The Benefits of Banning Books

10/03/2012
...Sad Bear...

…Sad Bear… (Photo credit: ĐāżŦ {mostly absent})

Most librarians make a big deal out of Banned Books Week. They’re against banning books. They call it censorship.

I’m in favor of banning books. I call it marketing.

You’d be surprised at some of the books that get banned in some school districts, though perhaps not by the Texas State Board of Education banning Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See because they confused that book’s author, Bill Martin, Jr. with the author Bill Martin who wrote a book promoting ethical Marxism. I’m not for or against ethical Marxism, more than partially because I have no idea what it is, but I’m highly impressed by the educational leadership in Texas.

The Christian Science Monitor put together a nice list of 20 banned books that might surprise you.

I am in favor of banning books because a book being banned is just the thing to get a kid to read it. Okay, maybe not the dictionary. Not much of a story there (yes, some districts in California banned the Merriam-Webster Dictionary because it includes definitions of some sexual terms).

All a student needs to hear is that some parent or other authority somewhere doesn’t want them to read something because it might harm them in some way and there’s a rush to check it out of the library.

So thank you school boards, state departments of education, and other authorities that take the time and effort to promote literature in this highly creative way. You’ve done a great job!

Can I suggest some other titles you might want to take a look at?

Oh, you don’t have to read the books, just scan for the naughty bits and do your thing.

My circulation numbers need a boost.


Dirty books!

05/14/2011
Books

I’ve been going through all the books in my school’s library and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.

Our school opened in 1956 and I’ve found books that were there when the first students arrived. I’m not talking about ageless fiction; I’m talking about books on fast-changing technical topics like cameras, automobiles, telecommunications and undersea exploration.

Computers were not such a big deal in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, so I’m not really surprised that prior to this year our collection seems to have only three books on computers, all of them featuring pictures of giant room-sized mainframes and massive desktop units.

Our one book about the latest developments in medicine was published in 1975. I guess research has stood still since then.

But my most startling discovery has been the dirty books. I’m don’t mean a little risqué, I’m talking about true filth. In a middle school library!

The woman I’m replacing, our librarian since 1956, told stories about her strict parochial school education and was happy to display her precise parochial school handwriting. I’m stunned that she’d allow dirty books in the library.

I’m not talking about a volume here and there, I’ve discovered boxes of dirty books, shelves of them, some wordy and some filled with pictures. It’s a disgrace.

After all, we all know what dirty books lead to… dirty thoughts.

Also dirty hands, dirty clothes and dirty faces.

Who knew a library was such a hazard?

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Oops, there I go again…

08/25/2010
White Tiger Mouth wide open!
Image by kabils via Flickr

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut more often.

This is doubly so when my ‘mouth’ is my fingers typing here, on Facebook or, most important, on Twitter where  I am known as Spedteacher.

Here’s what happens when I don’t.

I hate when that happens. But it is completely my fault when it does.

So now I’ll be easy to find on most Tuesday evenings starting at 8:30PM NYC time.

#spedchat is for teachers (and not just special ed teachers, either), parents, administrators, students and everyone else with any connection or interest in special education issues.

Topics proposed for the first chat on August 31st are:

  • How can parent-teacher relations be improved?
  • What do grades mean in special education?
  • Is inclusion working for general and special education students?
  • How do we get general education teachers to understand? (the current leader in the voting)
  • How have school budget cuts affected special education?

You can participate in the decision about what the topic will be by voting here.

To participate in the chat just log onto Twitter ( if you don’t have an account you can get one free, here ), then search for the hashtag #spedchat.

For a better explanation of all of this please visit my co-conspirator and #spedchat moderator Damian Bariexca’s excellent blog.

I hope to see you Tuesday.

I’ll probably get myself into even more trouble.

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10 + 1 Not To Miss

05/16/2010

I recently got tagged in a blog post by Shelly Terrell (@shellterrell) one of the many people I rely on for my continuing teacher education.

Tagging sometimes seems like the blog equivalent of literary logrolling in which authors conspire to praise each other’s books, but I really do read and recommend the blogs I am about to tag.

If you are tagged, follow these rules:

1) Insert the picture above into your blog with a link back to the blog that nominated you
2) List 10 blogs you feel others should read
3) Tell the bloggers you have nominated that you have tagged them.

Here, in no particular order, are the ten blogs that have made a difference in my teaching and/or my thinking.

SpeEdChange by Ira Socol (@irasocol) Ira is the single most interesting person I have met on Twitter. He’s a dyslexic former NYC police officer, author, and now doctoral candidate in Special Education and Educational Technology at Michigan State University. He is a passionate advocate for Universal Design in Education.

Philly Teacher by Mary Beth Hertz  (@mbteach) An inner-city technology teacher reflecting on teaching, learning, leadership and life with intelligence and spirit.

For the Love of Learning by Joe Bower (@joebower) challenges the “deeply rotted myths” that modern teaching and schools live by and explores more progressive forms of education. Always interesting, stimulating, incisive and quite often fun.

Keeping Kids First by Kelly Hines (@kellyhines) The title says it all. This blog is focused on teaching and learning, but takes a broad view of those topics. Don’t let Kelly’s easy-going North Carolina charm distract you from the deep thinking going on in these posts.

Learning is Messy by Brian Crosby (@bcrosby) His students are 4th graders, mostly second-language learners, many of them in special education. Brian focuses on how policies, processes and politics affects his teaching and students.

Upside Down Education by Amanda Dyles (@amandacdykes) She’s passionate about “using technology to ignite learning” and the subjects she teaches her 6th graders: science and social studies. And, despite living in Alabama, she’s a passionate Red Sox fan.

Human by Tomas Lasic (@lasic) A tinkerer who likes to ask ‘what if…’, Tomaz says “Rather than teaching people, I prefer to make them think and learn together.” And he plays water polo.

A Geeky Momma’s Blog by Lee Kolbert (@TeachaKidd) Asks questions. Asks lots of questions. Really good questions. Sometimes she finds answers.

ClassRoots.org by Chad Sansing (@classroots) One of the people with whom I often disagree. Here’s where we meet: Classroots.org presents failure and learning from it as equal partners with success in innovative teaching.

Reflections of a Science Teacher by Sandra McCarron (@sanmccarron), who describes herself as scientist educator and life-long learner. She likes to blow things up; all in the name of science, of course.

And one more…

Living the Dream by Diana Laufenberg (@dlaufenberg). Diana teaches social studies with passion and it comes through in every single post of this blog I recently started following. Diana discusses her teaching at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy and explores larger themes of teaching and learning.

Challenge:

Take time the rest of the week to read these blogs and see which ones to add to your daily read! If you’re tagged in this post, please spread the love.

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Another Argument Supporting Public Education!

03/14/2010

There has been a lot of talk lately about the privatization of education.

This issue has come up before. This Mick Stevens cartoon appeared in New Yorker magazine in 1992.

Need I say more?

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Data! Get Your Red Hot Data!

01/05/2010
calc screencap , this is a spreadsheet screenc...
Image via Wikipedia

Data is the new snake oil.

Look this over carefully folks. Come up close so you can see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, every sight, every sound, of this demonstration.

This is the answer to all your problems.

This is the the way to answer your critics and change them into your champions,

to garner headlines and Major, I say MAJOR Race for the Top federal funding.

This is the stuff you need.

This.

Is.

2006OCT241505

Image by bootload via Flickr

DATA.

Yesiree! This Gen-U-WINE date can cure all your teaching ills.

Every single one. All of them.

What?

You say your students are falling behind others?

Have you tried data? No? Well lookee here…

This data doesn’t just give you test scores, it doesn’t only give you short-term score trends, this data gives you…

Wait for it folks….

Data Model Template - Excel spreadsheet
Image by Ivan Walsh via Flickr

RESPONSE ANALYSIS!!!

That’s right! Intimate details about every question asked, every answer given, laid out to two-decimal-place precision.

I know.

But wait, there’s more!

This data come as raw numbers, it comes in scatter plots, it comes as histograms, and, hold your breath, be still my beating heart….

It comes as bar graphs and pie charts in

Not one…

Not two…

Three sets of data plotted using pie charts an...
Image via Wikipedia

Not three or four… 

This data comes in five; count them five colors on every bar graph and pie chart.

No extra charge

Yes, you heard it right, all this…

The numbers, the histograms, the scatter charts, the pie charts,

Did I forget to mention the stem & leaf arrays? Yes I did,

So, you get the numbers, the scatter charts, the histograms, the pie charts, the bar graphs, AND the stem & leaf arrays for one low price.

Look at it. Look at it carefully. This data is the answer to all your Ed-you-KAAAAY-shun issues.

Students not doing well? Teachers not teaching well? Or was the test just too darn hard?

Don’t know? LOOK AT THE DATA! Its all there, all laid out for you in five eye-catching colors!

But wait, there’s still more!

Along with every set of full-color data displayed six, count them, 1,2,3,4,5,6, SIX ways we’ll include this handy chart that teaches you and your teachers how to manipulate the data to show whatever you want it to!

You can show gains, you can show big gains, or anything you want just by using this handy, chart.

So let me give lay out the whole package for you ladies and gentlemen. Let me tell you all you get at one time in one package:

you get the numbers,

scatter charts,

histograms,

A plot showing a regular and a cumulative hist...
Image via Wikipedia

bar graphs

pie charts

AND leaf & stem arrays –

all of it for every student, class, teacher and sub-group –

PLUS the handy chart that tells you how to make it show anything you need it to….

All for one easy to swallow price.

Now, you look at all this and I bet you’re telling yourself, ‘this all looks and sounds great, but where am I going to put all this data?’

You look at this and think it must come in a bunch of boxes, enough to fill a storeroom, maybe enough to fill a warehouse.

Ladies and gentlemen, what will you say when I tell you that everything I’ve mentioned,

every number,

every chart,

every graph,

all of it in five colors, broken-out and aggregated any way you want it;

all that, PLUS the nifty chart showing you how to massage the numbers…fits on this one, little, flat DVD.

The image shows a comparison in size of a Dixo...

Image via Wikipedia

Yes, folks, its all on here.

And even with all that stuff squeezed onto this DVD, even as FAT with information is it, its still sharp enough to slice this tomato, to scale this fish, and you never have to sharpen it or worry about it losing one byte of information.

Ginsu!

Image by Mat Honan via Flickr

I know. It sounds too good to be true. That you must be dreaming…

Don’t hesitate!

Don’t be left out!

Bannack Days 2008-snake oil
Image by virtualreality via Flickr

Don’t be the last one on the bus!

Call right now!

Here’s how to order….

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Lessons Learned from Great Educators: Education On the Plate Edition

12/15/2009

One of the nicest things about blogging is the cross pollination that occurs when other bloggers challenge me to think and write about something I had not planned to consider.

This is the case now. My friend Mary Beth Hertz, an inspired teacher in Philadelphia and an occasional commenter here, responded to a challenge from our mutual friend, Shelly Terrell to reflect on the people from whom she has learned.

Mary Beth has now passed the challenge along to me.

I am naming this post Lessons Learned from Great Educators: Education On the Plate Edition as an echo of their titles, and I highly recommend you read the original and the Philly Teacher versions.

This could be a very long essay. I have lived a half-century and more, done a lot of things and learned so much from so many people, most of whom had no idea they were teaching me and others who thought they were teaching me one thing while I was busy learning something entirely different from them.

In the interest of completing this in a timely manner I will limit this to mentioning the people who were paid to teach me. Perhaps I will honor those other people at other times.

Pearl Lorenz

Pearl Lorenz taught me how to stand up for myself.

It was 1963, I was in fifth grade. I had long hair.

The Beatles had not yet made an impression on America; my mother just thought my then very wavy hair looked best falling over my eyes and flowing over my shirt collar. That all the other boys in the class had crew cuts made my hair look that much longer.

My teacher, Mrs. Lorenz, made it very clear that she did not like my long hair; that if I came to school on Monday with my hair uncut she would put a pink ribbon in it.

I did, so she did.

I think it was supposed to embarrass me into getting a hair cut.

It didn’t work.

The first day the other kids laughed. They laughed the second day, too.

When I came to school the third day with the ribbon back in my hair, no one laughed.

On the fourth day Mrs. Lorenz was angry that I was still wearing the ribbon. Perhaps she thought I was mocking her.

She told me to take the ribbon off. I refused.

I continued to refuse the following week, too.

When I came in the third Monday with the ribbon in my hair, Mrs. Lorenz sighed heavily and conceded defeat. I could wear my hair anyway I wanted, with or without the ribbon.

Then she told me that she hoped I would always have the courage and strength to stand up for my beliefs.

And I realized that that is what I had done.

I also stopped wearing the ribbon.

And I learned a lesson about tolerance: its very different from acceptance.

Miriam Tatzel

Shortly before I turned 40 I decided to give college another try.

Almost 25 years earlier I had dropped out for a variety of reasons including a major dose of lack of direction.

This time I enrolled in Empire State College, a part of the SUNY system. It was then – and to some small degree still is – a non-traditional school at which each student has a mentor and the course of study is a series of learning contracts for individual or small group studies designed by the two working in concert.

Each eight-week contract is negotiated to specify the subject matter, the curriculum and the forms of assessment. Everything tied into a neat package from the start.

That’s not how my mentor Miriam and I worked.

We would start each study with a question, an idea or a supposition. Then Miriam adapted the process of how studies were constructed to suit my inquisitive mind, my penchant for following tangents, and my fear of being hemmed in.

Miriam would introduce me to a book. I’d read the book and write a paper. We’d talk about it, then Miriam would suggest another book or author. I’d read it and write another paper. In a typical eight-week study I would read as many as six books and write three or four papers.

Only then, when the work was completed, did we write the contract so that it encompassed what I had just studied and written about.

There were no textbooks for most of what we did. Instead, Miriam had me read John Locke, Gregory Bateson, Douglas Hofstadter, Alfred North Whitehead, R. D. Laing, and Ted Sizer. Also John Goodlad, Adler – both Mortimer and Alfred, Freire, Erik Erickson, Jerome Bruner, Castaneda, Gardner, Jung, Grant Wiggins, Lev Vygotsky, Alexander Luria, and much, much more.

I read John Dewey from beginning to end. Twice.

I loved having the freedom to delve into what excited me, to veer off into what seemed like barely related tangents only to discover unforeseen connections.

Learning this way matched my holistic view of things, and I loved the intellectual rigor of the work.

Part of Miriam’s job was to steer my efforts in the direction of my degree’s requirements and she did so with a very broad outlook on what a degree could encompass. I ended up with a BS in Education Studies with a large minor in psychology.

What I did not realize until I started writing this evening is that Miriam was ahead of her time in education methodology. Twenty years ago Miriam put the abilities and needs of her student first, then bent the system to them.

It was differentiation writ large and an excellent model for any teacher.

Passing the torch…

I could go on, but I’ll give someone else a chance. In fact, I’m tagging Paul Bogush, Crista Anderson, Sandra McCarron, Andrew B Watt, and Will Deyamport to take up the mantle and reflect on who they learned from, and how, in their path toward teaching.


Disabled? Who? Me?

07/26/2009
450 mm by 450 mm (18 in by 18 in) Handicapped ...
Image via Wikipedia

People are always asking me silly questions. Well, they’re silly to me and I doubt the questions, or any answers I might give, have any real import to the inquisitor. Perhaps they are just trying to make idle conversation. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.

I’m talking about questions like,

“What is your favorite song?”

“What’s your favorite fruit?”

“What single malt whisky do you like best.”

I answer questions like that by saying it is a matter of context. When selecting a whisky to sip during an evening of conversation with friends (defined as people who have never asked me anything like one of the questions above) I sometimes enjoy the peppery flavor of Talisker, but on a damp foggy night in late autumn when I am sitting in my chair reading and listening to the muffled sounds outside, the iodine-laced Laphroaig appeals to me. Or when looking for a light refreshment….

By this time I’m looking at a slack-jawed head nodding slowly up and down with “uh huh” emanating from it. You’d think that would slow me down, but I’m just getting going.

At some point I’ll really hit my stride and say something like, “you see, context determines everything, even what we call disabilities.”

A long time ago I was involved in the disability rights movement on Cape Cod. This was long before the American with Disabilities Act. I belonged to an organization whose main activities involved teaching what I then considered to be “normal” people (I know, but I was young and foolish and this story is about how I learned better) about disabilities. We’d set up obstacle courses at malls with steps, doors too narrow, with handles too high or opening the wrong way), and other situations people see every day. We would give people the chance to maneuver through these obstacles in a wheelchair, using crutches, or wearing a blindfold and using a cane. Then we’d give them our spiel about architectural barriers.

One evening following one of our mall appearances all of us went out for drinks. The group included a married couple who both used wheelchairs because of polio, a woman with muscular dystrophy who would go on to be named Miss Disabled America, and a young woman, named Brenda, who had a spastic form of cerebral palsy and who may be the funniest person I’ve known other than my wife.

It was summer and we were on a deck over Hyannis Harbor chatting about how people react to people who have visible disabilities. One person said that people would speak very loudly to him.

“I tell them my legs don’t work but my ears do.”

Then Brenda spoke.

“You know what I hate. I hate those well-meaning people who look at me and ask what happened to make me the way I am, like there’s something wrong with me.

“Well, I fixed a couple of them the other day. I was standing by myself in the mall waiting for my ride to the eye doctor. These two little blue-haired old biddies kept eying me. Finally they came up to me and said, ‘Oh, you poor dear. Are you all right? What happened to you?’

“I got really pissed off. I looked them in the eye (at this point we all start laughing because Brenda cannot hold her head still at all). Well, I looked them in the eye as best as I could, smiled sweetly and said,

‘Ladies, what you see here is the result of ten years of hard sex!’

“I thought they were going to faint.”

Later on that evening I asked Brenda what she meant when she said, “…like there’s something wrong with me.” The answer I got was one of those simple statements that change your life.

“What I am, HOW I am, is normal. It is normal to me. It’s the only frame of reference I have. I’m normal to me, it’s the world that’s different.”

‘Tis.


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