Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Millard Fillmore Was A Know-Nothing

I write the following sentence on the board: Millard Fillmore was a know nothing. I ask students to tell me what the sentence means.

“Well…..somebody isn’t too smart,” a student volunteers.

Another comment is added. “That guy, Mil-, Mil-. That Mil- guy doesn’t know nothing.” I ignore the grammatical error. At this point it will just confuse them.

I try to turn students in another direction. “What are nouns?”

Someone regurgitates “Words that name people, places, ideas, and things.”

I counter with, “What’s our strategy to find nouns?” Several seconds go by. I hold up my board marker and point to it. Several hands go up.

“We look for noun markers like the words a, an, and the.”

“Good, take a look at the sentence again. What do you see?”

“Know nothing is a noun. It has an “a” in front of it.”

“Yes. So is Millard Fillmore stupid?”

“No, somebody is calling him a name.”

“What else do you notice about the words “Know” and “Nothing”?

After several tries someone tells me that the words are capitalized. I counter with a “So what?”

A show of hands. I choose someone. “Know-Nothing is a name for something.”

“Yes, but a name for what?”

I end our little language arts episode by telling students that Millard Fillmore was our 13th president and he was a member of a group called the Know-Nothings. I tell students their goal during the lesson is to determine how Fillmore became a Know-Nothing and what the group represented.

Would you like to find out what we learned? Head on over to the American Presidents blog where I posted the rest of the story. You’ll have to scroll down past the part you’ve already read.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Results Are In

Well….the results are in regarding my test (see Friday's post). I’m feeling concerned since our state test is looming. I went through the tests and recorded data based on AYP sub-groups.

A total of 62 students took the test. 26 students passed the test with an 80 or better. 9 students also passed with grades ranging from 79 down to 70. Here’s the part I don’t like….27 students failed the test with scores from 69 down to 20. That is the highest number yet who did not pass a nine week benchmark this year. While more students passed than failed I know most of the 27 who failed are capable of doing better.

The reasons for these results are many and that’s what frustrates me about testing.

We can blame the testing environment or the timing of the test. It was too hot, too cold, or there were too many phone/intercom interruptions. The test was too close to Spring Break (the day before).

We can blame the test. Are the questions (most of the questions were from a professional resource) poorly constructed? Is the test too hard? Not challenging enough?

We can blame the students. They didn’t study. They don’t care. They can’t read. They aren’t motivated. They have test anxiety. They have too much home environment baggage.

We can blame the teacher. The curriculum wasn’t taught. The material was taught in a poor manner. The teacher has poor organization skills. The teacher has problems managing the students during lessons. The teacher sticks to one teaching format leaving out various learning styles.

Here’s the rest of my test data:

Caucasion: Total-41, Passed-26, Failed-15

Black: Total-18, Passed 9, Failed-9

Hispanic: Total-4, Passed 1, Failed-3

Special Education: Total-7, Passed-5, Failed-2

Gifted: Total-6, Passed-4, Failed-2

Boys: Total-35, Passed 19, Failed-16

Girls: Total-26, Passed 16, Failed 10

The Special Education students took the same test as everyone else. The two who failed had modifications. Two of the incorrect answers were removed. Ten of the 41 who passed earned 100’s on the test. Of the four Hispanic students one has only lived in the states and has spoken English since birth----he’s also special ed, and passed the test. Two of the Hispanic students have recently arrived from Mexico and are in my room as part of that “Aw, teach ‘em American History even though they can’t even ask me to go to the restroom without a translator” mentality. The final Hispanic usually makes a 100 on my tests, however, he failed.

All students had the opportunity to have the test read to them. All students had a study sheet one week in advance of the test. Every question and answer that was on the test was on the study sheet.

What do you think? I really want to know. Look at my test. Reread my post with the questions. Tell me honestly what you think.

Here’s what I think…I think the State of Georgia is asking a lot of their nine and ten year old students. I think the questions on my test and on the state test (very similar to mine) are too difficult for the average 4th grader. There’s too much reading---too much information that confuses students.

Here’s another point to ponder. Many teachers in my state are beginning to voice concerns that the there are noticeable dips in the fourth grade state test scores while more students are passing the third grade and fifth grade tests. The third and fifth grade tests are gateway tests to determine if the student can move on or not. The fourth grade test does not determine pass or fail.

Could it be that over the last three years the cut score on the third and fifth grade tests have been shall we say “adjusted” in order to have higher numbers of students meet the bare minimum to pass, while the fourth grade test has not been “adjusted” and remains at the highest level of expectations possible? Could it be that while I’m am trying to ready my students by exposing them to the benchmark tests that are similar to the state test I am simply following the state’s lead and setting the students up for failure?

Lurkers, it’s time to make yourselves known.

What's a teacher to do?

Sunday Sermon: Religion----You Can't Escape It

Sometimes I participate in a teacher’s forum at the A to Z Teacher site. Of all the teacher forums I have found it to be fairly active and current. Recently a thread began concerning a high school that had a picture of Jesus posted in the front hall of the school. Apparently the picture was placed there by the principal. Read through the entire thread here. The responses are pretty interesting. The thread eventually gets off the topic a bit and turns to Bibles in the classroom and wearing religious symbols.

I believe the placement of a picture of Jesus in the front hall of a public school sends a strong message to all members of the school community and visitors alike. I believe it could be interpreted to send a message of exclusion to faiths other than Christianity. The picture should come down or, at the very least, other pictures should go up from other faiths that are represented at the school.

It seems to me that if you choose to be religious you are choosing to live a certain way. I would expect a religious person to be religious at all times. I don’t leave my religion in the car when I arrive at school. It goes in the building with me along with my purse, keys, and bag full of “stuff” I never got to the night before.

Religion is not something you bring out on ‘your’ particular Sabbath only to pack it away until you are having a desperate moment. We should live our beliefs everyday and all day long. We should allow others to see our walk with God, Allah, etc. That being said there is a difference in living the life and putting it out there for shock value.

At the beginning of the year I introduce myself to students. I share things about my family, growing up, and I tell students I’m a Christian and attend a Baptist church. I know that from that moment on I’m watched to see if I walk the walk and talk the talk. By revealing I am a Christian I have provided students with a set of expectations concerning how they will be treated in my classroom. Here’s the important thing though….many people bash Christians saying that we are out to convert everyone. I won’t disagree. I do believe in the “Great Commission”, however, I don’t proselytize to a captive audience and would never think of doing so. The way I live my daily life is a witness to my faith and is my constant testimony.

With every job I have ever had I have made it known I was a Christian. One of the law firms I worked for in my former career was Jewish. Both partners had grown up on the Lower Eastside of New York and they were as much Yankees as I was a grits eatin’ Christian from the Deep South. They walked their walk and I walked mine. I respected their traditions and they respected mine. It was truly a learning experience for all of us. We approached our differences with tolerance, interest, and most importantly a sense of humor. We also agreed sometimes to disagree.

I have a few Bibles in my independent reading library along with books on Jewish culture and holidays. I have books regarding other world religions too along with the Koran. They are all used. One of the responses on the AtoZ thread mentioned that as a parent they wouldn’t want their child introduced to other religions or symbols. That is their job as a parent. Well, I agree and disagree. Once students get into middle grades they begin studying world religions. They will learn the symbols and they will learn the basic beliefs of the religion. Prejudice stems from ignorance. By learning about different faiths we are able to understand the differences. It doesn’t mean that anyone will be converted.

