December Post Marks 10 Years

……….In order to officially make it to ten years of writing on this blog, I have to get in at least one more post, and it has to be done this month. It is Sunday, Christmas Eve, 2017 when I start writing this (I won’t be finished tonight). I am home on vacation from a job I still enjoy (most days), with a family I treasure (beyond measure), in a house I purchased nearly twenty years ago with the best friend I have ever had (… I’m the pain in her sash). Those are about the only things that haven’t changed in the world around me since I first started sharing my thoughts and discoveries on this blog ten years ago.

……….A decade is a long time when you really think about it. Ten years ago, I was just entering my forties, the father of two young boys, ages 3 and 7. Back then, I was thinking more about after school meals and activities, than making college visits or having “the talk”. A lot has changed in the world in those intervening 3,652 days. It often happens so slowly, so incrementally, that we barely take notice. Until we stop … and take notice. Below you will find a table comparing a few things that popped into my mind.

2007 2017 % Change
World Population 6.6 Billion 7.6 Billion +15%
Tallest Building Taipei 101, 509m Burj Khalifa, 828m +63%
Price of Gas $3.38 $2.49   -26%
Avg Red Sox Tix $47.71 $54.79 +15%
Median Home           sold in Nov. $249,100 $318,700 +28%
Ounce of Gold $630 $1278.10 +103%
Tuition at Harvard $30,122 $44,990 +49%
Largest Company,     Sales Revenue Walmart, $351B Walmart, $485B +38%
Median Household Income $50,823 $59,039 +16%
Federal Minimum  Wage per Hour $5.85 $7.25 +24%
MSRP Honda       Accord EX $23,145 $30,860 +33%
Wealthiest person Bill Gates, $56B Jeff Bezos, $100.3B +79%
Number of iPhones sold 1.39 M 216.76 M +15490%

……….A lot of things have changed that can’t be measured in terms of money (but still will be by someone, somewhere). I placed the iPhone last on this list intentionally for two reasons. First, 2007 was the year that it was launched and immediately it was hailed as a revolutionary item. Second, even though it wasn’t the first smart phone, Apple’s contribution to the marketplace forever altered our world in ways big and small, good and bad. After the iPhone, no longer were our phones, just our phones … now they were packed with connections to the world, loaded with tools like cameras for video and still shots, teeming with little distractions like puzzles, games and twitter feeds. More than almost anything else that has changed in the last ten years, is the impact that has been made by iPhone and its many competitors on our daily lives, especially in school.

……….When I first started in education, portable phones didn’t exist. When mobile phone began appearing in the late 1990s, most people couldn’t afford one. In the early 2000s, the first affordable cell phones started showing up and our war in the schools against these intrusive items began. In the very beginning, I remember that our school policy was clear that students couldn’t bring their personal electronic devices to school. Back then, you needed a camera for pictures, a video recorder for movies, a music player and headphones for your tunes, a gaming device and a phone. These were all separate items and it was understood that these things were mostly meant for entertainment, and served as a distraction to our students. But little by little we changed our minds (or was it changed for us) and we moved from encouraging students to leaving their devices at home, to allowing them to walk around with one earphone in.

……….As a librarian, I am against most things that discourage you from reading, and by reading I mean long form reading. Having your personal electronic device with you makes it really easy to find a dozen things to do other than read a book. Just having it near you may actually cause you stress. And yes, of course, I understand all the arguments in favor of having your smartphones with you (I wrote about it in 2013), I am not arguing in favor of a zero-tolerance policy. I just wish there was an easy way to convince people to turn off their phones for the school/work day, and when they find themselves with some “free” time, read a book.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Thank you to everyone to who has stopped by since 2007. I know you are out there.


Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2017. All rights reserved

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New To Our Shelves, October 2017

Our new books have arrived and they are ready to be taken home. Here’s a preview of nine quick picks from our new additions.

