Long Winters

blizzard of '77 and '78

Two winters: Typical highway scene in January of ’77 and ’78

Mamacita says: There are two winters that stand out in my mind, both with seemingly never-ending blizzards and subzero temperatures: The winter of 1977 and the winter of 1978. Two winters in a row of deep, deep snow and temps down below zero. In fact, the temperatures were so often and for so many consecutive weeks well below zero that we would refer to the occasional single digit above zero as a heat wave.

I am the world’s biggest Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, so of course these two winters reminded me of The Long Winter, the four in the wonderful Little House series. We were all sent home from school, and the schools were closed. I was a brand-new first-year teacher, and I thought this was wonderful.

The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We lived in a tiny limestone house way out in the country; we were the only ones in our teacher crowd who lived in a real house, small and dumpy as it was; everybody else lived in an apartment or a trailer. Our house was party central. Somehow, even through the deep snow, high drifts, and dangerously low temperatures, the younger school staff managed to get to our house for sledding, homemade ice cream (snow is great for freezing it!) homemade pizza, cards and fun. We were either sent home midmorning, or school was cancelled altogether, every day for two months. Someone always managed to get to the school administration building to pick up our checks.

The downside was that back then, basketball games were not cancelled for so minor a thing as life-risking dangerous weather. We wouldn’t have school for three weeks because of the hazardous conditions, but we were expected – nay, required – to drive those twenty plus miles to the school to take tickets or sell concessions or otherwise manage a basketball game, which the entire population of the county managed to attend. The roads were so slick, I couldn’t even stop at intersections no matter how slowly I was going. I was so frightened of those basketball nights; even today, all these years later, I have nightmares about trying to get to the gym with six-foot drifts on either side of the road and a sheet of solid ice in front of me. One night, after a horrible journey down roads no smart person would even try to venture out on, I arrived at the gym ten minutes late and the principal yelled at me for not taking my job seriously.

I DID take my job seriously; it was risking my life for a game that bothered me.

When I look out the window and see deep snow drifting into high piles on either side of the road, I am instantly reminded of those now-famous blizzards that were at once wonderful social experiences and glorious memories, and also heart-stopping horrors.

Laura’s blizzards were far worse than these, but even so, they hit home. Ma, bundled to the teeth and still getting so cold she was in danger of freezing, carrying in clean clothes from the line that were frozen stiff and had to be thawed before they could be ironed.
The Long Winter, Ma bringing in the frozen laundry

Laura and Carrie breaking a path to school on one of the rare days when the blizzard “stopped to spit on its hands” for a few hours.

breaking a path to school, The Long Winter

The town of DeSmet slowly starving as the railroads couldn’t keep up with the blizzards, which filled each cut faster than a train could use it until the company gave up and cancelled all trains until spring thaw.

The Long Winter, the DeSmet cut fills in

Things will never get as bad as Laura’s experience these days, but people who are not able to get out are running low on supplies, and people who ARE able to get out are finding a lot of empty store shelves.

Let’s remind ourselves of Pa’s words to Laura, one evening when spirits were running especially low and Laura was wondering if the winter would ever end.

“It can’t beat us.”

 

The Dumbing Down of American Education

Mamacita says: Where did it begin, this ‘dumbing down’ of American education? Because, whether you want to admit it or not, our schools are set up to serve the lowest common denominator, and that is NOT a good thing.

John Wayne speaks the truth.

John Wayne speaks the truth.

There are many things at which to point an accusing finger, but I have two main targets: limited vocabulary in textbooks, and the self-esteem movement, which includes feelings of entitlement and special treatment.

I think that requiring our textbooks to adhere to the “Thorndike List” of acceptable vocabulary words was and is one of the reasons our kids are so damn stupid nowadays. The theory that children must be exposed only to those words that are already in their personal vocabularies, is one of the most ridiculous things ever to be proposed, and accepted. Once this theory became accepted practice, the editing and censoring of quality children’s literature began. Beatrix Potter told us that eating lettuce had a ‘soporific’ effect on Peter Rabbit. “Oh NO,” cried the experts,”Little children would have no idea what that word means, so we must change it to a simpler word.”

Lettuce, then, would simply make Peter feel sleepy.

The Little Mermaid DIED. “Oh NO,” cried the experts. “This would frighten little children. We must change the ending.”

Classic children’s literature contains complicated vocabulary. “Oh NO,” cried the experts. “These words are not on the limited vocabulary list and our children do not already know them; therefore, we must simplify all the stories so even the slowest and neediest student can easily understand them.”

This is horrible.  And why should education be easy?  Learning was never meant to be easy.  Learning takes a lot of work.

George Carlin knew the truth, too.

George Carlin knew the truth, too.

What kind of educator, or ANY adult, for that matter, would not understand that the more words a child is exposed to, the more words a child will then know.? A really, really, genuinely, pitiably, inexcusably STUPID adult, that’s who.

Compare the textbooks of fifty years ago, to the textbooks of today. If the comparison doesn’t disgust you completely, look again.

Limiting vocabulary, censoring plotlines, shortening, editing. . . . these things are destroying the public literacy of our nation.

Nursery rhymes are being changed, that they might be considered more politically correct. In England, children are now reading “Bah Bah rainbow sheep. . .” The ending of “Humpty Dumpty” has been changed, so children will not be traumatized. “Snow White” no longer has any mention of dwarves in the title. AAAAAAAAGH.

Doesn’t the expression “the context of the times” mean anything any more? And you all probably already know my opinion of political correctness. Bah.

