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.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Will Rogers HS Chess Tournament

I took a student, Zachary Wright, to the Oklahoma Scholastic Chess Organization's scholastic chess tournament at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. Zachary got his first tournament win at the event and was so excited he was telling everyone, including the waitress at Chili's where we ate after the tournament. Will Rogers High School is a beautiful Art Deco creation built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. The next tournament is in Oklahoma City. I hope I can take more students this time to it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach demonstrates how post-modernism can produce a very enjoyable novel. The story alternates between 5 different characters: Henry Skrimshander, an almost mythically talented college shortstop, Mike Schwartz, the catcher who discovers Henry and mentors his development as a player and person, Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate whose Zen clam earns him the nickname, Buddha, Guert Affenlight, the 60 year old president of Westish College who falls in love with Owen, and Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter who returns home to Westish after disastrous elopement and 4 year marriage.

Each character’s story intertwines and moves to a crisis centered around Henry's troubles with an errant throw that causes him to lose confidence in himself and playing ability. The characters are wonderfully drawn making you wish the best for all of them all the while knowing that a happy ending for all is impossible. In some ways these characters remind me of Jay Gatsby the eponymous hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald book. They all want more for themselves than nature, society and/or their talents will allow them to have.

Recommended reading for those who love baseball, stories about college days and colleges, and really good post-modernist fiction.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 21: Is it really day 21 already? Why the Finns are #1 in education

A classroom in Finland
We have been at school for nearly a month now. It once was that this day would begin the first or second week of "real classes" after having gotten the "back to school" first week behind us. Heck, once this week was the last week of summer when we went to school on the Tuesday after Labor Day.

I read an interesting article in this month's Smithsonian magazine entitled "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful? According to the article, Finland doesn't give its students the type of standardized tests that American education systems so love except for one in the senior year. One quote from the essay really stood out for me.

It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care if free.

In the US, many would call this socialism! (It is really a part of social democracy, but few rightwingers know or care about the difference.) It seems to work in Finland, at least.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Days 16-20: I Got, Got, Got, Got, No Time

I have skipped a few days this week, actually, nearly the entire week. It seems like I have no time to get things like blogging done because I am full of all the things I have to do as a teacher during the week.

For example, during the school day I have 45 minutes of planning time to do things like, well, plan lessons. Of course, there are papers to be graded, parents to be called, department and professional learning team reports to be filled out. Many days I have to get paperwork to the principal's secretary, the financial secretary, or the activities director. Oh, and there's that man who wants to visit my seniors about a college they might be able to attend. Need to get back in touch with him. Wasn't there a professional development course that I needed to sign up for? And so it goes.

Since the students' learning day has been extended 30 minutes, we are supposed to be able to go home at the end of the class day, 2:40pm, but I have yet to be able to get out of the building before 3:30, and that was only because I had to attend my AFT Executive Board meeting to review our 2011-12 contract. Then we had the ratification vote on Thursday in a fairly raucous session that lasted from 4:30 to 6:00pm. After that, I went to the city football previews because several of my students who play football asked me if I would come watch them, and I told them I would. (I missed the game tonight, however.) Most of the time I get out of the building around 4:30 after arriving at 6:45.

Still, I am behind on my grading. I need to plan my lessons better. (Today, the principal walked into my room at the end of my 3rd period. I ran out of lesson with about 10 minutes of class time, and I stupidly hadden planned for an "enrichment" activity with the dead time.

Saturday is Labor Fest, so Cat and I will be involved in activities all day. That leaves me with Sunday to get lesson plans done for the week and perhaps a little more caught up on my grading.

Anyone who thinks that teachers work 7 hours a day 9 months a year should be boiled in his own tea!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Days 13, 14, 15: Some Interesting Facts About My Students

I found out some interesting things about my students.

I got the results from the reading test my students took. This test scored the students on their reading grade level meaning that if a student read on the level of an average 10th grader, it would show that s/he was reading at 10.6 (10th grade, 6th month).

According to the test, this is how the 11th graders at our school level out on their reading abilities.
We have:
1 at 3rd grade
5 at 4th
7 at 5th
16 at 6th
9 at 7th
5 at 8th
4 at 9th
3 at 11th
2 at 12th
and 12 reading at the Post High School level.

This is how the 12th graders are doing with their reading
2 a the 4th grade level
3 at the 5th
7 at the 6th
13 at the 7th
7 at the 8th
9 at the 9th
2 at the 10th
1 at the 11th
1 at the 12th
and 5 are at the post High School level

I am not writing about this to gain pity points. I accept the challenge that these numbers represent. But I hope this makes clear both the problems and opportunities we who teach in urban school districts have.

We continued our reading of Native American myths and Beowulf in the 11th and 12th respectively. On Friday, I used some graphic organizers that I found on a very good website that I highly recommend to my fellow teachers.

The weekend is here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 12: Open House

Open House at Centennial

Today the juniors continued reading Native American myths by reading the story "Coyote and Buffalo Bull", another trickster tale. This one comes from a Pacific Northwest tribe.

The seniors read about the fight between Beowulf and Grendal. They analyze the examples of alliteration in the passage.

The big event of the day was Open House at Centennial. We had our biggest parent participation since I've been teaching at the school. I think it is the signal of a new level of enthusiasm by Centennial's patrons.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 11: The Evaluation That Wasn't

Today the 11th grade studied one of the Coyote Tales as a way of learning and analyzing the Trickster archetype. Their homework assignment is to take a modern day trickster like Bugs Bunny, Spongebob, The Joker or some other and do a brief comparison and contrast essay comparing the two tricksters.

