Not With A Bang, But A Whimper…And Then A Hymn Of Praise

My Thanksgiving weekend, like much of my life, was a little soured by my tendency to obsess over those problems that often cause me grief.  I fretted further that November, perhaps my favorite month, was going to end with stains of stress on it.  But I hope that I’m learning a lesson to ameliorate that bad habit in the future.

Last night I went and looked up my journal entry for Sunday, April 11, 2004, which reads in part, “I’ve had two big moments of panic recently, both of which have confirmed that the Lord knows best and is watching out for me….Thank you, Lord, and help me to have more faith and trust, and less worry and sweat.”

The ellipses there explain what the two problems were.  I can remember how much they bothered me, and how relieved I was to find deliverance, but I still worry a lot about all the trials that come my way.  I wonder what I should have done differently, I blame myself, I imagine how much suffering lies ahead because of them. 

But I’ll try to remember the lessons of the past; as I once read, we almost always overreact to things, and nothing is as important as it first seems.  No doubt that when I look back on the present troubles, I’ll be surprised at the way in which a loving God brought me and my family through. 

If my journal hadn’t given details, I wouldn’t have been able to even remember what the terrifying tribulations had been in April 2004.  I suppose that, four years from now, those things that wrench my heart will also be just so much water under the bridge. 

I need to be grateful:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.


Journal FAIL

dbjournal1Several years ago, I bought this binder at Deseret Book to hold pages for my journal.  If you can’t read the Bible verse on the cover, it’s Isaiah 30:8, which says, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.”  Seems like a pretty appropriate verse, right?

Then I actually read Isaiah chapter 30.  In context, that verse is the Lord telling Isaiah to keep a carefully detailed record of rebellious Israel’s sins, so that future generations might know that God was justified in destroying the wicked. 

And this is supposed to inspire us to want to keep a journal of what we do in our lives?

Bad Parent Stories

After my most popular letter to the editor appeared last year, a letter venting frustration about the lack of rigorous, involved parenting in Southern Nevada and the subsequent failure of students to achieve, I wanted to compile a book of bad parent stories for teachers to enjoy.  I planned to collect anecdotes about the clueless, the neglectful, and the flat out moronic.  As we tend to say around here, the apple doesn’t fall far from the idiot tree. 

I put queries and invitations on several places online, but never got a string response.  I’m still interested in doing the book, though.  In fact, if anyone sees this and wants to share a “bad parent” story, please let me know. 

Here are six of my favorites:

1. A couple of years ago, a high school counselor I knew had
an irate father come into his office at the beginning of a
school day. The father announced that his daughter had
come to school with inappropriate thong underwear on, and
demanded to know what the counselor was going to do about
it. The counselor was momentarily stunned, but replied
that there was really nothing that the school could do.
Fuming, the father left. He never explained how he knew
what kind of underwear his daughter was wearing, and we
never asked.

2. My first time teaching summer school, I sent a girl to
the office for a clear dress code violation: her shirt had
strings for shoulder straps and a neckline that plunged
halfway to her waist. As soon as the school day ended, the
girl came striding into my room with a smug smirk on her
face, and her mother storming in beside her. The mother
demanded to know why I was looking at her daughter’s
chest. I stammered, then told her that she had to discuss
this with an administrator first. Since then, I’ve had
trouble enforcing dress codes.

3. In one parent conference, a mother was presented with
evidence that her son had skipped every one of his classes
for two weeks.

“Could these records be wrong?” she asked.

After a pause, during which the teachers gave each other
confused looks, I asked, “You mean, did all six of us
mistakenly mark your son absent? Every day? For two

She didn’t miss a beat. “It could happen.”

Continue reading

Fun With Nature Documentaries

Satirical social commentary, theological inspiration, political analysis, and artistic appreciation are all fine and good, and I’ll get back to that right quick, but for today…

A little while ago I found myself wanting to bond with my 9-year-old boy by having some goofy fun.  Solution: cool clips of nature documentaries courtesy of YouTube.  Specifically, shots of animal combat in the wild. 

