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Archive for April, 2011

Every semester, I have to fill out a form for my part-time night job at UNLV to advise them of my availability for the next semester.  The form has a box at the bottom for comments.  A while ago, I randomly filled it in with “I like pie,” an inside joke my daughter and I had (responding to any such request for feedback with the bland statement, “I like pie”). 

The semester after that, I filled it in with a tough clue from a crossword puzzle I was working on, asking for help.  The department secretary emailed me later that day with the answer. 

Since then, I’ve tried to put increasingly silly things there.  For the last two semesters, I’ve used that space to compose brief medieval legends about Sir Huston, a crusading itinerant knight who sets out on quests against illiteracy and substandard compositional skills at the behest of the royal goddesses of Castle English (my supervisors, of course–a little sucking up never hurt). 

But as I turned in my current form today, I wanted, for some reason, to write a limerick.  As my goal with these random scribblings is to amuse, I thought a poem about our budget crisis might be cute.  Thus, this:

There once was a teacher named Jamie
Who said, “This is fun, and they pay me!”
Then the government said,
“Work for much less instead.”
He replied, “Oh, your jokes, they just slay me!”

 

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Two Saturdays ago the following letter of mine appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  In the ongoing budget kerfuffle, I worry that the rhetoric of some of my teacher colleagues has crossed the line into irresponsible territory.  Frankly, even the insinuation that money is the biggest factor in student achievement is bothersome.  Yes, there are things we need funding for, but why haven’t we gotten this fired up over the epidemic of failure in our schools? 

Astute readers will recognize that this letter canibalizes part of a post I put up here about a month ago. 

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As a fellow English teacher, I appreciated Elizabeth Strehl’s Wednesday letter in defense of education spending, but I can’t condone her statement that, “If the proposed budget cuts to education happen, our schools and therefore our children may never recover.”

Perhaps such education advocates are exaggerating to emphasize their point, but can’t these academic Chicken Littles see the danger of their hyperbole? If these budget cuts do pass, what message have we now sent to our students? Might young people pick up on the idea that their fate has been sealed and that further work is pointless? Might the economic situation be used by some as an excuse for failure?

Lobbying for schools is noble, but I hope the fatalism so prominent in this conversation won’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To all students out there: The ultimate force in your academic achievement isn’t the money coming from politicians, it’s the effort that comes from you. Don’t take our concern over the budget the wrong way. No matter what happens, we believe in you. Your future will always be yours to control.

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I took a class in college in African American Literature. An interesting “chicken or the egg” issue came up early on: America didn’t participate in slavery because it was a fundamentally racist society, America developed racism because it embraced slavery. It was in the 18th century, for example, that American seminaries started teaching future ministers that black people didn’t have souls.

Why did such odious ideas arise? Because of cognitive dissonance–people couldn’t stand enslaving others if they were equally human, so they had to start thinking of them as something less than normal to assuage their consciences.

Most of the things I’ve seen about the rich paying “their fair share” are so heavily loaded with harsh language against the rich, like the irrational racial prejudices of the past, that it can only be that we’ve decided to stigmatize their wealth the way we used to stigmatize skin color: so we can assuage our consciences about this virtual slavery.

Just yesterday alone, I read a few columns and political cartoons about the budget that were all soaked in tones of violent anger towards the rich. This isn’t about helping the poor, it’s about hating the rich.

Remember those Washington Mutual ads a few years ago which mockingly showed a couple of dozen older white men in suits acting spoiled, superior, and out of touch? Imagine an ad campaign that made fun of a negative stereotype about anybody other than rich white men. Outrageous.

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After every General Conference, my family tries to study the prophet’s talks to see what he wants us to work on, and we make a list of those priorities.  We usually summarize them in our own words, but this list is mostly copied and pasted directly from his text.  You might find more or less than these, but we saw 30 things he directly instructs Latter-day Saints to do:

Saturday Morning–Introduction

  1. May we continue to be faithful in performing such ordinances, not only for ourselves but also for our deceased loved ones who are unable to do so for themselves.
  2. Thank you, as well, for your faithfulness in paying your tithes and offerings and for your generosity in contributing to the other funds of the Church.
  3. May I suggest that if you are able, you might consider making a contribution to the General Missionary Fund of the Church.

Priesthood Session

  1. May we be worthy recipients of the divine power of the priesthood we bear.[start of talk] –> Safeguard it, treasure it, live worthy of it. [end of talk]
  2. May it [priesthood] bless our lives and may we use it to bless the lives of others.
  3. (more…)

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Last December I was in a church meeting and had an idea: I knew what I thought the biggest factor was in our problems with education as institution around here, but nobody was talking about it.  Nevada’s huge divorce rate (and, based on informal observation, cohabitation rate), was creating a poor environment for learning.  Awareness needed to be raised. 

So in my spare time I worked on a letter asking local leaders to familiarize themselves with the problem and address it.  A week and a half ago it was finished and I sent it out.  I included excerpts from summaries of dozens of studies that backed up the obvious–family structure is a major factor in educational success. 

But so far, zero response.  I’m not sure what I expected.  Is it asking too much that a city in an academic disaster take seriously a critical but neglected cause of that problem?  I suppose the budget crisis is more glamorous to report on, and my issue can’t compete with the political drama these days. 

Here’s the letter I sent, along with the 25 recipients, who maybe just haven’t gotten around to it, yet.  Maybe I need to take more of a grassroots approach.  Right now, I’m just sorry I spent half of my personal allowance for the month on postage for this!

March 31, 2011

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

Education in Nevada is unacceptably unsuccessful.  We are near or in last place for student proficiency, achievement, and graduation rates.  Recent budget problems have many worried that things may get even worse.  Our children’s future is in a state of emergency.

While many in our area wonder why students aren’t more successful, there’s one important factor that is usually ignored: too many students fall behind and fail because their parents aren’t married.  Several other factors are often mentioned, such as poverty, but, as seen in the enclosed materials, a major cause of poverty is fractured families. (more…)

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Double Points WIN

OK, I realize how juvenile this joke is, but that’s part of what makes it funny: it’s so obvious, that whoever designed this ad had to have thought of it. 

In Sunday’s newspaper, there was an ad for a sale at Dillard’s called “Double Point Days,” and the ad shows a woman modelling a bra. 

Get it?  Double points?  A bra?  I know, I know, it’s not exactly sophisticated humor, but could something so cheesy have been an accident? 

Maybe the joke would be even more clear if the model was wearing a vintage 1950’s-style bullet bra. 

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I recently finished teaching Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen classes. This is the first time in several years that I’ve read this play, and it instantly brought back one very big reaction: I hate Romeo. He’s a wimpy jerk. Though there could be many more, five examples from the text will suffice to make the case:

We first hear about Romeo when his friend and parents are talking about how worried they are about him. Romeo’s father says that the boy has been moping around all night, sighing and feeling sorry for himself, then locking himself in his room all day, with the windows blocked out:

Many a morning hath he there been seen,

With tears augmenting the fresh morning dew.

Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;

But all so soon as the all-cheering sun

Should in the furthest east begin to draw

The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed,

Away from the light steals home my heavy son,

And private in his chamber pens himself,

Shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out

And makes himself an artificial night:

where, I believe, he paints his fingernails black, listens to emo music, and sits in a corner cutting himself.

(more…)

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