Saturday, January 26, 2013

Satan watches over your kids

Revelation 13:16-18

16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

Really?  That’s interesting because whenever I Google “Mark of the Beast”, this comes up:

And when John Jay High School sophomore Andrea Hernandez Googled “Mark of the Beast” in San Antonio, Texas, apparently this came up:

Hmmmmm.  Doesn’t quite have the threatening mark-of-the-beast feel.  But apparently the parents of Ms. Hernandez feel like the tag (which has a computer chip in it to track student attendance) is quite literally the beginning of the Return of Christ, or something or other.

Andrea Hernandez, 15, refused to wear the badge on religious grounds, claiming it was the "mark of the beast,"……..She was suspended for disobeying the new rule and later sued the district.

Wow.  This isn’t even a computer chip issue, this is a “hey-the-badge-marks-me-as-a-disciple-of-Satan” issue.  By the way, I felt the same way about my French textbook during my freshman year of high school.  But I didn’t take it to court.  Hernandez did.   

The court found the deal was "reasonable" and "removed [Hernandez's] religious objection from legal scrutiny altogether." Hernandez must now either wear the badge or transfer to a school without the program.

Most ID badges are a safety issue, one I don’t have a problem with at all.  These are interesting because they are actually used to track students because the school’s funding (like Ukiah’s) is tied to the Average Daily Attendance of the school day.  For instance, Ukiah is about to lose some serious funding because our attendance has dropped 3-6% because of the flu.  This is the Texas version of making sure every dollar is accounted for, and although I think the attendance piece is drastically overblown (especially by the government), I like the idea of ID badges for students.  They don’t interfere with lives outside of high school and they don’t prohibit a students Freedom of Speech, so calm down with the End-of-the-World stuff. 


On second thought…..

Dartmouth sheds AP credit after psych evaluation

File:Dartmouth College shield.svg

Dartmouth Professor: No.  I can’t give you credit for taking an Advanced Placement course.

Student:  Why’s that?

Dartmouth Professor:  We have done extensive research that shows that Advanced Placement Psychology testing does nothing to measure up to the mighty exams at Dartmouth.

Student: Um, you do realize that I took AP Psychology over two years ago in high school.

Dartmouth Professor:  And you have learned nothing!

Student:  But you are allowing me place in higher level class anyway? 

Dartmouth Professor:  Shush boy!  It is not your place to question the antics of Big Green.  You will pay and obey.

Student:  Where the hell is the Zeta Psi house?  I need a drink. 

Before the Dawes Act and the Indian Assimilation Schools of the late-1800’s, there was Dartmouth; a Puritanical institution whose primary function was to bring the pagan Native Americans right with the Lord in hopes to improve their chance of going to heaven by living miserable existences.  Looking to continue the values of screwing over generations of non-Puritans (secular and religious), Dartmouth has decided not to accept Advanced Placement test scores as credit worthy; thus making sure that people’s experience at the home of Big Green continues to be miserable as well as long.  

Apparently the Psychology Department administered exams to students who received  a “5” on the AP test and most of the students failed.  Dartmouth then used that study as the primary reason that they dumped college credit for the tests, even though AP tests for different subject matters are totally, well, different.  Oh, but you can still be placed in higher level classes if you did well on the AP exams because obviously you know just enough to qualify for a higher level class.  That makes perfect sense.  By the way, this is the exact reason why Animal House was a parody of, you guessed it, Dartmouth. 

I would go into really insane detail on why this policy is kind of idiotic but right now my cats need my attention, and they are ten times more cuddly than some idiotic administrator at Dartmouth who really thinks this isn’t about screwing kids out of tens-0f-thousands of dollars of tuition.  Because we all know that a freshmen survey course of anything at Dartmouth is far superior than anything that an Advanced Placement high school class could replicate.  I mean, they are an Ivy League institution, not some West Virginia University knock-off that is a booze induced pipeline to Goldman Sachs.

