About Me

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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Could Lewis's Science Fiction be turned into a film?

Perelandra, the second of C. S. Lewis' Science Fiction trilogy.
My wife and I went to see the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's 3rd installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I enjoyed the film, which, with a few changes, followed Lewis's plot quite well. The film has underperformed at the box office, but I hope this will not end hopes of a production of the next book in the Narnia series: The Silver Chair.

Narnia, of course, is not the only fantasy fiction written by Lewis. He also wrote The Screwtape Letters, a brillant satire in which a "senior devil" named Screwtape gives advice to his nephew "Worwood" who has been given the responsibility of leading a human "patient" to the man's damnation. (Wormwood fails.)

Lewis also wrote a science fiction triology prior to Narnia, and I am tempted to wonder in this day when science fiction works like Star Wars, Startek and many other titles appear annually, whether some producer might be tempted to have a go at Lewis's contribution to the SF genre.

The three book titles are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I believe the last book is greatly inferior to the first two for reasons I'll discuss later, but the first two involve themes popular in SF movies: space travel, new species, alternative worlds, evil scientists, even devils. Silent Planet and Perelandra also have something rather unique to their credit: they are both examples post World War I utopian fiction, a genre not often seen in our time.

In the first book ,Out of the Silent Planet a linguist, or philologist in British terminology, named Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by two men, one a former school mate ironically named Devine and the other a professor of physics named Weston, and taken to Mars, named Malacandra by its inhabitants. There Ransom escapes his captors and flees them meeting in his flight the various creatures who inhabit the planet. He uses his language skills to learn their langauge and discovers that they live a near perfect existence free from war, hatred, greed, adultery, and other sins that exist on Earth, which is known on Malacandra as "The Silent Planet." Ransom discovers that the reason for the Malacandran's utopic existence is that the Fall experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden never happend on Malacandra. Ransom eventually is reunited with Devine and Weston who reveal the worst of human qualities to the Malacandrians. Because their prescence is deemed harmful to the Malancandrian world, all three are sent back to earth.

In Perelandra, Ransom is summonded to Perelandra, aka the planet Venus, to help the inhabitants of a new creation. There he discovers a world made up largely of floating islands with some "Fixed Land". He meets one of the two human inhabitants of the planet, a female named Tinidril. Her mate is nowhere to be found. Both Tinidril, who is green skinned, and Ransom are naked, but the is no hint of lust between the two. Soon they are joined by another earth man, Prof. Weston of the previous novel. Weston soon becomes the vehicle by which Satan is able to enter Perelandra for the purpose of tempting Tinidril to do the one act God has forbidden: remain overnight on the Fixed Land. Ransom realizes that his job is to prevent another Fall. He does so, at first, through argument and debate with Weston. Finally, he physically fights Weston, defeats and kills him. Tinidril is then reunited with her mate, and Ransom is returned to Earth.

Both of these novels create utopic worlds based on Christian theology. Because the creatures of Malacandra never fell, they are naturally good, chaste, peaceful and just. We can assume that the same will happen for the descendents of the first couple of Perelandra. All will be born free of original sin and obedience to God and righteous living will be natural for them.

The third work of Lewis's trilogy That Hideous Strength, set on Earth, has a much darker tone than the previous his two books. The work is also an unfortunate mishmash of science and fantasy with everyone trying to discover the secret chamber where Merlin the magician sleeps.

Once utopias were fairly common starting with Sir Thomas Moore's novel Utopia. Works like Erewhon by Thomas Butler, News from Nowhere by the English Socialist William Morris, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, an Ameican Socialist, and even Herland by the American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All of the books outlined the writers' vision of beneficial futures created through sound political and philosophical principles.

Utopias are fairly rare in our time. Two world wars, paricularly World War I, seems to have ended the writing of utopias in favor of dystopias. Lead by works like 1984 by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley'sBrave New World the future was seen as a dark and scary place to be. Most visions of the future now are dystopic nightmares like Mad Max, Blade Runner, the Maxtrix franchise and so forth.

While I think it unlikely that any of Lewis's SF will make it to the big screen, I think it would be an interesting challenge to try to recreate them in some form on the small one. They couldn't be set on Mars or Venus. Space exploration has forced us to place our other worlds in "galaxies far, far away." However, the idea of encountering an unfallen species does have interesting opportunities for us to do the sort of self-examination that is the hallmark of good science fiction. The idea is not without precedent. H. G. Wells did something similar to this in his work The Time Machine, a work that may have influenced Silent Planet. Humans who are a bad influence on other species has figured in many a Star Trek episode.

Perhaps someone or some group may wish to bring Lewis's science fiction to a wider audience through television. They might make an interesting cable series made to show that we can aspire to live up to higher ideals. Who knows? One day the utopic vision may be back in fashion.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review of Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's CorpseBloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James L. Swanson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book provided fascinating information on how both Lincoln and Jeff Davis went from human beings to the central characters in different mythologies.

Lincoln's myth began mere hours after his assasination as hundreds of people clamored to be present at his death bed. The myth increased exponentially as a result of the national mourning that took place in Washington and on the 10 city tour made by his remains and coffin.

Davis' journey took place over the long life he lived after his capture and imprisonment following the surrender of Lee's and Johnston's armies. He became a living symbol, indeed the inventor of, "The Lost Cause", the belief that even though the South had been defeated, it had been right in succeeding from the North, a belief that persists in various forms to this day.

Swanson conveys the moods, the emotions, the attitudes Americans had and have had about both men. He is at his best when he discusses why Lincoln and Davis's lives and deaths meant more to the people of their day than simply them as individuals. People invested in these two leaders all the griefs, sorrows, anguish, pride, and patriotism they had felt about their part in the Civil War. At times, though, he gets a bit repetitious as he fears we won't completely understand the importance of his subject. Still, this is a highly recommended book for Civil War buffs and also those who need to understand how the Civil War affect us even now.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Thougths on My Faith.

A few of my postings on Facebook about my faith statement.

The problem with the church is that it has become more concerned about who Jesus was and what we should believe about him than what he wanted us to be doing about his ministry and our work in the world.

I think we as Christians should be much more concerned about how we are acting in this world than what we believe doctrinally.

What Jesus challenged during his ministry was the "purity code" of his day that emphasized religious conformity and belief over righteous actions. The church has adopted the righteousness of the Pharisees establishing rules as to who is in and who is out of G...od's favor. Justice and righteousness have gotten lost in the squabble over whether or not someone believes the right way.

Jesus had much more to say about the way the rich treated the poor than he did about sinners. He was more concerned about social sins like poverty and the marginalization of the poor than he was about believing the right doctrine.

That is why I decided to leave the evangelical church and join a movement that emphasized a convenenting fellowship rather than a credal one. We really don't care in our fellowship what you believe. We care about the fact that you are living to create a just and sustainable world.

We figure that this is most pleasing to God.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joseph's Complaint

If you ask me, and no one ever does,
The whole thing was a mess
From start to finish.
And I had to wade my own way
Through it.