With every new textbook adoption, your kids’ books are dumber and dumber. Look at all those pictures, for crying out loud. Look at your child’s math book; it’s probably full of social issues and politically correct statistics. Look at his/her history book; it’s full of every culture but ours. (Don’t get me wrong; our country was created by mixing together all kinds of cultures. But if a book is going to feature as many cultures as possible, where is mine?) (And why isn’t the ultimate goal for us all to be Americans? We can do our individual cultural ‘thangs’ at home, but in public, we should all be Americans.)  We’re supposed to be a melting pot, not a divided dish wherein nothing touches anything else.

stupidity and patience

Why are our bright kids forced to sit in classrooms and wait, wait, wait, wait, for something to be said that they don’t already know? Where is the IEP for a smart kid? G/T is considered officially SE in most states; why don’t the parents rally and fight for their kids’ rights as the other SE parents do? Because they don’t know they can, that’s why. And because the typical response of a school to such a request is something along the lines of ‘you should be glad your kid is bright; he’ll/she’ll get by. These other kids won’t.” Bullshit. A large percentage of dropouts are our gifted kids, who just couldn’t stand the lower-than-mediocrity another day.

Why do many of our foreign students out-perform our own kids? Because their parents solidly back the schools, and require hard work from their children. These kids do their work, and do it well, and take pride in it.

Why do American students so often fail? Because their parents solidly back their kids in all aspects of life, and require the schools to bow and cater to them in every way. These kids do their work when they feel like it, and they do it in a slapdash sloppy way, and they really don’t care about it at all, because, dude, they’ve got, like, IMPORTANT shit to do.  There’s a big game tomorrow night.

My son’s first grade reading book was a skinny little thing, with one continuing story that went like this: “I will go. Will you go? Will you go with me? Will he go? You will go. He will go. We will go.”

Kept him on the edge of his seat the whole year. Right.

At home, he was reading Elizabeth Enright, but at school, he was sitting in a circle droning “I will go. . . .” for months and months and months.

My mother’s first grade reading book had an excerpt from “Les Miserables” in it. A chapter from “Little House in the Big Woods.” A chapter from ‘Peter Pan.’ She grew up so eager to read these stories in their entirety, she and her classmates fairly beat a path to the public library.

I will go. He will go. Will you go?

Probably not, with no incentive.

My music book in sixth grade was full of great songs set to the melodies of great classical compositions. In the back of the book was the complete synopsis of the opera “Peer Gynt,” with all the major themes in between the paragraphs of synopses.

My daughter’s elementary music book was full of songs like “My umbrella is my friend.” Set to the tune of who-the-hell-cares. In the back? Nothing special.

Could anything be worse than the blandness of a poorly constructed music book? Unfortunately, yes. There is Dr. Jean. Heaven help the poor children who are subjected to THAT. It’s horrible.

I would place Dr. Jean in the same category with the Shurley Method for grammar instruction. Horrible. I can’t even think about them without cringing. The accents alone make my skin crawl.

But that’s just me, and if I’ve offended anyone who really thinks that playing “My mother is a baker, a baker, a baker. . . .” in a truly terrible singing voice complete with dreadful accent and pronunciation, I’m. . . . not sorry at all, actually. Nope, not a bit. It’s terrible stuff, and our kids deserve much better.

The Shurley Method might work for really young children, but if you, as a teacher, have ever been required by your school system to stand in front of a group of 8th graders and tell them to start clapping and chanting about prepositions, well, go figure. It wasn’t a great semester. Older kids don’t respond well to babyish things, and to require them to be subjected to babyish things is, well, REALLY STUPID on some administrator’s part.

In his essay “Papa the Teacher,” Leo Buscaglia wrote:  “Papa believed that the greatest sin of which we were capable was to go to bed at night as ignorant as we had been when we awakened that day. This credo was repeated so often that none of us could fail to be affected by it. “There is so much to learn.” he’d remind us. “Though we’re born stupid, only the stupid remain that way.” To ensure that none of his children ever fell into the trap of complacency, he insisted that we learn at least one new thing each day. He felt that there could be no fact too insignificant, that each bit of learning made us more of a person and insured us against boredom and stagnation.”

Buscaglia’s Papa was, indeed, a wise teacher, and an excellent parent who knew how to do it right.

I do not apologize in the least for stating that I believe our schools should be catering to the HIGHEST denominator, not the lowest. If we continue to award kids for merely showing up, and continue to tell a kid he’s the GREATEST because he went for a whole two hours without hitting someone, and continue to give kids limo rides and restaurant lunches for remembering to bring a pencil to class, why should we expect our bright kids, who generally get nothing because continually performing well and behaving properly doesn’t get a kid any notice in a public school, to take education seriously? Nobody else seems to be.

ignorant, stupid

And self esteem, if it is to be worth anything, must be earned. I’ve listened to clusters of low-performing kids who made out like bandits on Honor Day, and they’re not humbly grateful or proud of themselves. They’re in the restroom laughing their asses off at the pretense, at the adults who actually believe these kids got something to be proud of. They’re LAUGHING at the beaming parents and the grinning principals who handed a certificate and a trophy and a special award from Kiwanis for improvement to a kid who should have gotten a big red F and a retention notice. Even the stupid kids aren’t THAT stupid; they know what they really earned. The awards should go to those kids who earned an award, with quality, above-average work and good citizenship.

Don’t think for a split-second that I am advocating leaving out lower-performing students.  I am a great advocate of educating every student, but I do think we often underestimate the learning capacity of our lower students, and that we are so afraid of hurting their parent’s self esteem that we all-too-often design a curriculum far below these students’ abilities.  Annie Sullivan had to smack Helen Keller and remove her from the influence of her overprotective, over-loving parents before any real learning could take place.  Today, Annie would be in the Rubber Room and Helen would have an IEP outlining the simple concepts experts think she might be able to learn.  Annie’s methods took Helen to Radcliffe and to the White House; today’s methods might take Helen to a quiet corner of her parents’ home where she would live out her life quietly until such time as she would have to be removed to an institution.

Self-esteem is important, yes. But only if it’s genuine. Otherwise, it’s worse than meaningless; it’s condescending, and there is nothing worse in the world of education than condescension.

That’s why I despise dumbing down. It’s condescension. The kids know it. The bright kids are being destroyed by it. The hard-working foreign kids laugh at it. The slow kids aren’t going to get anything out of it anyway; they deserve their own curriculum.

