7 Days of Positive Thoughts – Day 5

Wow.  I really suck at this posting daily thing.  I need to post for days 5 and 6.

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Day 5 Positive Thought:  Rainy days are perfect for relaxing.

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I love rainy days.  Yes, I love them for the wistfully romantic overtones of rain on the window while someone stares pensively into the cloudy sky.

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But I love them more because they give me the chance to putter around my house in fuzzy socks and lounge about reading a book without feeling any guilt for not being outside (which I distinctly feel when the weather is sunny and brisk).

The Carpenters were crazy to let rainy days get them down.  Eddie Rabbitt had it right when he said he loved a rainy night.  Go figure.

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7 Days of Positive Thoughts – Day 4

Okay, so Day 4 was yesterday.  I sat down to post and then got sucked into doing something else on the internet (big surprise) but then woke up at 3am this morning thinking “oh no, I forgot to post” and here I am.  Stop pressuring me!

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Day 4 Positive Thought:  Books are entertaining and don’t require a cable subscription or Wifi (unless you are using an ereader, but really, you can use Wifi at the coffee shop).

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I love reading and I have always loved reading.  From the time I was a wee thing and my mom would plop me in bed with a pile of pop-up books to now: an adult who makes sure to always buy a purse that is big enough to carry a book in it.

Yes, I usually carry a book in my purse wherever I go.  This is not, in any way, an attempt to convince people I am extraordinarily intelligent.  (I will do that in conversation. *wink wink*)  Rather, I do this because if the chance to immerse myself in a book presents itself, anywhere or anytime, I am ready.  It’s survival.

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What I like most about books is that there are no limits.  There are no limits to what you can read or envision in your head while you’re reading.  And when you have found a really good book – one you can’t put down – it’s more thrilling than any TV show or movie.

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Whether you read on an electronic device, or read the old fashioned thing with pages (as I do), go read a book.  Now.  You won’t regret it.

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Did I ever tell you you’re my hero? Without scaring you?

We all have heroes.

One of mine is The Bloggess.  Also known as Jenny Lawson.  Also known as someone who wrote a NY Times bestselling book.

And on June 8, I GOT TO MEET HER.

I went, along with some friends, to her book signing in Brookline, MA.  We sat in the basement area of a bookstore, along with what looked like hundreds of other people.

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*Side Note*

To the girl who decided to polish her nails while we waited for The Bloggess to begin speaking: Enclosed spaces?  Not the best place to emit toxic fumes.  FYI.

Same goes to the guy who decided not to wear deodorant.  You know who you are.

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Jenny Lawson was delightful.  Her cute smile was matched with a cute little voice, which made her frequent profanity all that much more amusing.

Jenny read a chapter from her book, and then answered questions.  I especially liked her answer to a woman’s question regarding how one balances motherhood with having a chronic illness.  To summarize her answer: she basically said that you have to accept that there will be things each day you will be good at, but there will be something you’ll need to accept that you are just going to SUCK AT.  To accept that you won’t be perfect and it is ok.  Best advice I have ever heard.

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As Jenny wrapped up her Q&A and got ready to go upstairs for the signing, she mentioned that she had Copernicus with her.  (Copernicus is a stuffed monkey with a half decomposed face and you will just need to read her blog post about it.)

This remark elicited a collective gasp from nearly half the crowd (myself included), accompanied by reverent whispers passing back and forth of “Copernicus is here“.

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To avoid the mad rush, my friends and I decided to go have a beer and then come back.  Little did we know that Brookline has few bars near the bookstore (prompting me to yell things on the street like, “I know people in Boston drink!  Where do they go?”) and that we’d end up at a bar that had no AC and slowly moving fans (prompting my friend to remark that they reminded her of when they shut off the fans in Total Recall in order to suffocate the mutant population).

The combination of humidity outside and me sweating inside the bar made me unkempt and slightly damp all over.  So much for impressing my hero.

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Meeting Jenny (who I really think would be fun to hang out with) was fantastic.  I applaud the bookstore employees for getting things to move so quickly, but as a result I found myself hurriedly trying to tell The Bloggess what I liked about her book, relaying a personal connection to it, and then asking if I could have my picture taken with her…and Copernicus.

And then, because I am that person who just…says shit……  as I stood up from the picture taking, I told her that I hoped I didn’t smell because I had been sweating and I apologize if I did.  She was gracious and just laughed.

Nothing says, “I admire you” like telling someone you smell and you hope they don’t mind.  I am such an idiot.

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Seriously though, Jenny Lawson, if you wanted a new friend, I’d totally make a spot for you.  Keep me in mind.  Because you are hilarious and genuinely nice.

