Sunday, July 29, 2007

Say It Ain't So

My wife asked me the other day (paraphrased): "Isn't it just sad that Avril Lavigne could be the poet laureate of the current generation?"

Fortunately my wife was not standing in front of me when she said this because, first, I had to clean up the pop from across the room and next had to endure a sting in my nose for a few moments. Then, I had to sit and think: who really is the voice of this generation?

I did an activity with my kids this year (not totally mine, but still a good one) where they created a list of all of the current people who would be included in the history books from the 1990s and 2000s. They came up with the Clintons, the Bushes, Dick Cheney, Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt, Stephen Hawking, Angelina Jolie, Condoleeza Rice, J.K. Rowling, Harry Reid, and then local Washington politicians and some top 40 musicians.

We then compared and contrasted this list with the famous names in the history sections of the literature book. What did the kids discover after complaining that history is composed primarily of rich, white people? Their list was comprised primarily of rich, white people. It truly shocked them. They didn't see this result coming.

Granted, they included more actors and musicians than the history sections but the point was made: they view history much like the writers of their textbooks and as Americans have for generations.

Now comes my task: what do I do to help them find the voices of their generation? How do I help them find a diversity of voices while still completing the assigned curriculum for the courses I teach? How do I help them to foster an understanding of what is image and what is substance in contemporary literature?

Over the course of this year, as I learn the new course I'm teaching, I want to identify where I can include contemporary voices or how I can help them discover voices of substance on their own.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A New Beginning

Finally, the local college has approved me to teach the College in the High School course for American Literature, which we call The Survey. This course meets Communications 240 and English 250 at the college, so I have to meet some very specific learning targets in order for my students to have a chance of earning the credits.

I am looking forward to teaching this course, not just because my passion is American literature, but because I like trying to teach a new course. I get to explore literature on my own. I get to teach myself this August, a rare opportunity indeed. Knowing that teachers are the worst students, I guess this means I get to be teacher and student; thus, my complaints about the students this August are all about me.

Truly, my only real concern about this course is that I must follow the timeline and exact teaching units of the instructor currently teaching this course. She is an amazing teacher, but we do have distinct style differences. I also cringe at the thought of having to follow someone else's plan. Is it my arrogance or just my free spirit? I hope the latter. Maye it just reminds me of the push elsewhere to have teachers be on the same page at the same time, stifling the creativity of the craft.

Still, after this first year I will be able to branch out and do my own thing.

I am flattered that a number of my Sophomore Honors students and parents have requested that I teach this course in the hopes we'll be together again. I also feel excitement that we now have enough students requesting this course to create three sections instead of the normal two. One teacher told me he thinks my wife (an English teacher at my same school) and I have helped with this, fostering a greater love for English in our students.

While I'd love to believe this to be the answer, I think the push for students to take higher level courses is a primary factor. We have an AVID program in our school, now in its third year, and we have a definite encouragement from the district and state to convince students to attempt higher level coursework. To be honest, I like seeing the kids challenge themselves in this way as well, not just to have a better looking transcript, but to see the students really want to explore (especially in English--my bias).

Anyway, I get to delve into the chronology of American literature beginning with Native American works through the modernists and possibly the post-modernists. We'll read contemporary pieces such as Fools Crow by James Welch, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, and The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Of course, we'll cover much of the canon, but I look forward most of all to exposing my students to more recently written texts. In the future, I hope to include even more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gotta Know When to Fold 'Em

The recent controversy surrounding NBA referee Tim Donaghy must be excellent fodder for the conspiracy theorists out there. I've heard people complain for years that the NBA favors players or teams and "fixes" games. I don't believe there is a conspiracy, but I see a few reasons why people do.

1. Superstar treatment - For years it has been obvious that certain players receive the benefit of calls an no calls. Some players can get a call just for standing next to someone who sneezes. Jordan's famous game winning shot over the Jazz is a classic no call since Jordan pushed a man out of the way before shooting. Still, today's stars get these same calls.

2. Rumors persist that Donaghy was a known problem for months. If this is true, and no hard evidence exists to suggest it is as of yet, the NBA cannot admit it. Allowing someone suspected of influencing games would be inexcusable and create suspicions possibly as large as those people have about the major leagues. David Stern must remain close-lipped about this; otherwise, he'll have scandal no one can handle.

3. Home court advantages, which can be seen in the numbers, are given by referees. Home teams almost always average more free throws and favorable calls during games than their visiting foes. Check out the daily stats and see it for yourself. It's always been a point of contention for me.