The day Mary said yes
Should have been the beginning
Of my joy. She didn't bring
Much to the marriage. No
dowery. No connections.

But I didn't require much.
As one of Nazareth's working poor, I
Just want a wife to make a
home. Have children.
Carry on the family name.

It began to fall apart
When she told me she was
"with child" without me!

My rights under the law
Were clear. I could denounce her.
She could have been stoned.
I couldn't bear that.

So I decided to make it a nice
Quiet separation. A quick, easy
Divorce. That's the kind of guy
I am. No trouble. No big deal.

Then came the dream and I somehow
Knew that something bigger than me
Was happening with Mary.
I had to go through with the marriage.

Mary began to show and nothing
Could stop the village tongues
From wagging. Everyone knows
Everyone's business in Nazareth.

Women clucked their tongues and
Pointed at us. Boys walking past
Me showed me "the horms" with their
Fingers spread on either side of their heads.
Groups of me laughed quietly behind me .

Then came the news that
The Romans wanted to count us,
So that they can better tax us.
More money to make their boot
On our neck heavier.

To makes sure they counted
Every last taxable Jew,
We had to go to the city of our
Birth, so I had to return to
Bethelem, my old hometown
With my pregnant, unwed fiance.

As we got closer, her time
Got nearer. No place would take us,
So we found a barn just in time.
Mother and child were fine.
Both lucky to be alive.

I cannot help but wonder
Where was God in all this?
I have been faithful, trusting,
And what did I get for it?

I still have to struggle
To feed my family, am no richer
For having been faithful.
Everyone will doubt my son's parentage.
In our land, those not of pure
Blood are unclean, outcast, unholy.

All I have left is trust,
The trust that somehow
God is involved in the mess
Of our lives, and will make
Something good out of it.

I cannot imagine what that could be.
(For Robin Meyers)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My latest read: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

I just got through reading Sherman Alexie's collection of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. No where in the book did I read an account of the Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfighting in heaven or any other place.

I did read 22 interrelated stories that center on a collection of Native American characters who live or have lived on a reservation near Spokane, Washington. Most of the stories have little or no real plot to them. Instead, they present a near stream-of-consciousness telling of modern Native American life. Alienation and survival are the stories' prominent themes since most of the characters have trouble belonging to the world outside the reservation, and have even more trouble living on the reservation.

Dancing is one of the many motifs Alexie uses to show how his characters to survive and overcome their alienation. For example, the tale "Family Protrait" centers on dancing. The speaker says about his family:
Then there was music, scratched 45's and eight-track tapes. We turned the volume too high for the speakers, and the music was tinny and distorted. But we danced, until my oldest sister tore her only pair of nylons and wept violently. But we danced, until we shook dust down from the ceiling and chased bats out of the attic into the daylight. But we danced, in our mismatched clothes and broken shoes. I wrote my name in Magic Marker on my shoes, my first name on the left toe and my last name on the right toe, with my true name somewhere in between. But we danced, with empty stomachs and nothing for dinner except sleep. All night we lay awake with sweat on our backs and blisters on our soles. All night we fought waking nightmares until sleep came with nightmares of its own. I remember the nightmare about the thin man in a big hat who took the Indian children away from their parents. He came with scissors to cut hair and a locked box to hide all the amputated braids. But we dance, under wigs and between unfinished walls, through broken promises and around empty cupboards.

It was a dance.

Dancing provides an apt symbol representing both means of the individual identity and social cooperation necessary for survival. Added to those means is that of story-telling. One character named Thomas Builds-a-Fire is an unstoppable story teller. We read of Thomas that he:.
once held the reservation postmaster hostage for eight hours with the idea of a gunand had also threatened to make significant changes in the tribal vision.

Thomas had agreed to remain silent and did so for twenty years.
But recently Thomas had begun to make small noises, form syllables that contained more emotion and meaning than entire sentences from the BIA.

Thomas goes through a kafkaesque trial and is imprisoned to silence his stories which endanger the social order. There Thomas begins his stories anew telling them to his fellow inmates. Fortunately, Sherman Alexie has yet to suffer Thomas's fate, so far.

The book became the basis for the movie Smoke Signals for which Mr. Alexie wrote the screenplay. I have not seen the movie, but plan to do so as soon as is feasible. I enjoyed experiencing Sherman Alexie's point of view and recommend it to anyone wanting to gain new perspectives

From Mayflower Congregation Church on Dec. 19, 2010

From Rev Robin Meyer's Christmas message today entitled "Cleaning Up the Mess". (I'm paraphrasing):
We struggle so hard to have "the perfect Christmas" as it is defined by department stores, toy stores and auto dealerships.

There is no perfect Christmas in the Gospels. The first Christmas was marked by scandal. Mary was an unwed mother who Joseph could have ruined just by following the law. However, Joseph trusted that God would redeem the situation. And God did. So we too must find the perfect gift of trust, trust in the power of God to redeem our efforts through grace.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Take a Small Step to "Justice for All"

Just when I start to lose all hope in our political system, just when I despair that we will ever truly realize our pledge to "justice for all", a ray of hope breaks through, and we take one more step towards real justice.

As I write this,US Senate is getting ready to vote a repeal of the military policy that has required good, patriotic Americans to keep their identities secret. Of course, I am talking about the policy known as "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" (DADT). Under this policy, and even before it, gay and lesbian service men and women lived in fear of being "outed" and discharged, dishonorably, from the service denying them the opportunity to serve, fight, and even die for their country.

Now, they will no longer be denied the rights enjoyed by all other Americans: the right of opportunity to pursue a military career.

We either mean what we say when we say we want "justice for all" or it is all a lie. Either we say that a gay American is as much a citizen as any American, with all the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of any citizen, or we must say that gay Americans are second-class citizens.

There is no other way to see this issue, and finally the Congress, led by the Democrats and President Obama, are answering that we do believe that all Americans are equal before the law and in the eyes of the Constitution.

Thus, this year ends for this American with a ray of hope.

Update: The Senate voted 65-31 to repeal "Don't Ask-Don't Tell"!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Conservatives are Killing Themselves

The conservative response to poverty is to blame poor people for being poor while denying them the means to escape their poverty. Conservatives blame the poor for not getting a job, but fail to realize how their attitude towards spending for the public good insures that the poor will always be with us and that we all will be the poorer for it.

In Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states in the nation, this can clearly be seen in our refusal to improve our public transportation system. In a word, it is horrible. In Oklahoma City buses run highly limited routes with very restrictive hours. How then is a poor person to have reliable, flexible transportation in order to commute to and from work? The poor typically must purchase older model, used cars from “We Carry the Note” dealers at usurious interest rates. These cars come equipped with built-in maintenance problems making them prone to breakdowns that require expensive repairs. Without good transportation, finding and keeping a job is even more of a struggle for those already at society’s margins.

