February 21, 2011

Positive and Negative Numbers

I have very strong opinions about the profession of teaching. And very strong opinions about the state of education in the U.S. today.

If I had a child, would I send that kid to public school? A private school? Charter? Magnet, Montessori? Would I homeschool?

I don't know. It depends on where I live, what schools are available, what I can afford to do.

A private school is not necessarily better than a public school. A teacher with a master's in not necessarily a better teacher than a 20something fresh out of college. And sometimes a teacher without a degree in education can trump both those.

What makes a good teacher is something that cannot be bought or sold. It cannot be measured by standardized tests. It is difficult to quantify and put on a report.

A good teacher is one who has depth of knowledge in their field. A curiosity to learn more. An inherent belief that other theories can also be valid - if they are presented with valid evidence. A good teacher is one who is open to honest discussion. Who can guide students into new ways of thinking. Who can encourage new thoughts. Who can elicit response either verbal or written. A good teacher is one who understands how to motivate. Who genuinely wants to understand students in order to meet them where they are and bring them into a larger world.

A good teacher is not necessarily one whose students score 1600 on the SAT. A good teacher is not necessarily the teacher whose students have the best standardized test scores.

Near the end of sixth grade, our teachers went into a frenzy, preparing us for the CAT - California Achievement Test. We lived, breathed, ate that test for weeks. The emphasis was not on the material, it was on how to take the test. Memorize some material just to get through it.

This is not education. It's training. The same as you train your dog to shake on command.

The teachers were not interested in our learning during those weeks. They were fevered, concerned and panicked - we HAD to do well.

When the test was over, things went back to normal. Then the junior high came in to give us placement tests.

Our math teacher attempted to prepare us for positive and negative numbers - a concept that was not on the CAT, but would be on our math placement for junior high, just days before the junior high came over. We were presented with a set of unexplained rules and told to follow them.

For whatever reason, I have never been able to memorize a set of rule and just do them just because. Personally, I have to understand the concept or I don't get it. If I don't understand the concept, I will remain unable to memorize the ruleset. This caused me a lot of problems later on in the biological sciences where things just are not very intuitive for me ... but in sixth grade, it reared its head with positive and negative numbers. My math teacher was understandably exhausted and drained from the stress of the previous weeks gearing up for the CATs. It was getting late in the year and I'm sure we were all becoming wild hooligans at the thought of summer - and leaving elementary school for junior high.

But she didn't take the time to explain the concepts. She made a mistake - which, by the way, I do not think made her a bad teacher.

Because I didn't understand the concepts behind positive and negative numbers, I couldn't memorize the rules. Because I both couldn't memorize the rules and didn't get the concept, I did poorly on that section of the test. Within days of that test, the teacher finally recovered and patiently explained the concept to me. It clicked almost instantly and I never had issues again. But I was also put into "regular" math instead of "honors" math for junior high.

What was truly more important? Demonstrating pure animal training on a standardized test? Or understanding the concepts?

And how do you measure what makes a good teacher?

There is no way to display this on a test. You can't just poll student opinion - students tend to let their opinion of the subject get in the way, or that one time the teacher made a single mistake, or the fact that they were strict for a good reason, etc, etc. An administrator observing a class is an aberration in the class routine and doesn't necessarily represent the teacher's abilities, either.

I don't know what THE answer is for any country trying to ensure a good, solid education system.

And that's why I don't know if I could send my child to any particular school. It might be a wonderful school, but maybe one teacher and my child aren't a good mix. There are so many, many variables.

To the teachers of Wisconsin - stay strong. Stay focused. You are right to protest when you are being attacked.

But do your best to remember why you teach when you go back. To protect your own spark as you begin kindling sparks in your students as well.

And don't let the numbers bring you down. What you do is greater than the sum of those tests ....

Posted by Red Monkey at 6:01 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

April 29, 2010

Lesson To Be Learned

Once upon a time I was a teacher.

I taught first-year writing at a pretty big "name-brand" school and I loved it. I loved prepping materials, I loved trying to figure out where my students were currently at so I could reach them better. I tried to genuine with them. To be realistic - I mean, honestly, how many of my students really WANTED to be in the freshman English class? I knew they didn't. In nine years of beginning class with something like, "This is first year composition, the class that everyone is just dying to take," I only had one student ever tell me that yeah, he actually did want to take the class and was looking forward to it.

When the curriculum called for literature, I tried to pick stuff that was accessible. True, a lot of it was stuff that I had enjoyed, but it wasn't just that. I wanted them to not hate reading for my class. I hoped they'd enjoy at least some of it. At least as much as it was possible for an engineering major to like something he was being forced to read.

Later on, when the curriculum changed from reading literature and writing to a focus on the writing process, I struggled at first to make sure that the essays I assigned were still meaningful to my students. It took really listening to them and figuring out where they were before I was able to strike a balance between their interests and knowledge ... and starting to push them into the realm of academic discourse. I knew - then and now - that most of them didn't actually need academic discourse for anything other than getting through school. I tried to make that clear in class. We were doing things this way because learning this way of thinking meant they could tackle any other discipline with a little adaptation.

I compared academic writing to the scientific method. I compared different types of examples to cinematic close-ups and long-shots. I constantly asked them for feedback.

For many of them, it was the first time they'd ever been told their writing was not A quality. Some took it in stride and learned. Some didn't really care. Some decided I was full of shit and not to be believed.

Our class was set up so students wrote a first draft. I looked at it and gave general comments. Their peers looked at it and critiqued it. Then a second draft. I was more detailed in this draft. Their peers critiqued again. A third draft. This was the not-really-graded draft. I went through this one with a fine-tooth comb, gave them details, suggestions ... and a guide for deciphering roughly what their grade would have been if I'd actually given that draft a grade.

The idea - which came from our director - was that the students would re-write all their papers one last time for a final portfolio and THAT would be graded. He felt that putting a grade on this third draft gave them the wrong idea. I thought that not having any freaking clue how you were doing until the end of the semester in a class you didn't want to take but had to have was cruel and unusual punishment. That was my compromise. They could figure it out, but it wasn't written anywhere to remind them. (There was a whole hierarchy - a pyramid - of things they had to be able to do in a paper. Miss one block, and it was this grade, two blocks and it was that one, etc. Was fairly easy to figure out, but you always had to look it up rather than refer to it.)

The students who earned an A or a B in my class knew how to write.

They won writing awards. They were published in our first-year writing magazine.

They knew what they were doing.

The students who earned a C were passable writers. Average. But they also knew how to write.

It was damn near impossible to fail my class, but one or two each semester seemed to manage it. I would run the numbers until I was sick (except the last two years when I programmed the spreadsheet to only give me a letter grade instead of a numerical average).

I had one rule as a student went from draft to draft. Hitting print without making changes was NOT a new draft. If I could put two drafts next to each other and count five words changed/added and two new sentences in an entire ten page paper (in Times 12 point, no less - no courier short cuts in my class), then that wasn't a new draft. I told them that. Repeatedly. Said to them, "Now look, if one of you just gets it and you're on a roll and you get absolutely everything right in the first draft - as unlikely as that is because frankly that's damn hard for ANYONE to do - then I'll tell you that you don't need to change much in your next draft. I will tell you that explicitly. Otherwise? Read the suggestions from your peers. Consider them. Read my comments. Contemplate them. RE-think your points and re-write the draft. That means more than cosmetic changes."

Most of them got it. They growled. They fussed. They kicked their feet, gnashed their teeth and roared their terrible roars, but they got it.

The few who failed the class either didn't turn in the final portfolio at all (really rare) or I could literally put first draft and fourth draft side by side and see that they had really changed nothing but a couple of words.

I agonized over it every time it happened. In every instance I can remember I saw the pattern of no changes in the earlier drafts and warned them. Showed them how their classmates were taking their peers' comments and mine and changing what they'd done. Warned them that there had better be significant changes on the final or they would not pass the class because 1) the work was too weak and 2) they had failed to learn the prime directive of the class: using drafts to write.

In each case, the students were shocked that they had failed despite all of that.

I miss teaching. I miss the interactions with the students, learning from them, trying to get them a little motivated. I miss that charge when they finally got something. I miss that charge when I finally got something from them.

I don't miss grading. I don't miss "passing judgement" on their writing because that was damn hard. And, of course, every semester I was going over the same things with a new group of people - that got old. But having a student who'd always been told he was a bad student or a crummy writer - or even just average - having those students discover that they were better than they thought ... that they suddenly got how to write this kind of paper ... that was so worth it.

I doubt I will ever go back to teaching. It's been six years since I was in a classroom and it's taken me that long to be able to write this post. Honestly, I originally started this blog to try to come to terms with that lost career ... but I've not really been able to write about it until now. It was just too painful. I had to find something else ... and I've grown into a new career that I love just as much and is very, very different from what I once did.

But what I took away from that experience was the one thing that I did not teach my students. I didn't know to teach it to them.

For the great bulk of people in the world ... it doesn't actually matter how good you are at what you do. It doesn't matter how much you love what you do. Or the results you get.

It matters how you play the game. How you present yourself to the powers that be.

Not everywhere. Not in every job or company. There are some who pay attention to quality and results and I've been lucky enough to have one professional experience in such a place.

But for the vast bulk of people ... and the vast number of employers ... it's about how you present yourself and how well you play the game.

I taught my students it was the results that mattered because I thought that was true. I wish now there was some way I could teach them the truth without it coming across as cynical or disheartening, but I'm not sure there is a way to do that even if I could reach them again.

And while I've learned that lesson now ... I'm still not good at promoting myself and I never have been. I'm a "leader" from within the group, encouraging others to improve or to speak up or just that they've done a good job. Not the kind of leader that gets noticed.

I've no idea what it will take before I learn that lesson in any kind of effective way. It's a shame. I have a lot to offer if I only knew how to communicate that to the right people ... in the right way ....

It feels a lot like a puzzle for which I have no reference picture and all of the pieces are just shades of grey ....

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:49 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

October 14, 2008

The Writing Paradox

Despite the fact that English was one of my favourite school subjects, that I taught college writing classes for nine years, that I've had a blog for a bit over 3 years ... I shocked some friends last week by announcing that I hate writing and would not like to make a career in copywriting. (Oddly enough, technical writing is more interesting.)

I hated writing essays in school, and I think that was one of the things that made me an excellent writing teacher. I remembered where I used to get hung up, frustrated and what caused me to pull my hair out - and I did my damnedest to help my students find ways around those problems - or through them in a less painful manner.

The writing I enjoy is the writing I do for myself. This blog, the large directory on my hard drive called "Thinking" and writing stories.

I confused the hell out of who knows how many teachers in elementary school who knew how creative I could be ... until a creative writing assignment came up. One teacher told me years later that my first creative writing assignment for her just shocked her. Instead of the involved and creative story she had suspected I would write ... she got a typical elementary school paragraph of blah.

I just laughed ... there's a huge difference between making up your very own story ... and being given a paragraph of "starter story" and told to finish it.

It's the same in copywriting. There's a huge difference between writing a novel about a comic book writer and a video game developer who become self-appointed agents of karma ... and cobbling together the disparate ideas of the president and vice president of a start-up company (who, by the way, each has a different idea about the company's direction - president wants to market to average joe and veep wants to market to the already converted & knowledgeable audience).

Later on in elementary school, our language arts teachers began to give us more leeway on picking what to write about and only used writing prompts when we got stuck. My favourite project was also one that got me into the most trouble.

In sixth grade, I had Miss Bailey - the teacher we all loved and adored. (At the time, years later was a different story.) Every Thursday was creative writing day. But one week, on a Monday or Tuesday, she gathered us around for a new creative writing assignment.

"Since I will be gone on Thursday, I'm giving you your creative writing assignment now."

With those words, my fate was sealed.

You see, I was determined to do everything "right."

She went on, describing the project, which was due on Friday as usual. We'd have our standard amount of class time to work on it Thursday and a bit of bonus time to work on it the day she assigned it because it was a bigger assignment than normal.

