5/28/2015

Rumpelstiltskin pt II



al·lu·sion
əˈlo͞oZHən/
noun
  1. an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.
    "an allusion to Shakespeare"
    synonyms:reference to, mention of, suggestion of, hint to, intimation of, comment on, remark on
    "the town's name is an allusion to its founding family"
    • the practice of making allusions, especially as an artistic device.

There’s another version of “Rumplestiltskin” going on these days……teachers are increasingly being asked to spin “straw” (in this case, new generations of students who come up through the grades, each year less prepared than the previous), into “gold” (standardized test-passers, prepared for college) with increasingly “fewer amounts of straw” (schools, classrooms, textbooks, computers, money, materials, as well as support from students, parents, administrators, communities, and the state legislature), in ever increasing amounts (wanting higher testing results, greater outcomes for more students with fewer resources/dollars spent on education). Everything that goes wrong with schools, students, grades, or outcomes is blamed on teachers – never on students, parents, administrators, communities, or state legislatures, or the testing climate, the wrong goals, lack of vision, lack of rules, lack of educational materials.

Parents: This is not a “dis” on your child. This is a “dis” on our educational system. Let me explain:

I’m a baby-boomer. I grew up in American public schools in the 1960’s and 70’s. I was fortunate enough to attend a local public suburban high school that regularly had 20-50 merit scholars per school year. (One of the few ways we have of comparing “apples” to “apples” across the many various schools in this greatly varied nation of ours.) We didn’t have standardized tests back then to track our skills (or those of our teachers), and yet: Reading levels were higher.  Kids who were not in “honors” or AP courses, even teenage boys, regularly read complex novels such as Fahrenheit 451, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, or Catch-22 , often for pleasure, and understood them. More students were able to competently solve complex math equations at higher levels than students are today, even when fewer years of math courses were required to graduate. More subject material was taught in each math course. SAT scores were higher, and no one took prep or cram classes. And yet, we were not a wealthy school district. We were middle and low-middle class. Why did learning excel here? A huge fraction of students from my high school, including myself and my friends,  not only went to college, but to superior “Top Ten” sort of private, Ivy League and equivalent, colleges.

Don’t think I am a teacher who complains because I, personally, can’t make the grade; that my own test scores and results are low. They are not. I not only make the grade and then some, my campus regularly fill my classes with re-testers ( kids who did not pass the first round), because they know I can get them up to passing . My own student scores surpass campus, district, and state levels by 11-75% every single year, even the re-testers. You know why? I don’t use the so-called “test-prep materials” provided for me by the state. I teach the basics. The same stuff I have been teaching for nearly 30 years.  The same stuff I learned in school : writing, grammar, reading, vocabulary.

How many of you, if you could afford it, would send your kid to private or parochial school? Everyone knows what a great job they do educating our children, instilling discipline, self-respect, knowledge.  I have taught in some of the most exclusive private and parochial schools around, and I know what they do, and how they do it, that produces such wonderful outcomes. I also know that there is little “magic” to their formula: they teach the basics. Kids are disciplined appropriately for their behaviors; the environment is peaceful and pleasant and feels safe. How can we replicate that in our public schools?

If we could do anything we wished to improve education, if money were no object, we would have students in smaller, more personalized schools. Just like a small private school. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community would be held accountable for their behaviors. Professionalism would be the expectation for employees; respect from the students. Whether you chose uniforms or a dress code, rules would be enforced. Kids would be fed nutritious well-like meals and have enriching extra-curricular activities. Their souls and minds would be nurtured. Doesn’t it all sound lovely?

I’m not saying that the school where I teach, or others around the country, don’t provide this. But I do know that the school districts in Texas have filed a class action lawsuit against the state legislature for not providing adequate funding for schools, which means staffing, textbooks, buildings, desks- everything you can think of that costs money -while simultaneously increasing demands. How do you feel at your job, when the boss says to make more widgets in half the amount of time, with fewer widget-makers? To raise sales results with fewer clients/customers?  To raise safety standards with fewer employees, rules that are not enforced, old, broken or missing equipment? I do know that I teach 38 kids in a classroom with only enough room for 25 desks, and I have to hold class in the hall frequently because we can’t all fit into the room. Kids regularly sit at my desk when there aren’t enough seats. Students share textbooks every day because we don’t have enough. We have two computer labs and one cafeteria to serve the needs of 2500 students. (My own high school, while growing up, had two cafeterias for this number of kids; and longer lunch periods. The twenty minutes our kids het is not enough time to get down there, stand in the long lines, and eat.) Like every teacher in America, I buy supplies for kids who don’t have any; I feed kids a snack at lunch who don’t have one; I drive kids home who are still at school at 7 pm when I sometimes stay late to grade papers or write lesson plans. I do know that teachers are often hired, regardless of their certification or experience, because of who they know or are married to. I do know that there is no supervision of new teachers beyond one 45 minute observation, once a year.

