Category Archives: kids

Classroom Clownery (Not to be confused with Sean Clownery… He’s James Blond)

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

See Sally…?   Wait a minute!  Why don’t I remember Sally?

Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?

No…  I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them.  And Spot never killed anyone.  But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable.  If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.

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But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas.  Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom.  Dr. Seuss taught me to read.  Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud.  And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes.    And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny.  There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me.  But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.”  High praise indeed!

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I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically.    You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it.  And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.

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Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh.  For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak?  I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about.  Of course, I am not betting money on it.  I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.

But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand.  It takes intelligence to get the joke.  Joking makes you smarter.  And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.

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Being a Teacher at Heart

Being a teacher at heart… I want to recommend that career…even though I know full well it is a super-hard crappy job of glorified baby-sitting that pays in literal peanuts and nobody in their  right minds recommends it to smart young up-and-comers as a glamorous choice… and it is only getting worse under a new anti-education administration.

Being a teacher at heart… I can’t help remembering how it all started for me.  The last thing in the world I imagined myself being when I was in high school was a teacher.  I wanted to be a cartoonist or a comic book artist.  I wanted to write best-selling science fiction novels and maybe direct a movie.  You know, the kind of thing millionaires line up to bestow on college grads with a degree in English  and a transcript filled with mostly A’s in my art classes.

But after my remedial master’s degree gave me a provisional teaching certificate, and my one and only interview for an illustrator’s job resulted in compliments on my portfolio and best wishes for my teaching career, I headed to Texas, one of only two states actually hiring teachers in 1981.  (The other was Florida, which it turns out it was a very lucky thing my family had already moved to Texas to help me make that decision.  Have you seen the education news coming out of Florida?  I now know where Satan gets his mail.)

Turns out the only job available in 1981 was all the way South on Interstate 35 in Cotulla, Texas.  I was there to teach English to 8th graders.  Mostly Spanish-speaking 8th graders.  And the previous year the 7th grade English teacher had run out of the classroom screaming after the little darlings exploded firecrackers under her chair and put scorpions in her coffee cup.  I was given her classroom and the same students that forced her to re-think her career choice.  El Loco Gongie, El Loco Martin, Talan, El Mouse, El Boy, El Goofy (whose one and only talent was to turn his whole head purple at will), La Chula Melinda, and the Lozano Twins  were the nicknames I had to learn because practically everyone was named Jose Garcia… even the girls.  Talan and El Mouse were the first ones to threaten my life.  They picked up a fence post on the way to lunch (we had to walk four blocks to the elementary school to get lunch because the junior high building had no cafeteria).  Talan said something threatening in Spanish that I didn’t understand and added the name “Gringo Loco” menacingly to whatever he said, and El Mouse pantomimed using the metal fence post as a sword to cut me in two.  All this because I was trying to get them to keep up with the rest of the class on our little hike in the 100 degree heat.  (I think I knew then why Satan moved to Florida.)  Fortunately they must’ve decided that murdering me wasn’t worth the hours of detention they would have to spend, and dropped the post.  Class was definitely disrupted when handsome El Boy and La Chula decided to break up, or rather, El Boy decided he like brown-eyed Alexandra better after she got blue-eyed contact lenses that made her eyes look yellow-green.  Girl fights are harder to break up than boy fights because girls fight to the death over matters of the heart, and they really don’t care who dies once the fight is started.

Now you may think my account of my first horrible year as a teacher must be exaggerated and expanded with lies because you know I am a humorist and that I went on to teach for many more years.  But I swear, only the names have been changed.  The nicknames and the incidents all are real.  (Yes, he really could contort his face in a way that turned his entire head purple.  It was freaky and made the girls scream.)    As I reached the spring of the year that year and had to decide whether or not to sign my contract for the next year, I really was planning to get out of teaching all together.  But I was standing on the playground one day that spring glaring at the vatos locos to prevent fights from breaking out again when Ruben came up to stand beside me and talk to me.  Ruben was one of the brightest and physically smallest of all my kids that year.  But he had such a charm about him that the bullies left him alone (except for the time he got in trouble for forging El Boy’s mother’s signature on a failing report card).  He said to me, “I want you to know, you are my favorite teacher.  I learned a lot from you this year.”  I had to bite my lower lip to keep from crying right there and then.  It was the moment when I decided I had to be a teacher.  They were not going to make me run away in defeat.  I was going to work at it until I knew how to do it right.  For Ruben.  And for all the other boys and girls like Ruben who liked me as a teacher… and laughed at my jokes… even the really corny ones… and needed me.  That made all the hard stuff worth it.