The 12th grade read Beowulf's speech before King Hrothgar where Beowulf states his purpose for coming to Denmark and boasts of his past victories over enemies and monsters. Their homework assignment is to write a similar boast telling of their past accomplishments and those that they hope to accomplish in the future.

Today we had a faculty meeting where we were supposed to be told about the new evaluation system using the Marzano teaching model as its basis. However, at the meeting we were informed that the evaluation had NOT been developed, and that we would be evaluated using the old model that has been in place for several years now.

In education, we are used to things like this.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 10 and the Weekend, an offer to coach a chess team

Tricksters Old and New
Bit of catching up to do.

Friday, the senior class got into the poem Beowulf at last starting with the problems the creature "Grendal" causes for the Danes. I love the way that Maurice Sagoff, the creator of Shrinklits condenses this part of the epic Monster Grendel's tastes are plainish.\Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.

The juniors read Langston Hughes' story "Salvation" in which he tells about a time when he "faked" being saved in a church revival to please his aunt and everyone else in the congregation. It is another example of the kind of reflective essay the students are going to be writing soon. I had something similar happen to me which I wrote about in a blog entry entitled "Camp Meeting".

This weekend has been part school preparation and part home remodeling. We are going to install new cabinets in the kitchen, so the old ones had to be taken out, moved actually. The old are being relocated in the our pantry to make way for the new.

I have also been working on my lesson plans for next week. The people who believe that teachers only work from 8am to 3pm don't know what they are talking about.

I also found out that Casady Schools wants to talk to me about becoming the coach for their middle school chess club. I held a chess camp for them over the summer, which I really enjoyed. If this works out as I think it will, I will be sponsoring three different scholastic chess groups: Centennial, The Village Library, and Casady.

Next week, the seniors continue with Beowulf while the juniors will be reading and working with Native American creation and trickster tales.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 8 & 9: A Couple of Good Days

I missed a day yesterday (if anyone noticed). So I've got a bit of catching up to do.

On Wednesday, the students took their "I Am" poems to the media center's computer lab and turned them into Word documents that can be displayed as posters. The students did a good job of creating their poem posters. We have our open house on August 16th, so the students will be able to display their creativity to their parents.

Today, Thursday, I took a different turn with both classes. The juniors began a unit on writing a reflective essay while the seniors began a unit on Beowulf. I showed them a Power Point presentation on the heroic quest archetype to introduce them to the Anglo-Saxon epic.

The school got some good news today. The progress our high school made last year means that we are not on the state's school improvement list. We would have made "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP), but we fell short in only one category, graduation. We had too many of our freshman students fail to graduate in 4 years, evidently. Of course, these were the first years of our school during which we began in one building and ended up in another. We had to work in a grossly overcrowed building when we finally did move in. It was not the sort of environment conducive to retaining and nurturing students to graduation.

Now that we are in our building with one less grade level in the building, I think we have an excellent chance to succeed with our student body. We have some great students going here, and we are getting help with the Common Core Standards.

I am looking forward to the success our students are going to have.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Day 7: I need to "up" my game

Today I tried to get the students to engage in "active reading": reading that goes beyond the words of the text to where the students think about what they are reading. This includes being aware of the work's purpose, figures of speech, images, and so on.

Frankly, my teaching did no go all that well. I had trouble getting the students' focus away from each other and into the text. This was something that the people who observed my class yesterday noted on the observation form they gave to me. Clearly, I am going to need to revise my teaching methods, up my "game" so to speak if I am ever going to succeed at the level I am being asked to attain.

I am going to have to go out of my "comfort zone" as a teacher and try new methods.

One problem I am having is keeping the students "on task". I am going to go over what I was taught in the week before school to see where I need to change my method.
All I ask is that the district is patient with me as I and my colleagues move in new directions.

Change can be threatening, but I have reinvented myself before, and I can do it again.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Day 6: Graphic Organizers and Note Taking

Today I worked with students to teach some learning skills. With the juniors, I had them analyze the 1st paragraph to M. Scott Momaday's Way to Rainy Mountain.

I had the seniors take notes on the Anglo-Saxons and their culture using the Cornell note taking method.

I felt I was more successful with the juniors. They created web diagrams that noted the nature imagery in the paragraph. I think the main reason that the exercise was successful was that the students experienced a feeling of success when they correctly identified the images. As I walked around the room, the kids showed me what they had discovered. They discussed whether or not the items they discovered were images or not. I believe that they learned something about analysis and imagery.

The note taking was not as successful for the same reason that the junior was. The students could not feel real success by successfully taking notes. I think that giving students an opportunity to feel success is something I will endeavor to build into my lessons wherever possible.

Something else of note, today my teaching was observed three times. Once by a representative from the Marzano people, once by one of the assistant principals, and then by both the Marzano rep and the assistant principal together. This is all a part of being a "School Improvment Grant" (SIG) school under NCLB's "transformation model." I'm actually glad to have someone come in and look over what I'm doing. I can use all the help I can get. I compare teaching to other professionals like lawyers and doctors who are said to have a "practice", not a job. Teaching is a practice, and I'm always trying to practice at my best, but I'm still practicing my craft.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The First Weekend

I spent most of my weekend relaxing, but also preparing for the next week and the rest of the year.

Saturday, Cat, my wife, and I went on a date. We were finally able to see the final Harry Potter movie, afterwhich we went to a nice Italian restaurant. Cat teaches English also at another Oklahoma City school. (We steal ideas from each other on a regular basis.)
In addition to some great together time, I began reading a book on education entitled Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education written by Clark Aldrich. Can't say that I'm all that impressed with the book or the author's program. He takes the standard line that our schools, as they now exist, were designed for a more linear Industrial Age and don't fit today's non-linear world. Many of his recommendations seem to be more doable for home schoolers. (In fact, he seems to feel that only home schoolers are doing a good job of educating.) Aldrich recommends having children work with live animals, and not just pets! He also calls for children to work as apprentices or interns to get real world experience. One could do that if one had one or two children to education, but it's not really something I can use in my line of work.

