Monthly Archives: February 2011

Those Who Can’t, Teach??

Teachers are all over the news these days.  They are heroes, and they are villains.  I’m just scratching my head, wondering if there is any hope for the American education system.  The short answer is, No.  Public education in this country is utterly broken and beyond reform.  If Americans want free education available to every child, we need to throw out the current system and start over.  That includes rethinking how teacher are hired and compensated.

One of my favorite recent news stories has been the tale of the Pennsylvania high school teacher , Natalie Munroe, who vented her frustration about her students on her blog.  She never named her school or any student, and she blogged anonymously.  She did use her picture and first name.  Sounds to me like one of her disgruntled students dug around to find her blog and make it public.  Many call her a hero for telling it like it really is in the classroom these days.  She held little back in describing the apathy, disrespect, and trashiness of her students.  Everything she wrote that was publicized in the news is TRUE about a whole lot of  high school students.  Just ask any teacher you know.  Munroe seems to be quite articulate and clever in her writing, but she may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed for revealing as much of her identity as she did on her blog.  The outrage by those who demonize her seems to be caused by the fact that she had the nerve to reveal how she really feels about your kids.  No, she doesn’t cherish them when they swear at her, threaten her, sleep through her class, or ignore her as they plan their next hook-up.

A thousand or so miles away in Wisconsin, we have teachers storming the state capitol building in protest over a bill proposing to limit their collective bargaining rights as well as require them and other public sector union members to contribute more toward their own retirement and health care plans.  This is the hill they’ve chosen to die on.  One that is nothing about the students but all about teachers’ entitlements.  Their demonstration left some schools closed due to a massive teacher “sick-out.”  A fine example for students.  So are the comparisons of Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler on the signs some protestors carried.  Heroes of the middle class?  Or greedy union minions?

Long ago, I made the decision that public school doesn’t work.  Not for our family, and really not for anyone else either.  There is so much wrong with the system that it’s best just to abandon it altogether in favor of something completely different.  I laughed out loud reading Natalie Munroe’s scathing comments about her students…until I got to the part about parents’ outcry and her suspension.  Heaven forbid anyone investigates the cause of her remarks.  Nope.  Better to smooth the ruffled feathers of the parents of those poor children by getting rid of the teacher.  What will happen to all those Wisconsin teachers when they drag their sorry rear ends back to school?  Nothing, no doubt.  No matter that they deserve a Reagan-vs.-air-traffic-controllers treatment.  When the best education for children is no longer the focus of the education system, it’s not worth saving.

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Flying the Friendly Skies

Flickr photo by David Jones

Next week, SuzyQ and I will be headed off on a college visit.  The college is a time zone away.  You know what that means.  We have to fly there.  And I’m dreading it.

This isn’t about fear.  I have never understood people who are afraid to fly.  Hasn’t anyone ever pointed out to them that they are a whole lot more at risk driving?  How many car wrecks were there in your area today?  On any given day here there are at least 3-4 major crashes that tie up the morning and evening rush hours.  A couple of those a week will involve a fatality.  Now, when was the last plane crash? 

The whole terrorist threat thing doesn’t really scare me either.  Common sense tells me that any terrorist worth his salt isn’t going to use the same method twice.  It’s the element of surprise, being caught off guard, that makes terrorist attacks work.  My theory is that I’m more at risk attending a major sporting event, going to a big shopping mall, or visiting a major tourist attraction than I am getting on a plane.

No.  My problem with flying is the whole pain in the rear end that it has become:

Air Fares:  I graduated summa cum laude from college.  I’m a Phi Beta Kappa member.  I’m married to a nuclear-trained engineer.  How is it then, that between us we can’t figure out the best time to purchase an airline ticket without getting gouged??  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that within 4 days, the fare for my upcoming trip doubled and then got cut in half again.  Same trip, same dates, same airline.  Let’s face it, there is no formula for pricing, no calculus, no rules.  It’s just the airlines screwing around with us.

Packing:  I could be wrong, but I believe you are not supposed to bring luggage of any kind when you travel by air these days.  Want to check a bag?  Fine.  That’ll be $25 for the first one and $35 for the second.  Decide to save money and just bring a carry on?  Good luck.  Not only is the competition for an overhead bin cut-throat, but most planes flying domestically are those mini-planes.  You’re lucky if you can fit your balled-up coat in those overhead bins.  Besides, you can’t bring anything you really need in your carry-on bag anymore.  Long gone are the days when we could fly with 5–count them, 5!–huge suitcases at no extra charge.