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from left to right: me (trying not to sweat on anything), Copernicus, and The Bloggess
New best friends, perhaps?

Mixing up my phrases and whatnot…and being a douche.

Last night, I went to Barnes & Noble (my mecca) with a friend.  When we arrived, we had a couple of choices for parking, and we decided that we would take “the pull through” spot (the spot that you pull through to from the space behind it so that you are facing out of the spot – ready to go).

And the conversation actually went like that – “wanna take that one or the pull through?”

Then…

we both said that “the pull through” sounded like it could be a sexual euphemism of some sort.

And the conversation went like this:

Me: “It sounds like something dirty.”

Friend: “I know!”

Me: “You know, it sounds like you’re saying something like….fruit salad.”

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Fruit salad.

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?????

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And my friend rolled with it (mainly because she had no fucking clue what I was talking about) and laughed and said, “yeah, you’re right.”

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But, then I thought…what the fuck is “fruit salad” a euphemism for?

Answer: It’s not a euphemism for anything.  (Well, not that I am aware of anyway.)

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Then it dawned on me.  And I said, “Nope, sorry.  I am mixing up my euphemisms.”

I then explained to my friend that what I meant to say was “tossing the salad“.  And I mixed that up with another colorful euphemism – “the fruit cup“.

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Silly me.

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We laughed and 3 1/2 minutes later, still giddy from all the weird euphemisms, we were in the bookstore and looking at magazines.  My friend looked at an entertainment magazine featuring The Hunger Games and I looked at a cerebral pompous film critique magazine (yes, I bought it), and an Asian gentleman was on his blue tooth looking at magazines near the floor.  We started discussing the upcoming Hunger Games film, at which point the Asian gentleman looked up, gestured toward my friend, said, “Nice [something in a heavy Asian accent]”, and then walked away.

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My friend looked at me and said, “What did he just say?”

I looked at her and, with all the solemnity I could muster, whispered, “He said ‘nice tits‘”.

Her face went blank for a second before she realized I was being a shit and said, “No, he did not!”

I said, “You don’t know that.  He might have said nice tits.  He may have even asked for a fruit salad.”

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I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud…

Holy cow.  I just read this passage in Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked.

It’s fucking uncanny.

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The fifteen years were gone, anyway.  And what had gone with them?  Children, almost certainly, and if she ever did take Duncan to court, that’s what she would sue him for.  But what else?  What hadn’t she done because she’d spent too much time with a boring, faithless nerd, apart from live the kind of life she’d wanted when she was twenty-five?

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It always amazes me to no end when I read something that feels like it was plucked right out of my thoughts.  I suppose that’s the sign of an excellent writer.

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Saving our public schools (or…. how I read a book for my book club that made me stabby and angry)

I just read the book Waiting for “SUPERMAN”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools.  This is a companion book to a film by Davis Guggenheim.  I have not seen the film, so this post is based solely on the book and discussions therein.

First of all, two massively huge assumptions are made in this book:

1) Public schools suck.

2) Public schools suck because of bad teachers.

Yes, there’s more to it than my SWEEPING GENERALIZATIONS above, but I am making these generalizations to demonstrate the problem with this book.  When discussing the current quality of education, no other factors appear to be taken into consideration other than the quality of public schools.  That is not to say that public schools don’t need some help.  And this book also takes liberties in defining what “success” is.  Improving standardized test scores seems to be the benchmark measure of what it means to be a “successful” school.  If there was ever an embodiment of “sweeping generalizations”, it’s standardized tests.

So, let’s look at these two ideas (and the focus here, and in the book, is on middle/high school students):

1) Public schools with inadequate teachers are the reason why students are not successful and do not move on to higher education.

2) Successful students are those that “pass the tests” and go on to college, so that they may one day contribute to the global marketplace.

Okay.

Let’s refer to Chapter 5: The Difference is Great Teachers, contributed by Eric Hanushek.  Without going into detail, the chapter highlights how a student with a “good” teacher will fare better in class than with a “bad” teacher.  The chapter (Mr. Hanushek) does not adequately define what a good vs. bad teacher means, but does say that a good teacher will “engage” students.  Immediately, this question popped into my mind:  Is it possible that the ability for a teacher to engage students has been impacted by the advent of technologies that overstimulate children?  Just a thought.  Because I think we may ask too much of teachers (who, by the way, do not get paid HALF of what they should – why don’t we have professional sports players teach our kids, ok? then they may actually be worth what they make) when we require them to keep the attention spans of students who need a barrage of images thrown at them every second in a computer-esque way.  And where’s the personal accountability on the part of the student to remain engaged?  To seek out the learning?