Transportation is only one of a myriad number of problems the poor face in finding and keeping work. Added to the problem of basic transportation are expensive and inadequate early child care, an early childhood education system under-funded and under attack from conservatives, a paucity of after school programs, and a health insurance “system” that forces the working poor to face illness without medical attention resulting in sick or absent workers.

However, when it is proposed that we as a society do something to address these needs such as build the sort of modern public transportation system found in most of the industrialized world, conservatives go into a hissy fit about “class warfare”, “wealth redistribution”, “tax and spend” ignoring the fact that by helping the poor work, we help America work. Often they divert attention from real solutions to the problem of poverty by blaming immigrants, unions, public education, minorities, socialism or whatever is this season’s scapegoat for our social ills. They do so to save their self-centered attitude towards life.

Jesus warned his followers those who try to save their lives will lose them. Conservatives in particular, need to heed his warning. Saving ourselves, looking out only for ourselves and expecting poor Americans to do to the same is the surest way for us to die as a nation

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Let the Tax Cuts Die

Back when Bush cut taxes for everyone, a change in the tax code that mainly benefited this nation's wealthy elite, I saw a reduction of $300 or so in my tax bill.

Big whoop!

That's why I am not in the hand wringing mode over the prospect that the Bush era tax cuts are set to expire for everyone in a few weeks if the Republicans and Democrats don't start singing Kum By Ah together over the so-called "compromise" reached between Pres. Obama and congressional Republicans.

I say, let the whole thing die! The cuts have been around too long. All they have done is give us record deficits, benefited those who did not need help, and punished those who did.

Let us remember that the Bush changes basically did away with the reforms Bill Clinton made in the US Tax Code, reforms that were passed without a single Republican vote. All that did was give the US record prosperity,its first budget surplus since 1969, and a real reduction in the number of American's living in poverty.

Bush didn't seem to like that arrangement and shoved the whole thing in reverse. In doing so, he not only spent the surplus, but blew a hole in the budget to the tune of $2.3 trillon.

According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Allowing tax cuts to expire for married filers with incomes above $250,000 and single filers with incomes above $200,000— the top 2 percent of U.S. households— will avert $826 billion in added deficits and debt over the next ten years. The savings from allowing the top two marginal tax rates to expire for those high-income households constitute $443 billion of that $826 billion.

If we truly want to reduce the deficit as everyone says, we cannot afford these cuts any long. The federal government can have my measly share of the savings to help save future generations the burden of paying off my debt.

So, let the Bush tax cut debacle die. It should have been strangled in its crib.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

When the Majority Cannot Rule

Leonard Pitts
Leonard Pitts has written an exceptional essay explaining the wrong done by Oklahoma's amendment to the state constitution banning the use of Sharia law in court decisions. The implementation of the amendment was blocked by federal judge Vicki Miles LaGrange. Entitled "America Losing It's Mind", Pitts points out
The goal of terrorism, you see, is not to make a nation bleed but to make it fear.

Oklahoma’s nonsensical law suggests our enemies have been successful in that.

Our fear has caused us to act unjustly.

There have been many letters in the local newspaper condemning Judge LaGrange's injunction, which was based on the fact that the amendment clearly is hostile to Muslim citizens in the state. In their defense of the amendment, many writers mention the fact that the amendment was approved by over 70% of those who voted.

Their argument seems to be that if the majority approves of something, that makes it somehow automatically right, that justice is created by majority rule.

This is a lie, the falsity of which has been demonstrated over and over in America. I wish those who feel that the majority makes right could revisit the example provided by the "Little Rock 9", the 9 African-American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. I am quite certain that at least 70% or more of the people of Arkansas in those days opposed the idea of public school integration. However, the majority were wrong.
Little Rock Ning being escorted to Little Rock's Central High School in 1957

The people then felt they had good reason for their opposition, but mainly, they were afraid, just as we in Oklahoma seem to be afraid, and fear causes large groups of people to commit large acts of injustice.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I Hope the Republicans Succeed

The Republican Party has taken over nearly all branches of state government in Oklahoma largely because they were able to nationalize the issues in the state races and make this round of local elections a referendum on Pres. Obama and the national Democratic Party.

When Sen. Obama was elected to the White House in 2008, Rush Limbaugh and others on the fringe right loudly voiced their desire to see the president "fail" because they feared that his policies, which they saw as contrary to their ideology, would succeed and be made permanent. They were cynically willing to see ordinary Americans suffer in order to serve a political end.

I am liberal and proud to be so. However, I am not so much of an ideologue that I would wish my fellow Oklahomans anything but the best out of their government, which they voted for in very large numbers. I want their suffering due to the present recession to end, and I am not particularly concerned about who gets the credit. If Republican policies produce a better life for all Oklahomans, then bring them on and make them the law of our land.

What I am concerned about is that this government, and this goes for any government, deal with all its citizen justly. That they do all they can to respect and enhance human dignity, deal rightly with those who are most vulnerable in our society like the very old and very young, and work to make our presence on this planet more sustainable.

I am skeptical of the Oklahoma's Republican Party's ability to do this since it seems to me that they long ago sold their soul to rich and powerful who have little interest in the those who have been marginalized in our culture other than to provide them with a docile labor and consumer population. Their concern is for the short-term bottom line rather than the type of environment that will be inherited 7 generations hence.

But I hope that I am wrong. I wish to see my home state prosper. I wish to know that our choices have created better lives for our children and their children's children. Of course, I am going to be taking an active role in creating this success, and if this means that the Republicans claim justification for their victory, then so be it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Centennial Must Become A Community Force

We had a staff meeting Tuesday about the problems at our school. One teacher complained that we have a small percentage of students who cause most of the problems, and that if we could somehow rid ourselves of these few, we could do a better job of teaching those who remain.

We were told that the problem would be "addressed." I don't hold out much hope for this. I suspect that little will be done about these students because we have voiced this complaint ad infinitum, and it is always being "addressed." I don't even bother to raise the issue anymore.

I think that we teachers at Centennial need to face the fact that any real solution to the problems of our school must come from us and not from some administrative action.

I think that one solution must involve us reaching out to our community so that the school becomes an important focal point in our part of Oklahoma City. We should be visiting churches, businesses, neighborhoods, and homes to talk about our school and our needs. And we need to be listening to those with whom we visit to find out what their concerns and needs are.

We must gain the trust and support of our community if we ever hope get them involved in the lives of their children.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teaching in a New Paradigm

Teachers are going to have to come to the realization that we are teaching in a new paradigm. The calls for teachers to be accountable for their students' academic progress, regardless of where the students are in their intellectual abilities, regardless of how much home support the students have, regardless of the socio-economic environment in which the students live, are becoming more and more insistent.

We no longer control the narrative about schools. Our insistence that accountability must be a shared responsibility is being drowned out by those who insist that we show immediate and measurable results for our instruction. Any attempt to call attention to the myriad of other factors involved in the educational process of our students are dismissed as an attempt on our part to avoid responsibility for our actions.

