In the school cafeteria

I saw some people eating over at the grocery dining area the other day. Some were just-barely adults, and others were of that great, vague realm of middle age. They were louder than necessary, sloppy, and left a mess. Not that my budget was going to let me buy a hot lunch to eat there anyway, but it would have been unpleasant to sit near them. I sighed inside; it “was like old times” and I wondered what had become of some of my former students.

When I worked with the secondary school students (ages 12-18), I often wished that in our smaller school cafeteria we had full table service — like Hogwarts — so we had a more home-style or nicer environment to teach and practice basic manners. No, seriously. Some of the students were fine, some were simply hungry kids who (being young) weren’t concerned about niceties, and some couldn’t help that they were uncoordinated or dyspraxic.

But all the students were all there because they had severe behavioral and emotional problems. And a good many either did not know, or did not care, how to eat neatly and politely. Instead, they went through a cafeteria line loudly, bumping into people, leaving behind a trail of dribbles around the serving bins, then dropped their possessions about the table and floor, eating noisily whilst conversing inconsiderately, and generally making themselves and the table a mess.

(Perhaps saddest was when someone despoiled a perfectly good piece of fruit by pencil-stabbing or bruising it. There were people there – students and staff – who would have gladly eaten a spare apple or orange. So we tried to intervene and rescue the produce for classroom fruit bowls that existed for the hungry.)

On the other hand, this was one of their few times for all the students to just relax, talk with friends, and recharge for the afternoon. Everyone needs opportunity to take a break, so we eased up from constantly supervising and redirecting, albeit still watching out for unsafe, disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.

But if there were something more like a real dining situation — instead of what amounted to a scramble at a fast-food joint — the following would have been the basic skills of politeness I would have them learn. And they are, very basic.

Note that these are mostly phrased as what TO do; this produces much better learning results than just telling what not to do.

  • When serving yourself in the cafeteria line, hold your bowl over the container of food; this way anything that falls out will go back into the container, not all over the other containers and the tray rail.
  • Set your possessions down quietly and neatly, do not slam them on the tabletop, nor use up more than your share of the table.
  • Drape your coat over the back of your chair, do not drop it on the floor.
  • Keep your legs by the chair, do not stick them way out under the table, nor out in the aisle.
  • Lean your forearms on the table if you want, but do not stick your elbows out sideways upon the table, nor sprawl your body on the table when people are eating.
  • Keep the book you’re reading close to you, not held way out in the middle of the table.
  • Ask for something to be passed; don’t grab by reaching across others.
  • Chew with your mouth closed. If you can’t, take smaller bites.
  • Use a knife and fork, or the fork edge to cut food into smaller bites.
  • Whole fruit or dipping-size pieces of vegetables may be eaten with the fingers; diced fruits and salad should be eaten with a fork.
  • Do not stick your fingers in sauces and lick them.
  • If you are dipping something in ketchup or other sauce, place that dish closest to you to prevent dribbling or leaning.
  • Use napkins to wipe your hands, not your clothing.
  • Avoid belching; burp quietly with a napkin over your mouth.
  • Swallow before talking.
  • Let others finish talking; do not interrupt.
  • Rather than insulting people, explain why you believe something different.
  • Everyone has different tastes; do not insult other’s taste in food.
  • If you do not want something (piece of fruit, unopened milk or juice carton), ask if anyone else would like to have it; do not abuse it or throw it away.
  • Before you leave the table, hold your tray underneath the edge of the table and use a napkin to wipe crumbs off the table and onto the tray. Do not leave the table messy, nor swipe the mess onto the floor.
  • If you ate greasy or sticky food, wash your hands with soap and water. No, sanitizer gel does not remove the mess, especially not the grunge under your nails.
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WE MUST CREATE CHANGE

I was going to call this my “Hope For 2015”, but that is so passive and useless. Anybody can – and lots of people do – post warm, fuzzy notes with Hopes for the New Year, and others click and share. Lovely.

But this is NOT all warm & fuzzy. It’s literally dead serious (with many murdered throughout the year), and quite often blunt, because I am blunt at times. It’s also a call to a change of perspective for some of you.

Deal. Think about it. I’m not a lone voice. Click and share.

MY CALL TO ACTION IS FOR YOU TO READ THIS THROUGH, THINK, AND SPEAK UP. ALL YEAR LONG.

And the next year and the next.

This isn’t about some stranger, or Those Other People, or “That Kind”.

Children with disabilities or other differences are not diseased or broken. The same is true for adults. Yes, those “poor, little disabled children” grow up into disabled adults. Gee, so where’s the concern now? It sure isn’t at work; in the U.S. general unemployment is at 5.3%, but for disabled adults it’s twice that at 10.8%.

Nor are autistic or ADHD children some kind of modern mystery; millions of such adults have been around for decades, just unrecognized for lack of diagnostics. Most of us are profoundly relieved to find out Why. We still have to deal with the details, but that’s easier when you know that not all your difficulties are from some kind of moral failing, or from a lack of trying (and trying, and trying).

WHAT, YOU NEVER HAD KIDS LIKE “THAT KIND” IN YOUR CLASSES? YOU KNOW WHY?

Some were kept at home, because until passage of the IDEA in 1975, US law did not require public schools to teach everyone.

Some were warehoused in institutions, badly treated, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and oft uneducated.

But many of us were there; how we struggled through school and life, without accommodations or understanding, and often the target of bullying by peers and even school officials.

Untold numbers of women and men just knew themselves inexplicably “a bit odd”, and did best they could; some succeeding, others not so well.

At worst are those who not only lacked resources, but were shunned by society’s classism, ableism, racism and sexism, and (if still alive) are found among the imprisoned, derelicts, addicts, abused and enslaved populations.

