Monday, February 19, 2007

President's Day or, Why Some Have School and Others Do Not

Today, I asked my little girl if she knew why she had no school today. She replied (with more than just a smidgen of "eye roll" in her voice), "because it's mid-winter break."

"No, darling," said I, "what holiday is it?"

She didn't know. So, I told her. It being the case that she shows more promise of becoming a history buff than I ever did, I thought it might be fun to explain what it is and give her a little "no school today" assignment.

I told her to go on Google and find a list of all of the Presidents thus far and print it out so we could look at it together and discuss what we did/ did not know about them.

More than just a little proud of her resourcefulness in today's electronic world, she immediately produced one of her laminated placemats housed atop the microwave which summarizes all of the Presidents, when they served, etc.

The thing about children is, they are only interested in boring topics such as this when you are expressing interest alongside them. I thought that what I had done was give her a small challenge that may captivate her interest for a little bit while I finished studying for a quiz that I have this evening. The truth of the matter is that I wasn't really interested in learning about the Presidents, I was just trying to give her something remotely educational to do.

It backfired and I was forced to sit with her and tell her the very little that I knew about the Presidents. I'm pretty sure her prior knowledge exceeds mine.

I told her what I knew: we've had some great Presidents, like Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, some weird like Nixon, and some that just sucked like Hoover (she didn't get the bad, tired joke, but did shoot me a reproachful glare for saying "sucked").

She asked me which Presidents I had voted for and I explained that President Clinton was the first that I was old enough to vote for and not until his second term in '96. This prompted a discussion of terms, where I had to tell her that his first term began in '92 and I was still too young to vote.

"Mom, his first term started in 1993. That's what it says here."

Then the whole lame-duck thing. Then I'd had enough. Time to get back to work. I tried to give her a follow-up assignment, but she wasn't interested unless I was going to do it with her.

She did leave me with a very valid question.

"Mom, if President's Day is so important, why do you have to go to school tonight? How come I got the day off and you didn't?"

"Because you're on mid-winter break."

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I've done this before: posted the text of an email from the Ayn Rand Institute. I usually disagree with these emails. The last one I posted I happened to agree with. Unfortunately, that will not be the case today.

The thing about ARI is that the folks running the place have the strictest interpretations of Ayn's work. Normally, this is what an author wants to avoid. They like their audience to be able to relate to their work in some way and give allowances for the reader to make some of their own interpretations. This was not the case with Ayn Rand. She was a stubborn old hag and she meant what she meant and if the reader didn't see it that way, then they weren't worthy of her work.

Still, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged remain at the very top of my favorites list and mean quite a bit to me personally even though Ayn would not approve as I do not embrace everything she said.

This article is a prime example:

Ayn Rand Institute Press Release

No Child Let Ahead
February 13, 2007

Irvine, CA--With the No Child Left Behind Act up for reauthorization, critics are pointing out that it is preventing gifted children from advancing ahead. Because the act forces states to ensure that the weakest students are not left behind, it has dried up funding for programs intended to challenge the strongest.

"The problem is not just with No Child Left Behind," said Dr. Keith Lockitch, resident fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute. "The problem is inherent in the very system of public education, itself. When people's tax dollars are taken to pay for the education of other people's children, there is no way to distribute those dollars fairly."

"The inevitable result is a massive government bureaucracy making collective judgments involving millions of students. And given the egalitarian philosophy dominating that bureaucracy, should it be any surprise that it is our nation's best and brightest that are sacrificed in the attempt to serve the weakest?

"Only a free market in education can prevent the injustices of the current system--a system that, like any government-run industry, has deteriorated into a junk heap of dismal public schools that meets no one's educational needs."


I also don't agree that NCLB is good legislation. Other than raising the requirements for teachers, I don't see a whole lot of good in it. I think this country needs something drastically different for its public education system.

But, as a woman who is crossing her fingers to land a job in the public education system in the fall of '08, I believe rather firmly that eliminating public education would be a huge mistake.

