the twit


    bad teaching is letting assholes like me take control of the class

    not only is my online instructor, Dr. Robert Plants, prone to personal attacks (which is highly unbecoming of someone in his position), but he's also letting the class derail week after week...

    here's an excerpt:

    POST 1: David Molina

    couz - i'm starting the chapter and it's long. but...

    "For example, the evidence needed to support a set of historical claims is different from the evidence needed to prove a mathematical conjecture, and both of these differ from the evidence needed to test a scientific theory"

    is this true? aren't these just all negotiations of an articulated formal-logical system? i have a hard time with these chapters when they just kind of shoot off barely scrutinized claims that don't seem relevant to the text's purpose - but which, upon scrutiny, seem more purposeful in their negation than the text itself.

    note to guest expert, we're prone to "critiquing and name calling with a touch of arrogance." it's a little game we play.

    POST 2: Evan Couzo

    I don't exactly remember the sentence, but this is how I read it. And I don't disagree with you one bit, by the way.

    Look at the the verbs used for each discipline: history-support, mathematical-prove, science-test. The best you can do in history is support a claim. History is written and open to various schools of thought. A good historian will acknowledge that. Math conjectures can be proven (well, okay, not all of them) by a closed system. Math can be shown to be true by it's own definitions. Science is interesting in that scientists can disagree with the philosophical implications, but must agree on reproduceable experimental data, or tests. Science cannot make any claims of truthiness in the sense that math can, nor can history.

    In any event:

    "i have a hard time with these chapters when they just kind of shoot off barely scrutinized claims that don't seem relevant to the text's purpose - but which, upon scrutiny, seem more purposeful in their negation than the text itself."

    You have a way with words. This is what I was saying in an earlier post.

    Dave, you're a trooper. to the death.

    POST 3: David Molina

    yeah - i guess understand the idea that these verbs are supposed to delineate their own quality of truth, but i think it's more an issue of the fact that we orient ourselves to the idea of truth differently in these disciplines based on our convential understanding of where these disciplines sit on the old subjective-objective spectrum. but, it seems that math it as written as history (and math does exist in history as much as history exists in math), and that supporting a claim in history invovles the same procedures as developing and supporting a theorem in mathematics. that evan couzo slept with me on june 26 2006 is about as true as the angle-side-angle theorem (inasmuch as they are consequences of a formal-logical system). also, applying the fact of our sleeping together into an analyis of couzo as being awesome is more or less the same as using the angle-side-angle theorem in an analysis of celestial motion.

    you + me = us (calculus)

    POST 3: Dr. Robert Plants

    Well, I hope you two are wearing your hip waders because that's about what one needs when reading these posts. You know both of you are very quick to criticize the text, researchers, teacher education, those of us in Guyton Hall, the world...and of course its obvious how some on this board are very taken with themselves so one begins to question why do the teacher corps at all.

    POST 4: David Molina

    being critical of a system does not imply the desire not to be in it (i thought we were clear on this). sometimes it's merely an extention of the desire for re-evaluation and improvement of the system itself from within. in my experience with the teacher corps, the program has done an excellent job of responding well to the energies of discourse and criticism, and has improved drastically as an institution - both before my class arrived and while it's been there. however, it has - and will always have - a long way to go, and shouldn't rest on its laurels as long as schools are struggling (not that it is sitting pretty, but it often seems that other institutions are less concerned about the possibilities of their own ineffectiveness).

    at the end of the day, these kids in mississippi deserve a hell of a lot better education than they're getting, and if part of pushing for the better education is being an asshole, then so be it. (of course, there are other ways - in their own right more political or productive, perhaps - for pushing for better education, but i'm tired of hearing that "studies" are showing nothing impressive. also, context often perscribes action, and the way i push here is a bit different than the way i push in a school building.)


    required mcpost: doing things differently

    second in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    it's great to sit around in jackson and just pick away at little things: reading, resting, Jim Hill preparation, Jake n' Dave pipe dreams, getting back in shape, margaret, etc . often i look at a clock and hours have when by for which i cannot assign the completion of one thing, though through which i can account for many small improvements. this is a luxury not afforded to you when you're completely surrounded by deadlines and external responsibilities.