The fact that students, particularly those in urban schools, fail to perform well academically is taken as being self-evident. And where there is failure, there must be blame. And since teachers are the ones who are most responsibile for education, they are responsible for the failure. Or so the current narrative goes.

I do find it curious that when educational and political pundits tell their stories about "failing schools" their examples are nearly always urban schools. Few tell tales about the "failure" of suburban or even rural schools. Inner-city students are the one's "Waiting for Superman" to come save their from being "crippled" by bad schools, burned out teachers, and those horrible teacher unions.

In other words, those students who lives are most crippled by poverty, crime, racism, and other forms of injustice, are the "victims" of public education.

The truth of the matter is that our students are victims of a systemic failure, a failure of our political and economic system to provide for them the means by which they can realize their full human potential. They not only are short-changed in their schools, they also are victimized by inadequate health care, unequal justice in the courts, poor housing, crumbling infrastructure, lack of job opportunities, and all the social ills that attend poverty like drugs, crime and violence.

Our students are burdened by our failure to realize the American promise of "justice for all." Any true solution to the problem of education must occur as a part of our broader attempt to realize true justice, not merely justice of opportunity, but geniune social justice, including justice of enablement and empowerment. If students have little prospect of a meaningful and dignified life after school, then how can we expect them to take advantage of the educational opportunites school provides?

The New Paradigm the United States of America needs to be promoting, the narrative all Americans need to be telling is story a fully nation where "justice for all" is more than a rote mantra said during The Pledge of Allegiance. Our story must be one of justice.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Teachers' Due Process in the Crosshairs

Once again, the Oklahoman is taking on due process rights with another article in the paper about how hard it is to fire bad teachers. Teachers must recognize that the due process system we now enjoy will be greatly altered by this legislature.

We had better be prepared to engage the Republicans who now control nearly all aspects of education at the state level in a discussion on reasonable changes to the present system because if we are not at the table, we will surely be on the menu.

It appears from the article that the only teachers' organization that is trying to get to the table is the AFT. AFT 2309 president Ed Allen is quoted in the article.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Editorial in The Oklahoman About Centennial HS

Today's editorial in The Oklahoman is about Centennial HS where I teach. The article upon which it is based is fair and balanced. Megan Rolland did a good job of presenting the complexity of what we face at OCHS.

Unfortunately, the editorial is not fair at all. The writer simply hounds the school for "failing" its students, and suggests that the district should jump in and make major changes right away. Of course, the writer has the luxury of not coming up with any substantive ideas.

Our students need help at Centennial, but we won't fix a broken system by smashing it. We have students who cannot function in a normal school environment. They make learning impossible for their fellow students. They need a different environment where they will thrive. Failing students need to be in required tutoring classes with trained teachers who can meet their individual needs. These needs cannot be met in a class of 25-30 with a teacher who has a workload of around 140 students.

These things take money, and money is the last thing Oklahoma seems to have for its students.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I have bronchitis

Went to the doctor today. The diagnosis is that I have upper reportorial bronchitis. So, I'm on a regime of antibiotics and expectorant. Just in time for the holidays!

Another Day, Same Old Cold

This cold keeps hanging on. Yesterday, we did a lot of stuff in preparation for becoming foster parents. Mainly, we shopped for a new bed. We ended up getting a combo bunk-bed, futon arrangement that I think will do nicely.

I have made an appointment to see the doctor this afternoon.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oklahoma Centennial High School

The Oklahoman ran a article about the school where I teach this Sunday. It's a fair piece. I get quoted quite a bit. I hope that the school gets some attention of the right sort through it.

What we need is a place for those students who are unable to perform in a regular high school environment so those who want to be there can learn.

"Oklahoma Centennial High School: Succeeding in a Place of Failure"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Taste of Failure

I got the result of my National Board for Teacher Certification entry, I did not pass. My school was 233 and passing was 275. I have two more years to try to get things in order, and I plan to go for it. I am a bit down not, but not out.

(Of course, the fact that I am fighting a cold right now doesn't help matters.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's a Great Life, If You Don't Weaken

The Original Flag of the State of Oklahoma
Oscar Ameringer, Oklahoma social activist

(I gave these remarks as a part of the worship service at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City. Every Sunday, one of the lay people give a brief message as a part of the "Prayers of the People" segment of the service. These were given the Sunday following the election in which Republican took over nearly all functions of the state government in Oklahoma.)

Prayers of the People 11-6-10

Some people, knowing who I am and what I am usually up to, have asked me about the election this week and why I think what happened did happen. My reaction is that our fears of each other won out over our love of justice for all. In other words, we are mighty afraid that someone is getting more than our fair share of the pie, and so we think that there should be no pie at all.

The next question I’m often asked is, “What in the world are we going to do now?” I’m tempted to say, “Well, Oregon is looking very good right now.” But to run now I think is rather weak. And as Oscar once said, “It’s a great life. . . if you don’t weaken.”

Oscar? Oscar who? (You ask rhetorically.) Well, Oscar Ameringer of course, Oklahoma Socialist. And yes, Oscar Ameringer, who nearly became mayor of Oklahoma City, was a real Socialist, unlike the Pseudo-Socialists you meet so often these days.

According to a biography written by my good friend and fellow union member, John Thompson, Oscar Ameringer came to Oklahoma from his native Germany right at the time of its statehood and helped to form one of the largest Socialist movements in American history. Ameringer fought for rights of the disadvantaged. He helped found the Oklahoma Renters Union to promote the rights of sharecroppers, and twenty-five years later his writings inspired the creation of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. In 1910 he led the fight against voting tests that disenfranchised African American voters. The opposition he and most Socialists had to World War I was used as a pretext for the American government to largely destroy the Socialist Party in Oklahoma and the rest of our nation, Ameringer died in 1943 in Oklahoma City.
Ameringer once noted that, “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.”, a statement that runs as true today as it did then.

Oscar lived in tough times, in many ways tougher than what we face now. And I think his advice to us would run something along these lines:

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
Keep on fighting. Keep on speakin’
Let your truth shine like a beacon.
Cause it’s a great life if you

12th grade reading scores show little improvement nationwide

I teach two honors English classes at Oklahoma Centennial. I have students enrolled in those classes who are very reading resistant. They tell me that they don't like to read, will not read, and don't care if not reading lowers their grades.

Mainly, this is a defense mechanism they use because they feel that they don't read very well. I have never felt comfortable doing handyman work around the house, and so I avoid trying to do it if possible. It's the same with those who lack reading skills.

I have found that by making myself do home repairs and improvements, I have gotten better. I need to convince my students that they can accomplish the same with reading.
"High school seniors still have low reading scores" from MSNBC.com

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm About to Become a Father

At age 58, for the first time in my life, I'm about to become a father, to a teenager. well, foster-parent to be exact. My wife and I are taking the steps to become foster-parents to a 13 year boy who attends Oklahoma Centennial whom I met through his participation in our school chess club.