History teachers cannot escape religion. I cannot teach students about Native American tribes without discussing their religion. Religion is one of the ingredients that make a group of people a civilization along with a political system and an educational system. When we discuss various beliefs and ceremonies we discuss the difference between the lower case “g” and the upper case “G” used with the word god in their textbook.

During our discussion of exploration I must explain what a Catholic is, who the Pope is, and that Christianity is made up of many different denominations. Nine year old children, even those that are well churched simply don’t realize that a Methodist and an Episcopalian are both members of the Christian faith. They have to be told this. The Line of Demarcation was set by the Pope to end squabbling between Spain and Portugal concerning which lands they could claim in the New World. I have to set the stage and provide information to students concerning who this Pope guy is and why is he allowed to tell two countries what to do. Religion comes into the discussion during our unit on colonization. We usually complete a matrix or classification chart detailing all thirteen colonies concerning the type of colony, who settled the colony, and for what reason. Seeking religious freedom was a prime reason for the settlement of the majority of the original colonies.

Getting back to the original premise behind the thread at AtoZ and this post I attempted to find something about the high school and the picture of Jesus but I didn’t. I find it hard to believe that a principal would do something that clearly could result in a media fiasco.

In the end religion is not an evil thing to invade a classroom. It depends on how it is presented, the purpose for that presentation, and if other points of view are considered.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Unconstitutional? Anti-Immigrant? Racist?

Let me take you back to last night. Friday night. The Friday my Spring Break began. Who wants to cook? My husband and I decided to call our local take-out restaurant that features chicken wings and Mexican food. They have great food and best of all a phone call gets it delivered to our door. No muss, no fuss. I kept calling but couldn’t get anyone. I decided I would just go on by the place since I had to take my daughter to a friend’s house. The restaurant, aptly named “Wing-It”, was closed. A big sign was on the door. “To support our fellow Hispanics we will not be open for business on March 24, 2006.” No chimichanga for me, no wings for hubby.

Yesterday, according to a Hispanic group spokesman, 80,000 Hispanics did now show up for work in Georgia. The Hall County school system, located north of Atlanta, reported that 40% of Hispanic students stayed home. The reason for the day long boycott was to protest Georgia Senate Bill 529, also known as the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act.

The bill prohibits illegal aliens from tax-payer funded benefits, companies that maintain public contracts can only hire legals, and tough penalties can be imposed for human trafficking. Children and mothers who are pregnant are exempt from the benefit restrictions. Both houses of Georgia’s General Assembly have approved different versions of the bill. Hispanics are upset because it appears that a final version of the bill will be written by a conference committee before the legislative session is over. One version of the bill contains a 5% surcharge on any money that is wired out of the country. Several state senators have already stated they want that provision removed.

Tisha Tallman of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund attacked the bill calling it unconstitutional, anti-immigrant, and racist.

One Hispanic high school student who attended a rally at the state capital told reporters, “Everybody should have the same rights---we just want justice.”

Another student, whose family is legal and have resided in Georgia for 13 years, said, “I think this bill discriminates against people who work hard.”

The word is still out on the impact the day long boycott. Some areas were probably more affected than others. My husband reported that the Mexican restaurant he had lunch at was slower than normal because some of the cooks didn’t show up. While my take out place was closed last night two of the busiest Mexican restaurants in town did a booming business. On my way to work I usually pass several cars full of Hispanics heading to construction sites. Yesterday was no different. I passed several vans and trucks. We had to opt for steak last night and while I was in the grocery store I passed several Hispanics purchasing groceries. I dared myself to ask them about the boycott, but I didn’t. My school reported no rise in absenteeism due to the boycott.

As an educator I am one of the people in the state who deals directly with Hispanic immigrants. Since they are children I have no knowledge if they are in the country legally or illegally. However, the state estimates we currently have somewhere between 250 to 800,000 illegals. While our burden is not as great as some states, Georgia is seeing a tremendous strain in certain segments of our government namely education, prisons, and healthcare. Yes, illegals do pay some taxes in the form of sales tax, but I’m fairly certain that the amount of sales tax they pay does not equal or exceed the amount of services received.

Georgians are debating the issue at the AJC website here. (scroll down to reach the comments).

Is it fair for illegal aliens to benefit from these services without reciprocating by paying taxes in the same manner as other Georgians? I don’t see how the bill is unconstitutional. Someone clue me in. The students at the rally seem to think illegal aliens deserve the same rights as citizens because they work hard and everyone should have the same opportunities. They are somewhat correct. Everyone should have the same opportunities if they are following the rules. I’m tired of hearing the argument that we should just allow illegals to remain as they are since they are doing the work Americans don’t want to do. Are these jobs Americans won’t do or is it because Americans won’t accept the wages paid for those jobs?

What really gets my fur up is the states that are most affected are having to take the initiative to do something about the problem. GW and the United States Congress are woefully behind the curve in handling this issue. Certain aspects of the problem need to be handled at a federal level. Our borders need to be strengthened. Paperwork allowing immigrants into our country should be streamlined, and let’s mend some fences by allowing everyone who is currently here illegally to register without penalty.

President Bush urged the nation on Friday to remain civil in our discourse on the matter. Apparently he will be attending a citizenship ceremony on Monday while the Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering the issue.

As a history teacher I know that the current debate on immigration is not the first one our nation has experienced. I did a little research and have a second post in the works as a follow up to add a little enlightenment to the issue. While doing the research I located the next topic I plan to post on at the American Presidents site. Funny how these things seem to dovetail and fit together…that’s what I love about history.

Well….Wing-It is open tonight and my chimi is on the way. Let’s eat!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Could You Pass My Test?

My end of term benchmark test was yesterday for social studies. My system requires a cumulative benchmark test at the end of every nine weeks. Yesterday’s exam contained questions from ancient Indians to Lexington and Concord. Currently it is left to me to write my own benchmark exams. In two or three years, however, Georgia’s new learning standards will be in effect and I feel certain the state department of education will mandate the use of a standard set of exams.

I gather my questions from many different sources including questions the state releases for practice directly from our state test, the Georgia CRCT. I use multiple-choice format for benchmark tests since the state test is multiple-choice as well.

This isn't the only method of assessment I use. I ask students to complete all types of mini-assessments that include graphic organizers, observations, verbal questioning, matching quizzes, short answer, essays, and projects. I stick to multiple-choice tests for my nine weeks exams though.

So here’s a sampling from my exam:

1. The Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippians were among the earliest people to create large, complex villages in North America. When grouped together these civilizations are called the
a. Inca
b. Inuit
c. Kwakiutl
d. Mound Builders

2. The Columbian Exchange affected people all over the world. Which best describes the Columbian Exchange?
a. the movement of Europeans from Europe to the Americas
b. the establishment of settlements in order to search for gold for Spain
c. the decision of European rulers to send their own explorers to the Americas
d. the movement of plants, animals, and people between the Eastern and Western hemispheres

3. King Phillip wanted England to be a Catholic nation and to stop English attacks on his ships. In 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed to England to attack. Which best summarizes why the defeat of the Spanish Armada was important?
a. the defeat meant a new king for Spain
b. the defeat helped the Spanish claim new lands
c. the defeat helped the English become more powerful
d. the defeat allowed other countries to cross the Atlantic Ocean

4. In the 1600s, the success of the French settlements in North America was due to
a. growing tobacco
b. protection of a strong navy
c. trapping of animal skins
d. locating the Northwest Passage

5. In what way was life in the Middle colonies similar to life in the Southern colonies?
a. Most people lived in cities in the Middle colonies and the Southern colonies.
b. Farmers in the Middle colonies and the Southern colonies grew the same crops
c. Children became apprentices in both the Middle and Southern colonies
d. Most people in the Middle and the Southern colonies farmed to earn a living.