The kids insist on not revealing their secret identities!

Food:  This is one of the biggest scams to come out of the tragedy of the 9/11 hijackings.  In order to cut costs, airlines quit serving meals on domestic flights.  Sure, you can buy their over-priced snack box and get a sandwich (age: undetermined) and piece of fruit.  You can also grab something from one of the fine restaurants in the secure part of the airport ($8 for a slice of warmed-over pizza).  But whatever you do, NEVER EVER bring your own food from home.  It will be confiscated by security.  If you do manage to get it through security, it will be crushed, crumbled, or otherwise inedible after being squashed into your mini carry-on bag.

Screening:  Wonder what the procedure will be on the day of my flight.  It seems like every time you turn around, the TSA has decided that something else needs tweaking.  Shoes off; no belts; empty pockets; jewelry off; coats off.  Get ready to set off the alarm if you wear an underwire bra or can’t get your wedding ring off.  And you know what that means!  Pat-down!  You will be searched in a way reserved up until now for suspected criminals.  Or choose the naked body scan:

Yep.  All the glamour and fun are gone from air travel.  Unless you are flying international and first class:

British Airways

 Well, a girl can dream.

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I Get Discovered!…Not Really

I’m still a rookie when it comes to blogging.  It has been a little over 6 months, and I’m still figuring out new things every day.  I get excited when I try to add video to a post, and it actually works!  I bought a couple of books about getting started as a blogger, and I still have plenty to learn.  RSS Feeds?  Search engine optimization?  Still doing my homework.

It doesn’t take an expert blogger to know that traffic is a good thing.  WordPress is thoughtful enough to keep track of all kinds of statistics about my blog.  Views per day, busiest day ever, top posts.  It’s all there in nice graphs.  Some days this can be depressing.  I think I’ve just written my best, most inspired post ever, and I learn that it has been viewed twice.  That would be Darling Husband and SuzyQ or maybe my sister.  No worries.  I’m just starting out.  Back to the drawing board. 

Then one day I check my stats and see that I’ve had 12 views!  The next day, I’m up to 30!  Then 40!  What did I write about?  Was is because I got a little political?  Should I do that again?  Then I start to wonder–Where is all this new traffic coming from?  I do some homework about what all the stats mean and decide to look deeper into the referrers.  These are other web sites or blogs that link to my blog.  Sounds promising…until I realize that the web addresses listed under my referrers for those busy days are a bunch of gibberish.  Some of them look like they originate in Ukraine or maybe India.  Others are definitely porn sites.  Then there is the generic “other sources.”  I still don’t know what this is exactly.  It turns out that I am a victim of Referrer Spam.  All of those views are just attempts to get me to view the spammer’s site.  Why?  Their increased traffic gets them better search engine placement and more revenue from advertisers.  If I were to list my top referrers as some bloggers do, the spammer would get free advertising.

So, essentially, I have no way of knowing how many legitimate views I get until WordPress figures out a way to control referrer spam.  I can take a wild guess based on my number of subscribers.  Yes, I was a little disappointed.  But you know what they say about “If it looks too good to be true…”  Boy, is it easy to get caught up in the numbers, though.

I did get  some good laughs out of the whole experience, though.   As I was delving deeper into my stats, I checked out the list of search engine terms that people–or spammers–used to find posts on my blog.  Some of them are obvious, like “uncommonhousewife” or “homeschooling.”  But others make you wonder:

reading glasses admin

greyhounds and prednisone rage

palmetto bug

german word for enjoying someon’es hardship

orthodontic hell

wearing a girdle

the king’s speech movie correctness

grinch lotion

season’s greedy

hail and farewell dress code

childfree

hate lame parent commercial

bullet point for tonight’s state of the union

invasion literature blog

Yeah.  Hey, taken all together like that it sort of sounds like poetry.

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The Test…Round 1

We are coming out of the tunnel here, the dark and narrow stressful kind, with the first go at college entrance standardized testing.  SuzyQ took the ACT on Saturday morning, and now we wait.  And we get ready for Round 2 next month, when she takes the SAT.

It has been more than a few years since I took the SAT.  Over the years, it has gone through a major overhaul so that I don’t even recognize it anymore.  I don’t recall knowing anything about the ACT because it wasn’t the norm in my part of the country.  These days, colleges accept scores from either test, so we decided that it would be best for SuzyQ to take both and then go with her stronger scores.

