Sunday, November 27, 2011

#Occupy Davis pepper spray incident only half the story

I am intrigued by a post on Darren’s blog about the events that occurred at U.C. Davis before the now infamous pepper spray incident.  In a clip from the Rush Limbaugh-of-the-Left’s Democracy Now, a Davis student admitted to surrounding the police officers and insisting that they were not going to be able to leave unless they went through the students. 


Last night I ran into a collection of my former students that now attend U.C. Davis and I asked them if they had any reaction to the pepper spray incident.  I figured that they might be wrapped up in the whole revolutionary ferver of the event and would provide some insight in the thought process of the students.  Boy was I wrong.  The students had attended the rallies to see what they were about and were very not very sympathetic to the pepper sprayed students.  My former kids stated that around 800 students surrounded the police officers and told them that they were not going to leave the protest unless they went through the students.  My former students also said that the police had warned the kids for a real long time and had the pepper spray out for over twenty minutes before the small clip that has gone viral occurred. 

I’m not going to justify the police reaction at Davis, but many in the media are comparing the incident to the fire hoses used on civil rights protesters in the 1960’s.  The analogy is grossly false and the Occupy protestors are again seeming more like spoiled brats than the next generation of civil revolutionaries.        

Saturday, November 26, 2011

National Anthem in Espanol in Ukiah. Updated 11/26

I have to admit, when I heard Nuestro Himno play on the loudspeaker on Friday at Ukiah High School, I grinned.  The smile on my face was because I knew the Spanish rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was going to rangle teachers and students at the high school.  Sure enough, a couple of teachers were not amused and a few students went storming to the admin building to express their displeasure at the song being sung in Spanish.  My students?  Well my students class that listened to the rendition were laughing because the copy of the song sucked.  I mean, seriously, the song sounded like it came off of a transistor radio broadcasting A.M. radio in the Seventies. 
Apparently it caught the attention of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, because by lunch it was common knowledge that the Democrat had called the school district wondering why groups of students were so against the National Anthem in Spanish.  Sure enough, the Press Demo has an article out explaining that the issue wasn’t that big of a deal.  A few people were offended, some complained, and the whole thing was highly exaggerated.  Thank God for Thanksgiving Break. 
Since it is nearly impossible to literally translate anything in a foreign language from its original context, much less Francis Scott Key’s description of the bombing of Fort McHenry, I figured I’d show you the literal translation of the Spanish version.
“It's sunrise. Do you see by the light of the dawn
What we proudly hailed last nightfall?
Its stars, its stripes
yesterday streamed
above fierce combat
a symbol of victory
the glory of battle, the march toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Verse 2
Its stars, its stripes,
Liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a symbol of victory
the glory of battle,
(My people fight on)
the march toward liberty.
(The time has come to break the chains.)
Throughout the night they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Sure, it’s not word-for-word.  But if we have people singing the praises of the United States through its national anthem, even if it slightly off, isn’t that a good thing?  Doesn’t it make sense that out of all the days that Spanish speaking students stand for the National Anthem in English, that one day we introduce it in a different language?  What’s the problem with respecting the United States in any language? 
Again I’ll have to admit that the song was too long (it was getting close to Jimmy time) and that the quality totally lacking.  But you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that it wouldn’t be a good thing that the Star Spangled Banner be spoken in every language around the planet.  Defending the Stars and Strips, in any language, is pretty damn cool. 

Updated 11/26

More interesting reports of anthem and pledge cases that should anger citizens a hell of a lot more than singing our National Anthem in Spanish.  Huffington Post has two cases that are outragous.  One involves a teacher in Texas requiring students to recite the Mexican National Anthem, and another where an idiotic federal judge in San Francisco said that a principal in Morgan Hill, California was correct in telling students to remove their American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo.  Both of those issues have far more serious repercussions.  Oh, and props to the state of Michigan for a logical law requiring pledges.  The law requires that a U.S. flag be in every classroom and that the pledge be repeated every day.  But it also states that students are not compelled to participate, as reinforced by the United States Supreme Court.  Look at that; true values of patriotism and individual liberty on clear display!      