The boy's home life is completely disfunctional, and when I discovered this, I talked over with my wonderful wife the idea of helping the young man out. I believe that he is the type of person who would do well if he had a stable home life. When I told Cat about the situation, she gave it careful consideration and agreed to take on this new responsibility.

We are traveling uncertain waters here and will need much patience and much love. I never had children, so this will be a very different experience for me.

I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Republicans move to strip teachers of due process

From my friend, Skip Ogle, "[Oklahoma] SB 1 was filed by Senator [John] Ford today. It repeals trial du novo for teachers. Due process then would become a board hearing and that would be it. Career teachers would be treated the same as brand new teachers." We are seeing the first effects of the Republican takeover of Oklahoma state government. Ford represents the Bartleville area. I very much doubt this will be the only attempt to diminish over even end Oklahoma teachers' due process rights.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I've caught my annual cold

Today, the Petri dish we teachers work in caught up with me in the form of a cold. This happens pretty much every year. I'm luck if I only go through it once. It has happened as many as 3 times in a school year.

I don't like missing a class day for any reason. My classes lose momentum when I am out. In chess it would called losing tempo. Not much work, particularly meaningful work, gets done. All too often in our building, a colleague has to cover my classes for me since substitutes for the most part don't like to work at our school since the students become even more unmanageable that otherwise.

Today a student threatened me because I had the audacity to tell him to quit hanging out in the halls and get to class. He threatened to physically attack me, used profanity and walked up to me and yelled in my face.

Little will probably be done. Chances are he is a special ed student and on an IEP. If the public thinks getting rid of bad teachers is difficult, they ought to find out what it is like to rid the school of the students who make workings in urban schools a constant stress for teachers and a place where good students are cheated out of their right to a safe and orderly place in which to learn.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Teacher Stress

This year as been one of the most trying I have experienced in my 17 years of public school teaching. It seems like everyone is getting stressed to the max. Much of this comes from the fact that we are facing a sort of educational time clock on our efforts that comes from the fact that we face the real possibility of having our school closed due to low test scores.

We teach in one of the poorest attendance areas in Oklahoma City. Many of us face daunting tasks of dealing with kids with zero family support, kids who live in high crime areas, kids who face long odds of living successful lives. Each day is a fight to maintain order in our classrooms. Many students show little desire to master the material we try to teach. Yet we will be judged as being ineffective teachers if our students do not perform well on the state tests.

In other words, we could lose of jobs not for what we have done, but for something someone else has done who has little incentive to help us keep our jobs.

No wonder we are stressed.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Why OKC Schools Lack Academic Progress

I wrote this letter to Oklahoma City councilman Skip Kelly after I read an article in the Oklahoman about the frustration the city council expressed over a lack of academic progress in the Oklahoma City public schools.

Dear Councilman Kelly:

I read the article in the paper concerning the frustration the city has with the lack of progress you have seen in the Oklahoma City Public School district. The reasons for this are many and complex, but if you ask most teachers, we will tell you that a big contributing factor is that we have to spend enormous amounts of time and energy managing our students as opposed to educating them. Every day, teachers, and I speak mainly about those teaching middle schools and high schools, have to try to keep their students in line, keep them from disrupting the class, keep them from talking to their friends, keep them from getting into fights, keep them on task, or simply keep them awake, so that we can do our primary job: educate them for their futures.

We have very limited resources to deal with these problems. We can contact parents, who are often absent from their children’s lives, and enlist their help. When this does not bring a change in our students’ behavior, we can assign detention, which few are inclined to serve. Our last resort is to refer the student, commonly known as “writing a referral”, to an administrator who typically can only suspend the student, taking the student out of classes, for a period of time. When I assign detention, frequently I have to fall back on writing a referral because the student does not show up for detention.

The result of all this is that administrators find themselves overwhelmed with student referrals, which they cannot process in a timely manner. Thus teachers must put up with disruptive students in their classes who rob their fellow students of their right to an education in a safe and orderly environment. Thus the education of all students suffer. Thus parents feel they cannot send their students to our schools and opt to leave the district, especially after their children’s elementary school years are finished and the students are ready for middle school and high school.

I can say with a fair amount of confidence that nothing will change in the OKC school district until some type of alternative arrangement can be made for students unable to perform in a traditional academic setting. I feel confident in saying this because this is my 16th year in the Oklahoma City district, and I have yet to see much improvement in student behavior. Year after year, I and my colleagues wear ourselves sick in trying to maintain order in our class so that a modicum of learning can take place.

The city and the district may build all the outstanding buildings they wish, but if the teachers in those buildings have to focus primarily on managing their classes as opposed to educating their students, it will be all for naught.

I appreciate your frustration with our schools. It is more than matched by the frustration of their teachers.
News Article: Oklahoma City Council Frustrated With Academics in City Schools

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Labor Vincit Omnia

Last weekend, I was able to attend “Labor Fest” a celebration of workers and labor in Oklahoma history and culture. For three days in the Plaza District and the new Lyric Theatre there were concerts, plays, films, and readings in Oklahoma labor history and presentations on issues of worker justice.
Labor was a big presence at the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Union members, in alliance with tenant farmers, won majority support for many of their demands at the state’s constitutional convention in 1906. Oklahoma’s legislature eventually passed laws prohibiting child labor and mandating compulsory school attendance, establishing state mining and factory inspectors, regulating the use of strike breakers during labor disputes and providing for humane treatment of prisoners and the poor.
Workers had a big interest the formation of Oklahoma’s government. During the territory days, workers were often exploited with little help from the federal government. Child labor was common. Mines were typically built with only one exit and cave-ins were a frequent occurrence. Oil field workers worked in hazardous conditions and were often maimed or killed on the job. Farmers were subject to exploitation by greedy banks and speculators along with railroad companies who charged the farmers outrageous prices to transport their harvests, which robbed farmers of a rightful return for their labor. In short, conditions were then pretty much as they are now.
Sometimes one hears that unions were once a good thing, but their time has passed. People will tell me, “If people will only be more productive or get the right training, they can find good jobs on their own. No need for a union to interfere with a company’s employees.” That same argument has always been used by those who either want to exploit workers or are willing to allow exploitation to continue rather than suffer the pains required for the fight for justice.
The truth is that justice is never convenient, never something those in power willingly give up to those without it. None of the economic rights we take for granted now, including the 40 hour week, workplace safety, child labor laws, and anti-discrimination laws, came without a fight. And the fight for justice is never complete, never a matter of the past, never something that can be taken for granted.
God bless the good people of this church who continue to give themselves over to the fight for justice. Let us never grow weary in this fight. Let this Labor Day weekend remind us of why we are in it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mayflower Congregation Church-Sermon Highlights-Rev. Michael Dowd, Guest Minister

Rev. Michael Dowd
Note: Rev. Michael Dowd was the 2nd speaker in Mayflower's summer "Distinguished Pulpit Series. Rev. Dowd is a leading voice in the Evolutionary Spirituality movement and the author of two outstanding books: "Earth Spirit" and "Thank God for Evolution

Date: Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sermon Title: "The New Atheists Are God's Prophets"

Scripture Reading: Exodus 21:17 and Psalms 137: 8-9, also included a reading from a book by Sam Harris

Sermon Highlights:
We should seek to live in accordance with reality. Our debate is how we should respond to reality. The message of prophets always is, "Align with reality or perish." Our problem is that we tend to take on a small part of reality and idolize it. That is one reason why Judaism forbade images of God or even the name of God to be spoken.