We spent the next little while searching through newspapers for an article - we were to use the article we selected to write a "book" with at least two or three illustrations. I was excited - and I settled on a story about a plane crash. (What can I say, tragedy always makes for a great story! Actually, all of my early stories were about tragedy befalling kids - and kids pulling out of it despite the incompetent adults around them. But that's another story for another day.)

I dutifully cut out the article like we were told. I worked on the project during the time allotted on Monday. And then I didn't work on it again until Thursday's class. Now, I suddenly had to write a story, re-write it onto my booklet paper, illustrate it - and because I was as interested in realism and crafts as possible, create a cover cut from posterboard and then freaking SEW the thing together. (My idea. Damn over-achiever.)

Yeah, I didn't get close to finished in class. And so many of my friends told me they'd been working on it since it was assigned on Monday. I was shocked.

Thursday was creative writing day. Not Monday. Not Tuesday. They were all cheating! They started EARLY! That was cheating!

I was horrified.

I was even more depressed that evening as I stayed up later than ever before, frantically trying to complete the project to the specifications I had set myself. My mom asked why I hadn't started the project earlier in the week and I responded that we'd been assigned the project on Thursday and it was due Friday. It wasn't a lie - it was how I'd interpreted the week, since Miss Bailey claimed we were getting the assignment on Monday since she wouldn't be there Thursday.

I thought that like most teachers, she simply didn't think the substitute teacher would be able to explain the assignment adequately and address our questions. Hence, she gave us the assignment early, but we were not to start until Thursday as usual.

My mother was rather irked at Miss Bailey for assigning such a project in such a short amount of time.

And, when I was dragging and sleepy the next day, Miss Bailey asked what was wrong. I explained that I'd stayed up late - and confessed that mom was upset with me for staying up late and had asked why I hadn't started the assignment sooner. When I then added that we'd been given the assignment on Thursday and it was due Friday - Miss Bailey gave me that terribly disappointed look and tone as she said my name. We didn't speak of it further.

I was terribly confused and hurt.

I had done everything exactly right according to the rules and I had still gotten "in trouble" for doing things wrong. Everyone else in the class had cheated by starting early and here I was the one getting fussed at.

Today, were I taking a class where this happened, I would still assume the same thing. But, I would now ask the teacher "are we supposed to start on it now or on Thursday?"

I suppose this is another example of "rigid thinking." Despite the fact that I'm creative and very much a think-outside-the-box kind of person most of the time, there's a certain rigidity of thought that creeps into my life in strange ways. It's the same rigidity of thought which caused me to not study for the SAT exams - the SAT was supposed to measure what you already knew ... therefore, studying was cheating. Yeah, I know. I'm a dork.

Oh and the novel about the comic book writer and video game developer who become self-appointed agents of karma? Yeah, I've been working on that sucker since '04, so no stealing my grand concept, k?

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:19 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

September 17, 2008

MixED meSSaGe

The scene:
You're back in fourth grade again. Ten years old. Good kid, never been in trouble before ... but your pencil sharpener breaks one evening at home. Knowing you'll need to sharpen your pencil tomorrow, you shove the pieces back in your pencilbox and don't think much of it.

School the next day, sure enough, your stupid pencil lead breaks. You pull out the broken pencil sharpener - which at this point, is essentially, a small razor blade.

End result?

Suspension "for at least two days and [he] could face further disciplinary action."
District spokesman Randy Wall said "We're always going to do something to make sure the child understands the seriousness of having something that could potentially harm another student, but we're going to be reasonable."

Original Story
The school's letter

There is a very fine balance between encouraging kids to learn and bashing them over the head with lead pipes. Most of our school districts are doing a crappy job of managing this balance. We have school districts like Dallas who are teaching our students that paying attention to the rules doesn't matter. After all, if the teacher says your homework is due Tuesday, you no longer get a zero for not turning it in - you get to turn it in for credit at any time.

And then we have these ridiculous zero tolerance policies which mean that a broken pencil sharpener - admittedly this is a blade now - means a two day suspension.

This reminds me of reading Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (NO, NOT like the movie). In one of the many "lectures" throughout the book, a teacher talks about how the twentieth century dealt with "juvenile delinquents" - and compared the method to housebreaking a dog. The character claimed that the juvenile justice system was akin to sometimes telling the dog, "naughty puppy," when he messed in the house ... sometimes saying nothing ... sometimes cuddling the dog ... sometimes locking the dog up for a while. Then, when the dog was an adult and peed in the house, taking the dog out back and shooting him.

There's a bit of truth in that description. Some kids get millions of second chances as a juvenile (oh, you can turn your homework in later ... oh, she's a good kid, we'll let "it" slide this time). Others get no chances and are locked up, where, we know from plenty of criminal justice research, they simply learn better ways to commit crimes and rarely get the chance to become "good, upstanding citizens." Then, suddenly they're introduced to the adult system.

And when I think of the mixed messages we are sending by "bolstering students' self-esteem" by not "allowing" them to fail ... and the suspension of a ten year old for not realizing that the blade from his busted piece of plastic pencil sharpener was an "illegal" blade ... I have to wonder what the hell it is we're doing to these kids.

Of course I don't want any kids thinking it's a good thing to bring razor blades to school. But you have to treat these things according to the particular situation. It's subjective, not an absolute, computer driven if/then proposition.

Life is NOT an if/then proposition. It's messy. It is often unfair and I don't think that we ever get it completely, totally, consistently right.

But we have to keep trying, keep thinking of ways to improve upon what we have.

Frankly, a ten-year-old boy who has never been in trouble before and who bursts into tears when the gravity of his situation is suddenly slammed home is probably not a kid who needs suspension and counseling. He bears further watching by the teachers - let's make sure this isn't an early start to a pattern of trying to slip things past the rules. Make him write a paper on what he did wrong and what he should have done.

If we're talking a ten-year-old who often opposes the teachers, who defies authority, who has been known to be aggressive or angry (as a pattern, not as an occasional situation) to her peers ... well, then we need some kind of intervention.

We have a serious problem in our schools across the United States. Too lax in some areas, rules too rigid in others ... I'm afraid the mixed messages we're sending these kids are going to haunt us for generations to come as they realize that deadlines do matter, that all actions have some kind of consequences ... and as they become angry with us for not giving them chances when they needed them and for being too lax when they needed structure.

Our teachers are too overworked, too pressured, to make the difference that so many of them thought they would make. Low pay, long hours and too many hassles with school officials who are too concerned about schools looking good so the district can score more federal funds ... administrators who have forgotten what it's like to sit in the classroom and don't connect with the children in their schools ... schools so large that children slip through the cracks like water through a sieve.

Really, it's amazing that we have any people who stick with teaching for more than a couple of years. I mean, we tell them that the work they are doing is the most important work - and yet we pay them one of the lowest professional salaries (same as with cops and firefighters). Then, we give the power to the parents and the students and distrust "them there ivory tower teacher types" when they dare to exert their professional opinions.

Is it any wonder some teachers would like to drug our kids into submission? Is it any wonder they prefer to develop absolute rules and zero tolerance policies so they can try to cram as many through the system as possible and still escape with some shred of energy for themselves?

Yeah. I gotta wonder. What messages are we sending our children?

Posted by Red Monkey at 12:11 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

August 15, 2008

Do-Over

Perhaps I am simply too "rules-bound" to comprehend this. Perhaps I am, indeed, now an old fogey, months before my 40th birthday.

Or perhaps the Dallas school system has gone completely and totally insane.

Apparently, deadlines no longer matter. Turning in crappy homework does not matter. Flunking a test doesn't matter.

A run-down of the new policy (from the Dallas Morning News):

  • Homework grades should be given only when the grades will "raise a student's average, not lower it."
  • Teachers must accept overdue assignments, and their principal will decide whether students are to be penalized for missing deadlines.
  • Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade.
  • Teachers cannot give a zero on an assignment unless they call parents and make "efforts to assist students in completing the work."

The purported reason? To make grading fair across all of the schools.

Actually, DISD, the result will be utter chaos. Children need rules and boundaries and an explanation of those rules and boundaries. Now, students in Dallas will be getting a mixed message - the teacher says "Your spelling assignment is due Monday morning." But if you forget to do it or to turn it in, that no longer matters.

So, let me get this straight. These kids are going to learn that deadlines are optional. That there is always a reset button on the game of school. That learning new material is optional and on your own time table?

Yes, there is a time for compassion with students. When you have to weigh circumstances - just as a boss might weigh circumstances with an employee. It's hard to make that perfectly "fair" in written rules. After all, those written rules and policies are what have given us zero tolerance policies.

And here's where the seeming contradiction comes in - circumstances always matter. But you can't "legislate" them. A zero tolerance policy for fighting can see a kid who literally fought back to protect himself from serious bodily harm - or perhaps even death - suspended for fighting. The circumstances should matter - and they require discretion, which is, by definition, not completely fair on paper.

Why does Johnny get to turn his paper in three days late? Well, because his parents were in a wreck and in the hospital. The circumstances matter.

But a policy of "take it when they turn it in" is only going to create chaos. Why bother to do your homework Thursday night when all of your favourite TV shows are on? The teacher has to take it on Tuesday (don't wanna do work over the weekend, after all).

And what about the teachers? Most of them are ridiculously over-worked as it is. Now, they have to keep teaching material that they've already covered, continue grading tests and homework as endlessly as the students turn it in.

This is ridiculous.

There are no endless do-overs in life. You occasionally earn one - but it's never a guarantee. There are no rules saying if you screw up at work, you'll get a do-over. Maybe you lose your job and your house. Maybe your boss takes pity on your and gives you another shot. You make a wrong step down into your garage, maybe you scrape your knee, maybe you just get jostled, maybe you break your leg and can't walk for four months.

School teaches us so much more than the lesson plans our teachers prepare, more than the curriculum designed by the school system. It should also teach us about how the world outside of our families work.

Enough with the mollycoddling and concern with self-esteem taken to a harmful level. Train your teachers in the ethics of grading. In the psychology of both failure and self-esteem. Train them to be strong and compassionate, both.

There are no do-overs. What are we teaching these kids?

Posted by Red Monkey at 9:23 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 2, 2008

All I Needed to Know, I Learned from my C-64

I love computers. I have ever since I saw the Commodore-64 in junior high. There was a thrill of discovery for everything we did. I never knew what I would find on one of those 5 1/4" diskettes.

My dad got into computers back in the day of full room, punch card, ridiculous tubes and all. The thought of a tiny little computer at home which could hold a whole 64 KB of memory (and had no hard drive!) was irresistible to him. He and his buddies swapped computer programs, eventually cracking or writing tools for each other to use to beat the copyrights on the few programs they actually purchased.

As a result, we NEVER had the directions to any of the programs we had -- and there was no W3 to go look things up on just yet. So for me, everything about computers involved discovery. Not only did I usually not know what was on a disk, but how to play the game or use the word processor was a process of explorations. I still remember a game called Bugaboo that we never did really figure out beyond making the little guy hop. When I first played the game, I did my usual: hit every key once until I found out the controls for that game. You died a lot trying to brute force your way through the controls of a game like that, but that was all right. It was part of the adventure. And adventure is rarely as much fun with a clear map as without.

Of course, using that method to figure out the word processor was a lot more tedious and involved figuring out how to access the help menu and then lots of tedious handwriting of directions. Then the directions were typed into the computer and then printed out so the whole family could use them. It was kind of a wacky process.

Flash forward to today when I've got a little flash USB drive that holds 64 Megs of info. 64 MBs of info. That little C-64 seems pretty silly to me now. It couldn't do a whole lot. And what it could do it took forever to do.

But I learned to open up a program and start digging around in it. I learned a little bit about how computers think. That little machine was one of the best teachers I ever had.

I think of my students over the nine years that I taught. I moved from teaching in a "traditional" classroom (desk chairs, a podium and chalkboards) to teaching in a net-worked computer classroom. I was the only instructor at Notre Dame to move my writing class into the computer classroom. Why'd I do it?

