Waiting for Superman

               How did I even hear about this movie, Waiting for Superman? I am a media hound most times, dipping my snout through the periodicals, scanning television, surfing the net … and yet. I never heard of this movie that looks to be at the very least, interesting. I know that trailers are a tricky piece of propaganda meant to whet our appetites for the whole meal. Still, there are so few documentaries made about education that are meant for the big screen, that I can’t help but hope this movie delivers the goods.

               Waiting for Superman is a film that looks at education in America, and if the trailer is any indication, it could end up painting a much wider and more dismal portrayal of the current state of our entire culture than I want to think about. In the preview that I link to, for example, the narrator points out that the U.S. ranks 25th in math, among developed countries, and 21st in science. In fact, American students are close to the bottom by most measures, except they lead the world in (drum roll please) self-esteem!

               Obviously telling the story of the current state of the American Public Education system is a difficult, if not impossible task. As an insider with eighteen years of teaching experience and 12 years of pubic education schooling, I believe I’ve heard this clarion call before. I remember reading parts of A Nation at Risk  while I was still in high school. As an undergrad, I read Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age (which recounts his year as a teacher in Boston Public Schools), and as a student teacher I read Savage Inequalities (written decades later and chronicling the disparate conditions in neighboring school districts). And there have been countless other books such as Horace’s Compromise, the Red Pencil, and most recently, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, that have argued that there are serious problems with how we “do” education.

             So I’m sure this two hour movie won’t be able to point to any real solutions to “fixing” the school system, since many of the problems within schools (IMHO) are larger societal issues that flood into the schools. Until we address the violence, poverty, corruption, apathy, homelessness, abuse, nepotism, bigotry, alcoholism, depression, and countless other conditions that seem to daily afflict the whole nation, we can’t even begin to discuss the general hostility towards academic and intellectual pursuits displayed in much of our popular culture. You can get on TV, after all, if you’re an idiot and unashamed to show it. But who in the world remembers Ken Jennings? He’s just the answer to a trivia question now.

          Okay, my rant is over, and I still hope that Waiting for Superman is worth the price of admission at the weekend matinee. If you’re still not convinced it’ll be worth your time, here’s some more information I was able to piece together from the promo clip:

  • Davis Guggenheim, director. Don’t hold it against him that he directed Al Gore’s Oscar Winning Slideshow, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Just be happy that someone not named Roger Moore is making documentaries aimed at a popular audience. If you want to hear a little bit from the director, you can find a brief talk here
  • Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. This polarizing figure in public education, makes an appearance in the clip and it will be interesting to see what she adds to the discussion. Rhee has been featured in many articles over the recent past, and she is one of the few people in public education who have name recognition with the general public. Often described as “ruthless” and “relentless” by her opponents (i.e. teacher’s unions), she is equally lionized by her supporters as “pragmatic” and “decisive”. You can watch a discussion between Rhee and Charlie Rose and decide for yourself what you think. 
  • Geoffrey Canada, Author, educator, and Director of the Harlem Children’s Zone. I first learned of Mr. Canada after coming across his book, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America as a graduate student. The rest of America may recognize him from his American Express Card commercials, or not. Either way, he is featured in the promo and I expect to see him and his work discussed in the film. Here’s a clip of him talking about his involvement in the film.

Hope you find something interesting, and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

What can the LMC do for you?

               We’ve been up and running for several days now, but this week starts the real work at the Library Media Center (LMC). This week we welcome back our study students, invite our freshman English classes in for orientation and keep all the other plates spinning as well. In case you’re not sure (or have forgotten) about what services the LMC can provide, here’s a refresher list for you:

  • Computer time: While there are many computer labs now throughout Haverhill High School, the largest collection of computers (68) is still found in the LMC. Teachers can sign up for the computers around the pit (1) or the library lab (2). We ask that teachers test any websites they plan to use for class lessons on the actual library computers their students will be using to make sure there will be no unforeseen problems with filters, unloaded apps or other tech glitches that can ruin 40 minutes of learning.
  • Prepare a book cart for your class: Suppose you’ve planned a unit on Shakespeare or the Great Depression or the Salem Witch Trials or Famous Scientists, and you want books related to that topic. Maybe you want your class to select books for outside reading, but aren’t sure what titles are appropriate or even interesting. Give us a day’s notice and we can gather together those valuable print resources for your classes. Even if you don’t want us to pull all the books from the shelves, we can print you a list of all the titles that apply that we have in our collection, so that you will know ahead of time what kind of text resources are available to your students.
  • Help research and plan a lesson/ unit/ project: Print materials are of course, just one of the resources available to today’s teachers and students. The number and variety of available on-line “learning objects” staggers the mind when we consider how relatively new the internet still is. We can help you discover and integrate these educational resources into your curriculum. Whenever possible, we will work with teachers to gather and organize their materials for their lesson plans.
  • Media lab presentation: Teachers can schedule time in the library lab, where there is a video projector and six foot screen available for presentations. This is especially useful if you are trying to guide your students through a website activity, such as signing up for a SchoolNotes.com account. (NOTE: Teachers please print out a class list of student log-in accounts from X2 prior to visiting the lab, as it will save you valuable class time). Remember that I am available to assist or lead presentations in the library lab.
  • Librarian presentation: I am available to lead presentations on a variety of topics and am willing to work with teachers to develop new lessons. Some of the lessons I have taught (using many titles) in the past are:   Using Subscription Databases, Using the Internet as a Research Tool, Using the Internet as a Learning Tool, Introduction to Big Chalk’s E-Library, How to use Microsoft Powerpoint, How to use Microsoft Publisher/ Word

              If you’re not sure about how to use or integrate technology in your classroom, stop by and talk with us to see if we can help. Of course, we do other things around here (like dusting, shelving, weeding, ordering, stacking, storing) helping however we can. So keep us in mind as a resource when you’re planning your school day.

