too noisy world
saturated by too many good ideas
already created. Children shriek
around us, the squeak of
swing-sets swinging, pony-tails
bobbing, we were children
once too, clawing at the dirt
unafraid to scream or spit
point or stare, but now
we have explored
together, through heat
through the wet-kiss of storm, we have
connected, grown closer
a tight group of bodies
and minds which dip
and soar like butterflies
over cornfields. It is springtime
already and they
blossom before me, open their petals
stickily preparing for bigger gardens.
As we sit scattered across the field
surrounded by outside smells
I miss them already,
these people that I love.
Tell me about one of your favorite teachers!
I stumbled into a local Barnes & Noble yesterday and happened to enjoy watching a small group of high school students studying together. One student had a laptop and was tapping away and the others were reading. It was at that point I realized these students were reading those insipid CliffsNotes. You know the ones: Those skinny little yellow pamphlets designed to help English students better understand literature. For those of you who just landed on the planet, a well-intentioned guy named Cliff Hilegass started the company in his basement with a few Shakespeare titles; the company (no longer owned by Hilgrass) now offers notes on hundreds of titles. Detractors of the guides claim they allow students to bypass reading the assigned literature. The company, of course, claims to promote the reading of the original work, and views its material as a supplement, not as a substitute to the assigned reading.
I can only tell you what I saw: Several high school students sitting in the café sipping expensive coffee drinks not reading the primary text. They did not even actually appear to have the original text with them, and in between reading the CliffsNotes, they alternately texted friends, took phone calls, listened to music on their iPod Touches, and chatted it up with other friends who entered the café area.
Here’s my feeling on this topic. Ick. While these were high school students, I have no doubt that this is a similar process with regard to the way my college students approach reading and, later, writing. These days I feel a little hesitant about praising the work of students whose work I think is interesting or fresh, as I worry I may be positively reinforcing the habit of some students of picking up critical information from an outside source – a practice commonly called plagiarism.
I know that there are a million other sources available to students today besides CliffsNotes. Hell, they can purchase entire papers right off the Internet. Last year, a student actually listed a posting on Craigslist requesting someone to write his final English paper because he just didn’t have the energy to do it. He was willing to pay $150. I believe someone from the Monroe Community College English Department responded to the post and nailed the lazy, little twit. But I do wonder what has happened to personal pride and the hard work ethic. I wonder how many parents actually sit down to discuss cheating with their children. Do students understand that taking someone else’s ideas and presenting them as their own (without giving citation) is actually unethical? Do their parents?
For me, the person who uses CliffsNotes is a type of person who is afraid to think critically. Reading literature gives students practice in making their own connections, drawing their own conclusions, which can be supported by the facts with which they have been presented. I want my students to practice critical thinking so that they recognize that their voices and opinions are vital, and have power, not only inside the classroom but outside the classroom as well. The fact that students would trust a person that they do not even know just because he/she has a few extra letters after his/her name (PhD, M.S., D.D.S., M.D., J.D., etc..) represents another problem we have today; namely, people are too willing to take it from “the experts” before considering things thoroughly themselves. Students who use “Notes” of any form are not only cheating themselves, but they are cheating the world of their ideas. The best students are ones who are willing to take risks, engage in a dialogue about the literature: They are the ones who will be prepared to deal critically and creatively with opposing views, and recognize they need not feel threatened by ideas or beliefs which are different from their own.
I know great students exist. It just seems so dang easy to cut corners these days, like we have made it too easy for students to not do all that hard work that must occur inside their brains long before the pen ever hits the paper, or fingertips ever touch the keypad.
What do you say to your children to encourage them to think independently and express their own ideas, especially if they are struggling with the material?
My son happens to be a very cool kid. A smart boy, he naturally gravitates to science and math, thus making me wonder how it is possible that he sprang from my loins – but then my husband is a math-science guy, so it makes sense. A voracious reader, my Monkey cannot easily be torn away from a book. I have never had to ask him to do his homework. He comes home from school, makes himself a snack, eats it, puts his dishes in the dishwasher, and then disappears to do his homework. He just does it. I know some of you must be wondering what could this woman possibly have to complain about, so here it comes.
