Saturday, January 31, 2009

Can you help?

In my humanities class, one of our trios is studying the 1930s and reading The Grapes of Wrath. As they make text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections, they can't help but compare the suffering of the 1930s to today. Many of my students' parents are getting laid off, losing their homes, losing their health insurance, losing their pensions. When they came across the word "apocalyptic" in reference to the economic disaster of the '30s, they really got it.

It's in this context that I'm teaching my Life Skills class. Yesterday I had a speaker, a financial planner, who talked to the kids about the cost of life after high school - buying a house, a car, etc. He told me beforehand that he expected that everyone would know at least one millionaire - but only one kid in the class did. I think he was a little taken aback by some of their questions. One student asked about the financial burden of having a child. The speaker said, "That's something you really need to think long and hard about before deciding to do," not knowing that this student's girlfriend had recently given birth to a daughter. Another student asked, "If my parents have tons of debt and they die, will it all get transferred to me?"

It's scary out there - especially for my kids. That's why I hope you can take a look at my proposal on - I am asking for a camcorder to help us practice some financial literacy skills. Even if you can't spare $10 or $25 right now, it would be great if you could pass it along to friends or family members who care about schools or financial literacy.

Thank you!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This is too funny

From the NY Times. The whole article is worth reading. Especially if you have a high school sense of humor like me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Nation

Just finished watching the installment of the HBO John Adams series where both Washington and Adams are inaugurated. Two words: Dork Heaven. Not sure about the accuracy of the portrayal (haven't gotten to that part in the McCullough book yet), but in the series Washington is sworn in before masses of cheering patriots. Adams is sworn in before Congress, and gets his most rousing applause during his inaugural address when he praises Washington.

I read in a New Yorker article that Adams' inaugural address was both "indefinite" (a large percentage of the words in the address were "if") and "cumbrous" (the third to last sentence was over 700 words long).

Meanwhile, if that's not enough inaugural trivia for you, check out these "Quick 10 Facts" about Presidential inaugurations from Mental Floss. My favorite: Andrew Johnson was so drunk he couldn't speak clearly during his inauguration.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Can't wait ...

... to watch the inauguration with my kids on Tuesday during lunch.

What are YOU doing?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How we do it in Minnesota

Article in NY Times today about six of Minnesota's 30 charter schools created to serve specific immigrant communities.

I was definitely struck by this phenomenon when I was first thinking about moving here from New York. I visited several of the schools in the article and was offered a job at another one. This is markedly different from charters in NYC, which tend to center on unique teaching philosophies, despite the many different immigrant communities and strong tradition of advocacy.

I can see why parents feel it is needed though. We have a Liberian student who, his father told us, was being given his last chance at our school. After years of trouble at other schools (bad grades? discipline problems? who knows) the kid was told that if he didn't shape up here, he was being sent back to Liberia.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What Have You Wasted?

I started teaching my Life Skills class today. It's my favorite class to teach because I usually have mostly seniors and juniors, and the material tends to be more relevant and life-applicable than the material in my other classes. If only I could make history more like Life Skills! Gotta work on that.

Anyway, in honor of Life Skills here is a video from a website I recently came across called, where teens post videos of the outrageous things they've spent money on. It's an offshoot of the National Endowment for Financial Education, which publishes the (free and awesome) High School Financial Planning Program, which I also use in Life Skills.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Teaching with photos

Google has partnered with TIME magazine to provide an incredible primary source: the LIFE photo archive. I've just been sifting through it for one of my classes. Here is one of the more interesting finds:

In this picture a migrant worker from the 1950s Bracero program is meeting with union organizers.


From another New York Times article, this one reporting on the civilian casualties in Gaza:
... there were several children in another intensive care unit on Tuesday. Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed.

“I prepared them breakfast that day in the garden,” said their mother, Ayda, 36. “They had the tea, bread and thyme. Lama wanted a second pita, but we all teased her saying, ‘Keep it for lunch.’ She told us, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide us with bread.’

“She made all of us laugh,” the mother said. “I cleaned after them and collected the garbage. Ismael volunteered to dump the garbage, but Hayya and Lama joined him. The garbage can is in front of the house, a five-minute walk away. All of a sudden I heard the news from a neighbor, and I ran barefoot to the hospital. A relative collected the bodies of Lama and Hayya on a donkey cart.

“The neighbors ran trying to save Ismael, who was the only one breathing,” she said. “They say my kids flew 40 meters before hitting the ground.”

Ismael died Wednesday night.
It's my Judeo-centrism that calls my attention to the names of these kids; I have no idea what these names mean in Arabic or in the Islamic tradition. To Jews, Ismael, of course, was the son of Abraham who was exiled later to become the father of the Muslim people. Hayya with a hard "H" means "life" or "living being" in Hebrew. And "Lama" means "Why?"

Quagmire in Israel/Palestine

Happy new year, everyone. I have been doing a lot of thinking about Israel and Palestine lately. I tend to look at it from an Israeli perspective since I lived there between high school and college, but with sympathy for the Palestinians because of the human rights involved. Two NY Times pieces by writers/thinkers I admire have provided some food for thought.

This piece by historian Benny Morris
explains how today's Israelis sort of feel backed into a corner, a familiar sense of being vulnerable from all sides.

This piece by the fabulous David Grossman gives a Gandhi-ish perspective on how Israel should proceed.