"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chips for Brains

"Without a soundtrack, human interaction is meaningless." --Chuck Klosterman

I have been known to say that if I could I would implant a chip into my head that would broadcast music directly into my brain. If science fiction knows anything, it knows that in real life we're building the nanotechnology right now that will enable us to use our brainpower alone to log onto the internet or tell our appliances we want a toasted bagel at precisely 6:35 in the morning. All I want is the music chip. An iPod for my noggin. None of this Star Trek TNG speech interface claptrap: "Computer? How about some jazz?" If I think of it, I want to be able to hear it.
From an unscientific webscan of info about brain implants, most of us are paranoid delusional against it.
With this technology, I will have a steady soundtrack to what's happening in my life. I pretty much do already, I know. Music plays in the living room, in the car, in my classroom, when I go to bed. Silence is dull, even distracting. Music helps me focus on the task at hand, no matter what it is. The problem is, as with so many things, other people. When I'm alone, the music doesn't stop. But when the wife's home and the baby's sleeping and my teenage daughters are lurking about, I can't play Skinny Puppy even at low decibels without creating social awkwardness in my own house.

My wife doesn't like much of the music I listen to. She was brought up on musical theater. I was nurtured by new wave and punk rock. Her favorite musical was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Mine was Sid and Nancy. But when we met, and she learned that I own hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of music, she acquiesced, or perhaps just conceded without campaigning, and recognized that I would be the one in charge of the soundtrack of our lives. That doesn't mean that I force feed her music she doesn't like. She's allowed to tell me she doesn't like dark ambient music and request that I play something more cheery. She's even allowed to appeal for silence every once in a while. The worst part though, because I can't help it, is that I feel personally slighted when my wife or daughters don't fall in line and robotically love the music I love.(My son doesn't yet have an opinion, but he also can't yet roll his eyes when I listen to Men Without Hats without any irony.)

My daughters claim I like weird music, but I have had modest success with my oldest. She's 15 and mostly likes popular alternative music like Flobots and Hellogoodbye, but sometimes she'll listen to me when I talk about a good song. Last week in the car I introduced her to a fun electropop band called All Caps. I played  for her "Lumos Flies," a song about how Ron Weasley loves Hermione Granger to the tune of Owl City's "Fireflies." (I totally know that sounds totally, even awfully, nerdy, but that's totally the point of All Caps' music. Another song is called "World of Warcraft Ruined My Life." They have some totally great, just plain fun, if geeky, music.) By the time we got home, she had asked for a copy of the album. And my work was done.

That happens so seldom, the music chip surgically embedded behind my ear will be a welcome addition to my existence. I will be able to choose my own background music for the major events in life. Some soaring Keane or Hooverphonic for graduations and weddings. A devastating Iron and Wine or The Smiths track for funerals and breakups. Or inspiring Queen or U2 for those tough jobs and athletic events. And Harold Budd or Brian Eno just to help me sleep. Nobody else ever has to be bothered again.

In related news:

I like music. My plan is to start Music Monday (I like alliteration, too) (and credit goes to Vicki at Notes from an Aspiring Writer for the idea), wherein I will write about how music is widely incorporated into my life and how it might benefit yours if only you would listen to what I do.

For those readers who don't want to hear about the music that I obsess over, don't just skip posts on Monday. I promise to keep the idol worship to a minimum. Still, I will try to add links and embed videos so that if you're interested you can hear some of the music I mention with my meager words. Today is the first time I've embedded video, so let me know if that's distracting and I'll settle for creating links.

That is, until we all have chips in our heads.

Friday, February 25, 2011

CSAP and Be Fit

The Colorado Student Assessment Program is upon us. Both my wife and I have proctored this standardized exam in Colorado schools every Spring for over ten years. We've noticed that since the CSAP began, the Powers-That-Be have become more strict about the rules and regulations around proctoring.

The benefits of standardized testing are plentiful.
As a CSAP proctor, you may not read a book, grade papers, check email (or even turn on a computer), sit down, or stand still.

You must collect all cell phones, headphones, gramophones, and homophones (no student should have an advantage by knowing the difference between their, there, and they're). Leave the door open and actively proctor, like the giant head in the old Apple Macintosh commercial. This means watching over the students' shoulders and making sure there are no stray marks outside of the oval.

Clearly, the proctors' time is on loan from the state, and you are supposed to act only for the benefit of the students. We know this can be difficult. Most teachers use their short workdays for personal deviations, like playing computer solitaire or writing a will, and the CSAP requirements can put a serious dent in those pursuits. Thus we have devised a five step fitness program to keep your bodies and minds active during those long hours of testing.

