the twit


    invasion of the required mcblogs: #'s 2 (late), 3 (late), and 4 (early?)

    #2: inductive vs. deductive

    in a more patient world, i would be able to:

    (a) develop an equal parts competent/mocking/insightful dialogue between the Platonic (in a very cheap way) characters of Inductive and Deductive
    (b) infuse thier voices with a glaring and pastiche cold war subtext (does not democracy deduce? does not a single, unfallible cry boil in the hearts of every worker? )
    (c) draft a faux screenplay in which the voices are played by out-of-context superheroes, and in which their megaphone/thesaurus battle is passed off as a 2nd tier batman vs. superman crossover ("once again... a greater evil... universes collide... a difficult partnership... the medicine or the disease... will america never learn?").
    (d) produce, direct, and star in the film - as both characters.
    (e) write the trade paperback adaptation of the film - complete with a median insert of movie stills.
    (f) turn in (e) as my blog entry.


    i'll talk about how inductive teaching methods have always made more sense to me as meaningful forums for learning. in fact, the inductive moment is exactly the moment of meaning itself - when a student, as a learner-creator, fixes the indellible value of progeny upon an item of knowledge. it is their moment, and something derived of their language - whatever that is. on the other hand, deduction seems - at it's hastily reflected-upon core - to be a look into the consequences of a set of "meanings," and in this respect a sure enough avenues for second-tier meanings: curious stitches that in turn depend on the certainty of a loop. ask cantor, or godel, or anyone else i'm fumbling to reference. uh... it's like communism and capitalism... and how neither can exist in isolation... yet neither in harmony... this is nothing like cantor... but both make excellent halloween costumes...

    of course, teaching inductively - which consists of priming an environment for individual response - takes more time. and there's the whole leading a horse to water stuff (because maybe this a horse that doesn't drink water - it depends on a substance necessary for its methane-based chemical structure [which is a concievable alternative to our carbon-based whatever], which may act as a poison for us. or a nonsequitor. like a melody. sing to the methane horse. sing!) and the whole gathering each of this somewhat personal discoveries into a communicable whole.

    but, there are many more "a-ha's!" which is nice. so i try and have a small inductive exercise to each new lesson - sometimes it turns into its own lesson (time), sometimes it flops (methane horse/language), sometimes it does OK ("a-ha!"). like for solving linear systems by graphing:

    in the event that students can graph lines (sometimes they can't, even if they're in algebra ii, and even if they're 12th graders), you can say: "here are two lines. graph both of them on the same coordinate plane. what do you notice? what else could have happened? what information can you tell me about what happened? why don't you have your binder out? why are you touching him? who are you?" and so forth.

    #3: success story

    i have two that i want to talk about

    (3.1) hand turkeys, et al.

    i am very generous with extra-credit, especially when it's couched in absurdity or creativity. a constant venue: a bonus section at the end of my tests, which essentially allows a student to make up for a missed problem as long he or she is willing to laugh at himself/herself/me. so far i have assigned the following (which i am more than willing to accept from any of you - for which you will recieve 5 pts):

    1. Our class mascot – the large yellow spider named Hennessey – seems to have passed on to better windows and bigger dreams. Please write a short poem in his honor. Use at least one mathematical word or phrase.

    Draw a flattering picture of Mr. Molina.

    Write a poetic/freestyle/whatever-you-call-it tribute to the “teepee” method of adding fractions.

    Draw a humorous comic strip about your adventures in Mr. Molina’s math class. Possible characters: you, your classmates, your cellphone, your homework, Mr. Molina, Hennessey the Spider, the Teepee Method, Alice, Reebok Classic sneakers, the Not Math Box, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, etc.

    Last night, Mr. Molina fell asleep reading the Algebra II text book. What did he dream about? You may draw a picture, make a comic strip, or write a paragraph.

    needless to say, (1) i'm an unrepentant egomanaic who masqeurades as a cultural theory enthusiast, (2) i've gotten some amazing bonus responses.

    however, my most "successful" of these silly things were my hand turkeys (you all know what a hand turkey is...), which i assigned
    the thursday and friday before thanksgiving break as a spur of the moment 5pt extra credit opportunity. i had originally intended this to be something completed during break (with construction paper, glitter, and dry macaroni), but at some point a student offered to put a hand turkey on my front board as a submission, which i allowed - thereupon beginning an avalanche of brilliance upon my walls. this happened on the friday before break, and - as fridays are my test days - students would go up to the board (without directions to do so, mind you) and add his or her hand to the mix - with different colors sometimes; and scenery; and commentary (endless "eat me!"s and "don't eat me's!" and the well-crafted "run and run as fast as you can/you can't catch me, i'm the turkey hand!"); and/or intentional sloppiness (one awkward turkey amazingly labeled as "my little pony").

    pure bliss. creative. absurd. 5 pts.

    (3.2) haywood

    jeremy haywood's test grades look like this: 50, 29, 44, 109.

    after receiving his last test grade, jeremy went to the front of the class and thanked them - tearfully clutching the rolled up 109 with oscar speech overstatement - for being quiet sometimes and letting him learn. of course - they booed him back to his seat.

    i had a soft spot for jeremy from the first week of school - caught by his flair for the well-judged goof-off moment, and, well, the fact that he's generally adorable. however, it became clear early on that - charm aside - haywood wasn't performing well in the class. conversations with him revealed a general lack of confidence in math (comments a la "i do well in my other classes... i just get into math class and my brain stops working" and "i think i understand it when i'm in your class, but then i get to the test and... nothing"), and a love for the game of baseball - which jeremy was afraid he would not be able to play this year if his grades in my class did not approve. conversations with his mother were of the same effect. i encouraged jeremy to come to my tutoring sessions (at the time, every wednesday after school), and he - like many others - promised to show up but never did.

    eventually, however, he wandered in on a wednesday and we had some time to focus on the objectives in class that never seemed to stick. somewhere in this mix, something began to click in jeremy's head - and solutions seemed to come for the first time, and then continued, seeming easier and easier. from a testing perspective, it seemed that all he needed was the initial spark of confidence; haywood came into the next test confident and energetic, and gave the aforementioned oscar-winning performance.

    now it's a matter of keeping haywood's confidence up, and getting him to do all of his homework. there's also a strangely tragic subtext that always seems to be pulling at him (nothing new for adolesence, i imagine) - comments about wanting to just leave mississippi and go to a place where he doesn't know anyone and can start everything over, voiced awkwardness about thanksgiving vacation spent in alabama with the family of his mother's boyfriend, and pastoral fantasies about having nothing to do but play baseball all day. again - nothing new.

    #4: reflections on summer blogs

    a list of things that have stayed the same (when so much else has changed):

    1. my voice is still (and will always be) nasal
    2. i should write more haikus
    3. i'm still (and will mostly likely always be) a rambly mess, still stuck in meta-bullshit and standup theory
    4. i always have a strange dialogue going on with myself
    5. the line "where can i find this chief trees" is still endlessly funny
    6. i still shake my fist at the sky
    7. the sense of being "
    modeled a situation of little/no accountability, and ... [developing] a teaching routine in a sink-or-swim environment of little beyond peer support" was indeed an early taste of my teacher reality, as is the awkward stampede of high-pressure assessment that just sort of waltzes in from time to time (the most recent being the IB programme's audit of jim hill occurring on friday)
    8. i've never really learned how to write on the board and monitor the class at the same time
    9. i still think that my summer training could have been vastly more helpful/relevant


    voicing concern ii

    I. scenario:

    sat, oct 29, 2005. class at ole miss. the day's topic is assesment - considering its traditional and non-traditional faces, respective pros and cons, etc. the beginning is spent being lectured to (though i don't remember if the lecture was actually about assessment, i think it was another tough love life-coaching session by our own dr. germaine), complete with "checking for understanding" traps: a veiled rhetorical question is presented to a group of people (e.g. [approximations] "about this time of the year, first year teachers generally start to gain control of the classroom. how many of you feel like things are under control?"; "most people use at least some non-traditional assessment. how many of you use non-traditional assessment in your classrooms?") , for which some of us mechanically raise a hand in the affirmative (others shrug), thereafter understanding being checked for.

    after this mess, a longish activity involving group discussions about various assessment methods (traditional, peer assessment, self assessment, rubric, etc.). teacher corps members were placed in groups, and posters describing each method were rotated around to each group. upon arrival of a poster, we were instructed to - i think - discuss the worth of the assessment strategy, and its use in our class rooms.

    [key school-of-ed words in the above paragraph: "groups,"and "worth." the former satisfies the educational fixation on "cooperative learning," the latter on the high-end of ye ole Bloom scale: evaluation.]

