Sunday, July 31, 2011

You Can't Run a School Like a Business. It Doesn't Work.

Thanks to Angie Villa, author of
for posting this button on her blog...where I just saw it. I wholeheartedly agree with what Angie says and writes about reforming American education away from an inappropriate corporate model!

I recently heard that a principal declared, "We're going to run this school like a business!" That is both a naive and callously simplistic statement (although in terms of pure propaganda, it sounds okay--sort of like "No Child Left Behind." And we know how that's been screwing up the educational system). 

If and when that school-as-business model is implemented, then "education" quickly becomes all about hitting numbers, not about actually learning anything. 

Inflicting a business model on schools will mean that the creativity and inspiration in school (on the students' side and the teachers') will immediately disappear, replaced by the simple fear of not earning enough to put bread on the table.

It's so wrongheaded to say, "We're going to run this school like a business!" that I am not even going to waste my time explaining it further (I have an article to write, and a deadline). 

You either get it, or you don't. 

Speaking of "getting it," there has long been an incorrect and offensive statement floating around. I'm sure you've heard, "Those who can't do, teach."

The statement is actually Aristotle's, and this is the real thing: "Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach."

Don't you feel better now?

My best to all teachers. Hang in there...and keep on top of the good activism that is happening to reform American education and move it away from the insensitive, dead-wrong corporate model some unthinking types have thrown in our way.

Teachers who care are trying to make education and schools better...don't be duped by the businessmen! They have no idea how to teach.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How's that Amnesia? Here's a Fact-Based Debt Refresher

Still feeling crazy about the debt ceiling debates and LIES? I am.

Here's a good new article I found. Responsible journalists are found mostly in print (and, I believe, only in non-Murdoch-owned publications).

The opener (does it grab you?) by Michael Grunwald:

If the debt-limit debate had anything to do with reality, every story about it would include a few basic facts. Starting with: President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion budget deficit.   And: Republican leaders supported the tax cuts and wars that (along with the recession, another pre-Obama phenomenon) created that deficit. Also: Republicans engineered this crisis by attaching unprecedented ideological demands to a routine measure allowing the U.S. to pay its bills.  Finally, Obama and the Democrats keep meeting those demands—for spending cuts, then for more spending cuts, and even for nothing but spending cuts—but Republicans keep holding out for more.
These are verifiable facts, not opinions. But since they aren’t new facts, and re-reporting them would make “GOP claims” about the crisis look, um, non-factual, they’re rarely mentioned, except as “Democratic claims.” This is a real problem for journalism in an era where—now this is an opinion—one of the major parties has abandoned its grip on reality.  I understand why objective reporters aren’t encouraged to contradict political lies with historical truths, but this hostage drama is one of the prices of our era of amnesia.

Read more:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bush and Obama: The Debt Breakdown in a Handy Graphic

Here is an important graphic, and a great, quick and informative piece on the real debt breakdown. Thanks to Ezra Klein, The New York Times and the Washington Post for writing and disseminating this. More people need to see it (although I see from extremist comments that some people still refuse to believe it).

Take a look at how it stacks up. Notice something? There's a heck of a lot more debt racked up under Bush. You can thank the Bushwars and the Bush tax cuts, but hey--I never thought any of that was a good idea.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Republican Who Knew Better. Wake Up, Lawmakers!

I am so frustrated lately by the debt/budget talks that are going nowhere in Washington-- in light of the fact that one side cannot see (are they blind?) that sure, we can cut, but we also need to increase revenue (huge DOH!)  The wars must end (we can't pay for them), and the ultra-wealthy and corporations need to be taxed. America's debt cannot, if lawmakers are moral, be shouldered by the struggling middle class.

The debt ceiling must be raised in order to protect our economy and our people, but no, instead, certain factions are quite literally holding the American people hostage! They care NOT about America; they only want to see crisis after crisis so that their precious corporations end up controlling all of us and the world. They want to protect the uber-wealthy at the expense of everyone else...never mind that if the US goes into default, we will all be screwed with our pants on.

Do these people not remember that their saint Reagan raised the debt limit something like 17 times? Bush the Dubya--try seven.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!

"Cut, Cap, and Balance" sounds faboo, in theory, but is actually  big-time stupid and no sort of solution at all. Listen to people like David Gergen. Listen to reason.

