Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Get Your Mitts Off My Textbooks!

So, I'm still poking around the Internet on the issues about academic freedom -- I know I've made several posts on it lately, but as the song goes "It's my weblog, and I'll rant if I want to."

I came across a list of various articles about bias in history teaching, and lo and behold, several of them refer to Houghton Mifflen's *Across the Centuries*, which is a seventh-grade history text used in California -- and which I'm familiar with and taught out of several times.

The first thing I thought of is that they're a little late in their complaints. The Houghton Mifflen series was approved nearly a decade ago, and in school districts around here, it's in the process of being replaced with a new one. My second thought was to dwell on the irony -- when the series was approved, it was very controversial with several ethnic and religious minorites claiming they got short shrift. There was a very big discussion back then about how these textbooks are put together.

The big complaint of these articles is that Islam is portrayed in a generally positive light. One of these articles even suggested that the offending pages be ripped out. Other articles complain that jihad is being falsely portrayed as an inner struggle ("struggle" is actually what the word means), and that homework assignments force students to pretend to be Muslim.

First of all, it isn't just Islam -- *all* religions in the series are generally portrayed in a positive light. Given the odds that you might run into a student that adheres to one of them, you virtually have to. Would these people want a critical presentation of Christianity? I doubt it very much. Actually, my biggest complaint is that most teachers, especially in the sixth grade, when kids are supposed to learn about Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism, simply skip these chapters altogether. They either don't want to deal with the potential controversy, or don't have the time.

(As an aside, the biggest problem of both of these textbooks is that there is so much material in them that a teacher is either forced to whiz through it whether the kids get it or not, or skip major sections. In sixth grade, if teachers follow the book -- as they mostly do -- they'll spend the first semester covering things like how to read maps, and don't even start on the more interesting material on ancient civilizations until Thanksgiving, or even Christmas. The chapters on Ancient Israel, China, and India are almost invariably skipped, and Rome gets cut off at the end of the year.)

The second thing here is that we are talking about 12-year-olds. The textbook is covering the basics of each religion, and in the case of Islam, the civilization that grew out of it. Controversies and disputes within or about any of these religions are not introduced. As far as the offending "homework exercises" in which kids are supposed to pretend they are Muslim traders, or a pilgrim to Mecca -- yes, they occur in the book, but I've never seen a teacher use any of them. There's little enough time just to get the kids learning the basic concepts and vocabulary without assigning imaginative essays. When I was a student teacher, I did have the kids write their own story about Gilgamesh and Eridu -- but I suppose some of these people would be mad about that, too.

What these critics appear to want is for their own biases against Islam to be taught in the classroom -- to which I say "Screw you. I wouldn't do that even if it *was* in the textbook." However, the good news for them is that, as widespread as bias against Islam is, I'm sure some middle school teachers either skip these chapters, or introduce their own criticisms.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I Think I'm Finally Getting Scared

For years I've been hearing people say how the religious right scares the hell out of them, and I'd sort of pooh-pooh it. From what I could see, for all the noise they were making, they weren't really getting anywhere on the issues they pushed. Yeah, some of them could get elected to local office on a conservative platform, but when they tried to do anything specifically Christian, like introduce creation science, the voters booted them out. It seemed they were just beating their heads on a wall. Even some conservative Christians were saying things like "Why should we fight for prayer in the schools when under the Constitution it will never be a Christian prayer anyway?"

But these attacks on academia are scaring me.

I'll tell a story that Grandma is very fond of telling: When I was in sixth grade, we had to study evolution in science. Now, it may surprise you to know that up until the age of 13, I was a Biblical literalist. Shocking, I know, but true. At age 11, I believed that the creation story in Genesis was factual. And so did my sixth grade teacher. In fact, although she was required to teach evolution, she tore it down at every single point. Now, did little Karen nod with approval at this tactic? No, she absolutely did not. I came home fuming to Grandma about how unfair it was, and how this teacher wasn't teaching right. I could see it for what it was -- an attempt to indoctrinate me rather than teach me the theory I was supposed to learn. It would be like sitting in a Sunday school with a teacher that poked fun at the Bible.

