Archive for education

Aug
28

“Whose Class” Action

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Labor Day was always my least favorite holiday. I’m sure I was hardly alone.

Of course, I’m talking about when I was a kid, and so just about every other kid likely joined me in that sentiment.

Labor Day meant the unofficial end to summer, though the calendar says that the season runs until September 21. No matter. The calendar didn’t give us kids that long; classes in Livonia, where I grew up, always commenced the day after Labor Day.

It was a final three-day weekend before the baseball mitts and swimming suits were to go back into mothballs, in favor of notebooks, pencils and rulers.

There was one day of excitement, however, in the weeks leading up to the first day of school, and that was the day the class lists would be posted in the school window by the front door. This was for grade school, not beyond.

I’m not sure how we found out that the lists were posted. Probably some sort of loosely designated sentry or Paul Revere type would spread the word. This was some 20-plus years before the Internet became all the rage.

The way it worked was simple. Printed 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheets of paper were taped to the window, face out. The sheets were generally situated by grade. On the top of each sheet was the teacher’s name and the grade he/she taught. The students’ names were listed below. And all the kids—didn’t matter where they lived, they all managed to gather—would frantically search for their names, not knowing until that very moment which teacher they had and which of their friends were in the same class.

It was some pretty intense stuff.

After you located your name, the next step was to search for your friends’ and also your enemies’. Soon there would be a cacophony of sighs of relief mixed with howls of disappointment.

Maybe you got the teacher you wanted, but your best friends were in another classroom. Or, vice-versa.

Regardless, when you got the word that the class lists were ready for consumption, you couldn’t hop onto your bicycle fast enough.

I recently had a drink with an old grade school and middle school pal. We compared teachers that we had in grades 1-6 and not once were we in the same class. I thought that was pretty amazing.

That “what class are you in?” excitement ended when we all shuffled off to middle school, where you didn’t have just one teacher.

It was fun while it lasted, though.

As for Labor Day, I enjoy it now. It means a three-day weekend, which as an adult you treasure.

No matter what kind of class you have.

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Mar
26

Sugar, Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

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Timberlake Christian School (TCS) in western Virginia buried the lead in their letter to the guardian of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. The last sentence was the most true and the most telling.

“We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained indentity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

No kidding, it’s not the best place for Sunnie’s future education.

Like, I’d pull that child out of there yesterday.

Sunnie is an eight-year-old girl, but by her own admission and her grandmother’s (Sunnie’s legal guardian) own acknowledgement, Sunnie likes a lot of “boy stuff”—such as autographed baseballs and hunting knives, according to CBS-TV affiliate WDBJ.

But Sunnie also digs jewelry and stuffed animals, too.

“It’s fun,” Sunnie says of her varied interests—some of which don’t seem to fit TCS’ characterization of what a little girl should be.

Hence the letter, apparently quoting school policy, sent to Sunnie’s grandmother, Doris Thompson.

The letter began ominously.

“You’re probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment,” the letter started, and nothing good usually follows a sentence such as that in a letter sent home from school.

And, nothing good did.

Sunnie Kahle

Why is it, that supposedly Christian entities—organizations based on ideals that are supposed to espouse and embrace inclusion rather than exclusion—seem to be the least tolerant?

And, from an educational standpoint, what happened to encouraging children to broaden their horizons and open up their worlds a little bit?

So an eight-year-old girl is sometimes confused for being a boy, as Sunnie told WDBJ. Is that the worst thing in the world?

For their part, school administrators told ABC 27 that they have not accused Sunnie of any wrongdoing; they just want the family to follow all guidelines set for students.

Good thing that the TCS folks are educators, because they certainly think we’re all pretty stupid.

“Sunnie realizes she’s a female but she wants to do boy things,” Thompson told WDBJ.

How ironic that TCS is discouraging that, because it seems like a pretty damn good life lesson to me—that girls can do “boy things.”

I mean, heaven forbid Sunnie grows up to be a CEO or a soldier or a fireman or something.

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Mar
27

At the Movies, Old School Style

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Our daughter, a high school senior, gets to watch movies in class on occasion. I can tell you two things: the films are a lot more entertaining than the celluloid we viewed in my day; and yet I kind of pity her, because the whole movie watching thing for her is rather humdrum.

