Sunday, April 30, 2006

So Help Me God

Today is the anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as our first president. It has been two hundred and seventeen years since that event and folks are still attempting to find out what really happened.

What’s the big deal? Why does it matter? Well, for some folks it’s a matter of four little words…’so help me God’.

In a past post, I lamented that I often run across educators who innocently buy into historical myths either by accident or ignorance. At the end of that particular post involving George Washington I listed additional information and labeled the list “non-myths” (at least until proven otherwise).

A drop-in reader, Cassandra, emailed me with an observation from the other side of the fence. She said, “Please help students realize that the burden of proof is upon those who are making the statement, and not the other way around.” I agree…especially if we don’t want to continue teaching history myths. However, as a teacher in the classroom every day I cannot investigate every single piece of historical information to make sure there are primary sources to back it up. Sometimes we just have to trust the researcher, the textbook authors, and the teacher resource creator. However, as a classroom teacher I do have a responsibility to strive to remain current in my subject matter and not simply teach the text.

There is still quite a debate regarding George Washington and the words that he has been reported to have added to the end of his oath of office-----‘so help me God’. According to my e-mailer many different researchers have not been able to locate a bona fide primary resource to verify George Washington uttered the words “SHMG”.

My e-mailer urges me to have my students write or e-mail the Library of Congress and have the library provide us with information regarding the primary sources used to determine the notion that George Washington uttered the words in question.

This might prove to be an interesting activity. As an educator I want to make sure that I teach truths and provide as many possibilities to examine primary sources. So…I’m planning on crafting an inquiry to the Library of Congress. I doubt I involve my current group of students because other academic demands are taking up much of our time. I also feel that much of this information in its original form is too complex for nine year olds. I would much rather get my hands on the sources and put them in a more presentable form so that they can comprehend what they are looking at.

Here’s a except from Cassandra’s email to me:

On January 20, 2001 the Washington Post carried an article with the title, "Thundering On The Metroliner With George Washington's Inaugural Bible." The article explained how the same Bible that had been used at George Washington's Presidential Inauguration of April, 30 1789 was being transported from New York City to Washington D.C. for use at President-elect George W. Bush's Inauguration.

The article also described how after the Bible had "arrived on the balcony [of Federal Hall], Washington ... repeated the oath of office 'in a loud, firm voice,' [and] according to one account. 'He then added, 'So help me God,' and bent forward to kiss the Bible.'"The article continued, "[New York State Chancellor Robert R.] Livingston shouted, 'Long live George Washington, president of the United States!' and everyone went nuts. (Whether Washington actually added "So help me God" to the oath is not supported by any eyewitness accounts, according to Philander D. Chase, editor of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. 'He may have said those words,' Chase said. After the swearing-in, Washington went inside to read his -- and the new country's -- first inaugural address in the Senate chamber."

Nobody onboard the Metroliner, at that moment, said, "Hold on, stop the train!" They should have, because Philander D. Chase had just made an historic statement that flat out challenged what educators and historians over the last 145 years have come to presume as a matter of fact.

The "account" alluded to by Philander Chase is attributed to the well-known author, Washington Irving, which never came to light until 1854. The main problem with Washington Irving's report is that Irving was six years old at the time of the inauguration, and when the inaugural scene is described it is just as if a ubiquitous author was narrating the story while standing on the second-story balcony of Federal Hall, when we know he wasn't.

Since the time of its first telling, Washington Irving's polished version of how George Washington supposedly added the words, "so help me God" to his oath of office has been repeated over and over again. It was revitalized during the 1889 Centennial Commemoration of George Washington's Inauguration, and then again in 1957 it was most notably repeated by the Nobel Prize winning historian, Douglas Southall Freeman.

Trying to overcome the idea that George Washington added the words, "So help me God," to his constitutionally prescribed presidential oath is going to require an abundant level of patience. However, if the reader takes the opportunity to visit the new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, which is planned to open on Oct. 27, 2006, with its life-size diorama vignette showing a re-enactment of George Washington taking his presidential oath, then the visitor will be able to experience a firsthand account of George Washington taking his Inaugural Oath of Office. This way, one person at a time, we might be able to de-"mythize" at least one moment of history.

Yours truly,

So here’s your turn to weigh in if you have any pertinent information. I’d love to hear from you, and as soon as I get a response from the Library of Congress I will post away….so help me God!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What a Week!

It's been one of those weeks.

Students have been very, shall we say, energetic to say the least. I don't normally have to call administration to help me with discipline matters but this week I called twice. Knowing that I don't call that often they came a runnin'. One young man decided to lay in the hallway when he learned that he would be staying in study hall instead of going out for recess. His offense? He head butted a classmate, he opened up the hand sanitizer and let it flow on my classroom carpet, he told me to shut the f- up, and call me crazy, but I can't allow students to lay in the hallway. Non teachers would probably say, "Oh let him...he'll eventually get tired and come in the room." It doesn't work that way. If I leave a student alone in the hallway and something happens I'm responsible. It was bad enough that he wouldn't get was a definite write-up when he told me to shut up along with the f-word.

Earlier in the week another student decided I wasn't lining up for lunch fast enough and he wanted to leave the room. Out he goes with me saying, "Come back", "Stop", "Don't". Once he was three-fourths of the way down the hall I gave the ultimatim, "You've left me no chance. I'm calling." When I have a problem with kids I give them two choices---one choice is the behavior I want them to exhibit while the other is calling the AP or resource officer. Most of the time they choose the behavior I want because I'm consistent and they know I will call everytime. Well, this particular young man turned the corner and at that point I didn't know where he was. I called the office. Luckily he had decided to sit on the bench around the corner, but when the rest of the class and I reached his spot he still wouldn't go with me. The AP had reached us by then and he handled it from there. I really love that guy and I hate for other educators who don't have supportive administrators.

