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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Template for the Hard-Boiled Detective

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1)The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book because it was listed on a book lover's web site entitled something like "Great Books Too Short Not To Have Read" or something like that.

Raymond Chandler created the template for the hard-boiled detective story. He was not the first to write in this genre. In fact, the origins can be traced back at least as far as the knight-errant tales of the Middle Ages. Chandler's Phillip Marlow is cynical, world-weary, and tough, but he is honorable and honest. His honesty is both his greatest asset and greatest curse as he makes his way through a world of self-serving deceivers. He won't betray a client, even when the client deserves betrayal. He helps the weak, especially women, but he won't be taken in by their seeming helplessness.

In The Big Sleep, Marlow is summoned to the home of General Sternwood, a wealthy, elderly man who has two daughters in their twenties whom he done a very poor job of raising. Sternwood is being blackmailed for something his youngest daughter, Carmen has done. This is not the first time this has happened with Carmen. Sternwood wants Marlow to take care of the matter. He also mentions that his eldest daughter, Vivian, has recently married a hood named Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlow's job does not include finding Regan, but Regan's disappearance figures into the plot of the story.

I am not a fan of detective novels or murder mysteries. Chandler's writing, though, I find fascinating. He is so fond of similes and analogies, that I wonder if he kept a bank of them somewhere close to his typewriter to pull out and insert in appropriate places. For example:
"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings." The sentence captures both Sternwood physical and moral decrepitude.

I also loved Chandler's setting descriptions. He describes Vivian Regan's room thus, "The room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead. There were full-length mirrors and crystal doodads all over the place. The ivory furniture had chromium on it, and the enormous ivory drapes lay tumbled on the white carpet a yard from the windows. The white made the ivory look dirty and the ivory made the white look bled out."

I recommend The Big Sleep to those who are detective and murder mystery fans as well as English teachers looking for a great source for teaching descriptive writing and the use of figurative language.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Even the Browns

Even the Browns: Baseball During World War IIEven the Browns: Baseball During World War II by William B. Mead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book looks at the years baseball played under the shadow of the Second World War when most of the top tier players were called into the service. While the quality of play dropped throughout the major leagues, the Browns, baseball's perennial losers during that era, were affected far less than other teams largely because their players were largely cast-offs, has beens, and never weres. The Browns won their only pennant in 1944 and played the St. Louis Cardinals in the first, last, and only all St. Louis series, "The Streetcar Series", played in old Sportsmans Park.

William Mead, who as a young boy lived in St. Louis and watched the Browns and Cardinals play, gives us a fast-paced, informative account of how baseball managed to continue on during this war (professional baseball was suspended during World War I) giving accounts of how the league and its owners successfully lobbied to have the games go on for the sake of morale, how baseball adapted to war time conditions (night games became more and more a part of the schedule to allow war industry workers the chance to go to games), and how various players who otherwise would have not had the chance to play managed to make and contribute to their teams.

Recommended for baseball fans, war history buffs, and sports fans.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second installment of Scott Westerfeld's alternative history trilogy. In this book Aleksandar, or Alek, an heir to the throne of the Austrian Empire, is on the British airship, Leviathan, a living airship made from the combined genes of whales and other animals, on his way to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. With him are his Austrian companions Count Volger, Klopp and Hoffman and the British crew including a young woman named Deryn who has disguised herself as a young man named Delyn.

Together they try to keep the Ottomans from joining the German and Austrian side of the Great War raging in Europe between their "Clanker" war machines and the British, French, and Russian "Darwinist" animal creations.

This is typical Steampunk high adventure with narrow escapes, conflicts over divided loyalties, and new mysteries to be solved.

Recommended for everyone who, like me, enjoys the Steampunk genre.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Tomorrow Is The First Day of School in the Oklahoma City Public School District

Tomorrow we begin school in the OKC school district.  This is the 3rd year we have had the "continuous calendar" starting school in early August with longer breaks during the year than we had under the system used by most of the districts in the state.

