Friday, October 14, 2005

Four Four Three Two

The county nutritionist came yesterday to do her first lesson with the children. She unveiled the new food pyramid, called "My Pyramid". Seems the government has decided that all bodies are not the same, so there are no across-the-board nutritional requirements; different RDAs dependent upon factors such as age, weight, gender. Imagine that. The same administration that insists all brains are the same (or will be by 2014) has decided all bodies are not. My own personal needs, I found, are six ounces of grains (half of them whole), two and a half cups of vegetables, one and a half cups of fruits, three cups of milk, and five ounces of meat or beans. How will I remember that? There’s no catchy song or slogan anymore. No formulaic prescription. When I was in school all those years ago, we watched Mulligan Stew and learned to sing "Four, four, three, two. That’s the formula for me and you." Turns out me and you are not the same after all. At least our bodies are not. Our brains and learning styles are exactly the same. Exactly. Makes it easier for the big corporate textbook and testing companies to design curriculum for us. Lucky them. You’d almost think somebody had planned it to work out so well for them, wouldn’t you?

This morning on the way to work I was thinking about The Christmas Program, the one that stands out among all programs in the history of programs at Taylorsville Elementary. There was a new music teacher that year, and She had the first through third graders put on a program for the parents and the student body one memorable morning in December. This was my second year there, seven years ago, but we all retell it for the new teachers every year. I don’t know what we’d talk about in December if it hadn’t been for that program. We actually crawl around on the floor re-enacting it for our disbelieving listeners. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t been there. Her first mistake was that She didn’t practice. Said She couldn’t because the stage was tied up with music stands for the band concert the night before The Christmas Program. Maybe so, but still. A run-through the morning of would’ve been helpful. A hundred some odd children on one stage and no run-through? But no, She said it’d all work out and just to deliver the children to her backstage around 8:30, which we did. Then we took our places in the auditorium to watch. And watch we did, as the curtain opened and the children were all-in-a-bunch, not assorted by height or any other discernible characteristic. Just all-in-a-bunch. A moving bunch. We watched as they inched forward, jockeying for position, closer and closer to the edge. We watched as fights broke out among some of the more aggressive third graders. As children fell and were stepped over as the bunch moved closer still to the edge, in penguin fashion. So we kept looking at one another, wondering if we should somehow go onto the stage and try to control the children. Who knew what to do? Not the principal. I spotted him standing against the wall just at the foot of the stage steps, his body tense, his jaw clenched, his teeth grinding. Then Precious bailed. Precious, a tall eight-or-nine-year-old African American first grader, fell right off the stage and rolled down the steps. Tumbled down to horrified gasps from the audience, while cameras rolled, ensuring that this horror of horrors, this nightmare of a morning, lived forever in infamy. Margaret whisked Precious out the door and to the office, and the rest of us made our move to the back door of the stage. Several of us dropped to our knees and crawled out amongst the children, hissing and pulling on their shirttails to get their attention and break up fights and hush them up and it was then that I caught a glimpse of Her face and she seemed totally oblivious to the fact that pandemonium had broken out all around her. She was coaching Carolee through her speaking part; Carolee began to cry and her mother got on stage and did her part for her and after that Warren went on stage, even though there were several more songs and speaking parts left to go according to the printed program, and thanked the parents for coming and I saw his jaw still working and I saw the look he gave Her, still in oblivion, it seemed to me, and then Carolee’s mother screamed at Warren, "This was the Christmas program from hell, I tell you! From Hell!" And we all herded the children back to the classrooms and later, when the principal came to ask me if we’d practiced the day before and if not, why not, I said wasn’t it funny that out of all the children on that stage, all one hundred twenty or so, wasn’t it just too funny that only Precious, poor little retained-three-times Precious, was the only one with sense enough to bail out, to get off the sinking ship. But no, he didn’t find it funny. He was not at all amused. I still try to make him laugh about that program, but without fail he just clenches that jaw. Every time.

So on the way to work today I was thinking about Precious bailing, and I asked myself for about the fifteen hundredth time why I don’t have sense enough to bail out of public education and the mess the Bush administration has made of it. I mean, it’s like we’re all on this stage, trying out this program that nobody really ever even thought through, and we were just delivered to the stage, and the leaders seem totally oblivious to the fact that it’s not working, and here I am right in the middle of it. Don’t I have options? Can’t I just exit stage right? Stage left? I know people, have friends, who have done just that. Some of them were pushed, maybe, like Precious. But others walked off. One even walked straight down the steps and into the audience. Mary Kaye retired to get off the stage built of rotten planks and spent her days in the stores and restaurants of Bay St. Louis, telling parents and grandparents all about the immoral things being done to their children under the Bush administration. So at least part of the audience will not be oblivious to the pandemonium on stage.