The intractability of the House right now makes me sick to my stomach.

It's so bad right now in America. So bad. I wonder all the time why my generation has it so hard when our parents had it so easy. I have written before that every generation needs be careful and ensure that its decisions will not negatively affect future people. I was called some kind of traitor for daring to suggest that relaxing pollution laws for Big Business was a bad idea (Hey! Let 'em pollute all they want! So what if it gives our kids cancer?). I am flabbergasted (flabbergasted, I tell you!) by people who think that forcing megacorps to pay to do business a little more neatly is somehow "stupid."

This whole situation makes me feel crazy. I take heart that people are waking up to how they've been duped by a certain party, and tricked into voting against their own personal (and their children's--that's what kills me!) interests. 

I used to be terrified of the idea of upheaval such as we seem to be on the brink of, but now I welcome it. It is necessary, I think. To get better, we may have to hit bottom first. 

In the meantime, more wise words from the forever-impressive Abraham Lincoln:

“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes…. corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

– Abraham Lincoln 

Read some Lincoln, lawmakers, Think about what he knew that you don't. Remember, there is no crime worse than doing nothing to help those in need. And you are doing nothing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Reading: the Monkey on Your Back

First things first: I love summer reading! I loved doing the reading (and in complete seriousness here, I used to have lists of 30 books to read in summer. I am not lying. This was specifically for 7th grade!) when I was in school.

I still "do the reading" to help my students. I still love it. Last summer I read Autobiography of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This summer, it's All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. (I don't have to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon since I taught it for five years.)

As a high school teacher, I also loved to assign reading over the summer. I tried to assign four or five books, if I could, just to up the quota of books my students would actually read before graduation--after which point I could not control their reading in any way-- but then a school administrator cut the list so harshly I actually gasped.

The admin declared, "Redbook magazine had a piece on not making kids read too much." 

What?! Redbook magazine is a mommy magazine. Mommies are burdened when their kids have summer reading assignments (more on this later). There's an obvious bias going on, I think.

But why not read over the summer? As I say to students all the time, "What else do you honestly have to do? You can't find time to read in the 90 days of free time you have? There aren't 20-40 minutes a day when you might pick up a book? You'd enjoy reading. I promise you. Just try it..."

I now tutor all the time, and my summers are filled with sessions of helping my tutees get their reading done, understand what they've read, articulate the themes of the books assigned, take intelligent notes, and write reports. 

It's a universal rule (at least in my life) that students I tutor will look at me with palpable fear and anxiety  in our first session when I ask the dreaded question, " you have any summer reading? Let's talk about that."

Almost inevitably, I was hired to help by the student's mother (moms end up bearing much of the brunt of taskmasters, and most moms I know seem to have their own summers ruined by the need to constantly nag their kids, "Did you read today?").  The student may initially believe--as we all do, I am sure--that he or she "doesn't need" a tutor, that he or she will get the reading done just fine all alone.

But then we start to discuss the books. I scribble a schedule of reading to help the student stay on task and get it over with in a reasonable amount of time (I say no more than two weeks to finish a book. Why? I have many reasons, but foremost is my belief in "not dragging this thing out").

Once we get the books read, the student can finally shake off that monkey on his or her back. The student can finally relax. And the student also feels confident that the books were fully understood. (The books were also, in the end, appreciated, but that's another issue.)

It is in our one-on-one discussions of the literature assigned that I really start to see these students get it. Their eyes--one dead and full of dread--now literally light up. When I coach them in how to connect the themes of a novel they've just read to their own life and to life in general, they--all of a sudden, and maybe for the first time (but I hope not!)--see why people read.

We read in order to understand more about what it means to be human.

My primary question to my students after any reading is, "What do you think this book has to teach us about being alive?"

That is the only question we really need to ask, I think, after reading. With that one question, we can easily see what the point was. We can immediately see a list of relevant and resonant themes. We can better appreciate our own existence and our own journeys. We can feel gratitude to the writer for so delicately weaving a tapestry of description and emotion and meaning. 

In short, if we ask that question, we will get it. And once we get it, we will only want to read more.

So, my question to students, teachers and parents is: don't you love summer reading yet? 

Do you get it?