Friday,  Centennial teachers ended 2 weeks of "pre-school" workshops and orientation.  On Friday, we given the preliminary data from last years end of school tests.  There was bad news and good news.  Our middle school math and English scores showed only slight improvement. Our high school math score remained about the same. However, there was good news in the high school English scores.  The English II scores showed that 73% of the students who took the test passed while in English III (my classes) had 81% passing including 7% who scored in the advanced range!

I wish I could take more credit for this than I deserve.  However, in light of the fact that I missed about 6 weeks of instruction due to my shoulder injury, I have to say that this was mainly due to a very good group of students, and the fact that students are starting to take the End of Instruction (EOI) tests very seriously. This is something that I have long expected would happen once passing the EOIs became mandatory.

Before, every time the students would take one of the high stakes tests, they would ask if they "had" to pass the test in order to graduate.  We tried to put lipstick on the pig of truth in those days  by saying that while they did not have to pass the test in order to graduate, their score would appear on their permanent transcript.  I could see the students beginning to shut down when they hear the first part of the previous sentence.  Now, I can answer their question with YES.

Now students take the test very seriously. They have seen a couple of years worth of students who did not pass the tests and had to retake and retake them till they did. (They have other options, but passing the EOI is the best, most efficient way to meet graduation requirements.)

This is the last year we will do the EOIs as we have known them. Next year comes the Common Core Standards with new tests.  We will hit the "reset" button and begin once again.

So ready or not, here we go again!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Teacher Evaluation System That Rube Goldberg Would Love

Rube Goldberg Machine
Today our district explained our Teacher/Leader Evaluation (TLE) process. At least that was the objective of the "lesson" we were given. (We're all about objectives now that we are following the Marzano---ALL HAIL MARZANO--system.)  I am not certain that the lesson was completely clear for everyone.

But here is as much as I was able to take away from it.

Basically, there are three parts to the system (like Gaul in a way). 

First there is the Marzano (ALL HAIL MARZANO) part, which is 50% of our evaluation.  We will be evaluated on how well we are doing on the "Domains" that Marzano (ALL HAIL MAR--well, you get the joke) has established as the practices of effective teachers, things like posting learning goals, classroom management, assessing student progress, and so on. 
All Hail Marzano, the new God of Public Education!

Ok, fair enough. This provides an effective model for classroom instruction, though most of this is pouring new wine into old wine skins. In other words, it's stuff we have been doing in one form or another just given new names. 

Then it gets a little weird.  The next part of our evaluation comes from student performance. How well students do on their high performance tests.  This accounts for 35% of our evaluation, and it makes teaching a high poverty student body a very risky prospect indeed.

  But we are told to have no fear, that all is well.

Our student performance evaluation will be based on the Value Added Model (VAM).  What this bit of magic professes to do is PREDICT how much a teacher should be doing to bring his or her students up to speed and evaluates how well the teacher did. The model takes in factors like how much time the student is with a particular teacher, how that student has performed in the past, how well the student should be doing if he was with a teacher given how the student has performed in the past, family factors (I swear that during part of the presentation that fairy dust, unicorn horns, and the Elder Wand were involved), and so on.
The creator of the VAM

And now it gets really weird.  There is still 15% of our evaluation left.  And that part is up to us, sort of.  We then have to come up with 
Actually, that is OAM or "Other Academic Measures." Here we select a couple of things we feel we should be evaluated on that are appropriate to our teaching area.  For example, if I were to teach Advanced Placement English, then I might choose as a part of my evaluation how my students did on the AP exams.  Or if I taught music, then how my students did in competitions.  So in all, 50% of my evaluation could be centered on student performance.

Of course, all of this is really a first impression, but the impression is that this system is rather complex and rather subjective.  I fear that due to this evaluation method, teachers will more and more choose NOT to teach in schools that are already low-performing because of the inherent risk factors involved in an evaluation process that rides on whether or not those students, despite their socioeconomic backgrounds, respond to the teacher's best efforts.  The schools with the highest need will be the ones that the best teachers will avoid at all cost.