Don't screw with me when I'm trying to learn. Or trying to teach, for that matter. And don't give me this "equal time" nonsense. Should I get upset at the blatantly pro-capistalist sentiments that prevail in the business department? Maybe we should lobby to get some Marxists in there. And medical schools have a proven bias against natural forms of healing; somebody ought to do something about that, too. One could go on and on with such absurdities.

Yeah, there is such a thing as lefty ideologues who try to indoctinate rather than teach, but creating conditions that would make teachers afraid to open their mouths is not the answer. Most teachers are just trying to teach. Remember, in my previous post the philosophy professor was talking about Plato -- it was the right-wing students who screamed "indoctination" when they didn't like what they were hearing. You want to give kids like this the power to sue? They weren't even capable of seeing what the point of the lesson was.

If a professor is a rotten teacher, then address that, rather than make all his colleagues live in fear of lawsuits. Nobody can teach under those conditions.

Besides, when you force somebody to teach something they don't believe is true, you get a presentation like I did in sixth grade -- a teacher who clearly gives the message, "I'm forced to teach this, but it's really stupid and wrong." Maybe somebody should have sued old Mrs. Creationism.

Targeted by Conservatives for Teaching Philosophy

More on the "Academic Bill of Rights" that I mentioned in my earlier post today. This part struck me:

Conservative students have complained to each other: “How can she call herself a philosophy teacher when she doesn’t’ allow students to express their opinions?”

Students labor under the false presumption that philosophy is about the expression of “their” opinions and that all opinions are equally valid. Never mind that most students haven’t read a single philosophy book in their entire lives. Never mind that they do not hold a single college degree on the subject. Degrees in philosophy are irrelevant to today’s students. Generally, students don’t value reading, which means that they don’t value learning, and if they don’t value learning, they don’t value teachers. There are exceptions, thank goodness, but this downward trend of poor reading and writing skills is getting worse with every year that passes.

Nevertheless, college students believe that they have equal status with their professors. And that is how this movement began—with the absurd notion that students’ opinions, no matter how stupid or wrong those opinions may be, have as much validity as academic scholarship.

I think this is what it comes down to -- that people really believe that years of study make no difference, and that if a professor claims some kind of expertise, then they're just being elitist. The simple fact is that some folks know more than other folks. Now, it is entirely possible for equally qualified people to disagree, but at least they are arguing on a level that shares certain basic premises about what constitute proof and a good argument. This professor's lecture was on Plato; the students were supposed to be applying that philosopher's principles to the war in Iraq -- instead it broke into a melee. Some of these kids clearly didn't know the difference between arguing from a particular philosophical viewpoint, and getting into a political wrangle. I could, as an academic exercise, argue something from a conservative Christian point of view, even though it's one I don't share. (In fact, I do it all the time, because I have to explain these people to Grandma, who just thinks they are nuts.)

I've often mentioned to my friends that before I came onto the Internet, I didn't think I was a good debater -- but I found out very quickly that there are a lot of people who will think they have proven something absolutely, when they haven't, who don't know how to stick to a point, and who think ad hominems and accusations are a good way to win an argument. Looks like things are as bad in the classroom as they are on the 'Net.

Monday, March 28, 2005

From the Froot Loop Department . . .

You know, people believe all kinds of things -- things they absolutely and sincerely believe are provable facts: that the Holocaust was a hoax, that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had kids, that Shakespeare wasn't the author of the works attributed to him, that Bigfoot lurks in the forests of the northwest, that the moon landing never happened, and that an alien spaceship crashed in New Mexico. Now, the Florida legislature is considering a bill that would open the door to any student who buys into whatever kooky theory -- which are termed "alternative academic theories" can sue a professor who "ridicules" him.