    II. and then:

    i spent the majority of the activity time thinking about how i probably feel disengaged with these classes in the same ways that my students feel disengaged from mine. i drifted into conversations with colleagues about the irony, occassionally reprimanded by an overseer for not re-learning or re-hashing what a rubric is. of course, one substantive difference between our disengagment and that of our students is that it seems like my colleagues and i choose to re-engage in the topic at a level that we value, in this case by reflecting on the implications of our own inadequacies given our very response to a pedagogical front that seems equally inadequate (of course, we could just need a little institutional discipline - spare the rod, spoil the grad student. go rebels.). on the other hand of the meta-irony, our students - upon disengagement - just seem to start talking about humping each other, which is of course a level that they value - though it's not true that i don't; i spend plenty of time thinking about humping, even humping some of the people in my program. the point is, our students don't respond to a weak lesson on linear systems by meditating on the indeterminacy of the fifth postulate, which is tragic (both the indeterminacy and the not thinking about not-humping). furthermore, the sorts of conversations we were developing in our groups were exactly at the level of evaluatory analysis ostensibly promoted by the activity's structure, though undervalued as such in deference to the need to move on to the next aribitrary conversation piece (re: minor controversies at jake's table).

    III. possible reasons why i didn't engage in the lesson (with the corollary reflection about why my students may not engage in my lesson, provided that the structural analogy is solvent - and i think it is)

    (III.a) preface: i've been spewing forth the buzz-work "value systems" since i've gotten into this mess. it seems quite apparant that if a person does not attribute value to a system or object, he or she will not choose to engage in that system or object - at least not in any way that would expend effort for which the foreseeable return is valueless, and at least not in the same way that someone who does attribute value would engage. this seems to - in a reductive way, sure - allow some illustration for the fact that students who - from an education-institutional sense - drastically lack proficienty, and show few signs of interest in the classroom are nevertheless more than willing to be trained to perform a systems of tasks (of compareable difficulty to most traditional academic objectives) for - lets' say - minumum wage. clearly, something about this performance discrepancy may be the fact that they've chosen to value the immediacy of money, and the culture that preceeds it. and this is of course an understandable choice.

    back to (III) possible reasons why i didn't engage in the lesson...

    1. lack of fluency

    the whole conversation about assessment was rather contingent on my assumed adequacy/comfortability with transmitting content to be asssessed. at the comparative level, this prompt for disengagment is somewhat related to the dilemma facing a student who knows what a linear system is, but can't graph lines in order to show this knowledge. so - in the same sense that the student starts to disengage from the objective by realizing that he or she lacks the basic skills that are prerequisites for performing the objective once learned - i'm reluctant to be concerned at all about being good (or at least being better) at assessing things in the event that i'm not confident that i'm teaching well in the first place. and - sure - part of teaching well is assessing well, and - sure - i'm supposed to believe that good teaching comes with experience, so i should just keep stuffing my toolbox with fancy things i'm afraid to use, and - sure- proficiency will grow on all fronts as long as i stick to it. but, the fact remains that i have no idea what it means to be a math teacher, that i'm struggling to pull things together and make things up as i go along, and that there's an ever-hovering "that's just how it is" myth coming from the gods above, along with the occasional rain of flying cars, cold fusion, and peer assessment- when all i want is a rigorous perspective on how to actually prepare myself to teach algebra ii to my students - not just a spin-cycle of talking about teaching while divorced from its practice, and practicing teaching without having really thought about it, even though i'm in a perfect position to synthesize my own practice of teaching with my own thoughts about it. (response: "the first year of teaching... trial by fire... experience... rewarding... here's a candy bar.") nevertheless, linear systems remain at the theoretical level, as does diverse assessement. of course i know what assessment is, and can rattle off on its flavors, but if i'm still struggling to instruct on a daily basis, and i'm struggling to find time to focus on refining my instruction, discussions about possible assessment strategies are going to be drastically less useful than time to actually reflect upon and develop my instruction, which could easily (gasp) be scoped within the framework of developming my assessment arsenal.

    2. "low-level" objective (the Bloom trap)

    i mentioned above the veil of "evaluation" that came along with our group-and-poster activity: "we were instructed to - i think - discuss the worth of the assessment strategy, and its use in our class rooms." this evaluatory analysis was called upon despite the directed experience of any of these assessment tools - which is fine, but which keeps discussion at a highly theoretical level. strangely, this is a nice microcosm of the teacher corps approach, which hits the learner [read the bold text in the following]

    Knowledge <--- here
    Evaluation <----- and here

    on Bloom's taxonomy of learning stuff - the holy eucharist of educational instruction. the "Knowledge.... Evaluation" trap basically goes like this: "here's stuff.... how do you feel about it?" (and, the ellipses may represent days, weeks, or months) any development in the middle is left to chance and/or whim - which may allow someone to try and back out of the trap, saying that we're responsible somethings or other, and it's assumed that we do this on our own. this is a silly assumption - not about us being responsible, but about us being so capable that we're going to just adapt immediately to the maelstrom of teaching, and on top of that think to apply all of the things we were told once or twice during the summer.

    back to the activity. the information (re: knowledge) isn't too difficult to pick up, and i'm not impressed by getting it again in novel situations (re: posters). [i'm tired, so my tenses are changing, which is frustrating]. neither am i concerned about how i "feel" about assessment (re: evaluation), especially given any credence you may ascribe to the above argument about fluency. that is, i'm not worried about what this information is (again, for the most part, it's not new), i'm worried about how i'm actually going to use it in my actual class (re: the skipped over part of the bloom's list, and my own inadequacies as a teacher). again: not if can use it (re: knowledge), and not if i want to use it (re: evaluation), but how the hell am i going to do this (re: "here's a candy bar...").

    IV. class ended....

    i. instructor A threatened our professional future.

    he had picked up on the first-degree irony, a la [an approximation]: "you guys complain alot about how your students don't pay attention/follow directions/engage(!) during your classroom, but you all seem to act the same way in mine..." however, this comparison is (a) structurally thin, given the content of our disengagment and our voiced desire to engage in productive rigour (in the face of its near absence), and (b) perhaps applied more appropriately (or at least dually) as an illustration of the failed teacher, rather than the failed student; it is as much of an indictment of a situation that fails us in much the way that we construct situations that often fail our students (you know, because we're first-year teachers, and we're pretty much making it up as we go along).

    nevertheless, we were thereafter reminded that sometime in our lives we would be moving on to a world where letters of recommendation would be critical currency, and that perhaps we should take into account perhaps needing letters of recommendation from our teacher corps instructors, etc. a tragically laughable position, yes. i'm usualy wary of the term "proffessionalism," but it seems nevertheless applicable in contrast.

    ii. instructor B suggested hope

    class concluded with the line: "hopefully you can actually use something you picked up today."

    the Bloom-gap of the ellipses. "here's stuff. you're on your own to integrate it into your daily practice, but let it be known that down the line you'll be ask to reflect on its worth." i'm not interested in hope. neither am i interested in worth divorced from application, at least in the case where i need to survive as a teacher next week and all i'm asked to engage in today is a head-nod excercise about rubrics being pretty. sure, i'll raise my hand when you check for prettiness, but i'm still going to be scrambling next week to - you know - teach. and i'll create an activity that uses a rubric when i've got things under control, and i can breathe creatively for a second or two. but it'll take time to get there because i'm still figuring out what it means to teach math, and you're asking me to solve a linear system when i don't know how to graph lines. so the assessment mess gathers on the pile of "helpful tips," "how to's," "do's and don'ts," and "in a nutshells" - and i return to sunday with more stuff that "hopefully i can actually use," and no clue where to start, or how to start, or why to start.

    iii. classmate C prevails

    amidst this all, i notice a teacher corps member sitting beside me, writing a lesson plan. she's crouching down in her seat, curling away from all awkward power posturings and balloons of hope, and actually creating something for her classroom. a handout on one of the assessment strategies is on the desk, and she's got her eyes darting between this an a legal pad, all the while shrinking away from notice - as if her actions are somehow criminal. she's writing a lesson plan. it is beautiful: a moment where someone is actually making a value judgement on the information presented, and applying it - trying it out. there are scratched out ideas all over the paper - because it takes quite some time to develop all of these things - but pieces are being brought together, another fragile day is slowly being fitted with a structure. i watch her, and it's clear that this is the sort of time that should be spent by and with all of these brilliant people, amidst all of these powerful resources, and it's highly upsetting that it has to happen in a fugitive moment. it is as if we have to go out of our way to engage productively in actually applying the things that we're only presented with the hope of actually using. futhermore, these aren't difficult things to learn; it's not too much of a trouble to figure out what "peer assessment" means. but they are difficult things to apply and integrate into one's practice. yet, this is the very thing that we are left to do on our own - lest we risk the wrath of instuctor A, and crouch down amidst his fuming to try and actually develop as a teacher.

    [i have no more conclusory sweeps. i'm very tired, and this is a very long post. thank you for reading, if you have. i will try and reflect more on my jim hill classroom soon; it all seems like a teacher corps drama, i'm sure.]


    a recipe for bees

    a recipe for bees:

    Kill a young bull, and bury it in an upright position so that its horns protrude from the ground. After a month, a swarm of bees will fly out of the corpse.

    a recipe for the best sleep in your life:

    Stay up until 5 in the morning arguing with brilliant people about the inadequacies of the program you belong to, and (a) the indirect value of its inadequacies - namely, good arguments with brilliant people (b) the feasibility/worth of creating a satisfactory/sufficient/flexible program within the same basic model. After a day of attending mildly relevant classes for that program, the best sleep in your life will overcome you.


