Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cousins, Rice, Sea Legs, and Multiplication

Multiplying People, Rice and Readers

My sister wrote about a rice tale on her blog. (The Median Sib- scroll down near the bottom of the page.) I've read the rice tale. It's in one of our reading books, but that version is called "The Rajah's Rice", I think. It teaches the power of multiplication.

When we start talking about multiplication each year, I greet my fourth grade students with: "Hello, Cousin Jenny, Cousin Joe," ... etc. They ask why I'm calling them cousins. I say, "Well all of us are cousins aren't we?" Eventually I say I can prove it's true. And I start doubling parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and going back 25 years per generation. By the time we get to 1492 or so we're past a million ancestors apiece. A few generations more and we each have more ancestors than the earth had people at the time. We are all cousins.

I have enjoyed The Median Sib's discussions of kids' books. (She also tackles that subject on her other blog: The Reading Teacher.) I love children's literature. I would have thought that I had read most of the Newbery Award winners during 25 years of teaching elementary school, but when I counted them up, I'd only read about twenty out of 84. I've been trying to better that record since early this year. I've now read over half of them.

They are all good so far, but some are definitely not really the best of their year of publication. And a couple are just strange.

And some books that make my all-time favorites list didn't make the Newbery commmittee's cut for the best children's book for eht year of its publication. Charlotte's Web, Hatchet, The Lion's Paw, The Little House books, Bristle Face, and Jim Kjelgaard's books are beloved but un-Award-ed. (Several received other awards or the "runner-up" Newbery Honor.)

I’ve recently read a new silly book called Sea Legs by a British author, Alex Shearer. I laughed out loud several times. Nothing deep. Just a good kids’ book. It’s about a set of twins who stow away on a cruise ship. My student twins were eagar to read it when I told my class about it. Since they were in the middle of other big books I loaned my copy to another student first. It is now being read by one of my twins though he had to wait through three students before he got a turn. Each reader has speculated about which fictional twin is most like each of our real twins.

And today we finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That gives us time to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever before the Christmas break. I have Imogene Herdman in my class this year. I wonder if my students will notice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Aslan is Dead!

Yesterday, I read aloud to my fourth-graders the chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Aslan (the Lion, King of Narnia) sacrifices himself, willingly, to save the boy Edmund. My favorite part of teaching is reading to my students or telling them stories. There are especially rewarding moments. Aslan’s death is one, as strange as it might seem. It is a moment of absolute quiet in my usually not-quiet classroom. 23 ten-year-olds were hanging on each word that C.S. Lewis wrote.

He’s Alive!

The equally rewarding other moment comes quickly. I read that moment in the next chapter today. It is when we discover that there is a “deeper magic” and we romp with Aslan and Susan and Lucy as they celebrate his return. What fun!! My classroom quickly became not-quiet again.

My pastor, David Campbell, wrote about Narnia in our church newsletter today. Have a read.

I’m looking forward to the release of the new Narnia movie in a few days. I hope Disney will forgive me using a detail of their movie poster above. Click on Aslan's picture to visit the movie website.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Harry Potter, Children's Books

Pottermania and
Random Book Notes

Harry is certainly not Frodo or Huck or Holden, but I always enjoy the books and movies. Actually the Third (The Prisoner of Azkaban) was my favorite until the latest. It is my favorite now.

We have been part of the crazed ones, I'm afraid. Sheila and I went out at midnight on the release date to buy the last book and delivered copies of it to Lil and her friends on the choir retreat.
We were in Vermont when the fifth book was released. We had a ball at the Potter Party at a bookstore in Manchester, where the staff, dressed as dementors, solemnly marched forth with boxes of books at midnight.

The books have remained fresh to me. I've been surprised that Rowling's managed to keep them interesting. Only one more to go... seven years at Hogwarts you know.

And our family saw the latest movie last weekend. It is the best of the four, in my mind. Lil saw it twice. She and Harry have grown up together.

