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All in a Day’s Work

A chronicle of the trenches of public education:

Woke up at 5:15.  Showered, stressed about the day ahead.  Half-hour drive to work, listened to iphone because the stereo in the van I borrowed doesn’t work.

8:00 – Economics.  Talked about current events in Africa.  Led students through a project comparing three economies (Chad, U.S. and North Korea) using data from the CIA factbook.  Hand drew a map of Africa on the board and discussed the complications of living next to Sudan, Nigeria and Libya.

9:00 – Pre-Algebra.  Seventh graders are like chipmunks smoking crack on a unicycle downhill.  Slowly walked through how to use the cross products property to solve proportions and find variables.  Trying out a new strategy of allowing students to teach their peers by demonstrating problems on the board and explaining their logic.  Worked fairly well.

10:00 U.S. History.  Extremely loud close that bullies teachers in every subject.  Making inroads with them through various strategies and perseverance.  This class has made me lose my voice this year, and today my throat is killing me.  Cough.  Implemented new classroom management technique – Using Enforceable Statements I picked up at Friday’s staff development (Love and Logic).  Worked fairly well.  Continued with Stanford’s Read like a Historian WWI lesson on free speech.  Posed question “Were critics of WWI Un-American?” with speeches from Debs and Schenck as models.  Got actual thoughtful responses.  Students grappled with the concept of being a patriot.  Debs says he stands with the traitors….  Discussed what  being “Un-American” meant with a few students and a German exchange student.  Fruitful.  Class still threw little balls of paper everywhere and made a mess.

11:00 – World History.  Loud class that likes to ignore teachers.  Practiced Enforceable statements.  Started class with the “Do Now” Quickwrite – What is a revolution?  Write a one sentence definition.  Students actually got to work and wrote thoughtful responses, even students I have struggled with all year.  Expanded question – What is a social revolution?  Students gave thoughtful responses.  I wrote their responses on board and showed them how most of the revolutions they mentioned were political.  Discussed French Revolution.  Are social revolutions always violent?  Good discussion. Finally posed question:  Did communication technology create a social revolution?  Long, insightful conversation into the changes wrought by social media and technology.  Generation gap.  Some students pointed out that people are more “reclusive” now.  Filled board with responses.  I felt like I learned something.  I demonstrated another tool that caused a social revolution and held up the textbook.  Built on teaching of Renaissance and printing  press.  Gave them an assignment to read maps.  Students identified title of map, locations of industry, wrote four questions based on maps that other students answered.  At beginning of year this took half an hour.  Discussed new unit – Industrial Revolution.  Gave homework assignment.

5th Period – Business Math.  Attempted to teach the concept of calculating a final payment on an installment loan. They finally got the concept of paying down interest versus principal.  Ended up discussing why hotels need deposits.  At least we talked about business.

Lunch:  30 minutes.  Ate cafeteria lunch.  Yum.

6th Period Prep.  Graded quizzes and realized how terrible my lecture for my night class was.  Made modifications.

7th Period – Credit Recovery.  Pathetically attempted to pistol-whip students into completing online tasks for Cyber High.  Sisyphus ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Staff meeting.  Discussed Common Core and school issues.  Was tasked with explaining new SBAC Performance tasks on from training I took last week.

Drove to work from work.  Worked on lesson for hour and a half before class.

8th Period.  Native American history part 1.  Gave lecture on English Colonies in North America.  Reviewed European History.  Cracked a Seinfeld joke that failed miserably.   Balanced difficult course material, sensitive topics and student boredom.  Historical Guiding Question:  Explain how the beaver changed world history.

9th period.  Native American history part 2.  Discussed the Puritans, New England and various colonial wars.  Pequot War was tough, watched a short clip about it.  Reviewed next week’s exam.

Came home.  Contemplating lessons for tomorrow, presentation on Instructional Implications of Common Core and Smarter Balanced Testing, Progress Reports that are due on Monday.

Probably should eat dinner.

ILLEGAL AFRICAN IMMIGRANT ALERT

Giuliani is a Chimp!

America demands to know!

America demands to know!

Giuliani to the Rescue

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Recent comments made by former NYC mayor Rudi Giuliani have really made me think deeply about the sitting President.  In a trenchant and powerful political statement rife with relevance in these trying times, I welcomed the blinding veracity shining forth from Giuliani’s mouth.  I was also blinded by the slick veneer of his forehead, but that is another matter.  It takes an American hero to critique the President’s policies in such a brutal and exact statement:

“I don’t believe that the President loves America.”

My jaw dropped.  Angels sung.  The Red Sea was parted by the miraculous utterances of this magnificent patriot.  Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson arose, Frankenstein-like to avenge their country.  Ronald Reagan gazed beatifically from the throne of Jaweh, spreading patriot radiation throughout the universe. Benedict Arnold spit Lucifer’s phallus from his mouth and laughed, knowing that finally the U.S.A knew the truth about Barack HUSSEIN Obama. I know from my deep knowledge acquired from one Google search that “Hussein” is Arabic for “one who hates the United States of America and is also a socialist.”