We've had some wonderful lessons this week regarding Daniel Boone and the settlement of Kentucky and Tennessee. We've discussed the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. In order to review on Friday I drew an impromtu map on the board and labled the original 13 states, the Appalachian Mountains, the Northwest Territory, the Mississippi, and the Louisiana Purchase. I also indicated British Canada and Spanish territory in the west and Florida. As I reviewed the settlers crossing the mountains and spreading to the frontier I drew arrows showing their movement. As I reviewed the Louisiana Purchase I drew more arrows crossing the Mississippi. One young man commented, "Finally! Our map is beginning to look like the United States should."

My main focus of Friday's lesson was the Battle of Tippecanoe. So I asked students to look at the map and remind me about what was going on with Native Americans. They correctly stated that as settlers moved westward the Native Americans were forced to move westward and give up their land. This placed us at the starting point I wanted. I used the fact that some Native Americans got tired of being pushed around and they wanted to make a stand. Enter Tecumseh and the Prophet to our story.

I teach this battle because I can bring in the fact that many Americans felt the British Canadians encouraged Native Americans to fight the frontier settlers and provided weapons through trade. I asked students, "Why do you think the British were doing this?" I was very please when a large majority of them assumed that the British would like to get their hands back on the United States.

At any rate by bringing in the British interference with Native Americans I have set the stage to begin talking about the impressment of soldiers during the early 1800s and will set up the causes of the War of of my favorites.

Thank goodness "Turn Off the TV" week is over. We are working on an author study using Roald Dahl books and as a kick off we had watched the first part of Matilda. Now maybe we can finish it. Student groups will begin this week working on The Twits, The Magic Finger, and George's Marvelous Medicine in small groups. They will read a few pages each day and draw a symbol to represent what they read. We will be comparing and contrasting the characters and themes. I am also reading The BFG aloud. Our chapter from Friday detailed what the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) drinks-----a fizzy drink called Frobscottle which is similar to Coke but instead of the bubbles doing up they go down in the glass and form foam in the bottom. As I read the chapter's description of how Frobscottle works on the body some of my smarties starting giggling. I love to look up and see those "Ah ha!" moments come across their faces. You see, the bubbles in Coke travel up so in the body and escape as burps. The bubbles in Frobscottle travel downward and escape through the.... well...let's just say you end up with fanny burps. The BFG has quite a way with words and calls the Frobscottle results "whizzpoppers". The kids talked about whizzpopping the rest of the day.

Yes, it's been quite a week.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


We had our annual visit from a group of third graders Friday. They came in and asked me if they could address my class for a few minutes. One young man who was rather tall for his age stated, “We have something important to challenge your class with.”

“By all means,” I said, “challenge away.”

For the last several years the third graders have promoted Turn Off the TV Week by challenging other grade levels to participate. They make posters and make classroom visits. They even create commercials they act out on our homeroom tv broadcast. You can get more information about Turn Off the TV Week here. The website states, “Empowering people to take control of technology and not letting technology take control of them so they can live their lives.”

Several fourth graders are beginning an author study for Roald Dahl’s works (Matilda, The BFG, etc.) and as I was researching some items I ran across the following poem by Dahl that discusses television use by children. I thought it would fit nicely here.

TELEVISION by Roald Dahl

The most important thing we've learned,

So far as children are concerned,Is never,
NEVER, NEVER letThem near your television set --
Or better still, just don't installThe idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we sawA dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertainOur darling children?
Please explain!
'We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?
'Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ!
and then proceedTo READ some more.
Great Scott! Gadzooks!One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!

Oh, in case you were wondering, our homeroom tv broadcasts next week will be cancelled and we will have homeroom announcements in the old fashioned way over the intercom. Elementaryhistoryteacher, however, doesn’t think she can manage to miss her favorites such as “24”, “The Sopranos”, and “The Office”. We shall see.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Problem Posing With Students

My most recent post over at the American Presidents blog examines how I use presidential elections and campaign slogans in my classroom to assist students in committing details to memory. My favorite campaign slogan, ‘We Polked you in ’44, we shall Pierce you in ‘52’, unfortunately is not one I use in the classroom for obvious reasons.

However, I do use ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’ as a problem posing exercise. Head on over…..

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Yesterday I posted a personal memory from my life. From time to time I share personal stories and pictures with my students.

Why do I do this?

It's important for students to understand the importance of history in their own lives. History should not be a litany of dates and dead people. In the primary grades students learn where they fit into the planet's hierarchy. I want students to understand that they are a participant in a family that is is directly related to a community, a state, a nation, and ultimately the world. History involves the entire hierarchy.

Historical events, though they are on a grand scale, do trickle down to individuals. These events can be kept "alive" through story telling. In this way the stories travel through time and touch future family members for years to come.

For example, I was six months old when Kennedy was assassinated. Without my family stories I would be disconnected from the events. The assassination would simply be an event in my text that I am required to know to be successful on a test. However, I have a family story to connect with JFK's death.

My mother's mother passed away very unexpectedly a few days before the assassination. Through my mother's stories I have a direct emotional bond to events I took no part in. Mom shared that her grief was so consuming---so acute--- she sat in front of the television and watched every single moment of the JFK coverage to numb her loss by mingling it with the nation's. Through her story I have an emotional connection not only to the passing of my grandmother but the passing of a president as well.

As I related in my Easter story my children never knew their great-great grandmother, however, they know which rocker is hers and speak of her as if she recently passed away. Why do they do this? My father and I have passed along stories so my children can connect to an ancestor. By doing this not only do my children have a sense of continuity and a past they also can connect to moments in history. Granny was a child of Reconstruction. She lived before electricity and indoor plumbing. She experienced World War I and II, the Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam. Most importantly Granny experienced the fight for Civil Rights almost from its birth to the actual law and beyond. Her opinions can be expressed to her great-great grandchildren who can then have their very own primary source for understanding.

