Tag Archives: education

The Wisdom of the Waitstaff

Apparently, the popular TV show, “Big Bang Theory” was on to something when it  placed one of its characters, Bernadette Rostenkowski, on the payroll at the Cheesecake Factory.  Bernadette waits tables at the casual dining chain restaurant as she defends her doctoral thesis in microbiology.  Life indeed does imitate art, as Plato said.  A week ago, we had a lovely family dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and now I’m wondering if the chain seeks out only the bright candidates for its waitstaff.

Our server was a lovely young gentleman from England.  He was cheerful and polite.  When he found out we were celebrating SuzyQ’s return home from college, he revealed that he is a graduate student at the nearby university.  He told us that he also teaches some courses there.  I don’t know how long he has been in this country, but he proved beyond a doubt he knows Americans.

  • Many American college students are as dumb as a pile of rocks.  Our server expounded on the sad state of higher education with searing clarity.  Most of his students have no business sitting in a college classroom.  According to him, they spend the whole class texting or playing games or internet surfing on their laptops instead of paying attention to the lecture.
  • The American university, in our server’s experience, is essentially equivalent to British high school.  He explained that the first year classes most students take in college are covered in secondary school in Britain so that by the time a student reaches university, he is prepared for advanced study.  In other words, Americans waste a whole lot of money on so-called “college” while the rest of the world laughs about it.
  • Our server was quick to confirm that the United States used to be recognized as the world leader in education, but now, well…
  • The best insight of the evening, however, concerned the lack of sincerity among Americans.  According to our server, Americans are quick to say how much they like you or even “love” you.  In his estimation, however, Americans rarely mean what they say.  After all, “When someone says he loves you, he should be willing to take a bullet for you.”  Amen, brother!  We quickly echoed that point to SuzyQ: “When a guy says he loves you, he had better be ready to take a bullet for you!”

So there you have it.  Powerful words from a Cheesecake factory waiter.  Americans, get over yourselves!

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Whatever Happened to Shop Class? Alternate Title: How Darling Husband Gets a New Blogname

Did you take Shop?  Is it offered to kids in your school district today?  Most likely, the answer is no.  You know the drill today: No Child Left Behind, everyone goes to college.  Apparently shop class, which was for those with no chance of getting into or desire to attend college, is no longer necessary since college is for everyone now.  More’s the pity, though, because things still need to be fixed.  Namely, my car.

I drive a performance SUV.  I love that vehicle, and I have babied it as far as maintenance is concerned.  (Can’t say the same for the leather upholstery or carpet.)  Now, though, it’s quickly approaching 100,000 miles on the odometer.  Routine maintenance is more important than ever to keep it running like the quasi-luxury vehicle it was designed to be…just not at dealership service department prices.  An oil change is an oil change, right?  It doesn’t take someone certified in European auto craft to do it.  What I learned after taking it to Average Joe all-purpose auto service is that lots of mechanics either don’t know a phillips from a flathead, and/or they are all out to bleed your wallet dry.  Mechanics like to throw panic-laden phrases at you:

“You really need to have those brakes done NOW, before you get into a crash!!”

“That serpentine belt is really worn and cracked.  It could go at any moment!!”

And they will take care of those urgent items for you, out of concern for your safety, at the low, low price of…basically a mortgage payment or the cost of a new refrigerator or a set of braces.

Enter Darling Husband, who just happens to be the handiest guy I know.  He’s so tired of paying someone $5 to top off wiper fluid and $130 to change the oil, that he flips his lid and starts ordering brake pads and rotors online.  Then he informs Junior that he will be learning some new life skills come the weekend, so find some work clothes.  And that’s how my garage turns into Shop Class.

I’ve mentioned previously that Junior likes to be involved in projects.  He’s generally happier when he’s tinkering with his fishing poles or designing some new tricked out seating for the boat than he is just hanging around watching TV.  Good thing for him because this car thing had the makings of the mother of all projects.  Front and rear brakes and rotors…in my garage…with simple hand tools.  Even better, though, it meant father and son, working side by side for hours (upon hours!), getting their hands dirty.  And when it was all over, I got new brakes at a fraction of the cost Average Joe mechanic quoted, and Junior had become more handy himself.  He can now talk casually about calipers, torque, and other manly terminology.  He’s my go-to guy if I get a flat tire while we’re out and about, rather than waiting 2 hours for roadside assistance.