Next week I begin to add more content to the curriculum. I'll still be working on the Rituals and Routines, but the 11th graders will be working on study skills like note-taking and graphic organizing. The 12th graders will start on early British literature. Beowulf here we come!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Day 5: Testing Redux, Redux and "Way to Rainy Mountain"

Rainy Mountain, Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma
Finally got finished with the GM Reading test today. A few students were absent on either of the first two days, so they had one part of the test to make up. My 7th hour finished the vocabulary because I ran out of answer sheets on Wednesday for them. Those who were not testing read M. Scott Mommaday's wonderfully lyrical essay "Way to Rainy Mountain". Next week we are supposed to do the first of the district's "Benchmark" exams that are designed to measure what our students know and do not know about reading and writing.

I wish I could do this without giving my students yet another standardized test.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Day 4: Testing, Testing, Testing, Redux

Another day of testing today. We are administering the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests® to our students to determine their reading needs. Yesterday they were tested on vocabulary. Today they did the reading portion of the test. Most of the students seemed to take the test seriously, but I am worried that they will experience "test burn-out" by the time we get to the End of Instruction exams in April.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Day 3: Testing, Testing, Testing

Today, we tested, the first of many certainly. This was the Gates Reading Test to determine the students' reading levels. I think this will yeild useful information. I'm curious about the reading levels of my students. I have suspicion that many are reading well below grade level, but this will give me a better indication.

My question is, what then? I am not trained in reading remediation. If I find that Jesse reads at the 6th grade level, then what should I do. I am not asking this as a rhetorical question or to simply show dispair. I really want to be a good teacher, one who meets his students' needs, but sometimes I feel that the ocean is so big and my boat is so small.

Another problem I had arose when they were finished with the test. The portion of the test they took today was over vocabulary.Explaining the test took about 5 minutes, and taking it took 20 minutes. I ended up with 10-15 minutes after the test. I spent the time talking about some of the class procedures, but I felt as those I didn't use the leftover time well.

When I came to my last hour's class, I had run out of test answer sheets. So I had the students read M. Scott Momaday's essay "Way to Rainy Mountain", and had the students write a couple of paragraphs about home and family as well as summarize the Kiowa legend Momaday recounts in the book. Later they will be writing a reflective essay, so I felt it would be useful to read a reflective account that we can return to later.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Second day of teaching: better than the first

Today I had the students write a poem. More specifically, they were following a "poem pattern" known as the "I Am" poem. The pattern gave the students a lead in phrase followed by a suggestion on how to complete the line. For example, the first line of the poem read: I am name two things that describe you. The student could complete it by writing, I am a loving and caring person. The rest of the poem asked them to name things that concerned them, that made them happy, that they look forward to, and so forth.

Most of the students took to the assignment well. Many of the poems I read revealed things to me about my students I could not have imagined.

Then I had the students exchange their poems with someone. They read each others poems and picked out a line they liked in it. They wrote the line down and wrote why they liked it. My purpose in doing this comes from the fact that I am trying to engender a more postive atmosphere in my class and in my school than often exists now.

Tomorrow the students are taking a reading test, the first of many they will take this year. I am not certain how well that will go over, but I will give it my best effort.

Monday, August 01, 2011

I begin the new school year.

Oklahoma Centennial High School
This year I begin my 18th year as a public school teacher. Going back to my days as a graduate assistant teacher at the University of Oklahoma, I have taught for 33 years. School began today, the earliest it has ever begun in the Oklahoma City Public School District, as the beginning of our "Continuous Learning Calendar". The theory is that with a shortened summer break, our students will retain more of what they learned the past year. We will see how that plays out.

Another wrinkle that has been added to my school is the fact that we are now under the "Transformational model" for a "Needs Improvement" school. This means that we are under a special mandate to improve our instruction and our students' learning. As a part of that, we attended a one week seminar the week before school, for which we were compensated. We learned about the "Marzano Model" of instruction developed by Robert J. Marzano in his book The Art and Science of Teaching among other works on instruction.

As I said, today was the first day,and I am attempting to teach my students the "Rituals and Routines" of the classroom, those practices that will lead to a classroom where learning can take place. I can tell that I will need to work more with the students. They will need much practice, but we have made a start.

My plan is this: I will do my very best to follow the methods of instruction that I am being taught. And I will report the results of those methods in this blog. The focus will be me, my successes and failures. I will not make any negative judgements about those methods, nor will there be anything criticism of my administration, my school, or my students. I simply want to report how I am doing as a teacher, and let others make their own judgements about me and me alone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review of "Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara

The Killer AngelsThe Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Shaara won the Pulitzer for this book and justifiably so. This book examines the battle of Gettysburg from several points of view including General Lee, Longstreet, Armistead and Buford. Of most interest to me were the sections that focused on the character and actions of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the university professor turned citizen-soldier, whose heroic actions during the fight for Little Round Top saved the Union army and, quite possibly, the war itself.

Shaara's prose is highly imagistic. Pickett's charge, which was the final act in the Southern defeat, gets this description. "And then the first shell struck near him, percussion, killing a mass of men to his right rear, his own men, and from then on the shells came down increasingly, as the first fat drops of an advancing storm, but it was not truly bad. Close it up, close it up. Gaps in front, the newly dead, pile of red meant. One man down holding his stomach, blood pouring out of him like a butchered pig, young face, only a boy, a man beding over him trying to help, a sergeant screaming, 'Damn it, I said close it up.'"