Just as in ancient Greece Apollo was not understood to be apart from the sun but a personification of the life giving force of the sun, God is a personification of reality and not a person apart from it.
Facts are God's native tongue.

According to P.Z. Meyers, "There is no better way to get someone to be an atheist than to get them to read the Bible." The message of the Old Testament is follow our God or die. The message of the New Testament is follow Jesus or fry.

This use of fear to compel belief is very close to terrorism. Terrorism is the use of fear to inculcate belief. One reason why so many people are leaving the evangelical church (one estimate has it at 1,000 people a day) is that many, particularly the young, no longer fear the Bad News of the evangelical faith. Hell is not bad news anymore. The Good News cannot be cosmic fire insurance.

To believe the God spoke once in ancient books and ever again is to "dis" or disrespect God. Some of those who are speaking for God, though they would deny it, are the "New Atheists", people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who warn against the affect organized religion and classic theological statements about God have had in our world. Their warning is about the effect ignorance and intolerance is having in our culture and politics.

Their call to recognize the reality of our situation is their prophetic message.

Prayer of Confession:
We confess that we have failed to think and take action against the harm we have done to the atmosphere, living waters, soil and landscape, and living creatures of the Creation. We have failed to become more energy efficient in our lifestyle, ignoring our spiritual and civic responsibilities on environmental and eco-justice issues thus allowing ourselves to become a non-sustainable, consuming culture. We confess that we continue to live well beyond our needs, catering to our wants, not conserving Creation's natural resources and not allowing them to be shared with others who do not have, but need. Our sin is separation from the universe interpreting dominion over earth as license rather than responsibility. Our salvation is recognition of our interdependence with the universe. Allow us to see rays of light to guide us in future roads we travel through creation. This we ask in the name of the great sage, Jesus of Nazareth. Amen.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Worship Leader Remarks: 6-6-10, Chess and Me

I am playing chess with a middle school student
(Each Sunday, one lay member of my church, Mayflower Congregational, is given the opportunity to make some brief remarks before the offering is taken. Last Sunday, I spoke about my enthusiasm for the game of chess.)

I’m going to talk about the game of chess. I’ve taken an interest in the royal game. I’m still not very good at it, couldn’t tell you the difference between the Queen’s gambit declined and the Nizmo-Indian defense. But I enjoy playing it. I am the sponsor of my middle school/high school chess club, which has had a positive effect on our students’ behavior and learning.

Chess appeals to many of my interests: history, the arts, learning, and, yes, even politics. The history of the game goes back 1500 years to India, probably. In that time there have been only 3 or 4 major rule changes in how it is played. In arts like literature, chess has played a role in works as varied as “Through the Looking Glass” to “1984”. It is the subject of 1000s of books including game theory, psychology, and education. Chess improves logic, and creativity. And Chess has had its political side also. Those of my generation remember the “Cold War on the Chess Board” between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. When I read accounts of that famous match I realize that my sympathies should have been with the Russain Spassky who was a perfect gentleman and sportsman throughout the match as opposed to the paranoid, egomaniac Fischer.

Chess has also affected by gender politics. The biggest change in how the game is played came about in the 16th century when a piece known as the “minister”, that didn’t move much, became the most powerful piece on the board, the Queen. Women chess grandmasters, like Susan Polgar, are helping to produce a new generation of female chess players.

This summer, I am going to try to develop a chess club at the Village Library starting a week from Friday on June 18. If you have a child interested in the game, or you want to participate yourself, let me know.

Now it’s time for our offering, time for you to make you’re move and put in your check, mate.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Back At It Again

I've been away from posting for some time now due to my involvement in National Board for Teacher Certification. I had to get a portfolio done, basically in two months, that I should have been doing since last June. The good news is that with a lot of huffing and puffing and giving up my Spring Break, I was able to get my portfolio off in time. So now, I find myself with some extra time on my hands that I can devote to this blog, among other things.

At the school we are getting ready to do our "End of Instruction" (EOI) exams. This are the high stakes tests that basically determine whether our school gets on the "naughty or nice list" as far as No Child Left Behind is concerned. We have had a couple of schools in our district be on the "needs improvement" list too long, and the schools were required by federal law go through a complete reorganization including the removal of at least 50% of their current faculty.

The problem with the EOI tests that our student will be taking is that they mean nothing to the students. My students who will take the exam, the 11th graders, face no consequences for failing the test. So why should they even try?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

One Way to Protest the Tebow Ad

One modest proposal for a response to the Tebow advocacy ad during the Super Bowl. As a way of registering opposition, use the ad time as a bathroom break. City waterworks often report a drop of water pressure during such break times (like at the beginning of half-time).

If many of us who wish to protect reproductive rights would do this together and a similar drop in pressure took place, it could be interpreted as a registration of disapproval and protest.
Anti-Abortion Tebow Ad Has Progressives Fried Up

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Tough Day Today

The first day back after the ice storm was pretty rugged. One of the teachers in my teaching team was absent, so we had to cover his classes, first by dividing up his students and taking them to our classrooms while we were teaching, and then by actually covering his classes in his classroom.

It is not easy when someone is absent. I had to be out of the building for my mother-in-law's death and memorial. I very much appreciate those who covered for me.

Educational quality is always degraded during these times. When I had some of the other teacher's students in my class, my classroom management problems greatly increased. I had to admonish my "visitors" to be quiet and try to get my students to avoid the distraction of seeing their friends without much to do. I did my best, but I felt as though I was basically just getting through the day.

That's not a good feeling for a teacher to have.

Back to School Today

The ice has melted finally. The streets are better. So off to school we go!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Should OKC get the REDS out?

Monday night, the Oklahoma City school board had its regular meeting and, in addition to the problem of weather related school closings, discussed how to meet a $4 million budget shortfall caused by reduced state funding. Various items were discussed including the sale of some closed school properties, such as old John Marshall High School, and "realigning the support and certified staff in the central office."

One area of administrative expense needs to be addressed by the district: the six Regional Educational Directors, or REDS as they are often termed. These are six "super-principals" who oversee schools in six different regions of the school district. These are administors who administrate other administrators. They do not have direct contact with students in the classroom.

Frankly, most of the rank and file certified and support staff cannot fathom what these people do other than create another layer of meddlesome bureaucracy as well as administrative expense. If the district wants to make cuts in personnel, many teachers point to these offices as a way for the district to save a considerable amount of money, perhaps as much as as a half-million dollars or more.

Personally, I do not know if this is a wise move, but it is something constantly discussed among teachers whenever the subject of staff reductions comes up.