I try to get across to my students they are the next generation of keepers for the American story as well as their own personal family stories. They have a responsibility to collect family stories by listening when family members are gathered, by asking questions, and by encouraging older family members to tell their stories as well as identify people in family photos.

Encouraging students to connect their family history to the history in their textbooks provides meaning and importance for learning. It gives history a purpose.

A Sticky Easter Memory

I’m sure, dear reader, you are familiar with the definition of sticky as it refers to candy. Did you know that there is now a cyberspace definition for sticky? It has to do with how well your site attracts traffic. Sticky sites have high volumes of traffic, especially the returning kind.

Has your mind ever returned to a memory due to a sound you’ve heard, a smell, or even a particular holiday? I guess we could call those memories “sticky” because we keep returning to them.

Yesterday morning as I awoke I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. My mind instantly returned to a memory that is sticky in more ways than one. My father’s family buried his grandmother on Easter Sunday. She was 102; I was 6. Every Easter I recall this day because Granny should be remembered, and I got myself into a sticky mess at her funeral.

Granny, as her family and community called her, was born immediately following the War of Northern Aggression (her point of view). In Sunday school yesterday a friend of mine remarked that as we grow older we tend to stop following fashion trends and settle for the decade where we are most comfortable. What an apt description of my great-grandmother. Picture the little old lady from the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons and you have my great-grandmother. She was outspoken and feisty. Granny usually ruled the roost. She wore wire spectacles, her hair in a braid or bun, long dresses and black lace-up shoes with a heel. Her “everyday” bonnet always hung on a rocker by the fireplace that to this day we still call Granny’s rocker. My children who of course never met Granny even call this revered chair “Granny’s” rocker. I have one of her bonnets in my classroom that I pull out when we talk about the settlement of the West.

By the time I came along Granny was well known in the community due to the large number of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she had. Huge parties were given from her 90’s as well as her 100th, 101st, and finally her 102nd birthday where large numbers of friends and family would descend upon my grandfather’s small farmhouse. The local radio station, WCHK, broadcasted interviews with her and she would receive birthday greetings from the governor.

How my great-grandmother lived and how I live today is separated by a gulf of technology. She would find most of my life a huge waste of good energy and would most certainly let me know that in a very pointed way. I, on the other hand, would find the life she led extremely difficult. She spent most of her time ensuring her family had something to eat each day by growing it, harvesting it, or killing it-----sometimes with her bare hands.

Granny passed away at home quietly on Good Friday, 1968. They brought her home as was the custom for persons from that generation and placed the coffin in the front bedroom where she had died.

Knowing that there would be no room for us in my grandfather’s house my father rented a pop-up camper for us to sleep in. The whole event was quite an adventure from my viewpoint. I did, however, worry about the Easter Bunny and how he would find me in that camper.

When we arrived at my grandfather’s my father ushered my sister and I into the front bedroom to pay our respects. He was intent on us doing the right thing. The cannonball bed that Granny slept in had been dismantled and the coffin filled the room. The funeral home had placed two large floor lamps on either side of the casket. They cast a golden hue over the room. The flowers folks had sent, mainly carnations, emitted a sickly, sweet smell that I associate with death to this day.

Daddy stood behind my sister holding her in place as their respects were paid. Daddy’s actions spoke volumes even in my young mind. He was teaching us how to handle ourselves even in the midst of his own grief. My sister looked as if she wanted to bolt from the room the minute Daddy removed his hands, and she did. Daddy immediately turned to me and scooped me up into his arms. He swung me up and over Granny’s coffin. I can close my eyes right now and experience that light-headed feeling as I went up into the air. My excitement turned to curiosity mixed with fear as my legs dangled over my great-grandmother’s body. I wondered if Daddy was going to drop me onto Granny’s body. I looked down and examined Granny’s serene form. She’s sleeping----just sleeping I remember thinking.

The next morning I discovered the Easter Bunny did know where I was. My over flowing basket was lying next to me when I woke up. I began my breakfast with assorted marshmallow eggs (the kind with the white fluff inside) and the ears from my chocolate bunny.

I rode to the funeral with my Aunt Boofy------yes, I know…one of those horribly strange family nicknames that no one ever thinks to ask about its origin until everyone that knows is gone. The funeral would be a country affair with several preachers, lots of hymn singing, and no air conditioning. It might have been Spring but it was h-o-t----hot. I was dressed as any six year old young lady would have been at the time---lots of chiffon, lacy, scratchy petticoats and underwear and white anklet socks with layer upon layer of lace. My white patent Maryjanes squeaked when I rubbed them together, so I did it often just to annoy my elders.

As we traveled down the road Aunt Boofy handed everyone in the car a couple of sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. Under normal circumstances gum would have been an appropriate thing to do but not when one has been indulging in Easter eggs and chocolate all morning. The combination was simply bad chemistry in my mouth. The gum immediately turned into a slimy substance with bits of crystallized sugar from the colored covering of the candy eggs. The gum still hung together but it was incredibly sticky and gooey. I certainly didn’t want it in my mouth so I simply did what any six year old would do….I took it out and held it. I reasoned that I would throw it away once I got to the church.

Upon arriving we waited forever out in the hot sun for everyone else to assemble. Then we had to wait on the pall bearers to form ranks and carry Granny into the church. By this time the gum had morphed itself into super glue. Not wanting my Mom to see it I pressed my hands together and intertwined my fingers together.

As we walked into the church everyone was commenting to Mom how cute I looked. One cousin remarked I sure did look sweet with my hands all folded like I was ready to commence prayer.

