Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Disclaimer #1- I writes what I thinks. I am formally trained as a teacher, a labor doula, and whatever you want to call someone who on a daily basis springs out of bed, attaches a cape, and spends the next 18 wakeful hours lactating/ cleaning/ changing diapers/ tormenting the dog/ fielding the press/ budgeting/ cooking/ summoning Captain Planet/ singing invented songs to the baby and dog/ and trying to boss other people around. Mainly my siblings. Who now ignore me. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah- do not quote me for any sort of term papers or medical journals- I do not have a $30,000 piece of paper that says I can officially philosophize. I do, however, have a $30,000 piece of paper that says I can give standardized tests to children, but will be sued to within an inch of my life if I give them a hug.

Disclaimer #2- While I no longer have the energy driven by the radio discussion from the previous morning, I do have the energy produced by the contempt I feel after watching A&E last night on mute with closed captioning- primarily to have a little light to see what I was doing to feed Bambina. A&E was airing some sort of show that follows around meter maids. Are they called meter maids? Meter officers? At any rate, this show and this show alone makes me weep and wail and gnash my teeth and cover my body with ashes. I live in utter fear now, knowing these yahoos are driving about.

Disclaimer #3- I may ramble. Bambina-lina is asleep, but I still need to rush, as she may wake up at any moment.

Where, oh where, oh where can I continue this line of thought? I'm not going to touch the industry issues surrounding production and importation and the arrogance in presuming that the USA can actually (snort) be the leader (Oh lordy, can I even say it) of the (chuckle) "knowledge industry." When the Math Regents passing grade in NY State is 55%... nope. Not going to go there. None of us have the time.

Farming? Nah. Another day, I will rant about genetic engineering (and as a Biology minor who actually did take classes involving this, I am slightly more prepared) and we can all talk about the issues involving the many many MANY problems with the quality of our food, the quantity of fake food that is killing so many, and the pharm industry and kookalooka crapazoid surrounding the hilariousness that is ethanol.

I think I will take this in a slightly more personal direction, and loop off of the "Almanzo" dilemma. What do we do with him? Even more importantly- it is significant that Almanzo is a "him." Males are having an outstandingly difficult time in this current era of college education. This is not just me spouting off- this is something that all corners of the educational world are finally admitting to. While we've greatly enhanced the learning opportunities for girls, we've gone right ahead and committed the crime of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in the sense that we've had a deleterious effect on boys instead of merely enhancing the girls. As such, we have a nation chock-full of very confused young men. Now, not all young men are confused- some are successful, and feel that they've found their place and are fitting quite well. The amount of young men who finish high school and suddenly feel as though they've fallen through a trap-door into some kind of limbo where they have no place is staggering. Where my grandfather and his peers could easily leave high school and find employment in line work that would feed and clothe and house their families, their grandchildren are finding themselves at a stand-still.

Let's look at some high school graduates. Let's sort these high school grads into four categories:
Cat A- Are "college material," desire a college education, and understand their strengths and interests;
Cat B- Are "college material," do not necessarily desire a college education, and understand their strengths;
Cat C- Are not "college material," do, however, desire a college education, understand their interests and strengths;
Cat D- Are not "college material," do not desire a college education, and still understand their strengths and interests.

Cat. A is all set. They fit the criteria for entering college, and make it happen. Go them.

Cat. C is also all set. While they do not fit the criteria for entering college, they can still use their money or find the federal or state or private funding to get them there. At college, they will find something that interests them enough to limp along until graduation. After which, it will not matter- they have the degree, and can join the rest of the mooing crowd into the workforce.

Almanzo, from my sixth grade class, is Cat. B. He can certainly get into college with his grades. He will almost certainly be heavily encouraged by his school to apply for grants and loans and college applications, as college is the Thing To Do, whether he likes it or not.

As for Cat. D- we'll call this individual "Boog," after someone who was in my graduating class. This unfortunately-monikered boy was somehow still enrolled in high school when I was hired, two years into my bachelor's degree, to substitute teach at my old high school. Talk about awkward. At the time of my subbing, he was about to be aged out of the high school program anyway. He just did not have the grades, nor the desire for the grades or any other post-secondary education.

Almanzo and Boog. Boog and Almanzo. What do we do with you two? How can you enter adulthood successfully and perhaps enjoy a family as well? Importantly- who defines what "success" looks like?

Probably, if they both work hard, they can manage. It will be without the accoutrements, for sure- Buffalo Bills tickets will not be just a credit card swipe away, unless they want to spend the rest of their lives buried in debt (which a great proportion will end up doing, if you believe the money reports). Their spouses will probably have to work, whether they want to or not. Where do they fit along this "knowledge industry," though? How will the rest of the world view them- and how will they be trained to view themselves?

When we, as teachers, support the mindset that college is THE means to an end, rather than one way we can achieve our goals, where does that send the non-college crowd? When we make college abundantly accessible- what does this do for the people who do desire an ongoing education? What happens when lecture halls are filled with a mix of people who want to be there, and people who don't feel they have a choice? As our country increasingly mixes and mingles with the rest of the globe, what does this sort of graduating class do for us?