I taught “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 8th grade for over twenty years. With every textbook adoption, the editing got worse. The last adoption, three years ago, was so bad I refused to use the book; I gave my students an older version that had ALL of the dialogue in it, not just the politically correct parts.

When I phoned the textbook company to complain, I got a young woman who explained to me, as if I were a child, that before ‘Anne Frank’ had been tampered with, permission had been gotten from all the people involved.

“Anne Frank herself gave you permission to cut and edit her play?” I asked the woman.

“Yes, she did.” was the reply.

Can you believe it? Prentice-Hall, you might want to consider hiring a new receptionist.

But see what I mean?

And check out this article (published below). In a perfect world, it should make everyone’s blood boil. Unfortunately, there are many people who are just thankful for such things.

A Dumbed-Down Textbook Is “A Textbook for All Students,” by William J. Bennetta

James A. Michener is well known today as a prolific American novelist and essayist, but sixty years ago he spent some time working as a schoolbook editor. A short recollection of that experience appears in his book This Noble Land, which was issued in 1996 by Random House:

[I was working for] one of the premier New York publishing companies, Macmillan, where I helped produce textbooks in a variety of subjects for use in schools across the nation. While I was at Macmillan, a radical new discipline began to dominate the writing of schoolbooks. A highly regarded educator and psychologist, Edward Lee Thorndike, compiled a list of words and the frequencies with which they occurred in everyday American life: newspapers, popular books, advertisements, etc. From these basic data, he published a list, sharply restricted, which he said ought to determine whether a specific word should be used in writing for children. If, for example, the word take received his approval, use it in schoolbooks. If discredit did not appear on his list, don’t use it, for to do so would make the books too difficult for children.

We editors worked under the tyranny of that list, and we even boasted in the promotional literature for our textbooks that they conformed to the Thorndike List. In my opinion, however, this was the beginning of the continuing process known as “dumbing down the curriculum.” Before Thorndike I had helped publish a series of successful textbooks in which I had used a very wide vocabulary, but when I was restricted by Thorndike, what I had once helped write as a book suitable for students in the sixth grade gradually became a book intended for grades seven through eight. Texts originally for the middle grades began to be certified as being appropriate for high school students, and what used to be a high school text appeared as a college text. The entire educational process was watered down, level by level.

That endeavor has been continued, off and on, in the time since Michener toiled at Macmillan, and it recently has resurged with special virulence. Major schoolbook companies are making their books dumber than ever, because they perceive that there is a big, ready market for such products. The market is provided by schools where “education” consists chiefly of submerging students in feel-good pastimes, furnishing students with easy successes, and ensuring that even the laziest and the worst-prepared students will seem to be doing well.

Publishers usually avoid admitting to their complicity in such skulduggery, but a candid acknowledgment was offered last year by Glenn Gordon, a textbook salesman employed by Harcourt General Inc. (Harcourt General’s textbook-publishing subsidiaries include Holt, Rinehart and Winston.) Speaking about today’s schoolbooks, Gordon said this to a reporter for The Seattle Times:

Absolutely they’ve been dumbed down. I think what we’ve heard a lot of, throughout the country, is that there needed to be an image of American students doing well. In order for us to show them as being smarter, let’s dummy down what we’re teaching them. You’ll appear to be smarter, even though you’re not. [See “Textbooks Too Easy, Too Dull, Experts Say,” by Nancy Montgomery, inThe Seattle Times for 3 March 1996.]

In its heaviest and most pernicious form, the dumbing down of high-school books comprises four interlocking processes. The first is the elimination or dilapidation of concepts that may require a student to expend mental effort: Such concepts are excised entirely, or they are reduced to little heaps of factoids. Next comes the process that Michener saw sixty years ago and that is still going on — the reduction and impoverishment of vocabulary. Then comes the ostensible simplification of style, effected partly through the suppression of compound or complex sentences. This process often requires that logical connections be destroyed for the sake of ensuring that sentences will be simple and short. Finally comes the replacement of written material by pictures — pictures which, as often as not, are mere decorations.

Sometimes a dumbing-down operation is carried out gradually, over several successive versions of the book in question. Sometimes it is carried out abruptly, as in the recent case of Glencoe World Geography. (See the review in TTL for September-October 1996.) Either way, heavy dumbing down has the effect of turning high-school books into products which, if they have any value at all, may be appropriate for middle-school students.

Dumbing down is also obvious in some of the brand-new books that are being produced nowadays — books that haven’t existed in any earlier versions. A notable example here is Biology: A Community Context, a new, dumbed-down product issued by South-Western Educational Publishing (Cincinnati, Ohio). In my judgment, Biology: A Community Context has exceptional merit as a middle-school book and would be a fine choice for use in a middle-school life-science class. South-Western, however, is selling it as a high-school biology book. This strikes me as a sad joke.

South-Western is also promoting a pair of newly created books titled Science Probe I and Science Probe II, which allegedly represent a two-year course in “coordinated science” for high-school students. These books have been so grossly dumbed down that, in most respects, they are indistinguishable from books that the major publishers have been selling, during the past ten years or so, as middle-school texts. The Science Probe books are not even suitable for use in middle schools, however, because the “biology” that they provide has been purged of the principle of organic evolution, the central organizing principle of the biology of the 20th century. South-Western is evidently pandering to the creationists, and these dumbed-down Science Probe books have also been dumbed back — back to the 1500s. No honest teacher would consider using them.

In the past few years, the demand for dumbed-down books has increased because many schools have abandoned the strategy of grouping students according to their abilities. Instead, these schools indiscriminately mix together, in the same courses and the same classrooms, students who vary widely in their talents, intellectual capacities, goals, and states of preparation. As far as I am aware, no one has been able to suggest that this practice serves any educational purpose (by which I mean a purpose that can pass the straight-face test). As far as I know, this fad is based entirely on a political construct which — in the name of social equality — prescribes that all students must be reduced to the level of the least able students, and that the brightest and best-prepared students should be hobbled and handicapped.