I demand that not-love-Americagate consume the American media for months. I demand that “President” (more like resident because he was not born in the U.S. and therefore cannot be President, ergo he is simply residing) produce documentary PROOF that he loves this country absolutely. He must prove to all the loyal Americans that he loves every single inch of this land, from sea to shining toilet. Eat a urinal mint to prove your love! Patriots eat urinal mints!

Mr. President, do you have any love notes tucked away in some forgotten trunk? Mash notes to Lady Liberty from kindergarten? Tattoos of a naked Statue of Liberty riding a bald eagle over Mount Rushmore? I thought not.

Admit that you love your family more than the country. Admit that the White House dog is a communist. Admit that never, not even once did you defecate anywhere in this great nation.

Before all of you liberals out there jump on the logic bandwagon, I would like to point something out.  People have accused Giuliani for being racist over remarks like this.  I think that is patently absurd.  Why, he himself said that he couldn’t be accused of racism because the President is half-white.  Obama had a white mother (communist) and was raised by white grandparents (filthy World War II veteran – probably fought for the Soviets).  Take that!

IN FACT, I BET THAT THE PRESIDENT IS ONLY FAKING BEING BLACK TO SWAY BLACK VOTERS.

Giuliani is clearly one of the rare half-racists.  He only hates half of Barack Obama. The white half is fine, even though it probably only half-loves this great nation (as long as that white half LOVES this country).  By a process of mathematical prowess, Giuliani has half-disproved the critics.

In Defense of Common Core

Common Core, you saucy tease. What was once hinted at in education circles in hushed voices has arrived, promising drastic changes to the way that students are taught in the United States. The mythical behemoth of the federal government has finally found a program to turn America into a nightmarish dictatorship based on fear, coercion and the ultimate destruction of the American Dream. ALL HAIL KING OBAMA THE FASCIST COMMUNIST! My lesson plans are actually going to be a lot easier because all I am going to have to do is preach the merits of the welfare state to placate the 47% of people that are too stupid to realize that I am brainwashing them into joining the Democratic Party. I can abandon the countless hours I spend planning how to deliver instruction to students that have been so stultified by tests that they have given up.

The No Child Left Behind Act is probably the most unpopular topic in public schools. I think at most I have heard one person talk about the merits of the law. I was a young idealistic teacher with plans of inspiring generations with my love of learning and deep respect for the study of history, politics and literature. People told me it was a fool’s errand. “You are too smart to teach.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard that as I was working my way through my credential program. I suppose that reflects both an attitude and a reality of teaching in the United States. I’m too smart to try to reach the herds of huddled masses, texting to be free. During my credential program I began to see what they meant. The California standards for history are interesting. They have a lot to dive in to. In fact they have so much that you can never cover it all.

The best part? I know you are dying to know. The best part is watching students take mandatory state tests. The best part is being in Program Improvement schools that constantly have the threat of government intervention. Draconian punishments await those schools foolish enough to let their students bubble in the wrong multiple-choice answers. The energy I expended exhorting students to give their best on the tests… It didn’t matter that the test scores had absolutely no effect on their grades, their lives or their graduation. BUBBLE IT! They would ask why they had to take the tests. By the way, it is not one test. It is a battery of tests that assess students in many subjects. Schools block two weeks or JUST TO TAKE THE TESTS. I know that Common Core haters out there fondly remember their school days, the infinite joy of bubbling things in. Who doesn’t remember the inspiring lesson Mr. Whathisface delivered on the proper way to improve your test scores. Gone were the days of actually teaching content. Students were introduced to the world of bureaucracy. I had to try to explain why people they have never and would never met would use their results to punish the schools that tried to teach them. I had to try to explain that politicians would use their scores (Which had NO effect on the student) to further their own careers. The concept of state takeovers of schools. I am sure glad the Republicans created this law that was so clearly a reflection of minimal government interference.

A powerful memory. Graduation day in June. Beaming students, happy parents, incredibly hot weather. A former student walks up to me. “I will always remember how you had to spend a month teaching us how to improve our test scores. When I get a job filling in bubbles on scantrons and become rich and powerful, it will all be thanks to you.” I couldn’t help myself. I broke down and cried. This was why I teach!

Perhaps that last story didn’t happen the way I just described. The best part was watching students take the tests. Hour after hour, year after year, watching students spend their days in school staring at tests. Bubbling. I particularly liked policing the students, making sure they weren’t cheating on their tests (why they would cheat is beyond me). Even better was the fear of a random observer coming in to my classroom to check and make sure that nobody was cheating, or using a calculator. I desperately hoped that I had covered every single helpful poster in my room. I can’t tell you how much I loved taking down all my wall hangings like a paranoid troll. “IS THAT A MAP OF THE UNITED STATES ON THE WALL?! YOU’RE FIRED!”