6. William Penn believed in religious tolerance. He thought that people of all beliefs should live together in peace. How did religious tolerance in the Middle Colonies affect the colonies’ populations?
a. It brought more conflict to the region
b. It made the population more diverse
c. It made the land more expensive to purchase
d. Many people moved from the Middle colonies

7. Because the British won the French and Indian War in 1763, new land was open to British colonists. This included
a. land in Florida
b. land west of the Mississippi River
c. land west of the Appalachian Mountains
d. land in Canada

8. After several different American Indian attacks King George III issued his Proclamation of 1763. Why did this proclamation anger the colonists?
a. it wouldn’t allow them to elect representatives for Congress
b. it wouldn’t allow them to move west of the Appalachian Mountains
c. it wouldn’t allow them to build forts
d. it resulted in more British soldiers arriving in the colonies

9. Most colonists did not mind paying the tariffs the Sugar and Stamp Act demanded. The problem was
a. the colonists did not feel the tax was high enough
b. the colonists wanted to have representation in Parliament
c. they didn’t like the names of the taxes
d. they felt other products should be taxed

10. The Boston Tea Party made many people in Great Britain angry. As a result, Parliament passed the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. One purpose of these acts was to
a. let the colonists choose whether or not to buy tea
b. force the colonists to purchase tea from Great Britain
c. close the port of Boston as a punishment for its citizens
d. capture ships that brought tea from other countries

As of 3:30 today I am on spring break... finally.

I will spend the next couple of days grading my tests and breaking the data down into AYP sub-groups. Why? Just cause. I like to see how I am doing with one group compared to another. I like to see how 5th period compares 6th and 7th periods and attempt to pinpoint the possible reasons why.

So, how did you do? The answers are d, d, c, c, d, b, c, b, b, and c.

The real test had 30 questions. In case you’re wondering the questions I’ve posted are similar to the Georgia CRCT but are not released questions. I used questions I made up and some from another source.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sex in the Classroom

Early on in my teaching career I was attempting to discuss the events that gradually led up to the Civil War. My textbook at the time gave a heavy emphasis to slavery and did not mention the whole scope of events that led us down the path of war. I wanted my students to see how our growing nation was a cause to the war. Once the United States embarked on adding territory and new states to the Union sectionalism was inevitable. So I mentioned the word sectionalism in class. Immediately I had embarrassed looks, averted eyes, and a titter here and a guffaw there. “Oh my,” I thought. “What did I say?”

I continued talking. I showed students maps. I gave a nice explanation of sectionalism. I connected the word to another word we had learned earlier in the year…regionalism. Still, every time I said the word sectionalism students sat up straighter, had funny looks on their faces, and were finally at the point of a major meltdown. I gave up. “Ok, what’s going on?” I asked.

One young man bravely volunteered. “Mrs. Historyteacher, are you saying the Civil War was caused by sex?”

“Sex! Sex? When did I say sex?” I frantically searched my mind picturing myself as the lead story on the five o’clock news.

Everyone agreed at this point. “Yes, you said sex.”

“Yep, I head it.”

“How can sex cause a war?”

I thought that an explanation of Helen of Troy and the problems she caused would be inappropriate at the time, so I finally asked a dependable young man to tell me exactly what he heard.

“Well, you said sexionalism was a cause to the Civil War.”

So, it finally dawned on me what I had done wrong and I quickly backtracked to correct my error. I learned that day that when you introduce new vocabulary words to students that might sound like another word it would be most helpful to write the vocabulary word on the board before you begin to speak, and while you are speaking it, it would also be beneficial to walk by the word occasionally and point to it for emphasis.

I posted on sectionalism a bit more at the American Presidents Blog. Take a visit there and learn a little about the Election of 1824. There's also a great post there titled "White House...and Internet...Phantoms" that is very interesting.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Staying Rubble Free

Last week I related the wall to the cynicism that educators can develop around themselves. This week I use my pastor’s sermon regarding rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem to symbolize the quality product educators are striving to produce.

Nehemiah 4:10 tells us the people of Jerusalem were worn out with rebuilding the wall. They complained that there was simply too much rubble to remove. They complained that the work was not going fast enough. They wanted the wall finished immediately. Jerusalem’s enemies were watching and waiting.

Nehemiah did not give up. He was one man resisting a contagion of fear. He could have given up and retreated to his former position in Persia. He didn’t. His tenacity challenges me to remain steadfast as well in my educational endeavors even though the educational rubble is getting deep.

Teachers, the educators on the front line, are worn out. We’re told every child will succeed…NOW. We’re told every third grader will read on a third grade reading level by the end of third grade…NOW. The world isn’t too friendly. They want school improvement and oh by the way it’s our fault that things are the way they are and we better fix it…NOW.

It doesn’t matter that students come to us with baggage they’ve picked up along the way. It doesn’t matter that they may live in a homeless shelter, it doesn’t matter that they are up at 2:00 a.m. shopping in the Walmart because meth addicted mom can’t sleep. It doesn’t matter that they take eight different medications to get them through the day. It doesn’t matter that they are scared about what they will or won’t find when they get home. It doesn’t matter that mom did drugs the entire time she carried them and we will never know for sure how that affected them. It doesn’t matter that mom tried to self-abort them but somehow it failed and a baby was born anyway with a low enough IQ to have severe problems but not low enough to qualify for special services. It doesn’t matter that they can’t speak a word of English, but they better pass “the test.”

It doesn’t matter that you spent last summer rewriting lesson plans formatted to the “guru of the moment” and what he thinks a good lesson plan should be since you will spend this summer adding additional bells and whistles to your plans because somebody somewhere says we must have them.

Now before I go too far off the venting deep-end let me advise that I see many good things that have come along since the passage of NCLB. Curriculum needed adjusting and procedures needed to be put in place to make sure teachers were sticking to what should be taught and at what level. I even agree with benchmark testing but it shouldn’t be the ‘be all, end all’ to determining educational growth. I do disagree with the frantic to and fro that state board and county board officials seem to be doing. Let’s try this. No, that doesn’t work. Let’s go back to that. This looks good. Ok, everybody do this…NOW.
Here we are in the thickness of battle and the very ones who should support us don’t always do a good job of it. Why doesn’t somebody somewhere stand up and scream, “Ok, we get it. We know what we need to do. We understand the law, and we will do everything in our power to comply. Let us do it already.”

Nehemiah teaches us that there is no instant fix to what ails us. It’s a process that must be endured. The rubble must be removed. You can’t build anything worthwhile on a pile of rubble. A firm foundation must be established.

One thing encouraged Nehemiah, and it was faith. It was the root of his encouragement. As a Bible believer I know that there is not a lot I can do to improve the status of society today. I know things are going to get worse. However, I can work to make sure my classroom is a place that provides strict discipline, limits, and security while we work on the bricks in our educational wall. I can be willing to eliminate traditions and practices that no longer work or aren’t feasible. We don’t get a roomful of traditional students anymore. Traditional methods don’t work. I must be also willing to eliminate beliefs that have never worked and some new beliefs that won’t work either.

We must also be willing to admit we will never get rid of all the rubble.

My basement floor is the foundation of the home my husband and I have created. The rubble has been removed but every so often the dust and assorted crud builds up and we have to sweep it out.

I’m going to need a bigger broom.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Video Is Not a Bad Word

I find it quite appalling that some elementary schools don’t allow videos to be shown to students. How can you teach certain historical content to nine to twelve year olds and not show a video? In my previous post, Use Videos to Advance Your Curriculum I discussed another use for videos.