I watched first-year students struggle so much with their computers. They couldn't figure out how to do automated page numbers. I had one student who didn't know you could tell the word processor to double-space your paper. That student had been manually hitting return at the end of every line and another return to make the paper looked double-spaced. They knew they hit the save button, but they couldn't find the file unless they opened up Word and used the "Recent Files" list. Learning to use the university webmail program to attach a file gave some of them conniptions.

But the Dean of First Year Studies, who has very recently retired, I believe, insisted that "these kids grew up with computers, they don't need a computer class." Never mind the student, who at the height of the 3.5" floppy disk, tried to put his disk in upside down and backwards; never mind the student who picked up her mouse and placed it on the computer screen and wanted to know why the cursor wouldn't move; never mind the graduate student who couldn't find the "My Computer" icon on his plain and nearly empty desktop.

I felt sorry for my students, truth be told. So many of them struggled with their computers and their minimal computer skills. I'd spend a day showing them the basic ins and outs of Word - changing fonts, font size, color, centering, doing page numbers and indents. All sorts of basic word processing skills. I didn't even get into adding pictures or graphs or integrating with Excel. If we had enough time in a semester and they requested it, I'd even show them some rudimentary HTML.

But mostly, I wanted to teach them to play with their computers as much as I wanted them to play with their writing. I wanted them to explore both. I think those who did begin exploring really got something out of the class. Those who thought I was a jerk for trying to do stuff that "so obviously wasn't about writing," well, they didn't get much out of the class. I never stopped trying to reach those kids, though.

Think what we could accomplish if we could just explore and play a little bit more.

Thank goodness for that Commodore-64. Easily the best $500 my Dad ever spent on anything.

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:21 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

February 2, 2008

Mastermind

As a child, I was constantly re-vamping something. As I underwent the rapid change of elementary schools and landed finally in a school which instead of encouraging me to excel, actually tossed me back quite a bit, I began re-designing the school system. I didn't realize that third graders do not design school systems. It didn't occur to me that I was being presumptuous or precocious. I saw an inefficient system and I wanted to improve it. I walked around for days contemplating various issues from how to decide which classes were tracked, how many tracks to have and how to train the teachers to treat everyone. That last was especially important to me because I had started noticing what damage a teacher could do by choosing the wrong methodology.

Yeah, I know. What third grader does this?

The Mastermind.

You see, when taking the Meyers-Briggs personality questionnaire, I come out as an INTJ. Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging.

People like me tend to build systems, to look for inefficiencies and fix them. And to a third grader forced to re-do 6-8 weeks worth of work upon arrival at the new school, the entire issue of public education seemed highly inefficient. And since this particular move from Austin to Arlington involved not just a movement within the area ... but a larger move ... it occurred to me that there was no national school system. Just lots and lots of little school systems.

So how in the bleeding hell could there be any standards across the United States? There weren't even visible standards going from Austin to Arlington.

Obviously, this is an inefficient way to educate our youth and build a nation.

Of course, I was the one to do this.

No wonder the teachers at my new school were at a loss regarding how to handle me. Since the INTJ personality type is found in just 1-2% of the population and tends to have far more males than females in its category, they were at a loss as to just how to get this "hysterical female child" who was pretty close to emotionless as well as quite serious and logical to shut up so they could get on with their jobs.

I considered going to the principal to discuss the issue, however, during the new student orientation, I had already decided that our principal did not understand that children are real, reasoning beings. She had that saccharine smile and was so quick to look away from child to the important adults. Marina Margaret Heiss says that INTJs tend to look at anyone who is "'slacking,' including superiors, [with dis]respect -- and will generally [make them] aware of this." I had learned by the age of ten that letting it be too obvious that I disapproved of lax or illogical behaviours (which I defined, of course, as behaviour not following my system of logic, which was, of course, the RIGHT system ... after all, I had honed it to an art form) ... I had learned that letting my opinion about such wrong logic or lax attitude was rather dangerous to my well-being and peace of mind. So, instead of talking to the principal for whom I had no respect, I began asking my teachers why they set up their classes in the way they did.

I rarely got a straight answer.

So, I began developing my own rules. In fact, by fifth grade, when I read Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, I was utterly enthralled with the character of Professor LaPaz who stated:

I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

I drove teachers batty ... I hated being in trouble ... I was a good kid ... and yet, there were times when they would watch as I deliberately disregarded a rule, cooly, calmly and whilst looking them straight in the eyes.

There was the instance of the substitute teacher in fourth grade. I needed to pee during math class. The substitute decided I was simply going to cause a disruption or that I was going to wreak havoc instead of going to the restroom. She told me that I absolutely could not leave. First, I hated it when any adult "decided" that "all children are X way." What an illogical system of belief!

Secondly, the deal is ... if I actually admitted to a teacher that I needed to go ... I was at least 10 minutes into the wriggling dance which means if I don't go soon, I'm going to burst my bladder or pee all over my desk. I absolutely HATED having to ASK to go to the bathroom. I wriggled and debated. I asked again. The substitute got angry and lectured the class.

I got up and walked out whilst she was distracted a moment later. I had to PEEEEEEEEEEEE, dammit.

Since our school was always in a state of utter chaos, with some 200 children in my grade level all in one huge "room" ... this was not quite the feat of stealth you might otherwise think. I went to the bathroom and then waited until one of the teachers rang the bell indicating it was time to change class areas. I waltzed back in, gathered my stuff, ignored her and went to my next class as if nothing had happened. I then, on the advice (okay, the insane egging on) of my friends, proceeded to write an "anonymous" note to the substitute telling her how evil she was and how behaviour like that was exactly how she was going to wind up "with dark puddles in the classroom."

Apparently, my regular teacher informed me upon her return, I made the substitute cry with that note. Not that I saw. She just looked pissed off to me. Which I thought was far better than pissed on, which was another option I had considered (actually, I thought about peeing in her desk chair ... meh, close enough). And the thing is, I didn't do this out of meanness to her ... but so that she would learn. Even considering peeing in her chair, I didn't understand this as a vicious act of grossness or vandalism. I thought I was logically teaching her something she needed to learn in order to be a better teacher. When a child claims they have to pee and does "that" wiggle ... you better freaking rush them to the bathroom!!

This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. :-) This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete'

That's from Marina Margaret Heiss again.

I was obviously having issues grasping the social rituals there!!

The thing which perhaps confused my teachers and my family the most ... that confuses my friends today ... is that an INTJ tends to define success for themselves. We don't necessarily define it the way others expect.

I was a smart kid. I could work incessantly on some projects and pay attention to the smallest details - my system building tendencies at work. Worksheets and tests, I would race through, doing less than a stellar job and getting tagged as "not living up to full potential." I got high enough grades to keep almost everyone off my back or at least keep their displeasure to a level of background noise I could live with. The more astute teachers knew I was hitting that minimum just to shut them up and it either drove them nuts, or they docked me points just to make me work harder ... and a few special ones left me alone because my grades were my choice (of course, some didn't give a crap, either).

All of this has led to complications in my adult life, of course. The novel I completed for my master's degree remains in a drawer. I've never sent it out to be published. Most of you find that mad, don't you? All that work to create a world and write some 300 pages ... and do nothing with it? What was the point?

Eh, while a great many unpublished writers claim that they do not write for publication, most of them do at least have publication as a serious goal. I mean it. I wrote it for me. I enjoy having people read it ... but ...

My goal was to write the book. It was publishable when I finished it in 1996. At least, it was comparable quality and theme to other science-fiction books being published at the time. Today, I've seen other writers hit some of my same ideas. It doesn't anger me. It makes me smile. I was right on target. If I were to bother attempting to send it out today, I'd need to do some updating. It wouldn't be all that hard. But I don't do it.

Why? Largely because you need a one page summary of your novel to send out with the first three chapters and your cover letter - whether to agent or to publisher - provided either actually accept "over the transom" manuscripts. It's a process in which your work often gets rejected unread.

And, I find marketing myself difficult. I can market for products, for other people ... and I do a damn good job at it. But myself? Not so much. I want to fan out some of my work and let my work speak for me. I shouldn't need to do anything else. So trying to summarize my 300 page novel into a single page ... writing a cover letter for a job ... these are impossible tasks for me. Insurmountable problems. Social rituals that I do not comprehend and yet am forced to attempt to fake my way through.

From Personality Zone:

Masterminds are rare, comprising no more than, say, one percent of the population, and they are rarely encountered outside their office, factory, school, or laboratory. Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once they take charge, however, they are thoroughgoing pragmatists. Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency-any waste of human and material resources-they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel. Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. Only ideas that make sense to them are adopted; those that don't, aren't, no matter who thought of them.

My partner, indeed, most people who know me well, wind up guffawing when they read that paragraph describing the INTJ ... it's so very much the distilled essence of me.

I enjoy being an INTJ and couldn't imagine being any other way. I'm quite comfortable with myself. However, I constantly seek to minimize certain INTJ tendencies ... I constantly grapple with how to market myself ... with trying to be a bit more outgoing instead of so intensely focused on whatever my goal is. (As Heiss says, "Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ" ... and that can sometimes be quite off-putting to other people!)

And here's the real deal ... whilst I have a tendency to refuse categorization (I hate About Me boxes, for instance and mine universally say little about me except that I hate the damn things) ... this one category of INTJ does tend to "hold" most of my traits. But like any category, it describes an aspect or a trend and does not contain me.

So while I am an INTJ and proud of it ... I am myself as well. I am not constrained and defined by my personality type any more than other people are truly defined by theirs. I use that box as a jumping off point to understand why I act the way that I do and how I can improve my relations with others. I do not use it to limit myself but to improve myself.

And that, I suppose is why I hate About Me boxes. They don't serve to improve me, but to encapsulate me ... a distilled short form of me to feed to other people.

As with marketing myself in general, I prefer to fan out a selection of my work and let that speak for me instead.

Posted by Red Monkey at 8:44 AM | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

May 26, 2007

Captain, my Captain

Once upon a time, there was a book called Sound and Sense. And every Friday during my senior year of high school ... we worked on poetry in English class.

With all apologies to poets and would-be poets and enjoyers of poetry ... I friggin' hate most poetry. I adore Stevie Smith ... some Yeats ... ee cummings ... not a whole lot else. So, naturally, I was not ... shall we say ... enthused ... by English class on Fridays. I dutifully read ... considered ... and ... was mostly boreded. not because the words didn't move me, necessarily, but because poetry tends to be the last bastion of HIDEOUS conformity in American high schools. There is, according to many (but not all!), teachers of high school English, just one canonical interpretation of that poem.

B O R I N G

That's not what poetry is supposed to be about. It's about free-thinking, free-association, non-conformity, not just thinking but BEING outside the box.

In short, poetry does not belong in the hands of the average English teacher. (And I say that as a former English teacher who taught for nine years.)

In fact, my high school English teacher (who also taught at the local university), thought that I was something of a screw-up who didn't necessarily belong in AP English.

The truth of the matter was that I had already learned a lesson which was of vital importance to some (but not all) students. School, ultimately, doesn't matter. It wasn't my life, although my mother wanted it to be ... although I already knew I wanted to go to college and grad school. Playing the game of School was not so important to me as finding my own way was.

So ... I'm watching the commentary to Dead Poet's Society, and I go to Wikipedia ... as I am wont to do ... and discovered something that made me laugh.

The hideous "excrement" that Mr. Keating has the boys tear out of their poetry book ... is ... in fact ... nearly word for word an early chapter of ... you guessed it ... Sound and Sense.

Now, what really cracks me up about this ... is that I was, as usual, boreded. That class was just nothing to me. Another 55 minutes when I really just wanted to work on my novel and ignore the class, like most of my classes senior year. (Umm, since about third grade, actually.) I did the work. I did the reading. I regurgitated what we were supposed to regurgitate. And, going through those Friday exams as quickly as I could ... I began writing a parody of the poem we were critiquing (after I'd written the required interpretation essay of the "real" poem, of course).

My teacher, bless her, told me what most of my teachers told me through the years: "If you'd just slow down ...."
Of course, that was before ADHD was recognized, really. I was going as slowly as I knew how ... but writing a parody of the poem was far more interesting to me than writing the "official" interpretation of the poem.