Donaghy probably did not change the victor in games but probably could have adjusted the margins and the total points scored. Since there are so many variables (injuries, player effort, time of year, etc.) that would make determining a game's winner difficult, Donaghy probably influenced the margins of games and the total number of points--both of which gamblers bet heavily upon. Looking at fourth quarter numbers would seem to be the clues needed since this is where fouls add up and free throws accumulate. Were more fouls called during the 4th quarters of his games? Did more players foul out? Did more free throws get shot during 4th quarters?

I would also look to see how many points the lines changed before Donaghy officiated a game. If the lines moved substantially, major amounts of money were bet and investigators could see who won those games (and whether it was those betting over or under). Is there a consistency here?

Lastly, I would check to see how many total points were scored in games Donaghy officiated. Were those games close to the league average for total points cored? If they were not near the league average, were they always over or under?

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Having just finished the final installment (awesome!) in the Harry Potter heptology, I began to reflect on the books from my childhood which have propelled me to love language and to keep one volume or another open at all times.

1. The Hardy Boys
- My mother would read a chapter a day to me on the back steps of our house until I was able to read these books on my own. Then, of course, I ravenously read the entire series numerous times.
2. The Three Investigators
- I loved these books. After I had practically memorized the adventures and Frank and Joe Hardy, these books helped me continue my mystery story obsession.
3. Choose Your Own Adventure books
- These interactive books were great! I could read them numerous times and discover every possible ending. Loved them!
4. Lucifer's Hammer
- This was the first "adult" book I had ever read when I was about seven. It pushed me to read more science fiction, which I still enjoy to this day.
5. Best Foot Forward
- My first sports love was soccer, and I read this book numerous times until I had literally read the cover off of it.

End of an Era

I have been an avid reader since I was young, and the Harry Potter series has fascinated me since its entrance into the literary world. Believe it or not, my mother purchased the first book, The Sorcerer's Stone, for me just after I began my first full-time teaching stint. She told that there was this phenomenon with some kids books, and she thought I should try them. I sped through the initial book just in time to purchase the second. I was hooked.

While I felt great about predicting the secret behind the final horcrux (I won't give anything away), I am somewhat saddened by the loss of a great series. No more secrets. No more mysteries. Stephen King always says it's not the destination which is important; it's the journey. I guess that's true in this case. The enjoyment, for me, really stemmed from the adventure, the secrets revealed, and the maturation of the characters. This bildungsroman kept me enthralled for eight years.

At midnight on Friday night I went with my wife and friend to purchase our reserved copies of The Deathly Hallows, and there I again loved seeing the students and adults dressed up as their favorite characters to purchase a book. A book, not a video game or movie. It renews my faith in the written word. There's nothing like the feel of new book in your hand, turning clean pages, and being the first to see the plot unfold in the new volume.

My favorite sight on Friday was seeing the excitement of the kids, who were waiting for others, flop right down on the floor and begin reading right away. They couldn't wait!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Mariner Cy Young Candidate?

While driving along today searching for radio stations, I happened upon a conversation between two sports reporters debating whether or not J.J. Putz of the Seattle Mariners, (my favorite team and should be yours) should receive recognition as a Cy Young candidate.

Now I contend that the following conditions must be met, or else J.J. will have no chance:

- J.J. cannot blow a save,
- Putz must save at least 50 games,
- he must have an ERA under 1.00,
- the Mariners must make the playoffs,
- Johan Santana must stumble a bit, and
- no AL pitcher can win 22 games.

It's just so difficult for a reliever to win the Cy Young that his numbers must be ridiculous (ala Gagne in '03). I don't believe the award is out of the question but could be out of the realm of possibility simply because I still feel the Mariners are a stretch to catch the Angels, Tigers, or Indians--all of which are more complete teams.

Do You Remember?

In the 1980s, the days of my youth, I watched the WWF with a fervent fascination. Obviously, this may explain quite a bit about my current mental state, but I digress. My interest with the WWF began after seeing Hulk Hogan in Rocky III. Now, all I see is idiocy and the debilitating effects of drug use. Now, I grant you, I do not view the 80s wrestling scene as much better, but it at least felt a bit more honest.

I reminisced while driving today and thought I'd stick a few of my favorites on the net for others to view. See if you remember these wrestlers (answers follow the pics):

1. Found here

2. Found here

3. Found Here

4. Found here

5. Found here

6. Found here

7. Found here

8. Found here

1. Andre the Giant (Bonus for "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan getting choked)
2. The Junkyard Dog
3. Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake
4. "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka
5. Randy "Macho Man" Savage (Bonus if you got Elizabeth with him)
6. George "The Animal" Steele
7. The Iron Sheik
8. Sgt. Slaughter

Today's wrestlers just don't measure up. :)