Monday, February 25, 2008


"...cogito, ergo sum" Descartes

This morning, I listened to a local talk radio show. The host was describing a new incentive for Michiganders to do something with themselves. A grant is available to attract talent and something "greater" to the area. During his discussion with his guest, they both referenced something called the "knowledge industry," and how the state and the nation will need to start boning up on "knowledge," as that is where we will be headed. No more will we be involved with production technology, and forget any kind of hands-on trade.

My mind traveled back through time to another lifetime ago, to when I was a wide-awake student teacher. I had a 6th grade assignment at a rural, Western NY wine country middle school as a math and science teacher. It was one heck of a jam-packed ten weeks with those kids.

We'll call the protagonist of my memory "Almanzo." Almanzo was a typical farmer's boy. He woke up in the morning, helped his parents and siblings on their farm, and then after a solid three or more hours of hard work, boarded the bus and headed to school. He worked and played with his friends, was polite to his teachers, and then headed home for more chores, homework, and whatever else 12 year old boys like to do. This was a fairly intelligent kid, although his grades were less than wonderful. He sort of blended into the background of the other 80 or so students who were temporarily in my charge.

Until the day we looked at triangulation. My lessons were NOT boring, but hands-on, minds-on innovations. In fact, I had the extreme pleasure of assisting two other sixth grade science teachers in the district in revising the quarterly science exam. I did messy, loud, and dramatic labs- we shook various gradations of rocks in a tall glass vase and watched the sediment fall, we built bridges and put them to a torture test, we fingerprinted one another to find out who "kidnapped" their regular teacher. I was inspiring them left and right, boom-boom-boom. My class was going to result in a wave of rural kids entering college in six years, and they all would rock.

An ongoing theme in my lessons was always "Ask why." I would tell them that textbooks were written and edited by grad students, and sometimes, information was stuck in just to make a book. Find out why, question, and verify sources. One day, they did just that. As I talked about triangulation, a student asked, " What is this good for? Why do we need to know this?" My answer, lost to the dredges of forgettable answers, included college. Almanzo raised his hand. "I don't want to go to college. I just want to stay here and farm. I like farming, and I'm good at it."

He stared at me, and I instantly thought of all he would miss- standing in line with a bunch of other people for warm beer pumped from a keg, eating his body weight in Top Ramen, hook-ups, break-ups, and all of the other things that the rank and file do in the name of extending adolescence. I told him to do what he loved, and that no matter what, we lived in a country where you could do what you wanted with your life. I did not tell him about government farm subsidies, the importation of foreign grains and products, and the lock-step all farmers needed to fall into with Monsanto in order to avoid being turned inside-out. I wanted him to do what he loved.

But can one do this? In the past, not everyone graduated high school. College was something that people did if they had the brains and the means. Now, college is practically mandatory if anyone has a prayer of a chance at getting a job that covers a living wage. In a sense, college has morphed into a giant Vocational-Technical institute. I didn't go to college because of a love of learning, or a hope of increasing knowledge. I went so that I could fill out all the appropriate paperwork, and gainfully employ myself out of my own small rural town. Should this be? Should universities be places where teachers, business people, social workers and the like are career-trained? What of Almanzo- do we invent a major, call it "rural studies," fill his days with classes to justify the tuition bill, and send him right back to his farm?

Ask the universities- they will say that everyone MUST HAVE a college education. Ask any Human Resources rep for any of the major companies. They are looking for college-educated individuals (to then hire, and give "Job Readiness" seminars, so that they understand that coming to work on time is not an option but a requirement, and that the prohibition of pajamas in the office is indeed NOT fascism, and so forth). Why? Oh, everyone will start off on the same foot, they will say. It will equalize. Are we not already equal? Will college ascertain this equality? Does that mean we all need to know the same things, and are thus equally certified? My Lockean stars, no. It will open people's minds, broaden their horizons and give different perspectives, they will say. I doubt anyone who has sat through classes and ingested material, which was then regurgitated onto a Scan-Tron sheet feels like they've gained any other perspective beyond that of a sponge. Those who have worked in a variety of venues, or have traveled, on the other hand, have fairly been able to see beyond their own vantage point.

The way must lie somewhere in the "via media" in a way that most recognizes and allows for personal choices and liberties. To educate without knowledge will perpetuate the current "overfed and undernourished" syndrome that pervades the country. Universities will discharge even more young men and women who suffer from a sort of Peter Pan syndrome that tells them that because they are educated, they deserve toys and giant HD TV's and Manolo Blahniks and daily fluffy lattes, and none of the responsibilities. When real life doesn't go according to their plans, and bosses get pissy when they call in sick over a hangover, or when credit card companies must have their payments for all of the fun, matching furniture in their pimped-out crib, they feel fully entitled to whine and cry and pop some fully-insured Valium to deal with the fact that everyone is out to get them.