This is, of course, not about getting Bigfoot discussed in the classroom. The sponsor of the bill directly pointed to evolutionary theory as one of the things that students could sue about, when faced with a "dictator professor" who doesn't want to hear about Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design isn't an "alternative academic theory"; it's a religious theory dressed up in scientific terms.

But, you know 45% of Americans believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis, in spite of the teaching of evolution in public schools and universities, and over the years they have constructed quite elaborate theories to promote that. One would have to be a scientist to profitably argue with them -- and most people trained in the sciences don't think it's worth their time. My brother told me once that anyone who continues to believe in evolution is either ignorant, or is just determined to oppose God.

I actually don't have a large stake in the matter; my religious beliefs are not threatened by the theory of evolution, and I figure people can believe any fool thing they want to. However, what I *do* object to is that a professor, whose job it is to teach science, or history, or whatever, would be at risk of being sued because they don't put these "alternatives" on the same level as solid academic and scientific research. As Juan pointed out, you're going to see anyone who teaches at a university fleeing the state as fast as they possibly can.

I'm beginning to think that it isn't out of line to say that there are some people out there who are determined to destroy academia -- and maybe education as a whole.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Family Feud

Here's what I thought was a pretty balanced account of what's going on between the Schindlers and Michael Schaivo. I guess it grabs my attention because I grew up around family feuds -- acrimonious divorces, vicious child custody battles, the pettiness, the one-sidedness, the lies. As an adult, I have tried very hard to steer clear of anything like that, and any time I have allowed myself to get dragged in (I am, after all, talking about family, who aren't so easy to avoid), it is to my hurt and regret.

That's why I find it hard to be sympathetic with either side in the Schaivo case. In some ways, I should be able to be sympathetic to both -- this is a difficult situation, and everyone involved is losing someone close to them. But, I'm not. It's all just a big, vicious family squabble with mutual accusations flying around and small-minded digs at the other side. The Schindlers tried to get Terri divorced from Michael, so she could "die with the Schindler name". Michael is insisting that she be cremated when he knows that this will upset her Catholic parents. Could we get any more petty? The woman is dying. Somebody turn the t.v. cameras off and say some prayers.

Legally, I don't see how this case could have ended differently. As uncomfortable as I am with the idea of disconnecting a feeding tube, I like even less the idea that decisions like this be taken out of the hands of the family. Under the law, a person's spouse is the next-of-kin -- and Michael was made Terri's guardian, and the courts have denied repeated attempts to get that changed. As a parent myself, I can see how a son-in-law might seem like a Johnny-come-lately after you've been intimately concerned with a child's welfare since birth, but that's the way the law works. The parents have failed to demonstrate that that Michael is unfit as a guardian, and that's that. It's his decision; that's the law. What kind of law would we want in its place? That feeding tubes are never disconnected even if that's what the family wants? That parents, and not spouses, are made legal guardians of completely disabled people? That a government agency makes the decision?

The religious right has been making noises about a "culture of death", so I suspect that what they want is for feeding tubes to never be disconnected, in spite of the family's wishes -- which is essentially an imposition of their religious beliefs on everyone. Somewhere, in this country, there are families making this terribly difficult decision about their loved ones, and a good many of them will decide that the person they knew is no longer there, and that prolonging life is pointless. Others will make decisions similar to what the Schindlers want for their daughter. But in the absence of a living will, shouldn't that decision remain in the hands of the person closest to them?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terry Schiavo