What I also got from this historical novel were the various attitudes towards war in general and the Civil War in particular. Longstreet knew that the tactics were wrong and the final charge hopeless. Lee simply wanted to do right by his men and his "country" meaning Virginia. Chamberlain believed that the war was something new, people willing to fight and die for an idea, that all people should be free. Of all the characters he comes through with his ideals entact. Though he recognizes the tragedy of what is happening to the nation he loves.

Shaara's title reflects the paradox that was the Civil War. He ends the book with a quote from Winston Churchill's "A History of the English Speaking People" that calls the war the "least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts. . . ." The irrepressible conflict settled the great unsettled question of the American Revolution: do we truly mean it when we say that all humans are by nature equal and therefore equally deserving of liberty and dignity. Men like Chamberlain helped to insure that the answer was "yes".

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Monday, March 14, 2011

My Review of "Endgame" by Frank Brady

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of MadnessEndgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating and balanced account of America's greatest chess master.

Two things are undeniable about Bobby Fischer: 1) He is the greatest American chess player of all time, perhaps the greatest anywhere, though I cannot state that categorically. 2) He was a deeply self-centered man who believe that his genius gave him entitlement to say and do whatever he pleased. This book explores both aspects of Fischer. And while it becomes at times too apologetic for his egotistical, paranoid, self-destructive behavior, Frank Brady pulls no punches in describing Fischer's dark side while acknowledging Fischer's genius.

What to make of Bobby Fischer? As some have pointed out, we regularly overlook the negative sides of many fellow geniuses to enjoy what they have produced. I enjoy the music of imperfect me like Beethoven and Wagner. I appreciate the art of Paul Gaughan knowing how he exploited women. I enjoy the movies Eliz Kazan while deploring his betrayals before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Do I put Fischer in this group of people who were great artists, but flawed humans? Yes and no.

Yes, I do believe that Fischer was a genius who produced the type of beauty Marcel Duchamp saw in chess, but I believe that Fischer's ability to play a game does not entitle him to anything but condemnation for his insenstivity to other people, his persecution complex, and his ungracious behavior to any who displeased him in the slightest.

I read one time that, "while gratitude may be the humblest of virtues, ingratitude is certainly one of the worst of all vices." I believe that Fischer's worst vice was that he could not see past his own, largely imagined hurts and attacks.

For me, this taints Fischer's remarkable accomplishments on the board.

And even though he was a great genius at it, he still was playing a board game. Would I seek to mitigate this behavior in someone who played checkers, parcheesi, or mahjong? I would not, and I cannot forgive Fischer for believing that his ability to play a game played by young children made him any better or any more entilted that the rest of us.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Schools Matter: Michelle Rhee Is Now Lying About Other People's Te...

Michelle Rhee, late of the Washington, DC school district, has every right to her own opinion; however, she has no right to her own facts.

Schools Matter: Michelle Rhee Is Now Lying About Other People's Te...
: "The corporate education reporters have been working overtime to downplay Rhee's big lie that she has been repeating for years about the mira..."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reading The Last Stand

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big HornThe Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Nathaniel Philbrick

Very complete account of the major players in the diaster of the Little Big Horn fight and the tragic events that followed Custer's defeat. My wife and I visted the battle site on the anniversary of the battle and witnessed a Native American ceremony dedicating a new memorial to the Indians who fought in the battle.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Camp Meeting

In English class today, we read "Salvation" by Langston Hughes. I gave the students the assignment of writing a short account of a time when someone had expectations of them, and how they responded to those expectations. One of my students challenged me to write a similar account of my own. Here is my effort.

I remember Camp Arrowhead as being one of the hottest places on earth. Located on the banks of the Brazos River in North Texas, the camp always seemed to feature 100 degree temperatures with 100 percent humidity during the months of June, July and August when I went to summer camp with my friends and camp meeting with my family during my father's pastorates in Texas. It was during one such camp meeting, in either in the summer of 67 or 68 that my life began to take a definite slow turn much like the turns taken by the lazy Brazos.

"Camp Meeting" in those days was a combination of camping and twice daily evangelical church services. Our family would pile into the family Chevy station wagon and drive over the camp site where we would sit up the big cloth tent. During the day there would be morning worship and Bible study. In the evening there was a revival service in the camp's large, screened-in tabernacle. This might not seem like much fun to most, but I remember it all quite fondly as a time to enjoy some family time and the chance to run around with the kids who were there.

This particular camp meeting featured two evangelists whose style of preaching could not have contrasted more. Since both are still with us, as of this writing, I will call one Rev. City and the other Rev. Country.

Rev. City's background came from the urban streets of Chicago. He had been "saved" from a life of crime and grime, and his manner and speech reflected his tough background. Rev. City always seemed to be in your face, challenging you to dare deny his message. In my memory, he boxed during his sermon as if he and the devil were fighting it out all during the sermon.

Rev. Country was a prime example of the grand Southern tradition. His eyes seemed to be continually cast heavenward. His gestures were broad and open, arms flung out as if he was trying either to fly to heaven or grab it down for our sake. His accent dripped honey, his round phrases called forth magnolia scented nights and Spanish moss accented days.

The two men were clearly in competition with each other. Night after night each sought to outdo the other through the reaction that he got from those attending the camp and those who drove in from the surrounding community. Rev. City told tales of lives saved from drugs and gangs. Rev. County countered with lives saved from bootlegging and juke joints. Rev. City scorned churches that "watered down the one true gospel." Rev. Country mocked university professors who "might acknowledge Jesus was a good man", but did not accept the blood atonement. Each night, the crowds attending went away marveling and praising God, and God's anointed minister.