Eventually, though, I got boreded with that as well and began using that time to write poetry of my own rather than restricting my thought to simple parody of the poem in question.

One Monday ... as our teacher was handing the tests back ... she began talking about one student's interpretation of this poem. I believe it was called something about Mr. Z ... and it was a poem about being black in the United States. And she talked about how one student interpreted the deliberateness of the title as Mr. Z feeling like he was last in society because of his colour. Yanno ... Z is the last letter?

Apparently this was a somewhat novel interpretation.

She first attributed it to Kyungah. Then Susan. She went down the "rank" of smart kids.

Each one said they hadn't thought of that.

In truth, it was me. I waited for her to remember. But she just about when down the list of students by GPA.

Because high school is not about free thinking. It's about conformity. And I managed to not conform on a regular basis. I wasn't a jock, exactly. I wasn't what we called a "drama mama." I wasn't a nerd. I wasn't the typical honors kid, even.

No matter how often people wanted to put me in a box and shut it, I had a tendency to unseal the seams and combine jock and drama and honors and slacker ... all together in one chaotic and yet truthful package.

In short, I tried very hard to seize my days ... to think.

And so I wasn't terribly surprised when Mrs. Ward couldn't seem to realize that I had come up with this "novel" interpretation.

But when Dead Poet's came out just two short years after I graduated from high school ... I was surprised that another writer had tapped into "my" brain so very well. Had tapped into that desire to both please my parents and be myself all at the same time, impossible though that was.

Captain, my captain.
I stand before thee
before you all

and scream my barbaric YAWP
from the top of my mountain
from the top of my desk

It's not what I say
It's not what I saw
It's what I choose to do

It is not that the sheet which leaves the feet cold is too small
It's not that we stretch it and pull it
It's not that it covers aught but our face

It's that we try
It's that we do
It's that we are.

It is not Captain my captain.

We are our own captain.
We must own our decisions.
We must own our lives.

Posted by Red Monkey at 1:00 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

April 16, 2007

How Many Slices of the Pie Are There?

I know everyone in the blogosphere is going to be talking about this ... but I'm going to take a different approach.

I don't make any claim to know why someone shot up the campus and I'm not going to speculate on who nor why.

But I am concerned about a culture of anger and a culture of entitlement. And these are not just issues in the United States ... or even the Western World.

What is it programmed into us as humans which makes us think we deserved something that someone else has? What makes us think that hurting other people is a reasonable solution? or at least a reasonable reaction to our mundane circumstances? (I'm not talking about self-defense here ... that's another issue completely.)

Posted by Red Monkey at 2:49 PM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

March 16, 2007

?-vert

When I take the Meyers-Briggs test, if I remember correctly, I usually score INFJ, as do many many teachers and professors.

People who know me are sure that's wrong.

Why? Because to people who know me, they think of me as an extrovert. They know I clown around, I'm silly, I'm me ... and I don't care who knows it.

But the fact of the matter is ... if you get me in a situation where I don't know anyone at all ... I'll become the standard wallflower. I'll find a nice darkish corner ... the back of the room ... and just stand there, silent. Watching and observing like a good li'l writer-person.

I've been thinking about that a lot this week where I've been mostly silent online. I've been working on a few projects, not the least of which was a book cover for a friend's poetry collection on lulu.com. (When it's up on Lulu, I'll publish the cover and the link to buy here comments/big_smile.gif) But I've also been thinking about what it is to put yourself "out there" for others. And the answer is that I suck at it.

I'm willing to risk improvement, but it's a really hard process for me. Talking to people whom I don't know is a very draining thing. The deal is ... an extrovert will get an energy charge out of talking to others. An introvert will get an energy drain out of it.

When I taught ... and my goodness, how I absolutely adored teaching ... I had to gear myself up for it and I had to wind down from it afterwards. There was a tremendous energy drain involved in preparing for class ... but it was well worth it to me.

But online? Online I can be a bit of the extrovert that I can't quite be in real life. And that's not completely uncommon, either. One of the main reasons that many teachers are using some form of MOO or online chat with students is because some students will "shine" online ... whilst others will shine during a face to face classtime discussion but despise the use of the online "discussion."

But what I wonder ... as we venture further into the age of computers and virtual connections ... is how do we define introvert and extrovert now? We have this tendency, myself included, to talk about the "real world" and the virtual world ... but I wonder if Gibson didn't have it right all along. Is a friendship conceived and carried out over the internet any less of a friendship than that of one face to face? I think about the people whom I have only known online ... some of them for 11-13 years now ... and we still "talk" regularly via the internet. I think of those folks whom I've loved and still consider friends ... even though one or both of us have moved away and we only talk once every great once in a while. I'm not talking about people that I've chatted with for a few months and dropped away. I'm talking about friendships over the internet ... and face to face ... which have spanned a year or more ... and several "deep" discussions. The kinds of discussions which involve a serious give-and-take and can't really be faked by actor in real life or online.

Are my friends in the "Banshees" any less friends than those I made in N.E.R.O.? Sure the Banshees only talked through emails and IM conversations. But the N.E.R.O. folks generally only talked in relation to the shared hobby we had first ... and secondly our personal lives.

What makes being social being social?

I'm not, by any means, advocating that all online relationships are the same as ... or even as "good" as "real life" relationships. But I am wondering if Gibson's description of what we would call real life isn't better described as the "meat" relationship.

Because I think I have several friendships online which are just as "real" as some of those I have in the physical world.

Then again ... maybe I'm simply a computer geek who doesn't know any better.

But I think of the people I've met from Wales ... from Australia ... from Israel ... from China ... from England ... from Belgium.

And I'm so incredibly grateful for the perspectives from other cultures ... for the reminder that "people like me" are not the only ones on the planet ... and for the reminder that other cultures are really not so very different ... that I think ... these online relationships are every bit as real as that of those who live in the same town as myself.

And I also have to wonder why a physical encounter with people I don't know leaves me so incredibly drained ....

.... whilst a virtual encounter with people I don't know leaves me charged and excited.

Is it the collision of new ideas? The fact that I am on the border of introvert and extrovert? (on the border, but still solidly on the introvert side). Or is it something else.

Dunno. But I'm grateful for the relationships face to face and through the ether, both.

Posted by Red Monkey at 12:43 AM | Blog | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

September 26, 2006

OCD + ADHD = Uh-Oh

Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school ... back before people medicated and worked with people who had OCD (Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder) and certainly before anyone connected that eccentric and "womanly" trait of everything-absolutely-MUST-be-in-the-correct-place with abnormal behaviour, particularly in a kid, I was in fifth grade language arts class with a girl named, umm, "Laura."

First of all, let me explain this particular elementary school. (It was the third one I'd attended, so even as a fifth grader, I felt like I was something of an expert on elementary schools.)

Butler Elementary began as an "open concept" school, with grades one through six in one large "room" of the building. Each grade level was "divided" by rolling bookcases about five feet high and more of these bookcases were used to lightly subdivide each "classroom" within a grade level. Teachers' desks were in a cluster in the center of the grade level area.

It was utter cacophony and chaos in that one large room. Now the one-room schoolhouse does have some benefits ... but only when you've got a total of maybe 30 or so kids. Butler had more like 1000 to 1200 when I attended there, not counting the kindergartners, since they had their own room.

At any rate, there was a LOT of chaos in the building. A lot of noise. A lot of movement.

And then there was Laura who had to have everything just so.

Sitting down next to Laura in language arts class, I observed the ritual straightening of the books and supplies. Laura was a diligent student. Hard worker. Earnest. Determined. She was bright, too, but I think the other adjectives far outshone nearly every other trait she might possess. So, no matter what was going on around her in our madhouse of a school, she was diligently listening to our teacher.

Except, of course, for the first three or so minutes of class. It took her that long (at least it seemed that long to me) for Laura to stack her books neatly on top of her desk, largest volume on the bottom, progressively smaller as we got to the top of the stack, which was her assignment notebook. On top of her books, were her pens and pencils and the nifty eraser-thing. All placed in a particular order and lined up exactly so. Once she was done getting everything exactly right, then she turned to listen to the teacher.

As I said, back then, nobody really put fifth-grader and OCD together in the same sentence.

I, being me, would be utterly fascinated by this procedure.
comments/electric_shock.gif

Naturally, as soon as Laura turned her attention to the teacher ... her full attention to the teacher, I would carefully move the books out of alignment with one another.

She'd look back and immediately fix them.

Now, I'm not talking about shoving everything askew, here. I'm talking nudge one book a small fraction of a centimeter one direction ... another one a tad the other direction.

I mean, at first I tried the cruder methods. I simply reached over while she was looking and mussed the pens and pencils. She'd sigh and fix them all. It was after a few days of this, that I decided to become ... well, what passes for subtle in a fifth grader.

I began to keep the pens and pencils lined up perfectly ... but out of order. That took her a while to notice, but when she did ... yep, she had to get it all back to her order exactly. She got up to do something ... I re-stacked her books to change the order of two books nearly the same size.

She noticed that instantly upon returning.

Yeah, back then they not only didn't know OCD, but they really didn't know ADHD, either. I could NOT simply pay attention to the teacher and I certainly couldn't leave this scientific experiment known as the girl who sat next to me alone either.

Eventually, of course, I'd either grow bored, or distracted, or the kids around me would begin giving me THAT look ... I honestly wasn't trying to pick on Laura and I felt bad when the other kids would let me know I'd been at it too long. I simply could NOT figure out why she had to have things EXACTLY so. I could understand having things just so. But absolutely precision aligned, military corners on your bed, EXACTLY so just boggled my mind.

And if nothing else, I subscribed to the idea that you can understand everything around you in your environment. You may not want to expend the effort, but you can figure everything out if you put your mind to it.

I could NOT figure Laura out and it bugged the crap out of me.

Even at that age, I could usually figure people and their motivations out. I knew that Miss Gillette absolutely hated me and took every opportunity to pick on me ... why? No, I wasn't being paranoid. It was because at the beginning of the school year, I didn't do well on my spelling test -- because the teacher with the thickest East Texas accent I had ever heard was pronouncing the words. I was placed in the second high language arts group. Within the first six weeks period, Mrs. Gaines realized I belonged a level up, but ... and to this day I can't fault her for this ... she enjoyed having me in her class. (See, apparently flattery does go a long way.) But, the last six weeks of the school year, she bit the bullet and had me moved up because she wanted to make sure I was placed in the high group for sixth grade as well. Long story short, Miss Gillette didn't really believe Mrs. Gaines ... and she really resented having a new student at the end of the school year.

So while I couldn't stand Miss Gillette, I knew her motivations. I understood why she often made fun of my handwriting publicly. (It was atrocious handwriting ... I had no patience for trying to write cursive neatly. Legibly, okay. Neatly ... impossible!)

Laura, on the other hand, I really couldn't figure out. And that just bugged me for the rest of the school year. Luckily, the teachers did NOT allow us to sit together the next year. I'm sure Laura was beyond relieved. (Provided she didn't request it to begin with!) comments/haha.gif

Today, of course, I realize that Laura either had OCD "tendencies" or full-blown OCD. I'd treat her a lot differently today. Of course, most of us don't still act the same as our fifth-grade selves, thank goodness. But for me, it's as much because now I understand why she behaved that way ...

... and I better understand why I couldn't leave it alone, too.

Still ... to the teachers out there ... don't put the OCD kid and the ADHD kid next to each other, okay?

Posted by Red Monkey at 3:45 AM | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

August 22, 2006

The End of August

It's the end of August, and I should be preparing frantically for my classes.

I should be worrying over the syllabus. Is it understandable? Do all the links in the web version work like they should? Will the students be able to follow the navigation?

I should be prepping for the first days of class. How can I make an impression that this is NOT the same ole, same ole English class? How can I let them know that they can trust me? That I'm not a grammar nazi? That I'll listen to any reasonable ideas for essays? How can I convince them that when I say any paper topic related to our class topic is fair game, I really mean it? How can I convince them when I know for a fact that many of them have been burned before....