Step One: Weightlifting. This begins before the students ever arrive. After you pick up your basket of materials--test booklets, calculators, boxes of pencils, snacks, spray bottles for spritzing droopy-eyed students in the face--from the administration office, you can perform simple curls to work your biceps or lift the bulky basket over your head to work your delts or do power squats to work your buns of steel. Once you have distributed the test booklets, however, these exercises are no longer an option.

Step Two: Cardio. Once the assessment has begun, the easiest way to work up a sweat is with laps around the room. Make sure the desks are distributed so as to create a pathway that will pass by every student. With every lap you complete, not only are you observing each student's progress, but you're also getting a great cardio workout. Don't be afraid to work the hurdles. Backpacks, purses, and students' legs are natural obstacles to leap over for even more strenuous exercise. Or you can make a game of it: see how many laps you can accomplish in an hour, then try to break that record.

Step Three: Eat right. Some schools will give students a hearty breakfast of packaged cheese and crackers with a four ounce juice box. If your school springs for such a feast, take full advantage. Eat two or even three (if that many students do not show up to take the test) packages of crackers, but don't make the rookie mistake of drinking more than one carton of juice. Within an hour you'll be wishing there were a latrine in the corner of the room because you are not allowed to leave the students alone with the tests. Given a break between tests, eat a snack of pretzels and an apple, followed by a peppermint to keep your breath fresh for those close-up whispers with the student who thinks 13 minutes is an adequate amount of time to finish a 60 minute math test.

If your school does not provide refreshments or the provisions supplied are not enough to keep your energy up after four hundred laps, you might try #2 pencil shavings or unused test booklets for a good source of lead and fiber.

Step Four: Exercise your mind.  You can execute several simple calculations in your head while actively proctoring. Keep your mind nimble by counting student absences and creating ratios of absent students to present students to successful students. You can maintain stats on the average time taken on each test, analyzing how sleeping after a test will affect performance on the next one. Or if you're right-brained, you can begin the Great American Novel you've always wanted to write--in your head!

Step Five: Reflexes. This last step is only suggested as a last resort. As a teacher, you might not have enough time during the school day to complete your assigned work load because you have 163 students and only 92 minutes every day in which to plan, you can build some reflex skills for use on the racquetball court by avoiding getting caught grading papers when an administator walks in. Carry a clipboard. Grade standing up. Wear camouflage. Listen carefully: the open door is your ally. When you hear someone in the hallway, continue your laps and active proctoring as if you never were doing anything otherwise. On the off chance that an administrator actually does enter your room, you're showing proficiency as a CSAP proctor.

Teachers, use these tips to keep your mind engaged and your body vigorous because, as Count Rugan says, if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

Last week, I accidentally clipped Xander's finger. There was a slow build up, but the wail that subsequently arose from Xander's premature lungs was worse than when he gets his Synagis shots. He gets a shot every month until the end of RSV season. As a preemie, he's super-susceptible to the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which I'd never even heard of before last October. 

Anyway, when Xander gets his shots, his eyes shut tight and his face burns red and his mouth opens wide enough to see his uvula before it starts vibrating with the burst of air coming up through his vocal chords. The sound is sharp and shrill, but brief. Followed by a moment of silence. He's made his point. But then he thinks better of it and adds a bit more howling for good measure. Fortunately, this doesn't last more than a minute or two. Probably not even that long. His mother holds him tight on her lap, holding a pacifier in his mouth, and soon he calms down.

I was also present when Xander was circumcised. That's quite an experience for a father. For Xander, there was no anesthetic or anything like that. The nurse just held a pacifier with a sweet solution in his mouth. This is how we learn from a young age the medicinal uses of sugar. Plus, his lungs were undersized and still relatively unused, so he was pretty quiet during this procedure and even afterward. But he was so worked up, his body shook. I held him for a long time, feeling his pain. 

Now, Xander's fingernails are growing. And infant fingernails are sharp. If you don't watch out, the baby tends to slice up his own face, not to mention yours when he starts grabbing at your glasses or nose rings or chest hair. I'm pretty sure Xander's mother has clipped his nails before, but I'm the homemaker now, so I took it upon myself to take care of it. I have two older daughters, and I don't remember ever having a problem cutting their nails. I even thought maybe babies like it.