Once we were seated I attempted to get my hands apart. They wouldn’t budge. I tried and tried through three songs and two of the preachers. The mourners began filing past the open casket before it closed for all time and Mom and I watched as everyone left their pews and filed around by the casket and back up the aisle to their seats. My grandfather lingered the longest hovering over the casket saying things I could not hear. I was so mesmerized I momentarily forgot my hands were cemented together. Pa’s body shook with heavy sobs. It is definitely a pivotal moment in someone’s life when you see a security figure, a larger than life figure, collapse into a heaving, sobbing mess. It dawned on me at that moment that my grandfather was crying over his mother. He had a mommie----just like me. I began to cry. Have you ever tried to wipe tears away when your hands are cemented together?

Pa eventually sat down and it was getting closer and closer to mine and Mom’s time to go up. My thoughts turned back to my hands. I repeatedly tried to pry them apart, but they would only budge an inch or so. My thoughts were so intent on getting them apart that I forgot Mom was sitting right next to me. She glanced down to pinch me into stillness and saw my hands. Her gasp was so loud that the folks in front of us turned around. Mom was so embarrassed and flustered. She motioned for the rest of the pew to file out around us while we just sat. The longer that funeral went on the madder Mom got. She was so upset with me that she drug me to her car and took me straight back to my grandfather’s without going to the burial leaving the rest of the family to wonder what was wrong.

The rest of my Easter Sunday was spent with my hands alternately submerged in ice water or held out to my mom. She rubbed and scrubbed my hands until they both were raw.

Needless to say my Aunt Boofy never gave me a piece of gum or candy again. However, my Aunt Rachel did give me a Kentucky Fried chicken leg one time, but that’s another sticky memory entirely.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Faith Versus History

I need to clarify some words I wrote earlier this week regarding the National Geographic show about the Gospel of Judas. I said:

"This is one Christian who doesn't think she's been lied to all these years and my opinion regarding Judas has not changed...I didn't learn anything new."

Well, don't I sound like a narrow minded pompous ass!

Many thanks to Kevin who commented,

"You've talked about challenging the traditional views of your students in the hopes of getting them to a more mature thoughtful interpretation of American History. Why is there a different standard to the historical Jesus?"

Kevin has correctly slapped my hand and I appreciate it. There shouldn't be a different standard but perhaps, just perhaps, there is a double-standard because those of us who have the ability to apply historical analysis and also have faith are afraid--------afraid they will analyze their faith until it disappears.

Rev. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society commented on the Gospel of Judas. He said, "the Judas gospel has no bearing on the Easter story much less on the faith of the Christian church." He dismissed the gospel as "nothing more than an ancient manuscript that tells an interesting story."

Without faith isn't that a description of the entire Bible?

Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, president of the Vatican's Committee of Historical Science called the gospel "a product of religious fantasy. There is no campaign, no movement for the rehabilitation of the traitor of Jesus."

These two certainly seem to be close-minded but as spokesmen for their faith what do you expect?

I thought the National Geographic show was good. They fully explained about the supposed author(s) of the gospel strongly suggesting that the text leans towards Gnostic teachings. At the time the New Testament was canonized none of the Gnostic writings that were known at the time were included. They were thought to be radical and apparently to the two religious spokesmen above they still are.

How does a person accept the Bible literally with the knowledge that it is a human product subject to exaggerations and omissions? How do we determine the author's authority or motivation? Some would say this is where faith would enter into the picture, but it's hard to reconcile historical facts alongside a literal Bible.

Getting back to what I wrote the other day.....I didn't learn anything new other than the specific information concerning the finding and saving of the gospel. I already knew the information about how certain writings were included in the Bible while others were left out. I already knew that the early Christian church had incorrectly allowed followers to use the Bible's treatment of Judas as a reason to place the blame for the crucifiction of Christ at the feet of the Jews.

I correctly advised the other day that the special didn't change my mind about Judas, and it didn't. My mind wasn't changed because I've never really bought the whole story that Judas conspired to turn Jesus over. Jesus told Judas to go and do what he has to do. Readers have no knowledge as to what might have transpired before. Someone had to turn Jesus over.... Peter denies Jesus three times as predicted. Have we blamed Peter for 2,000 years?

I do think that the Gospel of Judas is an important find that will continue the debate for faith vesus history, but unfortunately it won't end the debate. Humans don't know the absolute truth because it is beyond us, but the journey attempting to get there certainly is interesting.

If you want to read more about faith versus history visit Kevin at Civil War Memory (see my blogroll) and read his fantastic post titled, "The Historical Jesus and the Lost Cause".

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Realities of Testing

Testing is here to stay

I’ve had a chance this week to observe students during testing so I can’t help but try to sort out my thoughts regarding this issue.

Testing is here to stay----it’s not going away. When you look at the realities of formal standardized testing it is the best method to prove to the school system, educrats, politicians and the public at large that teachers are completing their contractual obligations. I would much rather see my students and myself graded on more open-ended type questions, however, these can prove to be very difficult to grade en masse.

Test results can be flawed

Earlier this week I posted about a young man who kept falling asleep and was far behind his fellow students. Within five minutes he had suddenly caught up and surpassed his peers---clear evidence of not reading the passages. His scores will not reflect his true abilities or weaknesses. He may end up with a passing or even exceptional score, but during reading instruction next year, his teacher will note serious lapses in his skills. On the other hand, he may end up with a terribly low score by bubbling for the sake of bubbling. It may be discovered that Mr. Bubbles is a fantastic reader who hates to test, and at his maturity level simply doesn’t understand the value of an accurate score.

It is very disheartening for a math teacher to spending the year teaching the students to work out problems on a multiple-choice test and then to observe them on “the” test day complete 35 problems in ten minutes and have absolutely nothing on their scratch paper. It is a rare nine year old who can multiply two-digit numbers in their heads without scratch paper. Most students speed through tests completing reading and answering each question in fifteen minutes. It would take me at least ten minutes to read through the test.