When animals attack

Woke up Thanksgiving morning to my house egged and a dead fish on my doorstep.  No, I’m not trying to create an allusion to something.  I actually had eggs and fish on my house. 

It was the first time in five years that I’ve had problems with students and eggs.  The eggs weren’t that big of a deal.  In a small town, if you piss the wrong person off and everyone knows where you live, it’s a potential problem.  The main issue was the dead fish.  It sorta freaked my wife’s family out.  Even enough to where we called the police and filed a formal report. 

My guess is that it was former students back from college that partook in the activities, and my guess is that they were drunk.  We have some evidence collected and I rattled off names of potential suspects, but not expecting much to come out of it.  The police officer was a former student at the school and actually expressed shock that my house got nailed.  It happens but the officer said that my reputation didn’t seem like one that got the attention of those that throw eggs.  Of course, one student that feels wronged can change that.

Does it really bother me?  Not in the slightest.  A small power washing and a couple of games of football to ease the mind and it impacted nobody’s holiday.  And I’m pretty damn secure in my teaching to start to let doubt seep in this far into my career.  Oh, and the fact that for every negative thing that happens, I get a many more of these:

Good CommentsA current student tagged me in a Facebook post about my AP U.S. History class, and then a former student responded about the value of the Free Response Question essays we did in class.  I smiled big to say the least.

That, and I had free fish fillets for Thanksgiving  that went excellent with a light Pinot Noir!   

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Not a holiday full of useless gifts, Hallmark cards, and the constant pressure to be cheerful simply because it is a holiday; Thanksgiving rank number one on my list for what a holiday is really supposed to be about. 

So here’s a Happy Thanksgiving to all out there in the blogosphere.  Hopefully you are hanging out with family, eating, drinking, and being merry.  Talk, reminisce, and laugh.  Ah, now that’s a holiday worth having.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My conflicting attitudes about #Occupy


Like many, I was fairly sickened by the use of pepper spray on the protestors at U.C. Davis, and the bizarre overreaction of force last week at U.C. Berkeley.  Actually, sickened might not be the word because I’m not that surprised about either incident and the reaction it is invoking in the media.  Maybe I’m more strongly concerned than sickened.  I don’t know.  It’s like I want to support the overall message that the Occupy is trying to convey, but at the same time I think this generation is getting a dose of something that it wasn’t taught when it was younger.  A dose of reality. 

And this is where I’ve become more and more conflicted with the Movement.  I think Fareed Zakaria said it best when he stated that the Occupy Movement was about social mobility.  The concern is that the ability to progress upward in class status is starting to erode in society and the Movement is drawing attention to that, albeit rather poorly.  The research shows that they have a huge point.  Social mobility has become really difficult since the 1980’s, as the ladder has been clogged with debt, false promises of equality, and a lack of genuine work ethic.  Has Wall Street exacerbated the problem?  Sure.  But by no means is Downtown Manhattan the primary force behind this problem of moving up in America.  In fact, I think the main problem is the protestors, and that’s why you might hear a whole lot about Berkeley and Davis in the press, but main-street America is strangely silent.

One of the most interesting comments of the Oakland march to the Port was from a longshoreman who declined to give his name.  He said, “How in the hell does a person who hasn’t worked a day in his life call for a strike?”  It’s a good question, and I think it’s more indicative of the attitude of most Americans towards the Occupy protestors.  Yes, Americans agree that the build-up of economic inequality is hurting the country.  However it becomes very hard to get behind protestors with a $1,000 worth of tattoos on their body, who carry a $500 iPhone, and demand that their student loans be forgiven.  The quizzical look from Main Street might hide the realization that parents put their children into this entitlement mode; where it’s a right to have an education, a MacBook Pro, and drive a Prius to the latest Occupy movement in the middle a blue collar business district.  Yesterday one of my former students announced that people that shopped at malls were selling out to Corporate America.  Yet her Facebook photo looked straight out of a Macy’s catalog, and included plenty of indications of an upper-middle class upbringing that included plenty of help.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except that hard working mainstream society doesn’t look too kindly at people demonstrating about how hard live is when they haven’t really worked that hard. 