YOUR CHILDREN AND EVEN COLLEGE STUDENTS WILL LEARN DIFFERENTLY, SO YOU MUST ADJUST

We are neither inherently stupid nor incapable of learning. Learning differently means teaching differently. Find what works. Everyone has limits, but a consistent lack of success means you should use another method, as well as more time. Sometimes the learning is highly irregular in pace. Tie learning to interests to motivate your children and students.

Also, be aware that sometimes the “simple basics” may be entirely bypassed by some students who leap to master higher concepts, albeit often forever struggling with those seemingly “simple basics”. People are humans, not robots. Learning is not always linear.

COMMUNICATION IS NOT JUST SPEAKING

Never assume that just because someone is nonverbal they cannot communicate. If you’re not getting their messages, then *you* are doing something wrong. Nor should you assume that because someone is nonverbal that they cannot understand what people say (though the processing may sometimes be delayed). Nor assume that because someone has been nonverbal for years that they’ll never speak. And damn, will you get an earful.

INCONSISTENCY IN DAY-TO-DAY ABILITIES IS FRUSTRATING FOR ALL, AND NOT A CHOICE

Importantly, just because someone is able to speak or do a task one day, that does not guarantee consistent results. It’s the nature of disabilities — regardless whether considered mental or physical – all involve the brain. Brains are funny things, and many of us have a few buggy Beta-version programs in our wetware. It’s frustrating as hell for all involved.

But don’t assume the “could-then-can’t-now” is intentional. “Oh, he can hear me when he wants.” “Well, you could solve those equations just fine yesterday.” I can guarantee that after a lifetime of such, ridiculing people and punishing them for things they cannot help only increases performance stress.

While that stress might increase focus from sheer terror, it often squelches overall functioning. (Do you want me to listen to you, or try to recall yesterday’s process, or slowly figure it out on my own? I can only do one — if my stomach will stay down.)

TRAMPLE THE TROPES

Ignore the media tropes and centuries of religious hype: disabled people are neither inherently amoral, soulless and evil, nor are they infinitely happy, friendly and angelic. People are people. A few will be nasty bits, some will be profoundly good sorts, and the rest are just ordinary folks who get mad, sad and glad, who screw things up sometimes, and who will also serve others selflessly despite bearing more abuse than anyone should.

We are definitely not incomprehensible, incomplete, little autism-puzzle-pieces, unloving, unlovable, or uncaring.

We are whole people with all the same cares, needs and wants as all humans. Beware — disability happens to anyone at any time. We aren’t a Them, and YOU can be among the world’s 15% in just one day. We are all Us.

STOP “TEACHING TOLERANCE”

Because tolerance means putting up with something one doesn’t really like, or that doesn’t really belong. We want full-fledged ACCEPTANCE.

Nor should we only be acceptable if we can somehow “overcome” our differences enough to pass for Normal Real People. Trying to “pass” all the time is exhausting, and invariably breaks down, oft resulting in the [supposed] Normal Real People assuming that one is lazy, stupid, crazy, all the above, or worse.

Training children for hours a day how to artificially perform “acting normal” does not serve to help them learn how to function best in the world. Yes, of course teach good manners, social and work skills. But suppressing every twitch of one’s natural being adds to stress, making everything else yet more difficult. This is especially when performing like a “normal person” means not doing the harmless things that reduce stresses.

STOP THE BLAME

I must call out the terrifying, unaddressed assumption which underlies so much daily trauma: “The reason the disabled [children] are targeted by bullies is because they are perceived as being weird”. Despite the pervasiveness of this social theme in society, most people are functionally unaware of it, all the while instilling in their Normal People children the same message. Normal People children need to act normal, and not act like That Kind. After all, that’s how the Normal People know the others are That Kind, who’s Us and who’s Them.

But it’s the disabled and different who are taught, over-and-over-and-over that not only is it their fault for behaving or looking weird, BUT ALSO if they weren’t so weird, well then they wouldn’t be bullied. “Quit being so weird! Just say No! Just say Stop.”

Just say BULLSHIT. Because this is blaming the victim. The problem is not that everyone isn’t the same, the problem is that there are bullies.

Even worse, blaming the targets actually empowers the bullies, because the social story says it’s the victim is the one who is acting wrong, so it’s not really the bully who is to blame.

Let’s just top off all that existing anxiety and depression with the trauma of trying to seek justice, but being told again that, “Well it’s your fault, you know. Attracting attention by being weird, and bugging people. You need to quit making trouble now. You already take up too much of our time with all of your “special” needs. Quit whining and go deal with it. — But no fighting, because we’ll know it was you who started it.”

By the way, it’s not “just a kids at school” thing that everyone will “grown out of”. It continues on through college, and happens at work, too.

YOU CAN’T WALK IN THE LITTLE BOY’S SHOES;

THEY’RE FLOATING DOWN-RIVER

It is NEVER acceptable to murder disabled children. Nor should these repeated, horrifying events be considered “understandable” or “excusable”, with the murderers being pardoned just because their son or daughter had a disability.

Increasingly more prevalent in social media, the crime becomes insidiously deemed more and more acceptable. Murderers re-cast themselves as martyrs, acquiring champions to their cause. Throughout repeated blog posts and news stories, they bemoan how taking care of disabled children is just too unbearable, they had to take care of them every day of the week, there was never any relief or help. (Even though there was.) Cue the groupies’ hand-wringing and protests upon the villains’ behalf: “Oh but won’t you walk in their shoes, how they’ve given up their lives, this wasn’t at all what they wanted.”