    15 hours of bliss and I'm still tired. Highway 7 was cheap and lifeless - littered with sooty, wasted puffs from cotton season - and a beam of sunlight pounded my solar plexus. I drifted in and out of sleep as Jake and I listened to taped lectures by/panel discussions with B.F. Skinner.


    you are your own special (brown) snowflake

    this was my calculus class's conclusion after today's morning announcements (our principal likes to take about 5 minutes each day talking over the PA about how special we all are and how wonderful it is to be at school today - things which are nevertheless partially true). i had written "you are your own special snowflake" on the board, and - upon a student's apt observation that none of them were white - carrotted in the word "brown," much to our collective laughter and approval.

    in other news, i'm failing a lot of kids - many of whom never having received lower than a B before.

    also - i'm settling in to some sort of akward rhythm. my horizon of survival has moved beyond "tomorrow," and into a sense of "this week" as a breathable interval. next - i imagine - will be "the next couple of weeks," and somewhere along the line i'll have a sense of "the term," and "the year."


    he's my uncle

    lord i'm tired of that post.


    voicing concern

    (this blog is in reference to my experience in/frustration with my every-other-satuday classes at ole-miss for the teacher corps. primary audience, mtc instructors/administrators. however, i hope it's readable for mtc members and others. i apologize for the lack of context, but it's long enough as is.)

    - i'm in total agreement with jake about the relative unclarity of our classroom objectives, as well as the overwhelming sense of a lack of preparation/direction in classroom procedings.

    - as for last week's rebound of "we're digging a little deeper," and "we're taking it to the next level" in regard to the purpose of the STAI lesson plan requirements, this was uncomfortably countered a few minutes later later with "some of you may ask 'why?' [...] well, just put it down" in regard to the same topic. my concern is that "why" is exactly the forum for "digging a little deeper," and that i have no real sense of why listing in a lesson plan the procedures for both a teacher and a student adds any realistic insight to the practice of teaching - beyond the level of one being called to offer minor contextual arrangements of that practice. sure - all these "wait until you're older" maneuvers probably correlate with an indirect richness over time and experience, but so many things in this program seem cripplingly indirect, contingent, and peripheral - merely setting up and head-nodding at rote performances in spaces where analyis, growth, and reflection should happen - and do happen upon an individual's coming to terms with the langauge of the task at hand - but doing nothing to promote, inspire, direct, explain, or prompt that analysis, growth, or reflection than deferring to the strangely ironic argument of inexperience - that is, if the purporteed richness of these lessons is always dependent on the alibi of time, then why are they being presented to a group of people for which time is exactly their definitional limitation? so, by being presented with a veiled, referential, inaccessible text of substance ("we're digging a littler deeper"), and a castration of the inquiry necessary to provide that substance ("just put it down"), all i seem to be left with is a sense of inefficiency as a teacher - by mythical definition of my rookie status - which continually runs up against a smug ingroup/outgroup dismissal of any analytical engagement with those practices. so, while i can surely perform by mimicry with those tools (re: the toolbox metaphor of the summer) i've been handed down from above, i am contintually been prevented any connection with their purpose, meaning, construction, adaptability, or limitation. to run with the image: just keep hammering at that nail, and - by the way - here's a hammer with a shiny new handle by a guy named howard gardner; it's clearly better than the last one - don't you agree? well, sure, but why am i hammering again?

    - the continued response to all this is: wait until the next class. wait until germaine's methods. wait until doctor mullins. wait until you're older. wait until you're ready. there is clearly a reluctance to "theory" by the teacher corps, but this seems to be more on the definitional lines of academic politics - the production of the hyperlinguistic, the detached, and the critical versus the dataplay of the watery psychological, the name-branded, and the "studies show" - than as a reflection of classroom reality. we are continually shown theory, fed theory, asked to repeat theory (in fact, everything we've been show is some name-tagged theoretical trend or other), but prevented from absorbing or repsonding to it. bloom's what have you and skinner's views on pigeons are are highly theoretical approaches, and yet are passed off with bizzarre and reductive "practical" credence by the questionable logos of psychology-as-science, and in their dissemination become detached and meaningless hoops for all of us to jump through in our lengthy self-promoting process of not being ripped to shreds in the classroom - all the while neither thinking of the classroom as a visceral, complicated system of systems, nor as an series of articulated, empirical humanness (re: the theory vs. not-theory polemic), but as a weird, meaningless plug-and-play of instruments, models, and tools - all - in fact - deriving from some rich, valuable thought or other, which is nevertheless forever locked away in the promises of a more meaningful future, for which we must merely survive long enough in order to attain, for which we are provided tools explained only in form.

    - after this rant, then what? and, "why" the rant - to make a meta-turn? well, let's call a spade a spade. either our saturdays are well-dressed instructions on how to fill out the STAI instrument in order for us to fulfill the NCATE (sp?) requirements, or they're not. if they are, then we shouldn't pretend otherwise, and utilize our time best so that we can just replicate the form (perhaps time in the computer lab to do the research we are hastily and unclearly assigned, or time to create rough drafts of STAI requirements while also communing in subject areas, or other exercises focused on fulfilling requirement standards that we don't particuarly need to be read to us every other saturday). if our saturdays are not this glorified STAI fill-in-the-blanks, then perhaps our objectives should be to come out of saturday with something that will help on monday, and not merely on a contingent or force-fit, force-fed level. right now, everything seems so artificial, detached, and/or jargon heavy to have anything to do with the 120 kids i'm responsible for every day. the irony is that all these silly instruments, models, and tools were developed to exactly manage this sort of repsonsibiliy - but if i have neither access to the theoretical, analytical, or scientific foundations of these objects (and a 2-page off-the cuff essay on top of a week of survival teaching won't cut it), nor any dedicated, direct venue for creating personal value for and articulation of these objects (this may be a more amenable approach for the anti-academic ethos of mtc), these are wholly and laughably obsolete on monday morning. all the bloom's in the world will do nothing for my performance in the classroom if i have no investment in their value, nor reason/time to develop such an investment.

    - at some point we should start to give serious thought as to whatever it is we're doing or want to be doing in the classroom, and how and why we may be able to attain these goals. i'm part of a class of 27 brilliant, dedicated individuals who seem more than willing to invest intellectually and creatively in their approach towards the classroom (else they wouldn't have signed up for this insanity), and it seems there is an institutional glass ceiling that's severing the hoops of saturday from the frustrations of monday, as opposed to infusing the discoveries of saturday with the desires for a better monday. what it will take to help produce a meaningful, relevant connection - i don't particuarly know - but i do know that whatever's happening right now is completely insufficient, and at times depressingly counterproductive.


    rock you like an overused cultural metaphor

    e-mail cut-and-paste session, dealing with katrina's effect on jackson, and returning to school after the storm.

    here's a post-katrina status e-mail i sent on sept 5:

    when katrina made its way to jackson on its trek north through ms, it was still a level 1 hurrricane. fortunately, jackson was on the western side of the eye, so - while we did get hit by a hurricane - we were spared the brunt of the storm. i had the rare opportunity of sitting on my porch and staring in awe as 60-80mph winds tested the trees in our neighborhood.

    in the aftermath, 97% of jackson was without power (mostly due to fallen trees), and about 2,500 structures withstood some sort of damage (again, mostly due to fallen trees). strangely, my friend ari's house was in the lucky 3% with power, so my roommate and i bagged up our refrigerator and headed over to his place for a lot of trivial pursuit and air conditioning. within 2 days, our house got its power back (right now, about 20,000 jackson houses are still in the dark) - and this morning the boil water alert was lifted for the whole city.

    as for the schools, all of last week was cancelled - as no one had power, and the roads were littered with fallen trees, power lines, etc. this week, we'll start on thursday if we're lucky, but we've got to deal with the gas shortage (no gas in jackson for a day or two last week, then 4+ hr lines at the stations that were open, and now a little easier), the fact that the district lost a lot of food when the cafeteria freezers/refrigerators lost power, and the perhaps thousands of gulf coast refugee children that need to be accomodated for the near future.

    as for post-post-katrina status, sent this evening (sept 18):

    the thursday-friday school week after the hurricane were my two worst days of teaching, by far. students had been out of contact with classroom behavioral norms for quite a while, and it was like day 1 - but with less direction/preparation.