So I continue to watch with interest while letting kids form their own opinions and holding back from commenting on Facebook posts from former students.  I can’t really blame them for the occasional “fuck the police” and “mic check” and “We are the 99%”.  They are, after all, still teenagers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Long, long week

The first week of November is one of my longest weeks of the year.  It’s the beginning of student panic for the first semester, the beginning of the student exodus for Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations, and the true beginning of basketball.

-Everyone is sick.  It seems like the flu bug has hit early this year with more than usual cases of pneumonia and lots of days absent by students.  This is also the time when the term “sick” comes to test with how much the students really want their education.  There is “I can’t come to school because I’m really sick” sick.  And there’s “I don’t feel well” sick, which can happen multiple days a week for Seniors.  It’s starting to happen now. 

-The best in class are starting to pull away from the average, and those that haven’t figured out that I’m serious on accountability have realized that a failing grade is upon the horizon.  I’ve told classes that if they need help they can contact me in a variety of ways for that help, but usually the contact comes from a counselor.  It’s also the time of year where parents call the counselor to have the counselor explain to the parent why the student isn’t succeeding.  I have some parents that e-mail me regularly, but not one parent has called, and hardly a handful of students have came to me for help.  Note to parents; the counselor has not spent one day in my class and has little clue while your kid is flaking failing in class. 

-What’s really the point of having vacation week when parents continue to pull out kids for longer periods of time?  This week I signed a half dozen short term independent study contracts that had students spending extra weeks on either side of Thanksgiving Break.  Some have already warned me that the same will occur at Christmas.  Fine.  Better enjoy studying online.

-This is one of the longer weeks of the school year for me.  After school is practice until 7:30, then at least an hour meeting with the coaching staff to discuss rosters, and I’m home around 9:15 every night.  And try-outs always seem harder than other practices because you are dealing with variables that aren’t in regular practices, and by the Junior Varsity level it is becomes very evident who doesn’t have the passion for basketball in their belly.  It’s a different style of dedication.  Then there are the kids that just aren’t athletic enough for competitive basketball but have the passion to play it.  That’s the hard one.  That’s the one you look at and wonder which could handle a season of tough competition, little playing time, and still be a good teammate.  Well, I have until Wednesday for final cuts.

Go ahead and check out for my students’ projects about Ukiah Economic Development.  Comment if you like.  It’s something I created to replace Economics Expo (a business plan simulation).  I figure that with all the brain power in the classroom, why not have it benefit the town?  So give it a look and report back to me if you can.

Wall Street Journal says teachers are overpaid

I don’t get the Wall Street Journal delivered any more.  I used to be a daily reader of the WSJ until Rupert Murdock took the rag over and nearly every op-ed column sounded like a running stock ticker of GOP blabbery.  I’m also not at all surprised that a recent article published by the Journal takes shot at teachers by stating that comparable skill sets show that teachers are drastically overpaid.  Interesting.  And this is coming from the same newspaper that constantly demands merit pay (otherwise known as a pay increase) for the teaching profession.  Too bad the Wall Street Journal goes Governor Kasich on teachers and seems to forget the fundamental principles of Economics. 

First of all, I’m don’t regularly go on teacher pay tangents.  Do I think I’m underpaid?  Yes.  Drastically.  Not really.  Do I have it better than a lot of people?  Absolutely.  But if we’re being serious about whether or not teachers have an economic value to society then we better be realistic about looking at the true value of a teacher, and not all that fluffy stuff either.

“Good teachers are crucial to a strong economy and a healthy civil society, and they should be paid at a level commensurate with their skills.”