Graphic Novels

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery illustrated by Miles Hyman: One of my favorite short stories, this graphic novel adaptation does not disappoint. For those who are unfamiliar with this material, be forewarned, there is violence involved and the author is masterful and graphic in her understanding and depiction of its raw brutality.

The Imitation Game, Jim Ottaviani: Without consciously trying, I am a huge fan of Jim Ottaviani’s work. In the past, I have purchased two other books by this author, Primates and Feynman, and I highly recommend both. This latest addition chronicles mathematician Alan Turing’s life and his contributions to both computer science and LGBTQ history. Those uncomfortable with complex mathematics may feel confused; those uncomfortable with complex human feelings will feel lost.

Contract with God Trilogy, Will Eisner: Before anyone knew about graphic novels, Will Eisner was doing his thing. Unlike his contemporaries in comic books who were telling stories of mutants and cyborgs and super powered beings clashing with ne’er do wells with almost equal super powers, Eisner focused on the epic tales and toils of common folk dealing with the invisible forces of everyday life.


This Idea Must Die, Edited by John Brockman: Bad ideas are stubborn things, they are hard to get rid of once we have learned them. Still, the only way to make progress is by facing our bad ideas head on, and creating new ways of thinking about old things. This collection of over a hundred short essays will challenge your notions on topics such as the universe, race, human nature, simplicity, IQ and a wide range of other fascinating things you think you understand.

The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, Matt Simon: Have you ever felt like you are out of control? Like you are doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing? Then you probably shouldn’t read this book because you might realize you are being brainwashed. The natural world is full of chemical hijackers who take over the “minds” and bodies of their prey to use it for their own ends. If you are an ant, perched high on a blade of grass, waiting to be eaten, you’ve probably been hijacked.

A Deadly Wandering, Matt Richtel: Have you noticed how many people are always looking down nowadays? How their attention is focused on the palm of their hands, on a screen streaming something more inviting to the viewer than the immediate surroundings? That’s really bad when you’re in a one ton projectile traveling at 100 feet per second on an icy road. It’s bad anytime, really. But especially then. This book is both a warning and a chronicle about what happens, when we stop paying attention at the wrong times.


Stories of Your Life, Ted Chiang: Believe it or not, the 2015 sci-fi movie Arrival, is based on a short story in this collection. Who knew that such a brilliant and thought-provoking take on first contact with extraterrestrial beings could be accomplished in about 50 pages? Apparently, writer Ted Chiang knew. A mathematician by training & trade, Chiang writes only occasionally, and only short stories, but his stories are original and thought provoking.

Spontaneous, Aaron Starmer: This is one of those books that I acquired for our collection because it sounded like an original twist on an old theme. High school senior year blues mixed with spontaneous combustion, or how I blew up before graduation. I haven’t read this one yet, and while the reviews run both hot and cold, there are many more who find it entertaining and worthy of a read.

Boy Robot, Simon Curtis: Again, a book I purchased for our library based on the number of positive reviews I read. I like books that take unorthodox approaches to asking ordinary questions like, “what is a memory” and “how do I know I am real?” Most reviewers seemed to agree that the characters were interesting and that the book overall was an entertaining read.

Hope you find something worth reading, and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Latest Welcome Back Post Ever

So here we are, September 27th and I still haven’t posted a “Welcome Back” entry. I know that is very bad form, but since I don’t have any readers, no one noticed. That is the nice thing about anonymity, you can slack off because no one is watching.

But 2017 also marks the 10th anniversary of this here blog, and so I wanted to post enough new material this year to make it to December (maybe?), when it will officially mark 10 years of writing … and trying to share information online with my colleagues and students. The first line of my first post was, “Consider this an experiment in online librarianship”.

And the first post of every new school year is usually pretty boilerplate stuff; information for the Hillie Nation about our hours of operation, and such. (Yes, that was a rhyme or at least a bit of verbal syncopation). So, below is just that:

Library Media Center Hours:     Monday – Friday, 7 am – 3:15 pm

Students that want to use the LMC computers or space after-school, do not need to make an appointment. Many clubs, groups and other people book the library for meetings or other events, and students may, on rare occasions, be asked to leave. We can give students a pass for the late bus (T, W, TH) but they are expected to be in the library working, reading or otherwise engaged in a school related activity.