I shall explain.

Anyone over the age of 40 should remember what it was like when there was going to be a movie shown in class that day.

It was a big deal.

Who can forget the rumble of the big cart rolling down the hallway, on which was the seemingly huge film projector, being wheeled into the classroom by the “A/V geek,” who was nothing more than a fellow student who somehow wrangled his way into such a gig.

Then the anticipation of the movie itself, which wasn’t a feature film like the kids in school are privileged to view nowadays. Rather, it was very instructional in nature—like about science or social studies, etc.

Perhaps it was a movie about how we use oxygen in everyday life. Or how they make rubber. Stuff like that.

Regardless, even though we knew we weren’t settling in to watch “True Grit” or “Herbie the Love Bug,” a movie in class meant that the lights would be turned off (a great opportunity to sneak in a nap), and that it was a good way to kill 15-20 minutes.


A still taken from a film we may have viewed in class, circa 1970s

Sometimes there would be a technical difficulty, and the A/V kid would be summoned, or another teacher, and before you knew it, another 10-15 minutes would be taken off the board.

I don’t know how many times we implored the teacher to run the film backwards after it was finished. Sometimes teach would relent, and the room would be filled with guffaws as we saw images of people walking backwards, machines running in reverse and liquid defying gravity and pouring “up.”

The movies, looking back on what I recall of them, were probably produced in the late-1950s, early-1960s, based on the clothing and the cars. Most were in color, though.

Anyhow, it was more than popping a DVD into a player. Much more. And much more exciting, frankly.

The movies themselves wouldn’t win any People’s Choice Awards, but the experience might have.

(click here for an example of a 1960s educational film—this one about the Union Pacific Railroad)

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Aug
30

My Senior Moment

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A less scrupulous parent might encourage his daughter to drop out of high school before her senior year. Or a poor one.

I’m about to be the latter, because I’m not the former.

Confused? Sorry.

Our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, or as it’s otherwise known to parents, The Shakedown.

The schools have us senior parents between a rock and a hard place, and don’t think they don’t know it.

My wife registered our daughter this morning for the school year, and being a senior is not only a very special year, it’s also very expensive.

There are the senior photos, of course. Those were taken this summer and while the proofs are absolutely beautiful, the packages begin at over $500.

I graduated high school in 1981, and I remember making a very understated trip to the Olan Mills studio in Livonia in the summer of 1980 with my polyester, three-piece suit and a comb.

We snapped a few head shots and I was probably on my way back home within the hour, at most.

Today, the poses are multiple, there are more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert, and there are so many good proofs you have no idea how you’re going to whittle them down. Hence the large and expensive packages for such undecided parents.

Then there’s the yearbook and the hoodies and sweats and the senior dinner and the all-night party. We also have to pay for the cap and gown, don’t you know. Cha-ching!

The all-night party, by the way, runs $80 a head. I have no idea what the kids get for $80 a head, but it ought to involve the aforementioned Lady Gaga concert! As in, Lady Gaga herself shows up and performs.

By contrast, the senior dinner is only $10 a person. I’d like to know what makes the all-night party eight times more expensive than the senior dinner. Come to think of it, I’d rather not know.

We’ve already purchased must-haves like the class ring and our daughter’s varsity jacket. That was last year. Thank goodness those are out of the way.

Eventually there will be graduation announcements that need to be selected and paid for. My wife made the analogy that having a senior is like having a daughter who is someone’s fiancee. Because the whole thing takes on a wedding planning-like aura.

I know it was 30 years ago, but I don’t recall all this…stuff going on during senior year.

If our daughter reads this, I would remind her that daddy isn’t really complaining. I’m proud and happy for you, sweetie. This truly is a special time.

Just as long as you don’t mind eating Kraft Mac and Cheese three nights a week.

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May
26

Zero Tolerance

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Allow me to toot the horn of my alma mater for a second.

Maybe you’ve seen the billboards, or read it in the newspaper. (Does anyone read newspapers anymore?)

By billboard, you’ll notice it by the three big, fat zeroes under the words Tuition, Room, and Board.

Eastern Michigan University, my haunts circa 1981-85, is doing something no Michigan university has done in some 25 years.

