Update and a Quiz

1/26/2008 6:23 AM (sorry, this is a long one)


Yesterday, Friday the 25th of January, 2008, Lennox came home with a flier about the upcoming 100th day of school (2/7/8). She is encouraged to bring 100 objects: “Please help your child to choose 1 item and count 100 pieces of that item.” So last night Lennox was counting out 100 pennies from the penny jar and insisting on a “bigger, the biggest ziplock bag, because there are 100 I need to fit in here,” with characteristic eye-rolling, intensity and sarcasm. (The bag she wanted and got is big enough to fit her head in and use as a space helmet.)

I wish that 100 pennies still meant as much to me as they do to Lennox. I fear that Even Mason and Chandler have relegated the copper penny to the economic trash-heap, not worth bending over for unless they are heads’ up. Sigh, I remember when you could get three peach pits for a penny from the (unsanitary) jar on the counter of the corner store kitty corner from the Rice school on Appleton and Dartmouth Streets. A nickel would sugar up all of your friends for a game of baseball or ring-alevio (all-ee-all-ee-in-come-free). They have new and wondrous things in their childhoods, but my kids, trapped in this new city and new apartment, who haven’t discovered their peers and places, lack the independence that we had in 19-and-sixtey-nine. (God, I sound like Abraham Simpson!)

(MMMM-excellent coffee this morning)

Chandler is just loving her school. Everyday she comes home with another anecdote –that can’t wait- about the antic in her classroom. I wish that I had paid closer attention so that I could tell you of the antics of Abla, Chewmaka, Andrew, and Aniqa (accuracy). Mr. Binyaris had them write a poem in Math Class (so the “no-child” tests must be safely in the rear-view and they must be back to their usual talented and gifted antics). Rarely does Chandler come home when she is not excited about the day’s goings-ons, whether it is her latest 90-something exam, some difficult (and interesting) word problem, or some logical ditty that a teacher tossed to the class at the end of the day to keep them busy. So when I meet her, with her 30 pound back-pack (and I don’t think I am exadurating) I take the bag from her shoulders and the stories from her day and walk home in paternal bliss.

Mason is, I think, bored to tears by PS150. He listens to Chandler’s after-school update with seeming blasé-ness, but can always recount the characteristics of the players in her stories if asked. He can often answer the brain teasers that Cha-Cha has brought home, and he usually responds with stories of the incompetence and knuckle-headed-ness of his classmates. He is so ready for a school that challenges him that I can see it like an aura (or the curly half-fro he declines to cut that shoots tendrils towards heaven like a vine thirsting for knowledge).  He’s been home, sick with a fever, for the last two days and we’ve been keeping him from watching the Disney Channel the whole time.  I caught him reading The Outsiders in front of a tivo’d repeat of Zack and Cody (the one where they cut school and end up in a rock video).  When I came in the room he hid the book and pretended to be paying attention to the TV.  I need to remember this when I rag on them about watching too much Cathode Ray.

I’ve been teaching an API (ACT Prep Intensive) for seven days now.  It runs (or crawls) from 9:15 to 12:45 everyday.  I have given an ACT practice exam each day, and we are all really tired.  INTENSive is the right word.  They are so sick of writing body paragraphs, introductions, elaborations, re-writing criterions and examples that I hope none of them has access to guns.  And the worst part is that every time I give them a practice ACT Exam, which gives me an hour that I don’t have to drill, cajole, entertain or teach them, I have to grade it.  It is like a western, where the good-guy is forced to dig his own grave.  Practice exams are good, they teach them how to write a passing essay (or that they are not yet writing at a passing level), and they show the student what is missing from their essays.  But they all need to be graded.  I need to grade them.  I am paid to grade them.  Everyday I go home with 19 ACT Exams to grade.  Now I know the shortcomings of each of the writers six exams in, but I still have to read and mark all of these problems in the hope that they will start to stop making those mistakes.  I like to think of it as erosion, or the _____ (insert non-white-ethnicity here) water torture, but I’m not sure whether it is their compositional defects that are being eroded, or my sanity: drip-drip-drip.

 I spend so much time with them that I feel like we are all victims of the Stockholm Syndrome. I think we all have an unhealthy identification with each other over the stress of this exam and the 4 hours a day we spend together. I am even rooting for the students who don’t “play nice” (do as I say) to pass this exam. The plus side is that we are functioning like a cult; we are the fraternity of true ACT-Test-Takers (Western Queens Council). On Wednesday they will take the test and we will all miss our bank-vault-prison and the captors that put us there.

Today I was working on the Black Literature Series Committee’s Scavenger Hunt: Here is one of the questions I’ve composed:


Frederick Douglass wrote in his 1845 Narrative

Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the

(Choose one to complete the passage)

a. most hypocritical and avaricious, in the south.

b. meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.

c. greediest and neediest of all Americans.

d. generally most Christian and charitable in all of this, God’s land.


I think I’ll try and exercise a bit before the kids and Linda wake-up, thanks for reading (and drop me a comment).


7 responses to “Update and a Quiz

  1. Stafford,

    How great your children are being challenged to use their intellectual and creative capacities – as you do for your students. What a loss for everyone the far too many children who are not…

    I choose the first response.


  2. Thanks for the compliment and they are great, though often vexing. We were just, this minute, talking about trying to get enough of the anorexic greenbacks together to come visit you in OZ.

    You’ll have to guess again, J.

    Love to J. and Ll.

  3. Not D, so there are only two choices left, anyone wanna take a 50-50 guess at it?

  4. Nope. I cheated and looked up the answer. Thanks for the reference though.

  5. Funny Thing FJM, I expected everyone to do that, but I wrote the question anyway, trying to match Douglass’s belletristic victorian style. It was hard, and I learned that even overwritten things are hard to write. I saw a conductor on the F train today who had a long beard and he reminded me of Frederick Douglass, or a Black Walt Whitman. If I had time I’d photoshop a version of that, with Douglass handing out of the F train.

  6. How about C?

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