               Hope you found something useful, and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

Welcome Back 2010-2011

               Welcome back for the 2010-2011 school year! Needless to say it’s been an interesting beginning full of many changes and high expectations. It’s also been nice seeing again so many of my colleagues whom I only see at work. (I love picking their brains for ideas). As always, we at the Library Media Center (LMC) are here to try to make your days as teachers, administrators and students better and more rewarding. Already we are getting many questions and requests, so we thought we’d use this opportunity to address some of these. This should be especially helpful if you are new to our school or if you have forgotten how we operate. Please read carefully and call us at extension 1143 if you have any questions:

Important LMC dates

9/13, Mon:     English teachers can arrange for classes to pick up portfolios (please call)

                             Teachers can schedule visits to check out books, esp. summer reading

9/14, Tues:     Freshman English teachers schedule for library orientation, to begin 9/20

9/20, Mon:     Freshman orientations begin

                              Study students can sign up for library study

For your AV and media concerns, call at once (xt. 1143) if you need:

  • a bulb for your overhead projector, and you should have it in minutes
  • help connecting your tv, vcr or dvd player, and it should be ok in moments
  • a vcr, cassette player, CD player, or radio, for we have plenty of those
  • a dvd player or video projector and screen, but I’d prefer to know two days before … and I can’t promise to get you one right away

Review of basic library rules

  1. Students may sign up for the library (if they have a scheduled study), only before homeroom starts or after the last school bell, after 2:05.
  2. Students may not get a pass from their study skills teachers to the library. Subject teachers may send students with a pass (up to 3) to complete class work or take a test. (Please call to advise us if you are sending students out of a class)
  3. Hats, hoods, cell phones, are not allowed. Every other rule in the student handbook also applies doubly true in the library.
  4. The library is a large common space, available and welcoming to all who wish to convene (after making arrangements or getting a pass), thus anyone who disrupts or interferes with the WORK being done, will be asked to leave – and may be banned for some time, depending on the wishes of the all-mighty Oracle.
  5. Remember to leave the library the way you found it. If you moved a chair, put it back. If your students moved chairs, have your students put them back. Better still … don’t move the chairs.
  6. Food and drink are not allowed in the library. Food includes anything you put in your mouth that you intend to swallow or chew on. Drink includes water. I can’t make this any clearer.
  7. We are here to help anyone and everyone who asks for help, especially when they ask with a smile.

I think that’s it.

I hope this was helpful and I thank you, as always, for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

On Human Relationships

               A few seasons ago when the Boston Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to make a playoff and title run, they introduced the sports world to the word/ idea UBUNTU. Originating in Africa, the word is meant to describe a philosophy which, according to Wikipedia, is best explained by Bishop Desmond Tutu:

               “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.”

               This idea, that we are best understood as humans by looking at our relations to one another as opposed to individuals with private/ personal motivations speaks volumes to me. I used to be fascinated with the notion of the “self-made” man/woman. After all, individuality is one of our nation’s most esteemed ideals. The desire to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps is a quintessentially American value, often touted as the highest calling to which anyone can aspire.

               But what of our relationships with each other? What about our roles as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, lovers, spouses, friends? The reality (IMHO) is that we are not so important as individuals as we believe. Instead, we derive our value, our self-worth and even our true identities from our relationships. As the author, Albert Camus said: “Human relationships always help us to carry on because they always presuppose further developments, a future -and also because we live as if our only task was precisely to have relationships with other people.”

               Here then, I present a handful of articles, examining human relations of all kinds.

  •  All Joy and No Fun; why parents hate parenting by Jennifer Senior at New York Magazine. What parent hasn’t felt like walking through the front door and never looking back? And yet, most of us don’t do that and in fact, believe that parenting is making our lives more rewarding. So why are we so unhappy in study after study?
  • The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd for Pediatrics Magazine. Simply put, playing games with our children will foster communication and give us an opportunity to teach social skills related to other human relationships.
  • How siblings shape and define and annoy us by Rita Braver for CBS News. Anyone who has a brother or sister will tell you that few relationships in their lives match the intensity (love and hate) of emotions attached to that person. Studies reveal that there are some truths to complaints of, “mom liked you best”.
  • Is infidelity natural? Ask the Apes. By Wendy Shalit on CNN.com. Interesting little article that posits a very good argument against using our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, to determine how and why we (as humans) do certain things.
  • Improving School Culture by Ellen R. Delisio for Education World. Believe it or not, one of the leading indicators for student performance in any school can be assessed by understanding the culture of the school. This article, which includes a link to a “triage” survey, briefly describes the four types of cultures that can be found in most schools. Where is HHS? I’ll let you decide.

Bonus Video:

Hope you find something interesting and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.