I don't know why I get so fired up over this as it's not likely that public education will ever be eliminated in the United States, but I do.

Ayn Rand would describe the innocent as those who are intelligent and hard-working and generally taken advantage of. I don't disagree here. Man is an amazing creature.

It's the fact that these Randroids don't see children in general as innocent that blows my top.

The kids that they say NCLB is lending false assistance to have only one hope in life and that is the public education system. Do the really talented and gifted children get left behind as a result? You bet it happens. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, but not by a "free market education system."

The other day, my "friend" Brad wrote a blog about the disparities in income among the different classes.

I harbor no resentment toward the rich for being rich, nor do I believe that there should be any type of increased tax burden for them because they are wealthy.

But, when we look at the huge percentage of people who live in poverty and all of the kids they pound out, are we honestly going to pretend that half of those parents give two shits about their child's education? And, are we to say, "Oh, well. It's too bad that these kids who didn't ask to be born have parents who don't care about their child's education. At least the gifted kids are being taken care of."?

What about another truth: some kids born into poverty are gifted. But if at age 5, they don't have the tools to get themselves enrolled into a good school because their parents don't give a shit, will the world not suffer under these principles?

During my last observations, there was a girl in the 8th grade who made it to school one day (average) per week. That's because her single mother is never home and she has to take care of her younger siblings, including a baby, while her mother is working 2 jobs. Clearly this mother has made some horrendous mistakes. Look who's paying for them.

This is the kind of bullshit that really gets me unsettled. I can't even do it justice in one blog. I'd have to do a whole series.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Tonight was Contemporary Lit. The selections we were to read for the week were mostly about relationships and sex. It's funny how we can all open up in the classroom when given a topic; but would probably never share these things if we were, say, in the student lounge.

The last work we discussed was the poem "Incompatibilities" by Ted Hughes. Earlier in the class, we had discussed how we construct meaning differently from others and were given a group exercise to come up with thesis statements (there were only 5 of us in class, 4 if you don't count the woman who didn't speak/contribute) that conflicted with each other. This was to show that we possessed the ability to interpret a passage in different ways.

It is very interesting now to reflect on the discussion we had on the Ted Hughes poem. I'd like to type it here, but I don't feel like going downstairs to get my book. I'm too comfy.

Anyhow, to me the poem was about (as it seems to state in the first two lines) how sexual desire can both unite and divide two people. About how two people can be physically connected and yet be so separate from each other. Two people with needs, neither can fulfill each other's. Duty sex.

There are two other people in class who speak aside from myself. They are my "peeps", we have all of our classes together- we're graduating together, same major and minor. It was amusing to see how they interpreted the poem so differently than I did and, reflecting on it now, how it applies to our lives so much.

One looked at it physically, visualizing specifically what was happening between the two people in a very romantic manner.

Another saw sparks flying everywhere. An intense sexual connection between the two people the entire time, the only division occurring post-climax when it's time to go off into your own world.

Then there was me, you've already read my interpretation. The classmate two paragraphs up is getting married next year, the classmate one paragraph up is a newlywed, and there's me- the one going through a divorce.

I'm amused. Can't help it.

But, I'm also a bit in love with a poem that, intentionally or not, very explicitly states what was missing. Perhaps eventually I'll be able to see a little of what the other two saw and it will be a lost and found.

On another note, the innocent crush I have on my teacher (no laughing, person to be married next year) was amplified when he handed back a paper full of red marks for my substandard punctuation. My heart beats just a little faster when I'm challenged grammatically.

A good night. And for those of you familiar with the countdown, two more days...

Monday, February 5, 2007

Mentoring Gone Wrong

I'm going to try my hand at writing a blog that conveys my current feelings without providing more information than my reader needs to know. You'll have to let me know if I succeed.

I'm trying to figure out why I put up with a brooding, annoying classmate of mine. Not simply: Why do I put up with him? But, why do I try so hard to reassure him that he's going to be a good teacher?