    things calmed last week, and i'm getting closer to having systems that work: systems for classroom management, systems for planning lessons, systems for conducting class. at this point, it seems absurd that we as a culture romanticize the incredible burden of teaching as a "vocation," or "calling," instead of restructuring the teaching culture/process so as to not nearly kill young teachers, and/or desensitize a large number of those that survive. that is, i'm not particularly convinced that the honorableness of my intentions or actions eclipses the intensely uphill battle i'm facing on nearly all fronts. it seems more reasonable that this situation gains a lot of its mythic value as an act of cognitive dissonance - which may go a long way in setting up the widespread reluctance to change or self-criticize that is observed in many areas of education, and is a wonderful counterbalance to teaching's strange cultural currency: as an afterthought of a profession [do we honestly think of teachers as professionals?], as a low-priority economic space in the public sphere [look at the state/local/national budgetary struggle and/or dismissal over education; look at salaries], and as a highly feminized social performative [agreeable, primary and middle school teaching is most strongly seen as a women's job space, while post-secondary education is seem as a more masculine sphere, with high school is somwhere in the middle. yet, even at the level of the post-secondary, the analytic and creative intellect are vastly de-masculinized when divorced from property-accruing production. consider the social concept of a nerd, or the effeminate poet, which are stigmatizing agents more or less meant to protect the physical, unthinking/feeling predominance of the phallus (thinking being something above and beyond the effort level of "common sense"). an interesting historical enacting of this is the late-19th century struggle to establish the study of literature (i.e. not classics) as a respectable academic pursuit (i.e. a man's work), which resulted in a highly rationalized/scientified approach to the value of a poem or novel. this was enhanced in the post-wwii g.i. bill world, where a bunch of all-american boys wanted their god-given bachelor's degree, and a bunch of tweed coat/dandy professors had to teach them percy bysshe shelley and jane austen. and along came gertrude stein...]

    (i imagine the citizens of "anonymous" will jump on me for the above. i'll start you off: "how dare you ____________")


    required mcblog: mtc fall 05, edse 600 blog 1

    Evaluate Your Classroom Management Plan

    What changes have you made to your plan now that you are in the classroom? What parts of your plan worked/didn't work? Has your philosphy of clasroom management changed?

    at the level of operation, the plan is as follows (philosophy of classroom management will be dealt with at end). comments will follow each section, in brakets:

    I. Classroom Rules
    1. come prepared for class - mentally and physically.
    2. do your own work , unless directed otherwise.
    3. when in Math class, do math.
    4. do not interfere with the learning process.

    [I.1. i've yet to interperet this with any consistency, so possible breaches have yet to receive much response. i did, however, work this rule into my gradebook - as i collect my students's binders from time to time and check for proper organization/completion. in terms of management, i should either (a) spot-check, (b) respond to repeat offenders, or (c) develop a more easily measurable/observable rule.

    I.2. although students responded with a muffled chorus of grins when i mentioned how serious i was about academic dishonesty, my first quizzes seemed to run smoothly - calm atmosphere, few wandering eyes (i called out the ones i saw, and had mentioned that (a) if you need to look off of your paper to think, look up [thanks to the teacher corps person who i stole that from], and (b) i'm not going to get into arguments of interpretation, i'm just going to mark down a zero), no questionable answer patterns in work shown. however, i'm nowhere near establishing a system for checking for academic dishonesty on homework. at this point, i'm just going to promote/encourage honesty, and keep on moving.

    I.3. perhaps my most comically observed rule. i've put a blue crate in a corner of my room, and have labelled it the "not-math" box via a piece of paper displaying the words "not-math," and an arrow pointing down to the crate. if i see items out on students desks that do not pertain to our math class (agreeably, most objects have something to do with math in the abstract, and my kids are more than intelligent enough to use this angle to no end), they go in the crate for the rest of the block. i've gotten radios, novels, photo albums, notes, and projects for other classes. students respond with a mixture of humor and respect. after a few weeks, desks have been pretty clear of not-math.

    I.4. my most elastic, most used, and most functionally vague rule. seems to be a catch-all for disruption, and it focuses on the shared classroom environment - not just my pedagogical desires for hegemony. it's elicited my most spontaneous policemen, as students quiet each other because they want to learn.]

    II. Consequences
    0. verbal warning
    1. loss of choice for friday activity
    2. detention
    3. detention, letter home
    4. office referral, call home, possible parent/teacher conference

    severe clause: office referral, call home, possible parent/teacher conference

    [*added, after students - in a brilliant move - insisted that i give a warning to the individual from whom i confiscated my first cell phone (not allowed at jim hill) - because that was the first step on my discipline ladder (well, it was a "zero" step, but it was a good defense nevertheless) :

    School Policy Clause: Disciplinary actions dictated by school policy (e.g. food/gum restrictions, cell phone prohibitions) will be dealt with according to mandated action, though violations will also be eligible for Mr. Molina’s consequences.

    II.0. as i feared, it took me a while to get off of a mushy dependence on this non-consequence (which is why i marked it "0" from the get-go), and actually assist the management of my classroom by actively disciplining. i spent a good week or so trying to get kids to calm down and stop talking - and i was doing this by patience and overdistributed warnings. the result was a shakey 5 minutes of productivity, then a return to disorder. to get out if this mess, i began to give explicit warnings ("X, you've been warned," or "X, this is your warning") when a student was literally on the starting block of the discipline ladder. this elicited a better response, and was a more comfortable transition point into actual disciplinary action.

    II.1. this consequence means nothing without a lived example of a friday activity, so it's a wash until students (a) know what may be taken away from them, and (b) value what may be taken away from them. also, i've been uncertain as to whether or not i should treat this as a class-wide consequence, or as one that acts on an individual. the former seems to risk punishing the innocent, but the latter needs a good sytem for recording offenders, and alternate - somehow "not fun" - activities to do on friday.

    II.2. detentions have been my most trustworthy opening salvo of real consequences. a class seems to reign itself in pretty quickly when you start backing yourself up with paper contracts that bind a student to 30min of your undivided attention. however, of the 15 or so detentions i've handed out, about 6 have served (immediate office referral for no-shows), and a significant amount of the rest simply hand back the detention with a smirk or scoff - at which point i have no problem sending them to the office, for an understadably harsher fate.

    II.3. i kick myself every day for this: i've totally dropped the ball on parent contacts. i can give you plenty of excuses (last week's was a hurricane), but it's all bullshit at the end of the day; i need to get on the phone and establish a relationship with these homes. then i'll be in a position to work with guardians to deal with discipline issues.

    II.4. i've got a great asst. principal of discipline. i'm blessed for that. he's backed me up on the kids i've sent to him, and students seem to respect/fear him. one thing i've picked up on, though: always check up with the disciplinarian after you've written a kid up (do this at lunch or before/after school). because, students are more than intelligent enough to leave your class with a referral, walk around the building for a while, and return to your classroom with a story and/or a forged signature. i've caught a lot of students by just asking my disciplinarian if he saw X or Y this morning; it's a simple safeguard, and extremely effective.]

    III. Rewards

    1. verbal praise/acknowledgement
    2. positive call home
    3. display of work

    4. math games/puzzles
    5. creative/expressive projects
    6. Alice activities/party

    [III.1. kind of like the happy side of II.0 - as much of a non-reward as it is a non-consequence. nevertheless, i let students know if they've said something on the right page - and i'm not too discriminatory with my engouraging tag of "brilliant" in response to a creative thought/attempt.

    III.2. again, i fail on the homefront.

    III.3. i fail here, too. seem's like i'm more of an asshole than a fun guy. hopefully this will equal out in time. i've got various visual projects in infant stages, and student work will find its way to my wall.

    III.4. my saving grace during the first days of school (the ones when the schedule isn't totally up and running, and you don't know what to do with your kids for a whole 95 minute block) was this deck of playing cards with math puzzles on them. i've developed it into an Alice activity for my fridays. good way to work logic/reasoning in through the back door. although, it's sad that russell and whitehead - two mathematicians/philisophers who proposed that all math could be reduced to logical symbols, and (do to the impossibility of the proposal) failed - have been reduced to the sideshow mathematical thought.

    III.5. fail. this will somehow tie-in to III.3. two things i have done (though don't get to the creative/expressive level): a linear systems assignment that dealt with cell phone plans; a reality-check assignment that dealt with degree status and income level, and math literacy and debt.

    III.6. Alice is still alive. this blog post is already way too long, and i'm not going to go into explaning Alice in full. suffice it to say that Alice is short for Alice in Wonderland, that "lewis carroll" was the pen name of a british mathematician named charles dodgson, that i've got this crazy idea (as do plenty of other people) that the things we find interesting about Alice are mathematical things, and that i'm designing a bunch of projects/activities around the Alice theme.]

    Philosophy of Classroom Management

    - Learning - to a large degree - is a process of interpersonal/intrapersonal discourse.
    - A successfull classroom management approach should be able to frame a group of individuals within a physical space in a way that encourages such discourse, and is at the same time able to deter individuals or groups from leaving and/or disrupting the moment of the learning environment.
    - The moment of the learning environment is a moment of intellectual activity, and the classroom manager is responsible for promoting this activity within an individual, and directing this activity towards productive and cooperative goals.