I always enjoy the critical teacher articles that start off “teachers are crucial to society…”, then tell the reader that they are actually not that crucial.  A statement that says that teachers are necessary to a “strong economy and a healthy civil society” already creates an assumption that society values teachers.  If this is true, the skill set that teachers have are in fact valuable enough to warrant a high wage.  And before you come up with the excuse that “anyone could be a teacher”, note that teacher turnover is atrocious in public schools, and even worse in private sector education.  Take Teach for America.  Coming from the best universities is not keeping teachers in the classroom.  Teach for America will happily say that a high number of teachers stay in the education profession.  What they fail to mention is that is almost never the classroom.  They go where the real money is in education.

“Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. “

And as the article states, it isn’t in teaching.  While still having to take on the same debt load as a private sector worker, a fresh teacher from California will not only have less pay to start with (around $34,000), but also need to deal with living in a state with a high cost-of-living.  And forget about teachers living in the city.  That kind of salary makes it impossible for a teacher to live in San Francisco or New York City.  On top of that, public school teachers also has a cap on the maximum wage increases.  At my school, I will never make over $70,000, while a comparable skill set in the private sector has six-figure salaries, stock options, and doesn’t have to pay for supplies for their work.   

…….a majority of public school teachers were education majors in college, and more than two in three received their highest degree (typically a master's) in an education-related field.

Education is widely regarded by researchers and college students alike as one of the easiest fields of study, and one that features substantially higher average grades than most other college majors. On objective tests of cognitive ability such as the SAT, ACT, GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and Armed Forces Qualification Test, teachers score only around the 40th percentile of college graduates.

This is a juvenile argument often brought about by arrogant, insecure people that think they work harder than everyone at everything.  Here’s the deal; I’ll bomb the Math portion of the SAT and GRE.  So probably would most elementary teachers and secondary teachers that don’t teach math.  Oh, and so would many college teachers.  Give us time to study and we’ll do fine.  I dare a Physics major to take an AP Comparative Politics exam.  Right now.  How about an Advanced Placement U.S. History exam?  In fact, how about those Physics students sit down and get testing on Special Education requirements regarding 504’s, IEP’s, and Manifestation Determinations.  That’s a pretty damn important skill set to have.  Good teachers know their shit.  I don’t worry about knowing Calculus as the measure of making me a good teacher.   By the way, I graduate with a History Degree, and so did all my colleagues.  You know what graduates with Master’s in Education degrees?  Administrators who make a lot more than I do.

“………..fringe benefits push teacher compensation well ahead of comparable employees in the private economy.  

……data on paid leave for teachers count vacation days only during the school year, omitting summer and long holiday breaks. A valid pay comparison should include this extra time off, in which teachers can enjoy longer vacations or earn additional income.”

Teachers do have more secure retirement than private sector employees, and I would consider that the trade-off society decided to make when government capped wages at $70,000 a year and refused to allow public teachers to take back payments made to Social Security when they worked in jobs that did not involve public education. 

And I don’t even bother to argue the point of my “longer vacations” any more.  First of all, they aren’t vacations if it involves professional development, lesson planning, taking courses (and paying for courses) required by government mandate, and working another job to make ends meet.  And I’ll make a deal with the WSJ.  I’ll even let you count the summer weekdays as vacation, if you incorporate numbers that show the actual working hours of teachers.  I’m one of hell of a productive, efficient deal.

“ In short, combining salaries, fringe benefits and job security, we have calculated that public school teachers receive around 52% more in average compensation than they could earn in the private sector.”

Then something is wrong here.  If public sector workers have mammoth fringe benefits, higher salaries, and fantastic job security, then why does the profession have an average turnover rate of 50% within five years?  That’s an insane rate for a job with such glorious job wages.

I’ll happily amend the Wall Street Journal’s argument to say that there are bad teachers that are very overpaid, administrators that don’t work towards firing bad teachers, and not enough collaboration between teachers, administrators, district officials, and politicians towards making education more productive and efficient.  But this articles article is just plain bad economics.      

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Student “Debt Trap” is often self imposed.