Right off, I'll say that there is nothing romantic here. I have no attraction for this classmate. This is part of the reason why I generally just don't understand why I try so hard to cheer him up, make him feel like he's important, and feel a certain affection toward him.

Earlier this year, we were given new students to mentor. I do not connect with the girl I'm supposed to be mentoring. I do connect with this classmate. His real mentor and I are friends. He's kind of our pet project.

He's moody, negative to an amazing degree, argumentative, and thinks the world is out to get him. He's very open about it. I generally don't associate with people like that. But I like the kid, for some reason.

I always go right to his table in the lounge because he always seems to be there. I give him a big, friendly smile and greet him warmly. I ask him how his classes are going, how his weekend was, how his observations are going. I battle his negative feedback with helpful tips from my experience.

Somedays, I'll see him and he's in a really good mood.

"Melissa! You have to hear this song, it's in my head and I've been waiting for you to get here so you can hear it!"

"My mom bought my dad a Wii for Christmas, I've been playing all weekend, it's awesome!"

I think he's always happy to see me, I don't think my positive outlook bothers him or that I'm always trying to cheer him up annoys him. Somedays, he's just so depressing.

"I wasn't going to come in today. I wish I could just sleep for a week. No one would even know I wasn't here."

"I'm just taking it one quarter at a time. It's a fucking joke. I'm not going to finish the program."

He genuinely wants to be a teacher. I think he will have a gift to reach the unreachable kids. I spend all this time trying to reassure him that he's going to make it, etc. that it's taking away from the time I have to enjoy myself with my more positive classmates.

Tonight in class, I was talking to the girl on my right about things girls talk about and we were having fun. He was to my left making his sad and angry little noises and I abandoned my conversation to coddle him.

As we were being divided by our teacher into groups, he complained that he was being forced into a group of annoying girls (he's the only male in the class) and he should just go home. I told him in that special way that I have to "get your ass over there and quit acting like a baby." This is how he needs to be spoken to. I think he likes it.

As I was working in my group, I noticed that he was perfectly normal, animated and contributing. But when we went back to our seats after the exercise, he went back to brooding.

I think he wants my attention. Seriously. I'm not being narcissistic here. He acts like an ass, I pay attention. He's happy, I feel more free to talk to other people.

So, given my assurances that I have no attraction for him, why do I feel the need to "fix" him even though I think that to an extent, he's playing a part to get my attention?

Annotated Bib (The Giver)

LIT405: Literature for Young Adults

I'm posting my homework, again. I liked The Giver. Not just because the protagonist's name was Jonas, and one of my favorite songs is "My Name is Jonas," although it certainly didn't hurt. I really liked Jonas, not the way I like Holden Caulfield, but I was very sad that he died at the end, nonetheless. Did I just give away the ending? I try to avoid that. It's okay, the ending is widely open to interpretation, if you'd like to believe that Jonas doesn't die. But, he does. So does the baby. Sorry.

3 more days...

Ok, here's the bib:

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1993.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry explores the concept of utopia/dystopia. The society in which Jonas, the protagonist, lives is without hunger, fear, or poverty but is also without any true emotion whatsoever. Upon their twelfth birthdays, Jonas and his peers receive their assignments which determine what the young citizens will do for their community, their career. Jonas is bestowed with the highest honor possible, that of "The Receiver," the only person in the community who holds the memories of the past.

Jonas embodies many qualities that would be desirable to others his age. He is intelligent, perceptive, and well-liked. His character development is not so in-depth as to exclude any readers from the possibility of becoming Jonas. As Jonas begins to receive memories, thus beginning the emotional process of acquiring true feelings, the reader will begin to understand why it simply is not possible or desirable for all of society to be the same or even to begin on a level playing field.

This book is targeted toward an audience of readers that are around age twelve, Jonas' age. While the book primarily focuses on Jonas' coming of age, it also dabbles in the science fiction genre (How does the Giver transmit memories, and how is it possible for Jonas also to transmit his newly acquired memories? How do these memories go back to the people when Jonas escapes?). Lowry accomplishes this in a way that does not distract from the plot; thus appealing even to students that do not typically have an appreciation for science fiction.

