5.2.20

Video: What You Ought To Think When You See a Person Wearing a Surgical Mask

In this post, I share a video I made about putting a stop to micro-aggressions against people - especially Asians - who wear surgical masks in public.

The Recent Human Coronavirus Outbreak

I teach Mandarin-speaking high school students. Conversation about the recent spread of the human coronavirus has sparked meaningful conversation in class. One question that keeps popping up is “Why are folks hating on Asians”? While understanding that any virus’s outbreak is a source of concern, we ought to learn from history that fear of illness is often used to cover up deep-seated xenophobia and fear of others (especially when the “other” does not think, talk, look, or act like “me”.

Latitude for Micro-Aggression? Maybe. And in many cases. Yes.
My friends, one co-worker, and an acquaintance have reported to me micro-aggressions levied against them for wearing a face mask in public. Some people might see a mask and think fear. Wanna know what I think? I made the following video as my answer.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
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2.2.20

On What College-Bound Kids Should Do In High School

After a student asked me one day what he should be doing to "get into a good college" I gave him a few of my suggestions.

Getting Into a Good College  My Students Are Worried
     Let’s first say that getting into a good college, paying for it, and ending up as a successful individual is equal parts chance, and equal parts merit, with a dash of injustice and absurdity to throw the entire process off-kilter. I use the word "injustice" on purpose. Not everyone who gets into a good school deserves it  a few high-powered celebrities have tried to secure a spot for their children by paying third parties to do the work for them. And I use the word absurdity on purpose as well. It's absurd to think one's future can be set by a standardized test score or to become frazzled by one's prospect to get into school based on the fact that you made a B+ in AP Calculus.
French Class in High School
I took this photograph on the last day of high school in Madame Dietrich’s French class.
     But let’s say for the sake of argument you’re a kid in a high school in the United States and you want to get into a good school. Let’s say for the sake of argument you’re in a relatively good school  namely, you’re learning something and your parents and teachers are more or less good role models. You were read to as a child and you’ve frequented a library, a museum, an after school program or something of that kind. You’re already two or more steps in the door. Parents who introduce their children to reading at an early age typically have kids who are more likely to do well in school. 

How Much Does Environment Play Into Future Success
     Environment plays a defining role in determining your chances of becoming a successful, let’s say happy, adult. Sans being an athlete - that’s one way into college - or acquiring some kind of skill as leverage - getting into the school of your choice is a crapshoot. Just the other day (I’m a high school English teacher) one of my students asked me if he took an online course on Coursera or Edx - would that improve his chances of getting into a good school. I said, “yes, of course.” But then I thought about it. Yes  taking a course on computer programming from Harvard is not a bad idea - but you must be a person who is committed to learning programming. Adding extras solely for the sake of extras can have the opposite effect. Schools want candidates who are excited about learning and have shown proof that they have put themselves out there and taken on challenges. Make your passions come through in your college application and any thing you do outside of school can complement the person you are (and the person you want to be).

Has Applying to College Changed A lot Since the 1990s?
     A lot has changed since I applied to college. I went to a public high school in South Louisiana where most of my classmates graduated and went to the State University - or the military - or they stayed in my hometown. I applied to two schools - Saint Joseph Seminary College and Centenary College - both small schools in Louisiana - one Methodist and the other a Catholic seminary. My mother wanted me to go to the Methodist school 
 and we drove up there to speak to the head of the philosophy department. That's what I wanted to study. I ended up going to the seminary college.
     I took the ACT (and I made a mediocre score). I also took the ASVAB. It’s the military job placement exam. Both my brothers joined the army after high school (I’m the only one who didn’t). Taking the ASVAB is how I learned the difference between a Phillips and a normal screwdriver. Our high school had college counselors - but no one ever visited their office  it was on the edge of campus next to the shop building. I think their main job was to organize random statewide testing which was administered during the year. In Louisiana, to graduate from high school one had to pass the LEAP test. Rumors spread about the few who didn't pass and had to repeat twelfth grade. 
     There was something alien to me about taking a  standardized test  as if my answers were being sent into a ceaseless void every time I bubbled in an answer. Even today  more than twenty years after graduating from high school I still don't trust tests. I like tests as a procedure  an activity for the general assessment but not for understanding a kid through and through.

Shifting Focus From Where I Want to Go to What Skills I Want to Master
     Most high school students don’t really know what they want to do anyway. At least it’s not quite solidified yet. I think the most effective task any high school student should accomplish is to progressively improve their ability to get things done. Show up to class. Learn new skills. Perhaps you’ll never use the quadratic equation ever again in your life. But if you shrug it off as unimportant you’re missing out on a skill - how to solve a problem given limited information. I was a humanities geek in school (and truth be told I took very few hard science and math classes in college) but I learned how to follow through on a problem. Solving a quadratic equation requires following directions, staying on task and not making tiny mistakes  and you can use it to chart the trajectory of a moving object (and check out how a mathematician rediscovered an ancient Babylonian method used for solving quadratics).
     I still have a papier-mâché vase I made in art class. I’ve never made a vase like that since  but my mom has the vase in her living room. Did making this vase help me get into college? No. But it was something I did that pulled me out from what I was used to. We don’t know what skills we’ll need to know in the future. Technology is rapidly changing - but we do need people who can adapt and apply themselves in novel ways.

One More Question:
     What are some things high school students can do to improve their chances of getting into a good college? Let us know in the comments (see below this post).

28.1.20

Video Lesson #1: How to Gain Fluency in a Language

In this video post, Greig Roselli writes about language fluency and some simple steps you can do to improve language skills.
Fluency Occurs Across a Lifetime
Language learning is a long journey to fluency. In fact, there is no absolute fluency in language learning. Learning is on a continuum. What this means is that we learn at different levels and in different contexts across different aspects of our daily lives. Language is forever warping, shedding, building muscle  expanding and contracting. 


Things You Can Do Today to Improve Fluency
Experts say one has to encounter a word ten times in ten different ways to know it. The best way to improve one's fluency is to encounter the language you want to learn in different modes every day. Read an article. Take a quiz. Listen to a conversation. Ask questions. Make a list of interesting, new words. Take notes on what you read and hear. Write responses to interesting topics. Take a class. Listen to a podcast. Identify words that are similar (but may have different meanings) to one's target language.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
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26.1.20

Photography: The Homes of Queens Attract the Night

The homes of Queens attract the night. Walking 🚶‍♀️ at night, certain nooks and crannies catch my attention. Notice the side alley - it cuts along the building, connecting streets. This part of Queens - dubbed East Elmhurst, is dotted with alleys like this one.

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#nychomes #newyorklife #iloveny #autumnnights #queens #lovenyc #nyc #queensny #queen #newyork #newyorkcity #nycphotographer #night #newyorker #newyorklike #goals #newyorkstateofmind

25.1.20

Self-Portrait in a Instagram-Laced Painterly Palette

In this post, I took a ton of painterly-style Instagram selfies and I talk about how we never understand each other well - in most circumstances. Understanding others is hard. But worth it.
     There is a moment in the new HBO comedy series "Mrs. Fletcher" where a young, white college kid sits at the lunch table with several guys he assumes are "just like him". The guys are talking about climate change in a thoughtful, meaningful way and the young, white college kid makes a joke about riding a surfboard on a tsunami wave. He's looking for laughs but he misses the cue. He assumes that people who look like him and dress like him will, in turn, have the same mindset as him. 
      I have come to find out that the biggest mistake one can make is to assume that another person thinks the same way that you do. And even if another person thinks similarly to you, or dresses similarly to you, it is the worst mistake possible, to consider that other person you. It is harder to make yourself known to another person, to a friend, a lover, or whatever. It is hard because it means you have to begin to understand the other person first and they have to begin to understand you.  

22.1.20

Book Face: Pharaoh Amasis of Two Egypts Holding Court in Memphis on the Nile River

I’m a high school English and Ethics teacher. Sometimes I’m tired of being a grownup so I play with the book faces in my school’s modest library. Today, I’m covering an ancient pharaoh from ancient Egypt. Also, today is National Shelfie Day.
Book Face
What’s my book 📖 face?
Standing in the @gardenschoolnyc library serving up some Egyptian Pharaoh realness as Amasis, ruler of Two Egypts - where I’m holding court in Memphis on the River Nile. Who or what am I pointing to? The god Horus has sent me a sign - a golden slipper so bright that every maiden in Egypt must try it on. P.S. Thanks @joellegarcia__ for snapping the photo for this epic Book Face photo.


21.1.20

A Moment of Clarity Waiting for the Q66 Bus in Flushing

I don’t like to wait. For buses. For people. Waiting feels like an abuse on my person. But worse than that waiting exposes the truth of it all - that I’m not important.
     Which is why people who are entitled or privileged scoff at flying coach. One has to wait. So those who can pay the extra cash do so to stave off the notion that they’re insignificant. However, there is something to be said for waiting. I was waiting for the Q66 bus. This New York City bus takes me from Flushing to home via Queen’s Northern Boulevard. Today I took the bus. I was shepherding a few students of mine back to Jackson Heights. We had spent the day in Flushing to celebrate the Lunar New Year (even though it doesn’t officially begin until Saturday). I teach teenagers who are studying in the United States on F-1 visas. 
      What that means is - among many aspects of the job - that we take trips quite often during the year. This year we decided to go to a hot pot restaurant that recently opened up in Flushing. Apparently it’s a chain popular in China. It’s situated on the ground floor of a modern boxy office building. The Mandarin teacher at my school recommended the place; she organized the trip. The dean of the upper school also came with us. He had never eaten at a hot pot restaurant so we introduced him to duck blood and ponzu sauce.
      After the meal, waiting for the Q66 bus I noticed the sign of a Modell’s Sporting Goods sign flapping in the wind. I don’t like to wait so I made of the moment something aesthetic. It’s often true that time slows down when waiting. Maybe it was the festive meal we were having. But I had this feeling that I was seeing, reaching for, experiencing beauty all around me. Time goes into slow motion. Flapping of a sign. Red lanterns hanging from the a storefront window. Ginseng for sale. The laughter of children. The feel of my wallet as I take it out, searching for a metro card. It’s an ephemeral feeling; one that lasted long enough to make me feel on par with existence. So I took a few photos. Pictures never capture how I see something with my eyes. The human eye’s depth of vision still exceeds the iPhone camera.
      I like the conversation I hear around me. I even say “Happy New Year” in Mandarin to a gentleman also waiting for the bus. He smiles. I think he must be proud of me that I know an appropriate Lunar New Year greeting. We board the bus - the students and I - and I’m pleased by how calm they are; as the bus rocks and sways, gaining speed as it crosses Flushing Bay, the world seems open with possibility and I remember the morning time. Sitting. Waiting. For the day to begin. And a teenager had said out loud “I’m bored” - it was that time before classes had begun. That moment of free time that terrifies some people because I don’t think everyone learns what exactly to do with themselves.
       It’s a skill. To stave off boredom and do. Something. And I don’t like to wait. That feeling of inactivity. Of time ticking. “Are we back at school? Yet” asks Neil - who is sitting across from me. Yes. I say. Press the button to alert the driver to stop. “But I’m scared,” he says. I press the button. I get it. He’s afraid to stop the bus. To fling himself into the next thing and the next. I get it. I tell him. And we’re off.

19.1.20

Quote on Beauty and Difference from the Classic Series of Dr. Who — "The Genesis of the Daleks" (1975)

Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks.jpg"Why must we always destroy beauty? Why kill another creature because it is not in our image?" I keep the classic series of Dr. Who on replay at my house. I want to catch up on episodes I have missed — and I particularly like the Tom Baker episodes. He's the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, and he portrayed the character from 1974 to 1981 (the longest-running tenure of the role in the show's history).
The Genesis of the Daleks:     In the Terrance Dicks written chapter entitled "The Genesis of the Daleks," — the Doctor is sent back in time and space to the Dalek planet Skaro to prevent war between humans and the Dalek race from occurring in the future. The episode is an origin story of the Daleks —  a race of boxy, dangerous aliens. The Daleks have proved to be the doctor's most fearsome, persistent nemesis. With their vibrating cry of "Exterminate!" it is not a hard extrapolation that the Daleks are meant to represent the extreme version of what happens when a species goes all-out bonkers with racial superiority and hatred of difference. The Daleks annihilate difference and vouchsafe sameness in the universe. There is a twist in this episode, however, since the Doctor learns that the Daleks are the creation of a figure named Davros — a humanoid with a Dalek-shaped lower body. The Daleks are the master idea of a diabolical mastermind. Are you getting a Hitler-tingle? Well. You should.
Are Humans More Destructive or Creative as a Species?     
As per the course of a Dr. Who narrative — there is a lot of meaningful talk about what difference (and how humans deal with that which is different) means for the future of humanity. Are we more like the Daleks — whose prime directive is to kill all lifeforms, not like their own? The writers of the show make obvious nods to humanity's own track record for acting like Daleks — think of violence enacted in the name of racial superiority or the banal way in which humans become exterminators under certain conditions — think of the gas chambers that annihilated Jews, homosexuals, people of color, and other so-called dissidents — or the way guards at Guantanamo Bay tortured and debased human beings under their supervision. 
A Trenchant, Relevant Quote    
One scene in particular is a miniature of the grand themes Terrance Dicks is hashing out in the show. In a brief episode of capture, Sarah Jane Smith, one of the Doctor's classic companions, is considered for extermination. But a voice cries out. And asks a question: Why destroy beauty? Why destroy another creature because it does fit into one's own image?



(Sarah is out cold as a muto strokes her face.)SEVRIN: She's beautiful. No deformities, no imperfections.GERRILL: She is a norm. All norms are our enemies. Kill her now for what she's done to our kind.SEVRIN: No, why? Why must we always destroy beauty? Why kill another creature because it is not in our image?GERRILL: Kill her! It is the law. All norms must die. They are our enemies. And if you won't, I will.
Dr. Who "Genesis of the Daleks" Original Airdate on BBC television: March 8, 1975 / image from the BBC 

15.1.20

Photograph: That Time I Captured a Cool Perspective from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Cleveland

I took this photograph of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Cleveland, Ohio when I was there for my mother’s heart surgery last fall. See the posts about that time further down. I like the point of view - looking up at the body and the hulk of metal machinery and the blur of the flag. I took a lot of pictures. It was wet that day. I was a sodden mess. And is it me or does the human figure in the scene look alive? As if he is not a sculpture.

11.1.20

Flash Fiction: Rocky Embankment Stream of Consciousness

     
     There's a rocky embankment that you're probably not supposed to walk on because it's filled with old age and danger. And of course, I fall flat on my face, and as I'm falling and thinking, “Oh, fudge!” When in danger, time goes in slow motion. I feel my knee pressed against the ground. It’s purple, bruised and I scratch my forearm. It’s nighttime, and I don't know how I’ll be able to climb out of this embankment. I have shorts that I wear in Summer. No pockets - so I had my wallet stuck into my shorts like a silly boy, and I had keys tucked into my shorts, and I had my phone, and everything stuck into my shorts - you know - in the lapel part of your shorts where your M matches the seam, and everything just falls into place. I don't know how I’ll be able to save my sandwich from falling into the rocks, and I had my keys, and I am like “this hurts,” and I’m stuck to the rock, and I don't know how I’ll get out. If I were injured more ... I ‘m lucky, but I'm like, “where's my phone?” I couldn't find my phone, so my phone at this moment is still lodged in the rocks of Lake Champlain. I wait till tomorrow morning to get it, but it's a big long story - the short version is I basically follow my tracks back to the rocky shores of Lake Champlain - and that's been my day so far. Now I'm back in my hotel room telling you the story on my iPad, and hopefully tomorrow morning I will wake up and locate my phone from the rocks so also what's wrong with me because there it is - I found it - inches away from where I fell. I could've walked a few meters more, and there was a path that takes you down into a depthless semigloss lake - that's safe, but “Yeah” - I don't know what’s wrong with me. 
~ transcribed at the scene.

6.1.20

Watch This Video of a Stray Dog Fed by a Subway Sandwich Employee and Tell Me How It Makes You Feel


Cute Feel-Good-About-Humans-Doing-Good Videos  
I like cute videos. Like this one. I’m happy. When I watch it. I think it’s the expectant face of the dog. They looks so forlorn yet satisfied. A Homo sapiens will feed it. They are sure. And as a watcher on the scene, my tummy is filled by witnessing the showcase of sliced deli meat and tidbits - I’m reminded of a parable. Even the dogs feed from the scraps of the master’s table. And then I’m reminded of a Rembrandt painting hanging in the Hermitage inspired by that same parable - a father’s hand on his beloved son once prodigal.
Maybe it’s because I’ve come to peace with my own need for a father. It’s primal. To want the love of a parent. And at the same time, it’s powerful to exert oneself in the world as a child without the need of one. Father. Mother. Caregiver. Licking one’s wounds grows wearisome. Feeling sorry for oneself is a bit pathetic. That’s why I like the canine in this scene. Not pathetic or stupid. Just expectant. For a bit of meat. Chosen from the master’s table.

31.12.19

Thinking About the Roman God Janus On New Year’s Eve

The Roman god Janus as depicted on an ancient coin.
New and old faces to anticipate the new year.
     The Romans had a god named Janus. He had two faces - one looking backward into the past and the other looking forward into the future. For me, the New Year represents this paradoxical view - looking forward and 👀 looking back.
To be Janus-faced is to face this contradiction.
     And this time of year it’s customary to reflect on a year gone by and to make resolve for the upcoming annual. Now whether you assert that the 2010s are for sure done with or not (yes, there is a controversy about this) - I feel like a new decade has begun (and I’m anticipating a ton of jokes about 20/20 vision and Barbara Walters).
Faces - familiar and novel - to ring in a new year.
Stray Comments On New Year’s Resolutions for 2020
  • I want to walk more. That means 10,000 steps a day.
  • Read more books this year.
  • Write every day.
  • To remember my resolutions throughout the year (but wait - I don’t recall last year’s resolutions!)