I usually show one to two videos per unit. Keep in mind my units last three to four weeks. After students have learned about the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord I show students Johnny Tremain. Yes, I know that the book would be much better. The book is also quite different from the movie, however, the book is on a higher reading level than most of my students could manage. As a read aloud it would take too long. I generally use several picture books during the unit instead of one long novel. Before I show the video we review historical fiction. We discuss that they will see fictional characters alongside historical characters. During our post video discussion we create a chart comparing fictional events and historical events.

Here’s why I show Johnny Tremain:

Videos help students review material-The first scenes of Johnny Tremain allow me to review the social hierarchy of colonial times. Johnny is an apprentice to Ephraim Lapham, a silversmith. Students are able to review what an artisan is as well as a merchant. A merchant in the story, Johnathan Lyte is a loyalist and trades in many goods including tea. Students can see how each group related to others and how they dressed.

Videos put a human face on historical characters-Many important participants in the events students have studied are portrayed in Johnny Tremain. Johnny consults with fellow silversmith, Paul Revere, concerning a particular handle design. After damaging his hand Johnny is unable to continue his apprenticeship. He finally obtains a job with the Boston Observer where he meets up with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis. Through these contacts he ends up passing messages to the members of the Sons of Liberty and actually becomes a participant in the Boston Tea Party.

Videos show students how events unfolded-To simply tell students how patriots obtained information about British troop movements is one thing. To see the process in action is another. Through some interaction with certain British officers Johnny is able to engage them in what seems like innocent conversation. Unknowing the British give Johnny and his friend important information about how the British will move against Lexington and Concord. Johnny is put in the important position of passing the information to the sexton at Old North Church so he’ll know how many lanterns he needs to use to warn the militia. Students then view a scene of Revere and Dawes on their midnight ride and the minutemen grabbing their muskets, kissing their families and heading out. Some darlin’ always gets excited and blurts out, “Those are minutemen aren’t they?”

Videos provide students with visuals-The final scenes of the movie relate the events of Lexington and Concord. Naturally Johnny Tremain is in the thick of things. As the British line up and face the patriots students begin to ask questions. “Why are they in straight lines? Why are they all out in the open? Why do the British wear those red coats? Why do they keep banging the drum?” I ask students to continue watching. Later the scene shifts to the long walk back to Boston for the British. There isn’t much conversation during this scene so I begin to relate new information to students. I stand below the television and point out certain things I want them to notice. I tell them about the rules for warfare that existed in Europe during the 1700s. I tell them that the drum not only keeps the rhythm of marching, but it provides directions to the different groups of soldiers.

Finally students see the patriots hiding at different places along the road taking shots at the British. We discuss why this angers the British. The patriots are not engaging them properly. I remind students that the scene they are watching is the ‘shot heard around the world’ we had just discussed the day before.

I understand why some rules exist about showing videos. I’m sure some people out there would abuse the privilege. However, videos like Johnny Tremain provide students something to connect to as they learn concepts and ideas that are foreign to them. With some students it just doesn’t click until they see events portrayed in some type of dramatical form.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Samuel Adams Isn't Just a Beer

Introducing American History to children isn’t always easy. I employ the “take two steps forward, one step back” method. I constantly review. I constantly connect old content to new content.

Over the last several days we have become knee deep into the American Revolution. During our review of taxes, taxes, and more taxes we were making a list of the different ways colonists protested the taxes. As they volunteered I wrote-----boycotts, smuggled goods, letters to Parliament, petitions, and violence. A young man volunteers, “The Sons of Liberty.” Immediately a girl speaks up and says, “Daughters too----the Daughters of Liberty!” I make separate entries on the board to please the masses.

I say, “I think we have them all. What about important people who spoke out about the taxes?” Students rattle off the following names---James Otis, Mercy Otis Warren, and Patrick Henry. “There’s one more that we’ve talked about, so far,” I prompt.

A voice says hesitantly, “Samuel Adams?”

Another voice counters, “No, John Adams. Sam Adams is the name on my Dad’s beer.” The room erupts in laughter, shouts, and counter-shouts from all corners. I raise my hand----the Harry Wong ‘guaranteed to get them quiet’ way.

I ask the class to turn to the appropriate page in the book where Sam Adams is highlighted. I wait for everyone to come on board. You see, even opening textbooks and finding page numbers can create momentary chaos in a room full of nine and ten year olds.

“Ok,” I finally say. “Samuel Adams’ cousin, John, called Sam “a plain, simple, decent citizen of middling stature, dress, and manners. The Governor of Massachusetts, a loyalist, called him the most dangerous man in Massachusetts. Boys and girls, Sam Adams is the name of a beer.” Looks of ‘I told ya’ sos’ are flashed around the room. “Our job right this minute is to reread about Sam and figure out what he did to get a beer named after him.”

We learn that after graduating from Harvard in 1740 Samuel Adams studied law, and worked as a clerk and merchant. He managed a brewery before being elected tax collector.

That tidbit of knowledge causes some titters. One of the most important tax protesters actually had collected taxes. We read on and learn more.

As more and more taxes were levied against the colonists Samuel Adams found out he was a good organizer and speaker. He helped to organize Boston’s chapter of the Sons of Liberty. Adams’ main talent was to bring together rich and poor alike. He wrote several pamphlets urging Americans to rebel against the British. One pamphlet called “The Rights of the Colonists” centered on three ideas: the rights of colonists as men, the rights of colonists as Christians (imagine that!), and the rights of colonists as subjects. These same rights are introduced into the founding documents of our nation---the rights of life, liberty, private property, and freedom of religion.

I stop our process of reading and tell students to remember this. I tell them in a few days we will talk about the Declaration of Independence and I will ask them to remember Sam Adams’ pamphlet.

Samuel Adams played an important role in the first actual battle of the Revolution. The British soldiers began to move against Lexington and Concord because they had information that John Hancock and Sam were there with a store of weapons. Luckily they were warned.

We talk about what we just read and identify the qualifications that could get a beer named after you. We then discuss which is more important, having a beer named after a historical figure or the contributions of that person. We decide the contributions are more important, and we discuss why the beer company would want to have a famous name attached to it. Having completed our review I inform students it’s time to go. Several hands appear in the air. “Well, what happened at Lexington and Concord?”

“Oh, young grasshopper,” I say in my pitiful ‘Kung-Fu’ imitation, “that’s a story for another time.”

That’s the secret. Leave ‘em wanting more.

Places to Go, Things to See

Check out my post at the American Presidents Blog (see my blogroll for link) regarding Chester A. Arthur and how his presidency can be used as a character study for students.


The Carnival of History is up. My post entitled “George, We Hardly Knew Ye” has been included along with some nice comments.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And Now for Something Really Fun....

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, “Kemo Sabe, look towards sky, what you see?”

The Lone Ranger replies, “I see millions of stars.”

“What that tell you?” asked Tonto.

The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute and then says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.

Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo.

Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning.

Theologically, the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.

Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you Tonto?”

“You dumber than buffalo dung. Someone stole the tent.”

Thanks to a fellow teacher who emailed these items to me. It's been a long hard day and I needed a chuckle. How 'bout you?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Here’s a scenario that happens everyday…a group of teachers sit down to plan a unit of study. The topic is Native Americans regions. They begin to brainstorm. The following plan is quickly formulated.

Students will create a diorama that recreates a scene from one of the Native American regions. Students will create dream catchers. Students will simulate a teepee village on the playground using canvas fabric and bamboo stalks. Students will choose a Native American leader and research a biography and draw an illustration. Students will read various trade books regarding Indian tribes. The chapter in the text will be read. Students will color a map depicting Native American regions. Questions at the end of the chapter will be answered. Students will take the test provided by the text publishers. A culminating activity will be a celebration of Native American foods (corn?) that everyone can sample.

