Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Annoying Read

"Yes, yes if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands."
Reading Persuasion reminded me of why it took me three or four starts to get through Pride and Prejudice - I do not like Jane Austen's voice or style or whatever you want to call it. The plot was fine and there were some pointed barbs at a society that leaves women at the mercy of men, but I was about halfway through before I could ignore the language and writing style enough to immerse myself in what was going on.

However, it has introduced me to an awesome new insult: "James Benwick is rather too piano for me."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What It Takes

To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success - the fortunate birth dates and happy accidents of history - with a society that provides opportunities for all.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell looks at the myth of personal ability and ambition and instead shows that success can be understood by things like opportunity (be it to resources, or the ability to get to 10,000 hours of practice, or when you were born) and the legacy of culture on an individual.

This book has already had an influence on how I think about teaching. Gladwell quotes Elizabeth Dhuey:
"We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups. So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and they next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; an the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again."
and goes on to say:
"At four-year colleges in the United States-the highest stream of postsecondary education-students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their calls are under-represented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn't go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the different between going to college - and having a real shot at the middle class - and not."
And that is something, even if it is at the micro-level, that I can do something about. As a teacher, I can be more aware of how I judge ability and maturity levels. It's something that is incredibly hard to do here in South Korea, where my boss is aiming to have me level the 4 and 5 year olds, but in the classroom, I can try and avoid age-related judgements of what a child can do. As Gladwell says:
If we chose to, we could acknowledge that cutoff dates matter. We could set up two or even three hockey leagues, divided up by month of birth. Let the players develop on separate tracks an then pick all-star teams. If all the Czech and Canadian athletes born at the end of the year had a fair chance, then the Czech and the Canadian national teams suddenly would have twice as many athletes to choose from.
It pays off.

Another thing that was pointed out by Gladwell really made me think.
Those three things-autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward- are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.
I am not particularly happy in my present job. I'll stay another year not because I enjoy teaching kindergarten at Che*ngwon, but because I like having 7 weeks of paid vacation after years of the 2-weeks, one week at a time hagwon system. I have a connection between effort and reward for sure - little notes that the students give me saying "I love you teacher", their smiles, hearing them say they love English class, watching them learn how to read. And I often have a lot of autonomy - my dislike of my coworkers has stemmed largely from their lack of information about my class schedule so I can adequately plan or an attempt by them to tell me how or what to teach (since really, none of them are fluent in English, and one is incredibly bad at English, I have to say I find instruction about how to teach the language that I do in fact speak pretty annoying.) What I don't have is complexity - or enough complexity for me. I miss teaching literature and social studies to older students. Kindergarten curriculum doesn't really interest me. They are cute, my students, but I don't find them fascinating the way I do middle or high school kids.

I suppose in 2011, I should start taking steps to address that, because on the whole, I do love teaching.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crisis? Yep.

Recently I read Losing Confidence: Power, Politics, and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy by Elizabeth May. I picked it up at home on vacation - over a year ago - in a spurt of patriotic interest in Canadian politics. She describes what she sees as the Americanization of the Canadian system:
"In Canada, as in other modern democracies, the last fifty years have seen an increasing centralization of power, first shifting from Parliament to Cabinet, and then from Cabinet to the prime minister. We risk losing the democratic progress of centuries in wresting power from a king only to see it vested in an increasingly unaccountable and autocratic prime minster."
Certainly, living oversees has taught me more about the American system of government than the Canadian. Not only have I taught American Social Studies, I have also read several articles on American government in various reading textbooks. And then there is the fact that I have far more access to the news regarding the US than I do to Canadian stories. Obama vs. Clinton interested me far more than the most recent Canadian election - and partly because we all heard about the issues over here and could then debate them amongst ourselves.

May discusses and quotes the Kent Commission Report: "Freedom of the press is not a property right of owners. It is right of the people. It is part of their right to free expression, inseparable from their right to inform themselves." Certainly, I do not think I'm anywhere near as informed as I should be about how Canadian government works and why. May strongly points out that a lack of information is a critical problem in democracy today. She also attacks the party system: "There is something ironic about a situation where political parties have such power in a democracy, yet 85 percent of the voters are not willing to join any party." She states that parties, due to a first-past-the-post system do not even represent Canadians properly, as an increasing number of Canadian governments have had false majorities.
"Awareness of the threat to democracy must go far beyond bemoaning the fact that young people don't vote. That is the tip of the iceberg of electoral dysfunction. The most effective solution is to approve a change in how we elect members of federal and provincial parliaments. no other single step will have as many salutary impacts."
I have to say that I approve of her solution. I have always exercised my right to vote, when my residence allowed me to do so. Sure, it was exciting to vote Liberal to keep out the Conservatives, but I am definitely more of an NDP kind of girl. The most exciting time I've ever voted was in Scotland - I voted Green AND they got in. Why? Because of the proportionate representation voting system.