For in true sociopathic fashion, the poor, long-suffering parents revel in the attention, announcing to the world – sometimes ahead of time — what they have done, and all the while describing themselves as the victims. The dead children (young or adult) are unwanted, and deemed unwantable, less than human just because they couldn’t speak, or needed medical treatments, or used a power chair, or didn’t play with their toys the “right way”, or wore adult diapers … No one would want to live like that; the thing’s better off dead. And what of the groupies? Well, where do you think people get such terrible ideas that it’s okay to kill one’s own children?

ENOUGH WITH THE “DISABILITY INSPIRATION PORN”.

Quit using those heart-tugging videos, walk-a-thons, telethons, and other grand-society functions to win your supposed Cosmic Brownie Points for giving us your pity. Please stop dumping upon us the largesse of your unwanted rags (so Victorian, so passé), or creating useless functions requiring us to serve as targets of unwanted helpful-helper-helpiness for your ego-boo.

Get disabled people out of “sheltered workshops”. Yes, people need work they are suited to. But the segregation and token sweatshop “wages” are an embarrassment and humiliation to all.

YES, CHILDREN GROW UP.

YEP, STILL DISABLED, BUT NOW ADULTS

Do not assume your children will remain permanently childish and incapable — they mature on their own timelines. Allow adults to be adults. Support their needs and interests, but neither dress them like children, nor expect them to live their lives in naïve pre-puberty stasis, without adult desires for socializing with adult peers, life-long learning, mastering skills for some kind of job (even if that job is “just socially productive work” rather than traditional work), and yes, having a love life, however that may be expressed.

YES, PEOPLE ALSO NEED ACCOMMODATIONS;

THAT DOESN’T MEAN “CURE”

Most disabled or different people are not looking for cures to magically change them into someone else, some kind of fantasy Normal Real person that their families wanted instead. Our differences may result from physical events, by random mutation, and / or genetics. Your genetics. We are family. I’m Me, and I like being Me. If you somehow changed all the differences in my brain, I wouldn’t be Me anymore, with all my quirks and abilities.

Of course it will be great to find a means for preventing migraines, epilepsy, fatal medical conditions, et cetera. But it’s also a sad fact that some people have been so convinced of their undesirability as disabled human beings that they can only see “cure” as a means to being an acceptable Normal Real Person. (Worst of all, some people commit suicide because they’ve been taught to hate themselves, as useless and unwanted.)

But what’s really alarming is all the fund-raising, talk, research, and work going on today to eliminate entire kinds of peoples. I’m talking about the thousands of selfish individuals and sociopaths who believe that anyone with neurological or morphological differences should not exist at all, because That Kind takes up too much time, money, and resources.

That’s not “looking for a cure” – that’s eugenics and euthanasia, the same ideas that led to the Nazi Aktion T4 program and other horrors. (In my youth, the state hospital was still in the regular habit of sterilizing people. Had I been institutionalized, I might well not have had my lovely children and grandchildren.)

Yes, we want assistance, we want things that help us achieve what we want in life. Getting the things one needs to learn effectively, to move about, attend to their own needs, to work, to play, to be a part of the community, to have lovers or families. These things should not be seen as extraordinary, special, absurd, or a waste of money, just because they aren’t the same kinds of things used by other people. 15% of the people in the world have disabilities. That is a lot of humanity, and many are uneducated, abused, neglected, avoided, or shut away, depriving the world of incredible amounts of untapped abilities and talents.

CALL OUT BULLSHIT. REQUIRE ACCOMMODATIONS. DEMAND ACCEPTANCE.

MAKE IT SO.

Fractal flakes

To decorate for our winter party before the semester-end break, we made paper snowflakes in art class at school.

Being the geek that I am, I made a mobile from the fractal of the Koch snowflake, which starts from a single equilateral triangle, and keeps adding triangles onto the triangles. The mobile is made from the first three iterations, cut out as nested pieces, plus the background to the largest, which is trimmed as a circle.

(The mobile’s crossbar is the metal edge that came loose from a ruler; it’s being employed in this manner to prevent misuse by unruly students.)

mobile made of three successive fractal iterations of the Koch snowflake, and the background piece of the largest

mobile made of three successive fractal iterations of the Koch snowflake, and the background piece of the largest

More on the Koch snowflake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_snowflake

It’s not all strawberry versus chocolate ice cream!

Now, I am a mint-chip ice cream (-loving) person myself, and dismiss vanilla* for being merely useful as an ingredient base for other treats. And of course, I’m entitled to my opinion. In turn, you all are free to express your own opinions about flavours of ice cream, including your total disinterest in eating ice cream.

(* It may be that I lack some kind of flavour receptor[s] to fully perceive vanilla/vanillin, because no matter what sort of sweet or quality of material, vanilla has never seemed to be particularly interesting or tasty to me.)

But there are opinions and there are other opinions, and Patrick Stokes, Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University, teaches his students that they are not entitled to have their opinions.

In a recent article, “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” he immediately acknowledges this sounds a bit harsh, but explains that the point of a philosophy class  is learning how to create sound arguments, instead of leaning on beliefs, emotions, and misconceptions of what we think we know. Although opinions may be owned or expressed, not all opinions are equally valid.

Stokes skillfully distinguishes between the different things that fall under the vast umbrella of opinion:

But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

It’s the conflating of being able to express one’s tastes, preferences, and beliefs — and then expecting those statements to be taken as seriously as fact-based, logically-sound argument — that is the major problem.

It is a major problem in everyday discourse, and in heated debates within and between countries, and it is an especially prevalent problem in various media. There’s the tired trope* of “getting balance” by interviewing “both sides” even though there are often more than just two sides (life is messy that way), and the problem that the opinions of both “sides” do not necessarily carry the same factual value (life is reality-based that way).

