Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Memorial Day

To the Americans out there.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Einstein hype

Baby Einstein is hype. Their DVDs are $15 for about 30 minutes of cute puppets and nature photos set to classical music. The kicker is the "repeat play" option when starting the DVD. It strikes me as both ingenious and utterly abhorent. I have visions of burned-out parents locking their children in a den with Baby Einstein playing on infinite repeat and rationalizing to themselves that their babies will become geniuses.

We also picked up a movie called "Elmo in Grouchland" which was a pretty clever retelling of the archetypal heroic quest to the underworld. With empathetic characters, dialogue that mixes high-school vocabulary with elementary-school language, and the meta-commentary of Bert and Ernie periodically stopping the movie (essentially teaching reading strategies), I was far more impressed. Besides, it's feature-film length, so I won't need to put it on repeat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

lest we forget

I'm reaching to international news for a bit of much-needed perspective right now.

Osama bin Laden releases another audio tape in a publicity stunt to reclaim his relevance. He claims the innocence of those held in Guantanamo Bay and convicted terrorist Moussaoui.

Regardless of what kernals of truth there may be in his lies, I'm struck by how hollow his boastings sound five years after 9/11. It angers me to no end that he's still alive. It angers me that the U.S. government has waged its own campaign against freedom. But Osama bin Laden himself strikes me as desperate just for the attention.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


In California, people display elaborate calligraphy decals "In memory of ..." on the back of their windows. Usually with dates: 2002-2006 or 1992-2004.

Our school suffered through the mourning process of our third student death today.

Last night at 8:33 a car driving five blocks north of my classroom fired shots at a group of people standing outside. An eighth-grade-boy was hit five times and pronounced dead at the hospital. His best friend, my student, was shot in the arm.

The school learned about the death early this morning. The principal pulled me aside to tell me and let me know the school psychologist and "community liaison" were going on a home visit to check up on the latter student. He had been suspended for five days (an after school fight on Friday), so we didn't expect him to be coming to school any time soon. Apparently the first boy had also been at the fight but didn't jump in. He'd told the principal last week that he wanted to stay out of trouble. The principal had a heart-to-heart with him, agreed to suspend him for only one day, and his last words to this boy had been "I'm proud of you for not getting involved. I don't want you to get killed."

What kind of place is this where a line like that is not a figure of speech?

When I taught in the land of milk and honey, it was a common writing assignment to create your own obituary. Death happens everywhere, though, and whether it was a car accident or leukemia, we suffered through the funerals of students there, too.

During the last period of school, a student of mine complained "I have to go to the bathroom so bad! If you don't let me go right now, I'm going to kill myself. I mean it. How would you feel then?" This was the kid who'd had bloodshot eyes all day, who wasn't wearing red for the first time in weeks--he was wearing black. He was one of the many friends of the boys who'd been shot, and he walks down that street on the way to school each day.

I paused. After a few moments had passed and the others were occupied, I leaned down next to his chair and told him that I would feel absolutely terrible. I said that suicide is a serious topic. I've lost people in my life who killed themselves, and I don't want it to happen again. I told him I didn't want to hear him joke about it or say it just to get my attention. Then I said what every teacher wishes they had said to every student who's ever died: "I care about you. I want you to be safe." He actually smiled and nodded. "I know."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

looking up

My wheels found traction again (see previous post), and things are looking up. My daughter built towers of Babel with Legos, my husband rented the movie Dodgeball, and my students finished testing on Friday.

By the way, did you know the fine for illegally copying a DVD is $250,000? I would have liked to be in the room when the MPAA came up with that figure. I'm trying to imagine the conversation: "50,000 just isn't a big enough fine. People will pay it off and not take us seriously..." Impressively absurd.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

wasted effort

I work too hard.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

books for lemmings

A very talented writer/thinker/editor who was once my boss made a point of holding out as long as possible before reading a single Harry Potter book. She read the reviews, she participated in the conversations on Culture and Literacy, probably even made allusions to the series in the way that I'm told the Gilmore Girls drops pop culture references (though I've never seen the show). Still, she refused to stoop to the level of reading what was in her eyes "pulp." Blame it on all those years working towards a Ph.D. in an ivory tower English department.

I'm countering my own literary snob and finally began The Da Vinci Code. What better place to begin a book like that than on an airplane? It's interesting to finally look at the object that has cast such a long shadow, like seeing the silhouette of a monster creep around the corner only to discover it's just a halfling named Sam out to defend his best friend against an army of goblins.