If the district chooses to hold on to these positions, it should explain to teachers and staff faced with the possibility of reductions why these positions are retained while those who have more direct contact with students face reductions.

OKC School Board Talks About Money Saving Options

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We Have An Ice Day Today

When I got to the school this morning, I found that it had been called off. Evidently, the district made the decision at the last minute. I was happy to work a little white at the school on my grading, but soon after I got there, we were told that the building was closing, so we had to go home.

People often make fun of us on the Southern Plains for how we handle winter weather. One thing that is often overlooked is the fact that our winter precipitation typically takes the form of ice, the worst kind of precipitation. Those who get theirs in the form of snow certainly have challenges, but NO ONE handles ice well, certainly not while driving.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School Wide Assembly Kicks off "Heart of a Champion" Character Education Initiative

Some of my students showing off their "Elevators UP OKC" T-Shirts
Today we had a school wide assembly put on by "Elevators Up OKC," an initiative sponsored by Coca Cola to foster character education through the "Heart of a Champion" program. We had a radio and TV personality named T-Rock MC the proceedings. Also in attendance were OKCPS Superintendent Karl Springer, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, 5 members of the OKCPS school board, two of the Thunder cheerleaders, and executives with Coca Cola.
Oklahoma City Public School Superintendent Karl Springer and Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Jari Askins attended the event
from l to r, Oklahoma City Public Schools board members Gail Vines, Phil Horning, Lyn Watson, and David Castillo
Students Cheering during the assembly
Our students took it all in quite well and seemed to have a good time.
One of the Thunder cheerleaders giving out free tickets to an OKC Thunder game
I am one of the teachers who is responsible for teaching the "Heart of a Champion" curriculum. Wish me luck. The first character quality I am teaching is going to be "Committment."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Prayer for Justice for All

God of all humankind. God of many names, honored in many ways.

Your prophet Amos told the people of his nation, "Hear this, O ye who swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail. . . . I will turn your feasts to mourning and your songs to lamentations."

As your prophets long ago called their nation to repent of theirs sins against your justice, may our nation in our time hear the call for us to repentance of our sins against those most in need of justice.

Lord, forgive us.

For we have failed to pay many workers a livable wage, so they and their families, including their children, must live in poverty in our land of wealth and plenty.

We have treated health care, not as the human right it is, but as a commodity for our profit, making money from basic human needs, causing medical care to become so expensive that 40% of all American companies now offer no health benefits at all for their employees.

We have denied the workers of this great land their right to free association by allowing those in power to harass and intimidate workers who wish to form unions, even to the point of denying them their constitutional right to organize at all leaving them weak and vulnerable to those in power.

We have denied our fellow Americans their right to dignity. For Lord, when we try to call human rights, "special rights," we merely seek to justify our fears, our prejudices, and our exploitations.

Lord, forgive us our sins, for we have truly done what we ought not to have done, but, what is worse, we have left undone those things that we ought to have done.

May we not grow weary in our labors to brings about your justice and mercy to our land. For in these times, your work must truly be our own.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mayflower Congregation Church--Sermon Highlights: Rev. Scott Rennie, Guest Minister

Jesus the Sower
Note: This Sunday we had a guest pulpit minister at Mayflower, Rev. Scott M. Rennie of Queen's Cross Parish in Aberdeen Scotland, a congregation of the national Church of Scotland. As noted in the welcome printed in the church bulletin, Rev. Rennie's call to Queen's Cross was the first time an openly gay minister was called by a Church of Scotland, or Kirk, parish. His calling was the subject of a landmark case before the General Assembly of Kirk in 2010. The Assembly resolved to allow his call to proceed.

Guest Minister: Rev. Scott M. Rennie

Title of Sermon: WASTED GRACE

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 (Jesus' Parable of the Sower)

Sermon Highlights:
The sower in Jesus parable was not your stereotypical thrifty Scot. He sows his grain indiscriminently throwing it on good soil and bad, even on the road itself. The sower reminds us of God who is gratuitously generous with His favors and blessings.

Some times Life seems to be a tale of wasted energy. We seek to help people who never seem to improve their living. We work for justice in our community, but justice does not come.

Whenever we sow the seeds of the kingdom, we never know where those seeds will take root. We do not always see the difference we make. We must work in the spirit of faith and hope.

We must imitate God's gratitous generosity and live in the hope that our efforts will one day take root in our world.

Personal Reflection: This sermon spoke directly spoke to me. Those of us in Oklahoma concerned about social justice often feel none of our efforts will pay off. We look at those who represent us in Washington and in our state government, and we see how they seek to deny all efforts to heal our environment or bring about real health reform.

It is difficult to labor in such poor soil, but labor we must and have faith that we will help bring about justice for all.

Mayflower Congregation Church--Prayer of Confession

Peace Pole at Mayflower Church
Lord of Life, we come to this place to worship because we are the children of grace. We are drawn to the light of this room because this is the beloved community. The seeds of grace have fallen here and have taken root in us. We know that often the world chokes out those seeds, and we allow the seeds of cynicism to take over. Give us strength and courage to tend this garden, and then to be the change we wish to see in the world. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, our Teacher and Lord we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2010

RIP Sandy Pilcher

Zaddie "Sandy" Mae Pilcher died Tuesday. She was my wife's birth mother. Sandy was born in Idabel in 1934 to a family of migrant workers. Sandy worked in the fields harvesting crops with her migrant family as a child. She worked hard all her life at low-level jobs which included working for Dairy Queen, a magazine distribution company, and a nurse's aide.

Sandy raised two other children in addition to my wife, Cat. Ramona, who was stricken with polio at age 2, and Cheryl, who lives in Tulsa and works as a registered nurse.

Sandy worked hard all her life. She now gets to lay her burden down and enter into her rest.

Cat and I are in Tulsa for her memorial service.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Perversion of Dr. King

Mark Twain noted, “The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.”

I am reminded of this quote whenever I read how conservatives try to use part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" against any attempt to realize social justice for African-Americans through the type of collective action we have available to us through federal legislation and governmental policy. Conservatives fixate on the line from King's speech.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
They try to argue that all government policy which attempts to help those in need is a violation of what King stood for.

This sort of King "proof texting" ignores that fact that King worked for economic justice as part and parcel of his work for political rights. In fact, his last act was to take part in a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis. Dr. King felt that some attempt had to be made to address the economic injustices that fell most heavily on people of color in this country.

Conservatives have not only tried to adopt King as one of their own, they have also tried to pervert King's essential message.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

No Learning Without Discipline

Many different education "experts" have lately been focusing their attention on the role of teachers in student achievement. The mantra goes that the teacher is has the primary responsibility for student learning. These experts, most of whom are years removed from real classroom experience (if they ever had any at all), tell us that we cannot just "teach" our lessons, we must see to it that our students "learn" them.