In the summer before my Senior year in high school I was sitting in my mother’s living room in San Jose discussing my future.  She was going to give me some help to get through college but she insisted that I had a plan.  I told her that I planned to be a history teacher.  She wasn’t unsupportive, but not entirely thrilled either.  See, my mother went from being a housewife and retail clerk at Mervyns' to getting a Master’s in International Business and making six figures at Toshiba and Hitachi.  Along the way she worked in Intel and AMD just as the computer revolution was taking off in the 1980’s.  She made this statement as we sat at the table. 

“Well, you can teach and not make a whole lot of money, and constantly take your work home with you.  Or you can work in Silicon Valley in Computer Science, make a ton of money, and not take your job home with you.”

I chose the former and pretty strongly.  I could have made it in the Computer Age.  I was programming in 8th grade and was a computer nerd long before computer nerds became popular.  But I wanted to teach.  I was passionate about it.  That statement by my mother was the last time she questioned my future.  It was also made clear that I would get a set amount every month, that I had to be enrolled in school and doing well, and that I was cut off once I got my degree. 

I have student loan debt.  I walked out of college with about $25,000 in debt, which is higher than it should be because I took my sweet ass time getting out of junior college.  I picked a profession that was in demand (teaching) but a subject that was not (Social Studies).  I knew this to be true before I got into college and worked with kids to build up a resume; I coached, worked in church youth groups, and become extremely knowledgeable about my subject matter.  I was passionate about History but actually majored in Social Science; meaning I had to pass groups of classes in Government, Economics, and Sociology as well as History.  Why did I change my emphasis?  Simple, it made me more marketable.  I immediately began looking for jobs as soon as I graduated from college.  I substitute taught, continued to coach, and in the summer I worked in a clothing factory hauling boxes.  I applied to nearly every position from little Hayfork to West Sacramento to Santa Rosa and points in between. 

I’m due to be done paying off my debt in about three years.  I pay about $250 a month.  In the beginning I sacrificed other things to afford that payment.  I say all of this because I’m noticing that the student debt issue is becoming front and center in the economic debt raging right now (paywall).  My personal opinion is that it is partly the fault of the student and the parents.  Here are some brief thoughts and then I would appreciate your comments.

-College has become too expensive.  If there is a system that needs a serious audit, it’s the college system.  States need to take over the system and find out where to cut done costs.  First place to look it upper management, who make an insane amount of money working for the government.

-College professors have become lazy.  Sure, Math and Science are hard.  But innovation isn’t simply in a lecture hall with 300 other students and a professor’s assistant conducting a droning speech.  So much focus has been on primary and secondary institutions.  How about a look at post?

-Kids don’t go to college to prepare for society.  Sorry, but almost 90% of kids that go to universities from my school don’t go to prepare for the future.  They go to party, to please their family, and to follow friends.  Right now about a dozen former students are accruing student debt while getting drunk on a street corner in Isla Vista in Santa Barbara.  Think most went to SB for their fantastic International Studies programs? 

-Those that are passionate about learning something usually go to expensive liberal arts colleges.  Creative learners are spending massive amounts of money going to Smith or Sarah Lawrence with no idea what they will do in life.  You might say, “they don’t need to know at this point”, and I’ll respond by saying that they better not protest about no jobs being available when they graduate with a degree in Philosophy and eighty grand in school debt.  Congrats, you have a degree from Sarah Lawrence!  And now you can play the banjo in front of the 12th Street BART Station in Oakland while spending nights cursing Wall Street for not gifting you a job. 

And a note to (relating to the above Time article) Lyndsey, who managed to accrue $170,000 in debt while graduating with Honors at NYU.  When did it become apparent that your debt load was becoming the size of a small house?  Where you seriously working towards becoming employed while at NYU, or where you just “going to college”?       

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rain. Cold. Basketball.

Yeah, this week was better than last.  The simple fact that Winter has appeared in her full glory is enough to make me smile.  I love the rain.  It’s a sign that many things are now upon us; basketball, hot tea, Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), and days of simple hibernation in a warm house with cats purring on your lap.