I gathered the tiny, baby fingernail clippers (aren't they just like scissors in Kindergarten? Soft and dull and couldn't slice through butter?) and started with his left pinky. It was the easiest finger to get to. Babies tend to hold their hands in tight fists, and since Xander's untimely delivery makes him think he's still in the womb, his fists are sometimes quite unyielding. We try to get him to grab things like our own fingers or plastic rings and rattles, but his thumb wants to stay inside the fist, not outside. I remember the real nerdy kids in elementary school would hold their fists like that. The bigger, more athletic kids would make fun of them, egging them on by saying if they punched anyone with a fist like that, they'd break their thumb. I've been reminded of this since Xander was born. Not because I want him going around punching people, but because I don't want anyone making fun of him because he can't make a proper fist.
A normal fist, obviously not Xander's
I was able to clip his pinky, and if they were toes I could say I went in order of None, Roast Beef, Stayed Home, and finally To Market. But Market-boy was tucked so tightly inward, I couldn't get a grip on it. I worked on it for a minute, massaging the back of his hand, down his wrist, trying to coerce the little piggy thumb out to play. When I did, I quickly picked up the clippers and snipped as swiftly as I could before he could pull his thumb away. The sound arose from his little throat before I saw what I did. And I thought the pithy, puny sound he made when he got a a needle stuck in his leg was hard to bear. Now he wailed and yowled and shrieked all at the same time. I noticed a stream of red running down Xander's thumb and onto mine. I immediately closed his fist back to the configuration he wanted in the first place, threw the malevolent fingernail clippers across the room, and kept Xander's hand closed while I held his body to my mine. This wasn't a minor, whiny-baby Synagis shot. This wasn't even the removal of excess skin that didn't need to be there. He needs this skin. He needs the nerves on his fingertips to send signals to his brain that the bunny is fluffy or that he's in mortal danger and he better get away from the fire.

So, I made my child cry. Real tears, which he doesn't even use when he's merely hungry or uncomfortable from sitting in his own poop. He cried for a long while. I held him tight and rocked him and used the pacifier as I could, but he wouldn't be soothed. I eased a tissue between his fingers to clean off the blood, and had to hold that there like I was stanching a nosebleed. When I finally got a look at his thumb, a tiny strand of skin hung away from the rest and his thumbnail was jagged and even more pokey than before. I tried to wrap his thumb in a band aid, but that wouldn't stay on. Eventually, I resigned myself and let him keep his thumb inside his fist and he held it there for a few days without any disturbance from me.

Just a few days later, his thumb is completely healed. There's barely even anything to see if you can get a look at his thumb. At this point, and maybe I've been watching too many episodes of Scrubs through Netflix, but I wonder what the repercussions are of injuring your children like that. He's barely three months old. I'm sure the last time he thought of it was the last time he felt the tiny flap of skin before it fell off. He might have wondered what that irritating sensation was. But I haven't stopped thinking about it. I still remember accidentally putting my firstborn daughter into the ceiling fan when she was Xander's age 15 years ago (I like to make my babies fly; it was a low ceiling). I clearly recall how I allowed my second born daughter to tumble off the deck and into the weedy rock garden just after she took her first steps (it was her mother's turn to watch). They don't remember these things. But I still do. Maybe your children's injuries affect you more than it does them. All I know is that I certainly won't be clipping Xander's fingernails again.

And slow fade out on the bouffant head of Zach Braff looking pensively into the distance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Awards Season

I've only been at this for less than a month and I get an award. I feel like Marisa Tomei winning an Oscar. Did Jack Palance just read the wrong name? And to be completely forthcoming, the award is from a friend in real life, not just the blogosphere: Debbie Davis, from Debbie's Inkspectations.

Anyway, this is it. I'm a stylish blogger, alright. I don't know what is exactly so stylish about my plain ol' blog page, so I'm going to assume it's the writing that deserves an award. Even when I don't post pictures of my beautiful baby boy, people still want to hear what I have to say.

Rants about the state of American education? Check.
Whimsical whining about Facebook? Check.
Keeping you informed about my son's belly button? Check.

I'm supposed to do the following things:
"1. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you, only do not re-nominate them.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass along this nomination to 10 recently discovered stylish and cool bloggers.
4. Contact them and tell them about their nomination."

So in the spirit of awards ceremonies everywhere, I will tell you seven things about myself that each pertain to major awards in pop culture. I will countdown from seven (a trick every college student learns from Letterman), but don't expect number one to be any better than number seven. I'm working off the cuff here.

