Monday, July 21, 2008

Playdate This Saturday

I just want to remind everyone that this Saturday, July 26 is a mid-summer Dunham School Playdate for incoming kindergarten students and their families.

We'll meet at Dunham between 10AM and noon.

Bring your bikes and helmets. I plan to be there and take some photos of the event to share on the blog. Maybe we'll sing a song, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Focus on Kindergarten

From this point forward, Mr. Kindergarten will focus much more specifically on the kindergarten classroom activities.

It will be of interest mainly to parents in my room and to other kindergarten teachers.

My off topic posts will not appear here. For those, you'll have to link over to my other blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Reading: Deep Economy

There seem to be a lot of books out there saying that having more stuff isn't a path to happiness.

Bill McKibben's book, Deep Economy The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future makes this point from the point of view of a sociologist thinking about community and economics.

He begins with a chapter called "After Growth" and explains why a growing world economy is no longer a good thing, especially if we assume that other countries would like to emulate US consumption patterns. The planet simply cannot support so many humans living large.

The second chapter titled "The Year of Eating Locally" discusses the many ways in which eating locally is good for the planet and good for us. But I've been over a bit of this ground recently in my post about Laguna Farm.

Chapters 3 and 4 focus on hyper-individualism and its deleterious effects on community. I was glad to hear McKibben take on reality TV. Shows like Survivor celebrate values that are exactly the opposite of kindergarten values:

"Consider the most influential new program on television in the last decade, Survivor, which ushered in the reality show craze. Along with its uncountable offspring, it operates from the premise that the goal is to end up alone on the island, to manipulate and scheme until everyone else goes away and leaves you by yourself with our money."

To give you another taste of this book, let me quote once more:

We've believed for a very long time that America stands tallest among nations. In 2003 Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve was offering his usual oblique testimony to the Congress about the state of our economy. Accustomed to deferential treatment, he was doubtless surprised when Congressman Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, challenged him. "I think you just don't know what's going on in the real world," Sanders said, offering statistics about inequality and insecurity among Americans.

Greenspan replied, in the way that has shut up most of us, "Congressman, we have the highest standard of living in the world."

"Wrong," said Sanders. "Scandinavia has a higher standard of living." Indeed it does, as do many other European countries and Japan—places where individualism is less hyper.
For a moment, Greenspan was at a loss. "Well," he finally said, "we have the highest standard of living for a country of our size." Which is true since the only more populous nations on earth are China and India.....

I very much enjoyed this book. If I had to sum its message up in just four words, I'd offer these:


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Internet Fast

Since June 22 we've been without internet service at our house. We think that the DSL modem went kaput. We signed on with a new provider who won't get out to install service until tomorrow. For 17 days we've been without online service at home.

(Well, in the interest of full disclosure, we don't have our OWN service. Some good soul in our neighborhood left off the password for their wireless network and their omission allows interlopers to sneak aboard their network. My computer-savvy son figured this out.) This purloined reception is available only at the end where Ted is staying, but the signal is weak and cuts out regularly. It's actually pretty frustrating to use.

The rest of the house, all of it, is internet dead. To go online has meant to go to the local cafe with free Wifi service. This is how I've managed to be online and blog since June 22. I've enjoyed these trips. I get to write on my student level iBook laptop. I pretend I'm some sort of intellectual, maybe a novelist working on his manuscript. Mostly, I'm just checking email and blogging. Having to do this has drawn a boundary of intention around my internet use. It's like confining a puppy that's not been housetrained to the side yard. The house is more peaceful.

In the beginning I had some trepidation about being off line at home. Not being able to check my email box four or five times a day took some getting used to. No surfing. No online shopping. No weather reports. No tide charts. Oh my!

After a three day withdrawal period, however, I began to truly enjoy this internet fast. It had been a long, LONG time since I've been at home without internet. I found myself not wanting to read a paper, turn on the radio, even listen to music. (TV we've done without from the beginning.) In the whole period we've seen one DVD on my computer, an African movie that Ted chose called Bamako.

Instead of watching a DVD a week, I've read more. Instead of music on the radio or iPod, birds have sung, just as they always have. Not so much email, but we got a real postcard from Liz.

Life in the slow lane is more than it's cracked up to be.

And an Internet fast beats a fast internet.

I've been thinking about canceling the installation appointment, but I'm not sure I've got the guts.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Laguna Farm

Every week I enjoy a happy trip to Laguna Farms, a CSA membership organic farm on the edge of town. Laguna Farm is run by Farmer Scott Mathieson who’s a real a farmer, you know, the kind you read about in kindergarten books about farms.

Scott lives on his farm. He’s told me, “The best fertilizer in the world is the farmer’s shadow.” He exemplifies the bumper sticker slogan: “Without a farmer, it ain't a farm.” Am I alone in finding agribusiness operations forbidding, lonely, and even scary landscapes?

When there’s time I prefer to ride my bike to the farm. It takes 10 minutes longer than driving, but it’s 100% enjoyable. And Mother Earth likes bikes.

For those who can’t pick up their own food, Farmer Scott offers delivery. He recently got this electric truck to run around town. It’s a proper hybrid: the blue gas engines are small, a pair of them mounted above the tailgate. They have only one job: to recharge the battery which powers the electric motor. They only come on when the mileage exceeds the battery capacity. It’s more efficient, I’m told, than the Prius arrangement which is basically an electric assisted gasoline car.

An array of solar panels powers the farm and the electric vehicles. Farmer Scott’s farm is a green place! His green plants, of course, convert solar energy into food energy more efficiently than these solar panels turn sunlight into electricity.