Be that as it may, this much is certain: When students who have vastly different capacities are randomly mixed together in the same classroom, the teacher must choose textbooks and other instructional materials that even the slowest and worst-prepared students may be able to use. This is impelling schoolbook-publishers to perform new feats of dumbing down and to produce books that plainly have been designed for dimwits. The books are quite unfit for use by capable students, and capable students are very badly served when they are made to use such books — but never mind that. All that matters is that everybody is using the same book, so everybody is equal to everybody else.

Of course, schoolbook companies can’t promote these books by saying outright that the books are aimed at backward students and dullards, so some companies have taken to using a code-phrase. The phrase is all students, as in “This is a book for all students.” Knowing that all students means the least capable and worst-prepared students can be useful when one is talking with a schoolbook salesman or reading a publisher’s promotional claims.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false “science” and false “history” in schoolbooks.

==

I agree with Mr. Bennetta. We’re heading down a really scary path, and we’re going of our own free will, and we’re being guided by people who want us to remain the lowest common denominator. Doesn’t this frighten anyone? I think it should.

Our educational system is a national disgrace.

there-is-no-sin-except-stupidity

I was forced to dumb down the curriculum and pass failing students along when I was in the public school systems, and now I am dealing with one of the results of that at the college level. And I still maintain that while it is, of course, ultimately, the lazy spoiled self-esteem-laden students’ fault, they were enabled along the way by their ferocious red-shirting parents, who demanded, and generally got, exceptions for any rule, all along the way.

Shame on us for allowing it to happen. Shame on us for catering to the demanding. Shame on us for permitting our kids to be whiny and empty-headed. Shame on us for putting Nascar on a pedestal and basketball on a throne and letting academics fall by the wayside. Shame on us for sanctioning plagiarism, and hiring lawyers to make sure our kids get the grades we want them to get, whether it’s the grades they’ve earned or not. Shame on us for not making students EARN every single grade they get. EARN. It’s a concept many people don’t even understand. Shame on us for become an entitlement culture. Shame on every parent who ever went to school and demanded mercy instead of justice. Or, rather, ‘favors,’ in the name of mercy. Shame on every kid who fudged an assignment and told his parents he was being picked on and THAT’S why his grades are low. And shame on every parent who believed it.

Carl Sagan on dumbing down

As long as Americans believe they are entitled to good grades and scholarships, and as long as foreigners EARN good grades and scholarships, we’re going to get our asses kicked in academic competition, and we will have EARNED that big bruise and that big “NO” on the admissions form. And once out in the business world, who wants to give their money to a company that can’t even spell the words right on their billboard? Not me, that’s for sure. Misspelling in the business? Count your change very, very carefully. They probably can’t do that, either, unless they’ve hired a foreigner to do it right, for them. I’m sick of it. I’m a loyal American, but I’m not deaf and blind, and we’re going down the tubes, and it all boils down to stupid parents, sissy administrations, ignorant government decisions, feelings of entitlement instead of requirements for hard work, the myth of unearned self-esteem, and excuses instead of expectations.

Martin Luther King Jr., stupidity

We are to the point now where many people can’t recognize ignorance or stupidity – not the same thing – when they see it.  They see only what they want, what they want for their kids, and what the world had better hand them without a lot of effort on their part.

Don’t they deserve it just for existing?  Well, don’t they?

I haven’t hit anybody for three days, and I brought a pencil today.  Where’s my limo ride and my free pizza?  I deserve it.

 

 

 

Testing, Basic Skills, Behavior, and Blame

Mamacita says:  Testing, you say?  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in testing, to a point.  I do not believe that a student who can’t pass a simple test of basic skills should be promoted at all, in fact.

That fact is, there are certain basic skills that all people simply must have in order to are for themselves, and for others, in this life.  Those who have chosen to become adults, yet have also chosen to not learn these basic skills, are potentially. . . societal leeches.  It is a disgrace to become an adult and not have the ability to support oneself.  I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with this, so maybe what we are really talking about is which direction to point the Finger of Blame.

I point it at the student, first of all, with a hefty amount of blame for the family as well.  A little blame for the teacher, and a big pointy middle finger at administration.  But mostly, I blame the student.

Yes, we have some pretty lousy schools, and they’re getting lousier.  Some of them are lousy because lousy teachers were hired.  However, I firmly believe that most of our teachers are excellent, or could be, if not for decisions and mandates handed down to them by lousy administrators.  I also point the Finger of Blame at the family – not every family, or even most – but the Finger of Blame definitely points its long middle finger at families who will not allow their kids to be challenged, punished, or in any way whatsoever held responsible for their own actions, and by a society led by these kinds of people that insists that it is not a kid’s fault if he/she behaves badly; it’s SOCIETY’S fault, poor kids, poor poor kids, and when these kids crush, kill, destroy, disrupt, vandalize, talk back, threaten, bully, sleep, sell drugs, take drugs, rape, harass, street-talk, mug, skip, or otherwise renege on the societal contract, it’s not their fault; it’s somebody else’s fault, always.  The poor things can’t help it.  It’s not their fault.  They’re victims of the system.  And I maintain that it is this lack of backup from families, and administrators who are unwilling to buck the political system of a community and crack down HARD on offenders, that are our worst problem.

There have always been students who spit in the eye of circumstance and defy the statistics, kids who learn in these environments, in spite of the odds, in spite of the environment, in spite of a bad family, in spite of everything. What do these kids have that others don’t?  Besides a work ethic, I mean.

Parents are busy.  Most of them are working  Daycare is eating up their money and they need the school to keep their kids.  I’ve been there.  I know.  I understand.

Our schools are already feeding the kids breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and staying open till after dark to accommodate working parents.  Schools are expected to teach the kids how to read, and also how to treat others, feel good about themselves, behave, and many other things that the family is supposed to do but far too many times, doesn’t.

The school is held accountable for all these things the family is supposed to do.  When did that happen?  This is reprehensible.

