Just when you think the country is spiraling out of control due to natural disasters, political upheaval, and lone wolf violence, you read some words written by twelve- and thirteen-year-olds and you realize that kids will carry us through. In short, everything’s gonna be okay.
I just finished reading some first drafts written by my seventh-grade students. These drafts will grow into essays they will submit in a couple of weeks to an essay contest sponsored by our local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Each year has a different theme and this year’s is “America’s Gift to My Generation.” What are these gifts, as determined by my students? Here are some my students wrote about: freedom, the ability to make choices, security, free speech, education, medical technology, optimism, diversity, the opportunity…
Over the weekend, the local water protection district issues a “boil order” and ships pallets of water bottle cases to be stacked next to the water fountains on Monday morning. In any place other than a middle school, this would be a good thing.
Construction paper signs are taped to fountains and faucets warning students not to drink the water. Here… have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead.
Students drink two to three times as much as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Man, water is delicious!
Students make two to three times as many trips to the bathroom as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Yes, go, just go.
The fun wears off, so ingenious students use pens to punch holes in the lids of full water bottles. Squirt guns! Broken pens! (Does this count as a STEM activity?)
The request to leave class to get a drink no longer applies because you, dear student, have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead. Please stay in the room and drink two to three times what you normally would.
Drops of water appear on desks, turning typed words into illegible gray clouds. Look! There on the desk. It’s an essay! It’s an art project!
Armloads of water bottles are tossed into the trash. Many are mostly full. So much for going green.
Teachers exhibit great patience when students empty those water bottles and then squeeze them repeatedly. Here’s the sound those bottles make: crinkle-crackle- crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle. If teachers calmly wait for the sound effect to end (because this has been happening all day), it just might… but usually it doesn’t. Throw it away. Now.
Tuesday morning feels like it should be Friday afternoon… for the teachers, anyway. This is gonna be one L-O-N-G week.
This post was originally published on medium.com. Follow this blog for more posts about writing and teaching. Click “like” if you enjoyed this post and share with others on social media. Thanks for reading!
Teaching the standards takes time; so does building trust.
Photo: Autumn Goodman on Unsplash
“So are you calling us stupid?!” a middle school student asked me two months into my first year of teaching. Her eyes bore straight through to my heart. It was 9:15 a.m. on a Monday during my first year of teaching in a small rural school in Missouri. Friday of that week seemed as far away as the following summer.
A sickening ache throbbed in my stomach. I clutched the lesson plans I had printed out the day before at home, and took a breath.
“No, I’m calling you careless,” I retorted. I don’t even remember exactly what we were discussing. Probably sloppy handwriting, perpetual lateness, or a general lack of responsibility that I was amazed existed to such a degree in the vast majority of the students. Sure, some students cared. Some turned in their assignments…
With lots of pieces and lots of slime, I should have known better.
Every parent has been there. You buy that cool toy your child yearns for and within minutes you realize: BIG MISTAKE.
So, in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would relate my own such experience with the Hot Wheels Slimecano Playset… y’know, to relive the “joy” once again and possibly save another parent from buying this behemoth. After all, even though some cursory online searching indicates this toy has been discontinued, one or two units could still be lurking out there on a dusty store shelf or in an online retailer’s inventory.
In a word, the Hot Wheels Slimecano was formidable. Introduced in 2004, this apparatus was composed of an armload of plastic pieces that snapped or otherwise fit together. My eight-year-old son had seen it advertised on TV and wanted it desperately.
All those plastic pieces were accompanied by directions that explained which parts attached to which other parts, which combined to form race tracks, slime reservoirs, ramps, and other components that, when completely assembled, resulted in an ominous and wobbly gray, brown and orange tripod-like structure down which my son could send his cars. So awesome, Mom.
Also, there was somehow a skull or dragon head involved in the design of the thing, although I don’t remember the significance of that, other than maybe it was there to advise parents in “Jolly Roger”-style of the gooey mess that was about to be made.
An unsettling slime concoction was key to the Slimecano. I don’t remember if it was a slime we made ourselves from ingredients supplied in the box, or if it was included in the package already prepared in packets, but it was there, a thick, gloppy translucent orange goop dotted with dark specks. This slime provided the magic of the toy.