(* More on the problems with the news media and “balance” in my earlier post, “Both Sides Now”.)

Not all the information one finds or hears is equally valid. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

Stokes further explains:

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Wait a minute — can’t anyone have an opinion about anything? Of course!

Can’t anyone express their opinion about anything? Of course!*

(* Although it really helps if people take the time to ensure their protest signs are properly spelled and punctuated. Otherwise much hilarity ensues and one ends up with derisive and/or dismissive infamy rather than being taken seriously.)

But what unfounded opinion cannot do is carry equal weight when discussions require expertise.

Back to our ice cream opinions:  I know that vanilla bean pods come from a variety of orchid, because that’s a tidbit of horticultural knowledge and I am a horticulturalist. Being a foodie, I have long known that vanillin was synthesized as a less-expensive alternative for use in commercial products, and that it is the primary ingredient in the artificially-flavoured vanilla extract sold at the market.

BUT, I cannot be an expert witness or speaker on vanilla.

Likely, neither can the majority of you.

Not on the cultivars, growing, agri-ecology, processing from raw material to diverse flavouring forms, business economics, grower’s social justice issues, distribution and packaging, artificial synthesis of vanillin, culinary chemistry, historical usage, future trends of natural versus artificial flavouring … none of that stuff. Nor anything else that didn’t come to mind, albeit I was able to come up with a longish list just because I have that horticultural background and was able to extrapolate what accessory topics could be included.

You are entitled to have and to express your opinion, but that does not mean it must to be taken as serious fact; pointing that out is not being disrespectful to you as a person — it means that your opinion is insufficient to the case.

‘Personal Opinion’ is not some cloak of factual immunity that one can wear to suddenly become a creditable expert.

(Oh, and speaking of public persons with opinions but who are not experts, guess who came along to comment upon Stokes’ article …)

“SORRY, OUT OF ORDER”

A Facebook friend of mine posted this problem for folks to solve:

90 – 100 ( 6 + 3 ) = ?

Answers included 0, -90, 810 and -810. The correct answer is -810. Some of you are sniggering at the errors — quit that! 

Now, if you didn’t get -810, hang on …

Why do people have problems solving math equations? It’s not that they’re stupid, but that:

  • they get confused;
  • are anxious;
  • the teaching was boring;
  • they’ve moved around and have missed bits here and there;
  • they’ve learning difficulties;
  • the teachers are trapped following the text and the text is a mile-wide and an inch deep and not in sensible order;
  • the teaching made no sense or was based upon “just memorise how to do this process” instead of understanding why or when to use what methods;
  • … and sometimes people have problems for several reasons.

Hey folks, don’t feel badly if you got it wrong. I had trouble with the maths in school, too! I didn’t even learn all my multiplication tables until 8th grade. You know what? It’s not fatal; I slowly went through some pre-College Algebra classes at my local community (junior) college, and filled in the confused bits, gained confidence, and eventually went on to introductory Calculus.

And I still have to pause and think on some of my multiplication facts, and still have days when I’m prone to reversing numbers. But those difficulties don’t detract from the fact that I am able to learn math, and they don’t mean I’m stupid. (“Take THAT, ‘Mr. Dull’!” she says, shaking her fist at a middle-school algebra teacher.)

But now I work with students in 7th – 12th grade math, and you know what? Good news! It makes a lot more sense when you go back and review it as an adult! You can fill in the parts you missed or didn’t understand, and get a better idea of how it all fits together. Honestly.

Math no longer terrifies me, even though my brain still has that glitch that prevents me from memorising the quadratic formula. But I never use the quadratic formula in real life.

I DO use ratios in real life, for example, adjusting a recipe, figuring how much stuff to put on my garden, planning travel time… And I’ll show you how to do those really easily, without getting all tangled up in multiple steps, and you don’t need some mysterious “intuitive feel for how to set the problem up”.

.~#~.

MEANWHILE, In our problem above we use Order of Operations. I tell my students, “You use Order of Operations every day! You put your tee on before you put on your shirt, and you put on your jacket last.”

The problem above is solved like this:

Read the rest of this entry »

What Would Molly Ivins Say?

Oh, boy howdy! This article by Laura Hibbard, “Texas Republican Party Calls For Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Corporal Punishment In Schools” nearly made me choke on my cuppa tea. She described just a few of the details the 2012 Republican Party of Texas wants for their state schools. (The article also includes a nicely scrollable copy of their entire Platform Report.)

You know me, I’m a science person, with keen interests in education and social justice.  And I was flabbergasted. It’s like a car crash — you can’t help but gawp in horrified fascination. Well, I had the day off work, so after a house-painting break, scanned through most of the document. It’s one thing to hear soundbites on the radio or in video, but quite another to actually be able to read an entire position. For one thing, it gives a person the chance to notice internal inconsistencies, and look things up.

In addition to the aforementioned items listed in the title of Hibbard’s article, the Texas GOP’s document lists a lot more in their “Educating Our Children” section. For example, they also want to eliminate preschool and kindergarten, and require daily pledges of allegiance to the US & Texas flags (because that somehow makes one patriotic).

Ooh, get this:

“Classroom Expenditures for Staff – We support having 80% of school district payroll expenses of professional staff of a school district be full-time classroom teachers.”

You realize that means giving the ability to hire a number of part-time classroom teachers (and paraprofessionals if they opt to include some) who can be paid WAY less, which will keep a district’s budget way down. “Fiscal responsibility” as a loophole for loading up on part-time staff. Who of course often don’t get benefits — unfortunately, a common practice in education and other industries. (Yes, I’m calling education an industry.)