It's kind of risky, commenting on the Terri Schaivo case, when so many people have such strong feelings about it. One can hardly say a word about it without offending someone, and I'm in my usual wishy-washy state, wishing their were some kind of moderate compromise -- but there isn't.
I'm actually rather uncomfortable with the idea of removing a feeding tube from a patient; it's not quite like "pulling the plug" i.e. where the only thing keeping heartbeat and respiration going is a machine. In those circumstances, I don't have a problem with it. What is being done here is more of a denial of care; any helpless person will die if care-givers don't feed her. Now, it's clear that there just isn't much of Terri left; most of her brain is gone. But the same can be said to be true, for example, of late-stage Alzheimer's patients, and a myriad of other conditions affecting the brain. At what point is a person no longer worth caring for? What criteria should be used? No matter which one you use, there are other conditions that one could make the same argument about.
Although in such an important legal issue, it shouldn't matter, I don't particularly like or sympathize with any of the principals in this case, except for Terri herself. As in many family fights, everybody has gotten ugly. The Schindlers seem quite determined to ignore the reality of their daughter's condition -- something that I have a hard time being patient with. The idea that Terri could somehow miraculously become conscious again when most of her brain has turned to fluid is just ridiculous. Maybe it's the way I grew up, in particular dealing with my mother's illness; there's something in my emotional makeup that really gets me irritated when people pretend that things are going to be o.k., when they just aren't. As I write, there is a friend of the family claiming that Terri responded with a scream when asked if she wanted to live. With 70-90% of her brain gone, it is doubtful she would have even understood what was said to her, much less responded to it. People in this state do make various involuntary sounds and movements, including screams -- which are unrelated to external stimuli. According to the medical experts, Terri's parents are just desperately reading some sort of consciousness into these random reactions.
I'm absolutely horrified by their argument that her afterlife is in peril if she is involuntarily deprived of nutrition. The Catholic stance, as I understand it, is that they are forbidden to commit suicide by refusing food and water. That the Schindlers would use this argument indicates that they are either religious extremists, or they are just grasping at straws. A person who cannot make decisions about their own life cannot sin.
Michael Schiavo is even less sympathetic. I have to wonder why he has continued with this, when in his personal life has clearly moved on. I don't really blame him for that, under the circumstances, but I have to be suspicious as to why removing the feeding tube is so important to him. In spite of various rumors, money does not appear to be a motivation. It could be the Catholic laws on divorce -- although it seems a bit crazy to worry about that, when he is openly living with another woman. For all intents and purposes, he might as well be remarried. I have trouble believing that he is just so devoted to her that he is willing to go through all these legal battles in order to have Terri's "wishes" (which seem to be based upon a few offhand comments on the issue) fulfilled. There are some indications that he may have been abusive; there are no conclusions on that, since the court decided that it was irrelevant in the current case. With some people, the fight itself becomes the issue, and I suspect that's what's going on here.
And, of course, conservatives are making major political hay out of this case. I ran into one blogger who commented that it's too bad that they aren't more concerned about feeding those who are conscious. Not to mention the fact they want to limit malpractice suits, like the one that has been paying for Terri's care all this time, or that they want to prevent families who are faced with such enormous medical bills from filing bankruptcy. Keeping people alive, who need total care, takes money -- and that money has to come from somewhere, whether its taxes, lawsuits, or a family spending itself into bankruptcy. Conservatives don't like any of those things.
Legally, the courts have spoken. None of them has found sufficient grounds to removed Michael Schaivo from guardianship -- and when the chips are down, it is a patient's legal guardian that makes decisions like this. And I don't think it should be otherwise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Update on Autistic Teen Beaten by Police

I discovered today the reason I could find nothing on the web about this story -- on hearing it on the local news, I didn't realize that the incident had happened in Redding, so I was searching for the wrong city. The case was discussed today when I was working in a Special Ed. classroom -- that has two autistic children in it. The children there were far more severely handicapped than the fourth-grader I worked with, who was mainstreamed into a regular classroom. One little boy spent most of his time wandering about, fascinated with a single toy. When the other kids were watching a movie, he came and quite unselfconsciously sat down on my lap. He had only met me that morning, but I guess he figures that any teacher's lap is available. And, in that classroom, he's right. I can't remember him talking at all.