    as for the second on that list - Jim Hill preparation - there is indeed a significant amount of things i'm going to do "differently" - both as modifications of past errors and new stabs in the dark (hopefully with a more educated hand).

    setting the foundation for the culture of a classroom is invaluable, and - as i'm approaching the start of a second year - that is what i'm primarily going to focus on. i've got to be able to get out of the blocks smoothly and transition into a convincing pace if i'm going to get anything accomplished.

    last year i spent i'd say two weeks completely treading water - which seemed an understandable response to supreme acclimitization in terms of: actually being alone in a classroom with 20-something kids, having schedules change daily, complete uncertainty at to when textbooks would arrive, etc. i remember days going by where all i did was go over pre-tests question by question - just sort of filling time so that i could get a bearing on what the hell was going on.

    all that will - of course - not be necessary this time around. i've fine-tuned my ability to find out approximately where students are in terms of content knowledge, and have learned to throw expectations out the window until i've been with a group for a significant amount of time. as for pre-tests, i'm sure that i will provide one, but i'm not sure where it's going to come from or how long it should be. i primarily want to test the kids in proficiency in those areas that i experienced as weak-points for my students last year, and which serve as the most necessary prerequisites for the initial objectives in my curriculum. getting a broad pictue seems trivial at this point, because the appropriate reference point for that broadness still eludes me. i'm sure a broad pre-test would be good for data-heads, but i don't think i have a clear enough fluency in the curricula i've been assigned to teach to warrant any personal value for the god-send of data (data is especially useless when there isn't a fixed start or end to my curricula - and i don't want there to be - so pre-testing them on things i'm not going to post-test them on is ludicrous).

    as for running up against the crippling uncertainty of textbooks and students schedules, i think i'm going to spend the first couple weeks in all of my classes throwing content more or less out the window and structuring activities that confront students with the essense of thinking mathematically, so that i can try and prompt an abstract familiarity with the performance of mathematical reasoning (which is a highly ubiquitous and transferrable act) in an effort to prime the digestion of a review of prerequisite topics as well as a thrust into "new" material. because, if i can strip away everything but the mere act of being mathematical, than this will be an invaluable preface to any content that i eventually segue into. at the end of the day, i'd rather them perform citicism than be able to define it.

    as to what these wonderfully theoretical activities will be, one of my glacially accumulating tasks this month is to define a few of them and develop materials. right now i'm buzzing on the concept of moving from a reading of borges's "library of babel," to a discussion of story of "the tower of babel," to an exploration of the burning of the library at alexandria. this could all be punctuated with some simple abstract math meditations: "Is 7x8 the same as 8x7? Why? PROVE IT! Can you prove it? What does it mean to prove it? Can you prove it in more than one way?" the big focus would be on the humanness of math, whether it is created or discovered, whether or not it has a history, etc. crazy stuff like that.


    required mcpost: chi-chi

    second in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    chi-chi just called to find out if i was back in jackson. he remembered that jake was getting married (not to me, ben) at the beginning of the month, so he was checking up to see if i was around to go for a run. i asked him how his training had been while he was in oxford, and he said it was going well, but he had to skip a week and a half of it because his shoes were locked in the school and coach harris threatened to arrest him for tresspassing (coach is also a police officer of some sort) if he went there again to run (after chi-chi mentioned that i had told him to do his runs from school because we know the mileage from there, coach mentioned that he "[didn't] give a shit.") after getting his shoes back on wednesday (with his mom to vouch for his non-tresspassing), chi-chi had jumped right back on the training schedule i had made for him in may, and - understandably - his legs were tired. we're going to meet up at jim hill at 10am on monday, where chi-chi will be participating in band camp, and anticipates that he'll be excused to go run with me. let's hope so.