It’s holding its rates of tuition, room and board flat for the 2010-11 school year, from the current year.

They’re calling it the “Big, Fat Zero” campaign.

This after one of the smallest rate hikes in the state last year—just 3.82 percent.

“We recognize how desirable an affordable, quality college education is,” EMU President Sue Martin said. “I applaud the Board of Regents for taking this necessary risk.”

The “risk,” of course, is financial on EMU’s part. A zero percent increase means you can’t count on additional dollars in the budgeting process.

Not unless you increase enrollment.

See how that works?


What’s “Big, Fat Zero”? EMU students and staff “spell it out” for you

President Martin’s university is banking that a zero percent increase across the board, combined with a tiny increase last year, will make EMU more attractive to not only incoming freshmen, but current students as well, so that they’ll continue their education at Eastern.

As it stands now, an in-state student taking 30 credit hours for the school year will pay roughly $8,300 for tuition, room and board. That’s not too bad these days.

EMU is also making news with an aggressive fundraising campaign—no doubt encouraged by their “Big Fat Zero” initiative—that aims to raise $50 million.

It’s called “Invest, Inspire,” and here’s how they’re describing it on the university’s website:

EMU is seeking $50 million in philanthropic support from alumni and friends, businesses and foundations, parents and employees. This support will allow EMU to sustain its current excellence while also adding new resources, key capital projects and programs, through its endowment. In other words: In the face of shrinking resources and state funding, this support will endow EMU’s future.

So how does Eastern propose to raise $50 million?

Answer: they don’t have to—they’ve already raised over $34 million.

You heard me.

If you go to the campaign’s page on the EMU website, you’ll see an odometer-looking thing. The university is less than $16 million away from its goal.

And they just kicked off the campaign about a month ago—on April 19, 2010.

All this, of course, makes an old EMU alum like me pretty proud.

Now, about that football program…

Zero, you see, was also the EMU win total in football last year.

Categories : education, Enotes
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Mar
19

A Hard (School) Day’s Night

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I’m willing to meet Mike Feinberg halfway, but I’m not so sure the feeling would be mutual.

Feinberg is co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), as well as being the superintendent of KIPP Houston. KIPP is a network of 82 high-performing public charter schools serving 21,000 children in 19 states.

Feinberg’s program is rooted in the premise that the school day is too short. And the school year, too.

But Feinberg takes it to another level. His KIPP schools’ classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the kids attend school two Saturdays a month, and they have three weeks of mandatory summer school.

Feinberg has a gob of stats that say his extended school days and years are the best thing since sliced bread. You can read that laundry list in his editorial for CNN.com.

I’m a parent, so I’m concerned about my child’s education as well. But I have different concerns than Feinberg, I think.

You see, I’m also a former child, as I’m pretty sure Feinberg is. But he seems to forget that kids need time to be, well, kids.

So here’s where I’m willing to meet Feinberg halfway.

I’d be open to consider the notion of longer school days—just consider it, mind you—if Feinberg and others who espouse it are willing to address my notion of, “Will it cut down on homework?”

If not, then it’s off the table, as far as I’m concerned.


Mike Feinberg


A longer school day should also mean more time to complete assignments—in class. That is, if Feinberg would argue that the massive amounts of homework are a bi-product of too-short days.

And what of after school activities? Where’s the time for those? And who wants to hang out after school after being there for nine-and-a-half hours and two Saturdays a month?

I have a full-time job with a nice salary and benefits and I’m not in the office as long as Feinberg’s kids attend school each day; they have me beat by an hour a day.

Do we want our kids in school longer than most moms and dads spend time at work?

“Take away time, take away learning,” Feinberg writes. “…there is no substitute for the hours a student spends with an effective and inspiring teacher,” he adds.

Ahh, those disclaiming words: “effective” and “inspiring.”

Not every teacher is those things, and Feinberg ought to know that.

I’m not trying to change Feinberg’s mind; I’m sure his success stories are genuine. I’m just not sold that we have to push our kids as far as he’d like us to.

“Students actually look forward to their weekend KIPP days, when they get extra academic help and participate in activities such as cooking, knitting, soccer or African drumming,” Feinberg argues.

