Category Archives: teaching

Why Do You Think That? (Part One)

I believe myself capable of rational thought.  It is that irrational and over-emotional conclusion that leads me to write a self-reflective post full of over-blown thinking about thinking like this one.

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The little Midwestern town of Rowan, Iowa, the place where I grew up, is probably the center of my soul and biggest reason for why I am who I am.

I was a public school teacher for 31 years.  It really seems more like 131 years for all the kids I got to know and lessons I got to teach.  I have lots and lots of experience on which to draw for the drawing of conclusions about education.  Here is a conclusion I drew (literally);

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All kids are good kids.

I can hear the debate from the teachers’ lounge already.  “What kind of an idiot thinks something as stupid as that?”  “It’s true that there are a lot of good kids, but what about Psycho Melvin or Rebel Maria?”  “Some kids are stupid.  I have test data to prove it.”

But I not only believe all kids are good, I think all people are good, even the bad ones.  I have large numbers of memories filed away of times I got to the bottom of problems with kids acting out in class.  Invariably the reasons for their bad behaviors would either make me laugh, or make me cry.  Edwin rammed the drinking fountain with his head because he was socially inept and starved for attention from the other kids.  El Goofy could make his whole head turn bright purple on command because it made the girls squeal and laugh and he had learned to manipulate facial muscles to make it happen because he liked the result.  Lucy yelled at me in front of the whole class because she was thinking about committing suicide like her mother had before her, and she needed me to stop her.  (I don’t use these kids’ real names for some very good reasons, but rest assured, Lucy made it to adulthood.)  (Sorry, I had to stop at this point and cry for 15 minutes again.) My experiences as a teacher have basically taught me that all people need love, and all people are worthy of love.  Someone even loved Adolf Hitler.

There are really two kinds of teachers.  There is the kind who teaches because they love kids and will literally sacrifice anything to benefit them.  The Sandy Hook incident proved that those teachers exist in every school.  There is also the kind who hate kids with a passion and believe themselves to be experts at classroom discipline.  Don’t get me wrong, teachers like that mold young people into upstanding citizens or championship-winning football or basketball players on a regular basis.  But they do it by polishing out the flaws in kids through punishment and rigorous efforts to remove every flaw because they actually detest the flaws in themselves that they see mirrored in students.  I could never be that kind of teacher myself, but I know they are just as necessary as the other kind. After all, all people are good people, even the bad ones.

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Doctor Doom really doesn’t like to be around me.  Still, he’s a good person too, even though he’s fictional.

After more than 500 words worth of this nonsense, and I realize I still have a lot more to say about this goofy topic, I must draw to a close.  And I know I haven’t convinced anyone of anything yet.  But let me threaten you with the prospect that I will pursue this topic again sooner than you would like.  I just can’t seem to stop thinking about why I think what I think, and why I am always thinking.

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Filed under education, goofy thoughts, high school, humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Fact or Opinion (It’s a Teacher Thing)

“Climate change is a hoax by the Chinese.” 

That, unfortunately, is not an opinion.  It is a fact.  It is a FALSE FACT.

Facts are statements that can be proven or disproven.  There are studies by government agencies and university science departments all over the world that provide evidence to back up the theory that the climate is drastically changing in ways that threaten our existence.  The studies are repeatable, peer reviewed, and thoroughly “vetted”, to use the new word that Republicans embrace so deeply and lovingly for immigration issues.  On the other side of the question, you have scoffing congressmen who bring snowballs into the capitol and say, “See?  The science is not proven.”   That is not a fact.   Where is the evidence which is not anecdotal and based on a misunderstanding of the difference between “climate change” and “weather change”?  That is by definition an opinion.  And it is not even an informed opinion.  Opinions are not equal to facts.  Comparing the two is like comparing apples to onions.  No, that is not even correct.  You can eat both of those things.  It is more like comparing apples to planetary moons.

After a long and heated Facebook debate about immigration between me, a Texas teacher, and an Iowa Republican Trump supporter I went to high school with who doesn’t even know if he ever met an illegal immigrant, I have pretty well proven to myself that a big share of the divide between liberals and conservatives stems from the unwillingness of one side to avoid equating facts and opinions.  Apples and moons.

So give me a moment to do what teachers do.

Here is a non-political lesson in Fact versus Opinion.

Who do you prefer?  Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny?  The answer doesn’t matter to me.

I can give you a quick and dirty lesson on fact and opinion using these two cartoon characters.  And it doesn’t even matter who you like more.