7. I agree with the Academy that Crash is a better picture than Brokeback Mountain
6. The last time I was concerned at all with who won a Grammy was in 1987, when Paul Simon won Best Album for Graceland.
5. About a minute and a half ago, I found out that Arcade Fire won this year's Best Album for The Suburbs, and I think that's damn cool beans.
4. Growing up, I always thought the Academy Awards were given for "grown up" movies that no one cared about because Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and ET were never included. It wasn't until I was "grown up" that I found out that those three movies were all nominated for several awards each, including Best Picture. This knowledge gave me belated respect for the Oscars.
3. I don't know why I feel like I have to respect the Oscars, but I do.
2. I'm an avid, and admittedly slow, reader, but the only major-award-winning book I can recall reading is the The Road by Cormac McCarthy (got the Pulitzer in 2007). I have several recent National Book Award winners on my bookshelves, but I haven't read any of them. (This doesn't include Newberry or other awards for Young Adult Lit. I've read lots of those.)
1. The Social Network will win this year's Oscar for Best Picture, not only because it's one of the best scripts written by Aaron Sorkin (and that's saying a lot, according to me) and has a soundtrack that's the best work Trent Reznor's done since The Downward Spiral, but also because it's one of only three Best Picture nominated movies I've seen this year, and we all know Toy Story 3 and Inception ain't gonna win.

I'm leaning a bit heavily on the Academy Awards here, but they are just a week away. And I don't say anything about the Emmys even though they're pretty good about acknowleding the best shows, despite never giving any love to Buffy or Battlestar.

Maybe all these pictures will make my blog seem more stylish, like I actually deserved any recognition at all. Now, about those other two requirements. I can't do it. As I said, I've only been at this for so long. I follow just a few other blogs, and I have such good taste that nearly all of those bloggers have already received this award. So I'll take a raincheck and send out the award to some others later. Can I do that? Someone will tell me if this is too huge a breach in etiquette, right?
Superbaby!

And just for sticking with it, there's a delightful photo of SuperXander and his faithful sidekick.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Diane Ravitch Speaks
February 17, 2011
Denver, Colorado

At the last minute we cajoled May’s parents to watch the baby with promises of Chipotle burritos and an early return time. When I registered to see Diane Ravitch speak, the website said her appearance would be from 6-9 pm and would include a book signing. We thought that would mean an hour or two for speaking and questions, then and hour or so for signing. Since we didn’t really want Ms. Ravitch to sign our Kindles, we assumed that we would be home way before 9:00.

The timing was all wrong. We arrived at 6:05, thinking we were late, but there were only a couple dozen people there. By 6:20, a few others had arrived, but there was no sign of Diane Ravitch. An announcement was made that Ms. Ravitch would begin signing books at 6:30 and her speech would begin at 7:30, with questions at 8:30. My wife and I conferred, she made a call home, and we decided to stay. It wasn’t too bad: we had some time to talk, I had my Kindle to read, and some teacher friends showed up and sat next to us. They knew the correct time.
Diane Ravitch

This brief personal narrative is just my way of saying that it was worth the wait. I have read Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American Education System, over the past few months and haven’t stopped thinking about its implications upon my profession. I still plan on blogging more about some arguments that book makes, but for now, I want to point out a few things she discussed this evening that would be helpful appendices to her book.

Ravitch says there’s a two-pronged attack on public education: Privatization and de-professionalization. For the past decade this movement has taken hold and just in the last year, media pundits from the Today show and Oprah to the documentary Waiting for Superman have shown America that public schools are failing and teachers are to blame. (I haven’t seen Waiting for Superman, but it’s first in my Netflix cue--short wait--so I’ll write more on that later.)

Buy this book.
 There is a perfect storm brewing. The lagging economy leads to less funding which makes it easier--in the sense that there’s little backlash--to close schools or lay-off teachers. Bush W’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law mandates that all schools, all children, 100% of students in America will be proficient on state tests by 2014. And Obama H’s Race to the Top (RTTT) law doesn’t change NCLB's utopian vision but only mandates more adoption of unproven reforms. Stir this all in a pot and call it stew because these mandates will only cause more problems for educators.

Ravitch says the corporate reformers who want more privatization of education have fought to keep the failing NCLB accountability mandates because in the next three years, as more and more schools fail to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) goals, more and more schools will be failing, and that’s when the corporations can take over. She goes on the say that the RTTT law contributes to the demonization and demoralization of teachers. RTTT calls for the elimination of tenure and seniority, and linking teacher evaluations, and therefore their jobs, to student test scores.