Everything came to a head Saturday night. It was Rev. Country's turn to preach. The day's heat had hardly abated that night. Sweat hung on me like a wet second skin. The only air movement came from the hundreds of paper fans and programs the congregation waved back and forth in front of their faces. The choir sang a stirring rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", emphasizing that God's truth would on the march that night. Earlier that week, Rev. Country had made a joke referring to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression", but on the platform, his face did not show that he recognized the irony of the selected anthem.

I don't remember much about his sermon, but I will never forget the crowd's reaction to it. Men and women ran down the aisles, raising their hands and waving their handkerchiefs and fans. Shouts of "Glory!", "Praise Jesus!", and “Hallelujah!" punctuated Rev. Country's every sentence. Surely God in all his presence was in that place at that moment.

I was completely unmoved. Nothing was happening inside me.

I tried to participate in everything going on, but the more I tried to join in, the further I retreated away. I began to look about me. I had heard these types of sermons before, seemed like hundreds of times. I couldn't see the point, somehow, of going over this ground again. It felt like someone; the preacher, the service, the crowd, the camp; was trying to sell me something, a feeling or something, that I wasn't buying. I began to feel manipulated, resentful, and, yes, guilty, but upset for having to feel guilty. Instead of being moved, I was strangely removed from everything.

I couldn't tell anyone how I felt. I adored my mother and father, and I was afraid that I would somehow be a disappointment to them if my reaction to Rev. Country and Rev. City did not match that of the others who were there. I can't recall how they felt about what was going on. I was too ashamed to find out because I would have to admit to withdrawing from the presence of God.

But something in my turned that night. I began to take stock of all the ways people try to move me through words and images and emotions. I became a little more skeptical. And little more willing to try to understand how we are manipulated. I think this is why I became an English teacher, so that I could pierce through the devices used by Revs. City and Country, and be in some measure a free man. And that is what I want for my students, also

Thursday, February 10, 2011


What Would Justice Demand?
One time, a minister preached a sermon entitled "Who Switched the Price Tags?" It was based on an incident where some teenagers broke into a department store and switched price tags on merchandise so that a toaster cost $500 and a new stove cost $10. His point was that we value things that are temporary and devalue things that are permanent and/or eternal. I think that is a good metaphor for our time, perhaps for all time.

We live in a time of fast food, constant stimulation, "what's trending now", people famous for being famous, and we ignore problems like the growing gap between haves and have nots in the US, education curriculums that strip all of the arts out of schools, the growing number of our fellow countrymen who lack basic health care, and the fact that our planet is being depleted of everything that sustains us.

Of course, I am tempted to say, it has ever been thus. Brother Thoreau criticized his countrymen in his time for having busy lives without really living.

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip.

I have a little motto that I think I'm going to turn into a poster or plaque. It will read WWJD? What it will mean for me is "What Will Justice Demand?" For me, this is the true meaning of my existence, to see that my life has in some way advance the progress of creating a just world. So I hope that all my actions will be judged in this light. That does not mean that I will not make time for innocent pleasures: the company of friends, the enjoyment of play, the time to appreciate art and nature. But I hope that at the end of it all, the thing I am best remembered for is that I tried to bring a little more justice into the world. If that is what is said of me, then I will have been successful in the art of living.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oklahoma County Medallion Dinner

My wife, Cat, and our granddaughter Skylar, attended the Oklahoma County Medallion Dinner. During my time as an Oklahoma County officer, first secretary and then chair, I was involved in several Medallions, which are the main fundraiser for the county party. I enjoyed myself as always. It's great to see old friends and meet new people. The dinner was great, and the fellowship even better. Those who make fun of people in politics don't know what they are missing when it comes to associating with some of the finest people in our community.

The party took a beating in the last election because the Republican party managed to make the state elections a referendum on President Obama, who has never been popular in Oklahoma. Many people are asking what can we do to turn the party around. So far, the Republicans have so far been doing a good job of making us look very good by comparison. But we just can't sit back and "hope they will fail."

I think that we need to keep speaking our truths, but do so in terms that average voters understand: jobs, security, services, and rights. Whenever we propose something, we must keep in mind these goods. How will what we propose help our citizens enjoy better quality lives? If we keep doing this, and showing that we mean what we say, the voters will elect our candidates to office.

The Brennan Society

I have added The Brennan Society to my "Blogs of Note" column. This group has recently formed in Central Oklahoma to promote progressive politics and the election of progressive leaders in my state. Tom Guild, Garry Atkinson, Gene and LaDonna Hunt, and other like-minded progressives have met together to form this new group, which I hope will become a real political presence in the community.

Their next meeting is this Sunday, February 6 at 2 p.m. at Garry Atkinson's house, 3600 Burning Wood Rd. in Edmond. Tom promises that the meeting will be over in time for you to see the entire Super Bowl. The directions to Garry's house starting at Broadway Extension are as follows--go east on 33rd St--between Coltrane and I-35 (aka Shannon Miller Dr.) you will see Burning Wood Rd.--turn south (right)--pass Barberry Court and Carriage Way (both on the west side and go~ 1/2 block) and you will see Garry's home on the east side (left) of Burning Wood Rd. Garry's cell phone number is 580-977-7192 if you need additional assistance.

If you need more information about The Brennan Society, or you would like to discuss items concerning the society, you can call Tom Guild at 359-7920, home phone, or 921-3811, cell phone, or to e-mail Tom at tomguild@sbcglobal.net.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A List of Education Legislation Filed So Far in in Oklahoma

A list of proposed legislation to be considered in the 2011 Oklahoma state legislature that will directly affect public education in Oklahoma:
Oklahomans for Great Public Schools
The names following the bill number are the last names of the bills' authors.
HB 1654


Directs each school district board of education to adopt a grading policy for all students requiring a teacher to assign a grade that reflects the relative mastery of assignment; allows for makeup work; EMERGENCY.