And of course, this next incredible ::head-desk:: concept that (for me) underpins a great deal of their platform:

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Because you know, mastering the subject material and learning how to think critically will undermine the GOP’s fixed beliefs and enable challenging authority. Any challenges to authority will be dealt with accordingly:

“Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.”

Under the “Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety” section, this concept continues as, Read the rest of this entry »

One Or More

Do you like odd words? If so, today’s post is for YOU!

I enjoy words. I love learning new words, and now and then feel the need to make nifty neologisms. I take pleasure in playing word games and punning around. I use a vigorous vocabulary for producing prose and programming. I revel in vicious verbiage when needing venomous invective.

Weird words are wonderful. Exceptions excite intrigue. Luckily for us, the English language (in its multitudinous international forms) is known for being an absolute mish-mosh of exceptions to dang near every orthographic rule that has been imposed upon it over the centuries. This is not surprising considering how many other languages have been sources for our vocabulary!

Being familiar with many of those weirdnesses is great when one is an editor, writer or proofreader. (Alas, not everyone shares such passions, so we logophiles must sometimes refrain from exercising too much pedantry.*) It also gives me a number of opportunities for musing …

Today I ran some errands on the way home, which caused me to take a different pathway. En route, I espied a cellular antennae tower array (mobile phone mast), one of those tall poles with transceivers and other prickly bits plated upon them. Several of those tower arrays or television UHF/VHF (Yagi-Uda) sets atop houses are called antennas. But — insects sniff their environments with antennae.

Some words are the same whether you have one or more; not just the same spelling in singular and plural, but also the same pronunciation:

Fish (As children, many of us learned this from Dr Seuss, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”). Ditto salmon and trout. (I bet readers can inform me of other species of fish.)

Thrips (A small insect that often infests flowers and spreads diseases; especially problematic in greenhouses.)

Sheep, deer, moose.

Bison – pedantic technical note: the North American animal is a bison, not a buffalo, but buffalo is so entrenched in history (i.e. Buffalo Soldiers, buffalo nickel) that the term “bison” seems reserved for ecological/zoological discussions.

The American buffalo has just one species: Bison bison. A single category of interbreeding organism is a species, several are different kinds are also species. “Specie” refers to coins, such as our buffalo nickel. If I recall correctly, one of the new coins the U.S. mint has released in their recent series is a nickel with a bison on one side. Series is another word that is the same in both singular and plural.

Swine (unlike pig -> pigs or hog -> hogs)

Complaint:  people calling plural bovine animals “cows”; the cow is a female that has calved. Call them a herd of cattle. Of course, then one has the problem of knowing if the single animal is a calf, cow, [castrated] steer, or bull. Then again, depending upon where you are, most of the cattle one passes might be breeding or milking cows, or maybe young steers shortly destined to be burgers and roast-beast. But like “buffalo”, “cows” seems to be a common-usage term.

(Except, of course, amongst small children, who invariably call them “moo-cows”, which is odd because I’ve never heard any preschoolers saying “quack-ducks”, “neigh-horses”, “baa-sheep” or “meow-cats”; go figure.)

Interestingly, draft bovine (used for ploughing) are ox -> oxen. There are few words that retain this archaic plural: child -> children, one brother -> several brethren, and hose -> hosen (from when one tied their individual hose onto the hem of a garment). Clothes is one of those words that just comes in single form, except it is by default plural.

When I teach gardening classes, I add a couple seconds pause after explaining, “If you’re making a new garden bed, you can either kill what’s there with glyphosate, or slice off the pieces of turf and re-use them, or compost the turves.” Turves is the correct plural for pieces of turf, but we don’t use the term much, so there’s a bit of a mental speed-bump.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien invented dwarves as the plural for his Middle-Earth race? All other sorts (cutesy fantasy beings, or small-growing forms of plants or animals) are dwarfs.

In Zoology class we learned that the plural of penis is penes. Common usage (when not using one of the many silly slang terms) is penises. But if you are needing to talk discretely over the heads of younger folk, penes will likely be off their radar.

Right now I’m listening to Etta James singing the blues; no one ever sings “a blue” (tho’ you can blow a blue note).

Then there are the pluralisation questions about which only geeks worry: one Mus musculus is a mouse, and several are mice. But what about the computer accessory (um, Mus digitus ?) – computer mouses or computer mice?

One datum, a bunch of data. But when or how the hell does a person have just ONE datum? A single point?  I suppose that’s possible, unlike news. Good or bad, there’s never just one news. A “new”? I tend to get out of the news loop when on holiday; but invariably when I catch up, I find that the news seems more like recycled “olds”!

One spectrum, a wide spectra, as in “spectral analysis” – unless of course, one is doing a bunch of analyses on your spectra data.

How about one index -> two indices. Indexes is a verb: “My program indexes everything for me!” Then of course, it turns around and creates indexes to hold that data. Hmn. Meanwhile, we still have one index -> two indices in science, and on the radio news I hear indices used as indicators of how the world is going.

In geometry, our geometric shapes have sides (planes). Each pair of planes intersect at edge, and several will meet at the corner, called a vertex. A triangular pyramid has four vertices and a cube has eight.

And lastly, Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” meaning that what is used to spread the message is important. Newspapers, YouTube videos, and blogs are all kinds of media. So too are my choice of growing medium for my seedlings.
If some yahoo grabs a can of spray paint as their medium of choice, and scrawls a graffito on the side of a building, you can be sure that someone else will want to join in and next thing you know, there will be graffiti everywhere.
My thanks (always plural) to all my readers!
______

*Unlike those grammar mavens dedicated to eradicating excessive and misused apostrophes, whom I heartily encourage to be ever-ready with their jumbo-size bottles of correction fluid!