I know that many Americans misunderstand teacher tenure. The reformers claim that teachers cannot be fired, even if they are bad teachers, that even if they do crazy, illegal things, no one can touch them. This is patently untrue. Tenure is due process. That’s all. It’s a system that allows a teacher not to be fired on the whim of an administrator who’s had a bad day. In America, we've long accepted the idea of unionization, of banding together to fighting for the guy who has no clout. I know this system gets abused, as all systems do, that sometimes terrible teachers are still allowed to teach. But the protection should be there nonetheless.

The movement to link teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests is even scarier. Colorado has already passed a law to this effect. Ravitch says, "Assuming that if we put pressure on teachers, students will work harder is ridiculous." In fact, she goes on to say that this thinking takes away teacher authority. Students will learn that they can fire their teachers if they don’t like them.

One of the main tenets of Ravitch’s book is that there are so many variables in education that is hurts us all  if we focus on just the few things we can read in data from a test. How can I be held responsible for the kid who by twelfth grade still doesn’t care, even if I try my damnedest to knock some sense into him?

Here’s a quick run-down of what Ravitch believes will help public education in America:

1. Pre-Kindergarten programs to close the gap between children of poverty and affluence.
2. Parent education programs.
3. Medical care availability for those children living in poverty.
4. Higher standards for entering the teaching profession. Make the profession more rewarding, not less.
5. Principals should be master teachers.
6. Superintendents should be expert educators. (And this statement scored the most applause of the night.)
7. Abolish multiple choice questions. Assessment should be through projects, not guesses.
8. A balanced and rich curriculum.

There’s so much more to say. But for now, if you’re not an educator, perhaps this can help you understand the problem and not believe the hype fed to you by the corporations with the power. If you are an educator, you probably know all this already. I’ve known it, but it’s taken this book for me to be able to see these problems so clearly. For four years, I haven’t really understood where the superintendent in my district came from. Now I do.

It was a pleasing event. Not Steven Wright winging one-liners pleasing, but it’s cathartic to be in a room with like-minded professionals professing ideas that you hope will change the world.
Read about the Save Our Schools March, and rally in Washington this summer.

Preterm Correspondence

I haven't had much time to write this week, so I thought we could hear from a guest blogger today. 

Introducing the First Epistle of Xander to the Wescotts and Roberts, proffered in utero, as witnessed and subsequently set down for posterity by May Elizabeth Wescott, nee Roberts.

"September 18, 2010
(As transcribed by his mother since he currently does not have access to a computer, the internet, or fine motor control.)

Hey family,

How're things? I can't wait until I get to see you again. Only a few more months (or weeks depending on how patient I can be) until my arrival. Things here are getting a bit more cramped as I continue to get bigger. I learned a new trick yesterday. If I stretch real tall I can kick my Mom right under her ribs. She thinks it's pretty funny and keeps putting her hand on me to make sure that it's me kicking her and not some weird muscle spasm. I guess she's surprised because I've never kicked her above her belly button before.

Mom is keeping pretty busy but she's trying harder to not be so stressed about stuff. I guess she told her boss that she needed to take one of her classes off her plate so they cut her from full time to .83 and hired a new teacher to take over her yearbook class and responsibilities. The new guy only started on Wednesday, so I haven't noticed any change in her schedule, but you know Mom, she has a hard time saying no and letting go. (I guess that will be sort of a mixed bag when I start wanting to drive.)

We went to see the cardiologist yesterday to talk about the weird heart palpitations Mom has been having. The doctor told Mom that everything looks "benign" which I guess means that while the heart flutters she's been having are irritating they're not an indication of anything more serious. I think the flutters are cool because it breaks up the monotony of that steady pounding I hear all the time. Must be my Dad coming out in me, but I really could use some tunes in here.

Dad put together my new stroller last night. He didn't swear or yell once. Mom says it must mean that he's excited to have me around since normally when he builds things he gets really frustrated. Mom also says that since they now have a car seat and a stroller they are prepared to take me home from the hospital, but I shouldn't take that as an invitation to come early. She keeps telling me I'm a cookie that needs to bake longer.

Plus, I don't think they're really ready for me yet. Besides the stroller we have a pack and play and a crib in a box with no mattress. Also, there's a couple of outfits that Grandma Roberts gave Mom a few years ago as a way to motivate Mom to concentrate on getting me born. I don't think this is any indication that they're ready for me. I mean there is still a piano in my room for Pete's Sake!

Mom says that they're going to get my room ready at the end of October when she and Dad go on fall break. Personally, I think that's waiting too long so I've been pushing those hormones in the nesting direction so she'll get started on things. She and Aunt Susanna sat down a couple of weeks ago and started registering for all the stuff I'll need. Aunt Susanna gave Mom lots of advice on the best kinds of stuff to get me. Mom seemed kind of overwhelmed at first but with Aunt Susanna's help she eventually got kind of excited about it all.