    [No substantive changes. My critique of my plan seems to maintain this philosophy.]

    required mcblog: mtc fall 05, math hw #1

    (note: i seem to have lost track of when i'm supposed to do these things by, and which one's i'm supposed to do. i have a "course outline" in front of me - listing assignments, accompanied with some notes [the first one - assigned for 8-20 - says "labor day weekend"] - but i don't remember if we'd already done these responses in class, or if i was supposed to transpose them onto ye olde blogge. either way, i'll occasionally post my mtc assignments, as directed [or as best as i can understand that i am being directed]. along those lines, an assessment of my classroom management plan will come soon.)

    1. think of your secondary teachers of mathematics. hopefully at least one of them was a motivating factor in leading you to become a teacher of mathematics. list the characteristics of that teacher that helped you learn more about mathematics.

    strangely enough, a primary motivator for my becoming a math teacher was long-felt tension between the general lack of quality mathematics instruction that i recieved before high school, and the impressively efficient education i recieved to "catch up" before college. the experience (or non-experience) led me to wonder as to how well or not well math was being approached in general as both curriculum and culture.

    regardless, i entered high school at a basic level of 9th grade math, and - upon initiative and encouragement - exited on the higher end of the BC calculus spectrum. furthermore, while i encountered a few crazy-eyed inspirational sorts of instructors along the way, i'd be more truthful in my attributions if i credited my staying afloat to a more modest, thorough sort: mr. matsumoto.

    i had matz for 1.5 -2.5 math years squished into 1 school year: alg ii/trig and limits/pre-calc. that's double the class time and double the homework - all coming off of a jump-start into alg i and geometry. and - like i said - he wasn't the most energetic, or inspirational (as least in the here-and-now sense) teacher in the world - but he was patient, clear, and convincing. i learned what i needed to learn to get where i needed to be if i wanted to take calculus, and that was that. granted, i had a hell of a time in BC with a total nutjob of a teacher, but i couldn't have stayed afloat without the foundation i'd built in what seemed to be a surprisingly small amount of time.

    so, yeah, a list:

    - modest
    - thorough
    - patient
    - clear
    - convincing

    2. do you think you could/should become a clone (as far as teaching is concerned) of the teacher you described [above]? why or why not?

    well, sure. actually, i'm torn about whether i should break out the red pants and the wild eyes just yet - because it seems that the kids in most of my classes would benefit more from thoroughness than what could be a misfed off-the-wall creativity. so, i actually seem to prefer the mr. mats coolness and rigour. then again, i may be projecting my own high school outlook onto my own high school students, as i seem more prepared to open the pandora's box of mathematic creation with my calculus students (then again, i've also putting a halt to it there because there's so much pre-calc they don't seem to be functional with). then again, there has to be some motivating force for absorbing all of this thoroughness, and although i seemed to be providing one for myself by dreaming of jumping into BC calc, these kids may need a little magic primer to get them to digest. then again, at the end of the day, it always seems that the relative need for functional mathematical literacy preempts the luxury of baffling oneself with mathematical poetry. then again, what may be preventing the worth of literacy is the lack of poetry. then again, i'm sure it's somewhere in the goddamn middle, but i'm choosing to get there by starting on mr. mats's side of the table, and inching my way into the mad hatter. so, we'll learn the rules before we learn what it can mean to break them.


    parry 2

    “The children of Mississippi need teachers who have high expectations and who actually believe in them.”

    before i pick up margaret from the jackson int'l airport (up an running even with some of the roof missing) - a moment on "expectation" (we'll worry about belief later, i guess).

    i have a serious problem with what expectation purports to effect, as well as the underbelly of the well-meaning mantra of "high expectation." as with my hair-splitting on the concept of encouragement, my worry is a worry about reality. and, to the extend that a mouthfull of postructuralists will parade in with statements like "all worries are worries of reality," or "there may not be anything real or non-imaginatory about the reality that you're trying to face up to, so let us have our balloons": my worry is that the projections of reality that i'm critical of are ones that are highly dissonant with a probability of functional actualization. that is: these myths of reality are different than those myths of reality on the grounds that these myths are observed to be true in the sense that they offer a more or less consistent explanation of the world, and those myths are observed to be false on the sense that they fail to match up with lived experience or even a plausible trajectory of lived experience. in other words: how does expectation negotiate the real? how does it re-emphasize the non-real? or, how sure are we of the playing field upon which we’re drawing our expectations?

    expectation goes hand in hand with structures of power. in fact, the profession of an expectation is a projection of a power-relation (most of these are innoccuous, of course: "i expect you to wear pants"). however, this is exactly the space where i'm afraid of expectation (especially the wonders of high expectation) getting a bit too heavy-handed. for, in a world articulated by expectation, the terms of success are controlled and managed specifically by he or she who expects, and underdetermined by he or she who performs. this becomes a problem in many instances, but i'm particularly interested in the case where a separate, internally consistent articulation of performance, or utterance of subtance, is nevertheless brought forward by an individual or a culture, and disregarded due to its failure to reciprocate with the predetermined scope of expectation or high-expectation. at the end of the day, an overemphasis on expectation may curtail an individual’s ability to observe performance, especially the type of performance that is relevant to the performer but cannot be expressed in the expectation language of the expecting individual.

    response 1: so we’re not supposed to have expectations?

    i haven’t said this at all. i’ve said that i’m skeptical of expectation. i’m more worried about understanding the terms of success and performed success as articulated by a group itself, before i begin to have any confidence in what i can reasonably expect and how i can reasonably expect these things from them. however, even though i’m going to most definitely develop expectation systems as a reaction to my experiences – we are creatures of pattern – i’m more or less determined/committed to try my best to not put too much weight on expectation, and rather focus on observing and responding to things as they are, and not merely in reference to how i expect them to be.

    with expectation, a performance by an individual or group is ontologically bound to either (1) fail expectation, (2) meet expectation, or (3) exceed expectation. with (1), the person doing the expecting is more worried about the absence of his or her own terms rather than the presence of what has actually been performed – and in the event that his or her own terms are irrelevant, he or she is at a huge risk of eclipsing substance with petty frustration. with (2), the person doing the expecting is more or less complacent about the success of the expectation model, and there’s a risk of not analyzing or being critical of its terms because the exchange is smooth (which may allow a long obsolete expectation system to go overlooked, because – while it fails to produce anything worthwhile for relations outside of its boundaries, or fails to distinguish those things being produced from the arbitrariness of its own scaffolding – it still gets the results that it wants). with (3) you run the risk of patronizing a group or individual by again measuring the performance with your own terms; again, the person doing the expecting may be vastly under-evaluating what does exist by being more or less surprised that there are performances that may exceed his or her pre-analysis of a group.

    response 2: that’s not what that person meant; you’re just force-fitting it into some rehashed academic (or, gasp, post-academic) jargon.

    often, there’s a huge disjoint between what a person intends to say, and what is actually expressed by the words used to convey that intent. i find the space between these two linguistic forces to be rather important. while i apologize that i’m more or less over-writing my way into this space, that does not mean that it does not exist. that what i wrote about at length above about the word "expectation" is not what a person meant by using the word "expecatation" is exactly my problem with the fact that words like “expectation” have been watered down to the afterthought of rhetorical reflex. it is a word of powerful consequence that translates into large scale behavioral trends that are hardly analyzed enough – which is why we’re saying words but not meaning that we’re saying them, or at least not worried about the effect of their meaning.

    i’d go on – i’m sure – but it’s my bedtime. anyway: how's that for second-rate cultural theory?



    to revisit myself, and perhaps shed some context on my statements in light of the tut-tut brigade. i’ve chosen to respond – and to respond at length – because the voice and content of the frustrations with my last post are common ones. in this light, their anonymous tags are all the more fitting, and it is then fortunate that they've reduced my own thoughts to the familiar battleground of conventional rhetoric and polemic, because it’s afforded me an opportunity to reflect on those position and counterpositions that will seem inescapable in the years to come – both as i form opinions, and as i translate the opinions of others.

    this first post is a monster, and i’m going to take a break now. since school is out until next tuesday due to hurricane katrina, i’ll do more reflection before time is up. feel free to write your angry or not-angry responses to what i’ve said. i’d appreciate substantive discourse, but i also welcome the chaff vacuum of the anonymous hissy-fitter or rah-rah-rah-er (as - of course - i risk the chaff vacuum with my own overdosing of overwriting).

