The State of the Education Address

I went to an NPO meeting a week or two ago. NPO = Nighthawk Parent Organization.

At this meeting, we watched a film called Race to Nowhere, which is pretty solid, in my opinion. It basically examines the impact of high-stakes testing and other pressures currently placed on kids.

After watching it, I decided that I needed to give my students some human experience. My plan was to assign a voluntary writing assignment, in which my English 9 kiddos were to write about what they would create, if they could create anything… they were not allowed rely heavily upon electronics or experts, but in this scenario, they would know that their work would never be judged. It had to be created for the sake of creation, and it had to be something they could potentially begin creating that afternoon at home.

I gave students who completed the voluntary assignment a few extra points on a quiz they’d previously scored poorly on.

I showed them some of my own paintings as inspiration, and also listed several other things I’d like to create, including stadium-seating at home, a novel, the best outfit in the world, a musical (like on Broadway), etc..

You know what their first question was?

How long does this have to be?

Second question?

When is it due?

When I told them they were missing the spirit of the assignment, they glared at me.

Then, they proceeded to write about how they’d create magic pills people could take to be happy, and puppets that would be electronically connected to children’s brains, and therefore, able to hug them when they’re feeling blue. It gave me shivers how much these kids want technology to fix their emotions… they never once considered that they might be happier if they created anything – that the activity of making something from nothing is fulfilling. They wanted an easy way out that didn’t require real-life effort. :-(

That’s really sad.

Several of the students really couldn’t get started, because they couldn’t fathom having to create anything without, first, Youtubing it. One or two of the students in this category gave up after 5 minutes of thinking.

After all of this – after reading about the puppets, songs, skyscrapers, etc…, I decided to try to actually implement all of their creation plans… sometimes, I’d commission another student to draw a picture of the creation, because it’s fairly impractical to try to build a sand castle we can all live inside… especially in the classroom. However,  did consider bringing in a kiddie pool and filling it with sand. The only problem is getting it back outside without pissing off the custodians or administration.

Next, I also decided to choose one of my students’ creation plans and do it full-scale with all of my classes. The one I chose was to create an enormous painting of all of the places in the world we want to travel. I ordered a canvas that’s 6 feet long, and I started asking the kids to brainstorm places they’d like to go.

They’re currently struggling to come up with 25 places.

It’s sad.

Point: kids need to experience more than what their iPhone can provide.

Parents, I’m doing my part… you need to do yours. Encourage your kids to build a fort, have an adventure, cook dinner without using a recipe… If you don’t, no one will, and the world will suck the humanity right out of them.

I know.  I spend an hour of every day trying to get Giana to get off of her phone. I kept a tally of how many times I told her to put it away yesterday. It reached double-digits.

The Shit’s About to Hit the Fan, Madame Secretary

So, this weird thing has been happening at work: people are watching me, and it’s weird.

For seven years, I’ve worked at the same place and managed to be as universally liked, but unknown as it’s possible to be. I’ve been the pleasant one, who doesn’t complain, and never says anything of consequence. Parents don’t complain about me. Students don’t really complain about me. In effect, I’ve been a silent and reliable cog in the machine.

For the past year, however, I’ve been a little pissed off. I’ve been attending PTO meetings, board meetings, association meetings… I honestly say nothing at any of those events, but have been more like on a mission of information-gathering. Then, I decided that I’d run for our local association’s secretary position. Basically, the association VP and I are friends, and I asked him one day what my first step should be if I want to start changing this situation in which I work and try to change the world. He told me to run. So I did.

Honestly, I kept expecting someone to come out of the framework and beat me… but, evidently, no one wants the task of attending meetings, taking notes, and communicating to members via social networking. So there was no election. I ran completely unopposed even though I’d really only attended a handful of association events, only said anything at one of them, and managed to piss off the association president with that one thing I said.

And the news that I’d won started slowly trickling out. People congratulated me… but then it started to be different and weird.