    chi-chi is the only reason that i coached cross-country and track last year, and the first significant reason i've had to think it would be cool to be father someday. he kind of latched on to me early in the year - as soon as he learned that i was a runner. at that point, i hadn't really had my bearings yet as a teacher, and so i was incredibly reluctant to start committing myself to running with this wierd sophmore who - when not sleeping through my entire class - would punctuate discussion with comments about boobs. however, soon after we hit the streets with the cross country team and immediatly after chi-chi gapped everyone else, it was apparent that (a) he was the only runner for miles, (b) he was self-taught. his trainers were in tatters (i later boycotted runs until he got a new pair), he had little knowledge of hydration and nutrition (crucial in the mississippi heat), and he had rarely ventured outside the immediate vicinity of jim hill (previous training had consisted of running 1/2 mi laps around the graveyard across the street from jim hill). but he was good; a natural distance runner, with an incredibly deep level of self-discipline (which was most obvious in his running; he barely passed my class). although i wasn't ready to spend a significant amount of my energy training him (i.e. developing a workout schedule, working on race strategy, exposing him to form exercises and core muscle development, etc.), i spent many afternoons in the fall on mostly-silent 4-6 mile runs in the neighborhood around jim hill (this was to the amazement and amusement of nearly everyone at the school - a white man running around the district in what appeared to be daisy dukes), sprinkled with a few endurance workouts at a nearby park (which - though only a mile away from the school, seemed endlessly far to the sceptical kids i would try and drag there). chi-chi responded well to the base work we did in the fall, and was in good enough shape to make it to the cross-country state meet. in the spring we were able to use jackson state's track to do some real workouts, and chi-chi went on to dominate the area in the one and two-mile, and eventually make it to states individually in the latter (which is an impressive learning curve for a runner).


    all of this is to say little to nothing about who chi-chi is (except the vastly appropriate boobs comment), which is a complexity that i've barely made headway in. like i said - most of our runs are nonverbal, except when i get squirmy and start lecuring chi-chi about this or that thing. in many ways, chi-chi reminds me of my younger brother john, with whom - as margaret noticed - i most appropriately spend time by just kind of being near each other. this isn't to say that i haven't gotten peeks into his inner life - the most revealing was when chi-chi showed up to school half-alive after sneaking out of his house the night before, getting high, and crashing his mom's car; legitimately fearing a violent response from his father, chi chi had no intention of going home that night - planning to crash at "a cousin's house" - so jake and i threw together an impromptu one-person field trip to ole miss for a teacher corps weekend so he could get some time to breathe. however, i've gotten the impression that the most appropriate role with chi-chi is not to figure him out, but to just kind of be a positive, stable, and male presence in his life - a craving for which was apparent after those early runs when he would silently copy my every stretch and then later in the year when he would kind of follow me around after school and after runns until i left (even when his mom had already shown up he would insist on mostly silently walking me to my car). that being said, it's more important at this point for him to figure himself out, and me to be there to - well - just kind of be there.

    required mcpost: half-baked advice from a half-baked man

    first in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    five pieces of advice.

    1. become dedicated to reinvention

    i hate, hate, hate it when people refer to the first year of teaching as a "trial by fire." it's only hot if you stand still, and your an idiot to imagine that you need to stick to whatever guns you'd oiled for your passionate mission. similarly, those who praise the fire have more often than not become pretentiously numb to their own questionably effective pedagogical immobility. you are not a priest, you are not saving the souls of savages, and this sanctifying onus is most likely the dead weight of your ego. everytime you make a decision in or about your classroom, revisit it and revise it without end. each motion of pedagogy is a rough draft, and of course you'll be burned if you pass it off to print. your imperfection will not change, but your attitude towards it will have to. this is how the fire ends: by never standing still in it, by never considering anything you do as finished or totally consistent, by always hunting down what needs to be changed to make your practice better both the first time and the last time you step in that room.

