It’s the Thought that Miscounts

Posted on a local wine shop's website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran's Day...

Posted on a local wine shop‘s website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran’s Day…that and the fact that “english” is a proper noun and ought to be capitalized…

I know it’s not my friend S.’s fault…he’s a fellow Cal grad and should know better, right?

S. is re-posting warmed-over Bill Gates platitudes (which are actually an urban legend) from the King Glock website. (The text is also accompanied by a disconcerting photoshopped picture of Gates holding a weapon while pointing to an iPod.)  There you find this sentiment posted underneath the purported speech:

If you agree, pass it on

If you can read this – Thank a teacher!

If you are reading it in English – Thank a soldier!!

Wow.  So many things to consider here…

For starters, why just a soldier, why not a sailor, marine, or airman?

Separated from the bulk of the world by 2 major oceans, the United States needs to rely on its Navy and Air Force just as much as its Army.  Especially if the Army needs to get anywhere, it’d need the other services to help it get transported where it has to go.  Of course, I don’t know where the military comment even comes from anyway, since the military exists to defend the country, not a specific language.  Members of the military take an oath to defend the President and the U.S. Constitution, and the last time I checked the U.S. Constitution, there was nothing in the founding document which determined that the United States had an official language.

Perhaps though, the author of the above “Thankful Thoughts” was referring to invasions of U.S. territory?

Well, one immediately thinks of the Second World War and the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the December 7th attack was not accompanied by an invasion force.  The American territories of Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines, were all attacked and subsequently invaded at around the same time though, so I suppose this technically counts as invasion of American territorial considerations, even if these areas weren’t a part of the contiguous 48 states.  Japanese soldiers did land upon and occupy the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska for a time in 1942-43, but again, Alaska was US territory at that time, and not a state.  Japanese master plans for conducting military campaigns though, show a country that meant to keep the Americans at bay on the Eastern side of the Pacific, during which time the Japanese military sought to consolidate its gains in China, the rest of eastern Asia, and the Pacific Island rim.  They were never foolhardy enough to honestly believe they could carry out and occupy huge swaths of land either in Hawaii, or on the mainland.  It was simply too far and not part of their overall strategy of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Perhaps the “Thought” author meant the Mexican War?  Honestly, it was the Americans who invaded Mexico and its territory, not the other way around.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

Maybe the War of 1812?  The United States mainland was invaded by British forces, who managed to do this to Washington DC:

The War of 1812:  still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

The War of 1812: still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

When you think about that war’s outcome however, you begin to wonder how a British victory in the War of 1812 would have affected the choice of our country’s language, since, after all, the British do, in fact, speak English.

And I’m very sorry, but if the “Thought” author was thinking about the Cuban and North Korean invasions of the United States, that’s only occurred in movies.

As much as I am supposed to be proud that someone is recognizing teacher efforts to educate students on a daily basis, whoever specifically taught the “Thought” author their historical foundation for the above sentiment, ought to really have their teaching credential revoked.  And quickly.

Precipitation and Perspiration

Water-Drops1

Rain is in the forecast for later this week, which means my students and I will be able to bond as we’ve already done on a number of occasions this school year.  Precipitation or Perspiration:  when either might be in a given weather forecast, rest assured that the kids will be spending time inside our enclosed, pod-like campus.

There’s a narrative to be found among the school year to this point, but damned am I to pinpoint exactly what it might be.  I’ve resisted sharing observations to this point not because I couldn’t, or didn’t want to do it, but because they’ve lacked a consistent commonality with which I could pull the constants out to write a story.  Instead, I’ve got stories that might or might not share common points as a whole, but work better as isolated images in a weird patchwork quilt.  Precipitation or perspiration, go figure.

Once a month, for instance, the school holds an award ceremony.  This is not unlike my old hunting grounds; many schools already do this.  On this particular morning last month, the kids start their day by depositing their backpacks at their desks, grabbing a carpet square from my closet, and heading back out to the school blacktop.

Walking out, I am by two of my boys, G. and J., football fans both, who, upon nearing the designated spot for my classroom, spy a primary grader wearing a Michael Vick jersey.  Despite it having occurred some time ago, both boys are nonetheless savvy enough to know of Michael Vick’s notoriety in his past life.  Any doubt to this is erased not even fifteen minutes later.  As it is an awards ceremony morning, parents are also in attendance; one parent has even seen fit to bring the family puppy, for whatever reason.  The puppy is being shown off like a newborn to the mingling PTA moms and my teaching colleagues.

The attention being showered on the pup is not lost upon G., one of the two boys I walked out with, and am now standing behind.  He motions to me to crouch down so he could say something.  I oblige.

“Don’t you think they ought to keep that puppy away from the kid in the Michael Vick jersey?”

