Saturday, May 30, 2015

On Teaching These Days

It’s hard to be a teacher these days.

I cannot tell you how many exasperating conversations I have had recently with fools who insist that teaching is something anyone can walk in off the street and do with no training or background necessary.  Indeed, the State of Wisconsin is, as I write, about to pass a law allowing exactly that to happen.  Any drooling idiot capable of donating to the presidential campaign fund of Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) will soon be allowed to teach subjects they have never studied to students at grade levels they may or may not have actually completed themselves.  No college degree required.  No high school diploma either, from what I hear, because FREEDOM!

This of course means that for the first time in his life Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) would legally be allowed to instruct children.  Maybe it’s his retirement plan for when the whole “gut the state and feast off the carcasses of previous generations” thing finally plays out and he has to get a real job and work for a living.

Honestly, sometimes you can’t tell if they’re evil or just stupid, or whether that distinction is meaningful at all anymore.

The problem is that people don’t really get what teaching is.  They think it’s a part time job, one that requires no training or expertise, something you can do as a hobby or save for after retirement.

No, not really.  It's a skilled trade, one that requires both training and expertise.

It isn’t enough just to know your subject matter, in other words.

Yes, you have to know your subject matter.  That’s a given, at least among people who aren’t members of the Wisconsin Republican Party.  But this is the baseline.  This is the minimum entry requirement, the thing that gets you in the door but doesn’t actually qualify you to be a teacher.  It provides you with some of the tools of the trade, and no more.  Owning a pipe wrench is a necessary step toward becoming a plumber but doesn’t actually qualify you to do the job.  Knowing your subject matter works the same way.

This is because there is a world of difference between knowing a subject and knowing how to teach a subject.  Some of the absolute worst supposedly educational experiences of my life were spent listening to people who knew their subject matter backward and forward but had no idea how to explain that material to anyone who wasn’t living in their own head.  It’s not enough to know a subject.  You have to know how to communicate that knowledge.  You have to know how to build on that communication to achieve a desired end.

You have to know how to teach.

What do you want your students to walk away thinking?  How are you going to get them there?  What are you going to tell them on Day 1 that you can refer back to on Day 75 and have them understand the connection?  How are you going to make that connection?  What work are you going to have them do on their own?  How does that work contribute to the goals you’ve set? (You have set goals, right?  You’re not just yammering about stuff, right?)  How does that work fit with the lesson you’ve planned that day?  How does it build to the next lesson? 

And how are you going to get all this across to a group of students who aren’t being paid to be there?  Whose jobs don’t require their presence?  This is the big difference between teaching students and leading on-the-job training – you can’t fire your students.  In college, they’re paying to be there.  And in K-12, they’re legally required to be there.  How are you going to motivate a group like that to pay attention to anything you’re going to do?  Will that work on Day 75 as well as it worked on Day 1?  Will it work in Minute 75 as well as it worked in Minute 1?

What about students who have outside issues that they bring to class?  Students who are hungry – and not “feeling like a snack” but “haven’t eaten in days” hungry?  Students who are on multiple meds?  Students who should be on multiple meds but aren’t?  Students who are eager, healthy, focused, and sitting right next to the other students I’ve already described?  How are you going to handle a room full of this?

Teaching is a skill, not a native talent.  It’s something you have to work on.  It’s something you have to learn how to do.  Unfortunately it is a skill that has been systematically devalued in modern America by thoughtless and catastrophically short-sighted political hacks and their supporters who insist that it’s all just standing there and yammering to unsuspecting kids, because if they can get you to believe that then they can get rid of trained teachers entirely and just indoctrinate children to their liking.  It's no accident that most of this assault on teachers is coming from right wing extremists, after all - there is a fairly robust correlation between rising education levels and falling support for right-wing policies among the electorate.  Get rid of the educated - get rid of those capable of educating - and they don't have to worry about that anymore.

So they tell you teaching is something anyone can do right off the street.  No training necessary.  No special knowledge required.  Because FREEDOM! (vide supra)

There's just one thing.  Why is it that these morons can look you in the eye and insist that every skill in the world requires training and expertise except teaching?

There are people out there who would make excellent doctors, lawyers, engineers, or accountants, but unless they're certified they're not allowed to practice. Why? Because natural aptitude is no substitute for knowledge and expertise.  I realize you’re not allowed to say “expertise” these days because the rabble get offended by the notion that their natural stupidity is not just as valid as trained intellect and skills, but there you have it.

There was a time in this country when we valued education - when we understood that it was a guarantor of future entrepreneurship and prosperity, when we understood that an educated and informed citizen was the foundation of the American republic, when we understood that teaching was not simply expressing knowledge - that it was a skill like any other, one that required training and expertise and which was valued for that, and that if we wanted entrepreneurship, prosperity, and a solid republic, we had to respect those who were there working to make it happen.

That time is not now.

We can coast on the achievements of the previous generations who understood those lessons, but we cannot coast on them for long.  That is what the extremists undermining education in this country don’t understand.  Eventually everyone just gets more stupid.   Eventually people just push the stupid around until it covers the nation to a uniform depth capable of drowning both progress and prosperity.

Remember, folks.  Those who can, teach.  Those who cannot, pass laws about teaching.

It’s the state of the nation today.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Down on the Farm

Somewhere over the last few years I have become a farmer.

Not a real farmer, I suppose.  I live in town.  I don’t plant crops to sell.  The byzantine world of agriculture and its regulatory apparatus is mostly opaque to me.  I earn my living doing things that can be done indoors out of the wet, with very little heavy lifting or contact with the soil.

And yet I find myself far more involved with such things than my suburban upbringing and academic profession would have ever predicted.

Kim and I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon out at our friend’s barn, trying to figure out how to build an enclosure for Lauren’s turkeys.  They’ve been happily ensconced in their little stall out there for a couple of months now, but the thing about turkeys is that they grow really big really fast and it is clear that they need some more space. 

This was a couple of weeks ago.  They're bigger now.

Their stall is out by the corner of the barn, and there is a Dutch door right there that leads out to a pasture.  Most of that pasture has been claimed by another person who has chickens out there – it’s going to be a garden – but the wire fence that they put up around their claim leaves us with two nice-sized alleys alongside it, one between the garden and the barn and the other between the garden and the original fence.  The plan is to cap off the end by the barn, put bird netting over the top, and put a swinging pasture gate by the door so we can shoo the turkeys out and let them roam that area.

Kim had to explain to me what a pasture gate was.  There are very few pastures in suburban Philadelphia, where I spent my formative years.

The long-term plan is for the pasture gate to swing and allow the chickens to have the alley between the garden and the original fence while still separating them from the turkeys, which will require further construction.  But the chickens are okay where they are for now.  I put Sully, The World’s Stupidest Life Form back in with his flock (in a wire enclosure of his own) and he was much happier there, except that one of the hens insisted on going after this year’s flock of chickens.  So yesterday Lauren and her friend tricked out the other stall and we moved all of this year’s chickens over to it, which allowed us to let Sully out of the wire enclosure to join his flock for real.  So now we have two stalls worth of happy chickens.

They give us a lot of eggs, those chickens.  We are self-sufficient in eggs now.  Rocky, Venus, and Puff combine to lay 2-3 eggs per day, and we just don’t eat that many eggs no matter how hard we try.  This is a nice problem to have, given the fearsome toll that the avian flu is taking on chickens these days – wholesale egg prices have tripled in the last few months, which is a fact that I never would have expected to know at all, let alone be able to recite off the top of my head – but it is a problem nonetheless.  We’re doing a lot more baking than we used to do.  Also, quiches.

On the way out to the barn we stopped at the Farmer’s Market and bought some pepper plants. 

Last weekend’s project was putting in new raised bed gardens in the back yard, which meant putting together a fair amount of lumber, having a yard of topsoil delivered (it was waiting in a big pile in our driveway when we got home from a day out last Saturday), and ferrying the soil to the raised bed structures one wheelbarrow-load at a time.  Kim has a whole bunch of things to plant there (and in the gardens alongside the house, since a yard of topsoil is a whole lot of dirt and the rest of it had to go somewhere), but hadn’t gotten any peppers.  Last year I didn’t do anything with the peppers so she figured I wouldn’t need any this year, but I’m going to try harder this year.  So now I have jalapenos and an assortment of other random hot peppers, and there will be hot pepper jelly later this summer.

This is all on top of the new rabbit that Lauren and Kim came home with on Saturday.

It’s a Dwarf Hotot, just like Milkshake, except this one is a doe.  Milkshake has aged out of 4H Fair competition now – his black eyeband is beginning to break up, and the dark spot on his ear has intensified to “Disqualification” levels – so in order for Lauren to keep participating we needed a new rabbit.

No, Milo wouldn’t do.  Milo is your basic domestic rabbit, non-pedigreed and mostly there to remind you that you don’t need papers to be adorable.  But adorable doesn’t cut it when it comes to the Fair.  The Fair is a harsh place sometimes.

Kim and Lauren went up to meet the breeder at a truck stop about halfway between our house and theirs, and they came home with Maybelline. 

But of course, you can’t just bring home a rabbit and expect that to be the end of it.  You have to prepare for the rabbit.  This meant dragging out the extra hutch.  It meant putting a sloped roof on it (several 2x4s wired to the top, and a piece of plywood nailed to them - readjusted because the overhang was too large and it interfered with the doors - and then the whole thing covered with a tarp held on by binder clips) to keep out the rain.  It meant moving the rhubarb plant so we could put the new hutch next to the old one – on Milkshake’s side – without drowning the poor plant in rabbit poop.  It meant fitting out the new hutch with water bowls, feeders, and a nice cardboard box to hide in and/or eat.  And finding a way to lock the door to the hutch so there wouldn't be a repeat of the "neighbor kids" fiasco of a couple summers ago.

It meant a lot of animal husbandry, in other words.

The next morning it became apparent that Milkshake was very excited to have a female neighbor.  I suppose “excited” would be a good word for a rabbit that literally overnight chewed a hole through his hutch in order to stand on top of it and gaze longingly at the girl in the next pen.  He was a very excited rabbit, Milkshake.  Yes he was.

This meant a fair amount of wirework to repair the hutch with something less chewable.

So I’m not a real farmer, but relative to my native indoorsy-ness I often feel like one.  It’s not a bad thing, just a curious one.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday: West Philadelphia, 1988

Katie lived in my dorm. 

We weren’t close, but we knew each other to say hello and hang out together now and then down in the lobby, the way that often happens in dorms.  She was someone nice who I would see from time to time, and that was enough.

Katie took a photography class during my senior year.  This was back in the pre-digital era, when photography meant film and darkrooms and smelling like vinegar for two or three days after you printed your own shots.  It was an intensive process.  Part of the class was that she had to put together a photographic essay of some kind.  She remembered the Death robe that I usually wore on Halloween, and asked if I would be willing to be her subject.

Sure, why not?

Between her schedule and mine we didn’t get our act together until well into the spring.  The stage directions were pretty simple – she wanted me to walk down 40th Street, change into my robe, and continue walking down 40th Street until we got to the cemetery, after which more directions would follow.  Those turned out to be pretty straightforward as well, as I recall.

Nobody on the street even looked twice.  It was West Philadelphia in the 80s – I wasn’t the weirdest thing they’d seen on the streets that afternoon, not by a long shot.  It was a lot of fun.

The end result was an 11-part essay entitled “Death Wears Sneakers.”  Each photo had its own caption on the back as well.  I have no idea what she got on the project – I hope it was an A.  After the semester was over Katie gave me the whole set.  Number 4 was my favorite – I hung it on my apartment wall for years after that.

Death Wears Sneakers

I. Anyone can stop a man’s life, but no one his death; a thousand doors open on to it.

II. But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you

III. Sleep after toil, port after stormy seas, ease after war, death after life, doth greatly please.

IV. They were born and then they lived and then they died.

V. It was a dark and stormy night.

VI. A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you’ll lose
Because Wilde is on mine.

VII. Pick out a couple you like
Choose your burial site

VIII. There’s daggers in men’s smiles.

IX. What is this world?  What asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave

X. Death hath no more dominion over him

XI. The rest is silence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

News and Updates

1. The semester has finally wound itself down to a nubbin, and pretty soon I will be able to focus on all of the things I have been putting off while frantically scrambling to get the semester done.  It’s been a long couple of weeks – rewriting the last third of a course on the fly, in two different versions, will do that to you – but it seems to have come in for a soft landing.  Who knows?  Perhaps there will even be more bloggage in the near future!

2. The end of the school year is always somewhat bittersweet, really.  I like my students, even the ones who occasionally make me crazy, and now they are gone to the next phase of their lives.  I enjoy teaching, and I’m pretty good at it.  I like the energy of a college campus.  But I’ll appreciate the sleep, now that it’s over.  Yesterday I closed up my office at Mid-Range Campus and turned in my keys, and now it is time to move on to the next task.  Given the rabid assaults on education from Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) this year, it is an open question whether that next task will be anything like the previous ones.  We’ll see.

3. Grading finals is so much easier than grading midterms, since they don’t get them back and therefore you don’t have to write comments.

4. We have freed the little chickens from their wire enclosure and let them mingle with last year’s chickens.  So far there has been no trouble.  This may be because we moved Sully, The World’s Stupidest Life Form into the stall next door.  He can hear his flock, but he can’t see them or interact with them anymore.  I have to admit he looks rather crestfallen about it – chickens are flock animals, and you have to feel bad for poor Sully, nuisance that he is.  I may put up the wire enclosure again and just stick Sully in it.  That way he can be with his flock and not harm anyone.

5. Today is Lauren’s last track meet.  They have a busy but rather condensed schedule, over at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School.  I made it to one meet last week, where I ended up pressed into service as a timer.  It went well, and we dodged most of the rain.  Lauren did pretty well in her events too.  Today is also a cool, rainy sort of English summer day (what we in Wisconsin call “late March”), so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

6. Did you know that IKEA now sells bulk candy?  And that most of it is safe for people with nut allergies?  This is a dangerous, dangerous discovery, but a fun one.  We were scooping it into bags by the fistful this past weekend when a guy came over to join us – he turned out to be Swedish and we had a long conversation about the merits of salt licorice (Swedes love it, the rest of the world wisely regards it as a form of road construction material) and Finnish licorice (apparently better than Swedish, according to the Swede). 

7. I need a haircut.  I need new glasses.  Next week I may be unrecognizable.  Now would be a good time to learn how to be a spy.

8. Apparently I missed International Horton Day last week, because I was too busy with finals.  I suppose most people did, which is probably because I created this holiday a couple of years ago and it hasn’t caught on yet.  But it should.  Every year should have a day devoted just to the idea of being kind to people.

On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool,
In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,
He was splashing, enjoying the jungle’s great joys,
When Horton the elephant heard a small noise…

9. Never underestimate the power of a group of friends with free time, disposable income, and access to metal chickens.  Knock, knock…

10. We’re already booked pretty solid for the summer.  How did that happen?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

That's Our Story and We're Sticking To It (Now With Video!)

Yesterday was the annual 4H Drama Festival down at Home Campus.

This is our fifth year where our 4H club participated.  The kids get together sometime in January to brainstorm out a play, and a couple of the older ones write it out.  Then they audition for parts, and spend much of the winter and spring rehearsing.  Kim and Jamie serve as the adult directors, but most of it is on the kids.

My role this year was fairly minimal, given that I was at Mid-Range Campus on most rehearsal days and didn’t get back until about halfway through the rehearsals.  Mostly I just went home, but toward the end I started showing up.  My job was to handle the tech end of things, which was also pretty minimal.  Last year’s lighting board operator became this year’s spotlight operator, so I trained her on how to do that – a process that involves about 10 minutes of instruction (“This is how you turn it on, this is how you get the light to change size and shape, this is how you get the colors to change, and that’s how you make the light go away and come back.  Now go practice”) and then I just turned her loose.  Honestly, it’s not that hard and most of it is just practice.  She did a fine job.

Most of the tech was sound, and they did that on their own really.  Tabitha and Aleksia gathered together a pile of objects for sound effects – along with a handful of audio files stored in Kim’s iPhone – and other than asking the theater professor on Home Campus to run a couple of cables to plug them into the sound system I mostly stayed out of it.  Sound is one of those areas of theater that mystify me, and the less I have to do with it the better the show works.

The rehearsal schedule got pretty crowded over the last couple of weeks, as the show slowly came together.  And on Saturday it was showtime!

You should have been there.  Really, you should.

This year’s play was inspired by the old Doctor Seuess book, And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.  It opens with a couple of judges who are fast approaching their cream puff break, cream puffs being something of an ongoing inside joke with our 4H Players.  There have been cream puff jokes in all but the very first production they’ve put on.

Suddenly, in rush four very late 4H kids hoping to have their project judged. But it is too late, and the judges are about to leave when the kids convince one of the judges to hear them out.  They have an exceptionally exceptional excuse, after all.  Perhaps the judge will show them a little leniency.

This is where it gets weird. 

The kids and the judges were all on stage left (the right side of the stage from the audience’s perspective, for those of you not up on your theater jargon).  From this point on the stage gets split into two pieces – three, if you count the Foley table way over on the very edge of stage right, where the sound effects were coming from – as the kids on stage left spin an ever-wilder story about the reasons for them being late and as that story gets acted out over on stage right.

Because they had a good reason to be late.  You see, there was a guy in the poultry barn who sneezed.  Not a small sneeze.  A monstrous sneeze.

Except it wasn’t a guy.  It was a juggler!  Yeah, a juggler!

And it wasn’t just a regular juggler!  She was juggling chickens!  And she was also allergic to chickens!  Another monstrous sneeze!  Feathers everywhere!

This is when the kid ran by with five balloons, except it wasn’t one kid with five balloons – it was five kids each with one balloon!

And then they all popped.

That was actually my favorite exchange in the play.  “And then they all popped.”  “The CHICKENS?”  “No, the balloons!”

That was when the cow got loose and ran around.  No!  A whole herd of cows!  The cows of course upset the goats, so much that the goats started screaming and fainting!

In the chaos someone ran into the cart with all the apples and the Super Sticky Caramel, causing both apples and caramel to spill, which, of course, trapped the 4H Royal Court.  “We’re royally stuck!” they cried.

And while the Court – and everyone who was helping them – was trying to get free, all that sticky caramel attracted first bees and then, because hey, why not?, a dragon.  Fortunately, a knight in shining armor arrived to free everyone from the caramel and head off in pursuit of the dragon, which had by then headed off toward the cream puff stand and was at that very moment roasting all of the cream puffs!

Quelle fromage!

It was the best excuse that the judge had ever heard, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make her stay around to judge their project.  You see, she’d left her dragon in the car and apparently it had now escaped and was eating all the cream puffs and the last thing you want to deal with was a sugared-up dragon, so she needed to go.

Our four late kids were left standing around, holding their pink “thanks for trying” ribbons.  “If she didn’t believe us,” Lauren’s character says, “she could have just told us!"

Except that then the other judge comes back looking for the one who just left, because the dragon really is roasting all the cream puffs and that judge needs to do something about this.

Then the juggler runs by, still juggling chickens.  And the balloon kids – now with new, unpopped ballons.  And the kids looking for their herd of cows.  And the one looking for her goats.  Then of course the Royal Court parades by, looking for someone who can get caramel out of a sash.  And finally the knight arrives, seeking directions to the dragon.

So they go off to join them, since roasted cream puffs sound like a pretty good deal.

There’s a moment of silence and then the judges come back, somewhat worse for the wear having now captured the wayward dragon.  Did you know dragons have feathers?  Well, they do.

All seems well, until another kid comes running up, apologizing for being late and claiming to have the most exceptionally exceptional excuse ever.

Let’s hear it, they say.

The play went over well.  The audience laughed in all the right places, and all of the various sound and lighting cues happened where they were supposed to happen.  The actors peaked at just the right time – it was easily the best run-through of the show they’ve ever done.  They got all their lines and looked both enthusiastic and happy about them.  Well done, troupers!

The judges agreed.

In the feedback session that follows each performance during the Drama Festival they spent most of their time talking about how good a job the kids had done and being impressed by the fact that the play was theirs and not foisted off on them by the adults.  They did have a few constructive points to make, of course – that’s their job as judges, to point out things that could have been done better. 

Speaking as someone who has spent more than three decades in theater and almost that long as a teacher, however, what I noticed was that those constructive points were what I call “sophisticated mistakes” – mistakes that you wouldn’t expect people at this level to make because of all the things you have to get right even to get to the level where those mistakes are an option.  People often fail to realize that progress isn’t about going from error to perfection.  It’s about going from basic errors to subtle and sophisticated errors.  Sometimes my survey-level students turn in work that has graduate-level mistakes, and let me tell you that is an impressive thing.  So three cheers to our 4H Players for operating on that level, I say.

They were awarded blue ribbons, and at the award ceremony later that afternoon they took Top Drama for the third straight year and were invited to perform at the Wisconsin State Fair in August.

Congratulations, actors and technicians!


Update - May 11, 2015

Our friend John recorded the performance, and here it is!  Thanks, John!

Monday, May 4, 2015

News and Updates

1. Once again it’s the time of the semester where everything caves in at once.  It’s a time of sleepless nights, long days, and far too many decisions made based on available resources rather than what actually might be the best course of action.  I wish I were one of those lazy professors I keep hearing the Teabaggers yell and scream about these days, as I’d have more free time and probably fewer health issues.  I don't actually know any of those professors - all of the ones I know are as worn to a nub as I am, if not more so - which inclines me to think that they are just as fictional as the rest of the Teabagger moral universe.

2. This Sunday was Lauren’s piano recital.  Every year her teacher gathers up all of her students (and recently the students of another teacher who is a friend of hers) and plops them all down in a nice space here in Our Little Town for a concert.  It’s an appreciative audience and there is food after, so three cheers all around, I say.  This is Lauren’s sixth year in piano and she is reaching the point in her life where other interests are starting to press in, so it may end up being her last.  We’re going to let that decision slide until the fall, though she’s earned the right to make her own decision when the time comes.  She had a solo piece for this recital, which she did very well, and then I joined her up on stage for a duet.  If this actually was her last recital, I’m that much more glad I got to be part of it.

3. Tabitha had a piece of artwork up in the local mall a couple of weeks ago as part of the school district’s show there.  We somehow managed not to find out about this show until nearly a week after it was over, which is symptomatic of larger distractions I suppose.  But it was a lovely watercolor and she worked very hard on it.

4. All of the chickens are now out at the barn and our living room no longer smells of poultry.  The three surviving turkeys seem to be thriving in their sweetly goofy sort of way, and this year’s flock of chicks is penned up behind a wire fence in the same large stall as last year’s chickens so they can get used to each other.  Eventually we'll let them mingle freely.  We’re not really sure what is going to happen with the flocks this year, as the avian flu that is slicing and dicing its way through the midwest has come awfully close and the odds of us having any poultry show at this summer’s 4H County Fair are dimming by the day.  We remain optimistic, however.

5. If nothing else we have our own supply of eggs, which may well be a rare and precious thing over the next few months.

6. We went up to our friends Heidi and Travis’ house this weekend for a Kentucky Derby party, where I had my very first actual mint julep prepared by an actual Louisville KY native.  It was quite tasty.  And the horse I randomly picked because I liked the name actually came in fourth, missing out on the money by less than half a length.  And if that ain’t the story of my world sometimes, I don’t know what is.  I've never understood the whole thing about horse racing - it seems like an awful lot of buildup and then BAM! it's over before you even know what happened, which is just far too much like the set-up to a vaguely off-color joke, really.  But a good time was had by all.

7. Somewhere the NHL playoffs are going on, and I have not had time to watch.  This is a travesty.  Of course at this point I have only one team left that I have any kind of interest in seeing win (the Minnesota Wild), since my two top teams were eliminated either in the first round or sometime back in February.  Mostly I’m left with teams I don’t care about either way (Tampa Bay, Washington, Calgary, Anaheim, Montreal) or teams I actively dislike (New York, Chicago).  So missing the playoffs hasn't been all that traumatic, now that I think about it.

8. I’m not watching much soccer either, and I've got an entire season of Broadchurch to binge-watch next week after my last class.  My to-read pile has not changed appreciably in about a month.  There are simple projects that even I could do around the house that remain undone despite my honest intentions otherwise (as opposed to more complicated projects that I generally hope will just go away on their own).  My office is a nightmare of paper.  There are just so many things to do that I may just throw up my hands and start over from scratch.

9. Local Businessman High had its annual academic achievement evening a Monday or two ago, and Tabitha got a very nice certificate for her work in her first year there, so far.  It was a well-run ceremony – short, but still managing to call all the names – and there were many proud parents there.  Ourselves very much included.

10. Is it just me or has the batshit insanity of the modern American right wing been amped up a few notches this spring?  I’ve been trying not to pay attention to it as much as possible, on the theory that I don’t even have time for people I like and respect these days and therefore devoting time to people who qualify on neither count would be wasteful, but sweet dancing monkeys on a stick do they make it hard for the rest of us to live normal lives.  It is my humble suggestion that Texas be sold back to Mexico in exchange for a burrito and a large soft drink, if they’ll even pay that much for it, so that the rest of us can go back to civilized life.

11. Once again I found myself working the food booth at the 4H Cat Show despite the fact that neither of my children were actually showing a cat.  Strange things mystifying. 

12. We covered the Nazis in Western Civ last week.  Nobody was stupid enough to suggest that they were Socialists - a statistical certainty in any online situation where the general public is allowed to comment, sadly - and I took that as a good sign of the intellectual health and future prospects of my students.