I fear that this is a train wreck in the making.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Practice of Teaching

Today was the last day of the Centennial Teacher Academy, a five-day professional development teach-in done by folks from the Marzano Research Laboratory and the Pearson Corporation.  Much of it, especially for those of us returning to the school, was stuff that has been covered over and over again. However, we have many, many new teachers to our building and students. Should be interesting to see how they do when they finally meet our students.

Tomorrow, all teachers in the district report back to our schools for 3 days of work in our rooms and an introduction to procedures, rules, and "how-to"s.

Tomorrow, we will have an introduction to our evaluation process which the district will use to rate our effectiveness. So far we are not being rated on our test scores, but I am sure that is coming.

This will be my 20th year as a public school teacher.  I believe that I have about 4 more years to go before I am eligible to retire with full benefits. I have never had a year where I felt I was a 100% effective teacher.

Perhaps that's a good thing because I know more than anyone else how much room I have for improvement. Teaching is, after all, a practice just like the law and medical profession.

I am still practicing to be a teacher.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

SiddharthaSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Siddhartha is Hermann Hesse novel exploring Eastern religion and philosophy, particular the teaching found in Buddhism. The book was written in the 1920s, but not translated into English until 1951 upon which it had a big influence on the Beats and hippies of the 50s and 60s.

I read books like this to gain what knowledge and wisdom I can find in them. In this book I gained a better understanding of Buddhism, and I appreciated one of the central themes of the book, the holiness of everything. However, I find that I can only go so far with that because for me there are actions and choices that are good and evil. Slavery is evil, always has been evil (even though there are verses in the Bible that seem to contradict this.) Justice is good; it is impossible for a society to be too just.

However, I do believe that our understanding of what is good and evil is limited because, as St. Paul stated, we carry our knowledge and judgement in "earthen vessels." Therefore, it is imperative that we gain as many different perspectives as we can to help us transcend our limitations.

That is the primary reason I like reading such a wide variety of ideas and opinions so that I can fill my vessel of understanding to capacity.

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I Really Love My Job

I feel that after the last couple of posts I need to clarify something. I really do love my job.  Let me emphasize that: 

I Really Love My Job!!!!!

I do not want anyone to think that because I write about all the problems associated with teaching that I would like to do anything else than being a teacher.  I may complain about all the paperwork, the regulations, the pressures put on my profession, but in the end, I enjoy working with the kids, love the feeling I get when the light comes on in their eyes, when they tell me later on that I helped them succeed in college or their career. (It happens and teachers live for those moments.)

I also love teaching at Centennial, with all the challenges that come with it. I feel as though the work I am doing there is important, is healing some wounds in our community. None of our students asked to be born in the circumstances they find themselves in. They did not ask to be born in poverty, to be born in a state where they may be hated for their skin color, to be born in dysfunctional families.  I need to remember this in my moments of frustration and work to heal and not further harm.

I love working with my colleagues who day in and day out commit themselves to the same work I am in.  Those who are not a part of the teaching profession, particularly teaching in an urban school, cannot understand the challenges we face and often make facile statements of condemnation.

I also like our administration.   Principal Johnson was brave enough to step into a tough situation.  She keeps challenging us to step up our game.  Reginald "Reggie" Smith and Andrew Pearson our assistant principals do their best to keep up with the demands of working with a student body whose maturity and social growth have been stunted by their poverty and culture. 

H. Charmaine Johnson, Principal of Oklahoma Centennial Middle/High School

I intend to write a good deal about the school this year, but whenever I write about problems the school or I am having, be assured that I do so out of love for the school and my profession.

Go Bison!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feeling Overwhelmed

Drinking from a fire hose

Today was the 3rd day of the Oklahoma Centennial Teachers' Academy.  I feeling as if I am expected to get a drink from a fire hose.

We have been going over many classroom instructional procedures: learning goals (both simple and complex), lesson segments (each with "Design Questions" and "Elements"), protocols, formative assessments, tracking, and so on, each of which we have to build into our lessons and upon which we will be evaluated this year.

And that's just with the folks from Marzano.  Next we people from the Pearson Publishing Corporation get a crack at us.