Students are not as stupid as they look. Once they figured out that the tests had no practical consequences beyond a parent being disappointed it was all over. Even better, the test scores don’t arrive until the next school year. So teachers often don’t get the scores, they just get punished if their students do poorly. The students that needed the most help took the least amount of time on the tests. They were done in five minutes. How could I help them realize the majesty of randomly bubbling in answers? At least some were creative and bubbled in shapes or words. Even better, the tests are given at least a month before the school year ends. In fact, you have to teach all the standards before the year is over. Don’t get behind! The Grendel’s mother will get you! She will arise from the blackest depths of hell and demand that you choose a, b, c or d. Students that need the most help are drilled the most on standardized tests, having entire classes designed to raise their scores. The classes are inherently boring and lead students to hate school even more. I dare you to teach disgruntled teens strategies for test taking. It would be easier to pull teeth. I would rather chase down students and pull their teeth than force them to take these tests and these awful remedial classes. Even worse than teaching these classes is being a student in one.

As a response to millions of educators crying out, a movement the change the standards was formed. More rigorous they said (parents agreed). A different style that teaches useful skills instead of mindless bubbling. Actual reading! All teachers would be required to teach literacy in some way, to show students that all disciplines and occupations demand different methods of reading. Sounds crazy. Teach students how to read like historians, like mathematicians, like English teachers, like mechanics, like scientists. Give them new things to read. Read, write and speak. They also added listening to the standards, something today’s students sorely need help with.

When I was a new transfer student at U.C. Berkeley, I was introduced to a radical new way of reading. I already had some practice with it, but the history classes at Cal demanded a deeper level than I knew was possible. The professors gave out entire books that were primary documents and other texts. The graduate students said something about “close reading.” I learned how to analyze documents for meaning, to mark them up and struggle with their significance. How does this poem fit into history? This graph? This section of a novel, this propaganda, this newspaper article, this painting, this comic, this movie, this song. Analyze. Listen. Read. Write. Think. How complicated! How revolutionary! It is only the oldest and more effective form of education. My tests were one sheet of paper with two questions on them. Better learn to write.

The Common Core standards are much more like a college than the old standards. I also teach at a community college in addition to teaching middle and high school. The lack of reading and writing ability is ridiculous. Today’s first year college students are expected to make up a grade level of reading over the summer between graduation and university. The standards DON’T EVEN PREPARE THEM FOR ENTRY LEVEL WORK AT UNIVERSITY. Scores of college students have to take remedial English, costing them and the schools millions. The beauty and wonder of learning is once again drowned out by the need to hone basic skills. The Common Core is supposed to help with that.

I love the Common Core. It focuses on reading texts. Students are not expected to find easy answers, they are supposed to struggle with complicated material. They are required to make meaning out of multiple sources of information, to write about them and to formulate their own opinions. Math is not a simple regurgitation or a calculation. Now, you must justify your answer. It sounds like a bunch of bull until you actually do it. I had to take a math class for my job and the finals were written. They would provide a math problem and ask you to solve it AND explain your steps along the way. I actually learned a lot about math just from taking the test. As the Latin proverb goes: “By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn.” Explaining your responses is a powerful tool.

An example of a Common Core history lesson. Instead of memorizing details like the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was written in 1789 by French revolutionaries, we read it. We annotate the actual document and struggle with its meaning. We talk to each other about it in groups. We explain our reasoning. It takes longer, but the learning is much deeper and more applicable. Students have learned about the historical context of the document, the meaning of the document and have learned how to read primary sources. That skill can transfer to other classes, and also to the world of work. We read actual letters from Federalist and Anti-Federalists as they debated the meaning of the Constitution and the need for a Bill of Rights. Or, we could memorize what those parties were with no understanding beyond the requirements of an exam. Tell me, how does memorizing dates help a student outside of a history class?

When students escape the bubble, how will minutiae help them?

The new tests are harder than the old ones. Students will struggle with the new way for a few years. That always happens when their is great change. Parents may not understand the homework that comes home with children because it goes beyond 2 +2 = 4. Perhaps people should extend just a little bit of trust to professionals that have spent untold hours in college, credential programs, in the classroom and in professional development studying how people learn? Perhaps? Probably too much to ask I admit. When a mechanic describes what is wrong with my car, I simply tune him out because he is a latte sippin’ liberal. What does he know about the inner workings of a car with his decades of experience? NOTHING! I’m calling the principal and the school board to complain.

The worse part of the roll out of the Common Core is the political grandstanding. Republicans have found out that confused PTA members are easy to rile up, so they have taken a few stupid examples of supposed “Common Core” questions and blasted them on the internet. The one second that people take to laugh at these questions is easy. Of course there will be flops. If you had studied with the Common Core method, perhaps you would ask questions like “Who made this question? What was the author’s purpose in sharing this text? I think I will discuss this with somebody.” Or you could grab the scantron you carry with you and bubble furiously until you reached the conclusion that Common Core is communism, pure and simple. They are probably coming for your guns next.

The worst flip-flopping turd of a politician is Bobby Jindal. First he likes the new standards, then he hates them. He smelled a political opportunity and is padding his conservative resume by suing the federal government over the standards. Let’s pretend Jindal gives a flip about the standards. When they were popular he was for it, now he is against it. A rising anti-intellectual, anti-improvement movement is engulfing parts of the United States. Yes, they are national standards. They are better standards. I have the feeling that Republicans would destroy this country just to embarrass Obama and the Democrats. Who cares that having common standards will make materials cheaper? Make collaboration easier? Who cares.

