Friday, June 22, 2012

Bus Monitor Bullies and their Enabling Parents or How to Raise an Asshole

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She is not alone in her shabby treatment, sadly
For those of you who are shocked, SHOCKED, by the video of the 7th grade "bullies" ruthlessly taunting a 68-year old grandmother, I'd like to introduce you to education in the 2010s.  First of all, bullying occurs amongst peers, and these 13-year-olds are not even one-fifth the age of their victim, so this act is miscategorized.  The fact that Karen Klein, the victim, is not the person who posted the video speaks volumes about the mindset of students and the commonplace nature of this scene that is shocking the country.  One of the bullies, who did not view this video as out of the ordinary, or as crass, vulgar and borderline criminal, posted it, I suppose so that he and his charming friends could digitally hurl more invective at the unbelieveably restrained Klein.  She responded with such class and honor that she deserves all the money the Canadian good Samaritan is raising for her.  But, so does anyone else who works with children in schools these days. 

These students can lay their hands on her as
a joke, but a teacher in Florida can't hit a
much larger student leaning on her,
insulting and cornering her.
Only one of the parents of the four bullies apologized, the father of Wesley Helm.  To his credit, he did it for the news reporter and to Mrs. Klein's face.  He had said how he didn't raise his children this way, and how he couldn't believe his son had done this.  It's shameful that only one person, and none of punks who committed these awful acts, apologized, so that tells me that perhaps Mr. Helm, and the other parents, did raise their children this way.  I am glad that this man apologized, but it should be the child.   If the child is big and strong enough to talk to an elder as if she is sub-human, then he should be tough enough to repent like a man.  The fact that this father shielded his son from the shame and embarrassment is the reason his son acted this way: a lack of consequences.  When my daughter tried to steal a coveted item from her friend's house the other day, I had no problem calling her out on it.  Yes, she cried, but she was made to apologize.  I'm willing to bet she won't do that again; indeed, today, out of the blue, she told me that "stealing is never okay". 

So many parents are disturbed by the video, as they should be.  But, to the parents such as Mr. Helm who cannot imagine their own, darling angels ever acting in a similar way, let me tell you, if you have ever questionned a school employee on a story told to you by your child, then your child does act in exactly this manner.  They argue with their teachers, with their deans, and with their assistant principals, as if they have some authority in the school decisions and in the consequences of their actions.  They contort stories until they are unrecognizable when recounted by the indignant parent to the beleaguered administration.  They taunt their classmates who are weaker, they disobey the requests of the staff, and they show outright disdain for people like Mrs. Klein who keep them safe on buses, cook their food, and clean up their messes.  And they do so because you believe them when they tell you that the teacher picks on him or her for no reason, or that the other student hit them for no reason.  Yes, when you side with them and their incredible tales, and go to Parent Teacher conferences seething with hatred for the evil school teachers that, in your mind, plot and scheme against your child, believe me, your child is exactly like those bullies on the bus.  And it is precisely because you side with your child and blame the teachers and other staff members that your child is like that.  Really, Mr. Helm, where did Wesley develop such facility with profanity and ugliness?  It certainly didn't sound like Wesley's first, awkward attempts at bullying by calling someone a poopyhead, dingleberry, fatty, four-eyes or a doodle: these boys were talking about cumming in her mouth!  Did you really have no clue your child was capable of this?
Too bad Brandon Teng
 isn't a teacher, or he'd
 lose all rights for doing
something like this.

People like Mrs. Klein take this nonsense from children all day, every day.  Bullying involves power imbalances, whether real or perceived, and obviously, the bullies in this situation know that they have the upper hand, because Mrs. Klein would lose her job if she reacted or retaliated.  The fact that she didn't return the insults, didn't smack anyone, and didn't even report this, shows how common such scenes have become.  Rather than change the behavior of the children, the adults have to simply tolerate it as part of the hazards of the job.  Those boys were touching her, for God's sake, and still, for Mrs. Klein, it was just another crappy day surviving her crappy job.  It is a noble job, and she is a noble woman, but the work she does and her gracious demeanor deserve better than to be insulted by a bunch of entitled, cowardly, foul-mouthed jerks.  Karen Klein, I salute you and others like you.  The pendulum has swung waaaaaaaaay to far on the side of the children to our, their and society's detriment.  It will come back around, though.  It has to.