On another day, I am finishing up the day’s selection from my daily Read Aloud, which is currently Susan Patron’s Newbery Winner, “The Higher Power of Lucky“.  The main character, Lucky, has a legal guardian who is French.  The previous month, we had read Cynthia Kadohata‘s “Kira Kira“, also a Newbery Winner, in which two Japanese American sisters begin to come of age in rural Georgia of the 1950s.  Naturally, the sisters begin to awkwardly experience the opposite sex for the first time.  Perhaps this is why J. makes his “big” announcement on this particular morning.

“I know what French kissing is!”  J.  Is very proud of this…

Finally, it is time for parent-teacher conferences.  Unlike most years, my class is ridiculously small this year, given the typical amount of students in an upper elementary classroom.  We are contracted to have no more than 32 students in our classroom, with arrangements for those situations where we are required to go over contract allowances.  For various reasons, myself and my two partners therefore consider ourselves to be fortunate to have only 25-26 students in our respective classrooms.  Even better, at least for conferences, we had 6-7 less parent meetings than we would normally would have had.

But less conference time didn’t mean less interesting conversations.  Not surprisingly, I learned where my student, G., apparently got his wit.  As we move through his specific report card, his mother mentions how much more talk she hears from her son about potential colleges. While nominally interested in going to USC, G. now “also talks about how much he’d like to go to Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Stanford…”

All Pac-12 schools, except my own.  No mention of Berkeley.  G.’s mother is somehow proud of this, in that I’ve managed to convince her boy to go to any school but the alma mater of her teacher.  (Fortunately, I have another student, C., who could claim both parents as Cal grads–yup!).  I mull over this reality however, and I am taken back to my own 6th grade year.  My teacher that year, as well as her husband, were both USC grads, and at that time, I thought that I might choose to go there as well.  This was status quo through my teen years until my newspaper adviser, during my senior year in high school, talked me into choosing Berkeley over staying home and commuting to downtown Los Angeles for four years.

The next day, I tell G. this story.  I grin to myself, and then at him.  I might know how his college script could end.  We all grow up, after all…

 

Random Thoughts about Libya

After studying history at UC Berkeley, Chris…epitomized the best of UC Berkeley’s graduates, a commitment to excellence at the highest level and a passion for making the world a better and more peaceful place.

— UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau

On another September 11th, eleven years ago, I stood, alongside 3 colleagues, as we watched the attack on the Twin Towers play themselves out on my classroom television.  Arriving into work yesterday, Tuesday, September 11th, one of my new teaching partners came over to my room asking me how I planned to commemorate the day, offering me the chance to have the kids work on American flags to commemorate it.  I respectfully declined the offer, if only because I already had a full day planned, and I had reached the point where simply commemorating the day without a full explanation to my students had always struck me as being somewhat intellectually dishonest.  And at a new school, in a new situation, rather than invite any sort of controversy about what I might end up saying, I chose to take the path of following through with my original lesson plans.  I knew I couldn’t oversimplify things adequately.  I knew better than to do that.  9/11 has never been *that* simple and the intervening 11 years have only served to make it even more complicated to explain than it was at the time.  If there was one thing I took away from my years as a Berkeley undergraduate and carried forward into teaching my own students, it was to never accept the easy explanations for complicated issues.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Libya, at around the same time I began to go about my day, as has been reported, an attack on the US Embassy, resulted in the killing of 4 Americans, one of whom, J. Christopher Stevens, was the American ambassador.

Unbeknownst to me, until I was driving home this afternoon and listened to various news commentaries about the man, Ambassador Stevens was one of my classmates, a fellow Old Blue from Berkeley.  

Stevens graduated in 1982, after studying history, a year before I did.  But what stood out to me was that he and I were on the Cal campus at the same time. He was one of my contemporaries.  To read about him and both his academic and diplomatic career is to read about one of the best my alma mater had produced.  He made me proud to be a fellow Golden Bear if for no other reason that he understood the inherent danger of trying to seek out oversimplified solutions to complicated problems–the very sorts of things that have bedeviled American foreign policy since 9/11.  Rather than being content to score cheap political points by grandstanding about a world he choose not to understand like too many Americans, rather than being disengaged from world events and watching them disconnectedly on television, or filtered through talking heads, Ambassador Stevens instead went out into the world to not just learn more about it for himself, but, once there, to ultimately work to make it better.

I know, in my heart, that the sort of career he choose to have, once he left the Berkeley campus, embodied the very best of a public school education that the state of California can provide a young man.  Ambassador Stevens went to North Africa not through any sort of entitlement, but to simply make things right.  The true measure of a diplomat rest with those very reasons why he felt it necessary to be in Libya.

Tomorrow night is Back-to-School night at my new school.  In introducing myself, I will, of course, talk of my years at Berkeley.  But I will also make sure to make mention of Ambassador Stevens.  What he did with his Cal degree took far more courage than I could ever imagine having myself.  Honestly, prior to the events of yesterday in Libya, I fretted over what might happen Saturday morning when a struggling Cal football team travels to play a nationally televised college football game against Ohio State.  In learning about my tiny connection to the events in Libya yesterday, I was able to remind myself that the true legacy of a Berkeley education lies not with a sports team’s won-loss record but with the integrity, honesty, and willingness to sacrifice that J. Christopher Stevens himself characterized.  That is exactly the sort of thing I think I need to share with my parents tomorrow night.