Being a teacher at heart… I recognize now that there was never anything else I was going to be.  It was what God chose me to be.  And my only regret about my choice is that I had to retire and can’t do it any more for health reasons.  I still miss it.

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Filed under artwork, education, humor, kids, Paffooney, teaching

Still Collecting Sunrises

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I am not by nature an early riser.  I have been far more of a night owl than a morning lark in my sixty years on this planet.  And yet, as a school teacher and father and dog owner (which also means dog-walker and dog-poop-picker-upper), I have been forced to become an early riser.  But I like to look at sunrises.  We are never guaranteed waking up alive in the morning.  One day soon I anticipate waking up quite dead.  But in the meantime, I am still looking at sunrises and collecting them.  Proof that I still ain’t dead.

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And I am trying hard this winter to think and write about other things than Donald Trump.  As bad as he is to have to deal with, life goes on… at least, until it doesn’t.  And each day I am older and wiser than I was the day before… at least by a day’s worth, if not more.  Good things still happen even if they don’t happen as often as they used to… or as much as the bad things still happen.

I am watching more than one kind of sunrise.  This statue was molded and fired in a kiln at school by my daughter, a rising sunshine of art talent.  In fact, all my kids can draw… I wonder where that comes from?

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My daughter sometimes draws weird cartoon characters like this boy with a band-aid on his nose riding on a dinosaur/dragon/thing with a laser eye and a mechanical right leg.  That is about as goofy as it gets.  And I wonder, too, where the heck does that come from?

And you can stop shouting at the computer screen.  I only pretend to be as thick as rock for comedic effect.  In truth, only my head and my really old unwashed socks are that hard and dense and thought-resistant.

But I keep going while I can.  There is still lots to do… novels to write… pictures to draw… dogs to walk and poop to pick up… being retired, even being forcibly retired for health reasons, is like a bag of Saturdays, with no real work responsibilities hanging over my head except for the ones I put there for myself.

And I keep on collecting sunrises, one after another… simply because I still can.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, kids, Paffooney, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Sweet Part of Bittersweet

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I needed to add this after posting a double-dark downer like my last political post.  There is much to savor in life while we wait for the inevitable end.  Here’s a YouTube diamond that you need to watch to feel better about everything.  Some things even Donald Trump can’t take away from us.

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Betsy De Vos and the Golliwogs of Education

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I have often said that I don’t really approve of insult humor.  I don’t think calling someone names really adds to the discussion in any useful way, and the real point of humor is to reveal the truth in a way that is palatable because it is surprising enough to make you laugh.  Revealed truth is much funnier than calling someone names.  So when I call Donald Trump the king of rotten cantaloupe rinds, I am really being no more clever than he is talking about Lyin’ Ted or Crooked Hillary.

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Three of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, (from left to right) Famine, Cinnamon Hitler, and the Pale Rider, Death.

So, what in the heck am I doing talking about Golliwogs in this post?

A Golliwog is a Raggedy Ann-type rag doll from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They were a common doll type for typical little white girls in typical little middle class families.  My Aunt Jean, my father’s sister, had one as a child.  A female one with a red dress with black spots.  You could flip that doll over and underneath her skirt was a different doll, a yellow-haired white girl in a blue and black dress.  The image has become poison in modern culture because the blackface-minstrel roots of the character is now deemed racist and offensive. The Golliwogs in the children’s books of Florence Upton and Grid Blyton, though, were actually quite heroic, good-hearted and kind.