Oh, and as for protecting the identities of these miscreants, their names are Wesley Helm, Josh Sleasak, Tyler Warren, Brandon Teng and Luis Recio.  Let it be written now and forever what they have done, so that it follows and haunts them for the rest of their lives, for perhaps then they will know remorse.  And maybe, feeling shitty about their disgraceful actions will help them finally become better people than they were raised to be.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There is an anonymous comment below asking me to remove Tyler's name from the above list.  The fantasy that is being told as to why he should not be blamed has a few logic holes in it.  First of all, it was another bully who first named him, and as all of the other boys have issued "apologies", shouldn't they have mentionned this other, equally damaging <sarcasm>, injustice?  Okay, we've established that they're cowardly liars, so I'll cede you this excuse flaw.  Second, "we" took him to the police station, "as Tyler is the only person involved with this incident that was wrongly accused" - well, how the heck do you know that if he supposedly wasn't on the bus?  Did he talk to the others?  If so, shouldn't he have asked them to clear his name?  And, "we" is in quotes, because earlier in the retelling of this delusion "we" was referred to as "Tricia Warren".  And, finally, there is a legal defense fund to "clear his name" (how one goes about doing that, legally, is a problem I'll leave to the lawyers), not, as one would expect in such a horrible falsehood, defamation of character.  I could go on, but let's just leave the Swiss cheese statements stand on their own flimsy legs.  I'm sorry, but these Greek parents are an embarassment.  Earlier, Luis Recio's father felt obliged to put this exculpatory phrase in his official apology: "Like Luis said, if your friend says to bully somebody, please don’t do it."  It's not Luis' fault, he is just another innocent child, just like Tyler!  In an interview, Luis was asked "Did you say anything mean to her while you were recording?", to which he eloquently responded, "No, not nothing, probably like oh you're fat, or nothing", so we must assume that he conveniently forgot saying "Imma f******g take a crap in your mouth" to Mrs. Klein.  The reporter quotes Luis as saying "all he told Klein was to give him back his yearbook."  There is no way he truly believe this, nor does any other viewer of the video recording that refutes his statements, but I'm sure his mother does, and this is what I'm talking about, Greek parents.  You may believe your son, Mrs. Warren.  I do not.

Oh, and I was right, it was NOT their first time bullying.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Perhaps buying plastic clappy hands and cheap
tops and yoyos is worth more than wildlife.
I just finished Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them, which is a quest to find plastic ducks that spilled off a container ship.  Part of what I liked about it is how it follows tangents and chance discoveries, such as when the author explores how the rubber duck became such an icon of childhood, and even describes how childhood itself has changed.  I like a rambling, inquisitive book.  But, while I knew of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it really brought the issue to the forefront of my consciousness.  As a mother concerned with the amount of sugar American kids are consuming these days, I thought, along with other like-minded mothers, let's put trinkets instead of candy in the goodie bags (God forbid I let my daughter's birthday pass without goodie bags.  She'd be shunned).  Now I have to come up with Plan C, since these trinkets are killing the endangered albatross chicks. 

Beaches that don't have beach cleaner trucks
combing each day look like this.  Where does
the trash that the combers clean out end up?
Stewart Hagarth's "Tide" Chandelier
Everything today comes in plastic.  It wasn't that long ago that plastics weren't ubiquitous, yet kids today would be hard pressed to understand how people consumed food that didn't come wrapped in plastic.  Think about it.  What food does not have to be wrapped, carried or contained in plastic?  We used to wrap things in foil, wax or paper, remember?  Beverages came in tin cans or in glass bottles.  That Subway sandwich that you took home in the plastic bag that got thrown out after 5 minutes of use will remain floating in the ocean for, oh, around 500 years.  And, those long plastic polymer chains will be digested by sea life, causing who-knows-what type of damage.  Hopefully this will make people think things through differently, but I don't think anyone really cares.  We'd much rather have our daily conveniences and consequences be damned.  Perhaps when every beach looks like the one pictured below, we'll take notice of the problem.