A Heart Bright and Bold

A selection of drugs used in chemotherapy to treat cancer. The needles used on me in the mid-1980s were somewhat larger…

A follow-up doctor’s visit means the nurse has to draw blood.  Small talk ensues:

“Sorry,” the nurse apologizes, as she sticks a needle into me.

“Oh, not a problem, I just wince and look away.  I’m a 27-year cancer survivor.  I’ve got a thing for needles ‘cuz of it.”

“Ah…”

“Yeah, I had to do old school chemo, with large syringes the size of grande burritos, all shoved into my blood stream in about 15 minutes…”

“Oh my.”

“I just look away.  The needle bothers me but only when I look it”

I guess I’m the same way when it comes to reflecting back upon my time as a cancer patient.  Of my life’s memories, it’s the one I dwell upon the least.  It’s not that it wasn’t important, but my lymphoma was dealt with straight away, with little complications beyond the nausea and hair loss (which, given my hairline as it was, was not much of a loss) and as my life has progressed from that time, I don’t think of it as much as one might expect a cancer survivor to do.

Nevertheless, events at school periodically bring me back.  For instance, as I’m usually regularly reading aloud chapter books to my students, reading Cynthia Kadohata’s Newbury-winning Kira Kira is one instance of a reminder, given that the book’s narrator’s older sister dies of lymphoma nearly identical to my own.   This year, one of my students is, himself, a lymphoma survivor.  Finally, one of my current school site’s charity fundraisers, begun several years ago during my own time as one of the school’s Student Council advisers, was with the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society and their annual “Pennies for Patients”.   Essentially a simple act of collecting pennies (or other currency from students), our school has gradually increased its yearly donations (around $900-$1000 annually) to the charity, topping out this year at $1500+ (of which I need to credit my successor as Council adviser for motivating our school to reach a number my partner and I could only hope to collect…)

But what really took me back was reading the obituary of the Rev. Kenneth A. Coates in the alumni magazine of the California Alumni Association.  He passed away in the late summer of last year, but as the magazine comes out quarterly rather than monthly, and relies upon alumni notices in order to post class updates and obituaries, I was only now seeing the news.

A fellow Old Blue, himself the son of two Cal alumni, I first met Rev. Coates when he was pastor of the Bayshore Community Church in Long Beach, around the time I was involved in the Kiwanis International Sponsored Circle K Club while a grad student in the mid-1980s at Cal State Long Beach.

Rev. Coates, a member of the East Long Beach Kiwanis Club, served as our Kiwanis adviser.  As I was new to the club, I didn’t initially have the connection to the Kiwanians that my fellow club members had.  In addition, his laid-back personality was in marked contrast to some of the more larger-than-life members who formed the bulwark of that club’s membership at the time.  But I remember after I started to grow ill in the Fall of 1984 into early 1985, how much the Kiwanians encouraged me to stay strong with the treatment, even as I was forced to temporarily drop out of school.  My surgery in January of 1985, led to a week-long hospital stay for my initial round of chemotherapy.

I was down at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, right off of Pacific Coast Highway, mostly being kept company by friends from school, as well as family members.  I don’t have much in the way of a consistent narrative memory to my hospital stay.  I remember it being mostly overcast for much of my time at Hoag, and I remember the difficulty in dealing with the first dose of chemo, which did go to work immediately on the rapidly growing tumor which had been growing over my right eye.  I also remember the restless nights, as my body temperature was having a difficult time trying to work with the infections throughout my immune system.

But I also remember Rev. Coates coming to visit.  My entire family does, as a matter of fact.  I can’t recall exactly who was with me that day, besides my mom and dad, but I looked up, and there was Rev. Coates, holding his bike helmet in his hand, in his suit, bike clips on his pants legs.  He had peddled down PCH to Hoag, from Belmont Shore, specifically to see how I was doing and holding up.  He stayed for a bit, sharing conversation with my parents and me, making it a point of connecting our shared legacy of having been at Cal, albeit nearly 40 years apart, and how that meant something.

Obviously, it did, as I still remember that visit that day.  A small gesture, it gave me a glimpse into this man’s tremendously large heart.  More than anything else that went on in that hospital room during that week 27 years ago, his visit represented my single lasting memory that I managed to hang on from my chemically-addled experience of the week.

Thusly, to see his name in the “California” magazine, after all this time, took me back.

Kenneth A. Coates, July 17. Born in 1921 to two Cal alumni. Served churches in Hillsboro and Portland, OR, El Cerrito and Long Beach, as well as an international church in Kobe, Japan. He retired in 1986 to Pilgrim Place, Claremont, here he was active in Amnesty International, tutored in a local school, and for 15 years was volunteer chaplain at Peppermint Ridge, Corona, a home for the developmentally disabled.