I should be ... but I'm not. Instead, I'm working as part of a marketing department for a couple of dot coms. A lot of writing, a little graphics, a little Flash.

I should be in my office, music cranked, trying to learn the names of my new students before classes even begin.

The fact of the matter is, I can't be without health insurance. And there just aren't that many college level teaching positions for writing teachers which are considered "full-time" positions with benefits.

It kills me to know how many "professors" out there hate teaching writing. Or hate teaching first-year students. And it shows. Their students know it. And in turn, they hate the class, which makes the professor hate teaching it more, and on and on and on.

I love teaching. And I think most of the time I showed that to my students. I think they got that. I hope they did. I hope I made my classes as much fun as a required writing class can be ... or at least made it as painless as possible. I know I didn't reach every single student - that's pretty much impossible no matter how hard you try. But I never did stop trying to reach them all.

There was the student who I encouraged to tackle big issues in education, something he felt passionately about. But then he refused to narrow the topic into an argument he could conceivably argue in 10-12 pages. He decided I gave him a bad grade because I disagreed with him. I didn't disagree with him at all, but he could never believe that. It was easier to reject my offer to go with him to the library and help him with the research and show him how to bring all of his elements together - if he'd just narrow the argument a bit more.

There was the musician who thought that writing didn't matter at all. I tried to get her to write about how to educate a trumpet player (her instrument). I found her some articles, even. But she decided that I hated her and gave her bad grades just because she was a musician. I tried to tell her that a requirement of the class was re-writing her paper, not just changing three sentences and then hitting the print button. At least not when her essay was missing an argument completely.

There were plenty of other failures. Plenty of students who thought I played favourites. That I was mean.

That's pretty much a job hazard when you teach. I accept that. I just never let it stop me from trying to reach them. Never let it stop me from listening to them and trying to adapt my knowledge of academic writing to fit their worldview and experiences.

But, I also believe that there should be some standards that must be reached to pass a class. There should be some lessons that must be learned before moving on to the next level.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of schools which think that writing matters, but that grading writing is an impossibility. These are people who will shred a colleague's writing ... but hesitate to give a student a C or even a B for something so basic as not having a thesis statement in an argumentative essay. I just feel that if I work with a student all semester on having a thesis statement in an argumentative paper ... that I have told them in comments through three drafts, I've taken them aside to talk about it, I've conferenced with them and helped them write a thesis statement ... if we go through all of that together and the student STILL doesn't have a thesis statement in that same paper at the end of the semester, we've both failed. I failed to reach the student and teach them something. The student has failed to grasp an essential concept, an important and crucial requirement to writing a good argument.

In such a case, I cannot "give" the student a passing grade. The student hasn't earned it.

Does it hurt someone's self-esteem to fail a class? Oh hell YES it does! I know that. I don't ... I mean, I didn't ... give out Fs lightly. There was always a wrestling with the conscience. A weighing of the goals and requirements of the class; a reflection on what I should have done, could have done. Sometimes it was obvious that the student just didn't care to put the effort in. Didn't think it mattered or that they could actually fail a class. I worried that I hadn't made their imminent danger clear enough. I worried that failing a class could be the last straw for that student in some way that I couldn't know about.

But ... what does it do to one's self-esteem to pass a class and then start your first job ... and have your boss tell you that your writing skills are sub-standard? to lose your job because you can't write what the boss needs?

Okay, writing an academic essay and writing copy for your boss's brochure isn't the same kind of writing. But if you can't adapt to writing for a specific audience, are you going to be able to write the copy one way for the client and another way for the marketing department? Are you going to be that flexible?

What do we teach students when we pass them and they know they don't deserve it? What do we teach students when we pass them and they think they deserve it, only to find out "in the real world" that their passing grade was a sham?

When I walk into Target ... or Kohl's ... or even the local grocery store, I'm bombarded with BACK TO SCHOOL. It's like a sucker punch every time.

I should be preparing for classes today.

I should be flipping through the magazine of student essays and seeing how many of my students had essays accepted.

I should be excited over BACK TO SCHOOL everywhere.

But I'm not ... and it hurts ...

... and I can't help but wonder if the person teaching "my" students is doing right by them.

Posted by Red Monkey at 8:30 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

January 19, 2006

Reading

As a kid, I couldn't wait to learn to read. As much as I enjoyed Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Viva Allegra and cartoons ... these were magical things that appeared on the television at seemingly random intervals. Books I could see and were available on-demand. Luckily for me, my ADHD actually wound up helping me learn to read ... the opposite of what happens for many ADHD-ers. Besides having a manageable case of hyperactivity, and one which bounces between hyper-focus (focusing on one thing to the absolute exclusion of EVERYTHING else) and hyperactivity, it also makes me want to do everything at absolute top speed. As such, I was in high school before my mild dyslexia really even revealed itself. Why? Because I read so fast that I tended to read the shapes of words rather than looking at each letter ... as such, flipping a letter around or flip-flopping two letters didn't really change the shape of the word too much. It wasn't until I ran into problems in high school math that I began to suspect what had been happening all along ... and chemistry class confirmed it. I don't know why I was (and am!) more likely to flip numbers and +/- signs around than I am to realize that teh and the are not the same word, but so be it.

I picked up some reading before school started, of course, however, my mom seemed conflicted about whether or not to encourage this. After all, you're supposed to learn to read in school ... I think she was afraid of doing something wrong, so she did little before school started. However, once school did start and I began going like gangbusters, I had all sorts of books, little workbooks and kids' "texts" on phonics. I declared myself the fastest reader in my kindergarten class. Naturally, I had to prove my skills, so I snagged a book off the shelves and gave a demonstration. The other kids didn't believe that I'd really read the book that fast ... so I summarized The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese.

From that point on, I was hooked not only on reading stories, but also on reading as much as possible quickly.

This led to a few issues with teachers and librarians, but not quite in the ways you would think.

My first big run-in with a librarian was at St. Louis Catholic school in Austin ... in second grade. I had literally read everything in the little kids' section of the library and I was bored. Those of you who know me at all know that letting me get bored in any way shape or form is BAD. So, I walked out of the little kids books and over into the "big kids'" books. I wandered around for a while and finally made a selection. I remember that the title had intrigued me, the cover was okay ... and I began flipping through the book and became engrossed in the story. So, I trotted up to the check-out counter and placed my new-found adventure there, prepared to go back to class, kick back and get lost in this new world.

"You can't read that."

I was startled. "What?"

"I can't let you read that. You can't read it."

The librarian was a nun in at least her late 60s. At this moment, she is frozen in my mind as the perfect caricature of a nun ... sour faced, old, dour and, of course, frowning.

I protested that I could too read the book. She was disparaging my abilities! She insisted again that I couldn't. So, being the logical little kid that I was, I picked up the book and began reading aloud to her. In a whisper. Cuz we were in the library, after all.

"But you don't understand what you just read."

So, I paraphrased it for her. At that point, irritated beyond all reason, she yanked the book off the counter and pointed at the little kids' section. "Go back to where you belong!"

I was furious and shaking, but didn't know what else I could do. I went back to class.

I told my mom about it and she took me to the public library and showed me some of the books for older kids. I was in heaven. But, when I went to check out, I was again stymied. I had a green library card, a restricted card. Mom had to check out half of my books on her card because they were from the "young adult" section instead of the kids' section. But, at least I got my books this time.

By third grade, I had an adult library card and a new school where the librarians encouraged us to read anything and everything in the library.

It took about three weeks before I was bored to tears with most of the books. I finally stopped taking teacher recommendations and looking for an interesting cover. Instead, I literally went through the library looking for the thickest book I could find.

Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet.

I was now completely hooked on science fiction and fantasy books ... and on Robert Heinlein in particular. I quickly tore through all of his "kids'" books in our school library and then in the public library ... and moved on to his adult books and other science fiction writers. I read Clark and Asimov, but I kept coming back to the prolific Heinlein because he made me think about how our world works ... not just the science of rocketry, but our various cultures and societies.

Now, growing up reading science fiction, there's one set of "rules" you learn very early, very quickly.

Actions have consequences.

And ... so do inactions.

Whether the action you take is to speak up or you decide to take no action and walk past, what you have done has changed the world around you. It might be a minor change. It might be major. But you have no way of knowing ahead of time how important that decision you're about to make really is.

To go ahead and beat to death the dead and overly dead horse that is the example of Hitler, let's what-if for a moment. What if one of people that young Adolf admired had told him he had artistic talent? What if he'd been really encouraged and nurtured to follow that path? Would the Holocaust still have happened? It's likely that it could have ... events that large rarely happen because of a single person no matter how much we prefer to have a single person to point at. But if Hitler had not been the driving force would it have been as bad? Or, God forbid, would it have been even worse?

We have no way of knowing.

You see, we go through life making our decisions, performing our actions and inactions as best as we can. But we don't know the effect that we have on others and the world around us. Sometimes a random comment will get one person thinking. Would I have been so determined to prove I could read "big-kid" books if that librarian hadn't been such a jerk? Maybe. Or, for a different example, a random comment an acquaintance dropped about affection made me re-think my concepts of relationships. It was an innocuous comment. Completely innocent. But when that was combined with a random comment that someone else made to my ex, she began thinking about relationships. Eventually we both realized that our ten-year relationship had passed a crossroads quite a while back and that we had both taken vastly different roads without noticing.

If those other people had not made their comments, it might have taken us years longer to realize that we had grown far, far apart and were doing more damage than good by staying together. Would we have still gotten to that realization? Probably so. The people making those comments didn't split us up. Shoot, they didn't even cause any problems. We already had the issues and had chosen to ignore them (or neglected to notice ... essentially the same difference).

Did those people cause us to break up? Of course not. In the short term, they might have felt as if they broke us up ... but they simply acted as a catalyst for something that had been brewing for years.

In the last year or two I've spent some time trying to track down some of the folks I went to school with ... elementary, junior high, high school ... people who meant something to me ... people that I would love to know how they're doing.

And, in doing so, I've discovered things not just about them, but about myself as well.

One last story today and I'm done for a while. Bear with me :)

When I moved to Arlington (Texas - not Virginia), I was scared and I was exhausted. I'd bounced schools for what was now the fourth time in four years and I was exhausted with the effort of trying to keep up with so many changes. Despite that, the one thing I've heard repeatedly from these folks who knew me back in the day is "you never did let the man keep you down." As it turns out, the mere fact that I was who I was (and am) seemed to register with several people.

Let me put it this way ... when I first got to my new school in Arlington, the teachers did not believe that I was so far ahead of their students in both reading and math. So, rather than find me a tutor ... or put me in their highest reading and math groups, they put me in their second-highest groups. I don't know why. I just know that I was depressed at having moved, and now I was "behind" in school as well. I chose, for a while, to do nothing.

After several weeks, I got mad. I began working ahead in my language arts class ... and then asking to go to the library. Constantly. Within about a week of this behaviour, I was moved up to the highest language arts class. Math, however, looked to stay stagnant until the day the teacher of the highest group stated, "Anyone who belongs in the high math class, come over here."

Now, a lot of third graders would not do what I did. But I was mad and frustrated and I had simply had enough. I got up and walked over with the other kids in the high math class. The teacher gave me the evil eye. And then asked, "Do you belong here?" I mustered up all of my self-worth, stared her straight (and rather defiantly, I'm sure) and said, "Yes." She didn't make my life easy ... but she did let me stay.

What does this have to do with a discussion about how our actions (and inactions) affect others?

I've now had two different people tell me that just knowing that I did things like that gave them the confidence to try to stand up for themselves as well.

I didn't know that then. I didn't do those things for other people, I acted for me. As I've found out now, those particular instances had a better and more powerful turnout than I would have ever guessed. They seemed like such little and self-oriented actions to me then.

Am I saying all of this to show what an effect I've had on the world? Don't make me laugh! My ego's not nearly that big. Actually, I'm far more impressed with the little kid who tried to take on every injustice than I am with the adult who gets so very tired of all the fighting.