So far, so good. It's entertaining, a fast read, and the teacher/student episodes are hysterical for anyone who has ever taught real people. It reminds me of a watered-down Foucault's Pendulum. I wonder what Eco has to say about it. I know what the Vatican says about it.

As far as I can tell, the biggest problem is mistaking fiction for historical fact--whether art, architecture, religion, or intellectual history in Europe. But like Harry Potter, I think any book that gets people interested in reading and interested in talking about reading (as well as the vast field of liberal arts) can't possibly be all bad.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I stumbled into the teacher's lounge this morning to hear this conversation between a social studies (SST) and a language arts teacher (LAT)* that went something like this:

LAT: "How is Fox news biased?"
SST: "Are you kidding? They don't tell the news in an objective manner. You know what 'objective' means, right?" (no sarcasm in his voice)
LAT: "Yeah, I know what 'objective' means." (no sense of insult)
SST: "Well, look at all their stories on Bush."
LAT: "But how does that mean they are right-wing?"

... [successfully tuned out for the next few lines] ...

SST: " evening news."
LAT: "They're all liberal. They never spend more than 30 seconds to tell the story. They never tell more than one side to the story."
SST: "They don't have time."
LAT: "Yeah, but ..."

Here's what bugs me: This should be the kind of conversation you hear among thirteen-year-olds, not their thirty-year-old teachers. I would hope that in 17 years of education and life, people might even argue about the same topic but with a bit more sophistication, justification, and, well, a point. It may as well have been an argument about whose dad can beat up the other's.

Am I being too harsh?

*It really shouldn't matter what disciplines they teach with regard to who is saying what. Except that it's a bit of an embarrassment to both disciplines.

unexpected surprises

I spent my mother's day weekend with an unexpected visit to the emergency room. All is ok, but it was a bit of a scare for about 9 hours until I finally saw a doctor. For the sake of decorum*, I'll just say I was worried that we might lose the baby. Luckily there was a happy ending just in time for mother's day. I really want an uneventful pregnancy for the next 9-11 weeks.

Sadly, this meant we also missed out on the better half's graduation. The overcast weather in Minnesota reflected our moods well. At least we made it out of the hospital in time for the graduation party....

*Maybe I'm concerned about a pretense of decorum, but honestly, I have no tact. I thought about this incident later and decided it should really be titled--in the vein of the inimitable Jesse Ventura--"Ain't Got Time to Bleed."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

one more reason to like the LA Times

No, I'm not being sarcastic.

An Alert Unlike Any Other:
A nuclear waste vault in New Mexico will long outlive our society. Experts are working on elaborate ways to warn future civilizations.

Oil and gas deposits lie thousands of feet below the plant. In 100 or 5,000 years, an energy-poor government, company or gasoline-addicted tribe in a ruined society, like those depicted in the film "The Road Warrior," could adopt a "drill first, ask questions later" policy — piercing the repository and pulling death to the surface.

That's worth writing about.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

bit of zen

Spent the weekend getting sunburned and spreading out rocks. We've filled in the canyon that had dug its way under the fence, and we replaced it with a dry creek bed. Ignore the fact that there's nothing else in our yard besides dirt, and it actually looks ok. I never quite realized how much I like pond stones. We ran the hose over it a few times to get the full effect (and to make sure that we weren't just spreading the flooding to somewhere else).

Other piece of good news: our third ultrasound revealed a very very healthy looking baby boy. Looks like his kidney problem has resolved itself. I'm still going in for a follow-up in 6 weeks, but this is a huge relief to us all. I have only 9 weekends left before the Big Day. Amazing how quickly it goes.

Last but not least, I'm flying back to Minnesota Thursday for the weekend. Can't wait to see friends and some family who are driving out to meet us. I'm excited to walk on the River Road again and to cross the Mississippi on all my favorite bridges. Taking Laura on a plane will be interesting, but I think it will be worth the squirming. With luck the people around us won't mind too much either.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

test day

It's the beginning of the end of the year--state testing time. School continues through the end of June; we'll see whether the students and I can make it. Rough day today. I think I get more worried about these tests than they do--a lot is riding on their performance, including my own job evaluations.

In other news, we've pretty well decided for me to take off 4 months after the baby. It's both a lot of time and doesn't seem like enough. May be a bit of a squeeze for money, but we'll find a way.