A graduate of San Ramon High School, he set a track and field record at the 1935 California State Meet in Fresno at an incredible 9.6—only two tenths of a second off Jesse Owens’s world record of 9.4. He attended Cal on an athletic scholarship, and continued to compete in track. He was also a member of Alpha Delta Phi alumni. He spent four years in Europe during WWII as a First Lieutenant of an anti-aircraft battalion. Early in his career, he taught industrial arts at Oakland Tech High School. He later fell into real estate where he spent most of his career, first as a broker and later as a developer and investor. Robert is survived by his wife, Maria; children Juli, Anna, Alexandra ’92, and Robert Jr.; and two grandchildren.

He touched many lives during his time on this earth, and I am sure that with others who crossed his path over the years, they came to the same affirmative conclusions about Rev. Coates’ true character.  Even in my borderline-agnostic leanings these days, he truly represented what the notion of a minister should be.  I often joke to my students that I’m no role model–I’m an example.  All kidding aside, Rev. Coates was one of those examples that I would definitely point out as being worthy of emulation.   In the words of Cal’s Alma Mater, his was a “heart, bright and bold”.   Rest in Peace, Reverend.

(NOTE:  A more detailed obituary is here.)

We All We Got–We All We Need

“If they’re gonna beat us, we’ll go out fighting. Coach Kapp instilled that in us-100 percent for 60 minutes; never give in until the last second has ticked off. We all held hands after Richard told us what to do. I knew then it wasn’t hopeless.” –former Cal running back Dwight Garner ’85

State Tests started in my classroom today.  And it seemed appropriate to say something inspiring.  Suffice to say that in my 15th year, I still hadn’t figured what to tell my kids before this process begins for them.  Problematically, my philosophical bent against the idea of standardized testing always colored what I wound up saying and whatever eloquence I felt I might have had when I was thinking about what to say would dissipate into a diatribe well above my intended audience.  I was determined not to repeat that mistake this year.

So, I told them about this:

When I finished talking about it, I mentioned to my kids that I had been in the stadium that Saturday afternoon, and, outside of the night I brought home my little girl, it remains one of the most amazing experiences that I had ever personally witnessed.

But then I also told my kids that what I found even more amazing than being there in person for “The Play” was watching all 32 of them demonstrating and using things that *I* had taught to them throughout the year.

“Today, Tomorrow, and next week is about showing off what you’ve learned from me.  I don’t care if you don’t ace this test and not get a perfect score.  That’s not what this is about.  Just be a little bit better than what I already know you can do.  If you can do that for your classmates, and, ultimately, for me, that’s all I can ask.”

I hope they did well today.

Too Broke to Pay Attention

“GINGRICH WINS BIG IN S. CAROLINA” greets me as I stumble out to grab the Sunday morning paper.

“Well, that ought to make someone happy”, I think to myself, “even if they’re not paying attention.”

It is my burden that I tend to do so.  But before we return to Gingrich though, this will get somewhat convoluted.

It was back in the Fall of 2010, and I was working a Cal table at a College Fair in Orange County, on the day the Athletic Department announced we were cutting the baseball program (since saved), among others.  Naturally, the first kid we had that night had asked about the baseball program being slashed. He was in disbelief that the budget issues has reached the level to where we slashing a collegiate sport. I then had to talk to him about how much a Cal degree would cost, using budget numbers that were already out of date thanks to the fact that the Office of Admissions hadn’t yet updated the flyers because they were trying to have us use up the older flyers thanks to more budget issues.

 

The reality remained that he was going to be paying more for his Cal degree.  And, if he wound up applying and was accepted to begin his studies last Fall, undoubtedly he was paying more.  Worse yet, at around the same time, the UC was openly promoting the idea of accepting more out-of-state students, simply because they paid higher student fees.

 

Last week, in something seemingly unrelated but connected nonetheless, the University of Washington hired away a Cal assistant coach for an annual salary averaging $416,000 a year.  While rumors also noted that this assistant coach also received a boat from UW as part of the package, the raise was nevertheless in excess of his previous salary at Cal of $163,000.  At this point, the story of this particular coach’s departure gets complicated and emotional, particularly given the fact that the coach was leaving his own alma mater for this job opportunity, but doing so in a critical time in the college football recruiting cycle.

Suffice to say that the timing of this news was unfortunate.  On the other hand, it brought to the fore the issue of athletic coach compensation in the era of budget cuts and fee increases at state university systems like the University of California.