The Corn

I was teaching Lizzie how to silk corn one night this week, thinking her slapdash, haphazard manner would never pass my own mother’s inspection. "The Corn" was a big huge social event when I was little, all set up under the big shade tree in the side yard, with extended family members enlisted to help. It was a well-organized operation, with Daddy pulling the ears and bringing them in big galvanized washtubs to dump under the tree onto a large sheet (so Mama could easily gather up all the husks later for her compost heap), Mama and Detsie and the aunts manning the corn cutters, and all us children doing the silking. The Quality Control on the silking was top-notch. No silk could remain between the kernels; no kernels could be punctured if the corn was to be put up on the ear or whole kernel (you were given a little leeway for the creamed corn as to puncturing, but there was a tighter screening for silks). Mama was a tyrant about those ears, too. Not for her the larger yellow-kerneled variety, which was easier to silk. No, it had to be the white kind with tiny rows of kernels impossibly close together. I hated silking; counted the seconds until it was over. But what else would I do? Shell peas? Snap beans? Bag okra? Wash figs? There was always a vegetable or fruit to be canned or frozen. No trouble at all back then to get your four four. (Or your three two, either, for that matter.) I remember one year when Aunt Sandra was home from Oregon during "The Corn". She ate the ears raw, which I found fascinating.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Mondays are always hard because we don't get home until after 6:00 and that puts me in a rush to get supper on the table and clean up and make Lizzie's lunch and make parent phone calls and iron clothes and work on school things. But today there was an envelope in the mailbox that made this Monday a good one. From the president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and he is pleased to inform me that I have recertified--for ten more years. I'm glad it's over. I wasn't expecting the letter this early in October--the National Board is always always always late with every single thing.

Anyway, we celebrated, and that put me behind on everything. I still haven't ironed, and I didn't get around to figuring out how to use my new digital camera, an item left over from yesterday's list. I got the battery charged and the software loaded though, so I'm closer than I was before. If this works out, it'll be really nice not to have to go to Wal-Mart every time I need photos for my website. I was in there today--stood in line for 28 full minutes, Red Cross debit cards everywhere. Looks to me like they'd have all that figured out by now, how to ring them up, etc. They don't, though. Course, if you ask me, Wal-Mart cashiers aren't the best and brightest of today's youth. Or maybe they are, which is a real scary thought.

I read some more of A Patchwork Planet, looking for excerpts to use in the Trait-Based writing study group. There are some really good paragraphs for sentence fluency, which is mainly what I'm looking for. The book cracks me up, too, because the main character is a lot like me: a snoop. I used to tell myself--and others--that I'm always doing research, just being an observer of human nature, etc. But really I'm just a snoop. I should be embarrassed, but I don't think I am.

I also spent some time trying to figure out how to put a chat room on the SMWP forum; I think it would really help when we get into the swing of things in our online course. It would definitely help out just with talking to one another; Kim sent me 57 e-mails today (not really, I just pulled that number out of the sky), and she was sending e-mails at the same time I was checking, which means we were online at the same time. Dane, too. While Dane and I were e-mailing back and forth is when I got the idea for the chat room on the forum. We could've just gone over there and had a conversation. It would save time. Anyway, I found a couple of places that offer free chat rooms, but I don't want to step on anyone's toes and just make that decision myself so I didn't add one tonight, even though I wanted to try it out. It just occurred to me that I could've added one to atwoodforum. I don't need permission to do that.

Lizzie is asleep. She read her book earlier tonight; it had a four marked on it, but I think Carrye has her books leveled wrong. It's a book I have, and I leveled it a 6. Oh, well. Carrye is doing a really good job. Today in Wal-Mart, we were in the produce section and Lizzie started telling me the names of all the apples. That's a Granny Smith. That's a Golden Delicious. That's a Red Delicious. That's a Gala. She's still a baby to me, yet she's reading first grade books and classifying apples. They grow up fast. She and Katelyn tried to dig up the devil today on the playground. Katelyn has decided he lives in a hole under a tree out there. Personally, I think they should just leave him alone.