Friday, February 2, 2007


I had a good day.

It's that simple.

Jenna had a field trip to the planetarium in Flint. It didn't suck. Mostly, field trips suck.

I'm that mom. I go to school every Friday (always have) to help Jenna's teacher. I go to every field trip. I attend the assemblies. I don't like small children, except my own. I do these things because it makes my daughter feel good.

I love my daughter. So, I do these things for her.

You know I like to back-track before I get to the point. It's pretty much inevitable. Back-tracking will appear in italics, so you can skip it if you want.

I spent several years taking a class here and a class there working toward my accounting degree until January of 2004 when I quit work to concentrate on completing my degree. I've been doing the Barnes and Noble thing once a week for a few years now. It's the only place I get any serious work done.

So there I was, at Barnes and Noble, doing my accounting homework. I was getting ready to transfer to a four year college to get my bachelor's. I had taken as many credits as I could transfer. I only had 2 semesters left and I'd have the bachelor's. But I couldn't concentrate, because I didn't like accounting. I liked books. I was surrounded by them. I love langauge and literature.

Then and there, out of nowhere, I started researching my options for becoming a high-school English teacher. It was wierd because it was exactly like an epiphany. I had never in my life thought about becoming a teacher. I was going to be an accountant and that was it.

Now, I'm going to graduate with the bachelor's next spring. It takes 5 years to become a teacher. I work my ass off and will have done it in 3 years.

Why do I think I'll make a good teacher? I am positively lustful about English, literature, learning, and (recently) history. I have something to offer. And I connect with kids at the secondary age very well. I have a genuine enthusiasm for what I'm going to do. I didn't have that with accounting. I was just good at it, so that's what I was going to do.

What does all of this have to do with the planetarium?

Early in the school year, Jenna's class got a new student. He has special needs. Nothing physical. I'm no where near qualified to make assumptions, but if I had to, I'd say he seems to have Asperger's. From the very beginning, on my Friday "helper" day, Jenna's teacher (a long term-sub until December while her real teacher was on maternity leave), I was put with him to work one-on-one.

He's gross. He picks his nose, sucks his thumb, bites his nails, wipes his snot all over his hands and then... he touches me. He constantly needs hugs. He takes my hands and puts them on his face because he needs to be touched. I was put off at first because of the germ issues, and I don't like to be touched.

But, I connected with this kid. He works for me. As soon as I would come in on Friday, he'd be straight to the back table to sit with me. He'd bring his unfinished work and I helped him. Jenna's sub told me I should reconsider my major and go into special ed because I "have a gift." I did not entertain this.

One of my teachers last year said that if I can't get a job, I should take a special ed position to get my foot in the door and transfer as soon as what I want opens up. It sickened me. Children in special ed deserve to have a teacher who cares about their situation genuinely and wants to help them. I'm not saying I couldn't do that, but I don't want to. I want to teach English. It's not fair to the kids that their teacher is just taking the special ed job until something better comes along. It's just not fair.

On the way to the planetarium, Jenna's teacher told me that today the school and this boy's parents were meeting to discuss his IEP and he was going to be pulled into special ed. This is great for him. He's intelligent, but he needs the one on one attention that he can't get in a regular classroom.

He was in my group. Him, my daughter, and one of her friends. He's always in my group because he loves me and he's good for me. In the theater, as we were looking up at the ceiling when the lights went out and the stars came up, he got scared. He leaned over and buried his germy face in my arm almost the entire time.

I started to tear up.

I'm going to miss him. He won't be greeting me at the back table with a hug (a hug that I despise) on Fridays anymore. I don't get to help him with his work anymore. He won't step out in the hall to hold the staples while I pull down the old displays and put up the new.

Then I started to think of what Jenna's sub said back in September. Maybe I do have a gift. Luckily, I have some time to think of this and I'm already in the right program. I don't have to do anything drastic, like change my major. I could teach special ed.

Ah... but English... sweet, sweet English.