Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

In case no one noticed, it's been a while since I've posted. There are reasons, which are also excuses, and maybe someday (if I continue to post) I'll explain them. Meanwhile, it's time for a little snark.

This year, I have only one child left in public school (happy dance, happy dance). The high school he attends has instituted "Sustained Silent Reading" for 25 minutes, three times a week. I could go on about how useful I think this is at the high school level, but I would bore myself just writing about it. And, in general, I think letting kids read what they want to read for extended periods of time without interruption is a good idea; we certainly do plenty of it at home and always have, and it's something each and every one of my children has rejoiced over when they attend WeeM with me ("I can sit in the lobby and read and no one bothers me! Wow! It's almost like being at home.").

For the sake of form, I will also mention, whilst mentally looking off to the side as a diversionary maneuver, that this is a loss of 75 minutes per week of instructional time (ack!) on the block schedule. Ahem. However, in the general realm of theory meets reality, I'm OK with SSR, since most teachers use the last half hour of their classes as study hall for the kids to do their homework, so the kids aren't losing anything they weren't deprived of already.

Last month, though, my youngest came home very disgruntled. His PE class was having a free day. Apparently, during a free day in gym, you can throw a dog toy back and forth with other children, which is called "Throwtron", pick some other activity, or wander in a large circle around the gym for 90 minutes. He chose to wander in a circle, and, because that would generally be considered quite supremely boring, he decided to read while wandering. There weren't a lot of other children wandering -- I guess the lure of chucking a dog toy was too much for some of them to resist -- and he was ambling happily and quietly around, reading.

After a short while, the student teacher noticed, came tearing over and told him he wasn't allowed to read.

Take a moment to let that one soak in, please. He wasn't allowed to read. In a school diverting 75 minutes per week of instructional time to a schoolwide policy to encourage reading, my son was not allowed to read during non-SSR time while walking in a circle. Keep letting that soak in.

He asked why and was told it just was not permitted, and he would not be allowed to listen to an MP3 player or Walkman unless he was Power Walking either. So, he put his book aside and continued to amble around in a circle.

Later on, the staff teacher came over and, in a very intimidating manner, asked him why he was giving the student teacher a hard time. He was gobsmacked by this accusation, and, as far as he remembers, just stood there not speaking, at which point the coach/teacher advised him that it was a safety hazard and he was not to do it again. Let that one soak in, too, reading is a safety hazard when you are walking in a fairly lightly populated circle of very few other children who have opted to wander around rather than chucking pet toys at each other's heads.

Now, I don't dispute the teacher's point -- perhaps one of the knuckle-dragging mouthbreather types who might have been participating in a more hazardous activity would have lobbed a dog toy off to the side and clonked my nerdling on his unobservant head. I cannot figure out how that would be my nerd's fault rather than the fault of the mouthbreather, but he still would have wound up being clonked. Perhaps a more exuberant Power Walker would have been distracted by wild lyrics and a driving heavy metal beat on his/her MP3 player and stomped right over my son, which, again, would not have been my son's fault, but he would still wind up with sneaker marks on his back.

And, just to put a cherry on the top of this sundae of dissonance, he received an F for the day for participation. For wanting to quietly read while engaged in a boring physical activity and asking why he was not allowed to read. Beware the scary, non-conformist, bibliophilic nerd; he is a silent lurking hazard.

When Doodle regaled us with this story, my daughter started shaking her head and reminded us of a similar incident that happened to her while she was in the same high school. She was taking dual credit college courses at school, which started a little later, and which were not offered every day. On her off days, she would go to the school library to read, look over homework, and make quiet, productive use of her time.

She would enter the library, find a table near the back, open up a book and start reading or maybe look out the window. For the first couple of weeks, the library staff kept coming over and asking her what she was doing. She told them, and they would just stand there looking at her for a minute. Perhaps they thought she was going to burst into flame or offer them illicit drugs. Mostly, they didn't believe her. And the reason they didn't believe her is that this was aberrant behavior for students in a school library. Take another moment and let that one soak in, too -- a student using extra time to go to the library and read is an anomalous behavior in the school.

They did stop coming over to find out what she was up to after a while, but then spent time just staring at her from their desks/safety positions near the emergency hotline (or whatever), in case she did spontaneously combust or begin dancing the tarantella on the tables, thereby disrupting the other students who.... weren't there. In fact, in a year of going to the library on her off days, the only time other students came into the library was when an entire class came in with the teacher to do a specific project, during which time they were invariably noisy, obnoxious, and didn't concentrate on what they were supposed to be doing.

After this happened a couple of times, she decided to leave a few minutes before the bell and go get her stuff from her locker and make sure to be at her first class a little early. That worked out fine until she got caught being in the halls before the bell, screamed at by a teacher, and sent to the office for disciplinary action...for going to her locker early to get her supplies so she could be early and prepared for class. Let that one soak in, too.

I suppose you'd need to know my daughter to understand why this is possibly the most ludicrous, inexplicable response to her actions -- people smile when she comes into a room because she is a happy, quiet person. She is generally teacher's pet in every class, including the professors she has in college. She is calm, diligent, intelligent, does her homework before it's due, respects teacher time, follows directions, checks her resources, thinks deeply about issues, gives measured and worthy responses to questions, and, so far, has a straight A record in college. Her professors invite her out for a smoothie in the Caf when they need cheering up. They tell her they appreciate having her in class. They give her sweatshirts, hoodies, and free lockers just because she is so swell. She's allowed to use their personal equipment without supervision because she's so darned trustworthy and sensible. And she has always been this way.

So, for the very first time in 13 years of public schooling, her first and only disciplinary referral was because she was doing something as threatening to life as we know it as... getting her class supplies early so she could be early and prepared for class.

Somehow, somewhere, the educational industry has lost sight of reality and has completely forgotten the underlying principle to encouraging good habits and behavior.

It's pretty simple, really, "Reward the behavior you wish to encourage."

I suggest they start taking notes. There will be a quiz.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Do the Funky Chicken

It’s cold and snowy and about to get much, much colder and much, much snowier. So, like all chronic knitters, my fancy has turned to felting. I have two hats and one Secret Project in the laundry room awaiting felting. I couldn’t wait for messing with a felted something, though, because, for a person who makes things stitch by stitch, I have surprisingly little patience, so I found an old felting project from a previous arctic cold spell and decided to make use of it immediately.

It was a misbegotten attempt at a project bag, and I know exactly why it was so ugly and awful. I was trying to use up two ugly, awful yarns that I had acquired somehow, and I couldn’t think of what to do with them. One was a speckledy purple with some twiggy bits still in it, and the other was someone else’s first attempt at dying yarn – purple and green and splotches of white. I kept shoving them to the bottom of the theoretical project basket until finally I thought “striped felted bag” and cast on, knit like crazy until I was nearly out of each yarn, then I flung it in the washer over and over until I hated it enough to lose it in a laundry basket. I then brought it upstairs and lost it in my husband’s clutter for a year or so. It got moved around for another year, always at the bottom of some pile we didn’t want to deal with, but it escaped a week or two ago, and whispered, in its croaky, hoarse little green and purple voice, “do something with me”.

So, I decided to make a felted tea cozy out of the top half, and maybe use the bottom half for a smaller project bag. I cut 10 inches off the top of the bag, so that I wouldn’t back down and hide it again, and then browsed around on the net for ideas. I kind of figured I wanted a chicken cozy of some sort, but I was looking for a simple enough idea so that I could cut it out, sew it (I am sewing impaired), and make it look reasonably chickeny. I had some success, cut out a rough chicken shape, then realized it was going to need eyes, a beak, a comb, and probably a hanging loop. I crocheted everything but the eyes, and then I found two slightly stoned looking two-tone buttons in my sad little sewing basket, which would do for crazed chicken cozy eyes. Below is the result, which I am pleased to say, everyone one in the house immediately recognized as a chicken, however the follow-up question was, repeatedly, “Why is it purple and green?”

Should you become possessed by the need for a felted chicken cozy and have some unloved felted material around, my rough working outline was as follows:

1. Piece of felted knitting, 20 inches long by 10 inches high; fold in half for a 10 inch square; cut out general chicken shape

2. With about 6 yards of crochet kitchen cotton crochet a beak (ch8, sl 1, sc to end, cut and draw yarn though), a comb (c8, turn sl 1 in first st, in next st * 1 sc, 1 hdc, 1dc, 1hdc, in next stitch 1 sc *, repeat twice, end with sl st in last chain, bo) and a loop (ch 15)

3. Turn chicken inside out, sew from tail across back, inserting and sewing loop at midback (make sure it will hang out on the right side), sew to beginning of top of head, insert comb and do similarly, then about halfway down the chicken face, insert the stub of the beak and sew it in, then sew the chicken breast.

4. Turn right side out and display proudly to family. Fits fairly snugly over a 3-4 cup (or smaller) teapot.

And, it really, really keeps the tea warm. My first test drive included going off to do something else for 2 hours and coming back to tea still warm enough to be soothing and fragrant. If I were given a do-over, I’d make it a couple of inches wider, but it is just the right height.

Which leads me to my Secret Project – a Little Red Hen Cozy. Again, I have some unloved red yarn, and lots of it, in my stash. I’d already made a dog sweater for Gracie from it, as well as a hat awaiting felting for me, and there was still a bodacious amount of yarn left. I have done all the knitting on the LRHC, but I’m going to wait until it’s been felted before publishing. I should probably ‘fess up here and admit that I have a general chicken theme to my kitchen, which so far includes some pictures of cheeky roosters, a ceramic rooster, a wooden speckled hen, and some chicken dishtowels. And a chicken tea cozy now, too.

More Knits

I was sick with bronchitis for most of the holidays, but I can’t stand to have idle hands, so I made, as I mentioned in a previous post, another Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl.

It came out pretty nicely, too. The blues look much more differentiated in tone in person. The sequence is medium blue, marled blue (one strand each of dark, light and medium blue), and light blue, with dark blue in between each section and all around the border.

Oddball Word of the Day

ablation (ab-LAY-shehn): n. a wearing away, as of a glacier by erosion or the nose cone of a rocket by the heat to high-speed reentry into the atmosphere

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)