Unless it is.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Power failure

So I walk into fifth period at lunch, and lo and behold I didn’t realize that what was a pretty mild day was going to become an exercise and Friday patience.

Here’s a point of context; I was exhausted.  Lately basketball games have become much harder to “come down from”, and this has resulted in much less sleep as of late.  In this case I didn’t get to bed until a little before midnight while getting up at the usual five a.m.  Ew.  On top of that my students and my basketball team just started getting the flu.  By second period I was coughing and yawning.  By lunch I felt like someone had attached cement blocks to my legs.  By fifth period I had a headache and I realized that my tired body was more like a fatigued body.  Yeah, this is a severe “uh-oh” moment. 

But I moved on and did the best I could to cheerfully welcome my last period of the day.  The first order of business; reminding them that the flu virus was going around and if they got it that they should drink fluids and stay home.  Then news and a couple of questions from the students, followed by the beginning of my lesson; a look at the students human capital and the impact of potential technology replacement.  The other Economics classes had gone smooth:

-Student list their own human capital and we discuss. 

-We then figure out how to refine their human capital to better address what they want to do in life.  We get rid of generic terms and discuss labor specialization.

-I have students then reflect on what human capital attributes could be replaced by technology, or be enhanced by technology.

-I then have the students view part (a little over half) of a 60 Minutes piece on technology taking over minimum skill jobs.

-Finally I have the kids outline a short idea of how they would deal with potential technological issues influencing their human capital.

Fifth period’s lesson started after news as we wrote down human capital attributes of the students.  While they brainstormed I prepped the 60 Minutes video, letting the Viagra add run through and pausing so the kids didn’t have to deal with it.  I then had kids write down their own elements of human capital.  That was when the power went out.  It came back on ten seconds later.

Having the power go out in a high school class is amusing.  In the lesser managed classes one can hear absolute pandemonium.  In my class there are a couple of whoops and one “Looks like we get to go home now”, and that’s about it.  Oh, and this is Friday and this is the last class of the day for almost all of these students.  I can imagine that some classes might look like a scene out of Animal House at this point. 

When the power comes back on I don’t miss a bit.  The kids continue to write down human capital elements and I add on that I want them to write down their career choices, and then explain how their human capital might enhance it.  I go back to the laptop and prep the 60 Minutes piece.  We begin to discuss the human capital papers; drawing conclusions about common attributes and discussing how specialization makes them more desirable to more fields of work.  They the power goes off again.  This time there is laughter as I roll my eyes.  Ten seconds.  Power comes back on.  I don’t miss much of a beat and continue the discussion.  I then tell the students that I want them to take a look at human capital attributes and determine which might be heavily influenced, or replaced, by technology.  Then I head over to the laptop to prep the video for the third time. 

And the power goes out again.  Only this time it stays off. 

At this point I’m guess that God hates 60 Minutes since the show has gotten soft after Andy Rooney and Mike Wallace died.  The students are now quite amused and I’m left with a twenty minute class period that is in a classroom that is fairly lit with natural light, and a hole in my lesson plan.  Shit happens.

I continue the discussion about technology and students share their concerns about how technology impacts their ability to use their human capital.  The discussion actually gets real good.  These Seniors actually see a threat from younger kids that are growing up on tablet computers.  Some offered examples of their siblings and family knowing tablet skills at three years old, something that they didn’t know until the last couple of years.  Then the conversation went to a fear of technology and the school rules about cell phone policies.  We then discussed teachers’ human capital and how it might influence the fear of technology overwhelming the classroom.  It was a good afternoon in the dark.

With five minutes left in class it became evident that a couple of teachers had let their students out early to roam in the warm afternoon of Mendocino County.  Regularly I might have a chance.  On a Friday afternoon it was not going to happen.  I popped my head outside and noticed teacher doors open and students hanging out in the grass outside of the building.  Oh well.  I let students hang outside and talked with them until the bell rang. 