The week began with Halloween.  I dressed up as I always do; as the Angry Monk.  I have a simple monks outfit with a rope cord belt and make really biting comments towards student outfits.  It’s really great for a laugh.  I have to admit that my main target is the females that think Halloween has somehow become an Erotic Holiday.  I stand outside my classroom and in a thick Irish accent I give out lectures on self-respect.   Eventually word gets around that a crazy teacher is yelling lectures on morality against public nudity and some students don’t come the direction of F-Building.  That’s fine.  Parents might want to monitor their 15 year old child that looks like an ad for Victoria’s Secret.  It’s an embarrassment and they aren’t even my kids.

Ever get that feeling when an idea pops up and then the river of positive thinking just flows on a paper that’s not nearly long enough to contain it?  Yeah, I’ve had that feeling twice about my Advanced Placement classes this week.  It’s made me really excited about the potential of high level thinkers.   You know what you really need to do with intelligent students?  Let them be intelligent.  Reinforcing reading with lectures equals a student that’s not being allowed open up their full potential.  I’m making more realizations that A) Students need to be more responsible for basic information, and B) I need to provide the structure to make them innovate and expand their universe.  Think of it like a mix of traditional and Montessori style, sort of.

Here something that was reinforced this week.  Teachers are part of the education problem.  Two things were made abundantly clear; some teachers have cashed it in and need to be fired, and no, not everything should be part of a collaborative process.  We manage our classrooms.  Managing a school or a district is totally different.  If you want to try it, go for it. 

Basketball starts up officially on Monday.  From now until early March I will be owned by a large round, orange ball and a gym full of kids with really squeaky shoes.  I’ve now been doing this basketball thing for about 23 years; coaching it for almost 20.  I’ll be the first to admit that it is a joy and a curse all at the same time, and those that have coached will probably admit to it.  It’s a blast to coach kids and see immediate improvement.  Think teaching is fun?  How about watching an assessment twice a week that the kids love to do.  But it owns my life.  Holidays don’t really exist much because games surround them.  I’m now responsible for the lives of twelve young men, and that becomes really interesting when we do overnighters.  Oh well.  If the sport of basketball treats these kids like it’s treated me, a combination of pure ecstasy and sweet misery, then it’s totally worth it. 

Dear Week: Go Away……love, Me

Two weeks ago I took a slurp of coffee after a three hour sleep night and got hit by the feeling of my heart doing a backflip.  The arrhythmia caused me to be lightheaded for a short amount of time (in the middle of class mind you) and scared the living shit out of me.  Those that read this blog know that I had heart issues three years ago that were looked at extensively and ruled fine.  I’m not nearly as freaked out as I was back then.  But still, it ain’t fun. 

This had a negative affect on my teaching last week.  I played it calm and safe, spending much of my time worried and monitoring my body early on, then crashing because I was so worried later in the week.  By Friday I felt better but exhausted.  This created an environment that was lower energy and a lot lecture, only I was so stressed about my health that on Tuesday I was making mistakes left and right.   My APUSH lecture was full of missed dates and semi-accurate information.  How did I know?  Well, when you have a well read AP class, they will tell you that you are off.

One good thing that occurs when you have a rough week is when you realize that you can’t possible teach like that for any reasonable length of time.  I’ve already had my nose in my lesson plans finding tweaks to make the week work better.  Engagement will be up next week.  Count on it.

It wasn’t just me this week either.  Teachers had the flu, pneumonia, deaths in the family, and a variety of those things in life we just can’t really prepare for.   One of the messages in our faculty meeting was to care for each other.  This week was a rough one and needs to just be done. 

One very bright spot occurred on Friday afternoon.  I did my usual Friday night announcing of the JV football game last week.  But instead of working in the classroom, I grabbed an article on Basketball Practice outlines and headed out to the football bleachers.  It was beautiful weather and the bleachers were nearly empty with an hour before kickoff.  Then my boss showed up.  What occurred over the next 40 minutes was thought provoking and exciting.  Questions, ideas, and concerns were exchanged in a manner that reminded me that really good conversations usually don’t take place in crowds of people.  Sometimes good ideas just come about in the bleachers.