    “…how dare you ever tell a student that they might not go to college. It is our job as teachers to ENCOURAGE students, and never to discourage them.”

    there is a fine and important line between intending to engage a student in a relationship with his or her own academic reality, and actually discouraging that student. by noting to my students that – in light of multiple attempts to assess their prior content knowledge – it seems that they have a lot of work to do if they’re going to graduate from high school (let alone survive in institutes of higher education), i’ve chosen to hover closer to that line than a warmer and cuddlier reach-for-the-stars advocate would, but – i assure you – my attitude is not intended to be one of active discouragement. rather, i’ve noticed (through the imperfect lenses of my own cultural, attitudinal, and experiential biases, yes) a couple of things:

    (1) even if these kids were on track – in a content level sense – to graduate from high school and survive in college, they’d have a lot of work to do before they got there (re: the assertion that any student is at risk – necessarily, mind you – of not attending college.) and i apologize for my tough-love attitude, but it seems that a certain level of self-awareness and self-doubt is critical to the level of internal motivation and innovation that cultivates actual success. furthermore, i’m skeptical as to how grounded a reach-for-the-stars attitude is in the process it takes to actually get to the stars; that is, i’m at a point where i can either follow these unchecked dreams up with “you can do anything, as long as you put your mind to it,” or “if you’re not putting your mind to it, you’re at a huge risk at not really doing much of anything.” these two statements are – mind you – logically indistinguishable – so if one is encouragement, so must the other be (or be allowed to be). i’ve chosen to lean towards the latter because it seems like we’ve been lost as a culture in the first half of the former conditional – the “you can do anything” – and that we’ve got a lot of people harping on the benefits of possibility, and then displacing failure out on purely external factors when they don’t become doctors and lawyers. we’ve forgotten what it means to “put your mind to it,” and it seems like we’ve got a whole lot of kids that of course understand the “doing anything part,” but have little care for being called to task on whether or not they’ve been “putting their minds to it.” sure, its totally within their powers to not put their minds to anything, but they should be reminded at some point that this isn’t a very good magnet for success. the way to remind them – of course – is not to discourage them, or to rant at their stupidity and ignorance, but to find a way to convince them to engage in invested progress. sometimes, the spark for such re-engagement is a so-called “reality check.” sometimes it’s worthwhile to remind kids what it means – from the reference point of attained proficiency, or the lack thereof – to graduate from high school, what it means to go to college, and what it means to be a doctor. they’re already well-trained enough to want these things in a distant sense, and they even know – from a distance – what it takes to approach these wants, but i’m not so sure that they’ve been called to task on how well they’ve synthesized and/or embodied their wants with their strategies of approach.

    (2) it seems there is a fair amount of understandably self-protective humor – admixed with denial – about the crippling lack of mathematical literacy present in my classes (note: i’m not writing “the crippling lack of mathematical literacy present in my classes” because i somehow don’t believe in my kids, or think that they’re unintelligent people, but because there actually is a huge lack of proficiency in mathematics present in my classroom. true, my own infancy as a teacher may skew my ability to accurately translate proficiency, but i’d venture to guess that there’s only a limited number of ways to interpret the fact that a surprising number of my kids – these are 10-12 graders that “plan” on going to college – simply don’t know how to add fractions, or plot points on coordinate axes. my issue – i’ll repeat myself before this monster post is up, i’m sure – is that i somehow have to explain to these kids that the thin motivational creed of “college” will have to be backed up at some point with whatever academically-bounded things these kids do or do not have a functional grasp of, and that if there isn’t a functional grasp of a certain area of the high school curriculum, there more or less needs to be one before they can realistically activate the “college” creed), and

    (3) there is a gigantic, gigantic operative disjoint between (i) the expressed goals of many of these students and (ii) a lived experience of those systems extending from, through, and around these goals – to such a degree that i’m uncertain as to how grounded the words “ceo,” “obgyn,” or – in days of yore – “astronaut” carry with them any realized sense of the process, function, or rigorous attainment involved – which are more or less necessary to each of these performatives. so, while of course it’s great that an individual wants to be a lawyer, and that he/she can write down the assumed/trained attitudes that follow from this cultural signifier (e.g. “i need to study hard, and get good grades, and pay attention in class”), there is still a massive gap between the successful digestion and regurgitation of a cultural ideal, and any sort of understanding that an individual may be falling short of that ideal at any moment – which is why it’s an ideal. that is, it’s relatively trivial to say that i want to be a lawyer, or say that i need to study hard and pay attention, if these ideas are neither grounded nor called to task. furthermore neither this student nor i can separate this profession of a branded, reduced cultural idea from the fact that the performed role of “lawyer” actually necessitates a certain high-level proficiency, which may or may not be being reached by this student at any point in time. this last clause, which sparked a “how dare you” from the cloud of anonymity, is something that is simply true – and i find it a bit of a disservice to students if were going to so rashly protect them from the truth of risk – which is actually nothing more than a latent championing of their own ability. saying a student might not go to college is another way of saying that he/she can go to college (both of which are ways of denying the case that a child either “will go to college” or “will not go to college”), and if he she gets there, it’s because he/she actually did something about it, and not that it’s going to be handed to him/her because he/she is smiling and hopeful.

    “I have seen children in the Delta be contacted by Harvard.”

    that this would be considered in any way a response (for reasons other than its emotional appeal) is exactly my problem. of course – in a given population – there’s probably going to be children “contacted” by harvard (whatever that means). this is not even to mention the possible story-book incentives (not bad ones, mind you) that would be added to harvard’s interest in the delta (one is just reflected above); nor the considerations of building a diverse community at harvard, or the affirmative action mindset that would precondition such contacts (they do, of course exit – which again, is more or less a good thing). this is just talking about the mere probability of a strong candidate or candidates for upper-tier higher education coming out of a given set of human beings. this is of course going to be the case; there will be harvard-caliber people. (how’s that for expectation?)

    however, when people are reaching for success stories as defense for the very system that produces this or that success, what seems to be sometimes forgotten is that the existence of a success story is predicated upon the mere fact that it is an exception to the rule. that is, we only have the concept of a success story when there is a system that fails at consistently or naturally (to approximate the term) producing success. somehow these children rose above the hardship of the delta, and made it to the big and beautiful college in the sky. rags to riches. american dream. which is both great and wonderful, and i’m sure these were brilliant, wonderful kids – and that they deserved to be contacted by harvard (on whatever conditions deserving such a thing are grounded), and that they had a good chance of being successful there or any other college of their choice (heaven forbid amherst), etc. but – and this is where the success story argument is moot – i’m not concerned with these kids, because their academic existence – though undoubtedly impressive – is improbable, not only because of the selectivity of the harvard brand, but because of the environmental conditions these kids have to work with – which is exactly why they’re called “success stories.” what i’m worried about – then – is the massive level of un-success that is more or less cultivated in these environments, and particularly these schools. forget kids getting contacted by harvard – how many kids in the delta are going to four-year colleges? how many are graduating? how many are graduating high school? how many have functional competence in mathematics? how many can add fractions? how many can read? now, the numerical answers for these questions are staggering – both as stand-alone figures, and in comparison to other areas of the country. this – of course – makes the case of the harvard delta student all the more impressive and all the more irrelevant.

    now, it actually is the case that schools in mississippi are failing – and failing miserably – to prepare students – and i’m talking about all students – to go to college, to graduate college, and to function as literate adults. (i may be young and inexperienced, but i’m not completely imperceptive.) of course, plenty of these people will end up functioning as literate adults, but i’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s a development only nominally assisted by the schools they attend – at least as systematized institutions (this is condition bars the case of those “teacher changed my life” cases). no parading of a token harvard student (remember, exceptional intelligence exists naturally in populations) can avoid this. no courtesy call from an upper tier college can somehow overshadow the fact – the mere fact – that there’s a whole class in the only IB program in the state of mississippi (i.e. the one i teach in at jim hill) that is entering algebra ii with a crippling lack of knowledge of basic algebra.

    also, (i) if the school system weren’t failing miserably (at least in the sense of having enough teachers to teach in it), my program wouldn’t exist – so, in a sense, mississippi would be “better off without [me],” in a very literal sense, (ii) if the school system weren’t failing miserably, we wouldn’t have to stretch for the most hyperbolic of success stories to defend it; we’d merely respond to such outlandish claims with the sober realization that our kids going to the public schools are learning, graduating, and succeeding – which, in all operative senses, they’re not.

    at the end of the day, i’m talking about the system of education, and how it is failing students in droves. the kids in my classes are beautiful and intelligent – they are so necessarily because they’re people. however, there seems to be a failure in how this system manages this beauty and intelligence – which is tragic and frustrating. students from the delta going to harvard should not be some shining success story, it should be simply the natural result of a healthy, consistent school system. students in these schools should be taught to reach for the stars, but they should also be called to task on how they are or are not navigating towards these goals. to fail this is to run into a quagmire of pissed-off pipe dreamers and overcompensatory diamonds in the rough.


    chalk it up to righteous indignation

    [copied - and mildly abridged/added to - from an e-mail to my "old college buddies"]

    the life of a carpetbagger is a jolly one. the boiled shrimp, the fried catfish, and things of that sort are good; the belles are nice to look at, but can't hold their salt in conversation [or haven't yet in my experience]. still singing to my cahoon for that one.