Haverhill High School OPAC:

Anyone can access our collection through the “HPS Library” link at the bottom of the HPS Launchpad. We have a great selection of books for a high school library, that includes an expanding collection of graphic novels, including many which are non-fiction.

Class Visits

Teachers that would like to bring their class to the library can arrange their visits by checking the LMC log kept at the circulation desk. There is no online version of this to book the library. Please call us (xt. 1143) to check if we have room to accommodate you and/or your group if you have NOT already booked a visit in the LMC log. We love to see our space full of students, teachers, aides, counselors and everyone else who makes HHS a great place to work.

 Study Students

Students who would like to use a chrome-book during their study periods can come to the library (with a pass, of course) to borrow one. We encourage them to bring their school IDs with them, but haven’t enforced it as a rule (yet).


The LMC has two computer labs and a chrome-book cart.

  • Lab 1 is one the left hand side of the “pit” and has 20 PCs.
  • Lab 2 is in the right hand side of the “pit” and has 26 Macs.
  • The chrome-book cart has 30 laptops that connect wirelessly, but do not print.

We have one color and one mono printer/copier which both get heavy use throughout the day.

There is a laminating machine for staff use only. Currently we only have 25” wide laminate available.

Copiers, projectors, overheads, etc.

As a media specialist, I am here to get you through some of your frustrating technology encounters. I know how much our faculty and staff rely on copies, printouts and scans to get their work done, so please make sure you call me whenever you’re having trouble with one of our many Toshiba machines. Contact me if your local machine needs its toner or staples replaced, if you’re experiencing chronic paper jams, or if you get an error message of any kind. I am also able to assist you if you still use a television, VCR (what?), DVD player (huh?), overhead projector (why?), CD player/radio (how?), or other antiquated machine that helps you do your thing in the classroom.

 Contact Information

School Extension:    1143

Henry Toromoreno, Librarian 

Melissa Tarpy, Library Aide      

Thank you for reading, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2017. All rights reserved.






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OMG, it is summer … ideas.

Hello all. The end of the school year came around faster than I expected and I find myself right smack in the middle of my summer vacation! I hope all my teacher friends and my student allies out there are enjoying their free time and making the most of this nice weather.

Our friends at the Haverhill Public Library (HPL) have released their July lineup of free events. Besides encouraging you to continue reading even through the summer months with their reading programs, the HPL also hosts a number of these events to get families out of the sun for a few hours. Below I have highlighted their July calendar for you. Some of these events require registration and I encourage you to contact the library for more details about each of the dates. The HPL can be reached at (978) 373-1586.

Date Time Place Audience




4:30 pm Auditorium


Movie: Fences


2–3:30 pm Milhendler Room



Activity: Teen Crafternoon

8 10:30 am–noon


18 +

Activity: Tie Dye Tea Towels

13 7–8:30 pm Auditorium


Talk: Holistic Health/ Andy Morris

17 7–8 pm


Activity: HPL Photography Group

18 6–8 pm Auditorium


Talk: Healthier Snacking at Work/ Chef Liz Barbour

7–8:45 pm Milhendler Room


Activity: Knit and Crochet Group

22 2–4:30 pm Auditorium


Movie: The Zookeeper’s Wife

26 1–3 pm Auditorium

Ages 14+

Activity: Teen Murder Mystery Party

29 2–4 pm Milhendler Room


Activity: Coloring Club

For more information and an updated schedule, visit All events are free and registrations can be confirmed online or by calling the library.

Among the many projects that I have to keep myself busy, I have been brainstorming ideas for the coming school year. Inspired by my oldest son’s creativity (he made a short five minute video that you can find here … if you have a Facebook account.) I started thinking about hosting a contest for “New Covers for Classics”, or something like that … I am open to suggestions.