At our school’s most recent training, I noticed that administrators and one or two of the AP teachers in other departments had their eyes on me. Usually, I’m that person who the admin team might email and be like, “We didn’t see you at _________ mandatory thing. Where were you.” And I have the embarrassing task of telling them I that I actually sat next to them in that thing. Now, however, they were watching me that way you watch a crazy person who might just take off their clothes and run around shouting nonsense words. It was that silly, I’m-not-looking-at-you thing, except they totally were looking out of the corners of their eyes.

Now, let’s be honest, I don’t have any clue what I’m doing.

I know that I want to change the way we educate kids. I believe we’re killing humanity with data, measurements, testing, etc… and that we’re trying to make kids into automatons. I want to change that, but I also know this system is enormous. The levels of change that would have to occur to get me what I want range from the way individual teachers relate to students, past site administrators, district administrators, state boards of education, and finally, to the U.S. Department of Ed. and the President’s beliefs about what’s right for kids.

I don’t actually think I’m going to change anything. I think I’m going to try for a few years, and, then I’m going to move to the boonies of Asia or South America. I think the system is going to destroy my spirit, and I’m going to give up so as to retain and rebuild my heart.

Still, it’s highly entertaining right now to know that I’m a wild card. No one can tell what I’m doing, but they’ve begun to think of me as a player. Let’s just hope they don’t see me as too much of a threat and make preemptive strikes against me, just in case I am a crazy streaker. :-)

Being a Girl in the D & D World

Generally speaking, being a female gamer, comic book reader, convention attender, geek, etc… is really fun, because there aren’t that many of us. Whenever I go into certain comic book shops, the dudes who work there often flock around me, trying to be the first to help me out. And they are so encouraging and kind.

However, there are occasions when being a lady geek has it’s disadvantages. At Gamestop, the workers nearly always assume I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, and am really only there to purchase something for my boyfriend.

D & D, oddly enough, has brought to light a new weirdness of being a lady geek.

You see, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to make myself a bit more ladylike. I’ve got a whole category on this blog dedicated to “nurturing the delicate flower”… but the delicate flower came out uncontrollably at the D & D table last time we played.

My character is named Jakita.

I honestly built her with Jakita Wagner in mind – she’s a badass superhero in an obscure comic book.

Sad thing: everyone keeps making banana jokes.

Basically, I wanted Jakita to be tragically pissed because of something that happened in her past. She is a half-elf, born to a noble father. The thing is… her mother was not so noble. In fact, Jakita’s father and mother met because noble families often hire elves to teach magic and/or swordsmanship to their children. Turned out that Jakita’s father couldn’t help but fall in love with his instructor. Together, they birthed a bastard child, left her with the nobles, and ran off together, never to be seen again.

So… Jakita is the only (though obviously illegitimate) heir to her family’s large and prestigious keep.

Her human grandparents work to ensure that she’s given every opportunity to grow up the way she would have had she been something other than a bastard child. However, after losing their son, they are fairly controlling and protective of the only thing they have left of him. They spend significant effort to secure an appropriate marriage for Jakita, so that when she starts to fancy a young store-owner in the keep, her grandparents arrange for an “accident” to put an end to such nonsense.

As she’s cradling her lover’s head in her hands, Jakita spontaneously takes an oath of vengeance, her broken heart finding solace in the prospect of destroying evil like that perpetuated by her grandparents. Thus, after burying the only man she will ever love, Jakita sets off on foot to make her way in the world without the aid of her noble (well, sort of) birth.

I tell you all of this, because I envisioned Jakita as kind of a bitch. Understandably and sympathetically so, but a bitch nonetheless.

In the first few gaming sessions, I didn’t really play Jakita that way – mostly because I didn’t have any clue what the hell I was doing. I still don’t. I can’t figure out what the damn player’s handbook is talking about because it’s this whole language – to attack a creature, you have to roll 1d20 to see if you hit. You add your DEX modifier, plus your proficiency bonus to the roll and if the total exceeds the creature’s AC, you hit. However, you can also roll something called a natural 20, but let’s pretend you don’t, because I don’t understand that one at all still. Then, once you hit, you roll 1d8 and add just your DEX modifier the total… unless you wanna expend a spell slot to use Divine Smite, in which case, you deal additional radiant damage equal to 2d8 plus 1d8 for every additional Paladin spell level for the slot you’re using (which, is obviously different from your Paladin level, by the way).