Recently, Monkey’s 5th grade teacher asked me to take a look at his English assignment due that next day. Monkey had been asked to answer a question, making sure to provide the title and genre of the work, and a thesis statement. He was also asked to use topic sentences and provide textual support and cite the page number as well as explain how the quote supported his idea about the topic. I was elated. I mean, this was a friggin’ awesome assignment and not too different from the type of assignment I might give to my own students in an Intro to Composition class.
“What should I be looking for?” he asked.
“Monkey doesn’t integrate quotes into his papers; I’d just like to make sure he understands how to do it.”
Seemed simple enough.
That night, I explained to my Monkey that his teacher had asked me to take a peek at his assignment. His handwriting was solid, his topic was interesting, he included the title and genre of the book, but – nope, she was right, no textual support. I asked Monkey about the missing quote. He shrugged his shoulders and said he “didn’t care” because he knew he was “still going to get a high score on the rubric so it didn’t matter.”
“You need to find a quote,” I said quietly, handing him his notebook.
“It’s fine,” he said, attempting to slide his notebook into his backpack.
“It’s not fine,” I insisted. “Please revise it.”
“It is fine, and I’m not doin’ it.”
“You need to do it,” I argued, my voice a little louder.
“No, I don’t, and I’m not!” he shouted.
If an alien had landed in my kitchen at that moment, it would have thought that – on Earth – children communicate by screaming and crying and that mothers communicate with their young by wrestling them to the ground and screaming even louder. I am quite certain that we looked something akin to Bart and Lisa from one of those episodes of The Simpsons where the siblings are choking each other; in these episodes, they are generally screaming, their necks are really long, and their eyes are bugging out of their heads.
Finally, I brought out the big guns.
“If you do not do this, you will have a huge consequence.”
A people-pleaser, my Monkey hates consequences, so with resignation he took his notebook and retreated to the office, closing the door behind him. Like I said, he’s a smart kid; he didn’t want to lose his screen time for the rest of the week. One-half hour later, he emerged with a fabulously fabulous journal entry that was even better than the first. It was neatly written, well punctuated, included capital letters; he even remembered to include the page number for his quote. So why all the drama?
I don’t micromanage my son’s academic career. Lord knows, he’s moved beyond me in math and science already, and when it comes time to create a Power Point presentation, he’s my go-to guy. He accepts criticism from his schoolteachers and baseball coaches, his fencing instructor, and his piano teacher. He accepts fine-tuning in violin and he doesn’t mind when his religious school teacher tells him he has mispronounced something. So what is it about the parent-child relationship that brings out such ugliness, such hysteria when it comes to academics? Why couldn’t he just do it for me?
Had Monkey’s teacher not asked me to look at his homework, I would not have found myself involved in that little power struggle, which is really what it was. And what stuck in my craw was that he said he was getting good grades for not doing all the work properly. Could that be true? It occurred to me that if my son’s teacher had given him a low grade – a really low grade – on any of the assignments leading up to that one, it might have motivated him to work harder to give her what she wanted. He’s no grade grubber, but seriously, what motivation is there to change your ways if you’re being rewarded for doing something half-assed?
I called Monkey’s teacher the next morning the moment he hopped on the bus and told her that, while he had completed the assignment, it created real tension between us.
“Do me a favor,” I added. “Next time, if he doesn’t follow the instructions, give him a low grade. He isn’t motivated to work harder because he says he has been receiving high grades on these assignments even without doing what you’ve asked him to do.”
“I can’t believe you are telling me to give him a low grade,” she said. “Would you want him to have the opportunity to redo the assignment if he really blows it?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I want him to see what it feels like to fail.”
I wonder how many teachers feel held hostage by American parents, afraid to give low grades to students who aren’t really living up to their full capabilities. They must know that if they give low grades, they will face an onslaught of angry emails and phone calls. But how does inflating grades help our children? From where I stand, all it means is that I have to teach it to them later when they hit college level.
Yesterday I made a mini-resolution: From here on out, unless my child specifically asks for my help, I am going to consider him the captain of his own seafaring vessel. That means he’s pretty much on his own, but he’s equipped with a CB radio with a direct line to me. I’m there on the beach in case of rough waters (or confusion about how to use semi-colons) in which case I’ll hop into my little motorboat and ask permission to come aboard. And once the seas have calmed and he has control of his ship again, I’m outta there, back to my spot on the beach.
How involved are all of you in your kids’ daily homework assignments? And could you stand by and watch your child go down with the ship?