To be continued...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bacillus Aroundus

Ah, germs. Back when I was teaching, I did several lessons on handwashing, germs, sickness, and anything else that could possibly induce compulsive handwashing in small children. You would too, if approximately 70% of your audience at any given time had their fingers in their noses. I heart kindergartners. I need to open my own academy.

Fast forward to the present. It's about zero degrees, and I despise the delicate balance of feeding, changing, bundling, and re-changing the baby just to get out and go somewhere, so the only time we actually escape is to retrieve food, and observe Michiganders in their natural habitat. Mr. Clarateaches is really the only one bringing foreign germs into the home.

Now, Mr. Clarateaches is an engineer, so it's not like he even interacts with a lot of people to begin with. As I've explained before, the brain fog rolls in and my eyes glaze over if he ever tries to explain what exactly he does, but the magical world of make-believe fills in the blanks. I imagine a large, cubicle-filled building with shiny corridors. And people in lab coats, standing and joking around a water cooler, telling the one about "101111001, 1010111, 10001101!" And all the rest of the engineers laughing adenoidally. Perhaps some taped-together glasses are involved. Oh, and whiteboards are everywhere, with lots of equations on them. And once in a while, one of the engineers will put dots in the middle of a couple of zeros to be hilarious, and the adenoidal laughter continues. They are a jokey bunch, these engineers. Nothing's more hilarious than a pair of boobs. Or, what they imagine boobs to look like.

So, someone with a child must have had a social interaction with my husband, because he came home with some sort of illness. It wasn't a very nice one, and during the evening, I decided to go to the store for some meds. Mr. Clarateaches is more apt to reach for the meds, instead of traveling my route of what he perceives as burning sage and chanting. After digging out my car, and packing up the perturbed baby, we headed into the night. I must not have purchased medicine in a while, because I had no idea that you get carded for Nyquil now. I can see suspicion involved if someone tries to buy a case at a time, but I am dying to know how I can MacGyver some meth out of a single bottle of Nyquil, some oranges, and the chocolate that was going to be the manna to get me through the night. I'm pretty sure I looked suspicious, too- wild hair, wearing a hands-y baby that was trying to give me a hickey, and a pair of jeans that had seen many infant excretions that day. Which had been lovingly licked by Lola, the Tom Green of dogs.

Fortunately, I was in the Express, Self-Service line that was manned by a truly pissed off teenage girl. When the screen flashed "Show Associate ID," she was able to simultaneously approve the transaction, signal to me that it was okay to proceed (by flashing me the middle finger), and continue to dream about how she was SO leaving this place, as soon as she could save enough money.

Wash your hands. Every germy, slimy one of ya. Stay AWAY from that so-called "Anti-bacterial" hand gel, hot soapy water is so much better than rubbing "hand sanitizer" on.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Land of Confusion

Well, that title's just downright poetic.

I received my answer from the Nebraska Judicial Qualifications Board. According to them, after reviewing my complaint filed against Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich, they have decided that all is totally fine, and nothing will be done in response to my letter. Now, as for how things are going for the whole Anaya family and their due process, I can only hope that her lawyer and possibly the ACLU stick with this and justice is done.

In case you are unfamiliar, read and consider yourself informed.

I can take a small amount of solace in the knowledge that I added my voice to those protesting the baby steps towards the government completely controlling our children.

Now, who wants to be cynical with me and imagine what really happened when my letter and others like it came pouring in? A form letter was typed, my name and address were programmed into one of the copies, and my letter was simply filed in the cylindrical, under-the-desk, used tissue holder.

At any rate, there we are, and here we are. This is the world we live in, and the hands we're given. So instead of laughing over the irony of the fact that Judge Crnkovich's name quite readily rhymes with a name that is fun to call mean people, I'm going to go sniff my sleeping baby's head. I'm going to switch the laundry around, make some pizza dough, clean the bathroom, and otherwise enjoy the rise and gradual fall of a daily victory. I'm going to strap on my Mom-bat boots and prepare myself for the inevitable battle that will come from any of the parenting choices I make that run contrary to things that arbitrarily (and monetarily) benefit the government. If you are a person who happens to enjoy the fact that you can choose if and how long you breastfeed your child, if and when you will vaccinate, what location you birth in and how many, if any meds you will have, I suggest you do the same. Your choices and mine could be entirely different- but that we have this choice is CRUCIAL.

One last pitch- if you're in the Lansing area, head over to the MSU campus from 7-9 PM on Sat the 23 and Sun the 24th at 3-6 PM for a screening of The Business of Being Born. If you're not in the Lansing area, take a look at your community events calendar to see if this is coming to your area any time soon.

Also, I have hidden two patches of lyrics in this entry, from two entirely different songs. One is easy, one is maniacally hard. If you can see the easy one, give yourself a pat on the back. If you can locate the maniacally hard one, and tell me where it's from and who sings it, you are a superhuman, and you totally rock.