When are we going to learn that activities are not learning. Activities without content don’t meet the standards/objectives. They are disjointed activities that are fun but have no learning value for the student unless accompanied by other components of instruction.

Every year it seems we have new catch phrases in education jargon. Some of the phrases are simply gussied up versions of edu-speak that have cycled through before. This year I am considered educationally literate if I can converse with other educators regarding differentiated instruction. This idea is taking a victory lap because it WORKS!

I was recently handed an article to review in our leadership meeting. My job is to review the article and pass it around to my team for their review. We are then to discuss the article at a team meeting. “Mapping a Route Toward Differentiated Instruction” by Carol Ann Tomlinson was first published in Educational Leadership in September, 1999.

In the article Ms. Tomlinson states that differentiated instruction is necessary to achieve equity and excellence in education. She also poses several questions that educators should ask themselves about the ways that we “do school” such as “Is it reasonable to expect all 2nd graders to learn the same thing, in the same way, over the same time span? Can we reconcile learning standards with learner variance?”

Differentiation occurs naturally in the classroom. We create seating charts based on the needs of the students. We group students for reading activities. We allow students choices in center type activities and choices of research topics. According to the educators in the ivory towers this is only scratching the surface of what is meant by differentiated instruction. As you can tell from my scenario I posed above I agree with them.

Ms. Tomlinson’s articles goes on to present two very different types of classrooms. One teacher is very linear in use of the textbook, notes, study sheet, and test. Another teacher uses graphic organizers along with text. Visual aides such as pictures and diagrams decorate the room to add to the unit. Special celebrations are included in the unit where students can dress to emulate the time period and certain foods are brought in.

Neither of these classrooms are using differentiated instruction. The methods employed do not include the two main ingredients for successful teaching---student understanding and student engagement. They must truly understand what they are learning and they must achieve satisfaction in what they are learning. In the first classroom described above students are getting content but are not engaged. In the second classroom students are getting some satisfaction, but they do not understand what they are learning.

In a true classroom where differentiated instruction is occurring careful planning has taken place to support student success. The learning styles of each student should be taken into account. At the beginning of each year I utilize a learning styles inventory like the one found here (look in the right top corner) to assess the learning styles of my students. Teachers should plan for what students should know, understand, and be able to do at the end of a sequence of learning. Learning is differentiated to facilitate the goal. After assessment further differentiation strategies may be needed. Students use the adopted text as well as additional resources. Students take notes using graphic organizers and review games are utilized. Questioning in classes should range from the familiar and concrete to the abstract and unfamiliar. Other “activities” should include whole group planning, working, reviewing, and debating. Students are given projects to complete that include tasks that are completed at home and in class that can related to the cultural and social interaction of a particular time period. Not only do teachers work with students on data collection for these projects they also work with students on the correct manner in which to synthesize the data into a manageable project.

Find out more information on your own regarding differentiated instruction here, here, and here. The website, “A Different Place”, provides performance based assessments here while these sites here and here provide reading ideas.

And remember…no more activities just because they’re cute!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Building Walls

If you’re not Biblically inclined please bear with me as I am going somewhere with this…

Last week my pastor used a passage from Nehemiah (4:1-9) to serve as the foundation for his sermon. At this point of the story many of the Jews who had been languishing in captivity at the pleasure of the Babylonians had returned to Jerusalem. A few Jews had remained in Babylon including Nehemiah who is described as King Artaxerxes’ (465-425 B.C.) cup bearer.

Upon hearing an update on the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem Nehemiah is most distressed to hear that his people are having a hard time. He immediately prays to God to watch over his people, and he asks permission from King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to help the Jews rebuild the city.

As the Jews are rebuilding the walls surrounding Jerusalem they are suffering from scorn and other indignities from various individuals and groups in the area. One person, Sanballat, is mentioned specifically. He was fairly powerful in and around upper and lower Beth-horon which controlled the major route between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea. Sanballet’s influence was such that he could affect Jerusalem’s economy. He opposed Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem along with Tobiah and a host of others. Tobiah was a practicing Jew who happened to live in a residence chamber of the temple. He is referred to as an Ammonite in the Bible perhaps because his family fled to that territory during the destruction of Jerusalem. If the wall was rebuilt and some semblance of normalcy returned to Jerusalem he might loose his hold on political power. He might loose his cushy residence.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem Nehemiah also suffers the scorns and indignations of Sanballat and others. He immediately prays to God and asks him to note the indignities His people are suffering, to avenge their cause, and turn the reproach back upon the scoffers.

Under Nehemiah’s leadership the people of Jerusalem rebuilt the wall in 52 days despite the opposition of neighboring peoples. The builders of the wall kept their mind on the task, kept a constant speed and soon the wall was back to half its original height. There’s a reason for this:
*the people had a mind to work
*their hearts were upon the work
*they kept the project advancing instead of allowing it become stagnant.

The struggle Nehemiah found himself in was political. As teachers we are also the pawns of a political struggle. The very organizations that we have formed to assist us in the political power play have become politicized themselves. Are our teacher organizations really helping us? Hmm..even Herod and Pilate weren’t friends until they opposed Jesus (Luke 23). Our school boards and administrators seem to take orders from our business communities. We need to be mindful that when there is no logical reason to oppose something the only option that is left for neigh-sayers is scorn. I’m tired of being scorned. I’m tired of having to rewrite lesson plans simply to fit someone’s idea of what a good lesson plan should look like. I’m tired of forms and more forms that data software could replace if someone would just spend the money. I’m tired of unrealistic benchmarks and discipline problems. I’m tired of parents ignoring discipline notes, not showing up for conferences, yet let their child tell them someone touched their pencil and all of sudden they find time to come and blame me.

Sometimes I feel like I’m languishing in captivity and suffering the scorn of the public at large. I’m caught in a maelstrom between the students, parents, politicians, media and administrators. We are a political football that is tossed about between the politicians, business leaders, parents, and media. I honestly believe that politicians don’t want us to succeed. What is their motivation? If we don’t succeed they have an issue. If they have an issue they can lay blame and propose reforms. If they propose reforms they get re-elected. With as much money that has been thrown at education over the last twenty years why are we still having problems?

Nehemiah believed that God was greater than his opposition and so should we. Our work isn’t just what occurs in the classroom. Our work should also include supporting each other, getting involved in the political process, and standing up for ourselves. Like Nehemiah and the citizens of Jerusalem do we have a heart to work? Do we have our hearts upon the work? Do we allow the work to become stagnant?

The citizens of Jerusalem had dedication to the task. They had a desire to work together. They knew what they were doing was for God’s glory. They were building a wall, not walls. Constant scorn makes us very pessimistic and then we begin building up walls of cynicism around ourselves. I’m tired of seeing a series of “me” walls. We need a “we” wall dedicated to advancing our profession, improving the field of education, and advocating for what’s best for our students. We need to remember that we are the professionals.


The purpose of my title is simple. In 1987, Judge Robert Bork was nominated by Ronald Reagan for the Supreme Court. His nomination was soundly defeated by the Senate in a well organized process that media and legal types today describe as being “borked”.

I see a new term on the horizon for educators based on the Sean Allen-Jay Bennish debacle. Educators, watch out! You could get “ambinnished” at any time. You probably already have been----you just don’t know it…yet.

The gap is widening everyday between those who are tech savvy and those who aren’t. Every type of device today records audio and video images, takes pictures, emails instantly and brings the meaning of ‘it’s a small, small world’ into much tighter focus.

