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.
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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?!
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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.
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I collect vintage metal recipe boxes. I have eighteen in my collection. Some were purchased from ebay.com, but most were found here and there while scouting antique shops and junk stores. Most of the boxes in my collection are empty, but three contain recipes inside. Those with the recipes are ephemeral time capsules that echo with the writings of one woman’s time spent in her kitchen.
The one above was found at a little place called Shop Girl in Jefferson City, Missouri over lunch hour one day when I was visiting the city for an education conference. On my first sweep through the store, I completely missed it. As I was leaving, the shop owners asked me what I was looking for and then directed me to a display where this one was tucked. It’s perfect. Retro graphics and typography, made in USA, hinges on the lid, a few rough and rusty spots from frequent use, and… drumroll, please… recipes inside! Many of the recipes are even handwritten and all are very fragile.
There are recipes for peanut butter cookies, molasses snaps, angel cookies, prune cookies, toffee nut bars, pecan bars, chess bars, mincemeat cookies, peanut brittle, brownie drops, pecan strips. Clearly, this baker had a sweet tooth. Or perhaps this box held only her cookie recipes.
Many of the recipes are clips from newspapers and magazines, but a good number are handwritten in cursive on note paper. A recipe for pecan sticks is written on a sheet from a notepad printed for the “New N&W Railroad… First Rate for Fast Freight.” A recipe for pecan bars appears on a sheet for “Union Pacific Railroad, The Automated Railway that Serves all the West.” One recipe is on the back of a daily expense report for “country salesmen” for Iten Biscuit Company and its Snow White Bakeries.
It’s nice to have something specific to search for when I venture into a nostalgia shop. It’s even nicer when I spot a vintage metal recipe box to bring home.
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It’s nice to see clothing like this instead of that snarky shirt I wrote about recently.
In August, Kohl’s mailed a back-to-school catalog with a shirt on the cover displaying the words, “Shhhh! Nobody Cares!” I wrote about it in “Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Shirt.” I believe that snarky messages like this only send negativity into the world… and can be especially hurtful in a school setting. I’m a middle school teacher and I know several kids who don’t need to read that their lives are unimportant.
Kohl’s tweeted to me a week or two after I published that blog post. Here’s their tweet: “Thanks for this feedback, Marilyn. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our buyers here at Kohl’s for review and future considerations.”
So when I found this “Throw kindness like confetti” shirt on a pre-Halloween mailer about a week ago, I was gratified. Yes, I know this mailer wasn’t in response to my blog post. I’m sure this flyer and the merchandise within it were all “put to bed” weeks or months ago. However, it’s nice to know that Kohl’s is aware that positive messages make the world a better place.
This is a photo of Louis Phillips standing in front of his 4th St. Grocery in or near San Diego, Calif.
I say “in or near” San Diego because, while some of the photos given to me by my mother are labeled San Diego, others are labeled El Cajon or Santee, two nearby suburbs.
I’m guessing this photo was taken during the 1920s, and someday as I have more time to research I will be able to put a more accurate date on it.
For background, Louis was the grandfather of Warren and Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s brothers who were airplane passengers killed in a barnstorming accident in 1930. I’ve written quite a bit about them starting with this post. At the time of the accident, their mother, Caroline Phillips Kerns, was visiting her parents, Louis (the man in the photo) and Minnie Phillips.
According to my grandmother, the Phillips had ventured to California from Missouri to find construction jobs associated with a large-scale exposition. I believe these jobs were positions created to update and expand the grounds of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in preparation for the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-1936.
Both San Diego expositions were held in that city’s famous Balboa Park. I remember my grandmother specifically mentioning this park when she would recall her ancestors. To this day, Balboa Park remains the nation’s largest urban cultural park, according to “San Diego’s 1935-36 Exposition: A Pictorial Essay” by David Marshall and Iris Engstrand in The Journal of San Diego History.
