Tuesday, November 30, 2004

National Park "Services"

What "services" does our National Park Service really provide? We spent a good part of our Thanksgiving break visiting some of the aforementioned's most prized possessions. I am always interested in visiting these places, not so much for information, though, as for bemusement. My gripe with many of the National Parks (Fort McHenry, Sagamore Hill, Independence Hall) is that I don't think they do a good job teaching history. Good history teachers, in my opinion, should leave students with more questions than answers. Not so with many of our nation's landmarks. These places simply tell a narrative. And they tell it in a way that suggests that it is the only interpretation, as if there was no contraversy surrounding any of it at any point in history. It also feels, sometimes, as if questions that aren't trivial are unwelcome. There is always someone in the crowd who tries to get a rousing game of "stump the ranger" going by asking a question about an obscure person or event. The park rangers take all of those in stride. In my experience, though, if you ask a question that might be interpreted in an even slightly negative way, the ranger looks at you like an alien and changes the subject.

In other words, I feel like the National Park Service is a peacetime Committee on Public Information. It's all propaganda, folks. Why is it that people think the only patriotic history is a purely positive history? Don't those that love the U.S. most want to see it improve? And don't we have to know our weakness before we can begin that step? Admitting it is the first step, and I feel like so many Americans are short-changed. They think they are getting an education by attending these places, that they are enriching their lives (and I guess to a certain extent they are, but not it the way they expect). They are misled, though, and missing the most valuable, but most difficult, part of history: reflection.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The trouble with blogging

The trouble I have with blogging is the part in which I have to actually sit down and type out my thoughts. Late at night, when I can't sleep I come up with a variety of things I would like to say. The problem is that the next day I just don't have the energy.

This doesn't surprise me. In fact, the reason I had held off on blogging for so long was that I didn't think I had time. I've noticed too, that it is not easy to find teachers' blogs that are kept up to date. There are plenty out there, but compared to the number of actual teachers in the U.S. the pickings are slim. It's definitely not that teachers don't have anything to say. We grouse all the time in the teachers' lounge. By the time we get home from work though, we want some rest and relaxation.

Anyway, here are a few of the things I PLAN to blog on in the future...

1. The divide between high school and collegiate history teachers/professors. Is it there? How wide is it? Why?

2. Funny things my students said and did during our recent "Progressive Reformers" research project (I say funny, but I mean depressing, much like First Year Teacher's experience with Anne Frank.)

3. Why everyone in the world feels it's their business to ask women when they are going to have children.

4. The hilarious things the kids in Children's Church have said (I have a mental list.)

5. My top management tips for running a high school classroom.

So look for these and more in the future...But not tonight.

P.S. I got my first request for a college recommendation letter. It made me feel kind of special!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cable a la carte

I've been watching with interest the debate on selling cable "a la carte." Consumer groups, including my personal favorite Consumers Union, have been pushing for cable companies to allow families to choose just the stations they want and pay for each station individually.

Today the FCC released a study, which the Consumers Union calls "flawed," that states such a program would not save consumers any money. Their reasoning is that most families that have cable watch at least 17 channels, which if purchased individually would cost 30% more than an entire package. The article I read did not include details of the study, but I immediately wondered one thing: What about families that don't currently have a cable package? My husband and I decided not to get cable because it is just too expensive and I can't justify paying that kind of money to watch more advertisements encouraging me to spend even more. We miss ESPN, though. Occasionally, I wish I had the History Channel or A&E. That's about it. Did the FCC survey people who don't have cable? I think those are the target group here. The people for whom a la carte packaging would be best may not currently subscribe for just that reason -- they don't want to spend their money to just watch a few channels. In conclusion, a la carte may not benefit current cable subcribers, but it could benefit potential subscribers.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Need I say more?

The New York Times reported today that Republicans are seriously outnumbered by Democrats in academia. I doubt that is news to most people, but I loved George Lakoff's explanation:

Unlike conservatives," he said, "they believe in working for the public good and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake, which are what the humanities and social sciences are about."

Out with the old...

I was thrilled, but not shocked, to find out that Bush's education secretary Rod Paige had stepped down. I'll be honest and say that I signed a petition asking him to resign after his comments equating the teachers' union with terrorists. (Later he apologized to teachers in general, but not to the union.)