It’s the most complex nonsense in the history of the world.

So I was way too busy figuring out how to hit monsters to really play Jakita as she ought to be played.

Well, I decided that would change.

Jakita was going to be pissy.

So I made her pissy.

I considered this manifesting itself in her racism, because she is racist… in particular against humans, but, really, against everyone except for Elves. Because her human grandparents screwed her so royally (haha), she has decided to try to become fully elf.

Well, there are no humans in our group, so I needed another reason to be pissy, and, from what I could tell, there were two options: I could make Jakita pissy at Matt’s character for his lack of moral convictions and his pirate background, or I could make her pissy at David’s character, who is literally devil-spawn. David had missed the previous time we’d played, and I don’t know him that well, so I didn’t want to act like a bitch to him. So I was left with Matt.

And I think a dude would be fine with it, but I honestly felt like a bitch when I made my character act like a bitch. Now, granted, Matt’s character totally deserves it, because he does messed-up stuff like smacks store-owners because he can get away with it… and yet, I had the terrible feeling that I was actually in conflict with Matt. I felt the need to tell him I wasn’t mad at him in real life. To which, he responded that he also wasn’t mad in real life. But I don’t know if I can do it. Because it’s a terrible feeling to be all, “Jakita ignores Grim completely. In fact, she gets up and walks away when he sits down next to her.”

See how the delicate flower is screwing me?

I know – it’s kind of adorable that I even care, but I honestly started thinking, “Dude, if Jakita dies, I can build an easy-going character who avoids conflict.”


Romance with the Dead

I often fall in love with men who are dead.

I know; it’s Valentine’s Day, and I ought to offer up something pink and sugary. Instead, I leave you with the phrases with which Dickens wooed me – posthumously. :-)

I offer them up in the order in which they appear in A Tale of Two Cities, though I’ve only read half of the book.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was that age of foolishness, it was the epoch of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of the noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

*We do those words an injustice when we only recall the first twelve of them. They are all lovely.

“…every human creature is constituted to be that profound mystery and secret to every other… every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

“…perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.”

“…the triumphant perfection of inconvenience.”

*Sounds like the process of buying a house!

“…there is nothing in it [the world] better than the faithful service of the heart…”

“…the pain of being monotonously haunted by one sad idea…”

“If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct.”

“It was one of those dark nights that hold their breath by the hour together, and then heave a long, low sigh, and hold their breath again.”

“Detestation of the high is involuntary homage of the low.”
“…handsomely diabolic… he moved like a refined tiger… impenitently wicked…”
“…Crowded in a purposeless way, that was highly fraught with nothing.”
“I am like one who died young. All my life might have been.”

“If you will hear me through a very little more, all you can ever do for me is done. I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.”

“…stirred old shadows that I thought had died out of me… I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices, impelling me upward, that I thought were silent forever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off sloth and sensuality, and fighting out the abandoned light…”

Dude – Who Wrote this Curriculum?

I’ve been incredibly critical of some of the reading assignments for Surge, and I honestly have tried to calm myself down, but I keep coming across items that absolutely blow my mind.

I read the wrong assignment for this coming week, which is fine because I’ll eventually have to read this thing anyway.

The quick summary of the reading is that culture is slow to change and Christians shouldn’t jump on all of the culture-changing fads because fads don’t change culture.

Now, okay, that overall isn’t a bad idea for something to discuss, but the way it’s approached is woefully obnoxious and arrogant.

Thing 1: Andy Crouch, our writer uses fashion as an example of something that changes quickly, but doesn’t impact culture.

Problem: If that’s true, and, as Crouch claims, “…my life is not at all affected by the fashions for men’s wigs in 1787,” then Christian men are no longer allowed to lament, discuss, examine, or complain about immodesty and how the visual nature of men’s biology requires that women get more careful about covering the flesh.

Forget the fact that he’s committed a logical fallacy there – by referring to men’s wigs in 1787, he’s selected what he believes to be an absurd example that somehow proves that zero elements of fashion could possibly impact culture because his absurd example represents fashion as a whole. While I’m not sure that his example is as absurd as he’d like it to seem, even if it is, that doesn’t mean fashion as a whole cannot impact culture.