The book occasionally struck me as a bit biased towards the Greens, but in general, it was a fascinating and informative look at the problems in Canadian democracy today.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

How Many, How Much

How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends on how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends on how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends on how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends on how much you give 'em.


I've never roped a Brahma bull,
I've never fought a duel,
I've never crossed the desert
On a lop-eared, swayback mule,
I've never climbed an idol's nose
To steal a curse-d jewel.

I've never gone down with my ship
Into the bubblin' brine,
I've never saved a lion's life
And then had him save mine,
Or screamed Ahoooo while swingin' through
The jungle on a vine.

I've never dealt draw poker
In a rwody lumber camp,
Or got up at the count of nine
To beat the world's champ,
I've never had my picture on
A six-cent postage stamp.

I've never scored a touchdown
On a ninety-nine-yard run,
I've never winged six Daltons
With my dying brother's gun...
Or kissed Miz Jane, and rode my hoo
Into the setting sun.
Sometimes I get so depressed
'Bout what I haven't done.


've been working so hard you just wouldn't believe,
And I'm tired!
There's so little time and so much to achieve,
And I'm tired!
I've been lying here holding the grass in its place,
Pressing a leaf with the side of my face,
Tasting the apples to see if they're sweet,
Counting the toes on a centipede's feet.
I've been memorizing the shape of that cloud,
Warning the robins to not chirp so loud,
Shooing the butterflies off the tomatoes,
Keeping an eye out for floods and tornadoes.
I've been supervising the work of the ants
And thinking of pruning the cantaloupe plants,
Calling the fish to swim into my nets,
And I've taken twelve thousand and forty-one breaths,
And I'm TIRED!

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pol?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Magic Carpet

You have a magic carpet
That will whiz you through the air,
To Spain or Maine or Africa
If you just tell it where.
So will you let it take you
Where you’ve never been before
Or will you buy some drapes to match
And use it
On your

Friday, December 10, 2010

St. John's College has a reading list which I find quite interesting.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Need to Plan to Leave the Shore in 2011

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” - Andre Gide

Born Into Brothels

What an amazing documentary. I love that it shows things from the children's perspective. I love that we get to see the world through their lenses. I cried.

Well worth watching.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

15 Characters

Before I go off to make enough lasagna to freeze for the winter...

The Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen fictional characters (television, films, plays, books, video games) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you.

Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist)
CJ Cregg (The West Wing)
Alicia (Alicia's Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman)
Ramona Quimby
Laura Ingalls (Wilder)
Anne of Green Gables
Punky Brewster
Meg (A Wrinkle in Time)
Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
Lessa (Pern series)
Daleks (Doctor Who)
Vladek (Maus)
The girl in red coat (Schindler's List)
Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Stadler and Waldorf (The Muppets)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Messing With the Numbers

Someone linked me to this blog entry on Facebook. It says that:
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Since I personally own about 200ish books I've yet to get around to reading, it occurs to me that us weirdos might be skewing the data.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Soooooo Looooooooong

Gone With the Wind is a very long movie. And it wasn't 4 hours worth of interesting either.

That said, I suppose I'm glad I can finally say I've seen it.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Jesus Camp

I have no idea how I came to download this, but it was quite interesting. Evangelical Christian kids, praying and crying.

I read theNew York Times review. I have to say, I was disturbed by the children, who looked a lot like they were being brainwashed.

What really gets me about things like this, something that struck me when that whole fuss over The Golden Compass occurred, is that as an atheist, if I had children, I would be quite happy for them to be exposed to religion. I'd have no problem with my child choosing to believe in god. I don't feel that making a decision about something that can't be proven either way should be forced on anyone, and certainly children shouldn't be indoctrinated to think one way or the other. I'd let my kids read Narnia or The Chosen or Harry Potter or whatever they wanted. I'd tell them what I think. And I'd help them develop the kind of critical thinking skills that would let them come to their own conclusions.

It's quite strange to realize how differently some religious parents feel.

Pass the Ketchup


Friday, December 03, 2010


Today didn't really feel like a Friday (not sure why, when it's felt like such a long week), but it ended on a really high note.

I made latkes and lit candles. I think I'm just going to slowly start celebrating everyone's holidays all over the world. It's nice.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010