Also, thank you everyone for your tireless efforts trying to rid the world of misspellings; Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know that I shall be wanting to face-palm with each sale banner for  Valentines Bokay’s.

I can haz civil liberties?

Just the other week, I finally got around to mailing an envelope off to Locks of Love, non-profit that makes wigs for children who have long-term hair loss for medical reasons.  My son’s not keen on haircuts, so for a long time, he didn’t bother.  By the time he finally got around to getting to the salon, his hair reached to his shoulder blades.  Because it was “virgin hair” (never died or permed), the pony tail cut off was perfect for making into such a wig.

At least he didn’t get kicked out of school, unlike four-year old Taylor Pugh.  That lad is also growing out his hair for donation (whether to Locks of Love, or another organization).  But the preschooler goes to school in the Mesquite Independent School District, near Dallas, Texas.

Taylor has been suspended for having too-long hair, and spends his days in the library, with a teacher’s aide.  Seriously.  In trouble for hair-length that was perfectly acceptable for the country’s founding fathers.  Hair that has a social benefit for donation.

But then, this school district has some pretty stringent dress policies.  Why, even your shoe laces have to be the correct color, and your socks had better match.  Only certain colors of slacks are permitted, and they’d better not be the same color as your shirt.  Corduroy pants aren’t acceptable, either.

Sure, I don’t want to see anyone’s cleavage, top or bottom, and this trend of guys wearing pants so low they have to walk around clutching them is pretty damn dumb.  But when a school is spending that much time on a kid’s hair length, you gotta wonder if there’s enough time to focus on real issues, like good science education …

Today’s a “bank holiday”, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day., so I thought I’d add this in as well:

Black and white photograph of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, with the caption, "DR. KING He didn't lead a major civil rights struggle and get assassinated for you to walk around with your pants around your knees."

The Catch

I’ve been having intermittent bouts of vertigo (some severe), along with worsening tinnitus and resulting difficulty understanding what people are saying. My GP said I got poor results on the tympanogram, and is sending me to an ENT, whom I see next week.  I’m no longer driving on the highway, and take extra care if I’m carrying my grandson.

Meanwhile, someone at school told the principal that I was “doing the wall thing”, meaning touching the wall to steady myself as I passed down a hallway.  This resulted in being called up for a Official Meeting.  By the time I left, I was feeling queasy and light-headed for entirely different reasons:

  • Being a couple hours late to phone in my absences due to migraine and due to a Emergency Room visit for vertigo, had previously earned me a stern warning for procedural lapses.
  • Going to or staying at work if feeling dizzy is prohibited because an educator with vertigo is a liability.
  • Leaving work 30 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment must be taken as sick time.
  • No “flex time” is allowed for appointments (i.e. leaving a bit early and making up that time by staying later another day).
  • Thirty minutes, half a day or a whole day all count equally as an incident of using a sick day.
  • Taking 19 sick-day events by October due to viruses, migraines, vertigo or doctor appointments is excessive, and any further such absences can result in termination of employment.
  • Which specific number is unmentioned, but up to the Powers That Be in the Human Resources department.
  • Any employee who is feverish with a virus must stay home.

Alas, this is all legal, and there seems to be a large limbo of being disabled by irregularly re-occuring conditions without actually being Disabled enough for some kind of accommodation.

Even if I somehow negotiated with H.R., the interpersonal climate with the school admin is too prickly to stay.  This is a shame, because I have a great relationship with my classroom staff/faculty.

I’m looking for a different job, hopefully something full-time that also pays well enough so I can have just ONE job in my life.  But everything I’ve seen pays fast-food wages, or else is so technically specific that my skills profile is a mis-match.

The free-floating anxiety is just HELL.

Welcome to the Ivory Tower, Internet

My daughter shares this story:

Research is to English majors what coffee is to the general college student. Essays are ramen and reading material naps, if you’re curious. (Note that literal naps often overlap with these figurative ones.) So caught up in the glee of primary sources and minutia of MLA, we forget that not all of our academic brethren are blessed with this area of education.

Also, people are stupid.

So I’m sitting in my philosophy professor’s office, chatting breezily about feminist interpretations of Aristotle and (conventionally enough) existential crises in modern films. A flustered gentleman comes crashing through the doorway pleading for an audience. She invites him in, and he begins his protestations before I have a chance to vacate and thus offer privacy.

“Why did I get an F on this paper?” he whines, gesturing to the scarlet letter like it were the very knife Brutus plunged into Caesar’s back.

“Because it was a research paper,” she answers, “and you only had one source.”

“And?”

“And it was Wikipedia.”

“And?”

“And that’s not a credible source.”

“Nu-uh!” he cries, despondent in the face of life’s cold injustice. “I know it was! I posted the information myself.

Seated on the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Picard does a pained face-palm

Seated on the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Picard does a pained face-palm

The long and short of it

It’s going to be a long day; I can tell already.

Last night I finally got eight hours of sleep, aside from several prolonged coughing fits.  The previous three nights I’d only gotten four hours of sleep.  You’d think the extra rest would make me feel better, but I’m still running short on good sleep because I have this bronchitis or whatever (we’re waiting on the lab results from the nasal swab to see if I have Pertussis, holy shit).

At least I only have to work one job today.  But I’m teaching an evening class and I suspect that by then some of my cognitive functions will be running on Reserve Power.  At least it’s a subject I’ve done several times before, so I can get by with using a lot of verbal scripts.

It’s going to be a long day; I can tell already.  That’s because I’m already running into “System Overload: Error Messages”.

P.S.  I’m going to have a bowl of Mint-Chip ice cream and see if that doesn’t do anything for me, since the efficacy of Häagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream isn’t up to par. Thanks, Bev!

