Sunday, May 28, 2006

In Honor of Soldiers?

As the flowers rest on the decorated graves and the sunlight shines on the beautiful sailboats, Uncle Sam whispers in my ear about how we should care for the soldiers and remember the ones that have died. Swimming pools open, BBQs fry. Today is the day to think of what they have done for us. There are blurs of red, white and blue marching down the street and flags are lowered at half-mast. But we should always remember and never forget what set us free, from this very day on.

— Memorial Day by Ali M., 3rd Grader, Academy Elementary School, Madison, CT. © 2001. [Online] URL:

I find myself conflicted about this holiday. I have always wanted to believe in the absolute virtuousness of the sacrifice of a soldier’s life, but I’ve begun to question whether that ideal is, on its own, an appropriate thing to honor. I’m not dragging out a political soapbox here; I just want to get some thoughts out.

What are we really celebrating on this holiday? The answer we all learned in elementary school is that we should remember the soldiers who died defending and protecting our country. OK. What constitutes “defending and protecting”? Is that what our soldiers in Iraq are doing now? I know that’s what we are being fed as doctrine, but I have been offered this fruit before and have learned to distrust it. It’s that lack of trust in the worthiness of the sacrifice, I guess, that is at the root of my conflict. I’m just not sure it’s right and proper to memorialize soldiers who, for example, fight to enforce on others our ideals and causes, especially in the name of defending our country.

We’ve been told since Vietnam (and perhaps earlier, I don’t really know) that it is important to honor our soldiers for their sacrifice, even when we disagree with the cause they champion. After all, they are only doing what they’ve been told, right? Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote that, “…the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.” Is that something worth honoring? As someone who has had his faith in his government and fellow citizens shaken and who values his experience and his intelligence, I find myself balking at this as a thing worthy of memorial.

Were soldiers today drafted or conscripted and sent off, as they were in times past, perhaps I would see this as much more black-and-white, but the truth of the matter is that they are not. Our military is composed of volunteers. Some, I’m certain, choose to serve for noble reasons; many do not and it insults me, quite frankly, to have someone tell me that a profiteer’s motives are as worthy of respect as the true patriot’s. Yet, how can I know one from the other? How can I know that the war they fight is an honorable one?

I very much value the nobility of true patriotism. I would not hesitate to give my life to defend my family (and that includes my “family-by-oath”) and my right to fulfill my destiny (and for others I love to fulfill theirs) free of oppression and tyranny. Those soldiers, volunteers or not, whose lives were taken in defense of these I gladly honor. I resent, however, the implication that I must also pay homage to those whose crusades are less principled.

Am I being hypocritical here? Quixotic? Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Heard in School...

The following was overheard during lunch today at school. It was uttered in a single breath, without pause, in the space of exactly 1.34 seconds.

“Maybe I’ll shave my head. I’ll do it tomorrow. Well, not tomorrow. This weekend. I have to go a party this weekend. What was I talking about?”

You go, Brianne! You're amazing!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Paradox That Is Me

I received recently an email request for random things about me, and it got me to thinking about the strange sorts of contradictions that are part of who I am. Here, as an example, are just some random things…

— I have smoked exactly 3 puffs of 1 cigarette in my entire life. I have never chewed or dipped, nor have I ever smoked weed (second hand smoke from college parties not included). I do, however, have every intention of taking up pipe smoking after I earn my Master’s degree.

— I am left-handed, but my right hand is far and away the more dexterous. Unlike most lefties, I prefer to use the mouse and hold my knife with my right hand. In soccer, I prefer to strike with my left foot, but my right foot controls the ball better and has better feel for it. I tilt my head to the left when I’m listening (so the right ear can hear better), but I put the phone on my left shoulder.

— It’s old news to most of you, but I’m colorblind—very much so. Particularly, I have a form of anomalous trichromatic vision in which all three colors (red, green and blue) are misaligned. I can see in color, but my range is much narrowed compared to most people and there are certain colors that I simply cannot distinguish from others. Brown, maroon, violet and purple are the worst (I have no perception of them whatsoever), but I have troubles with beige, teal, tan and certain pinks and oranges. I found out today that my condition is actually a combination of two separate genetic defects and that my limited blue sensitivity is exceedingly rare (0.0001% of men have it). Anyway, the actual paradox is that I have records from my early childhood that suggest that, even as early as preschool, I could identify all my basic colors, including brown and purple. I can actually do a pretty good job of identifying colors out of context even today. Just don't ask me to know if my tie goes with my shirt.