So, the morals of the story: If you are not willing to get your own hands dirty, SuzyQ, marry a man who is handy.  Yes, Junior, you still have to go to college.  Darling Husband, you’re my hero.  Your skills saved us a lot of $$$, and you gave Junior some valuable gifts, including practical, real-world knowledge most kids will never get and confidence in his ability to solve real-world problems.  So I’m presenting you with a new blog name…Cap’n Handy.  You hate it, don’t you?  Well, let’s stick with it for a while and break it in.

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Poetry and Cheese

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”  I LOVE this quote from G. K. Chesterton.  He was a guy with some great one-liners.  Anyway.  It seems like a lot of people are talking about poetry these days.  Our Dear Leader and the First Lady just held a poetry event at the White House.  It caused some controversy because one of the invited “poets” was a rapper known for his celebration of cop-killing along with other violent lyrics.  Charming.  So rappers are poets?  I guess they do use rhyme, but does that make what they have to say poetry??

Junior just finished a poetry unit in his 9th grade English class.  (Oops.  It’s called “Language Arts” now.)  I got an education from his textbook about how poetry is defined.  The glossary defines poetry as a  “type of rhythmic, compressed language that uses figures of speech and imagery to appeal to the reader’s emotions and imagination.”  It then goes on to explain that “Poetry is difficult to describe.”  I guess so.  The textbook has a go at defining it as a “wedding” between feelings and observations, “revelations,” and “snapshots.”  Apparently you can call things that typically aren’t poetry, poetry, like prose or monologues or just lists of things.

So, I’m not a poetry lover.  I have always been irritated by the whole image of a poet as a tortured soul who sees and experiences things differently and to exponential degrees.  The same goes for artists.  Wordsworth described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”  Um…when I have powerful feelings that I don’t know what to do with, I usually cry or shout or something.  And I have never had an overflow of feelings about fog, tortillas, a balloonman, or any of the other mundane topics highlighted in Junior’s textbook.

Both kids have asked me repeatedly why the obvious majority of poems in their textbooks are of the “woe is me” variety.  These include the “I was beaten as a child,” “I’m an illegal alien,” “I am a minority living in a bad neighborhood,” and “My family was so poor” themes, to name just a few.  Nothing new here.  These themes dominate young adult “literature,” too.  It’s all part of the education establishment’s not-so-subtle attempt to win young minds over to the welfare-state, big-government agenda.  In other words, it’s all about politics.  Poetry is supposed to be inspiring and eye-opening, kids are taught.  So students are fed the “woe is me” poetry to analyze, and they are inspired to…vote Democrat, agitate for amnesty for illegals, demonstrate against education cuts.  Get the picture?

That brings us back to the White House and the rapper.  The President made a few remarks at the start of the poetry evening.  He said that “a great poem is one that resonates with us, that challenges us and teaches us something about ourselves and the world that we live in.”  Um…if you say so.  The rapper takes the microphone and proceeds to “challenge” the audience with his thoughts on presumably black youth “end(ing) up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them.”  Not sure what these youth haven’t been taught–this is why I suck at poetry.  Maybe he’s talking about God and how kids aren’t brought up with faith?  He did go on to mention God and Christ in the poem.  Somehow, I strongly doubt that this was his intent.  But he finished big, really BIG:

From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us

One King’s dream he was able to Barack us

One King’s dream he was able to Barack us.

What??!!  I have no words.  Perhaps if he had gone with cheese as his subject matter…

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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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Heaven or Harvard, or…What?

We are deep into the college search at our house.  Maybe a more accurate statement would be that I am really into the college search.  SuzyQ, a high school junior, and I seem to have a difference of opinion about what type of schools should be on the list to consider.  And it’s not what you might think.  If you refer back to my “About” page, you’ll learn that I’m a faithful Catholic who is trying to raise her family to be counter-cultural.  A big part of our decision to homeschool the kids through high school was the desire to keep them away from the indoctrination into the narcissistic and relativist mindsets that have taken over American culture.