Waste of class time?  Well, teaching is a lot about picking battles and maybe I could have extended the conversation to a different realm or maybe I could tack on a weak assignment.  But what’s the point?  That’s busy work personified and I would be going really against the grain on a Friday with friends wandering outside.  All in all, I’d call it a success.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Professionalism and perception

So the fiscal situation in our district is getting more and more interesting.  I won’t list details except to say that I think teachers might have been taken advantage of and that there is an opportunity for explanation and reconciliation.  If not, I’d be very irritated.  And if you know me at all, that means something pretty serious is going on.

Yet I get this e-mail from our union hierarchy about a meeting tonight:

Don’t let yourself, your students, or your fellow teachers down, please show up today!!!”

I’m going to assume that someone slipped on a banana peel when they wrote that quote because the first 95% of the e-mail was professionally written.  If balance was maintained, I’m puzzled how a discussion about teachers wanting a raise has to do with teaching our students.  Ok, I’m not really puzzled at all.  It has nothing to do with classroom performance, etiquette, work ethic, or why I used a Tickle Me Elmo to explain the concept of scarcity. 

Instead of a flaming response, I simply replied the following:

“While I agree that the issue and the meeting are very important, please refrain from using any terminology that tells teachers that they are letting down students by not attending union functions. 

It demeans what we do and why we do it.”

See?  Polite, sweet, supportive, yet very clear that connecting union activities to my performance as a teacher has little or no connection.  By the way, I did not attend the meeting.  I was 500 feet away in the gym coaching the JV Boys Basketball team. 

I was teaching.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The beginning of the semester like hmmmmmm

The beginning of the second semester has begun with good-byes.  As is very typical with Seniors really not satisfied with their grades, the requests and the acceptances for Independent Study have skyrocketed, although I’m not nearly as bothered as I used to be because the only thing I can impact is within the four walls of the classroom.  When an 18 year old wants their education to be pointless packet work that teaches them nothing, then that’s how it shall be (like I have a say or something).

But the kids within my room are starting to get a grasp of the Dismal Science (in Economics), Westward Expansion (APUSH), and the different forms of electoral systems around the world (AP Comp Gov).  I try and be as engaging as possible at this point and limit the information because the students are very annoyed to actually be back in the classroom at this time of year, and a good hook really helps. 

Basketball is good. Can’t really talk about it because it still inflames much more passion in parents than grades and education ever do.  That’s good (for basketball) and pathetic (for academia).

Believe it or not the first e-mail I received from the school was from my labor union.  Our union elves were at work during Christmas break and if they are correct we are one of the lowest paid school districts in the state, with a massive financial reserve, and over seven years without a raise.  I wasn’t really into the amount that our union was asking for until I looked at the comparative information from other districts, and I felt a tad bit screwed.  Not “hey let’s picket the universe” screwed but screwed enough to where when basketball season is over I might have some questions for those people that required us to furlough days while sitting on money. 

Overall the start of semester two is positive and let’s work to keep it that way.

I like David McCullough

Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs and 60 Minutes for this one.

David McCullough: We are raising children in America today who are by and large historically illiterate.

Morley Safer: The teaching of history has become your hobbyhorse, correct?

David McCullough: Yes.

Morley Safer: You, you, calling us historically illiterate.

David McCullough: Yes. I feel that very much so. I ran into some students on university campuses who were bright and attractive and likeable. And I was just stunned by how much they didn't know. One young woman at a university in the Midwest came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she'd never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast. And I thought, "What are we doing that's so wrong, so pathetic?" I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. Now, it's not their fault. It's our fault. And when I say our fault I don't mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.

Morley Safer: But are the teachers themselves semi-illiterate in history?

David McCullough: Well we need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers. I don't feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. "Show them what you love" is the old adage. And we've all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.

David McCullough writes really cool history books that most non-historians probably won’t read because they describe details that most non-historians don’t care about.  It’s a shame because not only is he a good writer, he’s a writer that is insanely passionate about his craft; history. 