Well, I'm getting kind of sleepy so I think it's time for a nap. Afterwards I think I'll do a couple of front flips and practice moving my fingers and toes. Who knew that all this growing could be so exhausting.

Love you lots. Say hi to all my cousins for me. I'm sure looking forward to hanging out with them again. We sure had some good times talking about all the funny stuff you older people are doing while we were waiting to be
born."
This isn't Xander, but he's a spitting image.
Xander turned out to be even more impatient than he lets on, since just three weeks after this missive his mother entered the hospital eleven weeks too soon and didn't leave until five weeks later when Xander was born, still too early, on November 15.


Some of you know this story well by now, but if you're following what's happening to Xander currently, I thought a flashback might be fun. And thanks to May. She's had a trying year, but we both know he's worth it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Luke Skywalker and the Bookmobile

Back in the seventies when I was in grade school and living in Salt Lake City, my dad built a house on an empty lot up the eastern slope on Wasatch Boulevard. It had a great view to the west across the Salt Lake Valley, from the Great Salt Lake in the north to the Great Land Scar of the Kennecott Copper Mine in the south. I would sit for hours (at least it seemed that way in my innocence) and watch the sun set and the city lights blink on.

My other favorite memory of that house was that the Bookmobile would come round and park itself directly across the street. An itinerant extension of the Salt Lake City library system, this was a large, square bus lined inside with shelves and shelves of books. I would spend hours (at least it seemed that way in my innocence) pacing back and forth, discovering books to read. One that I remember vividly is the classic Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. This was supposed to be a sequel to the first Star Wars movie, so it weirded me out when the next movie was called something like The Umpire Calls a Strike (bad joke?). Alan Dean Foster wrote Splinter, which I guess is a bit like getting Terry Brooks to write the novelization of Episode I. All I remember about it, though, is being disappointed that Han Solo and Chewy were not in it.

I miss the Bookmobile. I can't imagine what kind of a reader I would be today without it, and without libraries in general. Today, no Bookmobiles, and libraries are scarce. The very Mission Viejo branch of the Aurora Public Libraries where I accidentally found and fell in love with Ender's Game in 1986 closed last year due to budget cuts. It's sad. How is my son going to encounter his own beloved books if there is no library to wander around in?

Awkward segue...

I have this fancy widget on my page here called Shelfari, thanks to help from Debbie of the blog Debbie's Inkspectations. Shelfari is "a community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers." All that means to me is it's a place to keep track of the books I've read and write reviews. I've wanted to to this for years; it's also the kind of thing I ask my students to do on a minuscule basis throughout the year. But until now, I haven't had the wherewithal to realize my vision. And along comes Shelfari.

That's enough advertising. What I like is the simple fact that there's a little bookshelf on the page (scroll down, look right) that allows readers of my blog to see what I'm reading. I like that the books are presented so you can view the cover and quickly note what each book is. Right now I've included nine books or so that I've read recently and they're presented in alphabetical order by author. (I know that probably doesn't matter to any of you, but you should see how alphabetized my CD collection is.) If you run your cursor over the book cover, up pops a swell short review that I came up with all by myself. The balloon window says you should be able to respond to my review through Shelfari, but I haven't figured out if that works. I would rather you just comment on my blog page anyway, so feel free to comment on my reviews and tell us what you like to read.

I've decided it's part of the experience. If you're going to read about my son's belly button (see post "Back is Best"), then you might want to know more about me. Or not. That's okay. But if you're interested in books, looking for something good to read, I have some recommendations. I probably won't be putting books on the shelf that I don't really like. As I read in Charlie's blogger profile from Notice Your World, he says something to the effect of why would he read a book if he didn't like it.

I hope this isn't a disappointing blog post. Not my usual hilarity or even cute baby pictures, to be sure. But I'm new to the blogosphere and wanted people to know why I have the Shelfari on my blog. Forgive me if this is old hat. If there are better ways of doing this, please enlighten me. Also, if anyone knows of widgets that do this same sort of thing with music, movies, television, I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feed Xander. Change Xander.