Read one more book and then put it down and ask yourself, "What do I understand now about life that I didn't before?" Within 10 minutes, it will be obvious...and you'll find yourself reaching for another book.

A final note: I was telling one of my students that we could have more productive and lively discussions about literature if he would read more of the book before we talked. (It is hard to discuss literature in tiny pieces). It wasn't that he hadn't read enough (we were just getting started); this was just one of my hints for "getting more out of school."

As I explained, "Sometimes, it is hard to see the forest for the trees."

Yes, I then explained this cliched metaphor to my student. But he brightened after I did. "I just remembered something," he said. "The best students in my classes, the ones who always aced all the reading tests, they always read the entire book before we started talking about it in class."

"That's exactly what I mean," I said.

"They always got, like 98s," said my student thoughtfully. A switch had flipped. There was another reward attached to reading!

He picked up his book with renewed energy.

"Four chapters a day," I reminded him. "More or less--depending on the length of the chapters. And budget your time. If you're going to a concert and you won't be around to read one day, then you read more the day before. Stay on schedule. You have three more books to read this month, but you can do it."

"I like these books," my student remarked, running a hand tenderly over their shiny covers.

"I knew you would," I said.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Idiomatic Expressions for Non-Idiots

Idioms have been coming up like hotcakes, and just falling from the sky lately. Like manna from heaven. (Yes, all idiomatic puns are intentional).

My students need to know and become familiar with idioms. Why? Because, for the most part, they are non-native English speakers. These weird, idiomatic, "No, it doesn't literally mean that; it's either metaphoric, or a reference to some obscure, pop-culture phenomena that was before your time but which people still mention," expressions are everywhere, and they are not going away. Like post-apocalyptic roaches.

My students are, however, high achieving and very smart, hard workers. They know what they need to understand and do in order to get the best grades and highest exam scores.

To that end, I have been asked to help my students (they asked me, all by their lonesome [selves]) with idioms. 

Non-native speakers of ANY language will never ace some critical reading tests without understanding idioms.

This is why I--after years of studying French, and despite being a decent student of the language--knew I would bomb the SAT II in French; it's rife with idioms I've never heard. I self-tested, and sure enough, it was a no-go.

As an aside: if you want my advice about foreign language SAT IIs (subject tests), that advice generally is: "Don't bother unless you lived in that country or have a native parent who speaks the language to you at home. You think you'll do well, but you won't." Sorry to be negative; that is God's honest truth.

I say that, and students now exemplify precisely the opposite! They show that it is indeed possible to score very well (near perfect!) on the SAT even if the test-taker is a non-native English speaker/writer.

If you are willing to work your tail off, you can do it. I just don't think too many people are willing to give it a go or run with it as much as the students I am currently teaching.

Now, in order to help ANY student who wants to bone up on idioms, I've been keeping a list of idiomatic expressions I've seen lately (and ones off the top of my head--snap!).

An essay I read by Cindy McCain, "Spouses Get a Bad Rap," was a treasure trove of idioms. The entire piece was littered with them, like dandelions.

Thanks to that short memoir on what it's like to be a political spouse (as seen in Newsweek,  May 23 & 30, 2011) I was able to explain:

  • Stepford wives (this was a highly amusing conversation!)
  • pushing [you] out of the nest, to see if [you] can fly; "they fling you off and expect you to fly..."
  • pull off the trail
  • recharge your batteries
  • sour grapes (sour-graping)
  • living inside a bubble
  • get a bad rap (this led to discussion of the criminal's "rap sheet")
  • being someone's "eyes and ears" (thankfully, this is self-explanatory)
  • in the cards
  • front-row seat to...
  • inner workings
  • tough pill to swallow

We also talked about:

  • a tough row to hoe
  • we're all in the same boat
  • empty nesters
  • feeling "shaken up"
  • being "on cloud nine"
  • in the doghouse
  • pushing the envelope
  • walking on air
  • talking turkey
  • same difference
  • up in the air
  • too many balls in the air (juggling)
  • flying off the handle
  • steam coming out of [your] ears (feeling "steamed")
  • feeling "in a bind"
  • being "on the fence"
  • feeling "down in the dumps"
  • standing up [for someone or something]
  • being on Skid Row

If you can think of more idiomatic expressions, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail. Every little bit helps.