Good on UW for having an endowment for its Athletic Department to be able to pay what they’d like for their sports and coaches. They also only fund 19 intercollegiate sports, while Cal, for its part, funds 29.  I am proud of the fact that there are additional athletic opportunities at Cal for its student athletes.  It’s not just about what happens on Saturdays in the Fall months, even though the football program generates the lion’s share of the athletic department’s revenue, in addition to the costs associated with running it.  How would it look therefore, for UC to be paying an assistant football coach nearly half a million dollars to coach defensive line play in an era of funding issues?  Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but the political situation stopped being about nuance an awfully long time ago…

Because in California, the education funding battle remains ugly. As a public school teacher, I have to cheer smaller cuts to the K-12 budgets, while at the same time I’m seeing the fee hikes hit the UC and Cal State systems. I find myself unconsciously and inexplicably relieved that the budget burden gets passed off to the hapless undergraduates rather than coming out of local school district budgets.  I have to be happy it’s not happening to my end of that education spectrum, all while going out in the evening talking to parents and students about UC, addressing how expensive it’s getting.  I am literally rooting for my self-interest against my own alma mater.

Nevertheless, the budget knife is still coming for the K-12 public schools.  To deny the political component of our day-in/day-out reality of my life in the classroom is pure folly.  I see the results of the political decisions over the last decade playing itself out, whether it be the light fixture that doesn’t get replaced, the lack of an adequate supply of copy paper, the broken chairs and loose desks, or the fact that a number of my students are not able to afford the fees to go to 6th grade camp.  I see it when our school has to focus upon raising the test scores of students in lower Socio-Economic Status.  I see it on a cold, rainy day like today, when students come to school without an adequate jacket.

These are the results of political decisions, and deny that one is not paying attention is as heartbreaking as it is tragic…

I had a chance to ponder the relationship between UC and my elementary school when I hosted two Cal students in my classroom 2 weeks ago.  It had been a few years since I had had a pre-service teacher shadow me in my classroom, and with 2 students from my alma mater watching me for 3 days, I conducted a crash course in what I used to do when I worked with student teachers in the past.  Amidst the expected discussion of instructional style, discipline, classroom management, and reading assessments, came the one lesson I have always imparted to all of the student teachers I’ve had work with me in the past:  our students are our constituents.  Without them, we have no career.  As such, we need to be their biggest advocates.  When something in education affects us, it, by definition affects them.

It was in the midst of this reflections therefore, that a colleague chose to use a Newt Gringrich quote for motivation in a Facebook status:  “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

As Katelyn might say these days, “What the”?

The quote itself was innocuous, but I was stunned by the subsequent refusal to consider who it was who delivered this message–especially by a man whose idea of perseverance is to be married 3 times.  Worse, this was a man who, earlier in this current presidential campaign, was openly advocating that schools dismiss their custodial workers:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid…These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school.”

Replacing them would be the poor students at a school, in order to give them a work ethic doing something considered “legal”, given the apparent lack of role models that poor kids have.  I tried to get her to consider this quote, and she agreed that it wouldn’t be good to let our custodian go, but truth be told, she didn’t really pay attention to the politics.

What the?

Newt had himself an inadvertent new fan, which is what he wants.

When he gets power he believes the rules do not apply to him….’People want to hear what I have to say. It doesn’t matter what I do.’ In the Newtonian world, people only care about what he says; the rules are to be followed by the rest of us. This distorted vision of the world also applies to whether Newt is allowed to ignore the facts. He does so with such conviction that, unless one knows the truth, his delivery mandates believability.

So much for trying to explain the ethics violations that had Gingrich removed as Speaker of the House in the late 1990s.  <sigh>

As this past week went on, Gingrich managed to win the South Carolina Republican primary, drawing attention to himself by positioning his campaign in opposition to those who dared question him by pointing out the inconsistency of his past actions.  But more critically, he’s positioned himself as a presidential candidate by attacking the poor, with his claim that President Obama is the “food stamp President” among his distinctions.  Like all Republican candidates this year though, the candidates complain that the President is engaged in the class warfare that they, themselves, are conducting.  And who is the enemy?  Public school teachers, and their unions, along with all of the poor kids who sit in our classrooms.  Of course, it’s also those college kids’ fault, since they have to time to Occupy Wall Street rather than sit in their classrooms.  Finally, in Gingrich’s case, for many of our kids who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), he views their home language, Spanish, as the language of the ghetto.

“We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.”

So, naturally, it makes sense for a public employee to be quoting Newt Gingrich in light of all of this.  With furlough days cutting into our salaries, not to mention an increasing need to  go into our own pocket to buy our classroom supplies, it would make perfect sense for us to be too broke to be paying attention to politics these days.  Especially since those of us among the 99% are being forced to fight each other for a decreasing piece of the budget pie. The UC versus K-12 is, sadly, just one of those many battles constantly being fought.  If we view part of our role of advocates for our young charges though, it boggles my mind, to not pay attention to the policies that will affect these kids lives.  Even though our state might be close to being financially bankrupt, it is not helped when our jobs depend upon us not being intellectually bankrupt as well.