Note that these are not staged fights; there’s no Michael Vick stuff going on here.  Here are two examples of some of our favorite videos that we found.  The first is from National Geographic’s YouTube channel, and the second is from Discovery Channel.  The clips aren’t at all bloody, but they’re plenty exciting.  Still, if you’re a wee bit squeamish about such juvenile titillation, I might suggest you skip this one and wait for tomorrow’s post on apologetic soteriology or something. 

Octopus Vs. Shark

Centipede Vs. Tarantula

Gay Marriage “Twilight” Protest?

Just wondering: since a lot of people have decided, in light of the LDS Church’s advocacy on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, to boyott anything even remotely Mormon (including the Sundance Film Festival, because it’s held in Mormon-heavy Utah), will proponents of gay marriage also boycott the new movie Twilight?  The Twilight books were written by Stephenie Meyer, a BYU graduate and active Mormon. 

This could cause something of a conflict of interest for the pro-gay marriage crowd out there, especially if any of them happen to be melodramatic 12-year-old girls.

“Work Smart” Myth Exposed

The popular maxim “work smarter, not harder” is pure hogwash.  It implies that clever tricks can supplant sustained effort.  While effectiveness is unarguably a virtue, nothing can take the place of sweat.

In teaching, we can implement all the cutesy activities, routines, and fads that the educrats can imagine, but the bottom line is that no class will be optimally productive unless the teacher is giving enthusiastic direct instruction, then guiding students through practice.  Even during in-depth independent work, we teachers must be circulating the room, checking on student work one on one.  It’s exhausting, but nothing less produces the best results.  It’s inconvenient for me, too, but we can’t just sit at our desks for an hour and occasionally bark orders and expect real learning to just happen. 

In church service, it’s even more true.  No amount of efficient program planning, curricular correlation, or assignment reporting–worthwhile as those things all are–will ever do half as much good as simply rolling up our sleeves and bringing gospel messages to people in their homes.  Passionately involving ourselves in people’s lives with meaningful service is going to take far more effort than the bare minimum requirements of any calling or ministry, but it’s also absolutely necessary to help grow anyone in the direction of Zion. 

Clichéd as it is to lament the passively entitled mindset of contemporary society, it’s still true.  If we want to help the world remember the value of good, plain, old fashioned hard work, we must, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. 

We may sometimes feel the need to step back and rest, but we can’t let it become a habit; the stakes in the things we care about are too high.  Wear out, don’t rust out. 

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28, emphasis added

13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—

14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.

Doctrine and Covenants 123:13-14, emphasis added


Computer Game Classics

Though I do rail on the juvenile obsession with electronic entertainment in our society, I won’t deny that many video games are just pure, clean fun, especially the older games that I remember from my childhood.  The miracle that is YouTube now allows us all instant trips down hyper-nostalgia lane. 

1987 gave us Skate or Die, an early title by Electronic Arts.  The main screen treats us to a flat-out awesome little synthesizer track that’s impressive not only as a stunning achievement considering the very limited range of sounds possible with technology 21 years ago, but even two decades later stand up as a really entertaining techno melody:

Another 80’s Commodore favorite was Beyond the Forbidden Forest, but I don’t know what Mom and Dad were thinking when they bought this.  Three things scared me so bad when I was a kid that I had trouble sleeping: Whitley Strieber’s Communion, the end of Superman III, and this game. 

First, check out the opening titles, a great example of how simple, non-gory visuals can create a terrific atmosphere for chills:

The expert gameplay there doesn’t give the flavor of this game’s incredibly scary parts, though.  When your character dies, does he just fall over or disappear?  Heavens, no.  Try this little example of a death scene, where a monster scorpion’s stinger goes crazy on your corpse:

On second thought, maybe it’s for the best that I forgot about these games for twenty years…


Letting Me Make Mistakes

Not all trial and error is learning the hard way.  I’ve found that some of my biggest progress in life came after some wiser, older person over me let me stumble along and find my own way.

As a student teacher, my mentors looked over more than a few lesson plans that they knew wouldn’t work, which were full of hypothetical, idealistic experiments that were bound to crash and burn; lessons built more on group creativity than on drills of basic skills, for example.  Doubtless that someone could have told me that I was wasting my time, but actually going through the experience of teaching some embarrassingly poor classes helped me really understand what does work. 