Let’s back up a second – I’m not even interested in fashion, and yet, I found it offensive that Crouch thinks fashion does nothing to change culture or affect his life, especially when Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci taught us otherwise:

Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for… oh, I don’t know… let’s say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what’s worse, you don’t care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work you only deign to work

Now, admittedly, my knowledge of fashion is limited to exactly one 2006 film that featured a main character who eventually forsakes the world of fashion. And yet, I really wish Andy Crouch would admit his own ignorance. Fashion may not be his cup of tea, but it seems idiotic to me to claim that it has no lasting impact on culture, and, while I don’t have enough knowledge to go into how the damn wigs from centuries ago impact his current life, I suspect they do, and I know he alienates readers with such snobbery.

Thing 2: He continues on to discuss September 11th, and claims that it too, and terrorism in general, hasn’t impacted culture in a lasting and significant manner.

Yet again, I turn to film as one of the most obvious and accessible barometers of culture… in college, I was blessed to be able to take a few Lit. and Film classes as part of my English requirements. One such class I took was on Horror Lit. and Film, and one of the first things we studied was the immediate impact of September 11th on the way we represented fear in film. Take, for example, the 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead or…

SIDE NOTE: you really can take your pick of any of the multitude of zombie apocalypse stories since 2001 in the U.S. including Shawn of the Dead from 2004, 28 Days Later 2007… also, the more recent World War Z – book published in 2006 and film released in 2013 and the video game that’s won more awards than ANY other video game in history The Last of Us 2013. There are certainly a plethora of other examples that will work for my argument here, because the market was absolutely flooded with this stuff, and I’m about to give you a plausible reason for why we got obsessed with the walking dead…

You’ll probably get my point if you just watch the beginning of the movie, but on the off-chance that you’re not going to go to the trouble, I’ll also write you some commentary on it.

Dawn of the Dead is a film that opens with a nurse finishing up a long day at work. There is a national health crisis, that the audience knows about from some news reports prior to seeing the nurse. She walks right past two paramedics trying to subdue a zombie that’s trying to bite them. She doesn’t think it’s that weird for patients to be hostile, and she’s tired, so she walks on by. On her drive home, the radio is either dead, or playing news, and since she can’t listen to music, she turns it off. She goes home and gets into bed with her boyfriend, and she wakes up to find that the world has gone to hell overnight.

Here’s a terrifying clip of her waking up:

Point: After September 11th, Americans felt like their peace, safety, innocence, etc… could all be robbed overnight, and they’d have to wake up one morning, and deal with it. Also, we felt like there may have been clues all along that we dismissed as insignificant or normal. Additionally, we’re so terrified of that scenario, that our art plunged into something like a decade of apocalyptic and dystopian stories, most set in a futuristic or fantastic world (zombies in modern society is categorized as urban fantasy)… possibly because the unreality of it allows us to address our fears without taking them too seriously… without admitting that we’re afraid.

One more example to add to that point, and then I’ll move on… at ComiCon two years ago, someone pulled the fire alarm. Wil Wheaton commented later that the whole thing was really sad because he, being a bit older than the average attendee, assumed it was some silly kid. However, the folks around him were genuinely worried about safety. They thought there might actually be a bomb in the building. I suspect that has something to do with those people having lived their entire lives inside a culture of terror.

Thing 3: Direct quote: “And yet the cultural implications of Jesus’ resurrection, one day or one week after the event, were exactly nil.”

I hope you read that and thought, What the Hell?!

In support of this claim, Andy Crouch cites the fact that the disciples feared for their lives during this time.

Problem: Why would they fear for their lives if there wasn’t any cultural implication of Jesus’ resurrection? Wouldn’t the Romans have let everyone alone if that was the case?

Additionally, Crouch cites the silence of Roman historians and leaders in writing at the time. However, it seems fairly obvious to me that

what society chooses to censor and repress is at least as culturally significant as, IF NOT MORE THAN what it chooses to display for its citizens and future cultures to see!