Here’s the tub of food I’m going to pack into bags and pedal home with. Can't see it, but inside one of those bags is the best salad mix I've ever tasted. The paper bag has shittake mushrooms—mmmm— and there are strawberries, cilantro and lots of other yummy treats. You eat more veggies and better veggies when you support a farm by subscribing to it. The one thing about being a member of Laguna Farm is that it makes it hard to enjoy any other lettuce based salad. His greens are without peer.

Ready to go! The food Scott grows he calls “Beyond Organic” because he’s not certified as an organic farm (too much paperwork chasing after standards he feels have been relaxed too much).

The best certification I know is walking the fields (they smell good), knowing the farmer (he’s an honorable, compassionate man), and tasting the food (it’s so much better than grocery store organic).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

10 Good Things About $4 Gasoline

There's an article online from Time Magazine written by Amanda Ripley by this title. You might think there is nothing to like about $4 gasoline, but she finds 10. You probably won't agree with all 10. I'd put them in a different order, starting with #4 on top.

The point here is to consider the bright side of what is

Her list includes:

1. Global Jobs Return Home
2. Sprawl Stops
3. Four-Day Work Week
4. Less Pollution
5. More Frugality
6. Fewer Traffic Deaths
7. Cheaper Insurance
8. Less Traffic
9. More Cops on the Beat
10. Less Obesity

You can read all about it here: Link

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Reading: The Shame of the Nation

When you send a kid off to college, he’s likely to come home with a stack of interesting books. Ted passed one along to me that I want to share.

Sunday night I finished Jonathan Kozol’s 2005 book, The Shame of the Nation subtitled The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.

In it, Kozol argues that schools have become as segregated today as they were when the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

I think he's right. He cites a lot of evidence for his observation. And it fits what I'm seeing around here. For example, two years ago, a teacher from Dunham transferred to a nearby school for two reasons: (1) to earn a better salary, and (2) so that she could teach impoverished students. When I visited her I was surprised to see ZERO white students in many of the classes in that school. I had not realised how segregated schools in Sonoma County had become.

I share Kozol’s sadness about this. He contends that if the United States is ever to succeed as a nation, our citizens must learn to interact, to mix together and work together across races and classes. In short, he argues, we must integrate our society. What better place to begin that mixing than in public schools, since children, especially young children like kindergarteners, are for the most part open-hearted souls?


Kozol also comments upon another troubling development in public schooling that’s getting less attention than it deserves: Boutique schools. Boutique schools are public schools that have become quasi-private in that they benefit from fund-raising efforts of parent bodies like the PTO and educational foundations. The problem with boutique schools is that they end up providing unequal educational opportunities skewed in favor of children of greater wealth and privilege.

The school I teach in is one such boutique school. Dunham receives additional money raised by its parents, perhaps $3,000 per classroom to support its educational offerings. Schools nearby raise up to $50,000 per classroom. That $47,000 difference buys some excellent field trips, art and music instruction, smaller class sizes and more. Parents in these schools are expected to contribute $250 to $300 per month per child. Not every family can afford this expense—you’re not supposed to call it—tuition.

Top private schools, like the ones reserved for the ruling class, charge up to $30,000 per year in tuition. These schools could pay my salary and benefits package with less than the tuition of 3 students.

So we end up with a school system that delivers a very special kind of education to its wealthiest people dropping down by degrees to, impoverished education for its impoverished citizens. That ain’t how it ought to be.

As Kozol writes:

“A narrowing of civic virtue to the borders of distinct and self-contained communities is now evolving in these hybrid institutions which are public schools in that they benefit from the receipt of public funds but private in the many supplementary programs that are purchased independently. Boutique schools within an otherwise impoverished system, they enable parents of the middle class and upper middle class to claim allegiance to the general idea of public schools while making sure their children do not suffer gravely for the stripped down budgets that have done great damage to poor children....”


Kozol is critical, too, of the reforms brought on by No Child Left Behind. He doesn’t mince words:

“Turning six year olds into examination soldiers will not change this [the gap between rich schools and poor schools]. Denying eight year-olds their time for play at recess will not change this. What these policies and practices will do, what they are doing now, is expand the vast divide between two separate worlds of future cognitive activity, political sagacity, social health and economic status, while they undermine the capability of children of minorities to thrive with confidence and satisfaction in the mainstream of American society.

‘I went to Washington to challenge to soft bigotry of low expectations,’ the president said again in his campaign for reelection in September 2004. ‘It’s working. It’s making a difference.’ It is one of those deadly lies which, by sheer repetition, is at length accepted by large numbers of Americans as, perhaps, a rough approximation of the truth. But it is not the truth, and it is not an innocent misstatement of the facts. It is a devious appeasement of the heartache of the parents of the black and brown and poor and, if it is not forcefully resisted and denounced, it is going to lead our nation even further in a perilous direction.”

Kozol trusts teachers and he trusts children:

“Teachers and principals should not permit the beautiful profession they have chosen to be redefined by those who know far less than they about the hearts of children. When they do this, as in schools in which the principals adopt the borrowed lexicons of building managers or CEOs, they come out sounding inauthentic, self-diminished, and they end up by diminishing the human qualities of teachers. Schools can probably survive quite well without their rubric charts and numbered standards-listing plastering the walls. They can’t survive without good teachers and, no matter what curriculum may be in place, whether it’s approved by state officials or by Washington or not, they are no good at all if teachers are unable to enjoy the work they do and be invigorated by its unpredictables.

I am grateful for the fact that—at least for now—I do not teach in a school where recess has been abolished and where much of what happens in a classroom has been decided by faraway educational ministers in Washington. Not a day passes that I mourn the fact that so many students and teachers must work in schools like that.

I teach in a school where children still get to play and paint and sing and dance and smile. They put on plays. They do projects and write reports about matters of interest to them. I teach in a school that trusts children and seeks to draw out their best qualities.

May there soon be more schools that do the same.