As for the 4th St. Grocery, I’m not sure how or when it came about. I do know that the store looks fantastic with all the produce arranged in perfect pyramids and the tidy Swift’s Pride Soap sign. No doubt, there was a fair dose of satisfaction and fulfillment found in his storefront and his family’s activities in the Golden State.
I have several more pictures from this part of my family. As I continue to write these family history posts, I’ll include additional pictures and explain a little about them. Click “like” if you found this post interesting. Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog to catch future posts.Thanks for reading!
I have fewer memories of my father’s parents than I do of my mother’s; however, those I do recall are vivid and important.
My father’s parents, William Homer Douglas, Sr. and Ruby Edith (Cook) Douglas, lived near Rich Hill, in southwestern Missouri. Even though we didn’t stay over at their house often, one summer weekend evening my sister and I did stay to watch the Miss America Pageant broadcast live from Atlantic City. I think this happened when Grandpa Douglas was still living, but I’m not sure. He may have already gone off to bed. He would pass away later when I was in the fourth grade.
Granny, my sister, and I watched the pageant huddled on the couch in the living room. I remember the room being dark, except for the light from the TV glowing with the parades of young women wearing evening gowns, modest one-piece bathing suits, talent competition outfits, and then evening gowns once again for their interview questions from the Master of Ceremonies, Bert Parks.
At a commercial break, it was time for a snack. Granny poured RC Cola for my sister and me into glasses. Then she popped corn in a skillet with hot oil on the stove. After pouring the popcorn into a bowl, she showed us her trick of sprinkling it with sugar instead of the usual salt. Popcorn with sugar was a little bit different and unexpectedly good.
After the pageant concluded, it was time for bed. My sister and I decided who would get the first jump onto the featherbed in the guestroom.The first jump into the deep pile of feathers was always the best. Once your body made contact with the white cotton bedspread, you would continue to sink slowly, compressing the feathers, submerging even deeper into the down. Eventually, Granny entered the bedroom to make sure we were making progress toward sleep. (We weren’t.)
In the morning, our parents picked us up. As we pulled out of the driveway into the gravel road, Granny waved at us from her porch with her standard wave: two hands in the air, fingers on both hands folding down in unison. Looking at her from the back window of our big red Bonneville, we headed back to Fort Scott, which was about thirty miles away.
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To family members: Leave me a note if you think some of the details in this post are wrong and I’ll edit, or if you have a recollection to add, do that, too!
This is a drawing my daughter made on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was six.
My daughter understood the devastation and the loss of that day. As for myself, I have noticed a diminishing sadness when I contemplate September 11. It seems the shock has softened some for me, to be honest. I don’t notice the empty New York City skyline like I used to. When I watch an old movie with the Twin Towers in the skyline, I notice their absence, but it doesn’t catch my breath like it used to, and it bothers me that the event is becoming “historical”… in the distant past.
Of course, for those who lost loved ones on that day, it’s a different story. 2001 may still be as near to them as the last intersection they drove through. I understand that for many, September 11 lingers near.
It’s still frustrating and difficult to explain what we experienced that day to people who are either too young to remember or weren’t even born yet. I’ve been trying to explain it for the past sixteen years, but still can’t convey the sorrow and shock of that day.I suppose it’s similar for those who were alive when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was born two years before that awful event, and I’m sure many had a difficult time trying to explain that to those of my age. For me, it was just relegated to being “historical”… in the distant past.
I do talk about the September 11 attacks with my eighth-grade English Language Arts classes, and discussing it every year does keep the event in the forefront of my mind in the fall.
Every year, we watch “The Center of the World,” the last disc in the eight-DVD series “New York: The Documentary.” It’s directed by Ric Burns of Steeplechase Films. The documentary eloquently conveys the horror of the day, the response of New York City and the nation, and a recognition that, although our collective soul was irrevocably altered in the span of a few hours, the United States of America will prevail. It’s my hope that this excellent film relates better than I can that September 11 is relevant and important, not merely “historical”… in the distant past.