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As much as we vilify people for having them nowadays, there are many people who secretly adore them and wish to collect and preserve them.  I have long been enthralled by the brilliant 1920’s newspaper cartoon, Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay.  But there are many who would lecture me sternly about that because there is at least one Golliwog character in the cartoon strip, and it is even debatable that the main character of Flip, the “bad kid”, is just another kind of Golliwog.

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Now, the point of this article is to make relentless fun of Betsy De Vos, the harpy that Donald Trump has put in charge of the implosion of the Department of Education.  There are a number of very bad things about this wicked witch and her policies.  Diane Ravitch does an excellent job of explaining what’s wrong with De Vos and her wicked witch plans in Ravitch’s education blog, linked here.  You should read all about it so you know why I am regressing into vacant-headed teacher burblings about her, and resorting to the kind of insult humor you find me committing in this blog post.

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Betsy De Vos looks at public school children and sees Golliwogs.  She is suspicious of their pedigree and basically doesn’t like them.  Remember, we are talking about public school children, not the children in upper class, rich private schools, the only kind De Vos actually touts.  She wants to give Golliwogs only the minimums absolutely necessary, the spoiled and the spilled milk.  The cream belongs to rich kids.  And she’s not prejudiced or racist, oh, no.  She sees poor white kids as just as golliwoggie as poor black kids, and she would have no problem pandering to Ben Carson’s kids.  Ben has lots of money.  He can be Sleepy McBoing-boing as much as he wants, and take off after phantom luggage whenever he wants, because money keeps you from being the detestable Golliwog.

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But the secret… the revealed truth is… Golliwogs are worth loving and educating.  Diversity and the resilience learned from hardship and poverty are priceless things, resources too rarely put to good use.  Most of the kids I truly loved as a teacher were Golliwogs.  Not just the chocolate-flavored ones, though those were very precious and precocious children, but also the vanilla-flavored ones, the caramel-flavored ones, the blueberry-flavored ones and the grape-flavored ones. (Okay, maybe they were only blue and purple in my crazy old head. And maybe I shouldn’t be making metaphors that suggest I am promoting eating school children.  That was Jonathan Swift’s thing.)  But Betsy De Vos and her boss, Donald Trump, will never understand that, and never see the true value in them.  If we are ever again going to have a fair and just system of education, we have to give value to the Golliwogs.

 

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, compassion, doll collecting, education, humor, kids, Liberal ideas, teaching

Holiday Mixed Nuts

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I know what this is.  This is Grandma Aldrich’s holiday nut bowl with nut-cracker and silver walnut picks.  It brings back fond memories of Thanksgiving Day and Christmas reunions that were filled with nuts.  And, yes, I mean that figuratively as well as literally.  I tend to really love nuts.

And one of the most insidious things about Facebook is the fact that it connects you to all the nuts from your checkered past, and memories like this can come back to haunt you any day or any month… not just at holiday family gatherings.

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I probably don’t have to remind you that the incredible spray-tanned intellectual-fartgas-container this country elected as its next leader is not, and will never be, my president.  I reject him in his every detail.  He is anathema to everything I stand for and believe in.  And some of my lovely Iowegian Facebook friends are responsible for for helping him win.  I have not unfriended anybody as they may have done to me.  I am still constantly amused by them and their families, even though their choice offends me.  But I do get tired of being bombarded with Brazil nuts of “He won, get over it!  We endured 8 years of your president!”  I hate Brazil nuts.  They are difficult to crack open, especially with the skinny, silver nutcracker you see in the picture above.  And after you go to all that effort, they don’t taste very good.  Brazil nuts are always the last nuts in the nut bowl because nobody actually likes them.  And besides, I don’t remember Republicans in Congress accepting defeat under Obama gracefully.  They kicked and spit and shut down the government in a hissy fit.  What do they have against the government trying to make healthcare affordable, anyway?  Still, I get those big, hard, oddly-shaped nuts in my Facebook feed constantly this time of year.