Now, I don't want to let my readers off the hook; it's another doom-and-gloom scenario that we feel powerless to control.  But, some people turn this negative into positives.  Okay, perhaps I have a bizarre chandelier fetish, but there is an artist who makes found plastic objects into the most spectacular lighting.  The whole planet cannot be turned into a chandelier, but maybe someone will find another, more practical use for this new, growing, unsightly problem.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Fuel for the Anti-Testing Fire

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Many right wing pundits use the phrase "left-wing media bias" to the extent that it is now generally accepted as true by the general, uneducated public. Unsurprisingly, these "take it on faith" citizens do not question whether there is such a bias, or why it supposedly exists? Is it a conspiracy by the media moguls who own the majority of our country's news sources? That doesn't pass the common sense sniff test, since most of these are owned by rich backers of the Republican party, who endorse charter schools and school vouchers.  Wouldn't they want to slant the news in their favor (which they do, but that's another story).

On areas where I lack expertise, I bow to the masters. If the plumber tells me that the scupper trap is misflanged or that my discharge valve is siphoning incorrectly, I have to trust what they are telling me.  When my dentist says my lateral cuspid interproximal distal is intruding on the mandible, I tend to believe him. So, American ignoramuses, maybe the liberal bias in the media should be taken as the expert opinion of career professionals on the issues of the day. They know the most about current events, so if they feel that the liberals have things right, maybe they're on to something? I'd prefer that everyone form their own opinion, but too many people do not even have a basic understanding of geography, nevermind geopolitics.
Do you know why this trend started?  No?
Neither do the kid  s who wear their pants like this.
It advertises an inmate's availability for, um, relations.

In any case, I am a teacher. I know a thing or two that the average Joe or Jane does not regarding education.  And I know that high stakes testing is no good.  It has nothing to do with measuring students, and it has everything to do with punishing teachers.  There is so much evidence against it, but it is silenced by the monied interests trying to privatize schools.  Here is one more such piece of evidence.  This article is great enough on its own, but reading the farewell comments of the journalist speaks volumes.  There are very few voices defending teachers, and now there is one less. 

On my summer reading list is "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools", which looks towards America's educational problems through the same lens as I do.  Both the author, Robert Weissberg, and I know that if you remove the students who are not there to learn, education levels will rise dramatically.  This will occur not just because the unmotivated students will no longer tyrannize the rest of the students, but also because those that remain will need to realize that they need to make smarter choices.  Too many students follow the losers, but once those elements are removed, the rest will follow better influences.  It is so simple, it will solver our education crisis and save money to boot.  Of course, you will see some parents on television decrying how their lovely, darling children were tossed out of school for no reason.  Of course.  And I'm sure that the children kicked out will be disproportionately male and minority, but being male and minority doesn't mean you will be de facto denied an education, in fact, it will probably help minorities the most.  End the tyranny of the individual.  It is time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Days in London and Paris