Nobody except for teachers.

Your homework assignment: read the following quote and write a response either agreeing or disagreeing with the speaker, Bobby Jindal.

“The proponents of Common Core will tell you that it’s simply about one test and about standards, but that’s a ruse,” he said Wednesday. “Common Core is about controlling curriculum. Educators know that what’s tested is what’s taught. Make no mistake — Common Core tests will drive curriculum. Common Core supporters should own up to this fact and finally admit they want to control curriculum. These are big government elitists that believe they know better than parents and local school boards.”

I am finally going to admit that I want to control curriculum. I am a big government elitist that works at a tiny rural school. Me big government elitist. Me went to Oxford – oh wait, Jindal went to Oxford.

I don’t want to control curriculum. I want students to learn and be literate. I want the political games to stop and for people to focus on students and their education. Stop pretending like your political crusade has anything to do with improving public education.  Leave that to professionals that actually work in classrooms with the public. When I want to screw up the United States, I will consult the real professionals: politicians.

Further reading (another skill common core would help with)

http://www.corestandards.org/

http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/myths-vs-facts/

http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state/

Read the standards perhaps?

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/

http://www.corestandards.org/Math/

Horror Down Under

still_babadook1 “See him in your room at night/and you won’t sleep a wink.”

The Babadook is an Australian horror movie about an evil children’s book monster.  Watching a horror movie set in Australia reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Dead Alive.  Give me a break, I know the difference between Australia and New Zealand.  I watched Flight of the Conchords.  Ah, the glorious days of choking back vomit as I watched that movie.  The first time I watched Dead Alive my aunt showed up and started watching it with me.  I was not sure exactly what was coming.  Let’s just say it got awkward quickly.  QUICKLY.  Once zombie sex and horrific splattering gore started oozing from every piece of the set…. silence.  “What are you watching?!”

deadalive zombo mom
Ummm…. I  really don’t know.  I will say that I never laughed so hard watching a guy beat the crap out a zombie baby at the park.  It takes all kinds.

The genre of diabolical books has a history in horror.  I really enjoyed In the Mouth of Madness.  There always seems to be a rumination on sanity.   It would be hard not to compare a movie about a disgruntled book to the classic Evil Dead series.  Being a bibliophile myself, tales of the power of words are right up my alley.  Would Mister Babadook suplex all other evil books?

necro  Sadly, the Necronomicon did not win Best Actor that year.

I have heard some buzzing about Babadook, so I decided to check it out.  My hopes were not high, because I think the state of horror cinema today is a disgusting joke.  From The Clappening to Anabelle to the Purge, horror movies have been disappointing.  Babdook has all the trappings of a pointless twenty-first century horror flick.  It has a creepy kid, objects “mysteriously” moving by themselves and doors randomly opening by sinister forces.  There is a dog, which was a nice touch.  Another piece of the environment to suffer possession.  I got the sense at first that this was another Paranormal Activity.  Hoo-ray.  There was also a dog in Dead Alive.  There must be a connection somewhere.

motherdog

On a related note, I am sick to death of zombies.  And creepy kids.  Seriously, seriously, seriously sick of creepy kids.  If I am forced to watch another creepy kid say something cryptic and be emotionless, I will Babadook in my trousers.  Try me filmmakers.  Try me.  I have my own creepy kids to deal with.  The way their heads spin around on their necks, I should probably take them to the doctor, or at least call a priest.  I think one of them may have disappeared into the television.  Monkey see, monkey do….

I was pleasantly surprised as the movie unfolded.  It does not open with some spooky exposition –  a relief.  The entry to the film is a mother Amelia (Essie Davis)  trying to cope with her severely misbehaving six year old son, Samuel.  Mom is tired, depressed and takes abuse from all sides.  Her son gets in trouble, screams, kicks and makes homemade weapons to defend himself from monsters that come out at night.  Babadook could easily have went an entirely different direction and become a touching Fifetime movie about healing and the power of love.  Instead, insanity begins to creep into the film, a powerful theme that underscores the unique nature of the story.  Eventually the son gets thrown out of school and ostracized by family.  Nobody wants to be around them.

The feeling of isolation drenches the setting.  There are very few characters in the film.  Mostly it is Amelia facing terrors from within and without.  As the story unfolds, tension is felt throughout.  I found it hard to look away.  The sense of loneliness is overwhelming, from both the disturbed boy with no friends to the mother with no friends because her husband is dead and her job is terrible.  She works at a retirement home without all the hilarity of a real retirement home.

A strange movie.  When Amelia first reads Mister Babadook, the film gets disturbing.  I was struck by how chilling the book is.  The art is black and white, with sparse illustrations that create a sense of terror.  It has a rhyming singsong quality to it.  Samuel insists they finish the book, and refuses to sleep because of the Babadook.  Even more menacing are the blank pages at the end of the book.