Friday was Cram Day.  All regular school work was put aside so that we could concentrate on test prep.  Yes, I know, all the best test prep books tell you not to cram.  Sure, staying up all night working math problems and sample tests or memorizing vocabulary words is a bad idea.  However, I think that the stuff you study last is what stays with you.  SuzyQ has been preparing for weeks with the “Question of the Day” put out by ACT and with study guides.  Cram Day was all about getting her pumped up for the test.  There were games and prizes, chocolate milkshakes, and take-out lunch.  Then at 9 p.m. the books were put away, clothes laid out, pencils sharpened, calculator batteries changed, and the alarm set for Saturday morning.  We shall see whether Cram Day was effective or not.

After going through many test prep books for both ACT and SAT, I reached a couple of conclusions:

  • The reading comprehension passages (though they are not called that anymore) are still just as boring as they were 25 years ago.  I think the real test must be whether the student has the fortitude to make it through the test section without dozing off or completely zoning out.  Not one passage I saw contained anything funny or mysterious or exciting.  Test writers have to eliminate any topics that potentially could be seen as controversial, politically incorrect, appealing to one demographic group over another, or unfamiliar to any perspective test taker.  What one person finds humorous, another might find offensive.  Maybe the humor wouldn’t come across to someone who is not a native English-speaker.  Passages are scrupulously screened for racism, sexism, age-ism, and many other -isms that wouldn’t even occur to most people.  After all of that filtering, the remaining safe topics are dull, dry, and…Yawn.
  • Don’t get scared away by the Science Test part of the ACT.  It’s not actually about science.  I’m not sure why the test writers even bother with this section.  Yes, the passages you must read are about science, but you don’t have to know anything at all about the subject.  All of the answers come from interpreting the graphs and tables or reading the material provided.  Some test prep books even warn students NOT to use outside knowledge of a subject.  The test is strictly meant to see if you can come to conclusions from the given information.  Nothing to study for here, except different types of graphs.
  • The essay topics for the writing portion are ridiculous.  These “writing prompts” are supposed to involve issued that would be of interest to the average high school student.  Think for a minute about what interests your average teenager: movies and TV, music, sports, shopping, driving, dating.  So what do the geniuses who write the tests come up with?  “Should high school students travel overseas the summer before starting college?”  “Should high school students be required to take a financial management class before graduation?”  Or the old favorite: “Should public high schools require students to wear uniforms?”  Come on!  Teens who have just spent the last several hours filling in bubbles and are essentially zombie-brained do not care about any of these topics.  Why not ask them to write about whether new driving laws are too restrictive against teen drivers?  How about an essay on why teens are apathetic about voting when they turn 18?  Or maybe they could write about whether the draft should be reinstated.  Those are issues that affect teenagers.  But then you might unwittingly discriminate against students who…I guess live under a rock and never hear a news headline?

Some things about these test never change, besides their boring character, I mean.  As I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes after dropping off SuzyQ, I watched what I called “the parade of high school humanity”.  There were the students actually running to the door 2 minutes before test time with a calculator in one hand and admission ticket in the other.  On a below-freezing morning, 99.5% of the kids were not wearing coats.  One even wore flip-flops.  And SuzyQ reported that one student in her classroom had forgotten to bring a pencil.  Classic.

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Those Were the Days

Did you ever wonder if you were born at the wrong time in history or if some freak cosmic glitch dropped you into the wrong point in time?  Now, as a faithful Catholic, of course I don’t believe in reincarnation or cosmic glitches, for that matter.  But I do sometimes wonder why I am so drawn to the lifestyle of previous generations.  The post-war generation in particular.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this.  According to this New York Times article, vintage fashion has made a big comeback.  Not the 1980s look, either.  It’s more than the fashion, though.  Two blog posts, here and here, got me thinking about the good old days of ladies and gentlemen.

Yes, I know the 1950s and ’60s weren’t without their problems.  There was the Cold War Soviet menace with its threat of nuclear holocaust and Vietnam brewing.  Brown vs. Board of Education may have been the law of the land, but racial segregation and discrimination weren’t going anywhere soon.   Ask any historian and you’ll learn that women were oppressed and relegated to domestic drudgery.  And behind many picture-perfect, happy American families lurked alcoholism, abuse, or depression.