I do understand that as teachers we cannot simply lay out the lesson for students in any way that suits us and leave it at that. (However, this is quite typical of the schools in other countries with whom we Americans often compare ourselves.) I also am well aware of the fact that it would be irresponsible of me to shift blame for my short-comings as a teacher on the students and other factors beyond my control. I further realize that the one factor in my classroom I completely control is myself. So I do accept personal responsibility for my students' education.

However, I am also aware that education cannot take place in a context of disruption and chaos. When students choose to disrupt my class and deny other students their opportunity to learn, I must have some means to end that disruption. Often, this is beyond my control no matter what classroom management techniques I may choose to employ.

For example, suppose a student continues to carry on "sidebar" conversations in my class. I can admonish the student and warn the student about the consequences of further disruption. If the student continues, I can direct the student to sit in a different part of the room. The student at this point has the choice to comply or not. If the student does not comply, then I must have the student removed. I can direct the student to go see an administrator. (Some administrators in the past have denied me this option.) If the student does not, I have to call for someone to remove the student. Even if the student complies, the student may continue the disruption. Ultimately, it gets to the point to where the student must be "referred" to an administrator who is often overworked by teachers like me who have gone through the disciplinary process and have a large stack of referrals on his/her desk that must be worked in through a long, painstaking process.

The fact of the matter is, we have many students in our schools who simply lack the needed behavior skills to participate in a traditional educational setting. We need to provide some type of alternative setting for these students otherwise we cheat them, and even more, we cheat the majority of the students in the class who equally deserve and opportunity to learn in an orderly education environment.

I will be writing on this more in the coming days.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Really Do Like Being a Teacher

I want to clear up any misunderstanding anyone who happens on this blog might have about how I feel about being a teacher. I really, really, really like being a teacher. I couldn't imagine myself being anything other than a classroom teacher.

I enjoy interacting with the kids in my classes. I see that they have so life and poetential. They think know so much, but they don't even have the questions they need.

I like the fact that I am able to, in some measure, lead the life of the mind. I enjoy living in books. I enjoy being able to spend time studying stories, poetry and drama and all the time getting paid for it.

Most of all, I enjoy feeling that I am doing some good in this world. I work in a profession where I spend my days trying to make a group of people's life better. I am not the only one who does it for them, but I am one part of their future.

Of course, that creates a big feeling of responsibility on my part because what I do now will have consequences for the future. But I like this kind of challenge.

So whatever I might say about what goes on my my classroom, I really enjoyed being in my profession. I enjoy my school. I enjoy my kids. I enjoy being a teacher.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mixed Messages for Teachers

Yesterday and today, our high school students were sent to an assembly and informed that the high school would be enforcing a required attendance policy for last semester's grades. Students who had more than 7 unexcused absences would be given a failing grade regardless of the grade the teacher posted for them. This caused a rather big uproar from students who felt that if they had received a passing grade in class, their attendance didn't matter. The fact that they could attend after school or Saturday school tutoring this semester to make up attendance from last semester did little to mollify them.

The casual observer might justifiably wonder why students who had missed so much time in the course of a school semester could have had a passing grade at all. Teachers, especially those in urban high schools, know full well how this can happen: teachers are encouraged, often required, to find ways to pass students by all available means.

This is all a part of the many mixed messages teachers are given by those who set our educational policies. At the same time we are pushed towards finding ways for students to pass and get their credits towards graduation, we are also admonished in countless way to "maintain high standards", "create a climate of excellence", "develop demanding expectations." As much as we would like to feel that high standards and student success are entirely compatible in some ideal sense, the truth is that often these goals are at odds with each other.

For example, suppose I want my students to study one of the plays of Shakespeare, Macbeth for example. I can prepare my students for the play, acquaint them with the arcane language and mystifying conventions. I can have the students read the play individually, in small groups, or as an entire class. Have them act out parts from the play. I can show videos and discuss the actors' interpretations of the characters. However, in the end, if some students wish to sabotoge all my best efforts it does not take much for them to do so.

And here is where the crux of the matter lies: how do I respond. If I truly were to maintain high standards, I would demand that they make some effort to climb the scaffold I have prepared for them. Lacking that, they fail. However, the other message of making it possible for all students to succeed kicks in telling me that I have to give my students "multiple opportunites" to succeed by retaking tests, extending homework deadlines, or giving alternative assignments. If students have be diagnosed with learning disablities, then I must make "modifications" which essentially dumb down the requirements for the unit. High expectations give why to middling realities.

I know how important it is for our students not to fail school, not to fall down on their road to graduation and all the opportunities this opens up for them. For our students, a missing diploma is a one-way ticket to a lifetime of marginal living, grinding poverty, and/or prison. That does not stop me from the constant,nagging guilty feelings I that my standards are lacking as I attempt to create pathways to that all important high school diploma.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Had a Good Day Today

Yesterday, my assistant principal came to observe my class as a part of my evaluation. She came during my most difficult timeblock, and the students were just awful. I felt ashamed and wondered how she felt about my ability as a teacher. I tried to do everything I knew to get the students to behave, quit talking, and pay attention to the lesson. Nothing helped.

Today, she presided over the meeting of my Professional Learning Community. She turned to me and said, "Mr. Green, I want you to send any disruptive student you have in that hour to see me. I will help you take care of them." I felt as though a ton a bricks had been lifted off of my shoulders.

Today, I sent four students to her because they didn't respond to my directions. The rest of the class quieted down. And they learned the lesson.

I am sorry that such extreme measures have to be employed on the few so that the rest can benefit. Four students were sent out with at least one suspended, but the twenty who remained in the room benefited from their absence.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back in School Today

William Blake
We were back in school today after an unexpected 4 day break due to an Artic cold front which came through the state late Wednesday. We still have enough snow days that we are looking at being out for summer during the last week of May. However, we still have the rest of January, February, and even March to get through.

I am teaching my seniors some of the poems from William Blake, ones from his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I am trying to get them to become aware of who is talking in the poems, or the Speaker, and the Tone of the poems. Blake's a good one for that because he adopts different personas in the poems from the two books.
Mark Twain
My Honors English 11 is getting ready to study The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I gave them the books three weeks before Winter break, so they have had about 6 or 7 weeks to do the reading. I am under no illusions that they have done so.

My regular English 11 has had the novel also. They are even less likely to have done the reading. I am not sure what to do with them except to have them read certain passages and get through the book best they can. Today we went over words they are likely to see on the "End of Instruction" (EOI) test. I had to use my loud voice to get through to them. This is the biggest problem I have, getting them to be quiet and listen to me long enough to get any sort of learning done.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The School Semester Begins

We are starting a new semester today. I like the fact that we end our first semester at the beginning of Winter Break, and then begin the new one after the break is over.

I had problems with several of my classes being very talkative and not paying me much attention. I had to make about a half dozen home calls. I am worried that my senior classes will figure that they can just coast their last semester in school. I had to remind them that it was still possible to fail their 2nd semester, which would deny them the opportunity to graduate at the end of the year.

I am not teaching two nights a week at Rose State College for the first time in several years. I am doing this because I have to get busy on my National Board certification.