Even though I teach at the elementary level I’ve had students record me, I’ve had pictures taken of me with and without my knowledge, and I’ve been recorded by parents at conferences with and without my knowledge. Accept it. ‘1984’ is here and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

If you haven’t read a transcript of the tape do so now here from Michelle Malkin’s blog In my opinion Mr. Bennish comes off extremely pompous and seems to enjoy the fact that he has a captive audience. He begins with a roll call of conspiracies the U.S. is committing in other countries around the world while students take down prepared notes that are probably necessary for the unit. He refers to the definition of capitalism which from the tape appears to be textbook generated and then adds the following personal comment

“…when you’re looking at this definition, where does it say anything about capitalism in an economic system that will provide everyone in the world with the basic needs that they need? Is that a part of this system? Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity? At odds with comparing and compassion? It’s at odds with human rights.”

I hope Mr. Bennish knows it is not the job of an economic system to provide for citizens. I'm hoping that this is just another inept way he is attempting to elicit comments. It is the citizen’s job to use the economic system to provide for themselves. John Smith had the right idea at Jamestown. “Those who don’t work, don’t eat.” Instead of providing his personal opinions here he could have provide students with a two-columned chart or Venn diagram and let them list compare socialism and capitalism. At one point Bennish tells students to condense the definitions if they need to and to remember he “took them straight out of the book.” Huh? Which parts? the part about profit or the part about providing basic needs?

Another section of the “lecture” has gotten a lot of press. Bennish comments on the President’s recent State of the Union address by stating,

“He started off his speech talking about how America should be the country that dominates the world. That we have been blessed essentially by God to have the most civilized, most advanced, best system and that it is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out in the world and make the whole world like us. Sounds a lot like the things that Adolph Hitler used to say.
We’re the only ones who are right. Everyone else is backwards. And it’s 0ur job to conquer the world and make sure they live just like we want them to. Now, I’m not saying that Bush and Hitler are exactly the same. Obviously, they are not. Ok. But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use. Very, very “ethnocentric”. We’re right. You’re all wrong.

In his State of the Union address, Bush does not get down to the nitty-gritty of foreign policy until his fourth paragraph. See the transcript of Mr. Bush’s speech here. He actually started off the speech remembering the passing of Coretta Scott King and her sacrifice and commitment to equal rights across the world.

I’m sorry. I reread the entire speech. I don’t see anything that can compare to Hitler except for Binnish’s own rant. It sounds shrill and one-sided. Wouldn’t a more appropriate way to motivate the students have been to insert a discussion here about colonialism/imperialism and talk above the beginnings of our foreign policy with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his “big stick” and “Great White Fleet.”

Another section has Bennish asking, “Who is probably the single-most violent
nation on planet earth?” Students mindlessly respond, “We are.” It would seem that they have answered this question before.

Listen up…I am all for academic freedom. We are given a set curriculum with guidelines and boundaries that we are contracted to stay within. What we do within those boundaries is the creative side of teaching. I want to give Bennish the benefit of the doubt. We all know from our yearly evaluations that one twenty minute block of time is simply that…taken out of context it can misinterpreted in so many different ways but delving deeper into the actual transcript Bennish isn’t using academic freedom. He is indoctrinating. What really worries me is even at 15 most students don’t have enough knowledge of the real world to participate in an open discussion that Bennish is attempting to elicit. I would be worried if he was my team member or if he was my child’s teacher.

One of the aspects of this whole story that has really bothered me is that everyone that has ranted or commented on the situation says, “Well this doesn’t sound like geography class to me. We looked at maps and learned about the countries of the world.” True. My tenth grade geography class was presented in the same manner. I remember a litany of worksheets we had to complete while the teacher sat behind her desk and dared us to approach her.

Here’s what I found on the Colorado Education Deparment’s website under standards. There is a whole section for Geography which details the standards and elements for each grade level area. See the standards/objectives here. There is a two to three page explanation at the beginning of the standards and one statement jumped off the page at me. It said, “Geography has to do with asking questions and solving problems.” One of the standards for grades 9-12 states, “[students will be involved in] analyzing how different points of view and self interest play a role in conflict over territory and resources.” Hmmmm….based on that one standard I can understand why Bennish would be lecturing on some of the topics he was discussing. It would be proper to bring up our need for oil, the need of Middle East to sell their oil, and how supply and demand can lead to conflicts in the past, present and future. I understand based on the standards why he asking students to record vocabulary words such as capitalism. I can understand why he asks students if they listened to the President’s State of the Union address. It fits with the standards/requirements that Colorado has set forth. I can even understand how he would attempt to bait students with inflammatory comments to encourage debate. The standards clearly show that geography today is not mimeographed worksheets and teachers who hide behind their desks. However, the lecture/rant that Bennish delivers is extremely one-sided. He should present both sides and then allow for discussion.

Another thing that bothers me was Bennish’s attorney. Instead of going directly to the standards/objectives to defend his client he kept saying over and over “Well; the syllabus said this. The syllabus said that.” He added, “Parents knew what they were getting into. They had to sign the syllabus.” You know, it doesn’t matter what the syllabus says. I can type up anything on a syllabus You can read the syllabus for yourself here. Most of the syllabus seems in line to me including his description of the course and expected activities based on the Colorado standards. However, many people have commented that Bennish’s tone through the syllabus is overbearing, pompous, and makes him out to be as one person stated, “…quite a little despot.”

As I stated before ‘1984’ is here. Big Brother is watching one way or the other. So…where does academic responsibility end and academic freedom begin?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

The following question recently appeared in the Atlanta local paper.

Should January 30th be declared Franklin Delano Roosevelt day in Georgia? FDR guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II, and he brought the country Social Security and several social welfare programs. He put Warm Springs, Georgia on the national map, visiting there for two decades to treat his polio and building the Little White House, where he died in 1945. However, a Republican lawmaker wants to stall a FDR memorial bill because the president had an affair with his wife’s social secretary. So, should the [Georgia] General Assembly pass a bill honoring FDR, or should they kill it because of the affair?

There was quite a range to the responses that readers submitted. Some were simply idiotic and off topic. Here are some that managed to stick to the topic:

Pro Comments-
*FDR saw us through two very traumatic eras---the Great Depression and World War II
*Citizens sought to elect him not once, not twice, not three times, but an amazing four times. Penalizing a great man for an affair in this day and age is unacceptable when so many of our other great leaders have had their morality questioned.

Con Comments-
*FDR started the socialist movement and a dependence on government that continues today.
*FDR was a socialist. May Day would be the appropriate day to honor him.
*FDR damaged this country’s principals of individual liberty and limited government
*FDR cost many lives along the Ardennes and the Rhine with his comment about “unconditional surrender” at Casablanca without the agreement of his allies
*FDR was the epitome of big government and the mindset still exists today
*FDR left us with a Social Security system that is inefficient and allows politicians to buy votes
*FDR had an affair

So….here’s my take on the matter.

In her book This Is Georgia, published in 1968, by Bernice McCullar she devotes several pages to FDR and his impact on the state of Georgia. McCullar refers to the years from the 1929 Crash to 1958 (five years after FDR’s death) as “The Roosevelt Impact”. FDR first came to Warm Springs, Georgia in 1924 when the owner of the springs, Foster Peabody, wrote to him about the curative powers of the waters. The website for the Little White House states:

Enchanted with the area, he built a vacation cottage on the side of Pine Mountain while running for president in 1932. During his trips to Georgia, he spent many hours visiting neighbors and learning of their difficulties, especially during the Great Depression

Visits [at the Little White House] were amongst the happiest times of Roosevelt's life. From the moment he was greeted by the villagers as he stepped down the ramp of his special train at the tiny Warm Springs station, until he drove himself, followed by Secret Service men, in his blue automobile with the specially-constructed hand controls for a last look at Shiloh Valley from the top of Pine Mountain, …he was that man from Hyde Park, seeking strength and health and happiness.