— I still have baby teeth. That’s right. Two of ‘em. My first molars on the bottom, as it happens. They are perfectly healthy and have no adult teeth pushing up under them. Counting these, I have 30 teeth. I have no idea where the other two went. I think I had the baby teeth pulled when I was young to make room for the adult teeth, and they just never came in. I didn’t have cavities as a kid, as far as I can remember.

— I have to sleep on whichever side of the bed is furthest from the door (Exception: My in-laws house. I have to sleep on the other side because the vent on the proper side blows on me and dries my eyes out. I never sleep well there). In restaurants and other public places, I have to face out, toward the door. I have particular places for my keys, my wallet, cell phone and I put these things only in those places. In contrast, I leave my glasses everywhere and can NOT, for the life of me, establish a routine place for them. I also have to be careful with my wedding ring. I take it off to type and I have often not realized I’ve left it until later. It usually causes my heart to stop when I absently go to twirl it around my finger and realize it’s not there. My office and woodshop are an absolute disaster area and, while I will claim to know where everything is in these places, this does not excuse the fact that I could hide a dead body in either location without fear of it being discovered for quite some time.

— I have more pairs of pajama pants than dress pants and jeans combined, but I have more polo shirts than t-shirts. Hey! At least I’m sharply dressed from the waist up!

— I am an enthusiastic Dungeons and Dragons® player and dungeon master, but I am also an avid fan of competitive sport (3 weeks to Germany 2006, soccer fans!).

— And finally, I have traveled numerous time to Europe and South America and I speak, to varying degrees of fluency, six languages. I have broadband access to the internet, so I have instant access to news, music and entertainment from all over the world. I love this! You want to know what I listen to whenever I can, though? American 80’s pop music.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

¿Cu├íles de las siguientes afirmaciones son correctas...?

I went to take the Spanish MTEL test this weekend. This test is one of the requirements to gain (or, in my case, add) a certification endorsement to teach in the state of Massachusetts. I teach primarily French at my school, but I routinely teach at least one class of Spanish in a given year as well as math, when the need arises. I already hold a certification for French, which is more than the state requires of me to teach in a charter school but, under the No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001, I am now required as a teacher in a public school (charter schools are public schools) to hold endorsements in every core academic subject I teach.

I went into the test stone cold. I’m not terribly pleased with how parts of it went, but overall I think it might be enough to pass. I figured it was worth the chance just to get the federal government off my back a little sooner and be able to keep my kickass soccer program running. The results are due to be available mid-June. I’ll let you know how I did.

I posted some time ago that I was going to have to take these certification tests so that I will be “highly qualified” as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. I had a lengthy discussion about these tests with my administration and I complained loudly that the timing of this requirement was to say the least inauspicious, what with me still being in graduate school and all. I got a lot of sympathy, but it was made clear to me that I had no choice in the matter, if I intended to remain at the school. The discussion then turned somewhat heated when my soccer program was placed on the block pending my completion of at least one of these tests (Spanish). I will carry the bitterness from that meeting around for a long while, and I will go on record as saying that I do not appreciate the position I’m being placed in by legislators whose only interest in education is to use it as a political tool.

I take my role as an educator seriously. It is an essential part of my identity, and I continually strive to be as strong and adept at my craft as I can be. I am a skilled and knowledgeable teacher, quite conversant in a wide variety of subject matter and fully familiar not only in general teaching methodologies, but in several approaches specific to the individual disciplines I teach. It annoys me beyond words that, despite this solid foundation of expertise in a broad array of disciplines, I am not valued as an educator because I do not meet the federal definition of “highly qualified”, a phrase that refers specifically and only to an educator’s certification under their state’s rules in each and every core academic subject they teach. I cannot help but believe that, by using this as the standard for teacher quality, the federal government simply reinforces the public stereotype that the only thing you need to know to be a teacher is what you’re teaching.

This attention to content is undoubtedly expected to lead to a corps of educators who are very knowledgeable in their subject matter, but there are some tacit implications of this narrow concentration. For one, it supposes incorrectly that those coming into the profession will be properly dedicated to as well as adequately trained in the art of teaching before they are hired. For another, it states unequivocally that pedagogy is not valued as a separate and equally rigorous discipline.

In my view, superior teaching at all levels properly demands a broad base of expertise in many arenas of knowledge beyond the content of their classes. In addition, it requires considered wisdom, a talent for improvisation and a commitment to people, process and product. The public laments, and students have long bemoaned, those teachers in school who seem to treat their work as simply another job. While this view is, perhaps, stereotypical, most who have endured the trials of the traditional public school experience can name at least one teacher who fits the mold. They show up, hand out books, papers and exams. They give grades and monitor the lunch hall, but they convey no excitement for their material, no understanding of their students as individuals and no appreciation for the intricate nature of the practice of teaching. However technically qualified they may be, teachers cannot be considered to be doing quality work if they lack these more subjective, but equally important qualifications.