I always enjoy seeing movies of books I have read, just to see how the director and cast interpret it. I loved the Lord of the Rings movies, even though I was sometimes disappointed at what was left out or changed.

I've tended to get kinda obsessive about authors all my life. When I find one I like I tend to read all their books -- even when they've amply illustrated their inconsistencies. I've read every Robb White book that I’ve been able to get my hands on, even though several have been disappointing, because the good ones (especially The Lion’s Paw) have been so much fun. Zachary Ball only wrote one really good kid's book as far as I can tell, (Bristle Face) but I have felt compelled to keep reading, hoping for another flash of brilliance. Sputters, the Bristle Face sequel, wasn’t bad. I've read lots of Agatha Christie books, and some of them are just atrocious. I have read most of Jan Karon’s too. Not exactly spellbinding but I’m all involved with the characters. When I was a kid I read all The Hardy Boys books in our library and then snuck a Nancy Drew or two. I went through a biography phase and read all the “boyhood” biographies. I read the Grisham books as they are published and the Jean Auels.
As an elementary teacher I latch onto certain children’s authors: Cornelia Funke, Beverly Cleary, Avi, Andrew Clements, Jerry Spinelli.

I am currently on a tear to finish all the Newbery Award winners. I’m into the older ones now. I just finished a wonderful old one: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. Even 70 years ago kids’ authors were tackling some big issues - an unhappy marriage, a murder, bullying, the death of a child, a child’s profane outburst, poverty - all handled with grace and style.

My sister, Carol, shares my love of good kids’ books. She has a blog dedicated to children’s literature and the teaching of reading, The Reading Teacher.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is this a Malaprop?

How about a Trapezoid Circle?

I thought of this sign when I read my sister's blog about malaprops. I spose the folks who named this little strip mall in Rockmart knew the absurdity of the name, but it always tickles me when I pass it. So, we took a picture.

The stores, by the way, are laid out in a nice straight line.

from Congressman John Murtha

The Presence of Our Troops is Driving the Insurgency

General Casey said in a September 2005 Hearing, “the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.” General Abizaid said on the same date, “Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy.”

Check out the actual words of Congressman Murtha.

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel

The America the World Needs to See

“What distinguishes America is not our power, for the world has known great power. It is America’s purpose and our commitment to making a better life for all people. That is the America the world needs to see. A wise, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of spirit, and humble in its purpose.”

Check out what this Republican Senator has to say.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Off-the-cuff Serial Autobiography (An Episode of 1969)

Spare the Rod, Ichabod Shaw -- 1969

As a beginning teacher in 1969 I was philosophically opposed to corporal punishment, even though it was routinely used in almost all southern schools. I explained my hesitation to use such a brutal method of classroom management to my good friend, Mike, who was teaching in an inner city school. Mike scoffed at my high and mighty attitude.

“You’ll spank,” he declared, “Wait till a few spit wads whiz past your noggin. And when you do, let me explain how to do it.”

He proceeded to describe how to administer one very hard whack to the buttocks in a way definitely memorable to the spankee, but not likely to cause bruising or lasting injury.

A few weeks later the teaching principal, Mr. Smith, called me in to watch his class for the afternoon while he attended a meeting at the central office. He stood me before his 35 coalmine town seventh graders, several a head or more taller and pounds heavier than me.

“This is Mr. Shaw, your substitute teacher. Mr. Shaw will not hesitate to use the Black Dragon,” he proclaimed as he pulled a two foot long paddle made of oak and wrapped in black electrical tape out of a drawer and laid it on the desk, “so you had best behave!”

As Mr. Smith left the building the spit wads began to fly. Another thirty minutes and philosophy gave way to reality. I waved the Black Dragon in desperation and picked my victim from the many candidates.

“Rocky, come with me to the cloakroom,” I growled at the biggest, meanest boy in the school. I hoped the class would not notice my hands quaking as I followed him out of the classroom.
“Empty your back pockets and put your hands on the wall.”