Testing should be appropriate

I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention the appropriateness of the test for each grade level. As I walked the room during our testing period I observed a fairly balanced math and language arts test. The reading passages, however, provided on the reading tests seem to be rather long. Do we really need to assess genre recognition by asking students to read a passage that is a page long? I know from classroom observations and from benchmark assessments given throughout the year my reading students have improved tremendously and most have the skills they need to proceed to the next grade. I also know that they become a bit glassy-eyed having to read twelve different passages accompanied by 6-8 questions even if there is a ten minute break after six passages.

I’ve posted before concerning my thoughts about our state test for social studies. I constantly battle with myself regarding the concepts I teach and the ability of the nine year old mind to internalize them. Let alone minute details concerning various Native American tribes studied in August or which explorer (out of the 15 we were to study) was buried along the banks of the Mississippi so natives would not discover the body.

Testing Provides Data

Testing provides data to assess students, assess ourselves as teachers, assess our grade level or department, and our school as a whole. We need to remain mindful that non-educators focus strictly on one piece of the assessment puzzle to make their judgments. On the other hand front-line educators such as us realize that standardized test scores are just one piece of the puzzle. We need to continue to preach this during professional meetings to remind colleagues when they are overwhelmed with the inadequacies of testing, and we need to inform parents not to base a year’s worth of growth on one test.

The Right Attitude

Should I feel deflated when tests scores don’t meet the targeted goal? Even with the knowledge those scores are in many cases woefully inaccurate I do feel I should be deflated. Something didn’t go right.

Therein lies the challenge and appeal of teaching for me. It’s my responsibility to assess informally and formally all year long for student growth. It’s my responsibility to maintain adequate proof of my assessments so that after standardized testing I can have all the pieces of the puzzle to prove or disprove growth. It’s my responsibility to choose the proper way to deliver concepts. It is my responsibility to change and differentiate the delivery when necessary.

There are many variables regarding successful test scores and failing ones. The majority of these variables I have absolutely no control over. I do, however, have control over my attitude, and how you look at something can make all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Frazzled, Frantic, Frustrated

Springtime....that lovely time of year when students are tested, rumors abound regarding next year's room assignments, and where's that damn disk so we can fix the laptop?

Testing is underway in the Peach State. The scream you heard yesterday morning from the southeast corner of the country was me as my proctor and I proceeded to watch a young man nod off not once, not twice, but a total of ten times. Each time we prompted him to WAKE UP and each time he rolled his eyes as we walked away. Twenty minutes into a sixty minute reading test Sleepy only had one answer bubbled on his answer sheet. Five minutes later he 15 questions answered. It's a miracle-----speed reading. Yes, don't worry, I documented all testing behaviors.

Rumors are abounding on my campus regarding who is teaching what next year....who is moving to what room and why....why can't we all just wait until we see the actual plan? Then we will actually know what to fuss over. My team has submitted our plan so each team member can teach their strength. Guess what mine is? I came up with four different ways our schedule could work so that every child has every academic subject. That was a nice way to spend an evening. Our only problem is two team members are out of the building in trailers. For our plan to work they need to move inside. Hopefully the powers that be will see things our way. I mean really, do teachers need full size classrooms if they have less than 10 students at a time? Can't that classroom space be better served as regular classroom space? We will see.

Well, I am still waiting for the program disk to arrive from the computer geeks. Hopefully Hubby will discover what I did to destroy "his" computer. I miss my research, my notes, my files.....

I watched the National Geographic special on Judas. I hate to tell the critics but it didn't shatter my faith or anything. This is one Christian who doesn't think she's been lied to all these years and my opinion regarding Judas hasn't changed. The bottom line is the events concerning the crucifiction of Christ and the resurrection were going to happen whether or not Judas handed Jesus over to the soldiers. It was Gods plan for things to happen as they did.

I didn't learn anything really new.....except regarding how the text was found, changed hands, and sat in a safety deposit box for 16 years deteriorating even further. Sad. It makes me wonder what else is out there.......

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Seventh Heaven

I have lots of television viewing choices tonight and I will be in seventh heaven.

First of all in case you haven't heard the National Geographic Society will show their special tonight regarding a lost gospel that will put Judas Iscariot into a different light. Air time is 8 p.m.(eastern standard time). I'm looking forward to this, however, I'm a little mystified as to why media types are saying that this is going to rock the world of "Bible Thumpers" worldwide. Yes, I know that generally the world views Judas as the betrayer and an evil person but if one reads the books of Matthew and Mark where Judas is mentioned we need to remember that what is not told to us in the story is just as important as what is told to us. Doesn't Jesus actually tell Judas, "Go---do what you have to do"? God's plan needed to be carried out. Judas was chosen to turn over his master. I'm looking forward to seeing how all of this is addressed in the special.

Another television event will be occuring this week as well on the History Channel. "Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed the World" begins tonight at 9 (eastern standard time). I was curious to see what ten days the History Channel had chosen and plan to pass judgement but not until I've seen their take on things.

Tonight "Antietam" will air at 9 followed by "Massacre at Mystic" at 10 p.m. "Massacre at Mystic involves the war between New England settlers and Pequot Indians.

Tomorrow night "Einstein's Letter" will air at 9 followed by "Murder At the Fair" (McKinley's assassination) at 10. Tuesday night's episides will be "When America Was Rocked" and "Gold Rush" while Wednesday episodes will cover the Scope's Trial followed by the Homestead Strike. Ending the program block on Thursday night will be "Freedom Summer" and "Shay's Rebellion".

I plan on asking my media center specialist to record Monday through Thursday----there is usually a one-two year license for teachers to use recordings in the classroom.

Our testing begins this week with a holiday on Friday. Testing will continue into next week as well so it may be difficult to post. Adding to the mix is the fact that I'm fairly certain I have killed hubby's laptop. We are waiting on the Dell computer geeks in India to forward our original program disk (the one that we were told when the computer arrived that we would never need).

Go figure.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dear Anonymous

It has been a few days and I’ve allowed others to respond to an anonymous comment that was placed on a previous post titled, George, We Hardly Knew Ye. I certainly appreciate the well-rounded opinions that were submitted.