In the smart class (you will find no euphemisms here.  They cheapen the language and they cheapen us as a culture) you will find kids who have a background of songs, poems, nursery rhymes, stories and experiences.  In the slow class, you will find kids who have little or no background in anything except TV.

Our pre-K’s can tell you all about the latest Jerry Springer guest or the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones or Daddy’s latest girlfriend or Mommy’s latest Uncle Daddy, but they don’t know what happened to Humpty Dumpty.  They can tell you all about Fitty Cent and Kanye and Lady Gaga’s meat dress, but they don’t know how to say “please” or “thank you.”  They see something they want and they just grab for it.

They’re sitting beside your child in chool, and they’re stealing erasers, paper, pencils, and money from the teacher’s purse.  Some of them don’t even know they’re stealing.  They see it and they want it so they take it.

This same mentality is also found in the upper grades.  Anything they see that they want, they just grab.  When the hormones kick in , this becomes an even worse problem.

This kind of kid often has the kind of parent who, if called, will cuss out the teacher for waking him/her up, spew forth a tirade about how “that’s the school’s problem, I sent him to school to be taught, I cain’t do nothing with him, and don’t call me again, dammit.”

Some kids are so far gone that even the knowledge that one more call to mom’s place of employment will result in her being fired doesn’t faze them.  They’re entrenched in selfishness to the point that instant gratification in all aspects of life is their daily expectation.  They’re entitled to whatever they want.

These behaviors cross all ethnic lines; no one group can be singled out.  Some of the very worst are rich white offspring of professions.  (I guess I just singled a group, huh.  Bite me.)

As for bullying, you will not find me wasting my time sympathizing with a bully.  My sympathies are with the victims of this little monster.  If the bully is yours, be finding out fast, believe it when you hear it, and do something about it before you bully turns into a criminal.  All too often, the first adult who says “no” to some of these kids is a judge.  And it is the innocent victims of bullying who are deserving of our attention.

Save your sympathy for the victim of bullying, not the bully.

Save your sympathy for the victim of bullying, not the bully.

Getting back to the testing. . . .

Why can’t we return to the amazing, off-the-wall concept of LEARNING?  That’s right, a child comes to school, behavior properly because that’s how his family is raising him/her, and is exposed to all kinds of awesome concepts and facts and projects and miracles and outer space and underground and inside a book and imagination and experiments and research and how to care for himself/herself and others so that when the student becomes an adult, he/she will be able to support and care for himself/herself and others, and use any leisure time to cultivate himself/herself culturally and to volunteer to hep others??  And the big standardized test at the end of each year would simply cover those things that every person of a certain age simply must know in order to be a contributing member of society.  No pass, no promote.  No play, either.

kids need the arts

And music.  Oh, the music our schools used to expose us to, and ART.  I still remember the smell of that pile of clay we all kept in our desks.  I learned dozens of major classical music pieces in lower elementary school.  They were disguised as simple, catchy songs.

But there is no time for the arts any more, and there’s no recess either, in many schools.  Every minute must be devoted to practicing for or taking those tests, and to say that this is a great wrong is a great understatement.

We are doing our students no favors by passing them along because of their age or size or parents’ standing in the community.  We are doing them no favors by tailoring their curriculum to a test that doesn’t measure their ability to comprehend that they are in school to learn the things that will help them be the kind of adults that contribute to the world, not take from it.

I believe in testing.  I just don’t believe a test is the purpose of an education.

In real life, “test” isn’t the final blow.  In real life, “this is only a test” means that we shouldn’t worry.  We give a test so people will be able to understand and use the concepts in real life.  It’s what happens AFTER the test that is important.  Those students who pass the test are probably more ready to move on to the next level, where they might use those skills and apply them to new things.  Those who do not yet have the skills should stay where they are until they have them.  What good is it to move them ahead when they do not yet have the skills, ie tools, to comprehend the next level?

Don’t move ‘em up until they demonstrate that they are ready to move up. That takes work.  Some kids don’t know how to work.  Keep them back until they learn.  We’ve already got more than enough adults who don’t know how to work; we don’t need any more.

Education isn’t about standardized testing.  The test just measures how seriously a student takes that education on a certain day.  It measures who paid attention.  It measures who cares.  Those things are important.  The test isn’t the goal.  The test is only a test.  Don’t panic; it’s only a test.  If it had been a real situation, you would be at work, facing a problem that only a person who got number seventeen right on the test would know how to fix.

Tell your kids to sit up straight and pay attention.  If the teacher calls you, tell her to throw the book at your kid and do it again when he comes home.  Don’t allow any misbehavior at school.  I do not advocate corporal punishment, but Annie Sullivan had to put her hands on Helen Keller to get her to calm down and behave.  If that is what it takes for your particular kid, then do it.  Some people require a little physical pressure; some don’t.  Annie Sullivan knew that Helen had it in her to be awesome; the awesomeness just had to be mined.  Today, Annie would be in the Rubber Room and Helen would have had an IEP with a curriculum so tailor-made for her limitations that she would never have been able to get out of her chair and go outside, let alone go to college, let alone graduate Cum Laude from Radcliffe, go on the vaudeville circuit, make a couple of movies, write several books, lecture, and be received in the White House by twelve different presidents.  In fact, by today’s educational standards, Helen Keller would probably have lived out her life running wild and stealing food out of everybody’s plates with her hands.

Whatever it takes.

Whatever it takes.

Students are SUPPOSED to be challenged in school.  They’re supposed to have to work hard, and some will always have to work harder than others.  Some kids have their homework done before they get off the bus, while others need four tear-filled tantrum-y hours to get the same assignment done.  Not fair?  Of course it’s not fair.  It was never supposed to be fair; it’s supposed to challenge students and teach them to work hard so they won’t be societal leeches when they grow up.