Most teachers at my school have given up on collecting cell phones – because parents call and complain and demand that kids get their phones back – often all within 10 or 15 minutes of the teacher picking it up. Most teachers at my school have given up on handing our detentions for rude behaviors, foul language, bullying, vandalism, dress code violations, tardies, gum, or any number of things, because if administration tries to impose consequences such as detentions, parents complain and fight them – loudly, and on the internet. The administrators at my school spend their days braking up fights and walking around checking lockers with the drug-sniffing dog. I know that when a student says I have” lost his paper” (and it is never the “A” student who attends class every day, is responsible, and turns his work in on time who claims this, it is always the barely passing student who is frequently absent and who never turns his work in on time who says that this has happened), parents and administration believe the student, first, and I who have been teaching nearly 30 years and have a sign-in system for tracking every single paper and have somehow managed to do this all these years, I am the one who has to justify and explain and “prove” myself.

When I first started teaching, years ago, my fellow teachers and I each taught 4 periods out of a 6 period day. Because we had an extra load of grading (all those essays), English teachers got an extra conference period to grade papers. Teachers of other subjects taught 5 periods a day, with one conference block to grade. (Now those extra blocks are given to coaches.) Teachers each had two “preps” (different subjects we taught). Now I teach 8 periods out of a 10 period “day”, and next year it is going to 9/10. In recent years, I have taught 4 different “preps” (short for the number of different subjects one must prepare lesson plans for on a daily basis). Some of the blocks I teach are 90 minutes long, some are 50 minutes long, some meet daily, some meet only twice a week - which makes it a challenge to keep classes together and up to date, cover everything uniformly, and fully. “That’s how they do it in college”, you say. Keep in mind, a full teaching load for professors is one or two classes per semester. (I know, bc my husband is a college prof.) A full teaching load for teachers at my school is 8. Soon to be 9.

When I first started teaching, my classes had 15-25 students in each. Nowadays, my middle-class suburban high school has 25-35+ per class, and we are told that next year we will have more.

Did you know that in Texas, we spend 1/3 of the school year in testing mode? That means some group or other is taking a standardized test, and since all teachers are called in to proctor these exams, regular classes are suspended/ moved/ not held. Often kids are rounded up, sent to the gym to watch a movie, supervised by a coach. This starts in March and goes most days till the end of the school year. This means as teachers, we have 2/3 of a school year to teach your child and show a year’s worth of improvement. It means your child is wasting 1/3 of his educational years either taking a standardized test, or sitting around waiting for those who are, while doing something worthless, and not learning.

Our school board thinks this is all great, because it saves costs. But at what human cost? Ignore the fact that this is creating stress on teachers, which increases the use of sick days, which costs districts more money and lowers outcomes. As a parent, you may not realize that when teachers are pushed to these limits, it is the children who suffer. Can I give your child the individual attention she or he needs? I wish I could, but I am sorry to say I cannot. I do know that a huge cohort of baby-boomer teachers are retiring this year. Soon, I will join them. Sure, every generation thinks they are the preserver of knowledge and skill, even as they give way to the next. But I am old enough, and fortunate enough, to have had a great education, myself. And I have finally, after all these years, learned how to teach and what to teach. I still care about the kids – just not the system. 

Rumpelstiltskin, pt I





Rumpelstiltskin by the Brothers Grimm

     Once there was a miller who was poor, but who had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he had to go and speak to the king, and in order to make himself appear important he said to him, "I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold."

     The king said to the miller, "That is an art which pleases me well, if your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to-morrow to my palace, and I will put her to the test." And when the girl was brought to him he took her into a room which was quite full of straw, gave her a spinning-wheel and a reel, and said, "Now set to work, and if by to-morrow morning early you have not spun this straw into gold during the night, you must die."

     Thereupon he himself locked up the room, and left her in it alone. So there sat the poor miller's daughter, and for the life of her could not tell what to do, she had no idea how straw could be spun into gold, and she grew more and more frightened, until at last she began to weep. But all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, and said, "Good evening, mistress miller, why are you crying so?"

     "Alas," answered the girl, "I have to spin straw into gold, and I do not know how to do it."

     "What will you give me," said the manikin, "if I do it for you?"

     "My necklace," said the girl.

     The little man took the necklace, seated himself in front of the wheel, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three turns, and the reel was full, then he put another on, and whirr, whirr, whirr, three times round, and the second was full too. And so it went on until the morning, when all the straw was spun, and all the reels were full of gold.