HB 1731


Requires the district board of education to implement the options requested by at least 1/2 of the parents or legal guardians of students attending the school if the school has identified a need for school improvement for 4 years.

HB 1817


Requires schools that recieve a petition from fifty percent of parents to submit an empowerment plan to the board of education; EMERGENCY

HB 1724


Extends the current teachers in the public schools of Oklahoma salaries through the 2010-2011 school years; modifies new amounts beginning with the 2011-2012 school years; EMERGENCY.

HB 1378


Prohibits the recognition of a labor organization as a bargaining agent for a group of school district employees; prohibits school employees from engaging in strike.

HB 1651


Prohibits schools from making payroll deductions for either professional organization dues or political contributions on behalf of a school district employee.

HB 1269


Requires teachers of reading for kindergarten through third grade to incorporate the five elements of reading instruction into lesson plans; EMERGENCY.

HB 1551


Creates the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act; disallows the penalization of a student because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories; EMERGENCY.

HB 1587


Requires the State Board of Education to develop and construct each criterion-referenced test to be completed in no more than 60 minutes; focuses on mathematics and reading; EMERGENCY.

HB 1714


Removes requirement for the State Board of Education to adopt the K-12 Common Core State Standards; EMERGENCY.

SB 537


Establishes the "Quality of Education for Oklahoma Citizens Act of 2011"; requires schools to examine the birth certificate of enrolling students to determine residency status to better identify the costs incurred educating students who are

HB 1457


Redifines "career teacher pretermination hearing"; Provides protocol for the recommendation for the dismissal or non-remployment of a career or probationary teacher; Provides the rights for career and probationary teachers; EMERGENCY.

SB 1


Removes "career teacher pretermination hearing" requirements related to the "Teacher Due Process Act of 1990"; strikes the term "probationary", making all teachers subject to the same disciplinary process; EMERGENCY.

SB 534


Modifies the grounds for which a career teacher can be dismissed; removes the two month minimum for a time of improvement in response to a poor evaluation score

I want to thank my friend, Claudia Swisher, teacher extraordinaire, from Norman, Oklahoma for providing me this list.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tulsa Workers Win the Right to Organize

Congratulations are in order to AFSCME Tulsa local 1180. They pulled it off. The local has worked very hard since late September to get an ordinance that recognizes all Tulsa City Employees currently recognized through OMECBA’s right to have a union and requires the City to collectively bargain with employees. On January 12th, 2011, “the City Council voted “unanimously” to pass the new ordinance” according to Mike Rider, AFSCME local 1180 president.

Previously, language existed in the City Ordinance recognizing employees including LT (Labor-Trades) and EC (Emergency Communications). This language has been in the ordinance since the 80’s.

The new ordinance language adds employees classified as AT (Administrative and Technical), OT (Office and Technical), AO (Airport Safety Officers), IT (Information Technician), IS (Information Systems). Paul Woodard pointed out, “the new ordinance covers everyone that was covered by OMECBA, and no one is being left out.”

The 9 – 0 vote was a surprise to everyone. “We knew going into the council meeting that there were had enough votes to pass the ordinance, but the 9-0 vote was a wonderful surprise”, said local 1180’s political chair John Vaughn. One of the surprise votes came from councilor G.T. Bynum who had been opposed to the ordinance until that night of the council meeting. Bynum queried Interim City Attorney, David Pauling as to the legitimacy of the ordinance. Pauling said that the ordinance “merely complies with the Municipal Employee Collective Bargaining Act (MECBA). Bynum changed his vote to yes.

Vaughn further pointed out, that “we have been in constant contact with City Council members most of the last three months” as they worked to achieve this victory.

Mike Rider was quick to share credit for the victory with everyone in the local saying, “Everyone helped. This has been an across the board effort.”


Matthew E Jordan
Labor Omnia Vincit
AFSCME Field Staff/Western Region
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bill Text for HB 1378-Abolishing Collective Bargaining for Teachers

Bill Text For HB1378 - Introduced
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2| 1st Session of the 53rd Legislature (2011) |
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3|HOUSE BILL 1378 By: Holland |
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4| |
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5| |
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7| An Act relating to schools; defining term; |
| prohibiting collective bargaining contracts; |
8| prohibiting the recognition of labor organization as |
| bargaining agent for school employees; prohibiting |
9| school employees from engaging in strike; providing |
| individual not be denied employment due to certain |
10| membership; repealing 70 O.S. 2001, Sections 509.1, |
| 509.2, as amended by Section 7, Chapter 439, O.S.L. |
11| 2008, 509.2a, 509.3, 509.6, 509.7, 509.8, 509.9, |
| 509.10 and Section 12, Chapter 432, O.S.L. 2005 (70 |
12| O.S. Supp. 2010, Sections 509.2 and 509.11), which |
| relate to negotiations between school employees and |
13| districts; providing for codification; and providing |
| and effective date. |
14| |
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15| |
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16| |
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18| SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified |
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19|in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 509.1A of Title 70, unless there |
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20|is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows: |
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21| A. For purposes of this section, "labor organization" means any |
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22|organization in which employees participate and that exists in whole |
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23|or in part to deal with one or more employers concerning grievances, |
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24|labor disputes, wages, hours of employment, or working conditions. |
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Req. No. 6410 Page 1