He’s also dead on about teachers and that Master’s in Education jive.  I majored in History/Social Science; meaning I had to take various courses in History, Government, Economics, Sociology, and Anthropology, along with the rest of my General Education and preliminary teaching credential classes (History of Education..WORST CLASS EVER).  Before I was allowed to go into the teaching credential program I had to go before a panel of three professors who grilled me on Modern American History, some Western Civ stuff, American Government, and wanted further explanation about my final “capstone” research paper on whether Constantine the Great’s push to Christianity was religious or political.  Then I did my credential stuff the next year.  The point is I knew something about the subjects I was about to teach, or at least I thought I did because the world of Social Science continues to open up with each passing day. 

This is not to say that college schools are useless because they are not.  But simply getting an education in Education really doesn’t make you a teacher, it makes you an expert in teaching theory with no practical application of your subject matter.  What does that mean?  It means you can probably teach education theory, and not well since you can’t really be successful in the classroom.     

Friday, January 04, 2013

Cute iPhone contract

That’s Janell Burley Hofmann and her loving family.  Don’t worry, I’m not stalking them (although they live at one of my favorite places).  That’s a picture from Hofmann’s blog about being Hoffmann, which sounds a lot like being a mother/wife/person with a blog. 

One of Hofmann’s blog posts has caught the attention of the Interwebs.  In a post to her 13 year old son, she congratulates him on the new iPhone that Santa brought him as a gift.  Then Hofmann proceeds to slap on eighteen restrictions that are necessary for the iPhone to remain in the son’s possession.  Here are the stipulations:

1. It is my phone.  I bought it.  I pay for it.  I am loaning it to you.  Aren’t I the greatest?

2.  I will always know the password.

3.   If it rings, answer it.  It is a phone.  Say hello, use your manners.  Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”.  Not ever.

4.  Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm.  It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am.  If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text.  Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5.  It does not go to school with you.  Have a conversation with the people you text in person.  It’s a life skill.  *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.

6.  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.  Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money.  It will happen, you should be prepared.

7.  Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.  Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.

8.  Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

9.  Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room.  Censor yourself.

10.  No porn.  Search the web for information you would openly share with me.  If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.

11.  Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.  Don’t laugh.  Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence.  It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life.  It is always a bad idea.  Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you.  And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.

13.  Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos.  There is no need to document everything.  Live your experiences.  They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

14.  Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision.  It is not alive or an extension of you.  Learn to live without it.  Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.

15.  Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff.  Your generation has access to music like never before in history.  Take advantage of that gift.  Expand your horizons.

16.  Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

17.  Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you.  Stare out a window.  Listen to the birds.  Take a walk.  Talk to a stranger.  Wonder without googling.

18.  You will mess up.  I will take away your phone.  We will sit down and talk about it.  We will start over again.  You & I, we are always learning.  I am on your team.  We are in this together.

I’m assuming that this contract is gaining attention because the lessons within the contract are lessons that the kid should be learning in life; and the fact that it has gained so much notoriety might be a bit of a sad commentary on our society.  Still, it’s nice to see a parent not shuck the responsibility of talking about technology with their child.  These conversations seem to get ignored until Jane gets a text message with the nude attachment that she meant for only Johnny to see. 

I’m less interested in the contract and much more interested in the follow-through.  What’s going to happen when Greg becomes permanently connected to said iPhone?  And those rules are fine but the teenager is going to push the boundaries.  Will Janell be able to resist the “I need it for emergencies” excuse?  And will the contract be the same for Greg’s sisters?  Is there a texting limit?  Will Mom come to class to pick up the phone when Greg is texting his best friends about going to the football game?   And will the family stay iPhone exclusive or is there a Nexus in someone’s future? 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Better to beg for forgiveness…

Dear people in charge,

I decided to take matters into my own hands in regards to technology integration within my classroom.  I installed a jukebox.  Haha, just kidding.  I mean, that wouldn’t really be prudent for my tastes because I just don’t see Standards and Practices allowing me to play Tonight by DJ Quick in the middle of class.  Actually, I did something that will have a much more positive impact to the overall academic progress of my classes. 