Bush has now named his new secretary -- Margaret Spellings. There hasn't been too much said about her yet, but here's how she adds up with me so far:

1. Once adamantly turned down an offer for a date from Karl Rove (according to Rove himself). +20 points

2. NEA president gave her a small vote of confidence +10 points

3. Has never actually taught or run a school system -200 points. This is like a surgeon general who doesn't have an M.D. or an attorney general without a law degree!

As you can see, she's got a long way to go. She can start by realizing that there are three kinds of lies and as a result not put quite so much stock in a scantron's ability to measure learning (Although I will agree there needs to be accountability, I think there are better ways.) And she can follow up by getting us a little more money. Perhaps a few dollars to fix the paper towel holder that has been broken in the faculty bathroom since August??

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Why I don't get paid enough

So today, after a meeting for a club I sponsor, I headed towards the office to check my mailbox. On the way I passed one of the entrances to the school that has a courtyard area where the kids hang out. I heard students laughing and looking in one direction shouting "Put it away!" "Oh gross! Put that thing back in!" I turned to see what all the commotion was about. That "thing" they were referring to was an erection. Yes, this kid had pulled down his pants was was showing everyone through his boxers. I just kept right on walking to the office, where of course, all of the male assistant principals were busy. So, a couple of females headed down there but by then things had broken up. They asked me to come make an ID. An ID!!?? I didn't take the time to look at the kid. I could tell you what color his boxers were though. Ugghhh!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Texas Aggie Bonfire Memorial

Some of you may remember the collapse of the Texas Aggie Bonfire in November of 1999. If you aren't from Texas, you probably couldn't comprehend much of what it was or all the activity surrounding it. I was a student at the time and I can tell you that it caused great and painful reflection for our university. The memorial has finally been finished and will be dedicated this month. Here is a great (if a little sentimental) short video explaining the plan and layout of the memorial. Once again, you can see how seriously Aggies take symbolism and tradition. Any comments? I wouldn't mind discussing it with anyone.

Religious Writing

Well, there's an awful lot being said about the role of religion in this most recent election, and I figure I better get my say in before a newer, hotter topic comes onto the scene...

I've watched the media divide this country into two groups: the religious and the not religious. They go on to make many assertions about what it means to be labeled with each. I thank God, literally, for people like Jim Wallis who have been willing to stick their necks out and challenge the traditional labels. Unfortunately, I think PBS is the only station that ever invites him.

I am religious, and I think I'm right. But I am not a Republican. Here's why:

When the polls and the religious right refer to moral values, they are only actually referring to two issues: abortion and homosexuality. I do, in fact, believe that abortion is wrong. It is killing and that is a sin. I also believe, however, that abortion is an effect of other ills in our society. Women who choose to have abortions are not necessarily being selfish. If you have no way to support a child, you cannot count on our government to help out. Republicans have historically opposed subsidizing day care because they believe it is unfair to stay-at-home moms. So the cost of quality day care continues to skyrocket. Republicans also, however, have led the charge to reduce welfare benefits. Do you realize that the majority of welfare recipients are under the age of 18? The point is, if you are a single pregnant woman, you won't be able to afford day care, but you can't stay at home with your child either. Your only choice is to leave your child in the hands of our foster care system which has failed so many of our youngest citizens. If people really want to stop abortions, why don't they get out there and provide help for single moms? More than that, why don't they volunteer to be foster parents? I fully believe that would be much more effective than standing on the street, holding up signs, and yelling at people.

On homosexuality...I'm pretty sure it's wrong. There is more than one verse in the New Testament that equate homosexuality with sin. I haven't spent enough time researching the issue to say unequivocally that it is a sin, though. I also can't deny the research that suggests people have a tendency to be homosexual. That doesn't make it right though. Some people have a tendency to be alcoholics or shoplifter. I am leaning toward a position that homosexuality is an evil temptation that people should try to deny, but I do not in any way suggest that would be easy, or that I even would be able to do so myself. The issue on the ballots isn't about whether homosexuality is wrong, though, it is about whether they should get married. Frankly, my dear, I don't care. If in fact homosexuality is a sin, how does marriage change that fact? The religious right would tell me that I should be offended because it destroys the sanctity of my own marriage. Well, the whole time the lines were forming in Massachusetts, I didn't feel any less connected to my husband. You want to talk about a threat to marriage? Let's talk about the divorce rate! Why don't we? Perhaps because many churches have ignored what the Bible has to say about that, and as a result many members of the religious right themselves would be convicted.