I will now step down from my soap box. Late warnings for my students are due on Monday. Good thing that test showed them I’m qualified to write them! Oh, wait. It didn’t. Well, maybe it did, but I’d have to write them in Spanish.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

AIM 911

The following instant message was received this evening. It is recorded here as it was written, except that it was lightly edited for length and readability, and that the names of those concerned have been deleted to protect their identities (and their pride).

----: I need help!
----: I just emptied my cabinets with the extension to my vacuum.
Me: I am here. 'Sup?

----: I saw two mice.
----: I’m afraid to put my hands in the cabinets, so I used the extension, then one fell out into a glass, and I poured bleach on him until he didn’t move.
----: My dog is terrified too. He sits across the room and shakes.
Me: He's afraid because you are, I imagine. But he has just seen drown an animal in a glass of bleach. That’s pretty traumatic.
----: I banged on the cabinet doors with a hammer before I opened them, and the mice were still there. Staring at me.
Me: They were probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
----: My dad promised me they are only nocturnal and afraid of noises. He was very, very wrong.
Me: Well, you can be sure that they are not carnivorous. They're likely just looking for crackers or something.
Me: They won't harm anything but the crackers, really.
----: I threw out all my food and put the rest in the fridge.
Me: ok. That might have been overkill, but there you go.
----: They don't go where there isn't food, right?
Me: That's not strictly true, but close enough.
----: He came out, but he's scared of me now.
Me: I would be too, what with you wielding a hammer and a vacuum. Clearly you don't want to share any crackers!
----: I just saw him in the cabinet.
----: I’ll spray him with bleach!
----: I sprayed him with Febreeze before, but it didn't have the effect I wanted.
Me: You deodorized him??!?
Me: So, now you have a mouse that smells like a fresh spring breeze?
----: I think its summer linen, but yes.
----: He's very wet.
Me: Oh boy.
Me: Put him in the dryer and fluff him up, then you could use him to freshen the bathroom. :-)
----: Oh funny.
Me: I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm cracking up over here.
----: Well, I’m gaining confidence. I’m ready for him to show his face again.
----: I’ve turned off the TV so I can hear his pitter patter.
----: Ha! I just sprayed him with bleach!
----: He's on the top shelf, and I’m not tall enough to see where he went.
Me: He's probably wondering why you're out to launder him.
----: My orange cleanser is enviro-friendly. That leaves me with bleach or carpet cleaner.
Me: He's not an ant. You're not likely to kill him by spraying him with anything.
Me: You're going to have to get him to leave, evict him, or trap him. Or maybe get lucky and drown him in bleach, but that's already happened once. I'd say the odds are slim of that happening again.
----: I just sprayed carpet foam all over him this time.
Me: He'll die clean, that's for sure!
----: The foam stopped moving, but I can't be positive he's still in it.
----: Cleaning supplies are the only poisons I have. Isn’t that an obvious solution?
Me: It's only poison if you drown them in it.
----: I can see his little feet sticking out of the foam.
----: I’ve conquered the beast!!
Me: Good Lord.

"Passion Is No Ordinary Word"

I was discussing with a student today what it was like to feel passion. She's working on a piece for her English class that she wants to send to “This I Believe”. She wrote about her first experience with romantic passion, and the conflict she felt when she realized that it left her completely unable to live her life the way she knew was good for her. I've asked her if she'd allow me to publish it here when it's done.

I could totally relate to what she was describing, and it got me to thinking about how the term gets overused and, as a result, has lost some of its meaning. At it's most pure, I think it's a difficult thing to put into words. [Kizz] wrote something recently in a post entitled Reader Opinion [CLICK HERE TO READ] that I thought got there, but I haven't tried to write about it myself. I'm inspired to try but, in the meantime, here's what I know, from my own experience...

It's a sensation that can completely overtakes me. I often become so caught up in the object of the feeling that I simply cannot concentrate on anything else. It makes my heart beat stronger and there is an electricity that surrounds me when I feel it. I get a tightness in my chest in a way that I can totally identify, but is not easy to explain. Sometimes it accompanies anger, sometimes sadness, sometimes ecstatic joy, sometimes wonderful peace. But always SOMETHING and always INTENSELY. I experience passion for many things—certain people, my teaching—but what things trigger it spontaneously, or why they do, I cannot say.

Have you ever experienced passion? I mean REAL passion? What did it feel like? Do you have an experience to share? I'd love to hear it!

When you say you're 'passionate' about [whatever], give me a sense of what you mean. What happens when you're [whatever-ing]? What does that passion feel like? You may say you feel transported. Transported to where? Take me there. Show me—so I can show my student—that passion is no ordinary word.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

These are SOOOO my children!