Each August I ready my classroom and proceed to meet my new students and their parents at our annual open house. I try to stress to parents how different fourth grade will be from third. For example, social studies curriculum hovers around 12-15 objectives in third grade while the fourth grade objectives balloon to 56. Certain objectives expand even further by listing up to 20 different elements. I have examples of my unit tests out for parents to view as well as released copies of the state test so that they can see what their child is in for. The textbooks are out for examination and all of my Native American trade books are on display ready for students to delve into on the first day of school. Most parents are generally excited that their child will be learning American History and always want to share with me which events were their most favorite in school.

I can always predict that at least one parent, sometimes Caucasian while other times African American, will lean over and will conspiratorially whisper, “Do you teach the right version or the wrong version of the Civil War?” I always respond that I teach all of the causes of the Civil War…..the issue of slavery, the economic differences between the North and South, and state’s rights. This generally satisfies the parents. I relay the above example not to incite more emails from Anonymous (you can read the full text here), but to illustrate that all of us have bias where history is concerned.

One of my contributors, Allen Drury, had some advice that fits nicely here. He commented that when we study history we must put it in the context of the times. We need to see history from the viewpoint of those that lived it. I believe that is what a good history teacher does. I attempt to do it everyday. I also believe in a quote that the Portable Princess provided, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

Anonymous states:

I used to wonder how slavery could go on for almost 400 years and not one person in the history books is blamed for it!!! Not to mention who were the people who stole all the land from the Indians and Mexicans.

I’m assuming Anonymous is referring to slavery in North America, but in all actuality slavery in North America goes back even further. The Aztecs used slaves as victims in their sacrificial rites. Native Americans had wars with neighboring tribes. The victor took property including slaves.

Every history book I’ve reviewed over the last few years clearly states that the Spanish, faced with a labor shortage, began to bring enslaved Africans to the New World. Houghton Mifflin’s text for fourth graders states, “The Spanish brought enslaved Africans to replace the thousands of American Indians who had died” on page 112. It’s fairly clear to me who originally brought African slaves here. Slavery is first mentioned in my newly adopted text on page 93 where Portuguese exploration into West Africa is discussed. The text clearly and truthfully states, “Slavery had existed before the Portuguese arrived, but the Portuguese increased the number of enslaved people brought to Europe.” My students are intrigued to find out that African slavery began due to tribal warfare and existed on the African continent before the arrival of the Portuguese.

Anonymous continues:

I guess the people who did these things were the ones who wrote the history books, no doubt!!

Yes, Anonymous. Of course the Spanish and Portuguese wrote their version of history. Every culture involved in historical events has their point of view and they catalogue it. I agree with the Plant Man that bias will always exist in texts and it’s the job as the historian to examine as many sources as possible to obtain a true objective picture. There are many forms of bias. Some texts are biased culturally while some have gender bias. Others devote too many pages to some events while others are barely mentioned. Some texts simply replace one form of bias for another.

As we have discussed the American Revolution my students have looked at events from both points of view. We discussed the Boston Tea Party. We talked about why King George was so upset that he encouraged Parliament to pass the Intolerable Acts. Students identified the fact that the chests of tea were symbols to be smashed by the Sons of Liberty while the British were incensed that the tea was private property and tax dollars had been lost. John Hancock was certainly brave as he strode to the front of the room and placed his “John Hancock” on the Declaration of Independence, but the British viewed this as an act of treason. Students begin to grasp that point of view is extremely important and that it is ok to not agree with the actions of a historical figure.

Anonymous continues:

The history books have no input from the slaves or Indians at all. If they did then maybe there would be some truth to them.

Huh? Read a book lately? Pages 58-59 of the Houghton Mifflin book extends our lesson regarding Southwest Indian tribes and introduces students to Victor Masayesva, Fred Begay, and Leslie Marmon Silko who are all Native Americans and hold very important jobs in American society today-----a filmmaker, a nuclear physicist, and a writer respectively. During our exploration of slavery my students have at their disposal the words of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth----need I go on?

These devils actually convinced us that they are angels and heroes! They did not even like poor whites...they were an elitist class....I cannot think of anyone in history as we know it more selfish, greedy and evil than the founding fathers.

Kevin wrote that he’s concerned with an increase in Founding Father bashing and I tend to agree with him. dcp advises students of history need to keep events and actions in perspective. However, you can’t fool a nine year old. They challenge me all of the time. “How could Thomas Jefferson write about freedom when he owned slaves?” I agree. The Founding Fathers are a quandary to many people. I’m honest with my students. I tell them it is ok to not agree totally with someone and still admire some of their actions. George Washington played a pivotal role in many of the founding events of our nation. We should forget those contributions because he held slaves? Do we forget his contributions because he participated in something that was legal at the time for him to do? I say no. I say teach the good and the bad. Help students understand the context of the time.

Anonymous continues:

Isn't it funny how Charlton Heston plays a slave in 'The Ten Commandments'and fights the evil Egyptian slaveowners but in real life he supports the exactly same kind of evil men by quoting the founding fathers in the 'Bowling For Columbine' movie. He might be a racist but he is definetly stupid.

I don’t quite get this part and agree with Al. It would seem that Anonymous exists in some type of disjointed universe. I’m simply not going there.

Anonymous, we need to remember that textbooks are not the be all and end all of history instruction. My textbook is just one tool I use to help children discovery history. As Polski3 commented texts are meant to be survey only----a more specialized telling would result in a book with 20,000 pages. Not only that--- Janet weighed in that texts cannot be totally complete because it would be extremely time consuming.

I teach history from various points of view and attempt to place students in positions where they make connections and discover interesting tidbits about humanity. I teach to develop students who know how to use various resources to reach an opinion. I want them to continue the skills they learn in my classroom for the remainder of their lives. My main goal is to produce able-bodied citizens who can think for themselves after reviewing the facts. I don’t teach history to indoctrinate students concerning who I think was right and who was wrong.