5:46 am Roll over when Xander starts mewing, and reach over to poke his pacifier through his teeth. He’s still asleep. This is but a warning that he could be ready to eat at any time in the next hour.
5:48 am Xander spits out his pacifier and wimpers, just to remind me: I’ll be ready to eat soon. Don’t forget, Daddy.
6:30 am May’s alarm clock goes off. She’s already in the nursery pumping out Xander’s meals for the day, but the interminable buzzing reminds me that Xander needs me for something.
6:31 am Awake enough to move enough to smack the alarm clock into the wall and remember that there’s a baby around here somewhere.
6:32 am Stumble to the kitchen to heat up a bottle.
6:37 am Feed Xander, painfully aware that it is time. His volume and violent avoidance of the pacifier are indications that I should have begun this process about 49 minutes ago.
6:49 am Xander, sated, is no longer comfortable hanging over my shoulder with me repeatedly thumping his back. He is wide awake and wants only to sit up and stare at things.
6:50 am May is ready for school and she kisses both of her boys on the head before she leaves.
6:54 am Change Xander’s diaper. Talk out loud about how good it is that there’s so much poop.
6:59 am Dress for a run on the treadmill. Xander relaxes in his chair, oxygen in portable mode, like lounging on the beach.
7:15 am Try to convince myself that actually running instead of just walking will feel better, while watching season seven of The West Wing: will Detective Simone defeat Hawkeye to become president?
7:17 am Can’t do it. So tired. I walk. Xander watches.
7:20 am Xander closes his eyes, appears asleep.
7:25 am Xander opens his eyes. He’s just messing with me.
7:29 am Step off the rolling platform to pacify Xander for the seventh or eighth time.
7:37 am Jed Bartlett does the right thing, and I’ve walked my 1.98 miles, so I can carry the increasingly rowdy Xander back upstairs.
7:45 am Toast a bagel. Xander stares upward, mollified by the kitchen ceiling fan that’s not even spinning.
7:55 am Shower. Shave. Got a hot date tonight. Xander plays under the sea, looks at fishes, bats at different hanging rings and rattles, while listening to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.
8:13 am Check Facebook newsfeed. So many people are friends with so many other people.
8:20 am Open up Google account to work on website, www.brentwescott.com. Don’t know what I’m doing yet.
8:33 am Xander’s bored. He kindly lets me know.
8:45 am Hold Xander on my left knee. His head bobs as he dozes to the rhythm of my leg shake. Can’t type with one hand. Try to read blogs instead.
9:04 am No longer lulled by the up and down motion, Xander requests his pacifier, chomps on it voraciously, as a shark after chum.
9:17 am Feed Xander. Watch Futurama on Netflix: Dr. Zoidberg is a stand up comedian. Wacky.
9:33 am Change Xander. He smiles wide, jaw open, when I set him on the changing table, as if this is the best part of his day. It might well be.
10:13 am Place sleeping Xander in his chair in the kitchen. Purify bottles with a system of soap, disinfectant, and microwave zapping, then fill them with this morning’s fresh milk. Clean up other dishes.
10:35 am Sit once more at kitchen table laptop. Unable to decide what to work on: New story? Old novel? Blog post? End up surfing the web for information about the Flaming Lips since I watched their documentary Fearless Freaks last night.
10:57 am Carry Xander with me to fix a one-handed ham sandwich. Open the first Diet Code Red Mountain Dew of the day.
11:13 am Hold Xander with left arm. Eat with right. Open Kindle on table before me and read more from Dune: Arrakis = lots of sand.
11:32 am Feed Xander. Change Xander.
12:32 pm Sit for a few minutes without a baby in my arms.
12:40 pm Strap Xander into BabyBjorn carrier and literally pace around the house while he hiccups into my chest.
1:32 pm Feed Xander. Change Xander.
2:32 pm Try to nap on my bed. Xander rests next to me, my hand on his chest to keep his arms from flailing around and keeping both of us awake. Nod off until he starts cooing and I can’t stand it he’s so dang cute.
3:32 pm Feed Xander. Watch Doctor Who on Netflix: Who will save the world from cheesy-costumed aliens...and that’s not a question. Get it?
3:45 pm Change Xander. Remove overflowing Diaper Genie bag and put it near the back door. Wonder when I became that guy who doesn’t take the diapers to the outdoor trash.
3:48 pm Think about changing Xander’s outfit. Decide he’s only been wearing this onesie for less than 24 hours. And the jumper-footie-jammie thingy he’s wearing hardly has any spit up milk on it yet. He’s good.
4:02 pm May comes home. We talk about her day.
4:05 pm Realize that I’ve basically been talking to myself all day, despite the sweetness of Xander’s current speech patterns.
4:15 pm Dress for a night out. Haven’t worn pants that weren’t dedicated for sleep in weeks.
4:49 pm In-laws arrive to babysit. Bottles in the fridge. Diapers on changing table. Hand sanitizer on every table in the house. Phone numbers in cell phone. 911 for emergencies. He likes to be held. No problem there.
5:00 pm Reservations for Texas de Brazil, Brazilian-style Churrascaria. We’re not seniors living in Florida, but dammit, by five o’clock, I’m hungry.
5:22 pm Arrive late to Texas de Brazil. They still seat us because Valentine’s Day is just days away, and it’s only 5:22 pm.
6:31 pm Finally have had all I can eat. Order the creme brulee anyway.
7:12 pm Arrive home. Find a special place to sit for a few minutes while the thirteen kinds of meat settle. Xander sleeps in Grandpa’s arms.
7:17 pm Thank the in-laws for watching the baby. They inform us that Xander slept the whole time. They just held him and passed him back and forth.
7:18 pm Xander wakes up. He’s famished.
7:30 pm Feed Xander. May pumps out his overnight meals. Change Xander.
8:05 pm Rest of the date: watch TV with the wife: latest Community, 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Recreation. Laugh heartily. Though The Office is quietly losing steam, it’s a better two hours than most movies would be.
9:45 pm Notice that May is asleep. Quietly move out of the bedroom, get Xander ready to eat.
10:00 pm Feed Xander. Change Xander. Listen to Brian Eno ambient music while Xander sleeps on my shoulder.
10:34 pm Wrap Xander in a swaddle sleep sack after a satisfying burp. Velcro his arms down, and he’ll sleep well. Put his chair on vibrate next to the kitchen table.
10:37 pm Down a Diet Dr. Pepper. Open laptop. Another chance to write. Instead check Facebook newsfeed. So many people do so many things that so many people care about.
10:54 pm Open up a blank Google Docs page. Begin a new blog draft.
11:48 pm Yawn. Xander stirs.
12:01 am Change Xander first. Then feed him.
12:26 am Gently carry Xander to his bassinet next to my side of the bed, which is really May’s side of the bed, but it’s my side of the bed as long as I’m at home. Velcro him together, cover him with heavier blankets, and he stays asleep for a few hours now. Some nights May will feed him next. I’ll get five or six straight hours of sleep some nights.
5:32 am It all begins again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Be Less Stupid