A note on the name.  I could not figure out the whole Babadook thing until it was explained.  The Babadook knocks on the back door with a distinctive “Ba ba dook.”  It is effective, as sounds throughout the movies start to repeat that pattern.  At times I found myself wondering if everything was babadooking, or I was just hearing things.  It is hard to describe the effect of the book.  It is horrifying.

After Samuel is taken to the doctor for a panic attack, Amelia gets tranquilizers for him.  She had not been sleeping for days.  Events start to become hazy, with a drugged out kid and a mom who is probably hallucinating.  Or is she?

essie-davis-amelia

A mighty struggle against Mister Babadook commences.  I won’t bother describing it, because I want you to see the movie.  The further pages of the book are the most horrifying thing in the movie.  Amelia’s dead husband plays a prominent role in the story.  It is hard to tell where reality ends and insanity begins.  The conclusion of the story is ambiguous and does not answer any questions.  Only a confusing, disturbing ending, not the clean American endings I am so used to.

The Babadook is brilliant.  I think.  I don’t know, I am torn.  Judging the quality of movies, I have developed a new system.  The more times I want to look at my phone, or look away from the screen, or go to the bathroom, get bored and consider watching something else, the worse the movie.  I watched Fury, and did not notice that well over two hours had gone by.  I watched Exodus: Batman and Captain Cook and wondered what was playing on CSPAN.  “In order to protect the Hebrew from the plagues, you must use chili-p bitch.”  Tells you a lot about Exodus.

Babadook was more like Fury in that regard..  The tight, tense and sparse style kept my attention the entire time.  I kept thinking that some revelation would clear things up, but it never happened.  Slight spoiler here, but I don’t even think anybody dies. Essie Davis’ acting skills are superb.

Did any of this happen?  Was the story really about a mother’s guilt because she wants to harm her own son, her sleeplessness producing hallucinations?

Did I even watch it?

Meditations on writing

As I am well aware, writing is a topic best reserved to trolls and English teachers. The new Common Core state standards have yoked teachers into pretending to teach writing. In my opinion, that is doubleplus good. I have been schooled in various techniques and strategies for teaching the masses writing. When administrators are present, the standard jargon of the current educational paradigm are regurgitated, with much satisfaction on both sides. My strategy for teaching and learning are much different form the norm, and hard to explain. Actually, they are so simple they sound ridiculous. In the face of educational marketing that targets desperate districts in need, my ideas about reading and writing seem positively naive. Parochial. Obscure, obstinate and obsolete.

I remember a staff meeting the first time I started student teaching. Amidst the strategies and structure I was learning at university, there was this professional level that I did not yet comprehend. I was yet to learn of the powerful influence of personal politics in education. The department was discussing the copy budget, in the least gangster meeting of all time. The department chair read out a list of numbers with extraordinary aplomb. I marveled at his oratorical skill. One teacher asked how my master teacher kept his costs so low. He leaned in to the young teacher and said: “I teach the way people have been learning for thousands of years.” A long discourse about the use of books and literacy in social studies. One book, one principle. Learn to read. A correction to the Matthew Principle. Nonplussed, the new teacher refocused on the meeting. I was moved by the wisdom of this exchange. During my tortured student teaching tenure, I stuck to this ideal. Close reading.

At Cal, I was schooled in close reading. A graduate student gave us some advice about close reading. Read closely. At sections with the GSIs, we followed that advice by necessity. It works, by golly. Reading British literature with new focus opened my mind to new horizons. It definitely helped me out in the history of science.

Personally, I think my reading and writing credentials are bona fide. I scored in top percentiles in the SAT, the GRE and various other assessments. I scored a six on the writing sample for the GRE – the test that tests testers applying to graduate school. Hardcore competition. Writing has been something that has carried me through many classes. During my furious job hunts, writing carried me through. It seemed that a clarity in writing helped me craft a clarity in speaking. The topic of endless meetings in public schools are about literacy? How do we teach students how to read and write? What is to be done with this Homer Simpson?

I grew up in poverty. Access to materials was limited. I desperately wanted to read. I started on random books about TV. I moved on to Stephen King and Dean Kootz in middle school. During High School, I challenged myself to read every single book I could. Voluntarily reading Shakespeare to Milton, I took on my task with reckless abandon. During college I began to open my mind toward non-fiction, and spent my off hours reading various texts that were generally unrelated to my studies. Actually taking the time to read primary sources, novels, plays. When the internet took off, I devoured as much information as possible. I got involved in politics, and moved to new genres due to necessity. I found arguing for candidates to the general public was much harder than in school. At Cal I felt that I was behind my peers so I voraciously read. I was not satisfied until I had every recommendation, every scrap of information related to topics. Using the sentences I was reading as samples, I hashed out a style that was my own. What English teachers call voice.

As a teacher, I am expected to teach the masses history. I have always considered my post one that uses humanities frequently. The study of humanities builds up cultural literacy in addition to factoids and standard test multiple-choice garbage. Literacy is a gift. It uplifts you from poverty, from ignorance. So much of my success is attributed to the written word that it sounds stereotypical.

My advice to students is the following. Read. Write.

Read.

Write.