Anonymous, my contributors have given you some homework. You might want to read some works by John Hope Franklin, Carter Woodson, or Kant. You might want to check out a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me for some perspective.

And….what makes me feel great as I finally end this post is I’m certain that my nine year old students are in a much better position than Anonymous because they know how to look up information on their own and how to evaluate a source.

I will sleep well.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Calling All History Teachers.....

I have several different paths I want to travel down this week regarding my posts, however, I received two zingers today in my email that I can only compare to roots that are protruding so profusely from the banks of the path that I have to address them before they cause me to trip.

The second email I will address at a later date because it’s late, and the email is rather long with several attachments. It involves George Washington and the belief that he is responsible for adding the words ”so help me God” to the oath of office. I look forward to delving into the sender’s comments.

The second email comes from someone who found my post George, We Hardly Knew Ye through a google search. They keywords they were using was “George Washington” and “slave owner”. Here is the text of the email “Anonymous” sent to me. I copied and pasted it directly from my email with no corrections or deletions.

I used to wonder how slavery could go on for almost 400 years and not one person in the history books is blamed for it!!! Not to mention who were the people who stole all the land from the Indians and Mexicans. I guess the people who did these things were the ones who wrote the history books, no doubt!! The history books have no input from the slaves or Indians at all. If they did then maybe there would be some truth to them. These devils actually convinced us that they are angels and heroes! They did not even like poor whites...they were an elitist class....I cannot think of anyone in history as we know it more selfish, greedy and evil than the founding fathers. Isn't it funny how Charlton Heston plays a slave in 'The Ten Commandments'and fights the evil Egyptian slaveowners but in real life he supports the exactly same kind of evil men by quoting the founding fathers in the 'Bowling For Columbine' movie. He might be a racist but he is definetly stupid.

I’m considering my own post in response, but as I am just back in the classroom after spring break I need a day to two to readjust to being back in class. I am as they say ‘in mourning’.

So….here’s what I was thinking. I would love for some of you history types and non-history types to weigh in with your opinion here. Everything goes as long as the language is clean and you’re on topic. If you don’t want to attach your name to it then sign in as anonymous.

How would you respond to Anonymous?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

History Carnival #28

The History Carnival is being hosted at Patahistory. There are several great items here for everyone to satisfy their love of history and the shear thrill of locating a site you didn’t know existed.

Ms. Cornelius of Shrewdness of Apes fame is debuting, I believe, with her passionate post titled “What Does It Mean If NCLB Wants to Leave History Behind?" It is my opinion that history teachers are getting stepped on here and we need to make our opinions known. Our discipline is extremely important for teaching children and adults not only our human story but how we all fit into it, and how we can change the story for the better. Anyone who thinks we don’t teach reading in our classes hasn’t been in class for quite some time.

Thanks to Michael over at American Presidents I have been included in this posting of the carnival too. I was surprised to find my post from American Presidents titled, “Can An Obscure President Become a Lesson in Character?” near the bottom of the list of wonderful submissions.

So go take look. Learn something new and don’t fill up on too much cotton candy and Cracker Jacks.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Happy Engagement Day!

Yes, I know it’s April Fool’s Day but particular days can have different meaning for different people and today is no different.

My husband and I dated for awhile before becoming engaged. After a day of trout fishing (he fished/I watched) he finally popped the question every girl wants to hear, “Well, ya wanna get married or what?”

Being my father’s daughter it definitely wasn’t going to be “the what”, so I told him it looked like we would get married. My mom thought it was an April Fool’s joke when we told her. She was more than flabbergasted when we expressed our desire to have a large church wedding as soon as possible. Dad simply kept watching television and never said a word.

Well, this is our special day and falling on April Fool's we aren’t likely to forget it. We finally decided to marry on July 28th. The date fell on a Saturday that year and it was my husband’s parent’s anniversary as well. I can truthfully say that my husband has never forgotten the date we were engaged or married.

Depending on which resource you use it is possible to find numerous reasons why some days have particular meaning over other days in different cultures. It is amazing how many different cultures have a similar day to April Fool’s around the beginning of spring. Wikipedia advises the Romans had a festival name Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. Perhaps there's something about the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, that lends itself to lighthearted celebrations.

Prior to 1582 the new year was not celebrated from December 31 to January 1st. Coinciding with the vernal equinox the celebration began on March 25th and continued for eight days with April 1st being the final day. Once the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, New Year’s day was moved to January 1. Not everyone heard the news immediately and there were many who simply didn’t want to change. The folks who refused to change to the new calendar were labeled fools and were made fun of. It reminds me of the 1970s when Americans were introduced to the metric system. Not exactly a match made in heaven except in academic communities.

Well….my husband and I are a match made in heaven so go ahead and play jokes on one another. As for us we will celebrate our great choice we made in each other and bask in the fact that on that fateful day in 1984 we decided to get married and then partake of the “or what”.

Do You Know This Woman?

Do you know who this is? According to her you should and so should every member of the one thousand plus U.S. Capitol police force. Ms. McKinney is the Georgia representative from the fourth Congressional district. Quite frankly I am embarrassed to claim her and have been for some time.

Apparently she struck a Capitol police officer when he tried to stop her from entering a House office building without going through a metal detector. Members of Congress wear identifying lapel pins and routinely are waved into buildings without undergoing security checks. From what I understand staff is moved around often and the office building Ms. McKinney was entering is not her own. This is not the first time Ms. McKinney has been offended when she's not recognized.