Every student, Mike? Or just some?

He closes with references to China, and cites the Chinese’s longer school days/year.

“This means that American children may eventually compete with Chinese kids who have had thousands of more hours of learning time.”

I admit, it’s food for thought. But 7:30-5:00 is simply too damn long. It’s not necessary.

You can only be a kid once. Sadly.

Categories : education, Enotes
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Feb
08

No Day Like a Snow Day

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As a child/youngster/youth, if there was anything better than finding out school was canceled, then it was most likely something you’ll never own up to publicly.

There might be a “snow day” on Wednesday—and not just for the kids. Some of the big people might get the day off, too.

It’s nothing like what’s been going on along the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard, which has been pelted relentlessly since late last week, but the folks who should know are calling for anywhere between six and ten inches of the white stuff to cover us between Tuesday and Wednesday.

You remember the moment, I’m sure—the precise moment when you heard that school was called off for that day.

It was early, early morning—likely before 7:30—and you begrudgingly got ready for school despite the blizzardy conditions outside. Grumbling, you pulled on your clothes and trudged with a snarl to the kitchen for breakfast. Or, you were still in bed, stubbornly refusing to even consider going to school in such weather.

Then, the moment.

Maybe it came from mom, or a brother, or a sister. Or from the television, or the radio.

I recall watching anxiously as the news people flashed the names of the school districts who were cashiering the day’s learning thanks to the dicey roads.

Then I’d see it: Livonia Public Schools.

I tell you, there was nothing more exhilirating.

The tempting thing was to go back to bed, except that you were so jacked, so pumped, sleep was impossible. Sometimes mom and dad had to go to work anyway, leaving you behind. Being an only child, I got the house to myself because mom usually had to traipse to work.

The hardest decision was determining what to do, with an entire day ahead of you. TV, of course, was on the docket. Eating, too. But there was no Internet back then—we’re talking the 1970s, folks.

A snow day was something to be treasured, because normally there wasn’t more than one or two a year. The day itself was grand, but nothing could top the moment when you got the news.

You all know what I mean.

Categories : education, Enotes, society
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Sep
08

Pupil Haze

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The day after Labor Day. Time for those three little words.

Back to school.

Three words that inspire either angst or elation—or retail dollar signs, depending on your perspective.

Back to school.

Another school year has officially begun—some districts began before Labor Day—and with it comes nine more months of the unknown.

For the parents of a 16-year-old girl—that would include my wife and me—the next nine months are likely to be a roller coaster ride.

Driver’s ed somewhere out on the horizon. Boys. Teachers. Catty girls. Homework up the ying-yang (and if you’ve ever had homework up the ying-yang, you know how painful that can be).

Back to school.

The alarm clock gets set again for 6:00 a.m. Another nine months of trying to get the kids to eat breakfast—you’ll even settle for cold pizza from the fridge if that’s the ticket. Our daughter’s stomach doesn’t open for business in the wee hours, so we’re thinking about buying her an IV. (Just kidding, honey—probably).

Back to school.

The nest empties for seven hours a day now, almost a full work day. Better have some vittles ready at 2:30, because the kids come home starved!

About the homework. Mom and dad are steeling ourselves in our house, bracing for the onslaught. Kid girl gets the worst of it, of course, but us parents are hardly spared. There’s just so much of it, and the children need help just to keep up with the volume.

Back to school for my wife and me, too.

I’m glad that I already have my degree, because in this second go-round of high school academics, old dad isn’t faring too well.

I’ve been looked at cross-eyed more than once by our daughter when she comes home from school with news of a poor grade on a math assignment I helped her with. And I get the math homework because I’m supposedly good at math.

Yeah, sure—math that they taught circa the 1970s. And math that was actually taught in high school. The stuff they’re doling out new is best served on a campus in Cambridge, Mass.

I feel dumber and dumber every year that our daughter advances through the school system, climbing that ladder toward graduation. I think by her senior year she’ll be smarter than me.

Already I think she would tell you it’s pretty close.

Back to school.

The opposite of the Alice Cooper anthem.

Nine more months of teachers’ (and my daughter’s) dirty looks.

Maybe I’ll take some night school, to keep up.

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