We've been working on getting our first unit of instruction put together. I thought I had mine pretty well done, but during the last minute of the session we were told that we would have to add a new element to our planning. I feel like each year, sometimes each week, someone moves the goalposts further away.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Teaching to the Test

For the last two days I have been in the Oklahoma Centennial Teachers' Academy over at Langston Univ. in OKC. This will be my 20th year teaching in public schools in Oklahoma City. I began at old John Marshall High School in 1994. It is easy for me to remember the year because in the Spring semester of '95, the Oklahoma City bombing happened. 

There are many, many new faces in our faculty and staff. Somewhere around 35 teachers chose not to return to our school. I cannot speak as to what motivated them all, but several expressed a desire to get away from a school that has been given a "D" rating on the state's A-F grading system and is under constant scrutiny due to the fact that we were the recipients of a federal "School Improvement Grant" (SIG). This is the 3rd year of the grant, and we if don't show improvement, there may be serious consequences for our staff and administration. Right now, we are being schooled once again in the "Marzano" method of instruction. How well we do in following Marzano concepts as outlined in his many books including Classroom Instruction That Works and The Art and Science of Teaching will be part of our teacher evaluation.

So far we have been working together to get a unit planned for the first weeks of school.  In our Language Arts Department, we will begin with the short story and teach the students in how to read critically and identify story theme and elements.  I will be responsible for teaching the 11th grade and probably for helping students prepare for the ACT and other college entrance exams.  I will not be teaching as I have done in the past to introduce students to the scope of American literature, although American literature will form the bunk of the selections I will teach in fiction. Instead, I will be trying to prepare my students to do well on standardized tests.

At long last, the political forces have succeeded in getting me to teach to the test.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul, #2)The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart by Leanna Renee Hieber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this book. Even better than Darker Still.

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart find Natalie and Jonathan Whitby, Lord Denbury on the run. Natalie rescued Denbury from a spell that had his soul trapped in a painting while his body, inhabited by a demon, roamed the streets of late 19th Century New York City murdering young girls. There we have two gothic and steampunk progenitors: Oscar Wilde's A Portrait of Dorian Gray and Robert Lewis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In this book, we get an added dose of Frankenstein as it turns out that Jonathan, as well as his mother and father, was the victim of secret group called "The Society" who seem to have several agenda including resurrecting the dead.

The main interest in the novel for me is how Natalie is developing as a character. A former voluntary mute, Natalie comes to more and more realize her strength and resourcefulness as she along with the clairvoyant Mrs. Northe and her friend deaf and dumb friend Rachel, who is in touch with the ghosts of the victims of the Society, uncover the group's plot and once again face down the demon who possessed Jonathan's body.

The plot is fast paced. The characters are multidimensional, the good not being wholly good and the bad, except for the demon, not wholly bad. Natalie and Jonathan have their moments of jealousy and even petty fights. The men involved in the Society's ressurection work are motivated by their grief for past loved ones. There are others with worse agendas, but they are only visited and, I assume, will play a role in future books in the series.

Recommended for horror, fantasy, steampunk, and gothic romance lovers.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

FlightFlight by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am reading liking Sherman Alexie books. In Flight, a young Indian boy who goes by the name "Zits" because of his bad skin finds himself bouncing from foster homes to halfway houses to jails in an downward spiral of destructive, self-loathing behavior.

Zits lands in one more jail where he meets young white boy who calls himself "Justice". Justice breaks Zits out of a halfway house Zits has been taken to after his release from jail. There Justice teaches Zits to kill and convinces him to go to a bank and begin to shoot everyone there.

Zits does this killing several people until he is killed by a security guard. But that is only the beginning because Zits finds himself on a journey through time, space, and alternate lives. Zits has to live many different lives: an FBI agent, an Indian child at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, an adulterous husband and his own father. Each time Zits learns something about himself and about the human condition.

In some ways this book reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and the book's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. Alexie's use of magical realism makes the story more than a study of the plight of Native Americans. This story is about the plight of being human.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Jeff Shaara creates a very good Civil War novel

Gods and GeneralsGods and Generals by Jeff Shaara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeff Shaara uses the formula used so successfully in Killer Angels, an historical novel about the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, in Gods and Generals which covers the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Each chapter focuses on one of the major figures in these conflicts including Lee, Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and others.