Here are some obvious facts about the two of them.

They are both cartoon characters.  They are both anthropomorphic animals.  They both wear gloves most of the time.  They both have a thumb and three fingers on each hand.

These things are observably true.  You can prove them by looking at the illustrations I have already provided.

Other things may not be as readily apparent, but no less provable.

Both of them are heterosexual and both of them have one main love interest.  Neither of them have ever been married, but neither of them really are playboys and even though there are no legitimate bits of evidence that either one has ever had sex with their respective girlfriends, Bugs has kissed Lola on more than one occasion and Mickey has kept company with Minnie for longer than most old married couples.

These things are provable by watching the cartoons and observing a preponderance of evidence.  There is no contradictory evidence.  But the possibility of contradictory evidence doesn’t change these things into opinions.  A disproven fact is still a fact.  It is merely a false fact.  Over time the relationship between Bugs and Daffy Duck may become clearer and the fact that Bugs is gay may pop out of the cartoon closet.  It does however, require proof, so it is a fact, not an opinion.

Here’s another fact you know the evidence supports.  Bugs Bunny is a nudist.  He almost always appears in cartoons naked.  Mickey, however, believes in wearing clothes.  Even when he gets out of the bath tub, he clutches the nearest towel, and you never get a look at whether he has cartoon genitals or not.  Mickey does hang out a lot with a duck who wears no pants, but that’s an irrelevant fact.

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The notion that Mickey and Bugs are very different personalities because they had very different creators, is an opinion.  It is a opinion offered by people who have studied the characters and their creators, and therefore can give you an informed opinion.  But it still can’t be proven.

Walt Disney made Mickey into more or less of an every-man sort of character whom audiences can identify with.  Things happen to Mickey Mouse, and the comedy comes from him trying to deal with those external forces, be they wind storms during music concerts, Donald Duck’s raging temper, or the evil plots of Black Pete.  Walt never said this was so to prove it, but it is not unreasonable to think it.

Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, was created by several great animators like Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett.  And Bugs tends to make things happen to other characters.  Think of how he plays Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and even his pal Daffy for laughs.  He is more of a Groucho Marx type character than an every-man.  We don’t identify with him.  We only laugh at his victims (because they always deserve what he gives them).  That too is an opinion.  And even if one of his creators were to say that this was the intent, it still is not proven until all of them agree.  And they all had very different ways of doing things.

But these are only informed opinions.  You cannot be proven wrong whether you agree or disagree with them.  You are entitled to your own interpretations and opinions because they are not provable facts.  There is no one way to view any opinion.

Opinions, even un-informed opinions and religious beliefs are never either wrong or right.  You don’t make a mistake when you have an opinion.  It only becomes a mistake when you try to use it as a fact, or mistakenly believe it is a fact.

So, there is my lesson for those Facebook arguers who never seem to know the difference.  It’s all color-coded and everything.  So try using this new knowledge when arguing with me, rather than calling me stupid, or making your point IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS!

 

 

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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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How To Write A Mickian Essay

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I know the last thing you would ever consider doing is to take up writing essays like these.  What kind of a moronic bingo-boingo clown wants to take everything he or she knows, put it in a high-speed blender and turn it all into idea milkshakes?

But I was a writing teacher for many years.  And now, being retired and having no students to yell at when my blood pressure gets high, the urge to teach it again is overwhelming.

So, here goes…

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Once you have picked the silly, pointless, or semi-obnoxious idea you want to shape the essay around, you have to write a lead.  A lead is the attention-grabbing device or booby-trap for readers that will draw them into your essay.  In a Mickian essay, whose purpose is to entertain, or possibly bore you in a mildly amusing manner, or cause you enough brain damage to make you want to send me money (this last possibility never seems to work, but I thought I’d throw it in there just in case), the lead is usually a  “surpriser”, something so amazingly dumb or off-the-wall crazy that you just have to read, at least a little bit, to find out if this writer is really that insane or what.  The rest of the intro paragraph that is not part of the lead may be used to draw things together to suggest the essay is not simply a chaotic mass of silly words in random order.  It can point the reader down the jungle path that he or she can take to come out of the other end of the essay alive.