1| B. A board of education or an administrator of a local school |
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2|district shall not enter into a collective bargaining contract with |
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3|a labor organization regarding wages, hours, or conditions of |
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4|employment of school district employees. This prohibition shall |
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5|also apply to renewals or extensions of any existing contracts. |
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6| C. A contract entered into, extended or renewed in violation of |
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7|subsection B of this section shall be void and unenforceable. |
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8| D. A board of education or an administrator of a local school |
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9|district shall not recognize a labor organization as the bargaining |
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10|agent for a group of school district employees. |
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11| E. School district employees shall not strike nor engage in an |
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12|organized work stoppage against a school district. |
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13| F. A school district employee who violates subsection E of this |
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14|section shall forfeit all rights, benefits and privileges of school |
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15|district employment. |
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16| G. The right of a school district employee to cease work shall |
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17|not be abridged if the employee is not acting in concert with others |
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18|in an organized work stoppage. |
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19| H. A individual shall not be denied employment with a school |
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20|district because of the individual's membership or nonmembership in |
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21|a labor organization. |
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22| I. This section shall not impair the right of school district |
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23|employees to present grievances concerning their wages, hours of |
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24| |
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Req. No. 6410 Page 2

1|employment, or conditions of work either individually or through a |
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2|representative that does not claim the right to strike. |
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3| SECTION 2. REPEALER 70 O.S. 2001, Sections 509.1, 509.2, |
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4|as amended by Section 7, Chapter 439, O.S.L. 2008, 509.2a, 509.3, |
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5|509.6, 509.7, 509.8, 509.9, 509.10 and Section 12, Chapter 432, |
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6|O.S.L. 2005 (70 O.S. Supp. 2010, Sections 509.2 and 509.11), are |
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7|hereby repealed. |
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8| SECTION 3. This act shall become effective November 1, 2011. |
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9| |
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10| 53-1-6410 AM 01/03/11 |
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Creating a Word Cloud

My good friend, Claudia Swisher, showed me where to create word clouds. I plan to use this with my students.Word Cloud I Made About Teaching

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trying a Reading Program

I'm going to try keeping a regular reading program, something like an hour a day minimum or 100 pages a day. I would like to increase the amount of reading I do, and I've always done better if I set goals. Right now I am reading Johnathan Franzen's novel Freedom
In one hour, I read 31 pages. I don't know if that if particularly slow, but it seems like it is. I have been reading the novel off and on for a while, so part of my reason for setting a reading goal is that I might be able to read the novel before my 60th birthday, which is a year and 2 months away right now.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Supported Public Employees Right to Unionize

Memphis sanitation workers strike of 1968
Today is the national holiday honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All across our nation, elected officials will be participating in various activities to mark the occassion. They will seek to honor King's memory. But many will be dishonoring his work by their attack on public employee unions.ll

Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee when he was assasinated on April 4, 1968. King was in Memphis supporting a strike by the city's sanitation workers. Many of the politicians who will be praising Dr. King today, are trying to eliminate public workers right to unionize and collectively bargain for good wages and safe working conditions. In other words, they seek to destroy the very thing King gave his life to defend.

If these officials want to truly honor the life of Dr. King, they should support public employees' right to organize rather than simply ring a bell or march in a parade.Dr. King marching with striking Memphis sanitation workers

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Highlights from Mayflower Early Service 1-9-2011

Highlights from Mayflower Early Service 1-9-2011

Chris Moore, preaching

The Prayer of Confession:
Gracious God, as we enter a new year, we confess that for too long we have let the nature of our faith be dictated to us. And by rejecting religion the way that it has been presented to us, we end up leading an empty revolution that leaves us still wanting. We end up rejecting all tradition, all ritual and all experience in the name of rejecting the religion that we feel pulls us away from you instead of to you. Help us to find some balance. Help restore in us a sense of tradition and experience that calls us more deeply to you. Help us to find new ways to be baptized into your new life. Help us to be ready for a revolution that leads us to doors and arms being flung open, justice restored and life renewed. Amen.

Scripture Lesson Matthew 3:13-17 (Jesus' baptism by John)

Sermon Title: Ready for the Revolution

In the ancient world, few could swim. Bodies of water were places of death and chaos. When people were baptized by John, it probably was the first time that they had been under water, so it must have felt as though they were literally dying and being reborn.

When one becomes a minister, one takes on a new identity that may seem like a new life. Jesus' baptism signified his new life of ministry announcing the presence of the kingdom of God. It was the beginning of a new world based on repenting our old way of relating to one another and the way we lived and acted in God's creation. We are to live now as God has wanted us to live all along.

If we consider salvation merely an individual act of repentance that appeases a wrathful God saving us from his eternal damnation, then we have yet to undergo the baptism of Jesus. Only by repenting what we have done to exploit the earth and each other can we save ourselves and the world of which we are a part.

That is the revolution to which Jesus called us, which his life is the example.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

It's Time to "Listen As We Speak"

Today a gunman, perhaps more than one opened fire on a gathering sponsored by Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Rep. Giffords was severely wounded, 18 others were shot, 6 are dead (at this writing) including a federal judge and a 9 year old child.

The gunman who has been apprehended, Jared Loughner, seems to have been a deeply disturbed man, but who seems to have been at least influenced by all the political rhetoric that has been irresponsibly thrown around since the election of Pres. Barrack Obama. Among other things he has posted on his social network page, "I can't trust the current government." He also has expressed hatred towards immigrants and those who "do not speak English."

No one supports our First Amendment rights more than I do, but we need to recognize that words have consequences. And when I see political rallies where people carry signs threatening a "2nd Amendment Solution" to problems they see in our goverment or carry guns to political rallies, I realize that it is pratically only a matter of time when someone who lacks judgement and restraint acts on those threats.

Such seems to be the case today.