See what styles you like, whether you are an Emerson or a Hemingway. Try out some foreign literature. Tackle the task of memorizing Russian names. Short stories, magazines, plays. Menus. Articles on the internet. Cereal boxes. Credits to movies. Drivers’ Handbooks. Bibles. Korans. Or you could buy some ultra-expensive curriculum from Kaplan. When I was a sophomore, I decided to look up as many words as I could in the dictionary in my binder. For no reason. Somebody taught me how to write a business letter.

Writing carried me through school. From trailer parks to apartments, to the streets of Richmond. Hurdling Oxford grammar while slamdunking vernacular on top of a idiom. It carried me through the hurdles of academia, through the professional eddies and low tides of the recession.

I should win a medal. My personal statement when I applied to the University of California was unique. Sui generis. My first statement went down the Luftwaffe my senior year of high school. I failed at getting in to every U.C. I applied to. Probably too much like overblown, hyperbolic sappery. Who knows. Transferring from Mendocino College, I faced the task of writing another statement. I was more worldly, somehow more pissed than when I was seventeen. I opened a beer and drank it, staring at my computer. Various forced topics floated in front of me. My disadvantaged upbringing. Sob stories galore. I cracked open a beer and contemplated life.

I thought up the title. “Fuck the First Amendment.” I wore a shirt with that phrase on it. It was something I cooked up a while back. The shirt was commissioned from a local artisan for a nominal fee. I proceeded to write from the heart, about how I wanted to grapple with titans and challenged myself. That was it. I got accepted to UCLA, Cal, UCSC and UC San Diego. Simple writing, from the soul. I may bear the distinction of having the best essay with an expletive as the first word. I figured if it worked for Nixon, it would probably work for me. It worked, which both amazed and inspired me.

That’s it. The perfect method for learning literacy and writing.

Read.

Write.

Be inspired.

Artificial Stupidity

A song of myself, sung by Make Me a Status app.

“if there are things that drag us down. But here is a bad episode of LBJ, and the same?’

” Learning how to swallow. Another famous republican, Romney had a very Jeffersonian.”

” I am leaning toward Oregon, because I really bored.”

” Despite not being able to mosh, it.”

” Perhaps wear a mansion you are the oldest. You despise me employment guess she is going to shawna and Dragons Monster Manual based literacy with phase one handed.”

” . guess she is truly sad. I just saying that passes”

” My photogenic ways have only increased. Another good year.”

” Going to help. insurance won’t cover awesomeness.”

” Toadies 3/22 Independent in an article about the racial makeup of modern churches and you are saying we don’t wait up. Quizzical glances were exchanged.”

” Or perhaps best part of concern, but you gotta love the suffering…”

” At work, and otherwise, the KKK, Andrew Jackson, the little wizard, the election of Damocles dangling above me…”

” I am now halfway to being highly qualified to show the noobies how it.”

” Summer School is the University of all.”

” I am doing a big old bag of socks. or ducks.”

” I am sticking with my shelf from the Constitution I am having students have outlawed miracles.”

” You are the gulag archipelago of the Bible, then a picture of their minds upstairs, doors wide open. I still haven’t gotten over a piece of string.”

” She said what he had great job offer from the Heritage Foundation. exponentially expanding knowledge is on facebook mobile.”

” Yeah, my students were impressed that I have ever had surgery on Zombie Highway’s Hardcore level!”

” Greg Graffin also well armed for Community College in that graveyard!”

” Give me In many schools that seem to help. Amon Amarth main stage, rob zombie, children stop yelling, pooping and giving me want a peanut?”

” I am now halfway to bless the U.S.A.”

” What’s the opposite of bumblebees on Earth and poster board.”

” Seems like a million dollars a class with thrilling words introducing me of ravenous chipmunks. Either way the frontier, Indian Wars and put a good time at a new album, new tour.”

” Seems like a million dollars a class with thrilling words introducing me of ravenous chipmunks. Either way the frontier, Indian Wars and put a good time at a new album, new tour.”

” Rise against, bad religion to crack dealers, make sure.”

” At work, my boss calls and yells at me for not answering the phone right. I am governor Jerry Brown, my schedule is fun!”

” Much like the Next Generation crew could hold their own against Romulans and Kilngons, races that education departments remain constant…”

” Time for supply side economics because he lays waste to live in equality, which you I would. auto correct.”

” Spent a Ferengi. Golden Bears.”

” I am doing a great reflection on santa’s bad governors list!”

” Congress, you with blazing fire coming forth from Your Southern neighbors.”

” Remember your glory is unlimited. You will be me.”

” if there any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in America is hard to the craft store for materials for my mom.”

” Soon I will be a geek.”

Hashtag

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Millenial Manifesto

What the hell is a millenial? Some kind of monster, stalking society and plotting the downfall of fogies everywhere? Twitter yetis smothering the world with mountains of useless data? Worthless individuals permanently stunted by easy access to the internet, their pathetic brains shriveling under the weight of the knowledge of the world?