I have some severe misanthropic tendencies. My initial response to most problems is that people are stupid. I think that if people (other people, not me) weren’t such idiots all the time we wouldn’t have traffic jams, long lines, or computer viruses. So my views about children (other people’s children, not mine) are not personal, but if you ever asked me why I’m a teacher, I would never answer anything like, “Because I just love kids.” I teach for other reasons.

I decided to major in English before I graduated from high school. I loved to read, had some skill with a pen, and relished a rousing discussion of ideas. At one point before graduation, I visited my favorite middle school teacher and told her I wanted to major in English. She frowned and said, “I guess you’re going to be a teacher, then.” (And this was 15 years before the stunning initial aria from Avenue Q: “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”)

I don’t know if Mrs. Cathcart’s comment was the first time I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but since that point, that’s where I was headed. I probably didn’t really know why until I was actually in charge of a class for the first time. Student teaching sucked and that’s another post, but I realized before that year was up that I had a lot of responsibility in my hands. Power, in fact. And that came with an obligation to do good. Great  power. Great responsibility. Blah blah blah. Spider-man made it trite, but I believe in my opportunity to change the world.

Diane Ravitch says, “Without a comprehensive liberal arts education, our students will not be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, nor will they be equipped to make decisions based on knowledge, thoughtful debate, and reason.”

This encapsulates why I teach. I want people to be less stupid.

But we don’t  teach these things any more. What I mean is that the way we teach now, we are not asking the students to engage, to reason, to think. Especially in English. Instead we now teach literacy: reading and writing in an extremely general fashion, giving students lots of choice and encouragement, but rarely employing active thinking and discussion. There’s the widespread belief that if a student is given the choice of what to read, for example, that eventually they will choose to challenge themselves by reading something like Shakespeare or Poe or Colbert. And to be honest, I have had a student or two try out Macbeth or “The Fall of the House of Usher” or I Am America and So Can You, but to be honest again, they couldn’t even explain what the title might mean, let alone comprehend the subtleties of the text.

Education is in trouble. People are stupid. 


This is the first installment of comments stemming from Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. This book came out about a year ago, so I know that I’m late to the party like usual, but Ravitch elucidates hundreds of different arguments about the how the popular ideas of choice and accountability are affecting our schools. And I have hundreds of thoughts about those thoughts. So expect more on this. Stay tuned. Stay smart. Stay gold, Ponyboy.