We need to recognize the fact that all citizens, regardless of their political views, are fellow human beings worthy of the same respect that each of us would want for ourselves, in possession of the same right to dignity that each of us has.

It's time to tone it down. We do not know who may be listening, and even though we have a right to our opinion, how we express that opinion matters. We have a responsibility to honor one anothers basic humanity, even though we may disagree on our respective visions of justice.

Whether we are socialist, social democrat, liberal, progressive, conservative, libertarian, left or right, we are all American, all citizens, all humans.

My good friend,Laura Boyd posted on her blog some principles I think would be good for all us to follow:

#1- Vow to speak to and about each other with respectful language and images. We are ALL God’s children regardless of color, politics, geography, faith, gender, or sexual orientation. Each life is precious.

#2- Listen as well as speak.

#3- Know that ultimately we are all dependent on something else for our joy, purpose, and well-being.

#4- Look out for one another: we do not need to confront those with differing opinions who cannot hear us; we should not turn a deaf ear to those who would threaten us; we must be watchful and respectful of one another, both allowing for our differences and taking action to protect others when we have reason to be concerned about the judgment and actions of those who would not allow for peaceful existence and differences.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Public Employee Unions are not the Problem: The Super Rich getting tax cuts is.

Great blog by Robert Reich. Republicans are trying to use the recession they created to attack public employee unions.
Among the best passages:
It’s far more convenient to go after people who are doing the public’s work - sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, federal employees – to call them “faceless bureaucrats” and portray them as hooligans who are making off with your money and crippling federal and state budgets. The story fits better with the Republican’s Big Lie that our problems are due to a government that’s too big.

Above all, Republicans don’t want to have to justify continued tax cuts for the rich. As quietly as possible, they want to make them permanent.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Wal-Mart High?

Will our students be going to Wal-Mart High?
Tomorrow, Winter Break ends, and Cat and I go back to our respective schools for "Records Day", a day to finish up last semester's grading and prepare for the spring semester, which starts on Tuesday.

At my school, we will be facing even more pressure than we did in the fall semester since this will be the semester that we do our "End of Instruction" (EOI) testing. This testing is the biggest factor in determing our school's performance under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The feeling is that if our school does not show significant improvement in this year's EOIs over last year, when we were the lowest scoring school in the OKC school district, the school will be placed under one of the programs NCLB has mandated for failing schools, likely the so-called "transformative" model where by the administration is replaced and all of the school certified instructors have to reapply for their jobs. No more than 50% or fewer of the former instructors of a transformative school may be rehired. A third option, making the school a charter school, is also an option, but not considered likely.

We have been closely watched by the district and by the state department of education. Administrators and other facilitators constantly monitor teachers' instructional techniques. We must show that we are following "best practices" including having "word walls", "exemplary work displays", "data walls", "artifacts" and other displays of learning. Students are quizzed as to whether they have "mastered" necessary skills. Students are also constantly tested, and their test results thoroughly analyzed.

Some will say that this is only an effort to produce the type of pedagogy our school should have been doing all along. There is truth to that, but I am beginning to feel as though our school and those like us are becoming educational Wal-Marts or MacDonalds, a place where every class resembles every other class. Educational specialists, who seem to be running the show in public schools now, argue that students need this type of uniformity to keep instruction at a high level and help students master their subjects through uniformity and repetition. But teaching is as much art as it is science, many would argue more art than science. And it seems tht we are in danger of driving out the art of teaching in favor of "research based, best practice" science.

I am willing to do whatever I am asked as a teacher, so I have done what I have been told to do to the best of my abilities. I know, though, that teachers alone cannot transform schools whose students live in poverty. When we compare our American schools to those of other industrialized countries like Finland, Germany or Japan, what is left out of the comparison is this rather disturbing statistic, on average only about 5% of school-age children in other industrialized countries live in poverty, In Finland, the percentage is 3%. In the United States, however, 23% of our nation's school-age children live in poverty. And poverty is the number one factor that determines a child's success or failure in school.

That factor will not be overcome by having our children go to "Wal-Mart High".

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

2010 will not live on in my memory as a particularly good year. We struggled to get out of the recession, and voters rewarded the party whose economic policies brought on the recession.

Education "reform" took on the theme, "We need to fire bad teachers." But no one said much about the fact that poverty is the number one indicator of a child's success or failure in school. High stakes testing became more and more important, and our students have been tested nearly to death.

Still there were some rays of hope here and there. "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" is dead, for good. We signed a new treaty with Russia that will reduce our nuclear stockpile. With the Cold War hopefully behind us, my prayer is that we will realize the strategic irrelevancy of our nuclear stockpiles as well as the danger they pose for us should they get into the hands of terrorists and/or rogue nations. People seem at last to be paying attention to the warning signs that the planet is sending us, also.

I am also optimistic when I look at the generation following us. They seem, as a whole, to be more tolerant, more socially involved, more committed to developing sustainable lifestyles than we have been. We talked the talk during the 60s but failed to walk the walk during the subsequent decades, particularly the 80s. I hope their present enthusiasm for a more just and sustainable world remains with them as they come to make their life choices.

I have some resolutions for the coming year:
1. To become the teacher I know I am capable of being.
2. To finish my National Board for Teacher Certification work successfully.
3. To continue working for a just and sustainable year.
4. To learn a new language, probably Spanish.
5. To live more healthy, get more exercise, and develop better dietary habits.
I hope you have the best New Year.

I wish you wealth.
I wish you health,
And happiness galore.
I wish you heaven when you die.
How can I wish you more?
May your joys be as deep as the ocean.
Your troubles as light as its foam.
And may you find sweet peace of mind
Wherever you may roam.
--Irish Blessing