Yes. That is true. I listen to a lot of AM radio and check in with news outlets frequently. It seems that everybody is talking about how to deal with millenials. I got scared. I looked over my shoulder in my car. They are out there, holding cell phones, demanding that things go faster, that using paper is foolish, that old people are going to mandatory death camps. The Baby Boomers are portraying these poor bastards into the dustbin of history. It only makes sense. They use cell phones and talk to their friends electronically. God, just listening to the news talk about this generation makes me want to move to the hills and live a simpler life, in a yurt without electricity. Off the grid. Oh wait, I already did that when I was a child.

I have yet to find a good definition of a millennial, besides the hundreds of definitions I have been supplied with. Their brains are different. They are barely human. HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH THESE PEOPLE? THEY ARE RUINING THE PLANET!

Concerned, I took an internet test. Shit, that might push me into the millenial camp. I should have taken a Cosmo quiz like the “normal” generations of people that came before. I graduated high school in 2000, the actual millenium. I remember the Y2K scare and thought that everybody was a damn fool for making such a big deal about it, especially older folks that, like the communist-hunting Yancy Fry Sr., feared “The Y2K.”

390px-Yancysr

Thank God we survived that. Thank God. If all those computers had their dates messed up….something terrible would have happened. Or something. Let’s just say I didn’t build a doomsday bunker. I just got to listen to the media and others expertly discuss computer programming – “the dates won’t roll over!” Good times. I am starting to feel milennial. I can feel myself changing. Must fight it. I don’t want to be one of those brain-dead monsters, feeding on the bounty of previous generations. NO!

Just to keep my sanity, I took the aforementioned internet test. I was shocked and dismayed. I fell out of my chair. I cried. I wept. I looked myself in the mirror and punched it, splintering my images into countless shards of failed life. I grabbed my smartphone and threw it into the sea, tears streaming down my cheeks, as I cursed the gods for creating high-speed internet and data plans.

satan lol

I fell to my knees and screamed out “FACEBOOK! You murderers! You made me type words on a keyboard! How will I ever communicate with a normal person again?!” Dramatic lightning flashed across the sky. A person walked up to me and asked what was wrong. Dumbstruck, I replied “I am a millenial.” Their eyes widened in terror as they backed away slowly, step by step. Madness-stricken, I cried out: “I am going to unfriend you!” Life as I knew it was over. My entire existence was pointless. The media was right.

Perhaps it is because previous generations control most of the media that this stereotyping is going on. I am tired of being branded a different sub-human because I prefer to verify information on the internet. And I am careful about what I cite from the web, and I teach my students the same skills. God forbid, we are the generation with access to all of mankind’s history, knowledge and traditions at the touch of our fingers. Apparently I am on the tail-end of the millenial thing, but I still have many of the same habits. Texting instead of calling. Why waste time calling? Is that really better? Unless it is important, I would rather just text.

“Hello. How are you? What are you doing later? Do you want to go to the movies? Really? That stinks. How is the cat? Small talk. Weather. Ok, talk to you later….guilty feeling that we should be talking about something else.” Are you really spending quality time with this person on the phone?

Or: “Want to go the movies?” “Busy – got a thing.” 30 seconds. For me, it is just more efficient.

I agree with many things that are said: people are reading less, thinking more shallowly and latching onto fads. As a historian, I would say that is all part of the trend. The zeitgeist is shifting, but it has always shifted. I had an argument with my sister-in-law about Presidents and the first thing we both did was reach for our phones to settle the dispute. We are terrible people. Arguing about politics and verifying information.

During the 2008 and 2012 elections, I felt more informed than ever, more connected with national politics, more involved than ever. The campaign was “real” and virtual as well. The politics changed by the hour, data was managed, I gained a real sense of the electoral college. Terrible milennials. Arguing with each other about which state should get the most attention to maximize our time. Having long, drawn out arguments during the interminable Clinton-Obama primary. Message board wars with hundreds of participants. Interactive maps. Up to the minute information. I guess we are just ignorant.

I do like to take pictures of things. I revel in the beauty of the world, the randomness of humans, and the mundane mysteries of the cosmos. I like to share them with people. If nobody looks at them, oh well. I enjoy seeing what other people are doing. To an extent. People that talk about themselves constantly on the internet usually do the same in “real-life.” Would a Baby Boomer that talked about themselves constantly and showed pictures of their families to everyone get the same sort of social beating? You showed slideshows of your vacation! You are a troll of a person! The great thing about the internet is, you don’t have to look at them all. JUST DON”T CLICK ON THEM!

I do get tired of uninformed people. I get tired of people that get mad at me for using a GPS instead of a map. I love using apps like Yelp. Nothing like going to an unfamiliar city and getting reviews from ACTUAL customers about hundreds of restaurants. I have found some killer eats that way. I think that these kind of apps bring people together, even if it is not always in person. Generally, I use the internet to make plans to meet up with people that I know, arrange activities, spread the word about birthdays. I could call forty people and invite them, or I could click and send a notification to them all. I could do both. Being a milennial doesn’t mean being hopelessly addicted to technology. I also think that people that use phones while they are talking to somebody is rude, especially from other generations. It is about respect, and if young people are lacking in that, take a look at the 1960s. Imagine the types of peace protests you could have organized with social media. The old-fashioned way was great, but the internet is a tool. Technology is a tool – I WILL NOT USE THE SEED DRILL! Jethro Tull’s newfangled machine is going to ruin farming.