     By daybreak the king was already there, and when he saw the gold he was astonished and delighted, but his heart became only more greedy. He had the miller's daughter taken into another room full of straw, which was much larger, and commanded her to spin that also in one night if she valued her life. The girl knew not how to help herself, and was crying, when the door opened again, and the little man appeared, and said, "What will you give me if I spin that straw into gold for you?"

     "The ring on my finger," answered the girl.

     The little man took the ring, again began to turn the wheel, and by morning had spun all the straw into glittering gold.

     The king rejoiced beyond measure at the sight, but still he had not gold enough, and he had the miller's daughter taken into a still larger room full of straw, and said, "You must spin this, too, in the course of this night, but if you succeed, you shall be my wife." Even if she be a miller's daughter, thought he, I could not find a richer wife in the whole world. When the girl was alone the manikin came again for the third time, and said, "What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time also?"

     "I have nothing left that I could give," answered the girl.

     "Then promise me, if you should become queen, to give me your first child."

     Who knows whether that will ever happen, thought the miller's daughter, and, not knowing how else to help herself in this strait, she promised the manikin what he wanted, and for that he once more spun the straw into gold. And when the king came in the morning, and found all as he had wished, he took her in marriage, and the pretty miller's daughter became a queen. A year after, she brought a beautiful child into the world, and she never gave a thought to the manikin. But suddenly he came into her room, and said, "Now give me what you promised." The queen was horror-struck, and offered the manikin all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her the child. But the manikin said, "No, something alive is dearer to me than all the treasures in the world." Then the queen began to lament and cry, so that the manikin pitied her.

     "I will give you three days, time," said he, "if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child."

     So the queen thought the whole night of all the names that she had ever heard, and she sent a messenger over the country to inquire, far and wide, for any other names that there might be. When the manikin came the next day, she began with Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar, and said all the names she knew, one after another, but to everyone the little man said, "That is not my name."

     On the second day she had inquiries made in the neighborhood as to the names of the people there, and she repeated to the manikin the most uncommon and curious. Perhaps your name is Shortribs, or Sheepshanks, or Laceleg, but he always answered, "That is not my name."

     On the third day the messenger came back again, and said, "I have not been able to find a single new name, but as I came to a high mountain at the end of the forest, where the fox and the hare bid each other good night, there I saw a little house, and before the house a fire was burning, and round about the fire quite a ridiculous little man was jumping, he hopped upon one leg, and shouted -

     'To-day I bake, to-morrow brew, the next I'll have the young queen's child. Ha, glad am I that no one knew that Rumpelstiltskin I am styled.'" You may imagine how glad the queen was when she heard the name. And when soon afterwards the little man came in, and asked, "Now, mistress queen, what is my name?"

     At first she said, "Is your name Conrad?"

     "No."

     "Is your name Harry?"

     "No."

     "Perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin?"


     "The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that," cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.

5/18/2015

Hot Off the Press : Madeline Kahn Bio






My childhood friend Bill Madison has a new book out, a biography of Madeleine Kahn.  I would tell you how fabulous it is, but you’d never believe me, because he is my adopted brother and naturally, I am proud of him. So here are some of the many rave reviews: you can decide for yourself.







"Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life" (University Press of Mississippi), by William V. Madison ... tuneful bride in "Young Frankenstein." Yet Madeline Kahnoften didn't seem to appreciate her comedic

May 04, 2015 02:22 PM Story from Entertainment DOUGLASS K. DANIEL Associated Press, ABC News



5/07/2015

All Hat and No Cattle




In the old days, when the economy of Texas was largely based on ranching and oil, saying that a man was “all hat and no cattle” was an insult. It meant that whatever persona he projected was a false pretense, an image that tried to fake its money and status, and thus, who he really was. To be “all hat” meant this person went out and bought the biggest cowboy hat he could find and wore it to try to look (what he thought) was the part of an old-time “real” Texan. Initially this terminology applied just to social climbers and “new money” oil men ( v.s. “old money” ranchers), but later, to anyone who was perceived as fake : politicians, Yankees recently moved here, con men, hustlers, card sharks, and bounders. The “no cattle” part meant, originally, that you (and/or your family) had no ranch – no cattle, no land, no actual substantial holdings of capitol (land, livestock, buildings), and by implication, no family heritage going back generations, and no class. It meant you were a “johhny come lately” and a bounder. This expression was a deep insult if applied to you. Ironically, politicians just LOVE to put on cowboy hats whenever they come to Texas, no matter how ridiculous it makes them look. The natives would rather they didn’t. It doesn’t give them “cred”.