I installed a wireless router.

Now don’t worry, don’t worry.  I understand your concern about the cost burden of the device.  But it was one of my older ones that I bought at Staples for about $30 back in, oh, around 2004.  So I’m fine and don’t need reimbursement or anything of that nature.  I mean, it is old.  Ok, not as old as the thirteen year computers in our labs.   But who’s really counting?

No, no, no.  Don’t worry about the time spent getting the router set up.  I did in fifteen minutes because students could not get software to work on the school computers.  I had it stored away for a rainy day and decided that now was the time, so I did it.  The result was well worth it.  You should have seen what showed up in my classroom today.  Collaboration took place amongst laptops, netbooks, iPads, cell phones, and even someone’s iPod touch!

I’m sorry if I screwed up someone’s technology plan.  I mean, I was at the last District Technology Meeting (in October 2011) where someone stated that Ukiah High School wireless MIGHT be feasible two years down the road and only after a study be conducted about how that might take place.  Since we haven’t had many meetings since (well, zero) and I needed this technology to continue to grow as an educator, I jumped the gun.  Now, I’m a tech geek.  So don’t think I don’t know that some other tech geek is going to feel hurt that this tech geek ignored the Prime Directive of Information Technology which is ALWAYS GO THROUGH THE HEAD TECH GEEK FOR EVERYTHING.  He’ll understand if you relate me to Jean Luc Picard and just remind him that even the Captain of the Enterprise had to circumvent the Prime Directive on occasion to save the universe. 

So off we go into the Internet yonder!  Don’t worry, I have good classroom management so while on occasion someone will check their Facebook on their phone while using it to view the current demographics on Ukiah for an Economics project, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Wow, looks like the school start time ISN”T REALLY THE DAMN PROBLEM!

Remember when people pulled out all kinds of medical studies that showed that the reason that test scores were bad was because of early school start times?  Me too.     

New Introduction


Those that have read this blog for awhile know that I’ve spaced on updating it, mainly because school and tournament season have owned my life.  Those that have stumbled upon this blog, welcome.  I usually update more than twice a month except that school and tournament season have…well, you know.

I figure that since I’ve been writing on this blog for around seven years straight, it might be time for an introduction, or reintroduction, of yours truly. 

I’m Coach Brown.

As you can tell by the blurb up top, I’ve been teaching for over twelve years in Ukiah, California.  No, not Eureka.  Ukiah.  No, not Yreka.  U-K-I-A-H.  It’s a small town of about 16,000 people approximately two hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Some of my colleagues describe Ukiah as being the home of the “redneck hippie.”  Yeah, I can see that.  So could you if you’ve seen the 60 Minute episode or the MSNBC show about marijuana.  We’ve been prominently connected to ganja in the media and dealing with it in a public high school is always great fun.  Yes, a lot of students smoke weed.  Yes, it impacts their life (some more than others).  And yes, a whole lot of parents accept it.

My school is about 1,600 students.  I teach AP Comparative Government, U.S. Government, Economics, and AP U.S. History.  I love to teach.  I mean, I’m already doing my dream job and the only thing that could make it better was if society actually cared about Education.  I would hope that I’m a good teacher.  I think I impact students in a positive way and I receive a whole lot more good feedback than bad feedback.  I’m constantly trying to be a better teacher.  I want students to be the driver of their own education and I’m always trying to get my classroom to become the environment that helps that process. 

I also coach basketball.  It’s teaching, and only those arrogant, self-righteous (and jealous) art/music snobs think that it isn’t.  Think about it.  I have extremely dedicated and motivated students (players) who put in massive amounts  of involved instruction time (practice) ,and get instantaneous, informative, and multiple assessments (games).  How is that not teaching? 

I started this blog because I love talking, I love writing, and I love reflecting on my experiences as a teacher in hopes of getting better.  The profession is an art, and as is with most arts one does not simply become better by throwing their hands up and wishing it.  Practice, practice, practice. 

So, welcome and enjoy the journey.