I think there is much more of an entrepreneurial spirit in this generation. I constantly check the value of things on Ebay to get a sense of price. I try to turn the internet to my advantage. I think that milennials have a good sense of marketing, profit and the profit motive (especially advertising).

I don’t think students should use phones in class. I don’t think they should have the right to use them whenever they want. People using phones on the job drive me nuts, and I would give them a negative performance review for it if I had the chance. I have seen older teachers (NOT milennials) abuse their phones frequently. I have seen staff meetings in which half of the staff (NOT millenials mostly) were on their phones or laptops screwing around while the boss was talking. Why is this generation singled out for historical circumstances?

By the way, I know how to read. More than likely I know how to read better than you. I have a long and distinguished academic career that was fueled by technology. I read more than my fair share of traditional books, and I firmly believe students need to read hard copies of classic books. When I was doing research during grad school, I was amazed at how many articles I could find, even though my college (Sonoma State) didn’t have the biggest library. I got hundreds of articles through things like EBSCO and JSTOR. Even at the college where I teach (Mendocino College), we have access to these kinds of resources. The research game is miles above of where it was when I started school.

A message for previous generations. You have spoken, loudly and mostly ignorantly, of this “milennial generation” you have created with mutated brains and technological superpowers. Look at what we inherited from YOU:

A massive recession fueled by greed and corruption.
A horrific job market. I worked at a gas station after graduating college.
A generation of parents mistrustful of government from the Vietnam War.
Legions of angry hippies and rednecks still arguing about said War.
The hangover from the Culture wars of the 1990s.
Your antiquated notions of race and gender.
You suspicion and bewilderment.
A sense of alienation, like we live in a different world than you do.
A stagnant, bloated labor force.
Legions of Boomers that refuse to retire, forcing us to work at menial jobs without hope of promotion.
Massive deficits and debt.
Foreign Wars without end.
Politicians that speak ABOUT us, and not TO us.
The knowledge that we will not make as much as our parents.
The god damn Clinton sex scandal.
Schools that resemble warzones.
Gas prices through the roof.
Credit that has dried up due to the mentioned recession.
A ten-year gap between when we should be starting our careers and when we actually do.
Rising costs in everything.
Stories of drug abuse, free love and violence.
Student loan debt that can never be repaid.
Increases in medical technology that will guarantee the Boomer and Gen Xer lock on jobs.

JOHN BOEHNER AND MITCH MCCONNELL

So, if you bother to read this, give some thought to the next time you lampoon “milennials” and give yourself a big old pat on the back for your cleverness. Or at least google some better jokes.

A $40 Million Dick Joke

At least it should be funny.  I just forced myself to sit through A Million Ways to Die in the West, and…. man.  There are bad movies, there are terrible movies, there is Bruno, and now there is A Million Ways to Die. The worst part of all is that i dragged my wife to the theater with me. Personally, I have been sick of the canned comedy of Seth McFarlane for about a decade now, but people keep regurgitating tired memes from the various clones of Family Guy, from the Cleveland show to American Dad.  Since I teach in a high school, knowing the lingo of McFarlanism is a valuable commodity, even if I inevitably get compared to Peter Griffin.  Every single teenager that makes the comparison thinks they are the first ones in the universe to make it. 

This time it was different though.  The trailer looked decent.  Funny.  Perhaps original.  Turns out I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  The movie is a travesty.  Possibly a crime against humanity.  Waterboarding or watch this movie….
….
….
Probably the waterboard. From the opening credits, the avalanche of expletives and dirty jokes overwhelms the viewer. Within 30 seconds of narration, I was burnt out on cuss words. Fuck shit dick pussy fart, poop, sex, repeat ad nauseum. Cuss words are meant to mark points of emphasis, strong emotion and surprise. Used , they can be hilarious. Override means the words lack all meaning. There is nowhere else to go. The characters drop cuss words about everything.

The worst part about the movie is the wasted potential. A Million Ways to Die had a cast that on paper looms like a winning formula. Instead I had to sit there and watch Seth McFarlane ham it up next to great actors. I just wanted him to get out of way and let the professionals act. I could watch Liam Neeson in almost anything these days. Except in this movie. Brilliant in The Lego Movie. Charlize Theron plays a love interest of the main character. Too bad to her.

I think it this film might be a community service requirement for everyone in it. What awful, disgusting crimes could they have committed?

Neil Patrick Harris. I loved him in How I Met Your Mother. Lucky for me he plays Barney Stinson in a Western setting. He even says “Challenge Accepted!” Sigh. How the mighty have fallen. The mustache craze, which seems to have died out of late, is played out to a sickeningly repetitive degree. Fart joke. Poop. Fuck. I am beginning to think I could make a movie.

Save your ten dollars to buy a hammer. Smash your own hands. You have already had more fun than I did sitting through this film. Try to eat a bag of nails.

I think I am going to throw up reliving the horror of viewing this.

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