Thoughts on Black Friday

Just a few thoughts on the day after Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving Celebration

We enjoyed a long anticipated family dinner in Madera at my nephew’s home Wednesday afternoon. He usually has to work on holidays, so the family often celebrates when he’s available. Family members live long distances from each other, so getting together at all is something to celebrate. Even so, my other nephew had school and couldn’t come. I enjoyed the family time with those able to be there. I never know when or if the next time with them will come.

Thoughts on Black Friday
Thanksgiving Pies

Since my family likes privacy I won’t post their photos here, but I did post a photo of the delicious pies (above). I sampled all three.

I hope all of you who celebrated Thanksgiving with your families enjoyed a stress-free day of connecting to those you love. If you were alone because you no longer have a family, are estranged from family, or you have lost someone dear to you, I wish you peace and healing.

The Trip to Madera and Back

The traffic was heavy going south on Wednesday. It was lighter for us going north except here and as we approached Fresno and Madera.  It was especially bad trying to get back on Highway 41 going north after making a pit stop near the intersection of 41 and I-5. (Where the photo below was taken.)That line of cars is headed south to the only signal light that can get people access to I-5.

The only way to make a left turn, which we needed to do, was to hope someone would create a space so you could squeeze through while traffic was backed up to a red light. You can see a truck stopped to let a driver through who needed to make a left into the street we were on . The traffic was lined up for about two blocks behind what you see here. A kind driver did let us through to make our left turn, too.

Traffic near I-5 and Hwy 41 in California
Traffic near I-5 and Hwy 41 in California

As we had hoped, traffic was much lighter as we drove home on Thanksgiving Day. We finally got home yesterday in the late afternoon. After unloading the car, I had to get back to work on the computer.

Black Friday Deals

I’m not much of a shopper, but I am an affiliate marketer. I had posted early access specials to my blog before Thanksgiving, but I still had to add all the bargains that actually did start on Black Friday to a blog post. I needed to get them all posted before they started at midnight.

Enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend, fellow Americans. I hope those of you from other parts of the world also have a pleasant weekend and can do whatever your heart is set on.

No Wonder Some People Oppose Common Core!

Assignments related to holocaust denial have been justified by the need to teach critical thinking skills to satisfy new Common Core standards. It seems to me school districts should think critically about the consequences of giving such assignments before they are given instead of waiting until there is an outcry from parents.

Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews
Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews

After my husband directed my attention today to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Reuven H. Taff entitled “Turning Holocaust Denial into Homework,” I decided to see what else I could find out about this online. I wanted to find a more accessible site that did not require a paid subscription. I found it in another form on the Yahoo site:” California School District Under Fire for Holocaust-Denial Assignment” by Beth Greenfield.

The assignment in question was justified as an attempt to satisfy the Common Core standards on critical thinking by helping students to understand and communicate persuasive arguments. This particular assignment to eighth graders in a Rialto middle school required students to complete an essay on whether or not the Holocaust was an actual historical event or just a political scheme. Among the websites listed as legitimate resources for the assignment was one which denied the holocaust happened.

It seems to me that the people responsible for giving this assignment should have demonstrated more critical thinking skills themselves. The Wall Street Journal suggested a number of other topics that legitimately had two sides about which students could write. Among these were climate change, capital punishment, health care, immigration reform, tax policy, energy sources, and many more. You could probably think of many yourself. So why suggest to students with little background in world history that the holocaust might not have been real?

Rialto district officials, including interim Superintendent Mohammed Islam who issued a press release on the subject, said they were aware of the controversy caused by the assignment. Islam stated, ‘The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.’

It should be noted that Common Core standards were used as an excuse for giving this assignment. I would like to think teachers and curriculum writers would think critically about possible consequences of assignments, and which topics are most likely to be most important to the daily lives of American citizens as they become part of the voting public. Or maybe school officials would rather students didn’t think critically about such issues, since they might come to different conclusions than their teachers.

Barb’s People Builders sells many materials that help teach critical thinking skills to elementary and middle school students.  Television ads, news opinion pieces, and political speeches also offer older students material to analyze critically. Teachers should equip students with critical thinking skills so they can methodically examine what they hear and read to differentiate  facts from spin and propaganda. They should also help students acquire the research skills to find the truth mixed with all the falsehoods they hear and see every day.

Your take on this?

To Keep Teenagers Alert, Schools Let Them Sleep In – NYTimes.com

New research indicate high students might be more alert for classes if school started later. What do you think? Take the poll after reading the reasoning.

Too Tired to Study
Too Tired to Study

To Keep Teenagers Alert, Schools Let Them Sleep In – NYTimes.com.

I can relate to not wanting to get up early. Now that I’m 70 and work until the wee small hours on my computer, I’m lucky to get six hours of sleep. Because much of my work takes concentration to detail, I usually wait until about 9 PM to start some projects. That gets me in bed sometime between 1 and 3 AM. I try to be up by 9, but it’s an effort, and an early medical appointment or test that means getting up by 6 AM knocks me out for the rest of the day. Even if I try to go to bed early, I lie awake because my brain won’t slow down.

However, when I was in high school I had no problem getting up early, and I also had to be on time for college classes that started at 8. On the other hand, our high school classes started about 8 or 8:30, if my memory serves me well. It certainly wasn’t before 8. Maybe that’s why I and my classmates didn’t have a problem.

It is a sad state of affairs when bus schedules become more important than student alertness. I used to walk to high school, which was probably about a mile away. I never measured, but it took about 45-60 minutes to walk, depending on whether we walked slowly so we could talk longer.

I think maybe some students have bus rides that long. I guess in many places it’s no longer safe to walk back and forth to school. That’s a shame. That walk home from school was a great way to socialize on the way home, get some exercise, and unwind. That exercise is good for fighting depression, another ailment that afflicts way too many teens today. We could have taken the bus, but if we had time, we walked home by choice.  We only took the bus in the morning when time was short.

I Guess I’m Just Not With the Times

Do you like the way the word “like” is now being used? Do you, like, see no reason to, like, be concerned about this? Are you like “The language is just evolving?” Or do you not like this contemporary usage any more than I do?

I have watched as todays’ publishers of children’s and young adult books have been letting their characters model what I consider atrocious English usage.  Two of the most prevalent examples of this were using the word “goes” instead of “said.” Example: “So he goes “You’ve got to be kidding.” And so on.

The other example was the use of the word “like” as a  placeholder while thinking of something to say, or in the phrase “was like” instead of “said.” An example of the first would be “So he, like, wanted to take me out, but I, like, couldn’t , like, stand him.”  An example of the second would be “So he’s like “I don’t believe it! and I’m like “It’s true.”

As I read sentences like this in the new books being published a few years back I cringed, because I knew that reading this kind of dialogue would validate less than standard English among those who most needed to learn standard English. Today I saw “How to Use the Word Like in English.” I guess I’m now officially a dinosaur.

I believe this was written for people learning English as a Second Language. I rather wish it had been written to help ESL students understand this usage when they heard it, not to teach them that this is how to use the word. This usage not only wrecks the sound of the English language and supports fuzzy thinking, but it also tangles up the rules of punctuation.

Is this the kind of English usage now being taught in American public schools?

Is Penmanship Obsolete?

Is it still worth the time for children to learn cursive handwriting in this day of computers? What do you think?

DAily HandwritingRemember learning  to print when you were very young, and later switching to cursive writing,which also had to be learned? Many of us were raised before children had access to keyboards and we learned to use typewriters when we got to high school, unless we didn’t want to. So our entire elementary school success depended on our ability to write with pen or pencil on paper. Even in college we used composition books for tests. 

Today things have really changed. Some schools believe cursive writing is obsolete and no longer worth teaching in the schools.  Has Handwriting Become Extinct? explains some of the reasons that it’s still worthwhile to learn this skill.  The lost art of handwriting | Life and style | theguardian.com also makes a case for keeping and making an effort to retain this skill. It seems to be especially valuable in helping us organize our thinking and in helping those who are beginning to suffer from memory loss. Seemingly writing our lists and notes by hand imprints them more firmly in our minds.

What do you think? Is handwriting obsolete or not?

If you need materials for teaching cursive writing, here’s a good place to start

 

How to Take the Joy from Literature

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences.

Snowy Woods

This afternoon I’m weeding through some of my books and came across one by a favorite children’s author, Jean Little — Hey World, Here I Am! On page 28 I came across a poem, “After English Class.” It’s written in the first person in the voice of Kate Bloomfield, who describes how she used to like the Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” She liked the sound of the words and their rhythm, and the imagery. She could see the snow and hear the jingling bells. I think that’s what Robert Frost would have wanted.

The next lines explain how the teacher ruined the poem for her:

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep—
They all have ‘hidden meanings.’
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences. Just as a student of biology may prefer a living whole frog to the dead one they have just dissected, the students who read a poem may just want to enjoy it and respond to it with  their own imaginations. Does the dissection the teacher provides keep students from gleaning meanings they might have discovered on their own?

Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/en/users/PublicDomainPictures/

Illinois Policy Institute – A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools

Illinois Policy Institute – A Rising Tide: School Vouchers and Their History of Improving Public Schools.

We always knew that students in poorly performing schools who could attend private schools with voucher help improved academically. Now in Illinois it appears the schools they came from also begin to improve. This would suggest that competition benefits everyone but non-performing teachers.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools

Why are we using police power to terrorize children who don’t realize they are violating school rules when they bring objects to school rational people don’t consider weapons ? A folding comb? A camping eating utensil? Their fingers? Where has common sense gone when we use police to arrest children for these offenses instead of using them on the streets where real criminals are using real guns to kill innocent people. Mass murders aren’t committed with folding combs or fingers or even the unmoving guns in the hands of miniature toy soldiers in play sets.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools.

Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor
Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor. Yes, he owed the camping eating tool that included a knife.

This is the kind of thing that will make actual criminals out of innocent students. Take the case of Zachary Christie mentioned in this article. He is six years old and a Cub Scout, learning to be a good citizen. He innocently brought a camping utensil to school that’s an all-in-one knife, fork and spoon to be used for eating. For this offense he was sentenced to serve 45 days in reform school. I’d wager that will be a much worse influence on him than a Boy Scout camping trip. He’ll probably learn how to commit real crimes, disrespect authority, etc.

We’ve known for a long time that legislators on the state and federal level have been short on common sense, but it appears this lack of common sense also exists in public school administrators. I’ll bet a lot of them played cops and robbers (or violent video games) when they were young. In fact, if we want to prevent  gun violence, maybe those violent video games are a great thing to make unavailable for children. If the first amendment keeps those legal, maybe the second amendment can at least keep fingers and harmless guns on play figures that can’t even move legal.

A common sense approach would be that students who probably didn’t realize the items administrators find offensive  were considered weapons be informed and warned . Parents should then be called to the office and have it explained to them, and then have the parents come get the item with instructions never to let it come to school again. Things that are normally not thought of as weapons that are forbidden on campus should be listed on the school website that parents use for school policy information. The list should also be on a note sent home at the beginning of the year. Students should also be informed in their classrooms the first day of school and again about once a month.

Meanwhile, while the police are being called to drag these young and probably unintentional offenders from their classrooms, they are not available to track down the real criminals on the streets who are killing each other with real guns. Where have our priorities gone? Where has our common sense gone?  No wonder children aren’t learning critical thinking skills in some schools. Teachers can’t teach what they don’t have.

Maybe the idea is to label these children as terrorists now so they will never be allowed to own a gun when they grow up.  Then they won’t be able to protect their family someday from a real terrorist or common criminal breaking into their home.

Lies About Public Education: Socialization

So what about socialization? Is the socialization in schools a good reason for children to be there rather than be taught at home? How much does school socialization help students get along with people in the real world of work?

Lies About Public Education: Socialization

Many people believe one of the virtues of sending children to public school is their socialization. This article claims this is not necessarily a good thing.

Home schoolers have known for years that life in the real world does not consist primarily in dealing with people the same age you are. I had a public junior high school teacher tell me that he has little influence over his students — that the real influence on them is the peer pressure from the other students. When my daughter was in fourth grade her elementary school principal told me there wasn’t much that could be done about the sexual harassment Sarah got from the older boys on the playground, since the teachers couldn’t see everything that happened during recess periods. That was the last year my children attended public schools. The next year I discovered that some private schools also have problems with socialization that’s not well supervised.

It’s my opinion that no student should be forced to go to an unsafe school when there are alternatives parents could choose. No student should have to face cruel peers for months on end because a law meant to be a blessing has become a curse for many children and their parents. Public education used to be a privilege and students and their parents could choose to drop in and out of according to their families needs. It would be interesting to see how many of today’s public school students believe getting their education is a privilege.

The River as an Educational Resource

There’s a lot of science to be discovered around a river in winter, even if it’s half dry. Check the tree branches and trunks for mosses and lichens and even buds. Explore large rocks near the river for life, and if part of the riverbed is dry, check for interesting rocks and notes their differences and learn how they were formed. A science teacher with a camera can produce a lot of her own visual aids on one river walk.

Whether you are a home educator or a classroom teacher, if you have a river nearby, you have a wonderful educational resource. I live near the Salinas River and often hike the Salinas River Trail in Larry Moore Park in Paso Robles. It normally has water only a few months of the year, and only if there’s a normal amount of rain. Most of the year the Salinas River is subterranean. You don’t see the water. The river normally appears during winter, and I usually start searching for water around January. This year, though, we had our heavy rains start earlier than usual. So I went out in search of the river today, December 28, 2012. I found it.

Water in Salinas River
Water in Salinas River flowing north toward Niblick Bridge, Paso Robles

I followed the river bed for some distance, since I always get excited about what I see. Today it struck me how much science there is to investigate in the river and the riverbed.

Is there a story under this willow?
Is there a story under this willow?

As I walked along the edge of the river, I saw these small clumps of willows everywhere. Those closest to the west channel, which always stays full of water the longest, seemed to live on top of brush piles. Let’s take a closer look at one of these. Do you think a child might wonder how all this material happened to be under this willow? Might one try identifying different types of trees from what’s in these piles? What might one learn about a river by observing this small tree?

What's under this willow?
What’s under this willow?

Although the overall impression as one walks along the river in late December is colorless brown and tan branches and dead leaves, some plants show they are very much alive, or host things that are. On the ground beneath are new weed seedlings. There are red buds on some of the twigs. Moss and lichens also add color. Children turned loose with a hand-held microscope would have fun discovering this variety of mosses and lichens of different colors and identifying the new weed seedlings.

Winter Color in the Branches
Do you see all the colors here?

Children would also be fascinated at all they can see growing on a rock.

What grows on a rock in winter?
What grows on a rock in winter?

Not all growing on this rock is moss or lichen. We also see green seedlings. They need soil. How did soil get on this rock? How about the weed seeds? Is soil created on the rock itself? Or does it all blow into crevices? And why does the rock itself look the way it does? How was it created? There is geology as well as life science to be learned. All these questions can be answered through research and observation. As a teacher, you can inspire the curiosity that will make students want to solve the mysteries.

If you aren’t in a position to take your students on a field trip, you can at least make the trip to the river yourself with a camera. Take the pictures that will arouse interest in what you want students to learn. And don’t forget the videos. Watch the river’s current. Study the rocks in the riverbed to try to understand how they became what they are. You can even collect a few rocks to bring into the classroom. Here are some specimens I found.

Egg-Shaped Rock
Egg-Shaped Rock and Some Other River Rocks
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings
Interesting River Rocks and Milk Thistle Seedlings