Ditto at church.  In various positions, I’ve tried some dumb stuff to help motivate and serve people–unnecessary assignments, pointless meetings, inappropriate lessons–and the patient people in authority over me have usually let me do my thing, providing that it doesn’t do too much damage. 

The more I think about it, the more impressed I am that so many people have been comfortable enough  and trusting enough to let me grope my way forward in the dim, bleary vision of the rookie, quite like a parent letting a child toddle around and only intervening when he’s going to really hurt himself. 

Am I so mature myself now?  Sadly, no.  I tend to be an obsessive, micromanaging, controlling leader.  I don’t know why; I can’t remember such dominance ever having good results.  I need to become more patient of letting people grow, the way lots of great people have let me grow.

Teenage Tragedies

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting today on a 16 year old girl who died Sunday when the car she was in rolled over.  It rolled because the drunk teenage driver was racing another teen.  The driver, the son of a local judge, is on suicide watch. 

This tragedy is heartbreaking enough, but what makes it worse is that this keeps happening

There’s a memorial in front of my school for two young women who were killed in a speed-related traffic accident just off campus three years ago. 

In 2002, two cars full of kids were returning to Las Vegas High School from lunch down a stretch of Sahara Avenue that kids often use for racing.  They went too fast and one car crashed, killing two of the four girls in that car

I worked there that year, and knew one of the survivors.  I remember going to see her in the hospital, trying to cheer her up a bit.  Her recovery was long and painful; she’s an adult by now, and I don’t know how fully she ever healed from her injuries.  The other survivor lost a leg entirely.

The driver was friends with two girls in one of my classes.  When the driver died, her friends told me that they were almost glad for her, because otherwise she’d have had to live knowing that she was responsible for killing another friend. 

And yet, by the next year, kids were speeding down that street again.  And in front of my current school, where the beautiful memorial reminds us of two more girls who died the same way, I see cars full of kids speeding nearly every day, going off into the desert or passing others on a two lane road. 

I can’t help but wonder, how are we supposed to teach kids to write and calculate if we can’t even teach them not to kill themselves with reckless driving?

Continue reading

The Kind Of Day This Teacher Lives For

Friday was productive.  I didn’t plan anything special, but by about the middle of the day, I realized that it was a really good one. 

After a simple error identification and correction exercise on the projector for a warm up (courtesy of Yahoo!), most of my classes were studying Oedipus Rex, which I’d perform aloud as they read along and stop two or three times per page to summarize in my joking, pop-culture heavy style (“So Oedipus is getting all paranoid and Tiresias just keeps throwing down sarcastic one-liners,” or “‘Get hence, ye scurvy, pockmarked, wrathful knave’? I didn’t know Paris Hilton lived in ancient Greece!”).  Most of this goes over reasonably well.

The middle of the day was just a few minutes spent correcting an assignment from last week in class and a brief quiz over today’s Oedipus reading, then I checked that they had brought in novels for this quarter that fit my length and difficulty requirements (almost all did).  The last half hour was given to letting them read on their own (a grade being given for staying on task), and those without books were given the first chapter of Anna Karenina to copy–the rationale being that copying work of such terrific quality is a decent exercise in itself (a language arts version of tracing, really; an elementary activity which we too often ignore because it’s not jazzy enough for the postmodern classroom), it’s the only way most of them will ever get to encounter this famous classic (“Every happy family is alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”), and the farily boring nature of the work should be an incentive to bring a novel in next time (though this sometimes backfires: some of the lowest achievers–those who tend never to bring books–actually love basic skills work, cherishing its lack of higher thought and engagement.  Some remedial students would jump at the chance to copy the dictionary all day, every day, if it meant never having to think or do real work.). 

Anyway, it was during the silent reading time of one of these classes that, as Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute was playing over (which my computer speakers waft into the room most days), I realized what a pleasantly productive day this was.  In class after class, nearly everybody was engaged in useful mental training.  Too many educrats these days chant their lemming mantra that a class must be noisy and rowdy to be learning something, but I find that kids today are overstimulated, and creating a calmer environment is a necessary antidote; if work is mature and challenging, they’ll usually respect it and rise to the occasion. 