Right now I am leaning towards making it a digital art project, that is, the final product must be presented as a digital file of some sort. My thinking on this is that while I love the traditional pen, paper, paintbrush, canvas artwork (as can be attested to in every issue of INKBLOTT, the HHS student arts & literary magazine) I believe that today’s creative types also need to be familiar with the digital tools available to them (and their competitors). If and when I do decide to host such a competition/ contest, I will be sure to announce it on this blog.

In the meantime, below you can find four quick examples that my son and I put together using nothing more than stock photographs from the Internet and free photo manipulating software, GIMP, which I have written about before (see 04/11/09). This kind of project reflects the inclusion of the arts in the STEM movement to transform it into the STEAM movement. While the tools we used to create the final project were digital, our brainstorming and idea gathering were artistic processes that asked us to consider the themes, symbols, characters, motifs and other central ideas of the novels for which we were creating covers. We sketched and took notes using pen, pencil and paper before we moved to our digital tools. (Interestingly, none of our pen & paper sketches looked anything like our final products, but that’s fodder for another post …. Maybe.)

Hope you found something interesting and that you are enjoying your summer. … And Happy July Fourth in advance. Que viva la INDEPENDENCIA!

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2017. All rights reserved.

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LMC Announcements, March 2017

Hello, anyone. Forgive me for not posting more regularly, but time seems to get away from me very easily. With my apology out of the way, let me share some library news with you:

  • Things have been busy as always in the LMC, especially with the addition of regularly scheduled classes in our library rooms. The EMT course, the robotics lab, and the math & tech classes housed in the library have been a great success this year. In no small part this is a reflection of both the teachers’ high expectations and our students engagement in interesting, relevant and dynamic courses.

NAF students with teachers Cliff Ashbrook (left) and Lance Gomes (right)

  • 2016-17 was also the first full year of our new National Academy Foundation (NAF) program spearheaded and painstakingly cobbled together by a team of incredible educators led by Victoria Kelley and Lisa Hunt (whose office is also in the LMC). Below you can view a short video that introduces the program.
Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 12.54.22 PM

One of the courses offered through NAF, 3D printing, not only teaches students how to use the software, but also has the students build the printers from scratch.


  • We’ve had two more great Coffee House Nights in the LMC thanks to Mr. Jordan and the Student Council. This bi-annual event has become a great event to showcase all sorts of talents in a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Below you will find a few pictures taken by Ms. Caradonna. You can find more pix on her Facebook page.
Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 1.02.46 PM

Lights turned down, all eyes forward as the LMC is transformed into Haverhill’s hippest Coffee House twice a year.

  • Thank you to Mrs. Blaustein and her classes for encouraging me to develop what is becoming our “Technology Museum” in the LMC. Our collection of outdated and obsolete hardware is a testament to the continuing improvements made by scientific inquiry and the application of those discoveries to our everyday lives. Right now, I am still in the gathering and labeling stage of organizing the collection, but eventually I hope to have an interactive, hands-on “museum” that will allow students to handle and even use the equipment, some of which still works.

Cameras, computer mouses, mobile phones, floppy disks … Just a few of the many “old-timey” pieces of equipment on display in the LMC.

  • Lastly, beginning Monday, March 13th, the LMC will have its own Chromebook cart with 30 computers available for in-library use only. The cart can be reserved by teachers to use in the pit or individual computers can be checked out by students, with their school IDs. These laptops are to be used for school work, but will not permit students to print.

Lenovo n22

Thank you for stopping by, have a great weekend, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2017. All rights reserved.

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New To Our Shelves: October 2016

It is that time of the year again, when our book orders finally start rolling in. As is usually the case, we got fewer books this year than last year, and we got fewer books last year than the year before. I wonder how long it will be before I only have one new book to report? Until then, I will share with you some of the best of the best titles that we have added to our humble collection. Below you will find three picks from our fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel and test prep/ pro-development sections, along with descriptions lifted from sites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads.