Rocky did as he was told - with a bit of a smirk on his face. Following Mike’s instructions I swung the Dragon in an upward arc and whacked the fleshiest section of the boy’s hind parts once only.

It may have only been my ears, but the report of that paddle rivaled any gun I’d heard. I was convinced every human ear within a mile had heard it. I was sure my career was over before it could really begin. Surely someone would call the cops. I felt tears welling in my own eyes, but managed to choke out a fairly even, “Rocky, I hope you have learned your lesson. Now go have a seat.”

To my astonishment Rocky answered meekly, “Yes, Sir.” As he turned toward the classroom I saw big tears glistening in his eyes.

His classmates had heard the whack and they saw the tears.
All was changed. A pin drop in that classroom would have snapped every head to attention. Lessons proceeded with quiet earnestness.

That was the only paddling I administered that year. Rocky did not seem hurt physically or emotionally, and in fact, changed his ways. He even joined and took a leadership role in the boys’ club I organized in the community as part of my Teacher Corps duties.

Paddlings had some advantages. They did stop bad behavior, at least temporarily. Paddlings were over quickly and lessons could go forward without the drawn-out sermonizing by the teacher and extended pouting by the student that often accompany the “time-outs”, school “discipline forms”, “in-school suspension”, etc. of today.

We no longer paddle students in our schools: that is good. But I am convinced that a paddling was needed that day in 1969. I don't regret it.

Torture, Terrorism, Abu Ghraib, Black Sites

Our Own Worst Enemy

Yes. We are, sometimes, our own worst enemy.

Take the Bush treatment of prisoners from the Afghan and Iraqi wars.

It is not a great leap from unconcern about the treatment of accused terrorists to unconcern about mistreatment of other prisoners or political enemies.

Treating prisoners inhumanely is incredibly stupid. It inspires revenge. It embitters a generation or two or three. It repels potential allies. It is also un-American and un-Christian and unwise. It plays right into the hands of the terrorists. No act committed by the terrorists themselves has helped the terrorists' cause so much as the Bush Administration's amateurish, clumsy and wrongheaded policies regarding prisoners, which, intentionally or not, led to the Abu Ghraib disgrace. (Well, OK, the Iraq war itself has helped Al Qaeda recover from the defeat in Afghanistan and divided the anti-terrorist world. But no part of the Iraq war has hurt us more than the prisoner abuse.)

Hacking of heads, roadside bombs, suicide missions: these are terrorist acts. They are grisly, beastly, unimaginably cruel. Yep, that's terrorism. These barbarous acts are the evil history of every war in all ages. In my book the Abu Ghraib atrocities and “black sites” (and My Lai, Andersonville, Wounded Knee, etc) are worse for America, not because they are more bloody or more evil in themselves, of course they are not; but because they initiate Americans as junior members of the society of the brutes of Baghdad and their predecessors of Germany, Japan, the Spanish Inquisition, etc, etc., etc.

The entire Bush response to the terrorists has been wrongheaded. I say that not because I believe we should be pacifists. Heavens, no. We should respond with devastating and righteous fury against proven terrorists. But we should respond as Americans who believe the words of our founding documents, who believe that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Whenever we disregard basic human rights, I believe we disregard and diminish our heritage and our moral standing in the world. In short we defeat ourselves. We fail our forefathers.

We become our own worst enemies.

Friday, November 25, 2005

An Off-the-cuff Serial Autobiography

Chapter the First:

I was born in 1947 to a mill worker and his wife in a very small mill town near Atlanta. My two older sisters had been born before the war. I came along after my Marine daddy got back from the South Pacific. A little sister was born in ‘49.
All I remember from those first three years in Georgia are my best next door neighbor friend, and vague images of taking my Daddy his lunch at the mill with my older sisters, and the surreal sight of a truck loaded with dead dogs during a rabies epidemic.