I appreciated Shaara's in-depth research which matches that of his father's book. The characters are complex and nuanced. The reading never bogs down. The descriptions and actions are as good as any created by Gore Vidal and Stephen Crane on the same topics.

One more thing. The book is better than the movie.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie Post Card from Zazzle.com

Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First SeasonOpening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season by Jonathan Eig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eig's biography of Jack Roosevelt Robinson's first year as a Brooklyn Dodger is a scrupulously balanced account of an oft-told legend. Eig reseaches many of the stories told about Robinson's rookie season such as Pee Wee Reese's gesture of support for Robinson by giving Jackie a shoulder hug during a game when the opposing team cursed and jeered baseball's first modern black player. Eig is somewhat skeptical that it happened, if at all, as the stories about the hug claim.

Robinson is portrayed as a complex hero who felt very deeply hurt by prejudicial treatment, but chose to follow Brooklyn General Manager Branch Rickey's direction not to fight back when attacked. Instead Jackie chose to challenge his angry through his play. Eig demonstrates that it was Jackie's presence, particularly his speed and daring on the basepaths that enabled an otherwise average Dodger team to win the National League pennant in 1947.

I would recommend this book to baseball fans, social scientists, and history lovers for its honest portrayal of a game and a nation in the process of change.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great for my African-American Students

How Stella Got Her Groove BackHow Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book for my high school students through a Title I grant. The books we ordered with the funds are to be used for high-interest young adult reading. I ordered this book because our student body is majority African-American, and I knew that Terry McMillan wrote her books about black characters.

When the order arrived, How Stella Got Her Groove back came with a note asking me that I preview the book because of its sexual content. So I did, and I am still making this available for the students despite of the fact that the "f" word is used liberally and there are a couple of sex scenes that, while certainly erotic, are not, in my opinion, graphically pornographic.

Stella is a 42 year old professional woman who decides that she needs a change in her life. She works in finance, a job she does not enjoy but which pays her quite well. She is also divorced with a 10 year old son. Stella sees an advertisement for Jamaica and decides to book a vacation in Montego Bay. There she meets 20 year old Winston Shakespeare who soon wins her heart. The conflict revolves around her age, his youth, her previous poor experiences with love, and her conflict over whether she feels true love or just chemistry.

I liked the book well enough. I like it better for my students, who often complain that books with black characters stress with negative sides of African-American life. McMillan has created a successful, professional character who struggles with human size problems rather than political systems. I think they, particularly my female students will enjoy this book.

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Brilliant Devices (Magnificent Devices #4)Brilliant Devices by Shelley Adina

Alternative history? Check
Steam driven machines? Check
Clockwork devices? Check
Use of human level engineering? CheckTrevelyan
Young characters having to get old characters out of trouble? Check
A tale of high adventure, dark conspiracies, and hairbreath escapes? Check

"Brilliant Devices", the 4th episode in Shelley Adina's "Magnificent Devices" stories about the adventures of Lady Claire Trevelyan has all of the elements of a great steampunk tale, and more.

This time Claire travels from the American (or the Colonies) Southwest to the wilds of Canada. Claire, having escapes the dastardly clutches of Lord James Selwyn, goes north to meet up with Earl Dunsmuir and family with Alice Chalmers, Adrew Malvern, and her wards Maggie and Lizzy, known together as the Mopsies. Alice has her own purpose in going to Edmonton where the Dunsmuir family have a large diamond mining operation. She is looking for her father, whom she suspects is involved in the enterprise, though under mysterious circumstances.

While there, they all uncover a plot against Count Zepplin, a brilliant creator of dirigible airships. And we discover more about the growing attraction between Claire and Andrew. Claire learns a good deal about herself in the process.

Lovers of the Steampunk genre will find all elements of what we have come to enjoy about these stories, plus Adina has created some memorable characters about whom I hope she continues to write.