The little girl has no speech other than echolalia -- that is, she doesn't use language to communicate her own thoughts and feelings; she only repeats the words of others. Sometimes some rather discouraging words come out of her mouth;things like "Don't pee-pee the bed", and "Did you make this mess?" that had been said to her sometime before. These comments are not connected with anything going on in the classroom at the time; she's just repeating words she has heard. The teacher warned me ahead of time not to be shocked if she used four-letter words; she's just repeating and has no idea of their meaning. The child had a very rough morning, and she spent most of it just being rocked by the teacher or one of the aides. Then when we went outside in the afternoon sun, she seemed to just blossom and have a wonderful time. But she still was only able to repeat what she heard the teachers or other children saying.

The autistic boy that the Redding police beat up is completely mute. Just like Jim had guessed, the police thought his odd behavior was a indication of being on drugs; they were completely unprepared for how to deal with an autistic person. The kid's mother rather tartly observed that the fact he didn't speak at all should have given them a clue.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

New UHJ Members

The news has already flown around the Internet that Paul Lample and Payam Mohajer were elected on Naw Ruz to replace retiring members Ian Semple and Doug Martin. Just as was predicted, both of these gentlemen had been serving on the International Teaching Center.

The International Teaching Center, and the Continental Boards of Counsellors, were created, if I recall correctly, in 1968 to replace the "protection and propagation" functions of the Hands of the Cause. It was decided that since there is no longer a Guardian to appoint Hands, as is provided for in Baha'i scripture, a replacement institution appointed by the UHJ would be created. Over the years, the ITC has become tremendously powerful -- and its members are rather unknown to many Baha'is. Before I came onto the Internet, if you said "Counsellor", I would have automatically thought of a member of one of the Continental boards. The ITC does not even communicate with individual Baha'is, but only to institutions. Its "protection" feature is of special concern; it was the ITC that launched the Talisman investigation in 1996. It also was intimately involved in the administration's handling of the sexual abuse case that I wrote about last year. From the documents I was able to obtain, this body took a much harsher line than the UHJ itself -- which tended to hold itself aloof. But in its capacity of investigating "protection" issues, and making recommendations concerning the fate of those investigated, it wields enormous power.

The fact that the male membership of the ITC has become the main recruitment pool for UHJ members has become much talked-about online. Once upon a time, UHJ members tended to come from the NSAs of larger Baha'i communities -- that is, they rose through the ranks of the elected arm of the Faith, rather than the appointive one. Now, the UHJ essentially appoints its own successors. The reason this happens is that in Baha'i elections, name recognition is everything. There are no "candidates' per se, that deliberately run for office. In theory, any male Baha'i in good standing is eligible to serve on the UHJ. But the electors are the members of the world's NSAs, and the ITC members have considerable interaction with the NSAs of the world. This is a problem in virtually all Baha'i elections above the local level; the administration can control who is eligible for election by controlling who becomes visible. Baha'is often speak with pride about their "politics-free" elections, even claiming they are more democratic than the partisan elections that prevail in civil democracies. But what has happened is that the politics takes place behind the scenes. A charismatic, or just capable, teacher who is not approved of by the powers that be will soon find his activities curtailed. This happened locally, and I later found out that its not at all uncommon.

There are other significant factors that limit the democratic element of Baha'i elections. Many Baha'i communities are so small (most are between 9-15 members) that there just isn't much choice about who to elect. I found that "electing" a spiritual assembly is more about picking off the inactive; if you are really lucky, you can pick off the incompetant. Then, at the delegate level, the democratic element shrinks to almost nil -- the same well-known person is sent back year after year. In our unit, it was usually the person who was Chairman of the Convention -- which did vary some, until a Knight of Baha'u'llah moved in, then he was sent back to Wilmette every year. And the delegate, from what I've seen, generally makes his choice for NSA members based upon his experience at the National Convention. Again, this is a place where the current NSA controls who becomes visible.