[now clink on this link for System Overload: Error Messages where post continues]

Hotbed of Apathy

*sniff, sniff*

“You sound sick,” stated my daughter’s fiancé, M.

“I can’t be sick,” I mumbled in protest, and honked into a tissue.

“Redunculus; you’re sniffling.”

“I can’t be sick; it was Mr W’s day to be sick,” I explained.  “He got first dibs on being out sick today …  If all the classroom staff members who were sick stayed home, there wouldn’t be anyone left!”

I’m sure the students wouldn’t have minded having some of their classes cancelled.  But no, we slogged through the day, hour after dreary, mind-numbing, O-PLZ-STFU hour.  It was, I decided, a veritable hotbed of apathy.  The lead teacher was battling a sinus infection, and I was suffering from what felt like temporal phase-shifts.  And my aches ached.  My ears were ringing and making sharp pains and I was having dizzy spots and nausea.  I was cold and then would have a sneezing fit and then be hot, and would have some odd spastic tic and then be cold again.  They cannot invent a vaccine for this shit any day too soon.

It’s worse when you’re feeling crappy and working 60 hours a week. But it seems like every few days I discover yet another person who’s working multiple jobs, the latest being a cashier with two jobs and Lupus.  (Maybe what the economy really needs is for everyone to take a week off just to get some rest already.  All in favor say, “Aye!”)

And then there’s the strange stress nightmares I get before a semester starts, going through an interminable dream about teaching 3rd grade but starting the same day the students do, and having an unworkable U-shaped classroom without a chalkboard or whiteboard, and the women’s bathroom stalls all cost 75 cents in quarters to use, and …

If you, too, are ready for a diversion, our favorite engineers (previous post) have a new video up on Advanced Cat Yodeling.  M just about ROTFL, as he has been Yodeling with his cats for a long time, and favors the Machine Gun Kiss™  approach.

Bureaucracy v. Teaching

We could do all the things we NEED to do

if we weren’t so dang busy

doing all the things we “have to” do!

Where are my offerings?

I am become divine.

When I walk quietly down the hall and come up to one of the students, he often turns around and exclaims, “Oh my god!”

(Dark chocolate and garden plants are acceptable.)

Don’t scream.

It’s only Thursday.  Screaming isn’t allowed until Friday afternoon after all the students have left.  (Please don’t scare the custodians, without whom we would all be in dire straits.)

We passed our “Code Red” practice drill with flying colors this week.  A “Code Red” is an “OMG there’s a terrorist” lockdown, the 21st-century version of the old “duck and cover” drills we did decades ago during the Cold War.  I suppose it’s actually more useful — locking the doors and being quiet is definitely better than pretending that a rickety school desk will protect one from nuclear radiation.

On the other hand, in the past three weeks we’ve had as many pre-teen perverts scurrilous knaves who thought they could get away with trying to Google up p*rn from the school computers.  As if we’re not going to catch them?!  Well, that’s three students who won’t be using computers except for absolutely required functions, with a staff member at their elbow the whole time.  A “required function” would be something like a math-practice program or standardized test that is required by the school district.

Right now we’re administering a reading assessment, and already we’re tired of reciting the standardized instructions, for all I do a decent imitation of a Star Trek computer.

If you want more stories of academia, the latest Carnival of Education is going on over at The Core Knowledge blog.  I guarantee “they’re a scream” (hilarious).  Or, enlightening.  Probably both.

Otherwise, here’s a great sign that will be appreciated by anyone who has either sat one of those long standardized tests, or proctored one:

Sign taped to table, in poorly-translated English:  Check every think before go into the grading room.  Avoid to get screaming

Sign taped to table, in poorly-translated English: "Check every think before go into the grading room. Avoid to get screaming"

Down a hall, noisily

It’s amazing just how much hallways comprise the problem-solving part of my day, compared to the actual amount of time I am in them, instead of the classroom.

But in our program for secondary students with emotional and behavioral problems, hallways (like lunchrooms or busses) comprise that part of the space-time continuum that is just so fraught with issues.  Part of the reason for this is the somewhat unstructured quality of the time.

Sure, they are supposed to just go between the classrooms.  We don’t even have a full “passing period”, because allowing these students to loiter around the hallways or hang out together in the bathrooms just invites problems with bullying, making interpersonal or sometimes illegal deals, petty theft, tardiness and so on.  Instead, we just herd the troops to and fro, like so many wayward cats.

And still there’s all sorts of nonsense that goes on in the hallways: Read the rest of this entry »

Piques and Valleys

So, I’ve been rather absent from bloggery lately due to spending evenings sorting through vast boxes of paper archives, moving books, applying for jobs to keep a roof over our heads, or attempting to sleep off this virus. I now have removed a cubic meter of paperness from our house, and transferred a few hundred books from one room to another. I still have the virus (or maybe a second one, as our students have not the best hygiene), but not the second job.

(Now, if anyone is looking for an experienced secondary or college tutor or after-school care for special-needs children, let me know via andreasbuzzing care of my gmail account.)

But aside from all that, there have been some thought-provoking ups and downs in the news that I don’t want to let pass before they become “olds”:

In an brief article in the New York Times, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine studied some 11,000 third-grade students, and found that Read the rest of this entry »

Think Pink

I read this story over at Annette’s blog, Fun With Play-Dough, and was flabbergasted.

When students at our school get suspended, they’ve usually done something heinous, like get into fist-fights, bring illegal drugs, porn, or some such.

Not like 11-year old Natasha Rzanca, who was suspended for

— get this —

having her hair dyed pink. Her mum did it; they thought it was fun.  (Because it is.)