Above: Various American politicians wearing cowboy hats. Some look worse than others. Below, two actual Texans, both famous actors, also wearing cowboy hats:





There is a new kind of “all hat no cattle” springing up on the Texas prairies today…..the mini McMansion. “Mini” because in spite of its tall imposing entrance and overall grande pompous facade, it is actually not that big of a house, comparatively speaking. “McMansion”, because like the restaurant chain McDonald’s, these homes are everywhere, plentiful and cheap (thus defying the notion, in America at least, of a “mansion” as something expensive, rare, genteel, and notable.) Newcomers (“no cattle”) are lured into buying these homes by the notion of upper middle-class gentility that rows upon rows of these homes would seem to suggest to those who don’t know any better. Full of what is called “lipstick” (“all hat”)in the housing trade (granite countertops, two story entrance halls, master bathrooms with spa tubs), in actuality these homes are often hastily built of shoddy materials from China (drywall that crumbles due to being made of chalk, fake ”wood” laminate floors that leach toxic levels of formaldehyde, etc). Other than the master bedroom and bath, the rooms are tiny: children’s rooms that are 8 x 10 feet, dining rooms, if this house has one at all, that are the same small size. No separate living and den, only one large living area. No eat in kitchen. Often, the front lawns are only 8x10 ft as well, mere vestiges of the idea of a lawn. I’m not against sustainable, smaller homes- in fact, I am strongly for them. Anything that re-purposes old buildings, is environmentally-friendly, lets us stop wasting water on keeping a grass lawn green , mixed-use urban development – that’s what I am for. I just think the pretentiousness of these homes is hysterical. But by all means, newcomers, keep moving into them. Leave the better built older homes in stately neighborhoods for those who know.


4/20/2015

How to be a Sassy Old(er) Woman Pt 2

Now that we've addressed clothes, cars, critters and causes, its time to think about fun. One of the most fun things hubster and I have done lately was to go, with a group of about 20 friends to a honky -tonk in far west Texas, and dance. (We all stayed together at a B&B.) Hubster and I dance a poor two-step (bc I can never let anyone else lead) and the music was a mix of country and pop. We just reverted to our "old" styles of dancing (formed in the late 70's and early 80's....a little bit rock 'n roll, a little bit new wave) which apparently was quite a curiosity to the folk at this particular establishment. Strangers actually came up to us and inquired about where we had learned to dance, calling our style "unique"  - and no, it wasn't as bad as Elaine on "Seinfeld" - I just had to laugh. I didn't reply "in a bunch of gay bars back in the big city a long time ago", which was the truth. I just laughed. Who cares if we looked odd? We looked odd together. I just wish I could still fit into those size 6 leather pants I bought from North Beach.....
While I love love love the elegant ladies from "Advanced Style", I doubt I will ever be one. I just don't have the money to dress that well, I'm not thin, and I'm too action-oriented to ever look that good. My curly hair is always out of place (and this strands coming in gray are even curlier than it was), I'm sweaty, and besides, I want to DO STUFF not sit around and pose. Comfort is my goal and adventure is my plan.

You have to figure out what you want to do to have fun. Maybe knitting, playing bridge, and square dancing are your thing. Maybe you like watching tv and doing crossword puzzles. I want to be like T.E.Lawrence who died while riding a motorcycle near his home. I'd rather die on a motorcycle than in a hospital. I want to be like Gertrude Stein who encouraged young artists and created her own salon (in the French sense, as in, a gathering of writers and intellectuals who talk and share ideas, not in the small town sense, as in a place to get your hair done.) I want to find interesting, like-minded people to talk to about stuff. I want to do a wide variety of things, so that I have something to talk about. I'm not sure I can steer a motorcycle by myself these days, but I know I can steer a Vespa. "Normal" is boring. What have you always wanted to do, but never have done?
You have to get up and do stuff. If no one around you is making plans, starting things, then you make the plans. If you invite them, they will come. In the past few years I have started a bookclub, a dinner club (neighbors get together once a month and either go out to eat, or have a potluck with a theme, like "foreign vacation" or "Mardi Gras"), gone with friends to see plays, art exhibits, and concerts, booked fun trips. I created a "pub crawl" for hubster's birthday celebration (like a progressive dinner, only we went from craft brewery to craft brewery).
The big ticket item on my bucket list is travel. I want to travel as much as I can till I can't any more. I am scared by recent health problems that my travel days may not last much longer. But I started thinking: I just need to change my travel paradigm. Instead of the schlepping heavy luggage all over Europe thing - which I know I cannot do any more - I need to find other ways to get around. Rent a car. Sail a ship. The traditional thing for old folks is to take a cruise, but I hate crowds, formal dress, gambling, shuffleboard, and all that crap. Hubster and I are going to take a 10 person cruise on a sailing yacht in the Caribbean this summer - we'll let you know if it was fun, later. I just need to slow my pace, rest more often, not try to do as much.