The appointive positions aren't democratic at all, and one rises by cultivating ties of personal loyalty. I had some friends were did a brief stint as assistants, and they told me the ABM who appointed them openly asked them to "pledge loyalty" to her. There are multiple stories of would-be assistants who refused to spy and report on their fellow Baha'is, and therefore didn't accept the job, or were removed from it. So those who rise through the ranks of the appointed arm do so in part because of personal loyalty, and part because of their efficiency as heresy-hunters, particularly in the "protection" wing. These are now the people who are getting appointed to the ITC, and from there, elected to the UHJ.

Police Rough Up Autistic Teen

I haven't been able to find this news story online yet, but it ran on the local t.v. news last night:

A seventeen year old boy, who is both autistic and mute, wandered out of his home. A young woman home alone with her two young children saw him in her yard, and frightened, called the police to report that a black man was prowling around her house. When the police arrived, they shouted orders at the kid, which, of course, he couldn't understand. Apparently, he resisted and he ended up with a broken elbow, a head injury, several tazer burns, and was pepper sprayed.

The parents, or at least this boy's father, was surprisingly calm about the incident, but he is insisting that police must get more training on recognizing and dealing with those with mental disabilities. They showed this kid on t.v., and he appears to be more severely disabled than my student -- he can't talk at all, for one thing. He just sat there with a rather pleasant smile on his face, making the little hand movements which are common among autistics. He clearly has no clue about why this happened to them.

My own autistic student wouldn't have understood, either, if the same had happened to him -- I spent a rather foolish fifteen minutes trying to get him to come down off of the playground equipment (one of those big structures that has slides, climbing poles, etc.) because of complaints that he was pushing other students. He just insisted "I not bad", while I hung around down below looking like an idiot. (Unlike police, teachers can't, and shouldn't, wrestle a kid to the ground.) In the end, he still didn't understand why he was in trouble, and I realized that I had made a mistake in how I handled the situation.

The sad thing is that, according to their training, the police did the "right" thing. If a suspect does not respond, then you use physical force to subdue him -- the least physical force that will still be effective. If I have understood correctly, no one, even the boy's parents, are accusing the police of deliberate brutality; the kid must have resisted arrest rather forcefully, although, of course, he had no idea what being arrested meant.

There is a famous police training video called "Shoot; don't shoot", which trainees are supposed to watch realistic situations, and in a split second decide whether or not they should shoot. In one of the scenarios, a man keeps walking towards the camera, not responding at all to orders to freeze or stop -- then he reaches into his coat. But, instead of a weapon, he brings out a wallet containing a note explaining that he is a deaf-mute. But the "right" thing for the officer to do in that situation is -- shockingly enough -- to shoot. The man wasn't responding to orders; he reached into his clothes and it was very likely he had a gun. In real life, it would have been a tragic mistake, but a cop who *didn't* shoot in that situation could easily wind up dead. It's no easy matter to distinguish between a suspect who deliberately doesn't respond, and one that is not capable of responding. I don't know if further training would improve that situation or not. Jim said that the police are likely to decide that a suspect who is behaving oddly is on drugs; it wouldn't occur to most to assess mental condition.

If I can find the story online later, I'll link to it.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What I've Been Up to

My friend Steve Marshall has been promoting my blog as one with "regularly updated content", which hasn't been very true of late. As I announced earlier, I have had real-world things to take care of. However, it is Saturday, and I can't make a liar out of Steve, so here goes:

Looking around the blogosphere, it seems that mention of the Fast is virtually obligatory on any blog operated by a Baha'i. I have talked about it before in previous years.
As I've mentioned before, I find fasting difficult, and while I recognize its spiritual significance and all of that, that awareness doesn't make it less difficult. It is actually easier this year, since I'm working with a single student. I virtually *can't* fast if I'm under the stress of taking care of a whole class; I'm afraid that hypoglycemic irritability will cause me to blow it in a major way. For a regular teacher, a bad day is just a bad day, and you can start over tomorrow, but for a substitute teacher a single bad day can mean that school district doesn't call you for the rest of the year.