Not only were Romans not writing about Jesus – they were killing those who spoke of Him publicly.

Final Thing: Crouch lists some elements of mass media, including everyone humming the number 1 song, then proceeds to claim that popular band, television, etc… are fads from which, “the long-term effects are negligible.”

As an high school teacher, I’d like to point out that the best way to subdue a people is to brainwash them from a young age… raise them up to become non-thinking, submissive, and controllable. Anytime Taylor Swift manages to get kids to sing one of her songs without them actually knowing what it’s about, she’s become a shockingly-powerful agent for cultural change. I’d actually be more willing to examine a claim that the greatest agent for cultural change is the media, and Crouch dismissed it so easily.

Why is Surge choosing such irreverent and arrogant writing for our study? We should never try to train up leaders on content that says Jesus’ resurrection had no immediate and lasting impact on the world. Crouch’s point may have been to get Christians to stop chasing fads to enact lasting cultural change, but he threw the baby out with the bath water.

Book Review: ENDER’S SHADOW by Orson Scott Card

The entire time I was reading Ender’s Shadow, I just kept thinking about how difficult a task Orson Scott Card had given himself in writing it.

Ender is a ridiculously cool character. He’s the one we all know. He’s the one the movie was about. He’s the hero archetype to a T, but without being cliche or impersonal. he’s sympathetic and a badass at the same time. He’s the ultimate underdog, to whom every reader can relate, because he is the victim of bullies, who finds himself not that unlike those he combats… I honestly just couldn’t see any of the characters in Ender’s story as leading characters in their own right, because they all stand in Ender’s Shadow. :-)

As I started reading, I thought that Bean is a particularly difficult character to breakout, because he is too much like Ender, but not nearly as cool as Ender is.

So, some things that had to be done:

*Bean had to be given a different beginning than Ender had. It would have been boring to see a small kid, raised in a nice family. Even if Bean were an only-child, to have him recruited into Battle School the same way that Ender was would have killed the beginning of the book and his character. So, while I understand that putting Bean on the streets and giving him a unique back-story were necessary, my greatest complaint about Ender’s Shadow was how overtly Card worked to make Bean different from Ender. I would have liked to be absorbed in Bean’s story, rather than thinking about how different his life was from Ender’s, and how deliberate that choice was in the crafting of Ender’s Shadow.

*Bean had to be as awesome as Ender… without being as awesome as Ender. He had to be compelling, sympathetic, competent, believable, lovable, interesting, etc… w/o being a copy, and w/o the spotlight on him. The goal of Ender’s Shadow couldn’t be to make Ender less than he is, because the readers Card is trying to captivate are reading because they already LOVE Ender. Diminishing his story by elevating Bean too high would have cost readership rather than built it. Bean is not the leader. He’s the one who I always saw as Ender, only a couple of years too late, which is what eventually sold me on this one. Card wrote some beautiful depth into Bean’s character by rolling with the feeling that he is very like Ender, but not quite him. Card allowed Bean to struggle with the thought that he was equally as, if not more intelligent than Ender. Bean was more complex for having to learn to take a backseat and serve his commander as the moment required, even if that meant standing in his shadow.

*There needed to be a nice balance between scenes the reader had already experienced through Ender’s eyes that could be re-experienced with Bean AND scenes that Ender wouldn’t have any knowledge of.

*The ending needed to be reinvented. One of the great things about Ender’s Game was the twist at the end. With Ender’s Shadow, however, the parallel timeline complicated matters because readers already knew the twist, so it needed jazzing up, w/o the luxury of changing what happened. It had to happen exactly the same way, but readers needed to know a little bit more than they did last time, and Bean needed a special role in the ending. It needed a new depth, that Card achieved beautifully with some dramatic irony. He told us something that Ender didn’t know when we read it before.

All-in-all, I expected this one to be alright, because it was too difficult an undertaking for me to feel sold on it right away. I honestly thought Ender’s Shadow was similar to filmmakers taking the final book in every series and turning it into a two-parter (if not three, four, five… anything to separate folks from their cash).

I didn’t give Card enough credit. He knows what he’s doing. This is an excellent story, worth reading.