Above all, we must not continue to avoid our responsibilities as parents.  We must not send our children to school, or anywhere else, and not require excellent behavior.  We must back up our teachers in the area of discipline; if that means you have to drive thirty-six miles after work to pick up your teen because he got “afterschool” for talking back, then so be it  If you are angry at the school because of that, you’ve got a big, big problem, daddy or mommy, and with that attitude, it’s only going  to get worse.  If your kid misbehaves and is bagged for it, be angry with your kid, not the school.  The school has a couple of thousand kids to deal with; if yours doesn’t choose to live with the good manners I’m just sure you are trying to teach him, that’s his problem.  And yours.  And if your kid got mouthy or violent or intrusive or whatever, I’m GLAD he got bagged.  After the school has dealt with him, it’s your responsibility to deal with him again.

Do you know the main reason they used to hang horse thieves back in the day?  Do you?  They hung horse thieves that more horses might not be stolen.  Get it?

According to Aristotle, educated people are as much superior to uneducated people as the living are to the dead.  I agree completely.

Civilization and education and sentience.  I’m all for ‘em.  Without all three, we are lost.

Cupid & Psyche & the Mother-in-Law From Hell

I’ve been blogging for almost eleven years, and every Valentine’s Day, I like to re-tell the story of Cupid and Psyche to the Blogosphere.

Why?  Because it’s one of my favorite myths.  I love this story.  I’d post more pictures about it, but everybody’s nekkid.

Mamacita says:  It’s Valentine’s Day, and since many people associate this day with Cupid, let’s talk for a moment about the REAL Cupid. Well, the real mythological Cupid.

Cupid is not a fat naked baby, flying around shooting arrows into people to make them fall in love with the first living thing they see, causing people to have inappropriate relationships with cows and bulls and goats. It was used as an excuse by some people, but we won’t go there.

It’s kind of along the same lines as the alcoholics who tried to rationalize their choices by swearing they were just worshipping Bacchus/Dionysus, and the knocked-up teenagers who swore they were abducted by Zeus. . . .

Ahem.

In some myths, Cupid/Eros IS a perpetual child, but in most of the myths, he is as all the other gods (except Hephaestus) were: indescribably beautiful. Unfortunately, his mother was the goddess Aphrodite/Venus, and even though she was the goddess of love and beauty, she was a BITCH.

Here is the story of what happened when Cupid dared to fall in love and try to have a life of his own. Heh, and some of you think YOU have mother-in-law problems. . . .

==

Once upon a time – was there EVER a better way to begin a story? – there was a King who had three daughters, all beautiful, and the youngest daughter was the most beautiful of all. In fact, and this was dangerous talk in any myth, people said that this young princess was more beautiful even than the goddess of beauty herself. Now, whenever, in a myth, people compare a mortal to a god or goddess, you will know in advance that the poor mortal, even though he/she probably did nothing wrong, is going down. DOWN. Circling the drain down.

This young princess, whose name was Psyche, begged the populace not to say such things, but people were heedless and full of gossip even back in these days, and the talk went on and on. Eventually, of course, Aphrodite heard of it, and she was FURIOUS.

She called her son Cupid to her, and instructed him to fly down to earth and shoot an arrow into Psyche, making sure the first living thing she saw would be a monster that would devour her even as she could not help falling in love with it.

What Aphrodite had not foreseen was this: Cupid took one look at Psyche, was dazzled by her beauty, tripped and fell on one of his own arrows and fell in love with her himself. It was the real thing, too; it would have happened with or without magic love arrows or anything else. He saw her, and he loved her.

He knew, though, that he would have to keep it a secret from everyone, especially his jealous, possessive mother. Therefore, he would have to somehow get Psyche away from her family and sneak her to his palace.

He sent Psyche’s father, the King, a dream that directed him to go to an Oracle – a fortuneteller – who told him that he must take his beloved daughter to the top of the mountain and let a Demon take her to wife.

The King did not dare to disobey, so he and Psyche’s sisters walked with Psyche up the mountain and left her on a jutting rock to await her demonic husband. She did not understand what was happening, and could not think why she should be treated so, but back in the days of the myths, people did what the gods told them to do and chalked it all off to the Fates.

That night, the West Wind swooped down and flew with her to her new husband’s home. She tried to ask Zephyrus what was to become of her, but he would not, or could not, answer. He, too, was following orders.

To Psyche’s surprise, Zephyrus took her to a beautiful palace, even more beautiful than her father’s palace back home. Invisible servants waited on her hand and foot. Delicious food was served to her, three times a day. Lovely clothing appeared in her closet.

Cupid & PsycheShe dreaded the night, because she knew that her new husband would come to her in the marriage bed, but when he came into the room, she knew no fear. She could not see him in the dark, but he told her he loved her and would always love her. He also told her that she must NEVER see him in the light.

He came to her every night after dark, but was gone before the morning light fell upon his face. Psyche knew that she loved him, but she did not even know his name.

Then, she got homesick.

After much crying and begging from his wife, Cupid told her that her two sisters would be allowed to visit her. Psyche was happy to hear this, for living alone in a huge castle with only invisible servants by day and a nameless, faceless husband by night was hard on a girl. Besides, she was pregnant.

Cupid was happy to hear this news, but he warned his wife that as long as she never looked upon her husband’s face, the baby would be immortal, but if she could not resist temptation and saw him in the light, the baby would be mortal and eventually die.

By this time, Psyche loved her husband so much she would have done anything for him. She agreed.

When her sisters arrived, they were impressed with the richness and luxury their sister enjoyed, but their jealousy of her good fortune overcame their love for her. They were amazed that Psyche was pregnant with the child of a husband she had never seen and didn’t even know by name. They told Psyche that he must be a hideous monster, and that she had a right to see her husband’s face. They told her that if he was indeed a monster, she would have to kill him. They told her these things over and over until they convinced her that it would be the only right thing to do. After all, why should a wife not know her husband’s face and name? It was so logical!

That night, after her husband had come to her and then fallen asleep, Psyche fetched an oil lamp and a knife. The lamp would show her his face, and if he was indeed a monster, she would kill him with the knife.