But I've been fasting, and taking care of my little autistic guy. Any mistakes I've made, I think I would have made even without low blood sugar. As always, the disciplinary aspects are the toughest. The regular classroom teacher thinks I'm not tough enough; the resource teacher who works with him thinks I was too tough -- so what's a person to do? Mostly, it's a matter of finding what works. I feel like I've been too busy to really have the spiritual focus that one should have this month. I could use a little meditation space.

I've been enjoying the classroom we're in. My student sits in a regular fourth grade classroom; I just stay at his side, keeping him on task most of the time. I've been absorbing some Spanish; this teacher mostly teaches in English, of course, but she explains things in Spanish for her limited English students -- and I know enough that it's not all just gibberish to me. What I'm finding interesting is her mistakes in English. Her native language is Spanish, of course, and her English is not at all bad or inadequate -- after all, she went to college in English. But there are certain subtleties that she doesn't really grasp. It really points out just how difficult learning a second language at an academic level really is; that's the reason why professional translators are told only to translate into their native language. Speaking two languages doesn't appear to be a big deal -- my autistic student is bilingual, although, of course, he doesn't do a whole lot of communicating in any language. You don't need super-high intelligence to learn a second language; you just need to be in a position where you must use it in order to communicate. (Without that, learning to speak a second language is pretty difficult.) But it takes 5-7 years for a child to reach a level where he equals his peers in being able to read academic material. The fact that a kid "speaks good English" is deceptive. Literacy in a second-language is a much more complex skill.

The kind of mistakes this teacher makes, I think, are based upon her familiarity with spoken English. For example, in a lesson on object pronouns, she said that it was proper to say "she called Enrique and I". Well, this is a mistake folks make in spoken English all the time, and she was a bit taken aback to find "Enrique and me" in the teacher's manual. She also didn't understand the use of "peoples" to describe several different cultures or nations. Another one was she talked about the use of "homo" meaning "same" (as in "homophone"), and brought up "homo sapiens" as an example. Of course "homo" meaning "same" is Greek, and "homo" meaning "man" is Latin, and the two aren't related at all. Ironically, she is making such mistakes because she's trying to be a good teacher and explain these things to the kids. And, she *is* a good teacher. I'm just finding it interesting because of what it says about bilingualism, and the difficulties of operating in a second language, even for an educated person.

Virtually every elementary school teacher I've ever observed makes factual mistakes in the classroom. We're expected to know everything about everything, and nobody does. All teachers who have to tackle all school subjects have some areas that are weaker than others. Not only that, but we're on stage all the time. Make one spelling mistake in a classroom newsletter, and you have parents shaking their head at the teacher's ignorance and the sad state of American education. It's a high-pressure situation. I tend to fall on my face in math, particularly in the upper grades. I don't always have time to look over the material beforehand, and refresh my memory on a subject which I've never done that well in anyway.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Teacher Freaks Out

Speaking of teaching, this is how you *don't* do it. The story is that a high school teacher yanked a chair out from under a student who refused to stand for the national anthem. Apparently the kids who taped this aren't exactly angels, and were hoping to catch the teacher in a bad moment. However, one thing you don't get to do is do anything physical to a student -- however much it may seem to be deserved, or how angry you get. You don't have the luxury of "losing it" in a classroom; if you feel like you are close to that point, then you have to stop and re-think what you are doing. Because if you are getting angry, then you are the one handling the situation badly. Now, I'm as human as any other teacher, and there are some kids that will push my buttons -- but I always remember that I'm dealing with someone else's child, and there are limits. Probably the worst I have ever done is say things I probably shouldn't have said -- I once had a parent upset at me because I yelled "What the hell are you doing?" at a student, during a situation where the whole class had been difficult to control, and I was getting pretty frustrated. But I certainly have never laid an angry hand on a student. I'd be scared that if I pulled a chair out from under a kid, he'd hurt himself somehow, and then I'd be in real big trouble. Subs are vulnerable; I don't have tenure, or even a contract, and a school district can simply decide they don't want to call me anymore -- they don't even have to take the trouble of firing me.