Continue reading

Story Time, Part III

On another page of this blog, I’ve just posted another of my old stories, “Seducing the Muse.”  In fact, this was the first story I wrote after college, and while I still get a kick out of it, it’s undeniably amateurish.  Oh well.  I think the other two stories I’ve put up here–a mystery about understanding religion in the age of terrorism called “In the Shadow of Death,” and a dramatic little bit of catharsis about raising children after divorce called “Gordon Raises the Kid“–are better, but this one is still worth a read. 

I wrote it wanting to blend two romances, a love for a woman and a love for the written word.  It works well enough, but Joyce Carol Oates–or even Nicholas Sparks–I’m not.  I’ve sent it to several publishers, but to no avail.  Zoetrope sent me a note calling it a “good story,” but not for them.  Another magazine wrote on their rejection slip that it was “cute,” but too long.  At least I got some feedback.  Alas, I’ve never been very good at marketing.  These stories will probably reach more sympathetic eyes here than they would anywhere else willing to print them, anyway. 


New LDS-themed Humor Blog

For the last few weeks, my friend Steve and I have been putting together a new blog poking fun at the foibles of Mormon society (target of our first entry: the tendency of Mormons to poke fun at the foibles of Mormon society–because what the world really needs now is more self-referential irony.) 

It’s starting to pick up steam (I’m told Eric Snider liked it, but I can’t document that until I finish hacking his hard drive, and I can’t do that until I figure out how to turn on my computer by myself), so start checking it out now so you can tell your friends that you were a fan of it before the authors went insane with fame and power and got blown up in that terrible silly string incident at Toys R’ Us. 

The Official Guide To Stuff Mormons Like

Attention Parents: We Are NOT A Correspondence School

Is this a Las Vegas thing?  A week never passes without a student coming into class to declare that they’ve been absent for the last two or three days, and then stare at me expectantly.  I try to draw out some civil cooperation from them by saying something like, “And…..”

Then they will usually ask for all of their make up work.  When I explain that covering two or three days’ worth of instruction, examples, and assignments will take more than the ten seconds available right before the bell rings, they tend to look put out.  My insistence that they come in before or after school to review their works irks them to no end.

Even worse is the dgeree to which we facilitate such a mindset.  My school district allows students to take a form around to their teachers that essentially says, “My parents are taking me out of town for whatever reason next week.  I’ll be gone for three days.  Please give me all my work now.”  Like most teachers, I tell them that they’ll just need to do most, if not all, of that work when they get back. 

What, don’t I plan in advance?  Of course, but this community seems to have it in their heads that school work is just a bunch of handouts that can be given and done whenever is convenient.  No thought is given for discussion, performances, participation, questions and answers in class, etc.

When the majority of “make up work” is done poorly and gets a low grade, kids seem baffled. 

Lean in closely because I’m going to whisper, OK?  This is not a correspondence school!  If you could simply fill in worksheets and get credit, we wouldn’t need school at all.  If you think you can skip a week and be fine, catching up with no real effort on your part, why not just cut to the chase and get your GED?  That appears to be what a lot of people really want.

This mentality bleeds over into college.  In those classes, especially freshmen classes, they’re indignant that I require attendance, and enforce the department’s loss of credit policy for excessive absences.  And yet, when they ditch class, they expect to turn in whatever work they want, when they want, for full credit, to be excused from assignments they weren’t here for, or to have the curriculum adjusted to be comfortable with their absences. 

I hate having to teach responsibility, but if that’s the skill they need…

Where’s the outcry from the parents?  Where’s the demand for high standards–no, adequate standards?  When we enable a lower level of maturity for our students, don’t be surprised when we end up with a society full of people who never show up for work, but who get huffy when they don’t get paid.

Jim Carrey’s Legacy, Perhaps?

This link goes to the comics page from the October 2008 New Era, my church’s magazine for teenagers. 

Now, I understand that the cartoon at the bottom is a baseball player trying to be slick and intimidate a base runner from bolting by making a reference to “stealing” as a sin, but…why is it his rear end that’s quoting the commandment?  Poor layout design, I suppose.  Still, I think this actually makes the joke funnier.