    2. schedule rest into your life

    there is a huge distinction between the non-real "fire-trial" and the completely real agony that will eventually well up beneath you. there is an agony; but it is not structured externally (re: the mythic fire), rather internally. it comes from the strain of acclimitization and preservation. once you begin to dance the dance of the constant re-creator (and remember - i tragically left this out of the above point - all this creation and all this practice is exclusively focused on the assistance of the student, but what that means is incredibly ideosyncratic), you will sometime realize that it doesn't end. then, somewhere in the middle of fixating on how to cooperate with the non-ending aspects of the dance, you may loose sight of the fact of its beginning. then, in the middle of a timeless and tiresome dance, you will acquire an agony.

    the most important thing to do in order to deal with all this mess is to rest (whatever this means for you; for me it meant reading and/or screwing around on wikipedia/ find the most simple and effective way to create a protected time for rejuvination. personally, i found that it was best for me to stay in the school building until i was done with what i had to do for tomorrow (i.e. leaving the building at a point where i could walk in the next morning and teach). this would often keep me in my room until 7pm+, but even if i had 3 hrs to go home, eat, and deflate, the fact that i had nothing weighing on me allowed this time to be restful. experiments in leaving the building early and then doing some work before going to bed proved to be too stressful.

    3. your teacher-mood needs to be consistent

    despite the agony, despite the exhaustion, despite the asshole students who spent last period fucking around, despite whatever mess you're dealing with outside the school building, you are still Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. So-and-So, and this is a profoundly de-personalized identity (regardless of whatever quirky accoutermonts you've dressed it in), as it is complelety structured in response to the pedagogical needs of your students. so, whatever your teacher face is - calm, stern, happy, proud, intense, etc. - it needs to more or less stay that way - and only change when it is pedagogically - not personally - appropriate. students (since education is really all about them) react rather violently and personally to the idea that you'd let personal baggage affect them (especially if that baggage comes from a class of other students), and often snap or disengage if they find you "moody." whatever shit has you on the verge of tears or homicide before, during, or after class - when the curtain raises you've got a job to do, and that job requires you to be in character.

    4. find someone else

    one person can survive as a teacher, but two can succeed. i am unwavering in my assertion that i would not have even thought of doing 90% of what happened last year at jim hill (both inside and outside the class) without the support/criticism/love that i shared with jake roth. we held each other up when the agony was overwhelming, we made sure the other one was eating/bathing/breathing, we bounced idea after idea off of each other, and we were a human presence for each other in the vast shitshow of public education. you can not do alone what you can do with others - and these are things that are done for both you and (at the end of the day, most importantly) your students. so, not only allow yourself to engage in a critical relationship with your own vulneratibility/imperfection as a teacher, find someone else with which to share and refocus this attitude. everyone will benefit.

    5. they're kids

    this is the bottom line, and it has two faces:

    (1) they're human beings. so they're brilliant. and beautiful. and creative. and all those wonderful human things. given their personality and/or background, they may be more or less dependent on people like you for the positive cultivation of their humanness, and/or they may not have had much of a chance to realize/express their humanness. never forget that they're brilliant, and if you don't see it, you either need to (a) wake up, or (b) look somewhere else. more often than not, students not being brilliant is a great indicator that you need to be doing your job better.

    (2) they're in a state of radical personal development and identity formation. don't be surprised (surprise is an indication that you've got a flawed/unceccessary expectation system, so fix it) when they do stupid, human things (for that matter, don't be surprise when they do great human things. remember, they're brilliant) - to themselves, to each other, or (most imporantly) to you. of course they're going to curse you out. of course they're going to snap when you reprimand them. of course they're going to treat each other like shit. of course they're going to drink, do drugs, have sex, be in gangs, etc. in many ways, they're in school precisely to gain the personal maturity to deal with all of these things. and they're going to make mistakes, and they're mistakes will often be right in your face. just take it all in stride, and - when you get a chance - remind them that they're brilliant and beautiful and creative and all those wonderful human things.

    at home in jackson

    two coasts, two weddings, a last-call in oxford, a drive home. now to deflate and detox.

    this month will be the first time i've taken a break in years, and i plan on catering to every inclination to sleep, sleep, sleep.

    also, read, read, read (and perhaps write, write, write).

    books in my man-purse:

    godel, escher, bach douglas hofstadter
    the wretched of the earth franz fanon
    introduction to mathematics
    alfred north whitehead

    books recently finished:

    radical equations bob moses
    pedagogy of the oppressed paulo freire
    teachers have it easy dave eggers, daniel moulthrop, and ninive clements calegari