Daddy accepted a call to ministry and moved us up highways 41 and 27 to Wilmore, Ky, in 1950, so he could finish college at Asbury and begin his career as a Methodist minister. We lived first in “GI Barracks” near the campus where I had my fifth birthday party but was too sick with a bad cold to enjoy it. We had to ford a creek in the car to visit some of Daddy’s church members.

There another sister was born. Daddy served little churches in southern Ohio and central Kentucky during his college days. I started school in little Mackville, Ky. I remember the story of one of my little classmates, a girl, falling into the outhouse pit. I wonder where that woman is now.

I remember walking to school that first day holding on to my mother’s hand. I remember going to the county seat to get my smallpox vaccination.

I learned some cuss words at school and brought them home to the consternation of my parents. Daddy killed big snakes in the furnace room of the church one morning... to the consternation of his farmer parishioners who said the big rat snakes would have been welcomed around their barns.
Sometime during this period we spent the summer in Georgia. We rented a little house in the middle of big cotton fields. I remember a board swing in a big tree that went really high. I remember Mama drying apples and peaches in the sun to preserve them for fried pies and such during later months.
I loved my Daddy’s parents and brothers. They came to Kentucky to visit once or twice. They always made a point of bringing me a big jar of Bama Apple Butter. That was special. Daddy Shaw and the whole bunch came down with food poisoning on one trip. Daddy Shaw loved to regale us with stories. When he talked about that trip he’d always say that he finally just pulled up a bush and took it in the car with him so he wouldn’t be caught without one when the need arose.
Dinners on the grounds at church included a strange dish called “cushaw” that I haven’t run into since 1954. According to online dictionaries it’s a crook necked pumpkin or squash. Anyway, I didn’t like it. I did like “banana croquettes” banana halves rolled in mayonnaise and crushed peanuts -- yum!

From the Fifties Forever website:

Chop or blend: 3 parts peanuts to one part saltine crackers
Cut bananas in half;
totally coat bananas with mayonnaise or salad dressing;
then lightly roll in peanut mixture.
Serve on a leaf of lettuce.

Another treat for the preacher’s kid was the monthly Men’s Club meeting at the little country church where a pot of hotdogs were heated on the potbellied stove. I remember Vacation Bible School when my Dad pulled a trailer slowly around the farm roads collecting children for a hayride to VBS. That was many years before seat-belts and car seats.

And I remember a special lady friend at Antioch church who invited me to sit with her in church. I loved to sing “When the Roll is Call Up Yonder”.

My two older sisters were beautiful and popular. Janice played the piano and was a cheerleader. Joan was quieter and intellectual. They baby-sat me and my two younger sisters. I worshipped them.
As for my younger sisters, I was proud of saving Carol’s life. I bravely slew an evil spider that was aiming to do her in. It was, no doubt, a deadly black widow. I then assumed the role of guardian knight to my younger sisters and have been appalled to discover that they did not always view me in that light.
When we packed the trailer to move back to Georgia there was no room for my sled and, given Georgia weather, my parents decided to give it away. I never forgave them. (j/k!)

Beyond-the-personal magic

I thought it would be fun to take up Carol's challenge to use my magic wand. I should steer clear of politics after my lengthy opening manifesto, but I can't help myself. Several of these concern political big moments.

Ten national and international swoops of my wand during my lifetime, realizing that some might prove mutually exclusive:

10. The IBM board of Directors inexplicably names Steve Jobs CEO and Chairman in 1974 merging that company with little Apple Computer. (Young Bill Gates decides to finish college before entering the business world, thereby saving a generation from the C prompt and then Windows.)

9. President Eisenhower decides to let the Vietnamese settle their own affairs, Senators Kennedy and Johnson praise his decision and pledge their support for keeping the US out of that civil war.

8. Police redirect that caravan of cars in Dallas in 1963 a block away from the School Book Depository building

7. James Earl Ray stumbles going up the stairs and fatally shoots himself in 1968. There’s a small article about Ray on page nine of the same Memphis newspaper that contains a big wrap-up article on page one about MLK’s successful visit to the city.