In fact, those examples are the ones that turned out well. I don't know all of the small actions I did that turned out badly. What chance comments have I made about life the universe and everything that perhaps devastated someone else's worldview ... and I didn't even notice?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Biggest lie in the English language.

"Why can't you just?" "Who told you that you could?" "I wish we had a place to go." "You can be anything you want to be." "Just do it."

These phrases can inspire and condemn ... and we never know what effect they'll have until after they're uttered and it's too late to call them back.

Of course, the flip side of that is, if we stay silent, we don't know what effect that will have until the moment has passed and it's too late to say anything at all. Or what effect we could have had if we'd spoken up.

Reading books, reading situations, reading people. Deciding to act. Deciding not to act.

It all has consequences and we have to live with those choices and consequences every day. To give up on deciding to act or speak is to give up on life itself and withdraw from the human race.

I choose to live. I choose to continue screwing up in the hopes that I'll get some things right. Hopefully more right than not. But I have to keep trying.

Posted by Red Monkey at 8:29 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

November 30, 2005

Wakonse

Northwestern Michigan.
On the lake, by the town of Shelby ... there's a large campground called Camp Miniwanca.

Every year, the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching is held at this beautiful campsite. Rare in the land of ivory towers, Wakonse isn't discipline specific ... you can find the most hard-core scientist chatting with a literature professor and a grad student in sociology.

I got to go there in 2002 and 2003 ... and I learned a great deal both times. I learned that there really are those in higher education who are interested in pedagogy and how students learn. There are professors who actually work hard at making their classes both valuable and interesting.

During the day attendees go to seminars on teaching, sometimes it's a seminar on teaching within your field, but most of the time it's a seminar on how to adapt different techniques to different types of classes. There's a segment taught by undergrad students to make sure the stuffy old professors remember what it's like to be in college -- and particularly what it's like today. And then, everyone who attends also gives a talk at some point ... a mini-seminar. The "fun" part is that you don't know exactly what you'll be talking about until after you arrive at the conference. That's to keep some of the perfectionist-types from over-preparing. You're supposed to lead a discussion with a short presentation -- not lecture for an hour.

The evenings are for socializing, getting to know people from other disciplines, watching the sun set over Lake Michigan.

I miss teaching.

These two pictures of night falling on the campgrounds sum up my mood perfectly this week ... that mood is why I've resorted to posting other people's funny ... I've been a little too introspective lately.

Enjoy the pictures. Like the word Wakonse (Lakota Sioux for to teach or to inspire), the photos are meant to inspire.

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:29 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

November 29, 2005

The Wisdom of Jeremy

The following two essays have been around on the internet for at least two years that I know of ... no one seems to know if they're for real or not ... whether a high school student wrote it (as has been proposed by someone claiming to know Jeremy) ... whether the student seriously believed any of it ... if the teacher passed the student or not .... as Jeremy says, "we may never know."

But that's okay, because they're well worth reading ... if you haven't run across these before ... put the beverage down until you're done. I'm not responsible for the state of your desk, monitor, keyboard or anything else ....

* * * * *

Originally discovered at: http://douglas.min.net/essay/


Jeremy Lavine
Period 3

Coming in like El Niño!

El Niño is spanish. It is the spanish word for child. Like all things spanish, it is dangerous. It kills people and burns down trees. This child is more than a child. It really isn't a child at all. It is a storm. A deadly storm that kills people and burns down trees.

Warm water usually builds up around australia. But not anymore with el niño. El Niño moves the warm water from australia to somewhere else, namely to other places. Where are these other places? These are places that also have water, but water that is usually not as warm as the warm water El Niño moves to these said other places. These other places are to the east. Of the water.

In Peru, they have many names for many things. One of the things they have names for is for people who go fishing, go fishing to make a living. If we had a word for this kind of people that word would be "fisherman". But we don't. In Peru, they have different names for things than we do in America. They call that kind of people "pescadores". That's Spanish. That's what they speak in Peru. When El Niño comes, these "pescadores" can't catch any fish. El Niño is caused when the Peruvian gods get angry. They have been angry for millions of years and have made El Niño for millions of years. Many many moods ago, the Peruvians committed human sacrifice to satiate their gods and end the flood that was caused by El Niño. In today's modern dog-eat-dog work-a-day world of scientists, diplomats, McSalad Shakers, and George Bush Jr., we no longer have access to such solutions. We are too proud. We will not commit human sacrifices. We refuse to satiate the Peruvian gods. Thus, they remain angry and keep killing us and burning down our trees with El Niño.

Instead of satiating the gods, many of these "scientists" have tried to control El Niño with "science". They put up expensive fish-attracting-bueys that run on flashlight batteries. Imagine, fighting the power of the gods with flashlight batteries! Needless to say, this didn't work and everyone died.

* * * * *

Jeremy Lavine
Period 3

Lightning!!!

What is lightning? Where does it come from? What does it mean? Does it have a meaning? Where does it come from? What is it made of? Is it made of light? Some might say it was made of light. Others contend that lightning is made of fire. People used to think that lightning was made of fire. Fire in the sky. Fire that killed people and knocked down trees. Before Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was a founding father. He father founded that lightning is made of electricity. Electricity in the sky.

But what of the Greek myths, of the Greek god Zeus and of the popular image of Zeus -- a Greek God -- throwing down lightning bolts to kill people and knock down trees. Where did he find the time? And what of lightning being made of fire? In this workaday world in the era of the founding father Benjamin Franklin we have no time nor patience for such concerns. These are for third world and schizophrenics.

Some people do not understand that lightning is destructive. They ignore the wisdom of their elders and of the founding father Benjamin Franklin. They think lightning is a lie perpetrated by people with a vested interest. At their own peril!!! Lightning kills people and knocks down trees!!! It a power of destruction exercised by the Greek god Zeus, the mightiest of Greek gods!! But they do it: they ignore such wisdom and taunt the powerful exercise of destruction and they worship their idle gods and stand near trees. At their own peril!! Lightning has the killing power to kill people and the destructive power to knock down trees! When you stand near trees, they will be knocked down by lightning and you will be killed by lightning! There is no escape. Lightning will knock down the tree and knock down your soul. Trees are tall.

Many things are tall. Many things attract lightning. But do the two correlate? A recent study says yes. It says that being tall and attracting lightning do correlate. That means that being tall corellates with being struck by lightning. You die when you are struck by lightning, and your tree is knocked down.

Some people try to measure lightning, they take measurements of it. They use balloons and rockets and their imagination and determination and research money and they put it all in the mixing bowl and they mix in storms -- storms with lighting -- and so they mix in the lightning and then they get the product of they're lucky of measurements about lightning from the storm? What kind of measurements? We may never know ...

Posted by Red Monkey at 10:01 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

November 6, 2005

Laptop Disaster

Today's students have grown up with computers. Either in the classroom or at home -- or both, if they're lucky -- they know how to email, hit Napster and Limewire.

Are our kids really computer savvy? Here's some stories from the trenches, stories from Notre Dame freshmen within the last ten years.

1) A student on looking at the computer the first day of class, picked up his mouse and placed it on the screen to move his cursor. He didn't discover his mistake until after he'd already asked the student next to him how you could see through the mouse to the screen.

2) Another student could not understand why everything she wrote on her computer in the dorm room would not save. Every day she'd come to class in tears ... all the work she'd done for all of her classes just was gone! So, I took her to a computer lab and watched how she saved her work.

She never hit save. Just turned the computer off. Her older sister had set Word to auto-save every minute or so. As a result she thought computers automatically saved everything.

And ... the best story of all --
"Jake" had started off the semester with a bad attitude, but when he found out that when I said they could write on anything even slightly pertaining to education, for the semester -- including critiquing our class or how to best educate a tailback in the ways of college football -- he changed his tune.

He came up to me one day near the end of the semester, eyes downcast and body tense. Obviously bad news.

"I got my paper done for critique today, but I don't have it anymore."

It was Monday, and at Notre Dame that means a lot of hung-over students. I looked at him carefully. Probably not hung over.

"What happened?"

"Well, we had this party Friday night, you know?" I nod. "And I woke up at four a.m. and my roommate" he paused, obviously embarrassed. "Well, you know that we don't have our own bathrooms, we have one down the hall? Yeah, well, umm, we have a sink in our room and umm."

"It's okay, I get it."

"Well, I woke up at four and I thought he was using the sink. But he wasn't." His eyes flash again, obviously, if you'llve forgive me, pissed as hell at his roomate.

"He wasn't peeing in the sink, he was peeing in my laptop! The whole damn thing's fried!"

"No!" I'm completely sympathetic at this point.

He rants and raves for a few minutes more, obviously his roommate hates him, they've been having problems all semester. And, of course, the dorm rector finally decided to step in.

Best excuse ever ... my roommate thought my laptop was a urinal!

 


(Actually, it's not an excuse ... it's a damn good reason not to have his paper ready for class!)

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:40 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

August 7, 2005

English 109: Composition and Literature

As another September looms ever closer, I realize again just how much I miss teaching. In fact, heading into Target today, I suddenly realized I was completely avoiding the Back-to-School section of the store because, well, because it was just too painful and depressing to think about.

The first class I taught was the fall of 1995. I had 18 bright, shiny faces of first-year students at the University of Notre Dame. Having only started my master's program the year before, I could still really sympathize with the nerves they probably felt upon starting university.

The class was English 109 - Composition and Literature and it was, in my opinion, about 2.5 semesters worth of work smashed into one lone semester. Just going from memory, we were supposed to teach the students the following:

  • how to use their email (Notre Dame does not require a computer class)
  • how to use the Daedalus program, which was a tool to learn and work on the writing process
    • they had to learn to prewrite with different sets of heuristics
    • they had to learn to use Interchange, which was a type of early chat program included in Daedalus
  • they had to learn to use Inspiration, another program which helped with prewriting
  • we had to read a significant amount of literature, including a unit on narrative fiction, a unit on poetry and a unit on plays
  • we had to also read from a small handbook on writing AND a large textbook on composition and rhetoric
  • the students had to learn the writing process by writing at least three drafts of their papers
  • the students were supposed to write a total of 7 papers, following the Aristotlean categories of exposition and argumentation
  • included in those 7 papers, if I remember correctly, students were supposed to write a resume and cover letter as well (or this might have been an 8th major assignment, sadly, I don't remember anymore)

All of that in a fifteen week (plus a week scheduled for finals) one semester course. For first-year students.

Talk about a completely overwhelming course!!

I tried to pick accessible readings for my students, including a novella called "The Body" -- if you've seen the movie Stand By Me with Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Donnell and Corey Feldman, that's the movie version of this book.

I tried to help them figure out how to break down the assignments into manageable chunks - but the pace of the class was, as far as I was concerned, completely overwhemling. At the University of Texas at Arlington, where I had done my undergraduate work, we offered a class in expository writing one semester and a class in argumentative writing in a separate semester. Of course, we also had a graduate program in composition/rhetoric and had plenty of faculty and graduate students who were honestly intrigued with the theories of writing and with the best ways to teach writing. Notre Dame has an English department devoted to literary theory and criticism and just one full-time faculty member who was at all interested in theories of writing.

I was nervous as hell the first day I went to teach. I got there too early and paced around in the halls, trying to give the kids some time to gel and chat before "authority" walked in.

I started out by giving the kids the syllabus and going over the requirements of the class. We talked about some study skills tricks I had discovered along the way of my collegiate career that I thought might be helpful in this class. By the second class, of course, the first real class, I realized that I was in my element. I absolutely LOVED teaching. And I did my damndest to help "my kids" do their best.

Naturally, they groused -- who doesn't grouse about a hard and time-consuming class? But I tried my best to make sure that they knew I was here to help them, not to trick or punish them.

And the established professor who came to observe my teaching a couple of times was just delighted with what he saw and gave me a whole-hearted thumbs-up.

About three quarters of the way through the semester, I realized that the kids were not reading all of the textbook readings. I was appalled only in that I was grading their papers based on some of the lessons in those readings - things we had not had time to cover in class. But they were diligent note-takers ... the only such note-takers I had in the entire nine years that I taught at Notre Dame. I actually had to tell them one day to put down their pens and just listen to me for a minute. And I gave them advice - not a lecture - advice on how to figure out how and where to cut corners and prioritize their various classes.