Author Jonathan Kozol has repeatedly written about the inequalities in school systems throughout the country, rich versus poor, speaking about the very ramifications of the political choices that have been made (or not paid attention to).  Kozol concludes:

“Evil exists.  I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher would call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don’t so they don’t need to use it to help people-that is my idea of evil.”

Pity our schools should Gingrich actually be given that power he’s convinced he should have.

Everything I Ever Learned Came from 30 Years of Following Cal Football…

“Wear your Oriole cap,” quipped the wife.

I was sadly trying to figure out what cap to wear on an early morning trip to Walgreens over in a part of town where it would be generous to describe the clientele as wholly unable to even spell “UCLA”…and it was bad enough that the alma mater had fallen so far from grace in less than a week that I had to turn to my even more bottom-dwelling baseball team for a choice in headgear.

The Cal football team decided late yesterday afternoon to turn its road game against UCLA into a trip to a Haunted House, getting embarrassed 31-14 to a Bruin team missing 6 suspended players, and with a coach, Rick Neuheisel, whose job seemed seriously in jeopardy until around 6 pm last night.

Words escape me.

But even if Cal coach Jeff Tedford is reluctant to turn last night’s debacle into a legitimate teachable moment, I am not so reticent.  If the Cal football team won’t learn from its own disastrous failures doesn’t meant that I can’t use the team’s own failures to teach my own kids.

(Also, for anyone who has followed Cal football, the team’s history is chock full of teachable moments. Even for those will little unfamiliarity with the program’s legacy, telling you that the team hasn’t been in the Rose Bowl since 1959 ought to tell you enough…)

To wit:  My class did surprisingly well on their first Math test of the school year a couple of weeks back.  Now, with the second Unit test of the year on the horizon early this coming week, I am legitimately worried that the early success of the first test might lull the kids into a complacency not unlike Cal last night–in other words, the team was “supposed” to play well against a seriously depleted Bruin team.  Then, they didn’t.

I can already sense that something similar might be happening to my students with respect to this current Math unit.  So far, they’ve appeared to make a nice transition to a new Math program my site has begun to use.   Nevertheless, with only one test result, it’s not like we really have a consistent sample size to go by.  I know disaster could be around the corner; much like my sinking suspicion about Cal’s chances last night (i.e. this win appeared to be too easily gifted to actually believe that we were actually going to win.), I can see this group of kids not mentally prepared to raise their game for this next challenge.

I’ve got enough football fans amongst my kids to enable me to turn last night’s debacle at the Rose Bowl into a teachable moment.  Given what is at stake (that they at least need to somewhat match their performance on the first test), I fully intend to do so.

For a quick glance at the year’s first Math test results, click here:  NSandOUnit1TestChart

Accomplice in Frustration

I thought I recognized the reactions and the emotion behind it.

It wasn’t good.  And it was the enduring image of a weekend that hadn’t even started yet.

Normally, Sunday mornings in the Fall, such as yesterday morning, involve trying to recap the events over the college football Saturday, and generally reflect on how the week ahead will play out against next week’s opponent.  In this, I’m no different than any other college football fan.  As a Cal fan however, reflections on this topic most recently have generally been as welcome as a case of acid reflux:  Cal’s 3rd straight loss, yet with each loss marked by more successively and more disastrous results and consequences for the football program both this season and beyond.

Not surprisingly, Cal lost to U$c on Thursday evening, continuing an annual set of frustration that had begun in 2004.  But the manner in which Thursday night played out, the team’s turnovers, the poor decision-making of its quarterback, Zach Maynard, as well as its best players, and how the team looked like a rudderless boat.  All of which played out in front of a national television audience on ESPN, wrecking homecoming, throwing the fan base into chaos, and, after a long while of repressing the thoughts, unlocking the first real signs of alumni dissatisfaction with head coach Jeff Tedford.

What stayed with me however, was Tedford’s open frustration.  As I noted above though, I could recognize the frustration he must of felt.  3 events stood out:  first, yelling at wide reciever Bryce McGovern, when he came into the game for a play, and, then, once in, missing a key assignment that the play needed to succeed.  Then, the look of utter disbelief that Tedford gave to special teams coach Jeff Genyk, when a fake punt was called on 4th and 7 in the Cal side of the field.  The fake failed when punter Bryan Anger was tackled a few yards short of the first down marker, but even more so, the television camera did miss Coach Tedford’s turn towards his ST coach with a bewildered look and a mouthed expletive that I could definitely make out as “What……………..that?”  But lastly, and most pointedly, was the final television outburst.  As the 4th quarter was under way, with Cal finally showing signs of a pulse despite being down 23-9, the Bears forced the Trojans to punt.  As the punt neared the Cal goal line, Marvin Jones, the senior wide receiver who shares punt return duties, settled under the ball, signaling for a fair catch.  This is a common move, but being so near to the goal line, usually the returner lets the ball bounce into the end zone, giving the team a touchback on their own 20-yard-line, provided no one from U$c gets to the ball before it reaches the end zone first.  It is not advisable to field the ball so close to the goal line, nor is it suggested you fair catch the ball, simply because of how disadvantaged the team would be, trapped so deep within its own territory.