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<Spoken like Meryl Streep as Isak Dinesen> "I once had a flat in London.  I once was an au pair in Paris."  I miss my European adventures, over 20 years ago now.  One of my favorite things about my time spent there was that I was working during my visit.  In London, I worked the nine to five, and I feel you only get a true sense of a country by being one of the working stiffs.  I loved the miniature size of everything (tiny Cokes!  mini-fridges for a family of 4!  one phone for the office!), and the more pedestrian feel of Europe.  It's the small details that make a place unique:  In London the huge wooden escalators and wooden Tube interiors with upholstered seating, "Look Left" signs at "zebra crossings", oil paint interior trim, the many, many "Sorry!"'s heard on crowded Oxford Street, the tiny gas water heater over the tub with the nozzle on a cord, the 50 pence box in the room to keep the electricity on, the "newspaper" salesmen at the entrance to the Tube, "Mind the gap", calling eachother "Pet", the black cabs.  The French "squatter" toilets, yellow headlights, les Concierges, the courtyards, the bowing to signal "je vous en prie" (you're welcome), the ability to open the Metro doors just before your stop, les colonnes Morris, the rocker electrical switches, the minitel, and the term of endearment "ma pouce" (my thumb).  I love both cities and countries because I was so intimately familiar with their strengths and foibles.  Everyone should have an opportunity to not just travel, but to live abroad, and by immersing themselves in a new environment, even the most xenophopic's cultural framework will seem as arbitrary and bizarre as any other.  I think it is a way towards world peace.
But even more than the daily minutiae, it's the food one misses most of all: the foil wrapped butter sold in London, the marchand de fruits et légumes, the chips served in a newspaper cone, the French street markets.  The brands are different, the packaging unique, and you miss what you was once available to you daily.  I miss the creme fraiche, McVitties, Stella Artois, prepackaged sandwiches, Müller yoghurt, Ribena Strawberry, pain au chocolat, Abbaye de Leffe.  Oh, dear blog readers, this post is so self-indulgent!  If you haven't lived in London or Paris, to be separated by decades, you will have no idea of what I am speaking.  The mundane becomes special in a new country.  I hope to immerse my daughter in a foreign culture at some point in her upbringing.  As for me, I miss certain aspects, but my experience has made my life all the richer, and for that, I wouldn't trade my time abroad for anything.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Miniature Moon Landing Classroom Project

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The school year is winding down.  My school has a contest at the end of the year to see who can put together the best scene, and I got the year 1969.  Being a math teacher, I had the students figure out how many of a certain item it would take to reach the moon.  Did you know that it is:
  • 238,855 miles
  • 1,261,154,400 feet
  • 15,133,852,800 inches
  • 252,230,880 students
  • 242,141,644,800 quarters
  • 3,026,770,560 SpongeBob Square Pants
  • 867,965 Empire State buildings
  • A pile of dollar bills totaling $3,783,463,200,000
To the moon?  Those calculations, using rates, ratios and proportions, took my students almost a full week, with calculators!  Heaven forbid they use a pencil and basic math facts to reach those numbers!  Then, boring math part over, we got to the fun part: illustrating the astronomical numbers.  Having time to spare (yes, after a week of calculations), we decided to build the Apollo 11 rocket.  Then, the deadline was pushed back, so we added the Eagle (the lunar landing module).  Then, we were told to decorate the doors (my room has two), so one was a newspaper frontpage (July 21, 1969), and the other is of what is supposed to be Kennedy giving his "We choose to go to the Moon" speech, although it looks more like the Elephant man with a hemifacial spasm or Bell's palsy.  And then, I was told to decorate yet another wall, on which we will create the parachutes with the splash down command module attached, landing in the ocean (pictures to come).  My goodness, am I having fun!  It combines so many of my interests: thrifting (I bought a plush astronaut), scavaging (the birdcage turned into a parachute), crafts (there is a lot of cardboard, tracing, painting, and glitter involved), math, and miniatures. 
Moon scene on bottom, artistic renderings
of items stacked to the moon (not to scale)
The Apollo 11 rocket, with
2 astronauts (one atop ladder
in door, other in window).


JFK's famous "We choose to go the
the Moon" speech.  On the right is his
words, coming from his mouth, on
the left is his dream (moon and
 astronaut), coming from his head.


The Eagle, the lunar landing module
So much fun!  Fun projects brings out different aspects in my students that I don't get to see with the big test looming most of the year.  One of my students brought in the drawing underneath the Eagle model in the picture above.  It is a wonderful picture!  And I get to see the correlation between intelligence and common sense.  For example, a high scoring student can figure out how to cover a semicircular parachute shape in five minutes without direction, but when a low student is asked to cut something out, he asks me, "How?".  "Oh, I'd try scissors", I reply, as patiently as I can manage.  "Where are the scissors?", he asks, with a pair literally right under his nose.  "See if you can't look around and find a pair", I respond, much less patiently.  And then there was the child who could not wrap his head around how I came to have a birdcage if I never had a bird.  Sweetie, someone else had a bird and they were throwing out the cage, okay?  Follow up question: "Was it you who had the bird?".  Life skills, people!  How are you going to manage in the world?  In any case, I have a week and a half left before my summer break.  Patience, dear self.  Patience, patience, patience.