There are plenty of things worth bringing back, though:

Image from grandmothersattic Etsy shop

Girdles:  I can remember my mom wearing them well into the ’70s. (Sorry, Mom.)  Were they comfortable?  No.  But slip a dress on over one and, Wow!  What a difference!  A real lady wouldn’t leave the house without one.  These days, thanks be to God, girdles are making something of a comeback in the form of Spanx and similar “shapewear.”  That’s a friendlier name than “girdle,” I guess.  Hollywood starlets wear ’em on the red carpet, and better clothing stores routinely recommend them for everyday wear.  If we are a society that’s all about feeling good about ourselves as well as looking good, how on earth can we accept THIS as our normal, satisfactory appearance:

Manners:  Remember when people had some?  Deportment and good penmanship used to be part of the school curriculum way back when.  It used to be important to know how to behave in public, how to greet people, and how to be a good citizen.  The grammar textbook SuzyQ used in 8th grade, Voyages in English 8, copyright 1962, included detailed lessons in good manners.

Introductions

When we bring home a guest whom our parents do not know we should introduce him to them…We should always be courteous, gracious, and cordial.

MODEL: AN INTRODUCTION

KATHLEEN: Mother, this is my new friend, Dorothy Coll.  Dorothy moved here from Gesu parish.

MOTHER:  How do you do, Dorothy.  I hope you will be very happy in this neighborhood.

DOROTHY:  How do you do, Mrs. Fries.  If all the girls are like Kathleen, I know I am going to like it.

Do you ever hear anyone say, “How do you do” anymore?  Here was the section on writing (Yes, writing!) thank you letters:

The well-bred person always says “Thank you” for any gift or favor.  The letter need not be long, but it should be friendly and sincere…

MODEL: A “THANK YOU” LETTER

Dear Mrs. Cray,

     How can I ever thank you sufficiently for such a pleasant day as yesterday?  Mother claims I even talked about it in my sleep last night!

     The trip to Radio City was a delightful experience, and the visit to Mother Cabrini’s shrine was most impressive.  Indeed the entire day, from the moment we set foot in New York until we boarded the train for Hartford, was a real joy.

     I want you to know that I am very grateful to you for inviting me to share this memorable experience with Jeanne.  I am sure we shall never forget our first visit to New York.

                                                                                         Affectionately yours,

                                                                                         Patricia Dacey

I think I would burst into tears if I ever received such a gracious thank you note.  Today, you have to spend big bucks to get your kids educated at cotillion classes or manners camps.  Even then, the extent of the curriculum is the obvious stuff, like table manners, saying “please” and “thank you,” and good sportsmanship.  That’s the best we can do?  Is it too much to ask in our modern society for a gentleman to hold a door open for a lady or stand when she comes to the table?  What about children addressing adults as “Mrs. Jones”  instead of “Miss Tracey?”  Are “ma’am” and “sir” confined only to military members now?

So if you put it all together, what do you get?  Well, maybe if we women put a little more effort into dressing like a lady, say “Mad Men” style,

we might get a little more treatment like this:

Not that women bear the full responsibility for improving their appearance.  Maybe more men would act like gentlemen if they dressed the part.  You know: save the ball cap for an athletic event, same goes for the track pants; try a button-down shirt every now and then.  And by all means, wear a coat and tie when you go out to a nice restaurant or club or to church.

A disclaimer: I have never watched the show “Mad Men” since we don’t get any premium TV channels.  I’m certainly not advocating the behavior portrayed in the show.  I’m just saying that I often feel like you could plunk me down in 1960, and I would feel more at home in that era than I do now.  Yes, I would wear the girdle, the gloves, and the little hat.  And I would be expecting doors to be opened and chairs to be pulled out.  Another disclaimer:  I actually get all of this treatment from Darling Husband even without the girdle.  Jealous?

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Monday Morning Quarterback

Well, not really.  I couldn’t care less about the football, Superbowl or not.  The only reason I paid any attention at all to the on-field action was because Darling Husband entered into some sort of random pool.  If the score at the end of a quarter added up to a number ending in 3, 5, or 8, we could win $50.  So I was doing some cheering:  “Miss that extra point!”  “Just take a knee already!”  “Come on, go for the field goal.  It’s only 50 yards!”  Didn’t matter to me which team was ahead; I was just adding up the score.