But that’s exactly what Marvin Jones did.  Apparently, he lost track of where he was on the field.  First and ten, Cal football, on its own 4-yard-line.  As the offense run on to the field, Tedford followed them out, directing his invective at Jones for his error.  Jones turned and walked away from his head coach.  Clearly, the frustration had boiled over on both sides. Even worse, 8 plays and only 32 yards later, U$c had the ball back, and eventually, after still another Cal turnover, they clinched the 30-9 win.

This post could easily be about the state of the Cal football program, in exile for the year in San Francisco, as the team’s home in Memorial Stadium is refurbished to reflect 21st Century realities.   Or it could be about how it wasn’t necessarily a case of a U$c win, but more of a Cal loss for last Thursday’s televised mess.   Again though, I recognized something in Jeff Tedford’s frustration.

The frustration itself.

As coach of the team, Tedford undoubtedly feels compelled to take the blame for his charges’ performance in a game, but as much as it could be understood as growing pains, there are times when the amount of frustration boils over when faced with a truly bad turn of events.  I’ve felt it myself.  Not to the extent that my own frustration boils over on a national television broadcast, but I have to be honest about those times when working with youngsters can reach a critical mass wherein you keep seeing the same errors again and again, and there’s no apparent movement up the learning curve.  But just like Tedford’s struggles are reflected in his won-loss record, particularly most recently (5-7 in the 2010 season), test scores have also most recently begun to be seen by some as a touchstone of my teaching effectiveness.  So the margin of error in a pressure situation such as that can amp up the anxiety level beyond normal.  My school district has also begun to add benchmark assessments to the mix as well, with the nominal idea that it might provide some insight into the expected performance on the state tests;  given the 15-20% disparity in scores though, such a competition easily lends itself to a comparison of a team with an easy non-conference schedule suddenly running into problems when real conference play begins. (And, not surprisingly, Cal went 3-0 in its nonconference schedule, with one win coming at the expense of a program in Division 1-AA)

It also begs the question:  I taught it, why aren’t the students getting it?

My wife would suggest that if the kids didn’t learn it, maybe I didn’t teach it, I just showed it.

Some times players don’t develop and it is nobody’s fault but their own. It is such a cliche to blame the coaches for when a player doesn’t develop, and even the coaches will blame themselves. But the dirty truth is that some times it is not the coach’s fault. Fans don’t like to believe it could be the players’ fault because they prefer the cleaner belief that the head coach is ultimately responsible for anything and players are never at fault. But at some point players have to take responsibility for their own self. This is reality, believing [pl]ayers are never at fault and coaches are always at fault isn’t reality. Some players don’t develop because they don’t have the work ethic and determination. That’s the most common answer. I’ve seen it myself working with the team. Some guys slack. Some guys give 100% all the time. The guys that give 100% all the time are those who more likely to start and go to the NFL. I’m not sure if my explanation is the case for all of Cal’s QBs who haven’t developed but it’s a possibility. Even (former Cal QB Kevin) Riley himself admitted he wasn’t giving things his all until his junior year or so. — Commenter, California Golden Blogs

While not an exact match for what I see in my classroom on a daily basis, I can vouch for those kids who were “100 percenters”, who, by their own efforts, improved beyond what I could have hoped to see.  One child, in particular, finished Below Basic on her first benchmark last Fall, moved up to Proficient by the 2nd benchmark, Advanced by the third, and wound up scoring Advanced on the California Standard Test in May.  I can’t take credit for that.  It wouldn’t be right.

I’ve also seen students do less with more.  I know I’ve possibly got at least one potential student who might fit that profile in my current class, but I hope that’s one prophecy that’s unfilled.  Because it’s still early.  But, I also know that I might be sharing Jeff Tedford’s expressions come report card time–even if I am going to be internalizing it.  Either way, there’s work to be done, both on my part, and with Cal’s coach.  The season ain’t over.  If both of us are back at our respective positions next year, the work will begin anew.

My Little Commie!

The little princess has had her share of drama this week, giving us an early preview of the adolescence we hope we’ll never see.

This afternoon’s Greek tragedy involved Katelyn’s leotard for gymnastics.  As she’s shown us that she wants to stick with this discipline (as opposed to her time in Dance Class—another subject), if you know my wife, you’ll realize how important the “cuteness” component happens to be in terms of what our daughter wears to her extracurricular activities.  As a result, we’ve begun to replace her t-shirt/short combo with more leotards.  And after a family friend gifted us leotards her kindergarten daughter has outgrown, Katelyn has more choices in terms of what she can wear to gymnastics class.