Neal Boortz, an Atlanta institution who speaks his mind daily on talk radio states:

“Now we're hearing reports from others on Capitol Hill that Cynthia McKinney has a reputation for treating people whom she considers beneath her status with disdain ... and especially white people whom she considers to be beneath her. One former staff member on the House International Relations committee, Richard Stafford, is now talking about an incident where McKinney struck him and pushed him aside when he tried to stop her from entering a closed-door, members-only meeting with a friend and two small children. He wanted to press charges then, but figured it would end his career.
It's interesting to note that McKinney issued two statements yesterday. The first statement,
which you can read here, shows McKinney's arrogant and hot-headed side. This is the McKinney who evidently has a habit of striking people, especially white people, who get in her way. In the first statement McKinney says that Capitol Hill Police are "required" to recognize members of congress. Wrong ... that is not so. There is no requirement that they recognize members of congress. If such a requirement existed then there would be no need for ID cards. These Capitol Hill Police are there to protect the members, not recognize them. Someone apparently told McKinney that this "poor, poor pitiful black me" routine wasn't playing well, so she issued this second statement in which she merely says that members of congress "expect" (the "require" word is gone) to be recognized, and expressed regrets that the incident occurred. Note, please, that she didn't apologize for hitting the police officer. She just said that she's sorry the whole thing happened. There's a difference there, and those of you who didn't attend government schools might be able to figure it out.
Now ... don't get your hopes up that this is going to have any affect on her reelection chances in November. She's safe. The voters of Georgia's 4th Congressional District know that Cynthia McKinney is considered to be a pariah and somewhat of a clown in the Congress. They know that she is ineffective. This does not matter to them. One McKinney constituent, Andrew Hicks, says "She is a good woman. I will always support her 100 percent." Another, Fred Maxwell is quoted in the AJC as saying "Had she been one of the white persons, they would not have asked her for her ID. I still think the Republicans are trying to get her out of office." So, there you go. It's those white persons again. Damn, they can sure be pesky, can't they?”

This is the same Cynthia McKinney who always makes sure she’s on the aisle during the State of the Union address so the camera can get her attempting to shake hands with the president. It’s quite a joke around here. “Did you see McKinney?” “Yeah, she sure was pushing them people aside to get to the President.”

This is the same Cynthia McKinney who lost her seat awhile back and blamed the media and the Jews. Per the Weekly Standard she likes to hang out with Louis Farrakhan, calling globalization a “cruel hoax,” advocating for Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and concerning September 11th likes to state “What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? What do they have to hide? What is undeniable is that corporations close to the administration have directly benefited from the increased defense spending arising in the aftermath of September 11th.” Yes, I guess mastermind George planned it all.

This is the same Cynthia McKinney who ridiculed Rudy Giuliani for refusing ten million dollars from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and asked the prince to circumvent Giuliani’s control by donating the money to charities.

This is the same Cynthia McKinney who has a list of campaign donors that looks like a terrorist sympathizer's love fest.

The Daily Kos has a say about Ms. McKinney and the California Conservative has a great response to the race card issue. Tammy Bruce thinks the change in Ms. McKinney’s hairstyle is the root of the problem.

Wonkette reminds us that it was McKinney who wants to get down to the real facts concerning Tupac's death. The title description for the bill states, “To provide for the expeditious disclosure of records relevant to the life and death of Tupac Amaru Shakur” I’m not kidding. She’s representing a large portion of the citizens of the state of Georgia and her most pressing concern is to get to the bottom of a rapper's, ummmm thug's death.

Ms. McKinney needs to realize the U.S. Capitol can be a very dangerous place. History tells us so. One of the first documented violent events occurred in 1856 when Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was severely beaten after he spoke about ‘The Crime Against Kansas’. Sumner’s remarks reached a high point when he accused Senator Butler of South Carolina of ‘taking the harlot slavery as his mistress.” Senator Butler’s nephew was Representative Preston Brooks. He was highly offended by Sumner’s remarks and proceeded to beat the dickens out of Sumner with his cane on the Senate floor. Senator Sumner was so severely injured that he did not resume his duties until December, 1859.

In May, 1894 with the unemployment rate at 18%, Jacob S. Coxey, an Ohio labor reformer, was one of the leaders of a labor march in Washington D.C. Mr. Coxey was arrested for trespassing on U.S. Capitol grounds when things got a little out of hand.

Thirty rounds were fired from the House visitor’s gallery in March, 1954 wounding five different Congressmen. Security guards nabbed Puerto Rican nationalists fairly quickly.

Through my research I located three different bombings on U.S. Capitol grounds----in 1915, 1971, and 1983. The bombing in 1971 was charged to Laura Whitehorn who was convicted and she served her time in jail.

In 1983 Senators were expected to make a late night of it but ended early unexpectedly. Moments after everyone was gone a bomb exploded blowing walls away from the cloakroom and glass flew over the entire Senate chamber.

As our American society has become more violent the U.S. Capitol has made security changes. After the ’83 bombing concrete bunkers and metal detectors were added to the grounds. The west front was closed to vehicles and many of the major corridors used by Congressmen were closed to people unless they had a security pass. After the Persian Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing security dogs were utilized and hands-on frisking became the norm. Delivery trucks are searched and timed from check point to check point while on Capitol grounds.

Sadly the U.S. Capitol police force lost two men on July 24, 1998 when a former mental patient from Montana walked up behind one of the officers and shot him in the head. The poor man thought he was personally being spied on by the government through his satellite dish.

Mrs. McKinney, why can’t you just follow procedure and wear the damn lapel pin? Would it hurt you to follow procedures? The officer was following procedure. You didn’t have the proper identification. Face it. You’re no Teddy Kennedy or John McCain. Why would every Capitol policeman recognize you?

In my own building I have been stopped by subs when I have failed to wear my identification badge. I applaud them for having the backbone to stop me. That’s what we are supposed to do to keep our workplaces safe. I’m not offended. I’m glad to have to prove who I am.

What about it Ms. McKinney? Stop wasting time and apologize, put on the pin, and get on with the business of the people.