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The "Looking Glass Wars" Open Up a New Front

Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars, #2)Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 2nd book in Frank Beddor's "Looking Glass Wars" triology. Queen Alyss must once again fight her Aunt Redd for her queendom pitting her White Imagination against Redd's augmented Black Imagination, as well as a new nemesis, King Arch of the Boarderland tribes. In a sub-plot Hatter Madigan discovers a lost love and unknown daughter, and Alyss and Dodge's love for one another grows.

This is a transition book to the 3rd part of the triology, Arch Nemesis.

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of JesusThe Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus by Robin Meyers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an outstanding examination of the current state of the church and a vision for a new church that is more like the person the church was supposed to emulate.

I have the great privilege to be a member of Mayflower Church where Robin Meyers minsters. This book spells out his vision of what the church should be and what Mayflower is trying to become. We want to be a place where all feel included regardless of their beliefs and/or lifestyles. We have no doctrine, simply a covenant to help each of us to realize all that God wants us to become. I recommend this ebook to all those who feel that the church needs to do more than simply do more than to affirm the status quo.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Beloved WorldMy Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Supreme Court justices are often closed individuals to the public. They don't hold news conferences, get out and press the flesh, or campaign in their home districts. So I found it refreshing to read this highly readable autobiography of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which traces her life from her birth to a working class Puerto Rican family in New York City up to the time she takes the oath of office for the Supreme Court.

Her account of her life is very descriptive and attempts to reveal her loves and ambitions. I did not find out much of her political or judicial philosophy, but I learned a great deal about how she has been influenced through her (extended) family, her education, her work ethic, and her various positions in the legal profession.

I plan to turn this book over to our school library and encourage the students at our school to read it. I hope it will inspire them to do the hard work needed to achieve their dreams.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Paul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of ChessPaul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of Chess by David Lawson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book will be of interest only to chess enthusiasts and probably not to most of them. Use of long block quotations and a rather turgid style of prose made getting through this book a bit of a slog. Still, it was interesting to read about the first American champion, born long before Bobby Fischer who, like Fischer, lead a rather troubled life.

I would have like to have seen more description of the sites where the events happen, especially ofLa RĂ©gence, the chess cafe in Paris that exists to this day.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Boris Spassky's Psycho Rook Sacrifice

Oh Myyy, this was fun to read

Oh Myyy!Oh Myyy! by George Takei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Highly enjoyable book about how George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu, became a social media phenomenon. His breezy, readable discussion covers the causes he's become involved in, how he got over 3 million followers on his Facebook page, the problem with FB trolls, and his life after Star Trek.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Library Closed Because We Must Test

This sign has been on our library door since last Monday, Jan. 17
Our students have not had access to the library since January 14th. That is 8 days and counting so far due to the high stakes testing that the district, along with the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and the federal Department of Education (DoE), deem necessary for our children.  The students who are taking these tests are the ones who have not passed the End of Instruction (EOI) tests that some of them need in order to graduate from high school.  

In addition to taking make-up exams, students take 3 mandated "Benchmark"  exams on their core subjects that are designed to measure the progress they are making throughout the school year. Like the EOIs, these tests must be taken on-line.  Our school has a limited number of available computers with internet access.  In addition to the 35 or so we have in the library, some of which break down at the most inopportune moments, we have two sets of "Computers on Wheels" (COWs) that have 30 or so laptops each and the computers in our Career Technology classrooms, whose students must be displaced whenever we are testing in those classrooms.  This is all we have to test the over 600 students who attend Centennial Middle/High School.

And we do a lot of testing. There are 7 EOI exams covering Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, English II, ACE English III, Biology I, and U.S. History. In addition to the high school tests, of which students are required to pass English II, Algebra I and two others in order to graduate, our school also gives tests to our 7th and 8th grade middle school students known as the Criterion Reference Tests (CRT), which include Grade 7 Reading, Mathematics, and Geography and Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics. The main EOI exams for high school students and CRTs for middle school students begin April 10th and go through May 10th, 4 weeks during which the library is "off limits" for any other use other than testing.