The barely legible newspaper
headline! They should have used
 a larger, more impressive font!
My parachute landings.  Whew!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why I don't Like Myself - A Rationale for Self-Loathing

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The other day, my daughter and I decided at the last minute to go the beach.  My body is not naturally swimsuit ready.  I have a "shapewear" bathing suit that takes exactly 32.4 minutes to put on.  I imagine putting it on must be similar to trying to get a sausage back into its casing; when you push something in on one side, it comes out the other side.  And there is the bikiniscaping.  I am thinking that this area increases in size with age, similar to the nose and ears, but no one ever talks about that.  So, as I was desperately trying to go to the beach "spontaneously", I realized why people, especially women, have such low self-esteem.  When I'm at the beach, or walking down the street, I only see the finished product.  I don't get to see them spray tanning, getting laser hair removal, at the salon getting their Brazilian keratin treatment, or any other beauty trickery processes.  But I am intimately familiar with my toilette.  Somehow I feel as if I'm the only one that has to go through it.  And the media doesn't help at all.  I remember reading a "Behind the Scenes" article about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and somewhere they mentionned how Paulina Porizkova did her own makeup in a van in the dark without a mirror.  No wonder my head is messed up: Paulina just wakes up looking beach ready; I don't.  Thus, there is something wrong with me.
 
Logically, I can see things from the other viewpoint: I am almost 44 years old, I have given birth and I had a stroke, and when I look at some of the young people today I feel like I'm holding it together pretty well.  And we've all seen the before and after photoshopped images.  Somehow this doesn't quite stick as well as the negativity, however, and the years of glossy, perfect models overwhelm any self-esteem boost I can muster, so it is not my go-to self perception.  There are days that I feel pretty.  Most days, I do not.  Why does it matter what I look like anyhow?  So many people are fighting for survival, it is a luxury to be able to obsess over my appearance. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Less Celebrated Pearson Problems - A Guide for Parents on How Teachers Were Asked to Score Math State Test

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There was a protest today at the Pearson headquarters on 1330 6th Avenue in Manhattan on what is now referred to as "Chancellor's Day", formerly "Brooklyn Queens Day".  By now, the field testing with the students and the horrible questions are well publicized.  Yes, your children are being used in experiments in school, by large, for-profit corporations!  But this is only the beginning of the problems with the new Pearson, high-stakes tests.  If you were scandalized by the pineapple or the "tell me your secret" question, wait until you hear about how the graders were asked to score them!  Before I go into details, I would like to state for the record that this information was not acquired as a scorer or as a proctor, since I did not score the test this year, and I proctored the sixth grade exam, from which none of the examples below were taken.  If parents think that the questions were ridiculous, let me tell you, that was nothing compared with how they are being graded. 

I'll start with the least mathematically complex issues and work my way to the problems that need a bit more math knowledge.  The first new scoring rule is that spelling counts; scorers were told to only count "reasonable" spellings, so many English language learners tried to phonetically spell some math terms, which they mangled.  I still can't spell "glockenspiel", nor "schadenfreude", and I'm an amateur linguist married to a German.  A child who answered "rektengoll" would get no credit for  this answer, when any reasonable adult would know the intended meaning, especially since children are taught "invented spelling" in the early grades.  Yes, thank you, early education researchers for telling teachers to tell kids to make up any old spelling, so that the rest of us must struggle to contradict this.  Certainly this is the example containing the least math, since, last time I checked, spelling was another subject entirely.  I have always told my students that spelling doesn't count, as long as you don't tell me that you misspelled "rectangle" as "parallelogram", but no longer.  If it's comprehensible but not even close to spelled correctly, they take points off.
You could do math the hard way, but we
teach kids the shortcuts
Next, let's discuss patterns.  If a child correctly continued the pattern of dots as asked, but didn't draw the dots exactly as they were in the picture,  scorers were told to take off point.  The picture in question had "closed" dots (), but if the child drew the pattern using "open" dots (), they did not get full credit.  Now, I tell my students that mathematicians are lazy, and that they take shortcuts.  Even Ernie knew this, and that cat isn't the brightest.  So, the better you are at math, the more shortcuts you take.  But, in this case, if you didn't fill in your circles, you lost points.  The point of the question was to see if the child could recognize and continue the pattern, which is a math concept, and since this question was on a math test, not an art test, I hardly see the logic in taking points off for not copying the shape exactly.  But, then, I have experience in math pedagogy, and the representatives from the testing company, according to my sources, did not.