Once started on this insane quest to build an essay that will strangle the senses and mix up the mind of the reader, you have to carry out the plan in three or four body paragraphs.  This is where you have to use those bricks of brainiac bull-puckie that you have saved up to be the concrete details in the framework of the main rooms of the little idea-house you are constructing.  If you were to number or label these main rooms, this one you are reading now would, for example, be Room #2, or B, or “the second body paragraph”.  And as you read this paragraph, you should be thinking in the voice of your favorite English teacher of all time.  The three main rooms in this example idea house are beginning, middle, and end.  You could also call them introduction, body, and conclusion.  These are the rooms of your idea house that the reader will live in during his or her brief stay (assuming they don’t run out of the house screaming after seeing the clutter in the entryway).

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The last thing you have to do is the concluding paragraph.  (Of course, you have to realize that we are not actually there yet in this essay.  This is Room C in the smelly chickenhouse of this essay, the third body paragraph.)  The escape hatch on the essay that may potentially explode into fireworks of thoughts, daydreams, or plans for something better to do with your life than a read an essay written by an insane former middle school English teacher at any moment, is a necessary part of the whole process.  This is where you have to remind them of what the essay is basically about, and leave them with the thought that you want to haunt them in their nightmares later.  The last thing that you say in the essay is the thing they are the most likely to remember.  So you need to save the best for last.

So, here, finally, is the exit door to this masterfully mixed-up Mickian Essay.  It is a simple, and straightforward structure.  The introduction containing the lead is followed by three or four body paragraphs that develop the idea and end in a conclusion that summarizes or simply restates the overall main idea.  And now you know why all of my former students either know how to construct an essay, or have several years left in therapy sessions with a psychiatrist.

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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

No Safe Space

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He’s watching.  There is no safe place to hide.  Well, that’s not true.  He doesn’t actually read.  He only uses a sifting program to latch onto everything in media that uses his name, and then he pounces with a twit-storm on Twitter, tweeting like an angry bird, launching his face and explosive personality at people he perceives as pigs. But the true danger, the reason there is no safe place is his army of Trumpkin Trolls who pounce and threaten and bully and attack with the ninja-assassin skill of middle-finger fu.

A fellow teacher, a college teacher of a popular human sexuality course named Olga Cox is under attack for saying Trump’s election was an “act of terrorism”.  Here is the video of her supposed sin caught on the cellphone camera of a conservative non-pig student who was apparently being assaulted by her comments.

I have to admit I searched out and watched this video because I got wind of the Bill O’Reilly tirade on Fox News railing against it.  (And what a foul stench wafted on that wind!)  Republicans in the surrounding community are outraged by the “angry rant” this liberal educator used in the classroom.  They are calling for her to be fired.  Death threats have come through Twitter and email, especially since the O’Reilly “Fair and balanced” angry rant.  One lovely Trumpkin sent her a picture of her own house complete with address and the email called Cox a “libtard, Marxist, hatemonger, nutcase” and said “her home address is now going to be sent everywhere.”

Far be it for me to defend a hatemonger, but as I listened to the rant, I was struck by the soft, supportive tone of voice the teacher was using.  This was a human sexuality class, and obviously some students take it because of their own sometimes hidden homosexuality.  She has had many students find the courage to come out of the closet because of that tone of voice and the supportive caring environment she tries to create.  Not only that, some of her students are part of a minority or religious group that have good reason to be nervous about Trump and Mike Pence taking over the reigns of the government sleigh and slapping the reindeer that pull it with considerable force to get them on the way with deporting illegals, reversing LGBT rights, and other loving conservative threats made because… well, we just don’t seem to know how to live our lives, and government should deregulate everything except our personal lives.

Here is another video to clue you in on the Marxist, nutcase dialogue that goes on in this teacher’s class;

I mean, it sounds to me like she is promising to keep students safe from hate-filled bullying, and offers phone numbers and links that students can use to find refuge.  How exactly is that being a hypocrite?  I really believe we need more teachers like this one, not less.  Her right to say these things should be protected.

After all, this last Presidential campaign was filled with instances of unacceptable hateful speech that was lauded as “not politically correct” because being politically correct does not mean “not trying to offend anyone”, but is somehow a horrible weapon that gores the side of conservatives like a bull in a China shop and must be rooted out of our society with bulldozers of invective.

I am sorry that the poor conservative child who videoed this was so injured by it that it had to be posted on the internet to go viral and force this teacher to leave her job for the rest of the semester and contemplate leaving permanently.  But the conservatives tell me that college kids are too obsessed with “safe spaces” where they can go when their “soft little liberal feelings are hurt”.  Obviously conservatives feel that these safe spaces have to go.  This story in the Orange County Register obviously shows how they are tracking down and attempting to remove them.

But if that is really the case, then who is really the hypocrite here?

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