This means that when we give all these tests, the library is off limits to students who want to check out books or use technology for assignments. They are off limits to teachers who want their students to do research assignments.  The library, the heart of any educational institution, is off limits to students and teachers for about 7-9 weeks during the school year due to all the tests that students must take, during which, of course, they are out of their classrooms and in the testing room.

In our zeal to hold public education accountable for real, measurable results in teaching, we have created a seemingly unstoppable force that is strangling what we used to see as the primary purpose of the school library: to encourage literacy, to foster research, and to explore the world of knowledge. 

It is time we demand better for our children.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

An Interesting Book Marred by Very Bad Editing

NY Chess Since 1972: A Guide Book Of Places To Go And People You Will See Around NY ChessNY Chess Since 1972: A Guide Book Of Places To Go And People You Will See Around NY Chess by Peter Aravena Sloan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Interesting guide to the places and people of the New York City chess scene from the time of Bobby Fischer's victory over Boris Spassky in 1972 to the present day. The book suffers from being very poorly edited. One has to wade through a lot of garbled syntax to get at its meaning. Sloan must have written this without the help of even SpellCheck. Here is one of many examples.

The Manhattan [Chess Club] was officially closed down and out of business with even a debt to keep new club owners from opening the place. The American Chess Foundation refused to comment why they where paying there CEO Marley Kaplan an annual salary of over 250K out of a publically funded payroll while the Manhattan Chess Club was kicked out of the street only being short a small amount of money on their rent.

Aravena Sloan, Peter (2012-02-14). NY Chess Since 1972 (Kindle Locations 1516-1523). Sloans Book Press. Kindle Edition.

The simple editing device on my Dell computer notes two mistakes. There are at least 5 others ("where" for "were", "kicked out of the street and so on)in this small passage.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Magnificent Devices review

Magnificent Devices (Magnificent Devices #3)Magnificent Devices by Shelley Adina
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shelly Adina just keeps getting better and better. This was my favorite of her series of the adventures of Steampunk heroine Lady Claire Trevelyan and her band of London street urchins. In this edition, Claire and most of her crew travel to America, called the "territories" in this alternative world, where she battles sky pirates, "Texican" Rangers, and her constant nemesis, Lord James Selwyn, who still, like the melodramatic villain he is, wants to force Lady Clair to marry him. (The law of the land denies a woman under 18 the right to marry anyone other than the man her parent(s) have chosen for her.)
What I really enjoyed about this book was Adina's description of the desert Southwest with its red hues, jagged rock formations, and stark landscapes. New characters are added to the cast including a new female engineer named Alice who, like Claire, idolizes Andrew Malvern, whose invention to improve coal efficiency, (to power all the steam engines, of course)has been stolen by Lord Selwyn.
It's a very fast, exciting read. Can't wait for the next addition in February.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"I Have a Dream", a Call for National Repentance

Next Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.  We will have a parade downtown, in which I plan to participate.

My junior class will be doing an analysis of King's speech. Today we watched the complete speech in class. For some of my students, more than I expected, this was the first time they had heard the speech in its entirety.

We will proceed to look at the key words, the vocabulary, the figures of speech, and the language and tone of the speech.  I hope by the time my students get through with this unit, they will have a new appreciation for how King communicated his sermon of hope and call to action.

I see the speech as a sermon in the evangelical tradition that calls for repentance, in this case a national repentance for the sin of prejudice and injustice that grows out of America's Original Sin of slavery.

The sermon first gives the bad news of the wrongs of the past and present.
But one hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation], we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
But then the nation is offered the hope of repentance and salvation.
 We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
This is followed by the urgency of action. Now is the time of salvation.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
Then there is the vision of the future if action is taken now, the hope of glory.
 I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. 

So just as individuals are called to repent of their personal sins, King calls for all of America to repent its social sin of injustice and embrace the new kingdom of justice and righteousness.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Car and Gun Analogy

We ban race cars from our highways.

In the debate over sensible gun legislation, the "keep guns going no matter what" crowd frequently trot out a rather trite and false analogy.  They state, "Cars cause death; therefore, if we should ban cars if we feel that a "gun ban" is needed to protect the public."