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My sister posted the meme you see above on my Facebook wall.  She says it is actually quite easy to become a complete master of doing what the meme suggests, by which she means me more so than her.  I like walnuts.  They are hard to crack, but not impossible like Brazil nuts.  And once you have split them into two haves, two separate turtle shells, you still have to pick the walnut meat out of a hard, spiky labyrinth of dastardly convoluted walls of interior shell.  But you end up with something delicious if you put in the time picking things apart.  I fondly remember singing goofy Christmas carols with my two sisters and half-dozen cousins at Grandma and Grandpa Aldrich’s farm this time of year.  Elaborate versions of “I’m dreaming of a pink-and-purple-polka-dotted Christmas…” and “Jingle bells, Batman smells…”  My sister is often critical of me and doubts my sanity, as a good sister should, but in the long run, we have some sweet memories to share, good times and incredibly goofy nonsense to look back upon.

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But, of course, everybody’s favorite nut is the peanut.  Those are the first to disappear from the nut bowl.  Holiday gatherings are mainly about eating, but the most important second-place thing is everybody’s self-generated house apes… the next generation of little Beyers and Aldrich’s and Fimblegrubbers and Pumblechooks (yes, I know I am not actually related to Fimblegrubbers or Pumblechooks, but I like funny names, and I have to live with the funny-named people who attend our family gatherings).  We all enjoy watching them play games of “infuriate your sister” or “chase Grampy’s dog till it bites you” because they are funny, adorable and cute.  Sometimes they even play with mutant toy Elmo-looking things like the one in the picture, though I didn’t draw this from a family member, and I added the mutant features to avoid questions of copyright infringement.

Anyway, holidays are notoriously full of nuts, both literal and figurative.  And we really have to learn to appreciate them all.

 

 

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Really Bad Jokes

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If you have the bad habit of reading this particular blog more than once, then you are probably aware that I used to be a public school teacher.  Even worse, I used to be a middle school English teacher.  Aagh!  Seventh graders!  It explains a lot about how life has warped my intelligence, personality, and world view.  It also explains somewhat where I found such a fountain-like source for some of the worst jokes you ever heard.

Now, as to the question of why I have chosen in my retirement early-onset senility to become a humor-blogger… well, that is simply not something I can answer in one post… or even a thousand.  But kids are the source of my goofball clown-brain joking around.

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Kid-humor, you see, is stunted and warped in weird ways by the time period you are talking about.  The eighties, nineties, two thousands, and the tens are all very different.  And those are the various sets of students that I attempted to learn moose bowling from by teaching them English.

Still, there are certain universal constants.

Potty humor really kills.  If you want to make a thirteen-year-old crack up with laughter, roll around on the floor, and maybe wet his or her pants, then you only need to work the “poop” word, or the “nickname for Richard” word, or the “Biblical word for donkey” word into the conversation.  Of course the actual words, even though we all know what they actually are, are magical words.  If you actually say them to kids in school as their teacher, those words can actually make you magically and permanently disappear from the front of the classroom.  All kids are big fans of George Carlin and his seven words, even though most of them have never heard of him.

And violent humor is popular with kids from all decades.  The most common punch line in the boys’ bathroom is, “… and then he kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!” followed closely in second place by, “… and then she kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!”  I am told (for I don’t actually go in such scary places myself) that in the girls’ bathroom the most popular punch line is, “…so I kicked him right in the soccer balls, and he deserved it!”   Why girls are apparently obsessed with soccer, I don’t know… or particularly care.sweet-thing

So my education in humor began with bad-word jokes, slapstick humor, put-downs, and rude noises coming from unfortunate places.  Humor in the classroom is actually a metaphorical mine field laced with tiger traps, dead-falls that end with an anvil hitting you on the head, or being challenged to a life-or-death game of moose bowling.  (Don’t know what moose bowling is?  Moose bowling is a very difficult game that, in order to knock down all the pins and win, you have to learn to roll a moose down the alley.)  Sounds like I spend too much time watching cartoons and playing video games, doesn’t it?  Well, there’s more.  And it gets worse from here.  But I will spare you that until the next time I am foolish enough to try making excuses for my really bad jokes.

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Filed under autobiography, humor, irony, kids, satire, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, word games, wordplay, writing humor