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.

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.