6. Tape recordings of campaign meetings reveal the real Richard Nixon in October 1968.

5. The complete military record of a certain pampered rich Texas boy is publically revealed in October 2000.

4. A sandstorm in Iran mysteriously vanishes before the helicopters take off in 1980, and the hostage rescue goes off like clockwork.

3. Osama keeps to his original schedule on August 20, 1998.

2. The arteries of a certain Ayatollah clog suddenly while he’s still in exile in Paris sometime before 1979.

1. Election officials reject the stupid butterfly ballot design before the print deadline in the Fall of 2000.

(Bonus Shazam!!) Ronald Reagan is awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his signature role in Bedtime for Bonzo and signs a multi-million dollar lifetime contract to continue his acting career.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Odd Man Out

Alone on A Limb

What I write below is very serious and important to me. I promise that all my blogs will not be political in nature, but I love my country and cannot ignore issues like those I discuss below. If this bothers you, my blog may not be for you.

"You do not become a "dissident" just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility..."

OK, I don't fear for my life at family reunions. But I am the family dissident. So, another quote, this time from EDWARD R. MURROW:
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

I am alone among my siblings. We are a big, loving, hugging, boisterous, generally strong-willed bunch. Five sisters, two brothers and my mother. We vacation together almost every year with our spouses and children and even grandchildren. We usually get along well.

Like the rest of the country, though, we are split by politics. Unfortunately for me, however, our family is not split down the middle: all five sisters, my brother, and my mother have become very conservative Republicans. I am the the odd man out.

I am a Democrat.

I love the founding documents of our country.
I revere the founding fathers.
I believe in civil rights for all.
I believe dissent is a responsibility of citizenship.

I believe in the separation of church and state as being best for both.
I believe our government should protect minority rights.
I believe that we have a cultural heritage that should not be denied or ignored. The Christian faith is a huge part of that heritage.
I believe also that we must be more sensitive than our fathers to the fact that many loyal Americans are not Christian.

I believe in stringent environmental protection.
I believe that the government should, for the public good, provide good roads, a strong national defense, effective emergency management, outstanding public schools, basic housing and food for the poorest among us, support for the arts, good public broadcasting, mass transit in cities, inter-city and cross-country passenger rail service, for starters.

I believe the activities, associations, living arrangements, or lifestyles of adults should concern the government only if it interferes with the life, liberty, property or health of others.
I believe no person, however stupid or misguided, should be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

I believe in our right as a people to covenant together to provide universal health care to our citizens.
I believe those of us who, through some combination of intelligence, hard work, learned skills, and good fortune, have been financially well-rewarded should pay the largest part of the expenses to provide the services and protections I have described.

I believe torture is always wrong and incredibly stupid and any president or vice president or other official who advocates relaxing that rule cannot be trusted with the powers of his/her office.
I believe all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I believe we should go to war only when there is a clear national interest that can be protected no other way and when there is a strong consensus among the people to support the war.
I believe that lying, exaggerating, or hyping information in order to take our country to war is a high crime.

I therefore believe the current occupant of the White House is right out there with Richard Nixon and James Buchanan in the race for the most dangerous President of all time. With the right wing in total control of all three branches of government, a major "news" network, an intricate right-wing "religious" political consortium, and a huge talk-show echo chamber, it isn't likely to be practical to impeach him. He deserves it.

A final quote, this time from a Nazi, HERMANN GOERING:
"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Probably most of the folks who visit this blog (if anyone does) will be my family. Except for my wife and daughters, I expect my family will disagree with me. I'm sorry I'm alone out on this limb of our family tree. But I've been pushed out here by my "personal sense of responsibility". To abandon my limb while I have these beliefs would be cowardly and unpatriotic.

I hope my wonderful family will at least understand me better for what I write here.

I welcome brief polite comments in support or disagreement. Those who have long responses should post links to their own blogs in a brief comment. I will delete any impolite comments.