How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. “When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.”

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. “A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.”

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. “Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame? As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are”.


Graphic Novels

March Volumes 1 & 2 at told by John Lewis. “Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell.

The Divine by Lavie Boaz. “Mark’s out of the military, these days, with his boring, safe civilian job doing explosives consulting. But you never really get away from war. So it feels inevitable when his old army buddy Jason comes calling, with a lucrative military contract for a mining job in an obscure South-East Asian country called Quanlom. They’ll have to operate under the radar―Quanlom is being torn apart by civil war, and the US military isn’t strictly supposed to be there. With no career prospects and a baby on the way, Mark finds himself making the worst mistake of his life and signing on with Jason. What awaits him in Quanlom is going to change everything. What awaits him in Quanlom is weirdness of the highest order: a civil war led by ten-year-old twins wielding something that looks a lot like magic, leading an army of warriors who look a lot like gods. What awaits him in Quanlom is an actual goddamn dragon. From world-renowned artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka (twins, whose magic powers are strictly confined to pen and paper) and Boaz Lavie, The Divine is a fast-paced, brutal, and breathlessly beautiful portrait of a world where ancient powers vie with modern warfare and nobody escapes unscathed.



Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Sam Quinones. “With a great reporter’s narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma’s campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive–extremely addictive–miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, a massive influx of black tar heroin–cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico’s west coast, independent of any drug cartel–assaulted small town and mid-sized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico.”

The Brothers; The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen. “On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 264 others. In the ensuing manhunt, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and brought to trial. Yet even after the guilty verdict and the death sentence, what we didn’t know was why. Why did the American Dream go so wrong for two immigrants? How did such a nightmare come to pass? Acclaimed Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is uniquely able to tell us. A teenage immigrant herself, she returned to Russia to cover firsthand the transformations that wracked the region from the 1990s on. It is there that she begins her astonishing account of the Tsarnaev brothers, descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era. Following the family in their futile attempts to make a life for themselves in one war-torn locale after another and then, as new émigrés, in an utterly disorienting new world, she reconstructs the brothers’ struggle between assimilation and alienation, which incubated a deadly sense of mission.”

How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt; From Chapter One, “The death of the mp3 was announced in a conference room in Erlangen, Germany, in the spring of 1995. For the final time, a group of supposedly impartial experts snubbed the technology, favoring its eternal rival, the mp2. This was the end, and the mp3’s inventors knew it. They were running out of state funding, their corporate sponsors were abandoning them, and, after a four-year sales push, the technology had yet to secure a single long-term customer. Attention in the conference room turned to Karlheinz Brandenburg, the driving intellectual force behind the technology and the leader of the mp3 team. Brandenburg’s work as a graduate student had pointed the way to the technology, and for the last eight years he had worked to commercialize his ideas. He was ambitious and intelligent, with a contagious vision for the future of music. Fifteen engineers worked under him, and he oversaw a million-dollar research budget. But with the latest announcement, it looked as if he had led his team into a graveyard.”


Test Preparation/ Professional Development

Find it Fast by Robert Berkman. “Author Robert Berkman gives expert advice on how to search the internet to locate the best information sources, how to find and utilize the professionals behind those sources, and how to combine these techniques to complete an information search on any subject. This fully updated 6th edition includes how to search beyond Google, leveraging big data in the search process, and how to search the social web. Readers will also find expert advice on how to know if a site is a trusted source; understanding how and why sources differ; using precision search strategies and taming information overload; and finding, evaluating, and identifying experts. Whether it’s consumer advice, information for a job or project, facts for starting a new business, or answers to questions on obscure topics, Find It Fast is the perfect resource for learning to hone one’s internet searching skills.”

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum: A Literacy-Based Framework and Guide by Richard Beach: “How can apps be used to foster learning with literacy across the curriculum? This book offers both a theoretical framework for considering app affordances and practical ways to use apps to build students’ disciplinary literacies and to foster a wide range of literacy practices.