SiSi, my 4 year-old, has just moved up in bicycle sizes, and is putting mileage on those little tires! She still gets a little paralyzed going down hills (damn near went out of control when she forgot about the brakes), but she really likes being able to ride. Ditto the swimming in the pool. Ditto the running and jumping and playing soccer… Contrast this with NiNi, my 2 year-old, who will walk downtown (¾ mile) with me, but is quite content to dig in the garden, play with her babies and generally be domestic. I’ll let you figure out which child takes after which parent.

I find it incredibly interesting just how different my children are. SiSi is passionate, dramatic, active. She likes little bits of lots of things (food, activites, conversations) and thrives on being in control. She’s a jeans and t-shirt girl. She feels things and emotional level and puts up masks and diversions to protect her core (and quite fragile) self. She is compelled to sing EVERYWHERE and is driven to investigate, but not necessarily to interact with, her environment.

NiNi is passionate, but not dramatic. Her emotions run deep and are expressed deeply, and from her core self. She is active, but not sportive as such (though this may just be because she’s so young). She likes one thing a lot, and will often focus on it to the distraction of everything else around her (“Hello? NiNi? Can you hear me?”). She’s wears dresses most of the time. She feels things on a personal level and spends a lot of time looking for and modeling relationships (playing with her babies, being close to mama and papa). She is very into reading right now and loves to talk with people. She is less inclined to investigate her world, but more inclined to interact with it (although she has discovered shyness around some people now).

The thing that cracks me up about them is not that they are intrinsically so opposite in so many ways, but that they work to maintain their differentness when they’re together. They are not competitive about it, but they enjoy the fact that they are distinct from each other and will often give each other the space to be distinct when they know it is important. If one picks A, the other will almost invariable pick B. That’s not to say that there isn’t conflict when they both want the same thing, but I am impressed that they will often avoid banging heads over things simply because they appreciate their differences.

I enjoy watching them interact as opposites, but I have fun with it, too. It is an interesting exercise to tell them that they can select from two choices (this food for lunch or that one, going to this place or that, etc.) but that we will only do one and they must come to consensus on their own. When they get older and really master the art of negotiation, look out! It’ll be like congress at budget time!

S told me some time ago that she and her husband each have one of their children that they connect with more closely than the other. I remember thinking at the time that this was curious because, while my children are almost exact opposites in most ways, Wifeness and I had not experienced that splitting. It looks like this is beginning to happen now. I have a much higher tolerance for the eccentricities of my older daughter than Wifeness. I love NiNi to distraction, but there are times when she drives me absolutely meshuggeneh. For Wifeness, the opposite is true. I think this development in our family dynamic has reinforced for me the importance of giving lots of love and attention to both my girls, and of finding ways to connect and bond with them both that celebrate and nurture their unique, individual spirits. They are certainly unique, but they are both amazing!

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Taking some time...

Wifeness and her niece are in the living room, putting together a scrapbook for a mutual friend who is getting married next week. They are watching the movie In Her Shoes. There is a lot of feminine energy in there.

In an effort not to be overcome by estrogen, I have retreated to the bedroom. I’m listening to the Red Sox game on the radio, surfing the net and eating ice cream straight from the container with a soup spoon. With my little island of masculine energy secured, I thought I’d share that I’m reveling in the fact that I have the evening off from graduate school!

Sure, I have a pile of things to do that will fill the time up that normally is reserved for that work, but they can wait a few days. I could be grading papers, but there’s no such thing as a French or Spanish emergency, and the kids don’t really want all the homework back anyway. I could go up and clean my office up, so I can actually work up there, but I’ve already done my organizational work for the day in the form of the bi-annual Great Clothes Switch, so there’s no motivation to file and shelve tonight. Same goes for the basement. My dad helped me do some spring cleaning down there when he and my mom came to visit a couple of weeks ago, but to finish the job I’d have to get supremely grubby. Too late at night for that.

Nope, I’m quite happy just to sit and type for a while.

The Sox are winning. This ice cream is hitting the spot. Right here, right now, life is good.

OK. So it's been a while...

In the beginning, I decided to keep up this blog through March and decide whether it was worth it to continue beyond that. I didn’t make it much into February before I had to set it aside to focus on more pressing and time-consuming things like graduate school, teaching and being a papa, but I decided that I really liked doing it and, when the time presented itself, I would pick it up again.

Here we go.

It helps that I’m on break from graduate school, so I’ve got a bit more free time than I’ve had in a while (my evenings after 8pm are my own again!). I don’t know how long this will last, but I’ll do the best I can to make it worth your time to keep checking in.