    teaching algebra ii, and one section of calculus. content knowledge ranges from dismal to minimal - some motivated kids, but a lot of those for which the ideals and methods of our traditionall curricular outlook and environmental management are far from relevant. on the bright/humorous side, it seems that a lot have dropped (or - for the girls - never picked up) the rhetorical echo of "nba star" when prompted about career goals. this has been traded for an unbroken chain of "ceo" or "lawyer" or "obgyn," though not for much of a gain. a lot of kids who are at serious risk of gaining a high school diploma are confusing the finger pointed at the moon with the moon itself; then, when you try and open a dialogue abut the fact that there's a possibility that they (or anyone, for that matter) won't go to college - or graduate from it - some intrepret this as an affront to their natural and/or infinite ability- rather than a subtle wake-up call about the amount of actual ability that is at risk of being wasted. what jackson - and the south (probably the whole country) - needs is a strong black middle class [or, from a deracialized perspetive, a rehased projection structure for opportunity awareness], and it appears that a generation of kids haven't gotten past the i-want-to-be-an-astronaut stage of conceptualizing the future. granted, i'm not sure if whiteness (or even my experience of it) is constructed any differently, but there seems to be a grander absurdity of missing-the-point in a 99.9% afro-american public school system that is (a) systematically incompetent on a myriad of levels and (b) more or less numb - perhaps in an understandibly self-protective way - to the conditions of its de facto segratory status, and the malignment of civil liberties and opportunity actualization that seem to plague these neighborhoods as a result. the football games, however, are crazy.

    in a more sitting-at-the-computer-in-my-boxers kind of news, i'm loving jackson. oxford, ms was a bit cooler - more amherstian, and better music; but jackson's a cool place with a lot of messed up things to observe and ponder. i kind of wish teaching involved less baby sitting and environment organizing, but i'm not surprized that this is the case. when you have kids sitting on stacked milk crates and overturned garbage cans because you've run out of desks, it's all you can do to stop them from eating each other. this, and many things like it, seem to stem from [matt] katz's point [in a previous e-mail] of incompetent administrators [he does tfa in st. louis]. it's very clear why teaching retention is so low. it's also very clear how quick-fix programs like TFA or the TeacherCorps seem to have questionable impact [agreably, TeacherCorps - which encourages/trains its members to stay in the educational field - is less "quick fix." however, there's only so much we-can-overcome that can get done behind the broken-record myth of "once i've closed the door in my classroom, i'm in control." honestly, it seems like the return on that control is so minimal, and while you'll get a certain gain in tear-jerking "this teaher changed my life" anecdotes, there's so many simple things that this level of civic missionary work is not approaching, like textbooks, desks, and safety - which are not impossible things to come by.] i've never fully bought into the whole changing the world one kid at a time thing, anyway. i would, however, like to change the world one useless system at a time. but i'm sure i'll get older and wiser.

    oh, i'm also helping out with the cross country team. just running with the kids and stuff. they'd never done a workout in their lives before i ran them ragged for two 600 intervals last wednesday.


    when 36 become 37.

    i promise - to both the unlikely you, and the pieces of me - that i'll write something again substantial in this space at some time. i've been doing too much of the whirlwind, i fear.

    somehow i'm in a newspaper: saving the world , like i do.

    so, my class of 36 became a class of 37; a big ole +1 after i had been stabilized at 36 when i gained one but lost one. we spent the whole period today focusing on being quiet and filling out a worksheet - agreeably, this is perhaps the educational model totally contrary to the needs of this particular set of children ("regular" alg II, as opposed to the vastly more mature IB kids), but i feel as if i need to be able to trust in the relative productivity, managablility, and stability of the environment before i can ever hope to accomplish anything with those kids in this class who choose to actively engage in it. anyway, we had 2 office referrals and 3 detentions during second block; and things seemed to be at a sustained fluidity for a good 70 of the 95 minutes. this is much better than the last two weeks (one office referral, one detention, and a voice-losing mountain of warnings for the whole period), but it's hard to be the militant flavor of disciplinarian (the kids were laughing during the beginning of the period because the tone of my voice had changed so much; they laughed their way to detention, i guess). just gotta keep adjusting, keep working towards a system that will work, and that can be flexible. but we've gotta start simple. we need to be able to achieve a space for independent practice/development.

    in other news, my IB kids - after looking at this: 1995 info about correlation between income level and degree status - seemed ready to ask some interesting questions, starting with "why don't women make as much as men?," and heading towards "why aren't there any white people at jim hill?" before we realized that we were late for lunch. after giving them a some basic info about alexander v. holmes (1970) [which ended ms's wholesale resistance to brown v. topeka (1954)], segregation academies, and white flight - i had this awful feeling that i'm the last person that should be teaching them their own history.

    damn carpetbaggery.


    all of the sand

    nowhere really to begin. at some point i hope to have enough pause to give some informational catch-up.

    suffice it to say that (a) as of today i'm an assistant cross-country coach (b) no one in my classes will sit within 4 seats of me when i take them to lunch (c) i've got a lot of things to work on.


    also: blog spam?


    blood on the sheets.

    misplaced paperwork, 3 ~1/5hr classes, and a major scheduling mess later - i'm still kickin' it.

    just had dinner with jake at a cheap/decent greek place. too tired to rummage for dinner; much too tired to think. i fear that these texts will be less analysis-heavy (a certain number of you applaud), more sparse (a certain number of you are said) as i adjust to all these new patterns. if nothing else, i hope posts to be a best of/bloopers reel from whatever i've gotten mysef into: amherst english major meets jackson public schools.

    as for today, the dreaded day 1 (soon to be followed by the dreaded days 2, 3, 4, and 5), i taught three blocks of alg II after a free block in the beginning of the day - spent mostly with the lesser demons of panic. "blocks" refer to block scheduing - in particular, AB block scheduling - wherein students take four classes on "A" days and four different classes on "B" days, which alternate on the five day classweek. i.e. today was A day, tomorrow will be B day, wednesday will be A day again, etc. also, next week's AB days will be an inversion of this weeks - going BABAB.

    my A day schedule:

    1. free
    2. Alg II
    3. IB Alg II
    4. IB Alg II

    B day:

    1. Calc
    2. IB Alg II
    3. IB Alg II
    4. free

    i had one rowdy class (block 2 - 29 students), and two relaxed ones (blocks 3 and 4 - 6 and 25, respectively). apparantly class sizes will smooth out over the next week or so. who knows.

    the rowdines wasn't so bad. i do need to tighten the screws a little bit on my management policy. perhaps it'll be more functional when we're actually doing work. the students responded quite well when i rose my hands to speak, though would dissolve into chatter at the slightest pause. understandable.

    my IB classes seem promising. the class of 6 was a dream today- no surprise. the larger class - even though they'd been through a long day of housekeeping and forms, did actually engage in my preliminary activity.

    the scheduling mess refers to block 3, which is the lunch block. (n.b. teachers in jackson public schools [JPS] have to escort their kids to the cafeteria, and sit with them. lunch comes somewhere in the middle of block 3). something was a bit off, and i had to hold my kids for 2.5 hrs. as it was a small, very relaxed group - we played logic puzzles and chatted. had i had the rowdy bunch, i may have been eaten alive.

    time to figure out a filing system.


    guillespie became gillespie, and 736B became 736E

    sufficiently moved in. finally clear on my own address. totally, totally exhausted.

    the room is ready. the kids come monday. i've been professionally developed in the past week like you wouldn't believe. also, this seems to envolve an even more reduced form of unrealized theory and underqualified reform than at mtc. that being said, my new god is "literacy across the curriculum."

    time to let down the old hair, see what jackson has to offer in terms of a saturday night.


    you gotta move

    more u-haul woes. no more marcie.

    packing up the apartment, moving down to jackson. more adjustment. more new beginnings.


    last words on my somewhat appropriately dubbed "righteous indignation" in the previous post. n.b. i hope i had left clear indications of my awareness of my own poorly aimed frustration: "well, that was a rant (yes, childish at times). no doubt daniel's wheat to chaff ratio is in true form there. i don't even remember what i sat down to write about. i'm just a little pissed off." in any case,

    1. a structure is a structure. a particular manifestation of a structural problem - which, i admit, is helpful to give when reflecting on the mechanics of experience - is only contingently relevant to a given inductive model. however - and this is where i agree the modifier "righteous" has place - an overemphasis or over-importance of the structural can render the inductive to the reductive, and then to the romantic. this, of course, is where the critical voice becomes the ranting one - when it spins so far away from its object (concerned, indeed, with the momentum of its own subject) that it eclipses its own purpose. so, when making a statement about patterns of structural weakness, it is paramount - if for no other reason than to avoid cheap irony - that one does not let the subject swallow the object.