I loved those kids. I loved that class. Even the kids who hated me and thought that I played favorites, I still loved them. I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't actually reach every single one of "my kids" and I was determined to re-double my efforts in the spring semester. Not to be their friend ... but to really teach and reach them ... to make each one glad that they'd had my class instead of someone else's.

I used to cringe when people asked me what I did for a living. When you say that you teach English at the college level, they generally get scared and say things like "oh no, I really have to watch what I say around you." I'd always reply that spoken English and formal written English are really two separate languages to me and it didn't make me no nevermind how they spoke. (Hey, I'm from Texas, remember? Even well-educated Texans use those quaint phrases from time to time.)

And then, even other educators would groan at teaching college freshmen how to write. "Isn't that just a horrible class to teach?"

You know, I never thought so. Even the semester I came closest to losing control of the class. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. For me, nothing will ever beat going into a room of 18 year olds, nervous and jaded, anxious and resigned, eager and bored, all before I ever step into the room. Most of them hate to write and they loathe having to take a writing class. That's okay. I understand that. I hated my essay - writing classes, too. I still fuss over writing assignments and I know how different it is to write what you like vs. writing what you have to write.

But watching that click when they finally got the concept of the writing style down. Watching them suddenly realize that I was on their side and wanting to help them, not arbitrarily assign grades (punishments) on whims. Watching them get interested in learning something again.

Damn, I miss teaching. I really, really do.

Posted by Red Monkey at 3:44 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

August 2, 2005

Teach Me to Write Funny

Flipping through comments here and playing around on BlogExplosion led me to The Dawn of Man where Redphi5h discussed creative writing classes and how creative writing can be taught.

He contends that "when considering the creative arts" we can no longer assume that teachers can really teach us much of anything at all. I both agree and disagree with that contention. You see, he's right when he says that most creative writing instructors

can be divided into two main types: writers who have achieved modest critical success amongst their peers; and the nest of crawling sycophants who aspire to this feat. Further, these people will attempt to behave objectively in a realm of personal sentimental judgements, and esoteric intellectual interpretations. Moreover, because abilities inherent to producing original works of art can�t be understood, let alone taught, the notion of being instructed at any art is somewhat paradoxical. Generally speaking, the most that can be hoped for is that students with potential find a stimulating, nurturing environment in which to work towards a sense of fulfilment. The real crime is that the host of poseurs can't (or won't) even provide this.

I've taken a slew of creative writing classes, joined a few creative writing critique groups and written my fair share of bad stories and decent critiques and on the whole, I think Redphi5h is not far off the mark here. In graduate school, I had one of those embittered profs who'd written one critically acclaimed (translation: no one read it except some American English professors) novel and not too much else. He stared at the ceiling while delivery a rambling critique of a story - which as often as not - completely missed the point and was about as helpful as a hole in the head.

In undergrad, I had a graduate student who taught a creative writing class. He regularly used the class as a platform to try to puff up his own ego and deflate those of his students. When I wouldn't play his sycophantic games, he got more and more paternalistic and tried to cajole me into a rousing discussion of his self-worth. The deal was this: I had a brief, walk-on native-american character who told a story to some kids at a camp. I used the B-movie diction that the anthropologists used to record these stories. Made sense to me - a group of barely teenage boys would expect something like that and some of the native americans I know like to use that method of speech to give an air of "mystery" or just to be a goof. No biggee. Well, this instructor insisted that no native-american ever speaks like that. Duh, my cousins are Cherokee and when they talk, all the "accent" you can hear is that they lived in the midwest their whole lives. But when my friend John wants to tell a story, about half the time he slips into this stilted speech because to him, it's part of the ambience of the piece. Now, the deal is, this story is less than a tenth of the entire short story that's being critiqued and this instructor has now taken it on as a cause. It would have been enough to say, you gotta be careful doing this, you might piss someone off.

But I've also had some wonderful instructors who helped me to hone my craft. Did they teach me to write? Did I teach myself?

Well, this is the question that I really want to discuss. You see, I think that creative arts can be taught -- but not by the traditional methods. (And, I think this is a part of Redphi5h's argument as well.)

First, you can't go into any creative writing classroom and assume that this teacher is the fount of all creative writing knowledge and he's going to pour some of those little driplets of wisdom into your wading pool. Let's face it, if your creative writing instructor thinks/acts that way, he's a drip and not worth much of your time. Instead, you have to go into these classes willing to figure things out on your own.

But then, I think it should be that way with any class, not just creative writing classes. The whole point of learning something is NOT to get a grade or a diploma -- even though when you're forced to take chemistry that you're positive you'll never use again, it certainly seems like that's the only point.

Every teacher who is interested in helping others learn is more interested in being a guide to help you through your learning process than in "imparting grand wisdom."

So if you go into a creative writing class, expecting to explore how you write, expecting to try to examine how others string together words until you believe in the character, and some practice in front of readers, you can learn a LOT from a creative writing class.

If you go into a creative writing class expecting the teacher to "larn ya" you're in a lot of trouble. You might learn how to mimic the teacher or another writer - and that can be valuable - but you're not really going to learn to find your own voice.

Posted by Red Monkey at 11:17 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 24, 2005

Best Teacher Ever: Commodore 64

I love computers. I have ever since I saw the Commodore-64 in junior high. There was a thrill of discovery for everything we did. I never knew what I would find on one of those 5 1/4" diskettes.

My dad got into computers back in the day of full room, punch card, ridiculous tubes and all. The thought of a tiny little computer at home which could hold a whole 64 KB of memory (and had no hard drive!) was irresistable to him. He and his buddies swapped computer programs, eventually cracking or writing tools for each other to use to beat the copyrights on the few programs they actually purchased.

As a result, we NEVER had the directions to any of the programs we had -- and there was no W3 to go look things up on just yet. So for me, everything about computers involved discovery. Not only did I usually not know what was on a disk, but how to play the game or use the word processor was a process of explorations. I still remember a game called Bugaboo that we never did really figure out beyond making the little guy hop. When I first played the game, I did my usual: hit every key once until I found out the controls for that game. You died a lot trying to brute force your way through the controls of a game like that, but that was all right. It was part of the adventure. And adventure is rarely as much fun with a clear map as without.

Of course, using that method to figure out the word processor was a lot more tedious and involved figuring out how to access the help menu and then lots of tedious handwriting of directions. Then the directions were typed into the computer and then printed out so the whole family could use them. It was kind of a wacky process.

Flash forward to today when I've got a little flash USB drive that holds 64 Megs of info. 64 MBs of info. That little C-64 seems pretty silly to me now. It couldn't do a whole lot. And what it could do it took forever to do.

But I learned to open up a program and start digging around in it. I learned a little bit about how computers think. That little machine was one of the best teachers I ever had.

I think of my students over the last nine years. I moved from teaching in a "traditional" classroom (desk chairs, a podium and chalkboards) to teaching in a net-worked computer classroom. I was the only instructor at Notre Dame to move my writing class into the computer classroom. Why'd I do it?

I watched first-year students struggle so much with their computers. They couldn't figure out how to do automated page numbers. I had one student who didn't know you could tell the word processor to double-space your paper. That student had been manually hitting return at the end of every line and another return to make the paper looked double-spaced. They knew they hit the save button, but they couldn't find the file unless they opened up Word and used the "Recent Files" list. Learning to use the university webmail program to attach a file gave some of them conniptions.

But the Dean of First Year Studies, who has very recently retired, I believe, insisted that "these kids grew up with computers, they don't need a computer class." Never mind the student, who at the height of the 3.5" floppy disk, tried to put his disk in upside down and backwards; never mind the student who picked up her mouse and placed it on the computer screen and wanted to know why the cursor wouldn't move; never mind the graduate student who couldn't find the "My Computer" icon on his plain and nearly empty desktop.

I felt sorry for my students, truth be told. So many of them struggled with their computers and their minimal computer skills. I'd spend a day showing them the basic ins and outs of Word - changing fonts, font size, color, centering, doing page numbers and indents. All sorts of basic word processing skills. I didn't even get into adding pictures or graphs or integrating with Excel. If we had enough time in a semester and they requested it, I'd even show them some rudimentary HTML.

But mostly, I wanted to teach them to play with their computers as much as I wanted them to play with their writing. I wanted them to explore both. I think those who did begin exploring really got something out of the class. Those who thought I was a jerk for trying to do stuff that "so obviously wasn't about writing," well, they didn't get much out of the class. I never stopped trying to reach those kids, though.

Think what we could accomplish if we could just explore and play a little bit more.

Thank goodness for that Commodore-64. Easily the best $500 my Dad ever spent on anything.

Posted by Red Monkey at 10:33 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 20, 2005

Secrets

Everyone should read this story of one person's journey - from elementary school to being a 30-something and heading back to school after not finishing high school.

Let me put it this way: I hate inspirational stories. They're cloying. They're kinda sickening and they're almost always boring.

Color me impressed. This piece is inspirational without being cloying. Or boring. Or sickening. Instead, it's highly fascinating - a really good read.

Now, when you're done reading it, give me a 500 word essay on "the bully issue."

Posted by Red Monkey at 6:01 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 15, 2005

A Funny to Read and a Bit of a Rant

Okay, so you've got to read this: The Speckled Band. And, if you've ever used Blog Explosion, check out his satirical post on that experience. My lemon Fruit2O nearly took out the laptop -- much laughter abounding.

So, I wanted to write something on education today, but I just got too tired and too depressed to do it justice, so once again, I deleted the thing before it grew beyond a couple of sentences and got totally bitter.

One of these days I'll get around to explaining why parents and high schoolers need to really research what college to attend - and NOT to rely on things like the Princeton Review. I'm sure every generation of teachers feels this way, but it just blows my mind how the standards are falling and how bad grade inflation has really gotten.

"Oh, Johnny tried, Mrs. Curnutt. Can't you just give him a B-? It will help his self-esteem so much if he doesn't get a C again this year."

Meanwhile, Johnny's learned to do less work and get higher grades.

Oh, I know the issue is more complicated than that . . . and I will talk about it when I can manage to not sound so viciously bitter over the whole thing.

Meanwhile, just remember, if you show up to class and turn in something for each of your three major papers, you will pass your comp class at Notre Dame. After all, it's not about the education you earn; it's about the networking opportunities during your four years.
Don't believe me? Here's a quote from their site:

Students who have attended FYC regularly and submitted all major assignments should earn As, Bs, Cs, or Ds only. (Fs are reserved for students who stop attending or who do not turn in one or more of the three Unit Assignments.)


Posted by Red Monkey at 8:42 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 9, 2005

Teach Your Children Well

So, let me see if I understand what the University of Notre Dame is doing. First, their program is structured so that students write three papers over the course of the semester. They write a first draft, have that critiqued by peers and the instructor; then they write a second draft. Again, the draft goes through a critique by peers and instructor and again a revised draft is written. This third draft is critiqued in detail by the instructor, but no grade is given. At the end of the semester, students turn in each of their three papers again, re-written one final time.

Now, I'll admit it: if a student actually tries to re-write the paper, it's nearly impossible to fail the class with this setup. But nearly impossible is quite different from impossible.

What if the student paragraph I posted earlier only changed a couple of words?

Identity has show that genetics can have a key role in the formation of identity. Gene structure will guide the human intelligence. Most of the studies on genetic formation of identity have been through twins. Genetics and identity have a correlation between each other that balance together in unison. Fraternal or identical twins both have physical and mental similarities in genetics, which help compose their identity. Twins can have a different nurturing method used by parents. Parents and twins have adapted a style of nurturing that involves balancing genes. The idea of identity at conception is believed to be the origin of identity especially in the genetics of twins. Twins have shown a role in the genetics in identity.