First, this is  a false analogy, on that goes beyond comparing apples to oranges (both, after all are fruit). This is more like trying to compare apples to fabric softener. The purpose of a car is not to kill. If a car is used for its purpose, no one, no thing is killed. A gun is used for one purpose: to kill something or someone (that after all is its purpose even when used for protection.) Assault rifles are used to kill a lot of people very quickly.
Why not ban the sale of assault rifles?

But let us go ahead and use the car analogy. We DO regulate cars as we should regulate access to certain weapons. We don't, for example, allow NASCAR vehicles on the road to be driven by ordinary drivers. That would be a threat to public safety. We also don't allow tanks to be driven on the road (not only a vehicle, but a weapon that is banned from public use). We further regulate cars in many ways for safety sake. We require good brakes, seat belts, air bags, safety glass, and brake lights. AND we regulate and license the drivers who drive them.

In a sense then, the "car analogy" so beloved by the gun loving crowd argues more for gun regulation than against it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


I've invented a new acronym: DOMGDT. (I pronounce it "domgadat".)  It means "do one more g*d d*mn thing.  Each time one more new report, action plan, class room procedure gets heaped on me, I am going to respond DOMGDT!

The new God of Public Education!
Today, I found out that I need to update my data wall with the latest in fresh, hot data from the latest round of test scores.  This is about the 2nd task I have had to do in the first 4 days we have been back in the classroom.  Our district seems to have a perpetual wood for new techniques and procedures that are supposed to lead us to educational Nirvana.  It finally becomes a forest where we lose sight to the landscape.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Back to school for the few there

About half our students were out of class on Friday.  I started them on vocabulary because it will be easy for those not there to make up the work. I don't know who thought that having school for one day following a major holiday was a good idea, but I hope this shows them that it was not.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Back to School on Friday

School  begins tomorrow in the Oklahoma City Public School District for the Spring Term.  Many of my fellow teachers have griped about coming back on Friday for week day before the weekend.  I think that this would be a good time to go over the class norms, rituals, and routines.  My problem is in being consistent in applying them, so that is what I will concentrate on during this semester.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Do the Right Thing Because it is the Right Thing

Immanuel Kant
"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."--Immanuel Kant

The above statement is Kant's famous "Categorical Imperative", a more philosophy rendering of the "Golden Rule" that Kant felt should guide all human moral decisions.  To me it basically means that whatever it is that I do in my with regard to fellow humans, I would want everyone to do to each other including myself.

Nearly always, human believe whatever they do is right, even when it hurts someone else.  The corporate executive who outsources his manufacturing to a cheaper labor market justifies his decision by saying that it is good for those who buy his product or good for those who have invested money in the company or good for the people who will now manufacture his product (even if he pays them subsistence wages). The fact that he would not wish someone to do this to him likely registers, if at all, barely in his consideration.

My challenge will be to guide my own actions this year by this imperative and to use this blog as a measure of how well I am able to do it.

We will see if I can (or Kant).

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Welcome 2013

It's a new year and one of my resolutions is to try to keep up with my blogging.  One thing I need to decide is how I want to use my blog.  I have posted personal events, political rants, pictures, book reviews and so on.  Should I try to start another blog for politics and keep this one personal or just simplify and post whatever I want to write or show at the time. Right now, I am staying with the latter.

Anyway, 2012 was a pretty good year.  Teaching is very demanding, but I think I am learning a thing or two about the new methods they want us to incorporate in our instruction.  Next year, I understand, we switch to Common Core State Standards, and that will present a host of new problems. But I have always been able to roll with the punches, so I have no reason to believe I won't be able to go with the new standards. I am already using them along side the old state standards (PASS).  

I am very happy with the re-election of Pres. Obama.  America has shown that it is NOT listening to the right-wing extremists who have taken over the Republican Party.  The nation will survive because we Americans know how to roll with the punches.

I hope everyone has a safe, prosperous, productive, and happy new year.

Let's get on with it.