Suspended for pink hair. WTF?!

Hope against fear

I rarely get choked up listening to speeches.  I’m just not a terribly sentimental person as far as patriotic stuff goes.

Except for this bit from Obama’s inauguration speech today:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Oh, I do hope so!

Vacuuming the stairs

Random thought:

It’s easy to give people what they want.

It’s much more difficult to give them what they need.

1,393 page, 7.4 pound Biology textbook: $140

Self-referencing textbook diagram using said heavy tome to weigh down a Southern blot:   PRICELESS!

illustration with heavy biology textbook used to weigh down materials

illustration showing textbook used to weigh down materials

The absurd list

So, it’s the Last Big Push before the end of the semester — this “holiday” weekend I have to write 4 exams, make up three teaching presentations, and grade the latest set of exams and various assignments. (Oh, and send out a couple of job apps, soon as I can squeeze them in.  They’re really long shots, but “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”.)

In another 10 days or so I’ll be done with teaching classes this semester, and can focus on other things in life, like finishing my family cookbook, finish a quilt, a dozen home repairs, sorting out the basement storage area, tidying up the gardening stuff around the patio, organising my seed-starting and cleaning up my gardening tools, removing rampant garden volunteers, yadda-yadda-yadda.  Basically, everything in life that has been put on “hold” since I started working 60-50 hours per week in September.

But I thought it would fun to post the Absurd List.  You know, those things you would love to have, but would never be able to get short of a weird twist of fate.

A retired London Underground subway car recycled as an office.

Or maybe the ultimate treehouse, the “free spirit sphere”.  Of course, we don’t have the trees for such, but details, details…

What with the severe ice storms and extremes of hot and cold, few structures are quite so problematic in my climate as a fancy glasshouse. But as we know, plant-lust is an incurable condition that leaves us fondling seed-packets during the dark, short days of the year.  Our kitchen window by the table is the sunniest place in the house, so it’s hosting a small jungle of plants for the next half a year.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to be selfish, so I’d get a hot tub to put in a sunroom or somewhere.  All of us love a good soak in hot water, especially in the winter.

Ah well … back to my preps.

What’s on your Absurd List?

Let me spell this out for you,

I’ve been absent from bloggery due to the work load as we near the end of the semester; this past weekend I graded five exams and a bunch of extra-credit assignments.  So far I have two students who have BLATANTLY just copied-pasted stuff from Web sites. This despite my having told them in the assignment handout,

All of the text should be in your own words, a synthesis of the information you have gathered, put into complete sentences.

The Student Code of Conduct explains the kind of misrepresentation that qualifies as plagiarism:  [URL link]

What, like they think I can’t tell this isn’t student writing, or won’t bother to type in a URL they listed in their bibliography?  One student just “re-gifted” an assignment obviously written for another class, which is just tacky as well — it’s one thing to recycle some information you’ve already researched and edit it to fit the requirements of a new report, but this stuff wasn’t even changed to fit what I’d asked for.

So I discussed the issue with the dept dean, and was given the suggestion of explaining the problem with the student, and offering them the opportunity to re-do the assignment correctly, or else take a 10% reduction on the Final Exam grade.  I like this option, because there are still significant consequences, but the student gets to decide what they’re doing.

One student left class before I could talk to him.  The other one I talked to, and his point of view was that:

(1) He didn’t see why using the same assignment for two classes was a problem. (“It needs to match the requirements of what I asked for.  Go back and re-read the assignment page.”)

(2) He didn’t see why copy-pasting information was a problem (“The course syllabus AND the assignment page both describe what plagiarizing is, and the assignment page specifically says it needs to be In Your Own Words.  When you quote something, it has to be offset, or in quote marks or otherwise marked.”)

I had to reiterate that I had talked with the Dean who had seen his paper, and agreed to this plan.

And golly gee if he didn’t go and do what I suspected he would!  He outright said that he’d submitted this same paper to his other prof, and that prof had no problems with the paper. (Somehow in his mind, this was supposed to be a strong argument; because you know, if you get by with cheating once, then it shouldn’t be a problem if you do it again.)  I explained that was between the other prof and him.  I knew this was plagiarism, and I wasn’t going to accept the paper.

GAH.

Things that mystify me

Not big, cosmic questions. Little stupid piddly-ass stuff. Like:

People who wedge open the flaps to trash cans by sticking their drink cups partway in. Why not simply push the flap just a bit further in and drop your rubbish into the can? Why leave it wedged open?  This makes the OCD-ish part of my brain hurt.

When someone asks, “Why is it always in the last place you look?”
“Because,” I finally replied to my clueless coworker, “once you find it, you quit looking!”
“Oh! I never thought of that.”
(I regret that I am not making this up.)

This was a rant from last week, by one of the secondary teachers: Read the rest of this entry »

Moldy bagels

Only teachers get excited by such things as bagels sprouting fluffy fungal mycelial masses.  “Oh, boy!  Some Rhizopus and Penicillium, just what I needed for this week’s lab exam!”

Yes, I’m in the thick of making up, administering, and grading endless rounds of exams. Both classes have exams every week, and they also have periodic larger exams.  As this is the first time I’ve taught either course, I’m up to my tuchis in the exam-writing process, so the whole process keeps me busy as a beehive*.

And of course, every teacher loves to collect those oddball answers to test questions.  Here are some from college students studying botany & horticulture (correct answers in parentheses). [N.B. for those concerned with the politically correct, none of these students were identified to me as having dyslexia or other learning issues.  However, there’s a good chance that many of us are suffering sleep deprivation.]

List a specific epithet describing the growth habit of a plant:
Palin_short, dwarf (pumila) Read the rest of this entry »

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