For a fleeting five minutes, my son played with the Slimecano. He was mesmerized watching his car careen down the plastic track… until it hit the slime and needed to be pushed through an oozing river of the stuff and then guided around a puddle at the bottom of the track. This all happened to the same unfortunate car. After all, the wheels on a car can only move when they are not embedded with slime. My son soon figured out that this was a toy that required him to sacrifice his least favorite car. Send that car down the Slimecano once, clog up the wheels, tire treads, and undercarriage, and voila! auto salvage in miniature.
Then came the very unmagical clean-up time. While snapping apart the Slimecano, my son discovered the entire apparatus was encrusted with the orange goo. So was the floor. And his mom’s patience. As he dismantled the game, washed off each piece, and shoved the plastic collection back into the box, we knew that the Slimecano may have just had its one and only use. The game was over and disappointment was the victor. Thanks, Hot Wheels.
So there you have it, my gift to you: a cautionary tale of the toy I trashed. Have a similar toy story in your family? Tell me about it in the comments. We can laugh about it now, can’t we?!
If you enjoyed this post, click like so others can find it. Follow my blog for more posts. Thanks for reading!
A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my classes. On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.
My eyes rested on that last one. I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?
I questioned Hubbard’s name because I knew a little about the Church of Scientology. I had read “The Apostate” by Hollywood director, screenwriter and former Scientologist Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. I had read former Scientologist Amy Scobee’s Scientology: Abuse at the Top. I had also watched HBO’s documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Out of curiosity, I had even read a Scientology text from my local library that, had I been a lost soul looking for some easy — and expensive — answers, would have been convincing; however, for all its ostentatiousness and extremely happy people holding e-meters, the text felt empty and false.
With all the media attention focused on the Church of Scientology, it’s easy to conclude Hubbard’s “church” is no religion at all, but rather a dangerous money-making cult that uses Tom Cruise and other celebrities, its 501(c)(3) status, and hyperbole to convince its followers that it’s a major force for good in the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
But that day last fall at school, I was in a hurry to get my classroom put together, so I cast from my mind Hubbard’s name on that list of human rights notables. I looked through the rest of the educator’s kit: lesson plans, a set of thirty professionally-photographed human rights posters, a class set of booklets that explain each of the thirty rights, plus a well-produced DVD that discusses the Cyrus Cylinder, Natural Law, the American and French Revolutions and other global watershed moments in human rights. I filed the DVD away, laminated the posters and hung them on a wall of my classroom, and then shelved the booklets, which would be used later when my eighth-grade students would start connecting the literature we read to human rights.
Then over the next few months, I watched “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” the actress’ documentary series on A&E. Alongside consultant and former Scientologist Mike Rinder, Remini exposes The Church of Scientology’s abuses, violence, and inhumane practices through interviews with former “parishioners” now disconnected from the group.
During one episode of Remini’s series, I learned about the many front organizations the Church of Scientology uses to gain credibility. And that was my lightbulb moment: Youth for Human Rights International must be one of those front organizations, I thought. That’s why Hubbard’s name was on that list. A few minutes of online searching confirmed my suspicion.
Indeed, the Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind YHRI. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org, and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally by the Church of Scientology to advance human rights.
On Scientology.org, you’ll also find lots of United Nations name-dropping. Clearly, it enhances the cult’s image to rub shoulders with the UN, but it baffles me why the United Nations would align itself with the Church of Scientology. Here’s a link on the UN’s website to its annual International Human Rights Summit held last August at its New York City headquarters. According to the article, student attendees spent day three of the summit at the Church of Scientology Harlem Community Center, which is right next door to the Harlem Main Church. The UN summit was co-organized by the permanent UN missions in Cambodia and Panama and YHRI, which has been a co-sponsor of the summit since its inception fourteen years ago.
Based on the alliance with the UN, many people likely assume YHRI is a reputable, forthright group worthy to publicize in public school classrooms. Heck, that’s what I assumed.
However, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology violates, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field of human rights. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on the cult, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities. For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s Ecclesiastical Leader, and other higher-ups.
To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools — even though that inroad, human rights, may be innocuous and noble — it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
So, parents and teachers, please know that if you or your child’s teacher discusses human rights, do not consult Youth for Human Rights International or United for Human Rights because if you do, you will actually be consulting the Church of Scientology.
There are reputable organizations out there ready to provide teachers with classroom-ready, cult-free materials. I’ll discuss some alternatives in an upcoming post.
Thanks for reading! If you found this enlightening, click “like” so others will find it. And if you leave a comment, that would be awesome. Follow this blog to catch my next post.