If I had a kid that didn't stand during the pledge or national anthem, I would simply assume that they had some religious reason for doing so, and would have let it pass. I don't think patriotism is a thing you can force out of somebody anyway. Now, if a kid was being deliberately rude or disruptive during the national anthem, that would be a different story, and I'd have written him up for it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Working Offline

I've got what appears to be a long-term substitute teaching job, and so I'm not going to have too much time for my usual online actitivities. Folks have been expressing appreciation for my blog here, and even suggesting topics I could take up, but right now I can't guarantee anything to anybody.

The job I've got is working one-on-one with a fourth-grader who has high-functioning autism and is mainstreamed into the classroom. He actually does pretty well, but without someone at his elbow, he doesn't get any schoolwork done. Normally, this is an aide's job, but aides are in such short supply that they are paying me teacher's wages for it. The actual time is up in the air, too. I've been working with this kid for the last week, but no one seems to know when, or if, the school board is going to get around to hiring someone permanent. It could be this week, next week, next month, or I could end up spending the rest of the school year with him.

So, I have to prioritize -- jobs I "have" to do online, like moderating, take priority, and so does my private correspondence. Then, the blog and posting on lists will just have to fit in there somewhere. It is almost certain that had I not worked such an erratic schedule (of course, I was still a student getting a credential when I first started posting), I never would have become as active in Baha'i cyberspace as I have. I've heard stories of first-year teachers working 12-hour days; had I gotten a permanent job, spare time would definitely have been in short supply, at least for the first year or two. (Folks that think teachers have it easy with short hours and long breaks don't know many teachers.)

I've been telling anybody who will listen ,for as long as I've been a teacher, that teacher training should include a basic class in special education. All I had was a one-unit class on the laws involved, and the main purpose seemed to be to tell would-be teachers that "Yes, you have to have these kids in your classroom." So, I had to learn by observation and experience. (Some of those aides are worth their weight in gold, and certainly worth any new teacher's time to pay attention to.) Virtually every classroom I've ever been in for the last 3 1/2 years has a kid or two with some kind of learning disability or other problem, like ADHD. I have also done some subbing in special ed classes -- once for a two-week stint. So, at this point, I know what I'm doing, but it isn't something that comes naturally -- you have to learn how. The more difficult the child, the more low-key you have to be. One of the mellowest people I ever met teaches at the Juvenile Hall, where you get a lot of emotionally disturbed youngsters. You can't come off all tough and authoritarian with autistic kids, or you could set them off into a tantrum, which is much worse than whatever problem you started off with. You just calmly and quietly say what you expect, and what the consequences are for noncompliance, and keep saying it until you get it. I have a reward system set up, and if he doesn't do his work, he loses part of his recess. I put check marks next to a happy face or a sad face -- and if I head towards his chart telling him he's going to get a bad check mark, he says "No! I don't want to be sad; I want to be happy!" "So, o.k., then, let's get to work." That's generally all it takes.

Autistic children also have to be reminded of basic social niceties, like greeting and making eye contact, and I often have to remind my little guy to look at the teacher and listen, or to get back on task. He was required to take a standardized test with the rest of the class -- and the rules of the test were that children get no help. He sat there for an hour and didn't do anything. So, that's what I'm there for; to keep him focused enough to get his work done.

Mainstreaming is rather controversial in some quarters, and I had my own doubts, until I saw how it worked. The greatest benefit that I see is the understanding the rest of the kids in the class gain. People think back to their own school days, and how anyone "different" was picked on, and think that handicapped kids would be sitting ducks for bullies. But when the nature of the disability is explained, the other children often respond very well. In the class where I did my student teaching, there was a kid with spina bifida who was mainstreamed in for an hour or so, and a group of the girls in the class enthusiastically mothered him, and went to see him in his special ed classroom whenever they could. It was downright touching to see. There is much less tolerance for bullying, in any case, than when I was a schoolchild -- but that could be the topic of a whole other blog entry.