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum

  • presents a wide range of different apps and also assesses their value
  • features methods for and apps related to planning instruction and assessing student learning
  • identifies favorite apps whose affordances are most likely to foster certain disciplinary literacies
  • includes resources and apps for professional development
  • provides examples of student learning in the classroom

A website ( with resources for teaching and further reading for each chapter, a link to a blog for continuing conversations about topics in the book (, and more enhance the usefulness of the book.

Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT (Kaplan Test Prep): Prepare for the New SAT with confidence from the test maker with more than 75 years of expertise! Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT features effective new strategies and practice for the College Board’s redesigned SAT. Big changes are coming to the SAT in Spring 2016. The redesign affects the way the test is structured, administered, timed, and scored. The Math Test requires a deep knowledge of advanced algebra and data analysis as well as critical thinking and real-world problem solving skills. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing require not only strong reading and analysis skills, but also the ability to interpret data and use evidence to make conclusions and inferences. And, the optional Essay is now twice as long and twice as hard.

Sound scary? Don’t worry—Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT explains what you need to know about the new test, and how you can begin to prepare for it.


Thank you for stopping by and hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

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Opening thoughts on Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Editor’s Note: This year the faculty and staff at my school will be reading and discussing Eric Jensen’s Teaching With Poverty in Mind and I will be leading one of many discussion groups. The thoughts and opinions here are my own and do not reflect the feelings, ideas or positions of the school administration or of the faculty in general.

                  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic American novel, The Great Gatsby, opens with narrator, Nick Carroway, telling his audience, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’.” It’s a sobering thought, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up with some “advantages”.

                  For writer Eric Jensen, it seems to be the kind of thought he has had on many occasions, admitting in the introduction to his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind that he, “was simply unable to fathom why the poor could (or would) not lift themselves out of poverty. (He) believed that if ‘those people’ simply tried harder or had ‘better values’, they would be able to succeed. “ Jensen goes on to explain that his attitude was “small-minded and prejudiced”, but that he has since traveled extensively and learned things that “opened (his) eyes and transformed (his) soul”.

                  This is exactly the kind of language you would expect to hear at a revival or carnival, for you see, Eric Jensen is an education snake oil salesman; a charlatan who rides into school districts with his thin volumes of pretend academic research ready to offer desperate administrators a quick solution to their myriad problems. Like spiritualist, Deepak Chopra, who hijacks the language of quantum mechanics to talk about spiritual vibrations, energy levels and the non-locality of the mind, Eric Jensen obfuscates his trickery by cloaking it in fabulous language. Just take for example, his definition of poverty which is … “a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body and soul.” No matter how good the professional development seminars that Jensen delivers are, I don’t think I will ever be certified to work on people’s souls.

                  But Jensen’s writing and presentation styles are persuasive, so they work like the charms they are supposed to be. Like Ruby Payne, and her book Framework for Understanding Poverty, before him, Eric Jensen travels around the country spreading what in academic circles is known as the “deficit-model” of education; a philosophy that views students as “broken” or “missing something”. Jensen does this (and has been doing it for nearly two decades) under the guise of “Brain-based” education because, after all, that sounds really smart, doesn’t it?

                  One of my problems with Jensen in general, and with his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, specifically, comes from the fact that some of the research he relies on is twenty years old and older. This is especially worrisome since so many advances in brain imaging and cognitive science have been made in the last two decades. In the first chapter alone, for example, Jensen cites Freiberg (1993), Bradley, et al (1994), Graber and Brooks-Dunn (1995), and Mouton & Hawkins (1996). To make matters worse, the information Jensen cherry picks to make his case, is less than conclusive enough for him to then extrapolate to a more general scenario. According to Jensen’s research, “40% of children living in chronic poverty had deficiencies in at least two areas of functioning at age 3” (Bradley, et al., 1994). This means that more than half of the children in CHRONIC poverty did NOT show these affects.