But she trembled, and a drop of hot oil fell on him. He awoke, and turned to look at Psyche awakens Cupidher. She saw, in the light, not a hideous creature from the depths of hell itself, but a beautiful young man with golden wings, looking at her with love and pain and despair. He got out of bed and flew away, and Psyche knew she would never see him again.

Psyche blamed herself for losing her husband. Because of her curiosity and disobedience, she was alone, and pregnant. She prayed desperately to the gods, but they did not answer, and Cupid did not return to her.

She decided to go to Aphrodite, Cupid’s mother, and offer her services as a servant, hoping that Cupid might admire her devotion and return to her.

What naive Psyche didn’t know was that her mother-in-law didn’t merely dislike her; she HATED her, and was eager to do great harm to her to keep her son away from his wife. She was still angry because the townspeople in Psyche’s homeland had remarked that Psyche was more beautiful than Aphrodite, and the fact that this girl was now pregnant with her son’s child made Aphrodite even more furious. Aphrodite was determined to punish Psyche for taking some of her son’s affection from his mother.

Aphrodite set Psyche to work on a series of ridiculous, impossible tasks. She had to sort a roomful of different grains by nightfall; had it not been for the ants, who helped her sort the grains into various piles, she could never have finished. Next, Aphrodite told Psyche she had to shear the wool from a flock of deadly, possessed sheep that were hypnotized, so that they tried to kill all who came near. Fortunately, the reeds along the riverbank advised Psyche that she could get enough wool from the thorny bushes the sheep had passed through, instead of trying to deal with these evil sheep.

Each time Psyche succeeded, Aphrodite became angrier and more determined to break her. The tasks became more and more difficult. She sent Psyche to fetch water from the river Styx, the river of death, but fortunately, Zeus took pity on Psyche and sent one of his mighty eagles to fetch the water for her.

Psyche crosses the StyxFinally, Aphrodite told Psyche to enter the Underworld and fetch her box of cosmetics from Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. No mortal had ever entered the World of the Dead and returned. The night before this task, she lay in her bed and wept.

Suddenly, she heard a voice, telling her how to succeed in this task, and also warning her not to open the box once she got it in her hands. This piqued Psyche’s curiosity.

In a myth, whenever someone is extremely curious about something, there’s going to be trouble.

Psyche entered the Underworld. She crossed the Styx, paying Charon his toll. (This is why, in many cultures even today, the dead are buried with a coin on each eyelid.) cerberus free access fileShe gave food to Cerberus, (now you know where the idea of Hagrid’s “Fluffy” came from!)  to distract him so she could run through the gate of Hades without being devoured. (Meat is placed in the hands of the dead, and when rigor mortis set in, the meat was secure in the fist.) Psyche did as the voice had instructed her throughout her entire visit, and finally, box in hand, she returned to the world of the living.

Once she got back to her palace and was alone with this mysterious box, Psyche’s curiosity got the better of her. What harm could one little peek do? She wasn’t going to TOUCH anything in there, after all. But when she opened the box, she fell into a deep slumber.

By this time, Cupid’s anger had passed, and he longed for his wife and baby. His mother tried her best to dissuade him, but for the first time in his life he defied her openly and, in spite of her magical attempts to hold him, flew out of his childhood home and went back to the castle he had built for his own family.

He found his wife, sound asleep on the floor of her room, and so deep was her sleep that Cupid thought she was dead, and wept as he held her in his arms. He bent to her for one last kiss, and she awakened!

Cupid and Psyche were together at last, in the light, and both liked what they saw.

However, there was still the danger of Aphrodite, who still hated Psyche and who wanted her son Cupid’s full devotion. Cupid finally appealed to Zeus, King of the Gods, and asked him to make his wife immortal, that Aphrodite could no longer harm her, and Zeus agreed.

Cupid and Psyche lived happily ever after, and their daughter Volupta. . . well, that’s a whole other story, isn’t it.

==

I hope you saw the roots of a lot of fairy tales and other stories. The ancient myths are a treasure trove of literary points of origin. I also hope you noticed a lot of root words; the English language is a patchwork quilt of languages: we steal from everybody.

Mythology is one of my thangs. Can you tell?

Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

Somebody else can tell the story of St. Valentine. I like Cupid and Psyche.

This myth is also ONE of the origins of the expression “Opposites attract.”

Because Love is all emotional, see, and the Mind is logical, and. . . . oh, you know. And how ironic is it that the Ancients saw the male as the emotional one and the female as the logical one?

Mythology is so cool.

Basic Elevator Etiquette for Dummies

dummies

Mamacita says:  Elevator etiquette ain’t rocket science, you know.  No kind of etiquette is rocket science.  Etiquette is simple.  Simple basic good manners.  That’s all.  And simple as that may be, it’s too much for an awful lot of people to handle.

Let’s start with the elevator.  I have never lost my adoration for elevators and escalators; they are almost in the same category as Ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls, and the fact that there’s an elevator on the main campus kind of sort of okay actually thrills me every time I push the button and step back.

I said, every time I push the button and step back.  That’s the proper way to access an elevator, you see.  You people who punch the already-glowing button and then rush the door the second it opens are the dummies I’m going to talk about here.

elevator etiquette, idiot

Basic Elevator Etiquette for Dummies:

1. Push the appropriate button. If button is already glowing, do not push it.

2. Stand back. LEAVE ROOM FOR PEOPLE TO EMERGE FROM THE ELEVATOR.

3. When the door opens, WAIT UNTIL EVERYBODY IS OUT BEFORE YOU GO IN.

4. The people coming out of the elevator have the right-of-way over the people going into the elevator.

5. WHEN THE ELEVATOR IS COMPLETELY EMPTY, calmly walk towards the open door. Do not push. Do not shove. The elevator is not going anywhere. It’s not like a subway, or a train, or an airport shuttle. Step inside the elevator and position yourself as far away from the other passengers as possible. If the elevator is crowded, do not take up more than your fair share of space with a wheeled briefcase or anything else you might be carrying.  This includes your children; don’t let them spread out.  Teach them to stand close to you..