As the dutiful yet happy wife of a football lover, I have learned to tolerate the Big Game and get my enjoyment from the commercials.  Until this year, that is.  I think last night’s mostly humdrum line-up of ads may be the beginning of the end for Superbowl commercial tradition.  I can honestly say that not one commercial left me laughing out loud or saying “Wow.”  Several left me disgusted, like the Doritos finger licker ad or the Pepsi Max ad with the black couple (who started out funny) slinking away after knocking the attractive white jogger unconscious.  Oh, and the Teleflora ad was particularly tasteless.  I had a little chuckle over the VW Darth Vader kid spot, but I don’t think it deserves all the praise it’s getting on Twitter.  I did actually enjoy the NFL ad that featured classic retro TV clips.  But does that even count as an eligible commercial since it was done by the NFL?

Just for comparison’s sake, I looked up lists of all-time great Superbowl commercials.  Look here for an awesome trip down memory lane.  Can anyone honestly say that last night featured anything to compare to the ads on that Top 25 list?  The kids and I watched some of them this morning.  There’s your first clue: the best ones were all family friendly.  (Don’t even get me started about how I cringe over the tasteless and/or quasi-porn commercials every time Junior watches a sports program on TV.)  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the good, clean fun ads are among the most memorable:

  • The Budweiser frogs of 1995
  • The FedEx carrier pigeons of 2006
  • Michael Jordan vs. Larry Byrd for McDonald’s in 1993

And what happened to the sentimental commercials?  I’m referring here to the Budweiser Clydesdales, of course.  This year, they were basically an afterthought in Budweiser’s commercial.  No comparison to the good ol’ days of the Clydesdale in training, “Rocky” style (2008) or the young Clydesdale slipping into the harness and trying to pull the wagon while the other horses push from behind (2006).  Admit it.  You got a little misty-eyed.  And of course, there was the 9/11 Clydesdale tribute commercial shown just once during the 2002 Superbowl.  What’s wrong with stepping away from the raucous, frat-party stuff of Superbowl parties for just a moment of heart-tugging emotion?  Is that so yesterday?

There you have it.  The Uncommon Housewife’s take on the biggest sporting event of the year.  The 2011 Superbowl will go down at least in our family lore as the year we won $100 in the random score pool, not the year we couldn’t stop laughing over a particular commercial.  If this is a trend that continues next year, I’ll find it really difficult to tolerate watching the game in that dutiful wife fashion.  Isn’t there always some chick-flick marathon on another channel?

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Being “Of a Certain Age”

Maybe it’s the dismal time of year.  Or maybe it’s the onset of the mad cow disease.  I suspect, though, that it was just a symptom of being “of a certain age” that caused me to make a check out to the music teacher using just her first name.  One wonders what the bank staffers thought when they saw “Pay to the Order of…Barbara.”  Now, the music teacher is older than I am, so hopefully she got a sympathetic chuckle out of it.

I realize I’m not old in the grand scheme of things.  Just ask Oprah.  She’ll tell you that 40 is the new 20 or something.  Of course, she’s not the parent of teenagers who find it hilarious when darling husband or I slip and say we’ll “tape it” when we can’t watch a TV show.  Lately, though, I’ve had plenty of reminders that age is not actually relative:

  • All of the hair product and industrial strength flat irons in the world are not going to make my grey hairs behave.
  • Target, Old Navy, and Gap are not good places to shop for clothes.
  • There had better be a really good reason to keep me from getting into my pajamas by 9:00 pm.  Like a mandatory evacuation or an awesome date night.  Hauling kids to and from their social commitments doesn’t count and makes me cranky.
  • A perfectly lovely wool dress thrown over the top of jeans is an outfit??
  • Time management means something completely different to a teenager.  “We need to be out the door in 5 minutes,” and “Use this weekend to get caught up in your History assignments,” must come out of my 40-something mouth sounding like a foreign language.  I always wanted to be multi-lingual.

I think the first thing to go, though, is the ability to multi-task effectively.  Looking back, I can remember feeding a baby while paying the bills while talking on the phone.  Apparently now, as my check-writing demonstrates, I can do one thing at a time well.  Throw in a sudden distraction like the phone ringing or someone asking if I’ve seen their shoes, gloves, library book, etc., and I end up paying any old Barbara.

So here I am, transferring SuzyQ’s revised rehearsal schedule to calendar # 3 because apparently I need reminders on every level of the house and a mobile one as well.  Then I’ll dig out the old check register to remind me again about the regular monthly karate tuition because I can’t remember from one month to the next how much it is.  And did I forget to move that load of towels from the washer into the dryer?  Oh well.  It must be the mad cow.

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