This chapter suggests that to motivate teachers to be better at their jobs, we need a reward system.  BUT.  But… we should not be rewarding (or penalizing) teachers for changes in a student’s performance that are based on external factors.  For example, a student is well prepared by parents at home to come to school.  This will improve performance but should not be attributed to the teacher.  Likewise, a student comes to school unprepared and without parental help, and the teacher’s performance should not be judged if this student is unable to be successful that day.  Ok….Not only does this highlight why we have not had such a reward system in place before (I mean, wouldn’t this require knowing every facet and detail of a student’s life??) it brings up a whole other issue that BUGS THE HOLY HELL OUT OF ME.  And that is, if we recognize that there are external factors that impact a student’s performance, then it must be concluded that a student’s overall success could be contributed to these factors…and therefore, perhaps the teacher’s performance is not so much a cause as a contributor.

All kinds of statistics are used in this book to prove the point, but, as a former sociology student, it’s important to consider that the “cause” and “effect” are not always directly related.  Which is why I was delighted to get to Chapter 6: Calling All Citizens, contributed by Eric Schwarz.  This is the one part of the book that made me excited because it proposed improving students’ performances by involving citizens to assist with teaching.  Want to teach kids about science?  Have a scientist in your class.  I am not sure how feasible this approach is because you still need parents engaged to influence their children to get involved and you need citizens who will do it, but it was the most CONCRETE idea in the entire book.

I am a firm believer in the idea that learning starts at home.  And it does not matter how much, or how well, children are taught at school if that is not upheld, reinforced, or encouraged at home.  If it’s not, then any teacher – good, bad, whatever – will have an uphill battle with students.  This book only touches briefly on the idea that the home environment is a contributing factor to learning.  I personally think it plays a larger part in “saving” our schools.  I think students would be more “successful” if parents were involved and participated.  I have seen too many students whose parents’ attitudes have completely colored their behavior in school to think otherwise.

This book also talks a lot about the charter school as a model for success and that we should lean this way with public schools.  I do not entirely disagree.  I think administrators, principals, and teachers should be held to job performance standards.  But I also think parents and students should be held to standards.  And we need to think really long and hard about what those would be.  As I mentioned above, I think we ask a lot of teachers when we ask them to be able to fully engage, teach, and elevate students who frequently come from different walks of life, have different personalities, have varied home lives, and maybe don’t learn the same way as someone else.  It’s sort of like asking someone to go to the zoo and train all the animals (bear, zebra, eagle, etc) to do tricks, in one day, the same way.  Not that high school is like a zoo…well….  You get my point.

So, it’s obvious that education cannot be pinned on any one entity.  All things must work together.  Parts of this book talk about this idea, but the focus on BETTER TEACHERS makes it impossible to discern any call to action here other than “get rid of unions so we can fire bad teachers”.  And the definition of what makes a teacher “good” remains defined by students test scores.  Raised test scores imply a student learned, and with this learning comes the ability to be “successful” and go on to college.  There are two problems with that last sentence.

The first problem is assuming test scores accurately measure and/or capture what a student knows.  Tests are like games, really.  They can be figured out and beat.  But that does not mean you know anything.  Me – I am an excellent test taker.  This is because my mind is analytical and I work in a linear way.  But not everyone is like that.  This book does not mention the validity of standardized testing.  This book does not propose revamping testing to account for the drawbacks of standardized tests.  So, when it states that raising test scores is indicative of good teaching, I think it is utter BULLSHIT.

The second issue is that this book also heavily emphasizes that a measure of true success is being able to go on to college and join the job markets where there will be the greatest demand (such as in technical fields).  The assumption here is that students should go to college or should want to go to college.  As a previous blog post of mine points out, this poses a whole other debate.  Also, this book does not account for the rising costs of college.  Are there any statistics around how many students did not go to college because they could not afford it?  Success is also defined in this book as having really good high paying jobs.  And I could debate that until I am blue in the face, but… is success really about having money and stuff and contributing to the economy so everyone else can have more money and stuff?  Is it?  How sad.

So, are America’s public schools failing?  Maybe.  It’s possible.  But this book did not demonstrate that.

Is a student’s success dependent on having good teachers?  Probably in part.  But not to the extent that this book’s call to action would have you think.

Is success defined by going to college?  That may be a personal choice.  But it’s a choice not taken into consideration by this book when assessing public schools.

All in all, this book’s logic is flawed.  I guess I could see the movie to compare, but I think it would just make me feel more stabby and angry.