Monday, November 29, 2010

Alternate Gift Ideas

If you haven't already spent your life savings on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I have some ideas for you.  A lot of us have too much stuff - at least in this country.  Instead, it might be nice to do something good - something that is necessary and might not happen otherwise - in someone's honor. 

Some ideas:

Big Brothers Big Sisters - you can donate your time or money to help kids who really need it.

Donors Choose - you can choose the type of project you want to fund, according to what your loved one would appreciate. (I greatly benefited from this site when I was a classroom teacher)

Kiva- microloans, and you can give gift cards so your loved one can choose what to loan money to.

Faith Network - an organization that helps public schools in Oakland and the surrounding area.  (It's a Christian organization but they don't proselytize.  They do teach reading and writing, which is a huge help.)

I also have very close ties with an orphanage in Mexico that doesn't have a website but does really good work with kids who are essentially thrown away, and survives completely on donations. Email me or leave a comment if you want information on how to donate to them - I'd love to give it to you.

Think about it - wouldn't you love if someone helped one of these groups in your honor?

One year ago: Off Topic: Travel Photos

Three years ago: Seriously?

Four years ago: The Mr. Smith Papers
                         Report Card Madness

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some Reading

I'm in New York visiting my brother and sister-in-law, so here's some reading for all of you.

An article about how black boys are doing in school (some very interesting points).

Teacher credentialing programs should be totally changed around.

Happy Black Friday!  Try not to buy too much stuff.

Three years ago: No News and No Clothes

Four years ago: Vacation is Over
                         Rainy Day Routine

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Illegal Immigration - Is ThereAny Other Kind?

I had a bit of a disturbing conversation with the teenager I tutor yesterday.  He asked me the definition of "immigration."  When I told him it was people moving to another country to live there, he disagreed.  He said, "You forgot the illegal part."  We talked about it and it turns out that he had only ever heard of illegal immigration.  Every time immigration was discussed on TV or in any other context he had heard, it was illegal.  He had NO IDEA that there was legal immigration.  Does that say anything about the tone of the discussion in this country?

Three years ago: Dreaming of Teaching

Four years ago: No Child Left Behind

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Inside a Child's Mind... a very interesting place.

Today my 10-year old tutoring client informed me that "High school is mating season."

The teacher of the second grade class I volunteer with let the kids pick their own group names.  The names are:


I particularly like that one of the group names is an adverb.

Three years ago: Purple Hair
                          Gulliver in Hookerland

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why I Don't Want to See Harry Potter

First of all, I realize the title of the post will set some people off.  How's this: I promise not to judge you for seeing Harry Potter, or for getting excited about the movies.  I'm just not that interested.

I first read Harry Potter  in 2000, right before book four came out.  Someone gave me book one for Christmas and I read it at some point during my first year of teaching and it was amazing.  Magical.  Wonderful.  I read two and three pretty quickly and then started becoming one of those people who counts down the days until the next Harry Potter book.  Even more exciting, so did many of my students.  I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to my third grade class and they absolutely loved it.  After I read it to them, many of them ordered it themselves from the book order, re-read it, bought book two, borrowed mine - they were hooked.  We didn't have a real reading curriculum that year, and one of the fifth grade teachers just photocopied chapters of the book and had his class read them together because it was the only thing he could find that got the kids interested. 

We got a reading curriculum, so teachers weren't teaching reading using Harry Potter after that year, but many of us continued reading it aloud and kids continued reading the books.  I was a little concerned that the books were getting darker, but I would just tell my students to start at book one and by the time they got to the later books, I figured they may be able to handle them.  Most of them weren't fast readers, and it wasn't going to happen all in one school year.  But they loved the books, and I had to keep buying more and more copies because so many kids wanted to borrow them.

At some point during all this, the first Harry Potter movie came out.  I was excited about it, as everyone was, and it was fun.  It obviously wasn't as good as the book, but I liked it.  I saw the next couple of movies but quickly figured out that the kid playing Harry couldn't act (I hear he's gotten better) and just sort of forgot to watch movies number four and five.  I didn't care too much one way or another.

After the first couple of movies were out, though, I began noticing that my students didn't want to read the books any more.  They didn't even want them read aloud, and before they would ONLY listen to Harry.  Nothing else would do.  When I would suggest that they read the books, they would just tell me, "No, I can just watch the movie."  They would get excited about the movies, but no more than any other movie they were interested in.  They were not excited about the books.

As I've been tutoring this year, I've tried to get some kids to read Harry Potter.  The response is still the same.  "But I can see the movie."  The magic that was there was gone.  I'm sure it's not for all kids - I would have been all about the books, even after the movies came out - but for the kids I work with, they're over it.  Movies trump books.  The books are obsolete now.

And the sad thing is that the movies just aren't that good.  Actually, the sad thing is that for two or three years, I saw kids who had never been excited about books in their life be excited.  Then I saw it go away just as fast.  So I'm just not that excited about the movies.

One year ago: Enthusiasm
                      Another Tragedy

Three years ago: How Many Feet Do Chickens Have?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vampire White

I'm going to suggest that the makers of my face powder change the name to "Vampire White."  Those of you who know me know that I am on the white side of white.  If you've been reading my blog, you know that the neighborhood where I was teaching had a distinct lack of white people.  Many of the kids had never interacted with white people except for the teachers at the school.  This led to some interesting conversations.

This is another Halloween story.  There was a girl, named "Mary," who was a tall African-American girl, beautiful, athletic, and smart.  I had never had Mary in my class but she came to visit me most days.

Mary had beautiful dark brown skin and, on this particular Halloween, was dressed as a vampire.  I was helping several kids with their makeup.  Most of them wanted to be kitties so I was doing kitty noses and whiskers with my eyeliner.  It was a cheap eyeliner and they had no Halloween costumes, so it was a worthwhile sacrifice.

I turned around and saw Mary with my powder compact.  I had forgotten that I had it, because I rarely used it.  She had covered her face with the powder.  I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I'm a vampire."  As this seemed to be a non sequitur, I asked her again what she was doing.  She said, "I'm using your vampire make-up."

Mary thought that the make-up, which matched my skin color, was the color of the undead.  She doesn't see many white people.

Three years ago: Halloween

Four years ago: Science with Mr. Smith

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I've recently seen this graphic around the web, and heard a few people say that it's a great example of how Oakland is a "rainbow of diversity."  I wish I could insert the graphic here, but it won't work, so please take a minute to look at it.  The different colors represent different ethnicities.  If you don't recognize Oakland, it's on the right side of the bay and has a blue section (African-American) at the northwest end and a blue section at the southeast end.  Green and orange (Asian and Latino) are in the middle and red (Caucasian) in the hills.

I guess that it is a rainbow of diversity in that there are separate stripes of color.  But it's not integrated.  It's not diverse.  The city as a whole is diverse, but the neighborhoods are not.  It reminds me of a time that someone told me that one of the high schools was "really diverse."  Someone else looked at her strangely, and said "Um, all black isn't diverse.  It's all black."

It is really strange to see people outside the neighborhoods that they "belong" in.  When I was working in the black and Latino neighborhood, people would stop and stare.  They'd turn their heads as they were driving so that I'd worry they were going to crash.  I was such an anomaly.  If I took my Little Sister to the hills, she'd probably get the same kind of stares.  If she were any older (or especially if she was a teenage boy), people would probably hold their purses tighter and cross the street.  This city really doesn't have a black middle class.  You can tell what kind of area a school is in by the racial makeup: white = higher income, black and Latino = low income.  Asians are usually in the low income areas, but not always.

White people are more valued in this city.  Some may argue with me, but the kids know that if a white person gets killed, the police will find the killer and prosecute them.  The criminals must know this too, because they don't shoot white people.  Ever.  Schools with white kids have better facilities.  They also have the police respond much quicker than the school I worked at, where we waited 50 minutes for the police to show up for an attempted kidnapping (there's a police station nearby).

My point, I guess, is that by saying that this city is diverse and integrated, we are not telling the truth, and I really think things should be called what they are. There's no way to make things better when we're denying how bad they are.  I would imagine that it's a mix of wanting to believe everything is all right in the city you live in and some guilt over the fact that those in power are living in the safe areas and sending their kids to the good schools while other kids are actually watching their friends get killed. This kind of inequality - all in one smallish city  -  should not be acceptable and we should not be praising Oakland for being a rainbow of diversity, at least not yet.  The city has an incredible mix of  cultures, but they are so separated from each other and there is so much antagonism between them that I think we're missing out on all of the advantages of this kind of diversity.

Maybe I'm wrong - I'd love to hear thoughts on this.  But I can't help but believe that the Oscar Grant shooting was just a symptom of the racial inequality in this city.  A white man exhibiting the same behavior would probably not have been shot.  A police officer who killed an unarmed white man would probably have gotten a lot more than the minimum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.  If this city didn't have so much of a history of hurt and oppression based on race and class, these things may have been seen as a fluke.  Instead, I think it's just one more blow to a community that is already underprivileged, underrepresented, and suffering in ways that most white people around here just don't want to acknowledge.

By the way, these old links below are good ones, especially the top two:

Three years ago: Literally Unbelievable

Four years ago: The Gecko
                        The More Things Change...

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Everyone is talking about whether or not they agree with Obama and what the midterm elections show as far as if people like him or not... I just want to share again why it is so important that we now have a black president.  So here it is, from two years ago:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Black President

I am so excited.

First, let me say that I did not vote for Barack Obama because he is black. I voted for him because I thought he was the better candidate, and will make the better president. I think he will help how the rest of the world sees the United States. I don't think he is the Messiah and I'm sure I will be disappointed in him at times during the next 4 (or 8) years. However, I think this is the right direction for America to go in and I am thrilled because of the person we have elected, while still being unbelieving.


While a lot of me wants to rant about how I can be a Christian and still be a Democrat, how liberal is not a bad word, how pro-life should be for the duration of life and not just and how I don't understand why McCain was seen as the Christian candidate by so many when he's the one of the two who had an affair, got divorced, and doesn't claim to go to church... I'm not going to right now. I want to talk about how excited I am to have a black president.

Yes, I know he is half white. But it wasn't black people who initiated the one drop rule. It was white people and black people suffered for it in a lot of ways. I for one, am totally happy to say that we have our first black president.

But how happy I am for my own self is nothing compared to how happy I am for all the kids I have worked with. For eight years I worked with primarily black students who were resigned to the fact that presidents would always be old white men. As a white person, I could tell them that they could be anything that they want to be - even the president! - but it's really hard to believe that something is possible when you've never seen it. These kids finally have an example.
When I got to Oakland, I didn't think racism was still as alive and well as it is. It may not be as obvious as it has been in the past but it is still entrenched. If you don't believe me, feel free to leave a comment and say so and I'll dedicate a post just to examples of entrenched racism but I'm not going to do that now.

I'm just going to say that I will never have to hear again that an eight year old thought they "they just didn't let black people be president." And for these kids, that is huge. It's a barrier that needed to be broken.

Two years ago: A Black President

Three years ago: No Wonder I'm Still Tired!

Four years ago: Did You Know?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I'm a Lizard

Quick Halloween story (a little late - I lost my beloved dog on Halloween).

I had a student who wasn't super bright.  Nice kid, good heart, tried hard, just wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box.  He kind of had a reputation for not being the smartest kid, and the other teachers knew it.

On Halloween, one of my colleagues was dressed up as a bee.  He wore a black and yellow striped rugby shirt, big bug sunglasses, antennae, and wings.  This kid, "Timmy," walked up to him and said, "Mr. M, what are you supposed to be?"  Mr. M just looked at him and decided to go for making fun of the gullible kid.  He said, "Timmy, I'm a lizard."

Timmy looked at him carefully and said, "That's funny."

He ran back to me and said, "Did you know Mr. M is dressed up as a lizard?  The weird thing is that he looks just like a bee!"

Three years ago: They Can't Keep Employees? Really?  What a Surprise!

Four years ago: Eating Lunch!  Or not.

Monday, November 01, 2010


My wonderful doggie passed away last night.  I'll have another school Halloween story soon, but for now I'm just missing the doggie.

Two years ago: Random Political Thoughts

Three years ago: A Brief Political Note