What if this became:

Identity has shown that genetics has a key role in the formation of identity. Gene structure will guide the human intelligence. Most studies on genetic formation of identity have occurred by studying twins. Genetics and identity have a correlation between each other that balance together in unison. Fraternal or identical twins both have physical and mental similarities in genetics, which help compose their identity. Twins can have a different nurturing method used by parents. For example, maybe one twin is allowed to play sports, but the other one is told to study instead of playing sports. Parents and twins have adapted a style of nurturing that involves balancing genes. The idea of identity at conception is believed to be the origin of identity especially in the genetics of twins. Twins have shown a role in the genetics in identity.

Technically, this is a new draft of the paragraph. If the focus of the class is on the writing process and this is all the revision this paragraph has seen -- through four drafts with critiques from instructor and peers, all of whom point out the logical issues -- should this writer pass?
(NOTE: The student who wrote the original paragraph here actually did do a full re-write on his paper and improved it a great deal. This second paragraph is a fictitious illustration characteristic of "re-writing" that I saw many times while teaching at ND.)

If a student only changes a few words, doesn't address serious issues in the writing and generally refuses to take any comments from peers and instructors AND also refuses to explain WHY none of those comments were addressed (and maybe explain that the writer was trying for a different effect than the one the instructor and peers assumed the writer was attempting) -- should that student pass?

If a student simply re-prints the first draft and turns it in as a second draft, a third draft and then for a grade at the end of the semester while changing 12 words and adding one more sentence, does this mean the student has learned how to write and should pass the class?

Looking at a five-page paper printed out four times might look like twenty solid pages of work - a lot of work for one semester - but how hard is it to hit the print button every couple of weeks? Should that be all it takes to pass a composition class?

Now, let me be perfectly clear here: I don't believe in punishing students with grades. Students should be allowed to disagree with an instructor -- even to disagree with the comments made on earlier drafts. In fact, I think instructors and students should be able to have discussions about what the student was trying to accomplish and the teacher ought to be able to shift the way he or she is evaluating the paper to match the student's goals. (Well, as long as the goals of the class and the assignment are also being met -- we often don't get to pick the exact assignment we'd like in school or in the 'real world.')

But what if the student is a poor writer and never tries to improve throughout the entire course of the semester?

Should a student fail because he or she is a poor writer? Or should instructors pass the student just for trying - even if that trying is simply hitting the print button four times?

Students who have attended FYC regularly and submitted all major assignments should earn As, Bs, Cs, or Ds only. (Fs are reserved for students who stop attending or who do not turn in one or more of the three Unit Assignments.)

What message does this send to our children?
It doesn't matter what you write or how well or poorly you write. It only matters that you look like you're trying.

Is that true?
Should it be?

Posted by Red Monkey at 5:06 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

Can't Fail Composition at the University of Notre Dame

Before this fades off their website, take a look at this:
"Students who have attended FYC regularly and submitted all major assignments should earn As, Bs, Cs, or Ds only. (Fs are reserved for students who stop attending or who do not turn in one or more of the three Unit Assignments.)"

You can find it on the Composition website, but you'll need to scroll down to nearly the bottom of the page to find it. The paragraph starts with "There is no grade of incomplete for undergraduates."

More on this soon -- I have a LOT to say about this!

Posted by Red Monkey at 7:09 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

June 4, 2005

Pillow, St. Louis, Pillow, Butler

The U.S. education system has a great many problems, as most Americans know and as most of the rest of the world has come to realize as well. We've tried various "reforms" of the various systems used in various states. What we really need to do is trash the system and start over from scratch.

I first began trying to "develop" my own education system when I was about ten, so I guess you can say that I've had an interest in this for a long, long time. You see, while I lived in only two school districts during my elementary school and junior high days, I switched schools a total of five times. Kindergarten began with Mrs. Gillespie and Pillow elementary school in Austin. Mrs. Gillespie was encouraging and probably one of the best kindergarten teachers in the world. She used students in a good mood as examples without making students who weren't in a great mood feel bad. She taught creatively and kept things fun for the students, while still teaching us. But even Mrs. Gillespie put some unnecessary rules on some of our learning.

For example, we had to read the little yellow Dick and Jane books. We read during school time and we got to take two books home a night. On the chalkboard was a list of where everyone in the class was in the Dick and Jane series. At the time, it seemed to me like this was great motivation. Of course, I was one of the kids furthest into the series. At least, until I missed two weeks of school for the chicken pox. I wanted to have some of the books at home while I was sick. Nope. I fell behind the "top group." I got back to school and wanted to take home more than two books a night. Nope. The limit was only two. I could never catch up unless David Tapia got sick and missed two weeks of school, too.

Why hold back a child who wants to learn? I was tearing through the books so quickly at school and at home; the books rarely kept me occupied for scarcely longer than it takes an adult to run through the Dick and Jane books.

But it was in first grade that I really figured out that school was damn boring. I got through my schoolwork quickly enough that I would begin working ahead in my schoolbooks. I didn't mind learning; I didn't mind working. I wanted to learn and I wanted to work. But when I was caught working ahead, I was punished. Why? Because one teacher cannot easily adjust for the needs of 25-30 kids. If you've got one kid who needs extra practice with learning how to carry the one when adding 17 and 5, and another kid who has the concept down cold, what do you do? Do you bore the kid who understands? Do you ignore the kid who may be just as smart, but just hasn't gotten this particular concept as quickly? Do you assign lots of busywork to keep the smart kids busy while the others catch up? There's not an easy answer here for the teacher in this situation.

The pattern continued in second grade despite the fact that I moved to St. Louis private school that tracked students into two groups. And here, I discovered another issue. Math finally started to get difficult for me. Not because I couldn't understand it, but because the concepts weren't explained. We began learning multiplication tables near the end of the year, but we were told just to memorize the answers. Now, as an adult, I can understand that there are some bits of math that it is pretty much necessary to have memorized so you can access it fast. But the problem is, you also have to have the concepts down as well. That was what was neglected as I was supposed to learn multiplication. No one wanted to explain how it worked and why we had to "just memorize it." In my case, I got stubborn and didn't really try to work on memorizing it. I lucked out. I hated the private school so much that I moved back to the public school the next year. There, for the first eight or ten weeks of third grade, I was part of a class which probably did the best job of educating me. I don't know that it would be the best system for absolutely everyone, although this is something I will continue to explore.

It was in Miss Burciaga's class that we were broken up into multiple and very fluid groups. While Miss Burciaga had been given some 30 kids who were at all levels of learning, she handled everyone's pacing and intelligence wonderfully. During the first days of the school year, she called us up to the front of the class in small groups and had us read from the reading textbook. Some groups wound up with two or three kids, some with four or five. And if you started reading ahead for any reason (and still did well enough on the comprehension questions), then you began moving up a group until you were with other kids at your pace. If you got sick and missed school, you might drop back a group or two, but as you began feeling better and reading more, you moved back up again. Maybe as "high" as you had been before, maybe not. Ultimately, it didn't seem to matter much to anyone if you were in a particular group or not because the groups were so incredibly fluid . You knew you could change groups if you worked at it. You knew you could make the changes if you wanted to.

Sadly, i had one more elementary school move -- after just about ten weeks back in Pillow elementary, we moved away from Austin to Arlington (between Dallas and Fort Worth - not in Virginia). This school was "progressive." It was an "open concept" school. This meant the school building was one HUGE room. Each grade level was separated from the other by five foot high bookcases on wheels. And each grade level had the teachers' desks in the center of the area facing outward into our class "rooms" which were divided again by the rolling bookcases. The din in the place was incredible. Here, we had five or six teachers who had at least 30 kids to a homeroom. Then, we were "tracked" for math and for language arts. When I got to Butler elementary in Arlington, I was a full book ahead of their "high" language arts group and on pace with their "high" math class. They "tested" me and didn't believe me, my mom or my school records from Pillow and placed me in the second highest groups. I was depressed already for moving away from my beloved Austin and the thought of being moved back to the beginning of the school year in math and even further behind than that in language arts, so with the logic of a depressed third grader, I barely did any work at all for weeks. Finally, I got mad in language arts and started really tearing through my work again. I was quickly moved into the high language arts class. I started working in math, but the math teacher for the high group simply didn't want to add another child to her load and refused to let me move up at first.

Then, she made a tactical error. She announced one day that anyone belonging in the high math class should come over to a certain area. I decided that I belonged with that group and stood up, moved to that area with the other "high math" kids. The teacher looked funny at me and said, "Do you belong here?" simply repeating her mistake from earlier. Defiant as only kids who are sure they've been wronged can be, I replied, "Yes" and sat down. While she would often give me a hard time in class, my grades stayed high and I didn't have any problems keeping up.

The next year we had a boy move into our school district. He was a book ahead in math and nearly the same in language arts. The fourth grade teachers recognized he was going to be bored and rather than punishing him with boredom or forcing him to prove himself, they got him a tutor. Was it because he was a boy and I was a girl that he got better support for his education? Or was it the difference between our third grade teachers and our fourth grade teachers at that school? I have no way of knowing now which it was. Either was likely.

Why do our school systems insist on boring students? Why do we neglect our children's education? Why aren't we as a nation more concerned about really doing something about this issue? Why do we have to focus our attentions on a man who told a group of graduating college students in California that what made this country great was that even C students could be president and that some of these really smart college graduates should consider being bus drivers and janitors because the U.S. needs people to do these things.

More importantly, what can we do to improve the system as a whole?

And why aren't we doing more?

Posted by Red Monkey at 9:11 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble

May 31, 2005

Wha-? Huh?

What's wrong with education today? Well, I'll rant and babble about this periodically. There's a lot wrong, a lot I saw as a student and a lot I saw as a teacher.

Now most savvy web crawlers have long ago discovered the joys of Strongbad and his man, The Yellow Dart (+5, no +10 for having a cool nickname). Jeremy Lavine has become the stuff of teacher nightmares and massive urban legend. There have been lots of debates as to whether Jeremy is real or fictitious and just how bad the grader of Jeremy's essays were.

So, I'm not gonna go there just now. I'll probably have to talk about it eventually, because, well, it relates to the whole Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt is Tired of the System deal.

For now, though, I just want to share a real paragraph from a real paper submitted for a grade at the University of Notre Dame. This is probably circa 2000 or so. I don't feel like climbing into the attic and digging out the rest of my files to figure out exactly when this was submitted.

The paper is called "Genetics and the Relationship with Identity" and it was the third and "final" draft of the paper. Now, the class was structured in such a way that the students still had one more chance to re-write their papers for a final grade - but the reality was that the students tried to make this draft their very best so they could get out of a final.

One final note before I type in this sample paragraph: the kid who wrote this is a bright, bright kid. This student did improve the paper greatly for the end of the year and did eventually pass the class - although I wondered if the student would when I read this:

Identity has show that genetics can have a key role in the formation of identity. Gene structure will guide the human intelligence. Most of the studies on genetic formation of identity have been through twins. Genetics and identity have a correlation between each other that balance together in unison. Fraternal or identical twins both have physical and mental similarities in genetics, which help compose their identity. Twins can have a different nurturing method used by parents. Parents and twins have adapted a style of nurturing that involves balancing genes. The idea of identity at conception is believed to be the origin of identity especially in the genetics of twins. Twins have shown a role in the genetics in identity.

And this is a smart kid. How did this student get into a prestigious university with writing skills like this?

I don't know the answer for sure for this particular student. But I believe that for this student and the many, many, many more just like this one, the issue is: if the students try, they pass. After all, how many teachers want to be Simon Cowell? In suburban school systems, you can give students all the praise in the world for what they do right, you can carefully word the comments about what they still need to improve -- but you give a grade that doesn't boost a student's self-esteem and you are Simon Cowell. It doesn't matter that students learn that only trying is good enough and that results don't really matter that much.

As I write this, I'm watching Discovery channel's Deadliest Catch. And you know what? Trying really hard doesn't alwasy mean shit. Sometimes you can try really hard, definitely your best and then some . . . and still get little results and no pay.

I've got more to say about this issue and I'll be posting it over the course of the next several months. I just wanted to get things rolling.

Posted by Red Monkey at 11:12 AM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble