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.

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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

Do We Want a Future Of Instant Connections and Without Email?

Do we really want to do away with email in intra-company communications and replace it with instant communication?

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I used to work in this office occasionally back in the 1970’s, in the days before computers were on every desk and hardly anyone used the Internet for anything. You walked over to someone to speak to him personally and you used the phone to talk to someone outside the store. It worked.

Barbara Gago envisions a completely different business environment to evolve by the next decade. She sees email being dead on a business network and being replaced with instant communication and video communication on enterprise social networks.

She sees more people working at home on their computers, making an office environment unnecessary. I can go along with that. I can also understand that a company CEO or manager might want to communicate by video with employees rather than calling everyone to be physically at a meeting. That saves time and energy for everyone involved.

What I’d personally find difficult is the instantaneous nature of this proposed network communication. If it doesn’t come by email, how does it come? Instant messaging? Will it be a constant barrage of dings on the computer screen as different people in the organization decide they have something important to say that must be said immediately? I can’t see all those interruptions encouraging productivity, since they break concentration as employees try to perform tasks. Nothing makes me crazier now when I’m trying to write or calculate or work in Quickbooks than hearing a ringing phone (that’s probably a sales person) or the ding of someone instant messaging me just to say “Hi.”

Another thing I don’t like about instant communication is that it allows little time to think over what one will say before sending or responding to the message. I’m guessing much will be said that would not be said if one had to walk to someone’s desk to say it, or even make a call. Each of us thinks what we have to say is important. The question I have is whether it’s all important enough to interrupt someone with, or whether it could wait until that someone is ready to check email during the next hour. Everything important is not necessarily urgent.

What do you think?

What Kind of Teacher Do You Want to Be?

Will you help your students to learn this year? Or will you simply label them as failures if they don’t? What kind of teacher will you be?

My Mother, an Excellent Teacher, in her English Classroom
My Mother, in her English Classroom

My mother, Marjorie Hart, was an excellent teacher.  She got her B.A. and her credential to teach English  in California when I was in high school. She started her first teaching job in Artesia with only an emergency credential, when I was in college. Her first year was very hard on her physically and emotionally, since she still had one school age child at home and she was still having to take classes at night. She almost didn’t make it.

She kept at it, though, and finally got tenure. She finally became head of the English department and trained her share of student teachers. She also taught English as a Second Language at the high school and, for a semester, at the adult school as well. She loved teaching the adults, until the district forced an unimaginative curriculum which her students hated on all adult ESL classes. So she did not continue the adult class when the semester ended. At various times in her teaching career she was the advisor for the school yearbook and the the school newspaper.

Beside me I have my Mom’s scrapbook. It’s devoted to pictures students gave her or sent her after they left her class.  There are wedding pictures, Valentines, birthday, thank you, and Christmas cards. Here is a sampling of messages on the backs of the pictures and in the cards. The student year book for 1969 is full of similar messages.

Mrs. Hart, from one of your most grateful students (I actually know a little about grammar.)

Mrs. Hart / One of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. I hope that the rest of your life is as beautiful as you’ve made mine. I love you always. / Ed-in-chief, Class of 76

Mrs. Hart, / Words can’t express my gratitude to you. I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me. Your (sic) my favorite teacher and I’ll always remember you. With love, T.D., -76-

My mom did not teach all college prep classes. She taught a lot of the students who would probably never go to college. Many had trouble speaking English. Many had problems at home and  confided in my mom. She would tell me about how hard it was for some  to finish homework when they had to care for siblings at home and fix the meals while their parents worked. I know my mom cared about her students. If they weren’t learning, she kept trying to find new ways to help them.

Contrast that with this high school teacher in Pennsylvania who was just fired for blogging that her students were  “rat-like”, “frightfully dim”, “lazy whiners”, and suggested that their future employment was with the local trash company. She considered it all their fault if they didn’t learn.

I have had some English students who did not want to learn anything and did not want to be in school. Many of them had bad attitudes and were in trouble with the law. But I tried to show them the respect due to every human being. Although I was able to help and reach some of them, I failed with some others. I was young and inexperienced and came to the conclusion that teaching in public school was not the right job for me. I only knew how to reach the college prep students. I simply wasn’t prepared enough to give the unmotivated students the inspiration they needed to succeed.

Steven David Horwich, who introduced the Pennsylvania teacher I mentioned above, in his blog, spends the remainder of his blog describing the job of a teacher. If you are planning to go into a classroom to teach this fall for the first or  the twenty-first time, you might want to read this for inspiration.  These are just a few of the words Horwich shares:

It is the teacher’s job to provide the environment wherein a student can experience and grasp information, develop ideas and ambitions, experiment, try, fail, try again and finally succeed. We will need our young people’s ideas and ambitions if we are to progress in any direction as a culture and a people. A teacher who berates a student for failure, who makes an issue of it, is a teacher helping to build human beings who will refuse to try, refuse to reach, will not experiment, try again or ever succeed. The price for trying and failing will be seen as simply too draconian and painful, the lesson students actually learn from teachers who cannot control their critical instincts.

It is a teacher’s job to find any and every way to open up the world and its possibilities to a child. And when that child smiles and reaches for a particular idea, it becomes the teacher’s job to fan that flame of interest into a bonfire with additional experiences and ideas along the same line. This is how a teacher helps to build the next great artists, athletes, business and political leaders.

My mom was that kind of teacher. What kind of teacher will you be this year?

What Does Your E-Book Learn From You?

What Does Your E-Book Learn From You?

I have long been a fan of paper books, and I’m not ready to replace them with an e-book of any kind yet. Reading this article has convinced me to wait a bit longer before taking the plunge into e-books.

Your E-Book is Reading You

Some of my Favorite Childhood Books
Some of my Favorite Childhood Books

I have long been a fan of paper books, and I’m not ready to replace them with an e-book of any kind yet. Reading the above article has convinced me to wait a bit longer before taking the plunge into e-books. I haven’t yet forgotten the readers who downloaded Orwell’s 1984 on their Kindles only to have it disappear. One of my colleagues at tomfolio.com pointed out that if Amazon can erase an entire book overnight from countless kindles, it could also erase or rewrite a paragraph or a chapter, making it possible for  Big Brother to  rewrite history without anyone being aware of it — unless, of course, there was an earlier paper edition to compare it to.

So I plan to hold on to any of my paper editions that are important to me. And this article gives me another reason. Reading is an intensely private activity for me. I don’t mind discussing what I’ve read with others after I’ve read a book, but I really don’t want a computer taking note of how far I get in a book, what I underline, or whether I decide not to finish a book I started. I want to lean back in my recliner, open my paper book, and get lost in it. And I don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder when I’m reading it.

Why Not a School Art Festival?

Every child should be lucky enough to attend an art festival like the one in Paso Robles, California every year. If that’s too far for your family to go, see if your area has one. If it doen’t , see what you can do about getting one started — even if it’s just on a school level at first. Every child is creative. Help your children to find an outlet for that creativity. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

Children Love Helping to Build this Sand Castle at Festival of the Arts, Paso Robles
Children Love Helping to Build this Sand Castle at Festival of the Arts, Paso Robles

I have just returned from the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts for 2012, and was full of regret that my children had never had the opportunity a local art festival presented to see how creative people could be. Both of my children had some artistic talent, but I was not artistic enough to help them explore what they could do to develop any but their musical gifts.

Children Experiment with Instruments at the Musical Petting Zoo
Children Experiment with Instruments at the Musical Petting Zoo

Paso Robles held its first Festival of the Arts in 2009, and I’ve attended each one since 2010, making this my third. Each year it gets better. I always encourage people to come and bring their children because they will have the time of their lives. In my latest post in my local blog, Tidbits from Templeton, I posted pictures of  many activities that were available to children this year. I’m only able to include a photo of the 2011 musical petting zoo, which allows children to try out playing a wide selection of music instruments. I only have this year’s in video. I will be writing an article that incorporates video on  these activities as soon as I can get them processed.

Children Make Tie Dye Art at The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts
Children Make Tie Dye Art at The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts

The variety of hands-on activities ran the gamut from music and painting to wading in rose petal pools, building a super sand castle,  and making zany hats. There was also plenty to see that might inspire creativity.  The stilt walkers were awesome. There were performances of the high school jazz band, creative dance, dance teams, Singing Hands Children’s Choir, Mexican Folklore dance, and dance students on the Youth Stage. As I was walking near the center of the park there was someone juggling with a Chinese yoyo (forget the Chinese name for it) grabbing the attention of any young person nearby. There were also plenty of art forms on display in the more adult area of the park — painting, photography, mixed media, items made from found objects recycled into art, fused glass, sculpture, and more.

Sarah With Model Cliff Dwelling
Sarah With Model Cliff Dwelling

Sometimes all children need is an idea and available materials to execute it. I saw that when my daughter made her model of a cliff dwelling while we were on vacation in Colorado and had just visited Mesa Verde National Park. She went outside after dinner and then came in a couple of hours later to show us what she had done with just the materials she found around the cabin.

The children in every community should have such activities  available. If your city or county doesn’t have an annual art festival for the community, maybe your school or home school group could get the ball rolling.  There are many businesses that specialize in providing art experiences for children at large events or at parties. One of these is Paint Jam, which takes care of bringing everything to  your location that children will need to be an artist for a given time –paint, brushes, easels, aprons, etc. They take charge from greeting to cleanup, and the children each have a completed picture they created to take home. They are located in Santa Barbara and had to travel to participate in the Festival of the Arts. Maybe there is a similar group in your area. Maybe you could even start such a business yourself if it doesn’t exist in your area yet.

You can get great ideas for children’s art activities suitable for art fairs and festivals from the books on this web page.  These would also help someone wanting to start a children’s art party business or just entertain their own children over the summer. Consider a family art night where everyone participates in his or her creative activity.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

Is there anything more important to teach your students than how to break limiting thought patterns and believe they can actually achieve more in their lives than they thought possible? Here’s one suggestion on how to do that.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright FutureDo your students visualize bright futures for themselves? Or do they have low expectations? Perhaps you’ve made goals for yourself this year. But have you made measurable goals for your students beyond the objectives for individual lesson plans?  How about this for a starter? Challenge students to write what they want to be doing with their lives when they are 22 and /or make a visual page for it.

It’s easy to make a page to visually represent a goal in life, short or long-term, using pictures from newspapers or old magazines. If those aren’t available, students could draw their own pictures. Invite them to do this as homework on the first day of school or as a first-week project after coming back from the winter break.

Part of the reason our students don’t get where they’d like to be in life and have trouble breaking out of old family patterns is because they can’t visualize anything better. Even if they may secretly dream of going beyond where their parents have been in life, they may have no idea of how school might relate to getting there, or what baby steps to take or short-term goals to set in order to climb the ladder to where they’d like to be.

One of the most important things you need to do as an educator is to inspire your students to aim high and help them begin to see what is possible for them in life.  If they are proactive in setting short-term goals to achieve long-term goals, they have a target to aim at and the arrows to shoot at that target.

If taking some time to do this exercise with your students will help even one to break out of old thought patterns and a tendency to just drift toward the future, you will have given your students more than any math, social studies or science lesson could. Those who aim at nothing will achieve it.

How to Help Your Students Visualize a Bright Future

What will you do to inspire your students to build a better future?

Rare Sun-bonnet Babies Book Sold

Are you familiar with the Sun-bonnet Babies, the creation of Bertha L. Corbett? I first met them in greeting card form, and then a few years ago, I met them in a book I had Acquired, published in 1900.

Every once in a while in a bookseller’s life comes the opportunity to acquire a special book. One of the special books I had the opportunity to own for a time was The Sun-Bonnet Babies.

Sun-bonnet Babies Introductory Picture
Sun-bonnet Babies Introductory Picture

Most people aren’t old enough to have seen this book by Bertha L. Corbett, since it was published in 1900. If you follow the title link above you will learn more about this book, which I sold yesterday. I thought of taking it down, but since I had such a hard time finding any information on it when I was researching it, I decided to leave it up for anyone else who might happen to come across it.

I probably could have gotten more than I did for this book, but I was feeling generous and did not make the buyer a counter offer. It is, after all, close to Christmas. I was not sure exactly what the true value of the book was, so I went by the old adage that a book is worth what a willing buyer is willing to pay willing seller.  If someone took advantage of me, so be it.

I suppose this book was special because in my days as a card buyer I met the Sun-bonnet Babies in greeting card form. The greeting card babies were in color, but other than that they looked like the ones in the image above, except they were larger. Have you met the Sun-bonnet Babies before seeing them here?

One-to-One-Instruction

New research shows how important explaining things to mom is in a child’s education. Problem solutions explained to mom help young children retain what they have learned and be able to transfer that learning to new situations. Having to explain helps develop critical thinking skills.

One-to-One-Instruction

One-to-One-Instruction

A lot has been said about the importance of parents in a child’s education, but today I found an article that shows we were using the right approach in our homeschooling —Learning from Explaining: Does it Matter if Mom is Listening?

I’ve written a lot about the need to read aloud to young children often and in past posts we’ve given a lot of hints on how to to that, especially in When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up. I haven’t said as much about the other technique we used to see how much the children understood. That method was to ask the children to explain something to us or to put something they had read into their own words.

Now in the article referenced above,  a study suggests that explaining something to Mom (and I think the same would be true of Dad) is the best way to fix the  problem solving method a child uses in his brain so that the information will transfer to a different situation. The study used four and five-year-old children and gave them some classification problems to solve. Some were instructed to just solve the problems and repeat the solutions. Others were asked to solve the problems and explain to themselves how they did it (while recording), and the third group was asked to explain to their moms how they solved the problems. (The article will give you several pages of details on this experiment and the data generated.)

The results showed that those who explained the solution to themselves or their moms did much better at retaining the information than those that just repeated the solution. But those who explained to their moms did better than the other two groups at transferring what they had learned to solving different problems.

Explaining a solution forces a child to think critically about his method. Explaining to a parent is even more helpful. I would imagine that this would also extend to explaining to a teacher or tutor, but it illustrated once again how important  verbal interaction with significant adults is in student learning. It’s not just important to get an answer correct, but also to know the process of getting that correct answer.  Remembering that process is much easier if the student has explained it to an adult.