6. Anyone who has a lighted cigarette in an elevator is fair game for murder. Nobody will tell on you. Everybody will help. You might even get a medal. If not, you should.  This includes e-cigs.

7. Once inside the elevator, do not reach across people to push a button. If your button is not already glowing, ask someone near the buttons to push it for you. Be sure to say please, and thank them nicely when they do it.

8. Do not violate any of these rules.

9. ESPECIALLY do not violate # 2 and #3.

10 If you violate # 2 and/or #3, you are an idiot. “Dummies” books are beyond your intellect. You suck. You’re probably ugly. Your mother dresses you funny. You smell bad. Nobody likes you. Your spouse is changing the locks as we speak. Your children tell their friends that you are the boarder, and that their father lives in Paris and films documentaries.

There. Now you know one way to tell smart people from stupid people. It’s a pretty good indicator.

What’s that?  You think I’m mean and should cut elevator dummies some slack?  I’m pretty sure you’re the only one in the universe who thinks rude elevator people deserve any slack.  Because they don’t.  And if you think they do, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you’re probably one of them.

There are a lot of other things to consider when the topic is elevator etiquette, such as holding the door when you see someone approaching, punching ONLY your one floor and not the entire screen – keep control of your child’s fingers! – not holding a cell phone conversation if there are people standing near you, keeping your bodily functions under control, not annoying other people with unwanted conversation or questions, not eating until you get out of the elevator, etc, but honestly, most of these things are just simple anywhere etiquette – nice people don’t do these things wherever they are.

stinky elevator dummies

No, they don’t.

You know what makes all of the above etiquette lapses even more inappropriate and disgusting?  When someone wearing his/her business logo is behaving that way.  Talk about an instant “No, thank you; I’ll look elsewhere.”

Elevators are tiny vehicles driven by robots.  If you don’t know how to behave yourself in a tiny vehicle with an invisible mechanical pilot, please take the stairs.

 

Rock and Pop and Goats and Ducks, Oh My

rock and rollMamacita says:  I like modern rock and modern pop, I really do. But I just heard a song on Spotify. At least, it was being marketed as a song. And I suppose the artist is being marketed as a singer, but you couldn’t prove either by me.

Every generation’s favorite artists get flak from previous generations who think their own icons are the best and could never be replaced.  They’re partly right; an artist can never be replaced.  This is not to say, however, that new artists can’t be good, too.

Good.  Good is, of course, a personal value judgment, and those are seldom provable.

I love opera – SOME opera – but not every singer needs to sing opera or be able to.  I love classical music, but not every time.  I am not a fan of country music, but there are a few songs that fall into that genre that I enjoy.  I love rock, but not all of it.  I like a lot of pop music, but not everything.  Nobody likes all of anything.  But most people do not care to hear a hoarse parrot screech.

I’m particular about music, yes.  So are you.  Particular, but versatile.  But not an Anybody’s. (channeling West Side Story. . . .)

I do, however, prefer that whatever the genre and whoever the artist, they are both knowledgeable about music and good at whatever they’re doing.  Novelty definitely has itsMr. Magoo place, and it’s a legitimate place and I like a lot of novelty music but only when I’m in the mood for novelty music.  Jim Backus’ voice was more than appropriate for “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” but not for a playlist advertised as “romantic love songs” on Spotify or Pandora.  The Chipmunks were a pretty cute novelty act before they were turned into a Saturday morning children’s show.

bug eyesThe artist I heard an hour or so ago was so awful she made my eyeballs do the cartoon character bug-eyes

Please don’t think that I am saying this woman or any other person shouldn’t sing at all.  I think everyone should sing every day.  I want everyone to sing.  I sing all the time, even though I try not to inflict it on others.  Not everyone can sing well, but everyone should sing anyway.  But to inflict it on someone. . . that’s a different thing entirely.

I was across the room when it came on, and I assumed it was one of those novelty pieces where dogs bark Christmas carols or goats screech or maybe a sort of sentient duck or something. Talent and writing skills notwithstanding, it was apparently a popular trending singer singing a popular trending song full of trending cutesy words, the kind fourth graders use out on the playground because they haven’t learned the real words yet.. But if you ask singing goatme, which none of you did but here’s what I think anyway, this artist’s marketers and agents might do better to pimp her as a potential cartoon character voice: not a class act like Mel Blanc, or Hank Azaria, or Jim Cummings, or Nancy Cartwright, or June Foray, or Jean VanDerPyle or Bea Benaderit or Don Messick or Alan Reed or Verna Felton, etc, but maybe she could voice some cows or hoarse coughing in a football crowd or maybe some fourth graders out on a playground screeching silly words like “bae” and “cray cray” and “totes adorbs” and pretty much anything that doesn’t require any grammar skills or brains or sense or voice lessons of any kind and will pay her to screech in a sound booth instead of on Spotify or Pandora where unsuspecting music lovers expecting actual music could be assaulted by this screeching ungrammatical ignorant-sounding whatever she was.

I’m not talking about generational tastes here.  I’m talking about music.  And maybe about grammar, too, because it’s hard to separate them.

Macy Gray has a novelty voice, but Macy Gray also knows how to sing.  I’m not sure what sort of voice the artist I heard might have had, but I think a new category might be overdue. It was kind of a combination of chanting and limited-octave gravelly recitations of made-up words about how she still loved the man she cheated on and hoped he would come back in spite of what she was and would always be.  Romantic, huh.

singing catsShe sounded sort of like me back around New Year’s when I had the flu, except I know more words than that and even when I was so sick, I had a better range.

I wonder how much her agents had to pay, to get that song included on playlists that were mostly made up of real songs.  If I were a real artist who knew how to sing and had an actually good song, on that list, I’d be really mad.

The goats have a right to sound like that. I smile at the goats. I don’t expect a musical voice or good grammar from goats, but from people who claim to be singers?  Yes.  I’m still cringing at this woman. No more “Today’s HIts” playlists for me. I’ll make my own.