    2. perhaps - in mind mind - more importantly, when one is barred from gathering information about a situation, he or she is left with so little of a particular manifestion that no consistent conclusions can be made but the reductive. rather than scolding those attempting merely to assess a system that is held from them upon questionable gounds of cultural autonomy, experience, etc., perhaps it's more important here to acknowledge a higher level structural issue, which reinforces a strong subject/object barrier within a system - lending the other to unmendable non-agency, and holding a loophole of "you don't know x" justification for the subject. within this case, the ownership of truth is so strong that an "other" trying to gain access to knowledge - perhaps without any motive but to be able to orient themselves within a system - is suppressed on grounds of definitional ignorance. so, mere attempts to know are percieved as attempts to change - to redefine the object on the axis of truth accessibility, and inquiries about a system are seen as threats to that system. the problem is, an object - even within the definitional truth access of the system - is both expected to respect/understand/concede with the system, but barred from most avenues - besides directed assimilation - that would allow them to do so - and especially barred from those structures utilized by an enforcement of agency.

    for those who could care less about my inability to escape referential mode, an example or two:

    - when a teacher corps member asks a delta administrator about sexual education in mississippi, and the motivations for the particular policy described, he or she is given a non-answer that both indirectly describes the structure - e.g. comments on day care systems, cultural views about both children out of wedlock and the particular legitimate desires of children to have babies, indirect ways in which sex education can be worked into a cirruculum - and hesistant comments about abstinence (i call these indirect, because they fail to address any criterion of policy or non-policy) - and assumes that in asking the question, the given member was (a) opposed to whatever system was in place, and (b) intent on "fixing," or "changing" the system (re: "you can't go change the world"). these assumptions - done on part of the cultural self in response to the cultural other - shift away from discourse (which may have at its end a mutual understanding of cultural attitude and autonomy) and into conflict, wherein one supposedly autonomous culture is struggling with another, and one or the other will eventually "win." true, in the above example, i've failed to mention that the delta administrator may have a fundametally different - and possibly consistent - definition of sexual education, but any substantive momentum towards this awareness is bypassed by the cockfight that ensues.

    - another example, a teacher corps member asks (n.b. not necessarily accuses or implies) a delta administrator about the motivations behind a de facto racially segregated school system - black public and white private - in the delta, and a similar run of non-answers is given (economic determinants, cultural patterns, similar qualities of education). again, i call these non-answers because they are systemically disjoint, and end at the moot comment of "it's too complicated to understand" or "this is just the way it is." however, it's still interesting that all the white kids in a community attend a private school with high rate of college admission - and that, completely in tune with the fact that the ability to purchase college correlates somewhat with the acceptance of one's offspring into college, there is a much, much lower rate of college admission in public schools (clearly, college attendence does not correlate one-to-one with opportunity manifestation or the fulfillment of personal agency, but it's a good indicator) - which of course may feed into the low income, and low degree status of parents who are sending their children to public school (perhaps, to respond to the economics perspective, at times because they can't afford private schools that don't have need-blind admissions), and the students with higher degree status have higher incomes, and send their own children to the appropriate educational venue, and rinse, repeat. this, of course, is all fine and well, unless there are students in these public schools who either want to attend higher education institutions, or parents who want them to do so, and they are effectively prohibited from doing so because things are just they way they are. (p.s. this, of course, is a model - and risks over-reduction. however, when looking at the historical trajectory of the delta, i feel it's not a altogether suprising pattern description. of course, i'm continually barred from learning any substantive information about the situation from those who act it out, and so must continually grope at fog and gesture, and otherness.)

    clearly this is complicated, clearly this is hard to develop a clear model for. however, to fail to think critically on any terms about a situation like this is pretty much to respond to patterns of potential (perhaps probable) injustice with policies of indifference. this is all fine and well, unless - of course - one holds a dual position that education has something to do with developing autonomy within communties, with providing opportunities for children regardless of racial, cultural, or economic background, etc. i find it hard to believe that these two policies can be held in the same breath, and i find it pretty much impotent to be reponded to with the mystical non-issue of paradox, or scoldings about my righteous indignation.

    perhaps i'm indignant not because i want to change things, but because i'd like to know what's going on - and that these two are considered one and the same.

    3. a fundemental irony: the teacher performative is the fundamental space for the distribution of the myth of "reaching for the stars," or "you can do anything if you put your mind to it," or "be the change you want to see in the world," etc. however, when preparing to perform in the role of the teacher, one is constantly told that he or she "cannot change the world," or - in so many words - should limit himself or herself to the short-term goals of the classroom, which - of course - includes encouraging children to aim high.


    is what it is.

    we keep pouring it in to the processor. today: panel on the william winter institute for racial reconciliation, and panel of delta students (incl. a white kid who went to academy).

    it's beginning to wash over; it's beginning to become a litany of malfunction, a big knot of disservice. we're running our mouths; we're learning the same song over and over again, and we're being constantly reminded that it's not ours - and that we should never forget that it is so.

    this ownership complex is intense. the self/other dialogue is nearly unbearable - like the heat, and the kudzu: the myth of something being present enough to be unbearable, but not so much to warrent any real, substantive notice of. if you notice it - if you really notice it; if it bothers you - then you're not from around here. and you don't want to be not from around here. that's part of the song. for, who could tame the heat and the kudzu? and who's so bad off without taming them? we certainly aren't. but if you are, then you surely are a "you." certainly, once you understand that the heat and the kudzu are just how it is - once you realize that it's in your best interest to stop noticing them, because you wouln't be able to do anything about it anyway - then you'll be just fine.

    so, if you have problems, just wait a while. you're not from around here. these things are just how it is, and they're not so unbearable anyhow. maybe they'd cause a stir where you come from, but we're sure that you're pretty comfortable with some things that would cause a stir to us. you wouldn't want to be causing any trouble by trying to fix things that people don't mind having anyway. when the sun's hot - turn on the air. when the kudzu's tangling up a tree - clear it up a bit. then, once you get settled into how we live around these parts, come talk to me about your problems.


    certainly, this is a complex case. certainly, i'm a bit reductive in the above paragraphs, but it's damn hard to say anything of substance after having to keep changing from reference point to reference point, running up against a steady stream of already worn-out phrases like "catch 22" and "paradox," paying lip service after lip service, shown more dead ends and shrugged shoulders than productive momentum, and being essentially halted on any grounds of addressing a pretty dismal situation because it's more important that we don't offend anyone because we don't understand the playing field because it's not ours. this is the classic sidestep of "you don't know me," and "this is none of your business" - and, honestly, i'm hardly convinced that there's some personal/ideosyncratic reference point that would allow for me to substantively change my mind within a consistent framework, and i'm less certain about some substantive statement that can be made about where your business ends and mine begins. this is not to say that i devalue empathy - rather, that i don't confuse situational richness for systematic agency. neither am i implying that i don't change my mind, or that i'm unwilling to. i'm a skeptic, for god's sake; i, in all truth, prefer to not make up my mind, and am wary of those that do.


    [edited for anonymity's sake, 8-5-05. apologies, grandpa. DMWM]

    christmas day brunch at my grandpa's house, 2002 or thereabouts. i'm sitting next to my uncle, talking - as we always do - about the goings on at the manco duct tape company (via the german company that bought manco a couple years ago. sidenote: as manco is a supplier of walmart, it's set up shop wherever in arkansas the walmart hq is. so, my uncle lives somewhere in arkansas, within commuter distance of walmart hq). as we chew the cud - once again - about how brilliant sam walton's inventory database system is, somehow the conversation turns to education. now, i went to parochial grade school and a jesuit high school, and my siblings are in the process of doing the same, as are my uncle's children. however, it was beginning to occur to me at the time that there was something inherently unequal in the way that public schools in cleveland - especially in the city proper, but also in the suburbs - seemed to be of poor quality, while private schools seemed to be doing just fine. not only this, but that adults - my uncle included - were resisting tax increases to fund schools, and would often complain - as my uncle was doing on this occasion - about the fact that he has to but some other person's kid through school, while at the same time send his own to get a good education on top of that. blah blah blah. well, i found this to be a bit fustrating, and as we argued about whether it's the government's responsibility to provide services to its citizens, we shifted into a discourse on race - wherein my uncle went off on how he's worked with black people, and they're just lazy, and they don't want to be educated, and they just want handouts, and you know the routine. so i don't like this either, and after we've spent quite some time wrestling about, he tells me something along the lines of: "when i was your age, and in college, i had all these liberal ideas, too. everyone's liberal in college. it's easy to be so. but, when you get older, and you see things for yourself, you'll have different ideas about all this."

    this - of course - is the sidestep of age, and experience. it feeds directly into "you don't know me," and "this is none of your business," and i have perhaps the lowest opinion of its validity. i made it through college with all my goddamn liberal ideas, and i don't think they're going to go much of anywhere. and i hope to god that age - the heat of the sun and the kudzu - doesn't house train me into any of these grand old shoulder shrugs, or even the - more abominable - deep rooted desire to perpetuate my comfort, even at the expense of glaring structural wrongs.


    well, that was a rant (yes, childish at times). no doubt daniel's wheat to chaff ratio is in true form there. i don't even remember what i sat down to write about. i'm just a little pissed off. i feel like - again - people are trying to clip the old wings, or tell me how it really is, or how it's really going to be. and the irony is that it's the other side of the same damn coin. it never really is anything. everyone's saying wait, wait, wait. and you get used to it, so when other people start showing up you start telling them to wait, wait, wait, and we're all sitting around baking in the god damn sun and being closed in by this wierd ass vine, and all we can think about is how sweet tea sure is good, and how we'd never imagined that gas stations would be such prominent food vendors, and every once in a while someone drops a "catch 22," and we all nod and mmhmmm and we just wait, wait, wait till the savior comes.