So when it comes to searching for the right college for our first-born, why am I the one encouraging SuzyQ to look at more secular schools, rather than only “approved” Catholic institutions?  In case you didn’t know, there is a group of colleges and universities that can truly be called Catholic, while the vast majority of schools that call themselves Catholic actually are so in name only.  I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with these “approved” schools, especially if you are looking for a degree in theology or philosophy.  Generally speaking, though, they aren’t terribly strong in the sciences.  And that’s where SuzyQ’s interest lies. 

My argument:  After sheltering her for what will be about 18 years, the time comes when she needs to go into the world and face what it has to offer.  Without a doubt, it will not be easy to maintain and defend her faith at a secular school, and it will be even harder at a school that claims to be Catholic while scorning Church teaching in its classrooms and on its campus.  Hopefully, after all of these years of religious education and the example Darling Husband and I have set, she will have the tools she needs to find her way and possibly help fellow Catholic students do the same.  Maybe she will be the beacon that others are looking for.

Then there’s the question of what college is really for.  I think the days of college as a pure learning experience are over.  Frankly, it costs too much.  If you aren’t going to college with a view to preparing for a career in life, maybe college isn’t for you.  I say this as a full-time mom.  I truly believe I use my degree in History every day as I help educate my children.  Had the internet been available to offer employment from home in my years as a young mom, I likely would have pursued some outside employment that way.  The investment in a college education should be an investment in your future, in the contributions you hope to make in society.  Like it or not, studying primarily the Great Books and Western Civilization is not going to get you far in today’s world.  It might get you into law school, but even that isn’t saying much, according to this article.  And a degree in theology likely won’t land you a job that will allow you to repay those college loans in a hurry, not to mention your other bills.

Here’s my other worry about some of these “approved” schools:  They might be what some have called “Catholic ghettos.”  I don’t necessarily like that terminology, but it could be aptly applied.  Spiritually speaking, they may be Catholic utopias, but what about educationally?  When you’re shelling out close to $200,000 over 4 years, should you settle for 2nd best in faculty or lab facilities or connections that give your kid a boost in job prospects?  This post about this very issue really started me thinking about all this. 

Am I less of a good Catholic mom for questioning these colleges as the best fit for SuzyQ?  Am I risking her soul by encouraging her to look at institutions I know are filled with unashamedly anti-Catholics?  Theoretically, she could end up graduating from an “approved” Catholic college as a fanatic on the conservative end of the spectrum.  You know, the super-judgmental, “I’m a better Catholic than you because I read the entire Summa Theologica, and I don’t wear pants” type? 

So, chime in.  What’s a Catholic parent to do?

Incidentally, Harvard isn’t on my list.  But Princeton might be.  It has a thriving Catholic campus presence in spite of being Ivy League.

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Words Mean Something

I think I may have mentioned before that I am a word lover.  Actually, I’m more of a word freak.  My kids would tell you that I get giddy over recognizing Latin or Greek roots in words.  I love the Word of the Day feature on my homepage.  And I nag the kids in their writing  and speech about choosing their words carefully.  I know that writers can agonize over each word to give their sentences exactly the right tone.

That’s why, why I was outraged to learn that Mark Twain’s most famous works will be revised in a major act of political correctness.  Apparently, a certain Twain scholar has taken it upon himself to replace the “N-word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer with he word “slave” in a new combined edition of the books.  Also out are the words “Injun Joe” and “half-breed.”    The thinking here is that the new wording will be less offensive to readers so that middle school and high school teachers can begin assigning these classics once again.

Where to begin on what irks me about this English professor and a publisher taking such liberties?  Most obvious is the fact that by changing the dialect and vocabulary of the characters, he is changing the characters themselves.  This is not a matter of translating, say, Chaucer because no one understands Old or Middle English.  This is putting new words in a character’s mouth, words that Twain could have chosen but didn’t.  Mark Twain knew the meaning of the words he chose and used them for a reason.

What I find to be so laughable is this professor’s desire to protect kids from a word that they very likely use themselves or certainly hear repeatedly in the hip-hop music they love.  The “N-word” is routinely tossed about in song lyrics and teenage conversation, especially by the demographic group that would cry offense if someone of another race were to use the word.  That is a garbled, “sensitive” way of saying that it seems it’s OK for black kids to refer to each other as “niggers,” but it is a mortal sin for white kids to use that word.  There, I said it.  I half expect to find the PC police stalking my comment box now and posting hateful messages.  So the word is just fine in song lyrics, but it’s offensive in classic American literature??