As I left the house this morning, Kate had three choices as what she could wear.  Tuesday happened to have her in a leotard covered in pink and purple hearts, and given how many compliments her coaches gave her, I was not surprised when she asked to wear that leotard again when the time came to change her clothes in the preschool bathroom.  Except that wasn’t one that I had packed.  Now the duel began.  I pulled out a plain blue one that Kate initially rejected followed by a black one, with the letters ‘USA’ in the front of the outfit.  Kate couldn’t make up her mind immediately, and then, blurted out she wanted the black one after all.

And then she didn’t.  Except that I was already putting it on her.  As that was happening, she was now taking it off.  Now it got comical:

“I DON’T WANT TO WEAR SOMETHING WITH USC ON IT!”

“Um, I would NEVER put you in something with USC on it!  It says USA!”

This argument thread went back and forth for about a minute.

By now Katelyn was out and out bawling as we came out of the bathroom and moved towards the main preschool room and the exit.  I was gambling that compliments from people other than me would win the day.  There were a few people milling about the student signature check out as we walked.  All of them noticed Katelyn melting down.

One parent, with their own preschooler, tried to intervene and pump up the USA leotard.    She shared with Kate that she had a USA shirt, as did her daughter, Kate’s classmate.  No luck, Katelyn was fixated on the blue outfit that was still in my bag.    Kate’s preschool teacher also tried to step in.  (Side note:  Katelyn’s preschool teacher is a “Bear-ent”, i.e. her son is a sophomore at Cal.)  Both the mom and Ms. O both laughed when I relayed to them that Katelyn was under the misimpression that her leotard said “USC”.  Still, no luck.  Even while she was crying, at least Katelyn was walking with me, and we moved to the preschool lobby door.  Meeting us there was the preschool director, who had been hearing Kate’s screams when she was in the bathroom.  Ms. O also followed behind.

“Katelyn, calm down, tell me what’s wrong…”

“Daddy is making me wear this and it says USC on it! (complete with sobs)”

“No Katelyn, it doesn’t.  You know your letters, it says USA…”

Ms. O, standing at the preschool lobby’s dutch door agrees, “I guess we’re going to work some more on our ABCs next week…”

“But I don’t want to wear this…”

“Katelyn, do you know what the USA is, it’s where you live.  You know that Daddy would only put you in clothes that say ‘UCLA’!”

Ms. O (loyal Cal mom that she is) and I, simultaneously:  “HEY!”

“(toward us) You’re right, sorry.  (to Katelyn)  Daddy would only put you in things that say ‘UC Berkeley’…”

“But, Mrs. V…”

“Katelyn, you go and have a good gymnastics class, and a good weekend, OK?”

Kate and I finally move out the front door towards my SUV.  I am promising her that we can get her favorite pizza for dinner.  Kate still remains crying as we walk, finally blurting out that she “HATES the USA!”

Mrs. V has followed us out, ostensibly because she had a errand to run at the school’s administration building.  She catches up to us at the chain link fence as I prepare to put Katelyn into her car seat.

“Hector, tell Amber that IS a cute leotard.”

“Well Mrs. V.,  some would say that Kate IS ready to go to Berkeley…she just told me she hates the USA!”

Bear Territory

With College Football kicking off its season this weekend, today was College Colors Day. 

Normally, I’d put Kate in the colors, and trot her somewhere into the backyard and take photos of her to post on Facebook and what not.  But with my classroom still not ready, and my sister and my niece and nephew wanting to belatedly celebrate Kate’s 4th birthday, we never got around to a photo-op.

But that doesn’t mean Amber wasn’t doing her part earlier in the week.

When my wife had to do some school district duty at a breakfast at the local hotel, one of the featured guests at the luncheon was Congresswoman Linda Sanchez.  Forewarned about the seating arrangements (i.e. that not all the district’s administrators would be able to sit with or near the Congresswoman), I decided to literally tap into some prior knowledge.  You see, Congresswoman Sanchez is an Old Blue–Cal class of 1991.  I suggested to Amber that one way she could meet the Congresswoman was to use that basic connection.  The wife agreed.

Katelyn already had the Cal mini helmet atop her television.  Amber’s trip to Michael’s the weekend prior to Rep. Sanchez’s visit garnered us a golden ink permanent pen.  As she left the house Monday morning, Amber stuffed both pen and helmet into her purse and hoped for the best.

Sure enough, Amber wasn’t seated at the Congresswoman’s table.  But if you know my wife, she doesn’t give up so easily.  As the event unfolded, Amber watched Rep. Sanchez for any sign that she might be leaving.  Ultimately, her patience paid off when she spied one of Sanchez’s aide whisper to her and the Congresswoman made ready to leave the event.  Amber was already on it.  Using a bathroom break as an excuse, Amber had helmet and pen ready, and headed into the hotel’s hallway and waited.  When the Congresswoman came out, Amber turned total fan girl.  She got a photo from the Congresswoman, who even agreed to also sign an autograph for Katelyn.  But then Rep. Sanchez saw the helmet.

“Go Bears!” was her reply.

Indeed.