Here's another way to get it wrong
And, speaking of laziness, apparently "reflection", "commutative", "associative" and "distributive", to name a few math terms, are not lengthy enough.  No, scorers were told that the above answers were not specific enough and that the students needed to instead write "reflection across the x-" or "y-axis", "commutative" or "associative property of addition" or "multiplication", and, my personal favorite, "distributive property of addition over multiplication".  Who, besides a math teacher, even knows the full name of that property?  My students that I tested had an hour and 37 minutes of testing a day for three days, but apparently this does not test their endurance quite enough.  No, we need to make sure that they now need to write essays for the math test.  Brilliant.

On the subject of the distributive property, apparently this is another topic that the Pearson scoring supervisors never learned, because scorers were asked to not give credit to children who multiplied using this property.  For example, if, when needing to multiply 42 x 9, rather than using the traditional algorithm, a student broke the problem down to 40 x 9 + 2 x 9 (mental math), they were not given credit.  Yet, this is a strategy that students are taught in Everyday Math!  Insane!

Shall I continue?  Without boring you with the details, I'll hit a couple more "mistakes" that would take points off in brief:
  • Not including part-to-part or part-to-whole in the explanation.
  • Answering "quadrilateral" for Part A of a "Name this shape" question (acceptable answer), but defining a quadrilateral when they needed to define a rectangle in the "How did you know what shape it was" follow-up question.
  • "One child has $8 and his friend has the same amount.  Can they buy a $6 comb and a $14 ice cream sundae?"  If they said no, because 8 x 2 <> 20, they were not given credit.
  • Spacing and bar width on graphs must be uniform.
  • Conceptual errors get a zero for a two-point question.  
There is a massive amount of evidence from all sides that the company that New York and other states chose to prepare their tests really do not know what they are doing.  And, of course, parents will never see the graded tests, because you know if they did get their hands on them, there would be a lot of explaining to do.  All they get is a raw score.  For a test which is supposed to help teachers and students determine areas of weakness, it seems counterintuitive to not release the results.  Parents, we were working during this protest.  We need you to get out and protest this nonsense.  Get angry and make your voices heard.  It is time to stop the high stakes, high stress charade.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fairy Doors, Fairy Kitchens?

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We have a fairy garden in our backyard...
My family's annual trip to Michigan is coming up, and this is the year that I'd like to see the urban fairy operation, or U.F.O.  Since our front tree was the site of a fairy door appearance and disappearance, I have been interested in fairies and their doors.  We still have a fairy garden in the backyard, but the occupants have not kept it up and it is becoming overgrown and

...and we briefly had a fairy door
in the front of our house on our tree
untidy.  According to this interview with a fairy door expert in the Michigan city of Ann Arbor, it appears that fairies are partial to residing near imaginative people, so I am very flattered to have received the fairy stamp of approval.  When I lived in Michigan, I had a great affinity for Ann Arbor, visiting it regularly.  I was even accepted to the University of Michigan, in the honors program, and it is still one of my life's biggest regrets that I did not attend that school, although I may have never have traveled as extensively if I had gone.  Ann Arbor has experienced a large number of fairies in the last few years, which is unsurprising to me, since it is a fabulous place.   I'd like to be able to see the fairy doors on this year's trip to the Midwest.
It seems that this home in our backyard is still
occupied, although the pride of ownership has
waned.
While we are gone exploring the fairy doors of Eastern Michigan, we are planning to renovate our kitchen.  I am hoping that our contractor will be able to make a nice kitchen within a kitchen for fairies.  This is a gamble, since fairies usually prefer to set up their own accomodations and are wary of human intervention in their households.  But, since we have had residents in our backyard for over a year, I am hoping that positive word of mouth and luxurious accomodations will entice them to live with us.  I have a small kitchen, uninstalled, with mini cabinets, a dishwasher, a stove with a vent, a refrigerator, a washer/dryer, and even a storage freezer.  Do you think fairies will inhabit it?  Any advice for luring fairies into your home, aside from the obvious?
I have taken a risk and already acquired
the cabinetry and appliances.  Will the fairies oblige?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Best Schools in America: The Problems with Lists