The Georgia FDR first saw was dirt poor and backward. There weren’t many opportunities for Georgians back then whether they were black or white. Georgia was primarily a rural state in the mid to late 20’s. Most rural roads were still dirt, telephone lines did not exist outside of major towns, and rural areas were dark at night. Most houses including my grandparents had no inside bathroom and no running water. If they didn’t grow it, they didn’t eat it.

Two years into the Great Depression FDR received 22,821,857 votes for president to Hoover’s 15, 751,443 votes. The voter turnout in Georgia was the highest recorded to date during a presidential election. During the campaign FDR spoke at Oglethorpe University located just outside of Atlanta and said, “This country needs bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But above all, try something!”

Also from the Little White House:

Some of the most far-reaching policies of the New Deal were actually formed in the Little White House. The ideas for the National Bank Holiday and the Rural Electrification Administration both had their inceptions in its rooms. As well, the bill for creating the REA was signed here. Many techniques for improving livestock breeding, crop rotation and reforestation were developed and demonstrated near Roosevelt's Little White House. The Civilian Conservation Corps, "the CCC" as it was called, employed many a young local man during the Depression-weary years.

Many older, native Georgians seventy years old and older remember their Georgia during the Depression. They can remember their parents and grandparents remarking on FDR and how his innovative programs helped Georgia in particular. For that reason many Georgians during those times have continued to remember FDR and they are what I call “FDR Democrats”. Simply based on the fact that FDR was a friend to Georgia before and during his presidency many native Georgians have voted Democrat since and will continue to do so until they die. My father is one of them. He is a conservative at heart but his loyalty to his father’s “Mr. Roosevelt” is undeniable.

The website Our Georgia History advises:

Beset by serious problems from 1920 on, the Great Depression only made the plight of the farmer worse. Falling cotton and tobacco prices, reductions in workforce thanks to the competition from cities, and poor land-use strategies wrecked havoc on the sector that had supported the Georgia economy since the time of Oglethorpe. These three things combined to chase Georgians from the fields in record numbers. At the end of the ten-year period ending in 1940, less than one-third of all Georgia workers were employed in agriculture.

The website for the Carl Vinson History Project confirms:

While visiting Warm Springs Roosevelt was invited to speak before the chamber of commerce of Americus and Sumter County. He used the occasion to praise the "blossoming spirit" of his second home, and also pushed his idea of using otherwise unproductive land to grow trees:

"In Georgia the movement towards the cities is growing by leaps and bounds and this means the abandonment of the farms or those farms that are not suited to the uses of agriculture. It means that we will have vacant lands but these can and should be used in growing timber."

My grandfather was one of the Georgia farmers who began working in a factory instead of making his living by full time farming. He was employed for a time at the old Bell Bomber plant that today is known as Lockheed Martin. His farm lay idle and stands of timber were eventually harvested from his 100 acres. The land still lies dormant and from time to time timber is still harvested.

The programs Roosevelt initiated helped the country get through the Depression. They helped people feel better because something was getting done. In reality though, the war is what got us out the depression. FDR should not be held to blame concerning big government, social security, and other entitlement programs. They were necessary at the time. The alphabet government got people to work, and got electricity and decent roads to people who needed it.

The incompetence here is not FDR’s. It belongs to the politicians of all parties who have come after him for allowing big government to remain and for allowing social security to continue without an overhaul. I will admit that the continued use of his social programs after the end of the Depression has gotten us into a fix. People now feel it is their right to have a check from the government at age 65, and unfortunately, many Americans are poorly educated about saving for their future. They feel that their “government check” will be all they need. You cannot make me understand how a government is NOT weak when its citizens must depend on the government for their livelihood or when citizens must hold out their hands once a month to have a meager reimbursement in installment payments. Social Security needs reform and it needs it more than my classroom.

The premise for denying FDR a state holiday is based only on immorality. Deny FDR a state holiday based simply on an affair? If we started using morality as a basis for memorials and state holidays we would have to dismantle the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as both presidents owned slaves. Dr. King is rumored to have been unfaithful to his wife. Cancel his day? Extinguish the flame on JFK’s grave? I think not.

In 1938, the Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville celebrated its first 100 years. They began a campaign to collect programs and papers that could be read at the 200th anniversary of the school in 2038. Dr. Guy Wells, the president of the college, wrote a letter to the person who would be the future college president. In that letter he wrote,

“We have an American president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Some consider him to be our greatest president; others consider
him a demagogue. By the time you are here, history will have decided
(This Is Georgia, McCullar)

Well, we have 32 years to argue I guess…

Sunday, March 05, 2006

George, We Hardly Knew Ye!

At a conference that I recently attended I overhead two teachers talking. They were discussing a lesson for American History. I inferred they were lower elementary teachers since some of the activities they discussed usually take place in first and second grades.

It was very hard to not wedge myself into their conversation. They were discussing one of our foremost American heroes…George Washington. There are many false stories out there surrounding the man that is remembered as being first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of our countrymen, and these two educators had bought into all of them. Yikes!

I guess the reason why their ignorance struck such a cord with me is I began the French and Indian War earlier this week as an introduction to the American Revolution. For my purposes it is not necessary to cover the entire French and Indian War. I hit the causes and the results which is kind of sad because there are several interesting tidbits concerning this time period. I would introduce more information, but we do tend to be a bit “standards” anal these days, and time is my enemy. I do feel, however, that if we teach social studies we should take the time to de “myth”isize history.

One of the first things I do is I ask the students to tell me things about George Washington. Our jot list includes: he’s on the dollar bill, he’s on the quarter, he never told a lie, he cut down a cherry tree, he had wooden teeth, he could throw a silver dollar across a river, he wore a wig, and he was our first president. I tell the kids that unfortunately history is full of myths that get handed down from generation to generation and people believe them for so long it is as if they are fact. I take a marker and draw a line through all of the myths leaving only the money facts and the first president fact on our list. They are shocked. “But my mom said….”, “But my teacher said…”

Anytime we de “myth”isize history in my classroom I make sure students realize the reasons behind the myths. We talk about revisionists (like Disney), we discuss how new information is discovered, and we discuss the motives behind changing history to leave out groups of people. I make sure students realize no one is trying to pull the wool over their eyes, especially their parents and former teachers. I certainly don’t want to break a bond of trust within the family.

I share the following with students….

George Washington’s family (on both sides) had been in the colonies for at least 2 generations. He considered himself a Virginian, however, his loyalties were with the King of Britain. He was British. He was a soldier in the British army. I tell the kids to close their gaping mouths and think for a minute. I remind students that we are talking about a time period before the United States. We look at our map again. I remind them that everyone who lived in the 13 colonies were not citizens of the United States but were citizens of British colonies and were loyal to the King.

This is very powerful for nine year olds to grasp. They hear George Washington and automatically think United States. I make sure in my lesson I remind them that George is British several times while we tackle the myths they have learned.

Teeth-GW did not have wooden teeth. He did have false teeth but they made from various materials------cows teeth, human teeth, and ivory. One dependable source stated he had a set of teeth that were lead and weighed as much as three pounds. These false teeth would have had springs to allow him to open and close his mouth. These would have been very uncomfortable which explains why GW is not seen with a toothy grin in any of his pictures.