Here’s what I find offensive in the so-called “literature” on high school required reading lists: sexually explicit scenes and 4-letter words.  I know a lot of that language is part of kids’ everyday vocabulary; I hear it all the time in the mall or at the library.  But to me, it’s offensive.   I also find detailed descriptions of rape, oral sex, and even consensual sex to be highly inappropriate for high school kids.  Books containing these, however, are forced on kids as “literature” by librarians and English teachers.  Take, for example, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.  It’s very explicit in its description of sexual abuse.  Found on some required 9th Grade reading lists is the more recent The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  It’s loaded with shock-value scenes in place of plot, but it’s cheerfully assigned with a little disclaimer  about mature content for parents of Ohio freshmen.  Teachers really think kids are comfortable discussing such scenes in front of the whole English class?  But teachers will argue that’s what makes the books “real” and “relevent.”  Hmmm.

So are we supposed to be sensitive about are word choices or not?  I’m confused.  Mark Twain…bad; hip-hop artist…good?

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The Newest Ride in Fantasyland: High School

It’s a New Year, and the Christmas break is over.  Time to hit the books with a vengeance.  The problem is that SuzyQ and I are at loggerheads about what a full course-load should be and what the schedule of a junior in high school should look like.  Apparently, we have very different notions about what should be expected of a high-achieving high school student.  Whom do I blame for this dispute?  Disney and Nickelodeon.  I knew I should have pulled the plug on cable TV long ago, before SuzyQ became interested in “Hannah Montana,” “I Carly,” and other sitcoms that depict the lives of so-called “normal” teenagers.  She may be too old for them now, but those shows have already done their damage.

Once kids start watching TV programs about high school kids, their sense of what is normal becomes skewed.  These shows, and others like them, follow teen characters throughout their typical days, which are filled with free time.  Hannah Montana, international rock star, has time to hang out at the beach with her friends and never has homework.  In “I Carly,”  the main character attends school, but spends most of her time chatting with friends there; and if she has homework, it doesn’t keep her from starring in her self-produced internet program.  Can you think of any TV shows that depict hard-working students?  Certainly, this is nothing new.  None of the characters on “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” or “The Cosby Show” sacrificed a social life for their schoolwork.  Somehow, the kids in the world of TV shows are able to play sports, hold down jobs, and preside over school newspapers or Glee Clubs or Matheletes and still have time to hang out at the mall or spend hours on the phone.

So naturally, SuzyQ feels that she is the only tortured high school soul on earth who has no free time.  Her logic is that, especially since she’s homeschooled, she should have waaay more time to read, hang out with friends, learn to cook, or do crafts.  Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that she has never enjoyed crafts or expressed an interest in cooking.  She may be doing her correspondence school work at home, but she’s taking 6 classes, including a few AP courses, physics, and pre-calculus.  No matter how you slice it, those classes come with hours of work: problems to work, novels to read, and essays to write.  Add to that her extracurriculars–chorus, karate, youth group, and music lessons–and you run out of hours in the day. They even bleed into the weekends.  Oh, and don’t forget the SAT prep and driving school.

Back in the dark ages when I was her age, I spent my junior and senior years of high school meeting myself coming and going.  I never took AP classes, but I still had plenty of homework.  After school, I had chorus or newspaper or honor society.  I had church choir rehearsals some evenings.  Then there were chores to do.  I’ve tried to explain all of this to SuzyQ.  I’ve told her that my friends were just as busy as I was, so we didn’t really “hang out” except in homeroom or waiting for the bus or during one of our shared extracurriculars.  Lunch periods were usually spent finishing up homework or studying for the test next period.  We talked on the phone, but a lot of that was about the calculus or physics problems that we couldn’t figure out.

I’m fairly certain SuzyQ’s non-homeschooled friends are just as swamped as she is.  Yes, they get a change of scenery by leaving home to sit in classrooms every day.  And they squeeze in a football game or a dance every now and then.  But they are definitely not killing time at the mall every weekend or watching hours of TV.

No, it’s not her fault that she has to compete with some of the largest numbers of students ever applying to colleges.  And she’s not responsible for the Great Recession, which means that scholarship money will be scarcer than ever.  Yet the fantasy of what the high school years are “supposed” to be like continues.

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