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Best of lists: everyone loves them.  I've enjoyed them since my college friend subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine and I pored over the lists of best albums of all time, pleased to see New Order, the Smiths, U2, the Cure, Depeche Mode, and yes, Prince, ranking high, underscoring my excellent musical taste, while simultaneously rolling my eyes at the completely predictable, and, in my refined opinion, unjustified, selection of the Beatles as #1.  Perhaps it started even before, when I sent beauty pageant drawings around my elementary school, asking my classmates to vote for their favorite.  I don't have cable television, but I still have managed to waste a large amount of time waiting for the "Best Infomercials of the 80s",  "Top Rock Star/Model Celebrity Couplings" or "The Best and Worst Hollywood Botox Jobs" to hurry up and show the next three minute entry in between commercials and get to number one before midnight.  Some shows come in ten episode chunks, for goodness sake.  You know you watch them, too.

As mindless and idiotic as these lists are, I have to admit, I have ascribed a lot of value to the "1,000 Best High Schools" from Newsweek magazine.  Perhaps because it is published by a (formerly) respected magazine, I assumed that the reporters were turning out Pulitzer quality stuff that could be relied upon.  Of course, I am highly aware that the top schools are either in extremely wealthy districts, or they select from top candidates.  But, what I did not know, that I learned in the New York Times' article In Lists of Best High Schools, Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story, is that the schools have  to apply to be on the list.  Nor did I know that the criteria can leave out excellent schools such as in Scarsdale, NY, which is a rich district that chose to not give Advanced Placement classes, and AP classes comprise 25% of the weight of the score. In the immortal words of Morrissey and the Smiths, in Death of a Disco Dancer:

"And if you think Peace
Is a common goal
That goes to show
How little you know"

Balancing Being Grateful with Keeping Dreams Alive

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I was glad to write down my dreams in last week's post and make it official.  It is inspirational to have goals and it can keep spirits high when life's responsibilities and to-do lists weighs you down.  But, on the other hand, aspiring to a better life may lead to negative thinking about the life currently being led.  And, I want to be clear that I have a very blessed life.  How does one balance out these two seemingly diametric thoughts?

The revelation that my current life is pretty good came from my first "run" of the season.  "Run" is in quotes, because I barely run, it is more of a run/walk/meander.  I live quite near a beautiful, large city park, and while it's no Central Park, it is still quintessential New York, without the annoying tourists of the Manhattan parks or the bums and drug addicts that may plague some of the outer borough parks.  We have the graceful Tai Chi devotees, the young men who rest along the edge of the park against their cars, the old men yelling at eachother as they "enjoy" a game of Bocce, and of course the dog walkers, the pram pushers, and the exercisers.  You can even see the Manhattan skyline.  And I realized that I don't need St. John to exercise, although a Carribbean dip and a hike through the tropical forests would be nice. 

In a way, this is as nice as St. John
All in all, I have so much to be grateful for.  I am healthy, I am employed, I have a home and a family.  There really isn't much to complain about, even though, of course, I do.  Spring is here, summer is near.  I am getting my new kitchen.  I live in a beautiful town in a, um, well, ethnically diverse borough (as lovely as my borough is, it would be stretch to call it beautiful) in a comfortable(ish) home.  It's nice to have dreams and plans of a better life, but it's better to enjoy the life you do have.
 

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