A great throw-It is routinely shared with schoolchildren that George Washington once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. That would have been impossible since the Potomac is very wide and silver dollars would not have existed at the time the story takes place. Later Washington’s step-grandson theorized that there had been a mix-up in the story. He verified Washington had thrown a piece of slate across the Rappahannock River where he lived at Ferry Farm, his childhood home. The Rappahannock’s banks are much closer together than the Potomac’s.

Expert with an ax-You know, I saw this myth debunked a few years ago in Weekly Reader…why is it still hanging around? Mason Weems, an early biographer of Washington’s, made this story up to promote GW’s honesty. Family members have verified through the decades that the whole story is bunk.

Weird Powdered Hair-Many historians, including those that work at Mount Vernon, have verified GW did not wear a wig. He hated them. He powdered his own red/brown hair and braided it down the back to comply with the style.

Here are some non-myths (at least until they are proven otherwise):

*GW was the only president to be elected unanimously
*GW was a slave owner with 300 plus souls under his control.
*GW used slave laws to his advantage. He took his favorite cook, a male slave named Hercules, to Pennsylvania to prepare his meals. At the time Pennsylvania had a law that slaves within the colony would be free after residing in the colony for six months. GW always sent Hercules home before the end of the six month period. Eventually Hercules ran away and GW never found him.
*Upon his death GW’s will ordered his slaves freed, and he ordered that funds be set aside to help the elderly and to educate the young.
*GW, like Thomas Jefferson, is now rumored to have fathered a slave child of his own. However, many people dispute this and state that more than likely GW was unable to father children. He may have had TB earlier in his life and this may have caused him to be sterile. Some state that a Washington probably fathered the child in question, but not
George Washington.
*GW didn’t lack for children. He fathered his step-children and grandchildren. He and Martha also took in several children belonging to friends or family at various times. GW even took in the Marquis de Lafayette’s son during the French Revolution.
*The hemp plant was grown at Mount Vernon so some folks like to think GW knew something about pot. I think the plant was more than likely used for rope.
*We can thank GW for the Bible being part of the presidential inauguration ceremony and the words “So help me God” which he added himself.
*Upon her husband’s death Martha Washington burned all of her and her husband’s correspondence---only two or three letters survive.
*GW’s horses had their teeth brushed each morning. Was he planning on using them in a new set of dentures?
*It is a wonder he ever made it to serve as our first president. As a young man he suffered malaria, smallpox, pleurisy, dysentery, a near drowning in an icy river, shot at and missed by an Indian standing less than 50’ away, and had two horses shot out from underneath him
*GW survived a close call with a duel with a man named Payne---problems ended when GW offered his hand as a sign of apology and friendship*GW turned down a salary from Congress and insisted that he be paid only for his expenses. His salary would have been $500. By accepting an expense only arrangement during the 8 years of war GW was owed $447,220

Some might argue that it doesn't hurt the American public to believe their first president had superhuman throwing strength and never told a lie but we also need to understand our leaders are mortal men and women. They have the same fears, bad habits, and mortality that we do. Their greatness comes in the manner they overcome their shortcomings, the honing of their skills in leadership and delegation of duties, and their desire and constant effort at doing the right thing all the time.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Well…Apparently I was tagged so here goes…

Four Jobs I’ve Held
Deputy Court Clerk for a local State/Superior Court
Legal Secretary
Business Owner (legal research-title exams, etc.)

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over
Gone With the Wind
Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil
Any movie based on a Jane Austen (sp) novel
Animal House (sentimental reasons)

Four Places I’ve Lived
Georgia---south side of Atlanta
Georgia---North Georgia mountains
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Georgia---west of Atlanta (I don’t get around much)

Four Television Shows I Love
The Vicar of Dibley (BBC)
Anything on the History Channel
Good Eats (Food Network---great mix of food/chemistry/history)

Four Places I’ve Vacationed
Panama City Beach, Fla. (Redneck Riviera)
Asheville, North Carolina
Gatlinburg, Tennessee (Redneck Alps)
St. Augustine, Florida (Told ya…I don’t get around much)

Four Places I Would Like to Visit
Any secluded Carribean beach

Four Favorite Foods
Anything Mexican
Fried Chicken (had to say this or my Southern membership card will be confiscated)
Fried Green Tomatoes
A great steak

Four Blogs I Visit
World History Teacher
Kibbles “N” Whine
Not Quite Grown Up…and many more that aren’t listed on my list

Four Places I’d Rather Be
On a Greek island
Road Trip….to anywhere
On a cruise eating the midnight buffet on the Lido deck with Gopher and Capt. Stuebing
Rummaging through the White House or any other national treasure from top to bottom

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Creation of the Teacher

The following piece of writing was handed to me by a colleague of mine. If anyone knows the source please pass it along. I found it inspiring enough to share.

The good Lord was creating teachers. It was His sixth day of "overtime" and He knew that this was a tremendous responsibility for teachers would touch the lives of so many impressionable young children. An angel appeared to Him and said, "You are taking a long time to figure this one out."

"Yes," said the Lord, "but have you read the specs on this order?"

...must stand above all students, yet be on their level
...must be able to do 180 things not connected with the subject being taught
...must run on coffee, coke, and leftovers
...must communicate vital knowledge to all students daily and be right most of the time
...must have more time for others than himself/herself
...must have a smile that can endure through pay cuts and problematic children
...must go on teaching when parents question every move and others are not supportive
...must have six pair of hands

"Six pair of hands," said the angel, "that's impossible."
"Well," said the Lord, "it is not the hands that are the problem. It is the three pairs of eyes that are presenting the most difficulty!"

The angel looked incredulous, "Three pairs of eyes...on a standard model?"

The Lord nodded His head. "One pair can see a student for what he is and not what others have labled him as. Another pair of eyes is in the back of the teacher's head to see what should not be seen, but what must be known. The eyes in front are only to look at the child as he/she "acts out" in order to reflect,'I understand and I still believe in you' without so much as saying a word to the child."

"Lord," said the angel, " this is a very large project and I think you should work on it tomorrow."

"I can't," said the Lord, "for I have come very close to creating something much like Myself. I have one that comes to work when he/she is sick...teaches a class of children that do not want to learn...has a special place in his/her heart for children who are not his/her own...understands the struggles of those who have difficulty...never takes the students for granted..."

The angel looked closely at the model the Lord was creating.

"It is too soft-hearted," said the angel.

"Yes, " said the Lord, "but also tough. You can not imagine what this teacher can endure or do, if necessary."

"Can this teacher think?" asked the angel.

"Not only think," said the Lord. "but reason and compromise."

The angel came closer to have a better look at the model and ran his finger over the teacher's cheek.

"Well, Lord," said the angel, "your job looks fine but there is a leak. I told you that you were putting too much into this model. You cannot imagine the stress that will be placed upon the teacher."

The Lord moved in closer and lifted the drop of moisture from the teacher's cheek. It shone and glistened in the light.

"It is not a leak," He said. "It is a tear."

"A tear? What is that?" asked the angel. "What is a tear for?"

The Lord replied with great thought, "It is for the joy and pride of seeing a child accomplish even the smallest task. It is for the loneliness of children who have a hard time fitting in and it is for compassion for the feelings of their parents. It comes from the pain of not being able to reach some children and the disappointment those children feel in themselves. It comes often when a teacher has been with a class for a year and must say good-by to those students and get ready to welcome a new class."

"My," said the angel, "the tear thing is a great idea...You are a genius!!"

The Lord looked somber, "I didn't put it there."

Author Unknown