                  For Jensen, however, this kind of evidence seems to lead him to such outrageous conclusions as, “…children raised in poor households often fail to learn these [healthy, appropriate emotional] responses, to the detriment of their school performance. “ Among the responses he believes poor children don’t learn at home are things such as gratitude, forgiveness, patience and empathy. This is not true, according to Assistant Professor of Psychology and writer, Michael W. Krauss who says, “Disposed to reduced social and economic resources, lower-class individuals’ outcomes are more likely to hinge on outside forces. These conditions make it so that it is more costly for lower-class individuals to mis-read others’ emotions. In contrast, abundant social and economic resources allow relatively upper-class individuals to navigate the social world without (for the most part) incurring social costs that come from not reading others’ emotions. In essence, while upper-class individuals can remain blissfully unaware of others’ emotions, their lower-class counterparts must be vigilant of the emotions of others to identify both social opportunities and potential social costs.”

                  Jensen does this sort of thing throughout the first few chapters (I am only on Chapter 3), making negative blanket statements about the impact poverty has on people, without ever considering the kind of resourcefulness and ingenuity that necessity demands of them. Furthermore, he makes claims about low SES students that could be applied to students in general, and to teenagers in high school more specifically.

                  Take for example the opening paragraph of the first chapter, “Understanding the Nature of Poverty”. He begins with an anecdote that introduces us to history teacher Chris Hawkins (whom he doesn’t clarify is a real person or a pseudonym for a real person or just a name for a character in a story he is telling us). Jensen says that Hawkins is desperate and that like others who teach economically disadvantaged students, he complains of their “chronic tardiness, lack of motivation, and inappropriate behavior.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a high school, no matter what social class the students belong to, will attest to the fact that these are traits shared by many teenagers, not just poor ones.

                  But Jensen persists in making such misguided leaps of logic and uses great slight of hand to smooth over the nonsense that he is pushing. Near the end of the first chapter, he writes, “Many nonminority (does he mean White?) or middle-class teachers cannot understand why children from poor backgrounds act the way they do at school. Teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential. Therefore, an introduction to how students are affected by poverty is highly useful.” To which I respond, “wait … what?” Is Jensen implying here that poverty is some students’ cultures? If he is, then I missed that part of his thesis. If he isn’t, then he needs to continue editing his slim manual so that it makes more sense.                                  

                  Like the best con artists, Eric Jensen has made a name for himself by co-opting the language of the field, preparing professional looking wares and stringing together other people’s research and ideas to suit his own means and ends. It is the kind of junk science that may be fine when ghost hunting, preparing herbal supplements or tracking ancient aliens, but educators should not fall for it. Viewing our poor students as having sub-optimal brains or being somehow deficient of such basic human emotions as humility or optimism seems monstrous to me and unacceptable as a teacher and a father.

                  Of course we want to improve our schools and be better teachers for our students; their success is our success. But we cannot be lured by false promises or quick fixes like the idea that simply changing our attitudes will correct deep, systemic and persistent deficiencies. In closing, I would like to return to Nick Carroway, who says, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——”

                 We may still be able to realize our American Dreams.

And now, some definitions and some numbers.

Poverty as defined by is the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.1

Poverty as defined by the Federal Government is a family of two (2) people making less than $15,391. Three (3) people making less than $18,871. Four (4) people making less than $24,257. Five (5)  people making less than $28,7412

According to the 2014 income-to-poverty ratios, 6.6 percent of Americans were living in deep poverty. Among children, the rate is higher: 9.3 percent of children were living under 50 percent of their family’s poverty threshold.3

In 2014, the Median Household Income in the United States was $53,5674

  •                   In Massachusetts, it was $69,200
  •                   In Essex County, it was $70,074
  •                   In Haverhill it was $61,2085

According to one set of data from the site, Haverhill has 12.2% of its population living in poverty. According to another set of data from the same site, the number is 16.8%.


  3. (Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  5. (Haverhill Information)

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

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