...Which brings me to my next (and most cynical point). Why is it that these are the only two issues considered by the Republicans/religious right? I would suggest it is because it makes people feel good about themselves. People want to know they are right. They want to assure themselves of salvation. They want to simplify Christianity into a list of requirements with a few boxes you can check off. Perhaps the form looks something like this:

Not homosexual?
Never had an abortion?
Congratulations! You are now guaranteed a future in Heaven. (Note: this
also gives you the right to point at other people and say they are WRONG.)

You don't see anything about helping the poor on the list, even though there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that speak to the issue. Why? Because you can't check it off! Who can ever say to themselves "I've done all I can do to help the poor." The story of the Widow's Mite shows that we can always do more. In my opinion the Republicans could barely do less. Where does Jesus suggest tax cuts for the wealthy as a way to help the poor? What if the Good Samaritan had gone up to the beaten man on the side of the road and said "I can see you are in poor shape. I tell you what I'll do -- there is a small business owner up the road that owns a motel. I'll stop by there and give him the few extra gold coins I have. That way, if you need a place to stay tonight, he can afford to help you. See ya! Be warmed and filled brother!"

Something else that doesn't appear on the list: Have you done all you can do to pursue peace in the world? Have you prayed for your enemies? Have you turned the other cheek? Those were things Jesus himself suggested. Could the United States check this one off? Could George Bush? Could I? I mean, I've tried to on occasion, but I wouldn't say I've lived up to it on a daily basis.

Yet, as a Christian, I've been constantly barraged by people who suggest that you can't be a Christian and vote for a Democrat. I'm not exaggerating. They've used those words. This kind of thinking is just wrong. It comes very close to what the Pharisees did during Jesus' time and Jesus condemned them for it. (By the way, if you are thinking I needed an S after the apostrophe on Jesus, I don't. I checked. You don't put the extra S on Jesus, Moses, or Greek names with more than one syllable. I have no idea why.)

In sum, I encourage everyone to double-check their list. Are you missing some things? I am. Maybe we can work on it together.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Why Abigail? Why Social Studies?

As I said in my previous post, I'm doing this anonymously. I had to come up with a pseudonym and Abigail was my choice. I fell in love with the name in my high school girls Sunday school class in Texas. Abigail is known as a peacemaker. The Old Testament tells us she was "a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance." She was married to an evil man, though. She used her talents and hospitality to negotiate peace between her husband and David, whom she would later marry after God struck her husband dead (hey, he deserved it). To me, it is a great example of the way women, even those who choose what society would consider a traditional/backward path in life, can have a profound impact on society. I am not a person who likes conflict. Growing up, I could count on one hand the number of times my parents yelled at each other. Among my friends and family, I have always been the mediator, much like my hero Abigail.

Another Abigail of significance is Abigail Adams, wife of the second president. I wouldn't assert that she was as important as the aforementioned, but she was interesting. She is famous for her written request to her husband that he "Remember the ladies" when writing the Declaration of Independence. If you are interested in her life, I suggest Abigail Adams, by Edith B. Gelles. It uses her personal correspondence to tell the story of her life. I'll save my points about the complexity of the roles of women for another blog.

If you haven't figured out, Social Studies is supposed to be a play on words. Obviously, it refers to my teaching field. It also refers to my interests and what will probably be the topic of many of my blogs -- social issues. If anyone had bothered to survey me at the polls last Tuesday, I would have told them that was my main consideration in how I voted. But then, what do you consider "social issues"? I'll save that for another day, too.

An introduction

This is my attempt at a blog. I've been contemplating this decision for some time now. Finally, with my husband's encouragement, I have taken the leap. I think he was especially encouraging because he was a little tired of having to hear my constant tirades. When I suggested that a blog might help me vent, and not be so bitter about things, his response was a little too enthusiastic.

Anyway, my goal is to share my thoughts on important things like teaching, knitting, Christianity, politics, and southern culture. I am going to keep it anonymous because I want to be able to say anything about things going on at work, without offending anyone, losing my job, or getting sued. Suffice it to say that I am from Texas, moved to the east coast, and teach 10th grade World History and 11th grade U.S. History at a public high school (much, much more about that later.)

So, welcome to my blog. I'm honored that you've taken the time to read it and I hope you return. I look forward to sharing my thoughts (read: criticisms) about things important to me. I really want to hear your responses, too. Occasionally I become much too confident in my thinking and need to be knocked off my feet.