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Too tired? Too busy? Muster the energy and time. Read a book to your child.

Take a moment and read this story in The New York Times. In short, a doctor tells of a 74 year old patient who couldn’t get his medicines correct.

Mr. M was a typical new patient: 74, with diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol. He had some prostate enlargement and back pain. His bag of pill bottles was depressingly bulky. I spilled the bottles out at our first visit, sorting them by disease. … Mr. M didn’t remember the names of all the medicines … Mr. M was clearly still confused about his medicines…

[Source, NYT, A Problem in Following Doctor’s Orders by DANIELLE OFRI, M.D.]

In the end, we learn that Mr. M is illiterate, unable to read either Spanish or English. The story would be similar to many other stories of illiteracy leaving us emphatic, but emotionally disconnected, had it not been for the last paragraph.

My kindergarten-age daughter is just beginning to read, and she is taken aback with delirious joy each time a few random letters suddenly form a word that matches real life. It’s a painstaking process for her, but as I watch her I think about how this skill has powerful ramifications for her health and longevity. It’s a gift, really, one that I’d long to transfer to Mr. M if I could.

[Source, NYT, A Problem in Following Doctor’s Orders by DANIELLE OFRI, M.D.]

I know that joy! My son has become quite the avid reader. He no longer wants to be the listener; he wants to be the one who reads aloud. And I too wish I could give that gift to Mr. M.

Remember, they are never too old to participate in reading with you; whether you are the listener or the reader, make time to sit with your child and a book.

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Stop Outsourcing at Knox County Schools

A friend from Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee asked that I help spread their word:

Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee is petitioning to save the jobs of 275 or more custodial workers as Superintendent Dr. McIntyre has proposed an outsourcing plan as part of the 2011-2012 school budget which would:

  • lay off 275 workers across the county
  • reduce custodial wages by $2-$5 per hour
  • decrease quality of work (as shown by the last outsourcing attempt)

Please sign our online petition urging the school board to avoid outsourcing in our schools!

Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee is having a lunch for custodians and other school employees and community members this Saturday.

Custodians and other school employees and community members have been circulating petitions and talking to the Board of Education about the proposal to contract out custodial services. This is a very bad idea – bad for employees, students, and the whole community. There are a couple of School Board meetings coming up soon, so this might be a good time for folks to get together and talk about what we need to do next.

Let’s meet for lunch Saturday, April 30, 12 noon to 2 pm at the UNITE Building, 1124 N. Broadway (less than a mile north of Central).

Since custodians work different shifts, Saturday seems like the best chance to get together. We’d like the other folks who have been working on this to attend as well.

Lunch & Child Care are provided.

Family members are welcome at this gathering. Everyone is important. We’ll talk about what we’ve accomplished so far, and how we might move forward to save jobs and the quality of our schools. We can do this!

If you have questions before Saturday, call Jobs with Justice volunteers Karly Safar, 615/519-0157 or Brad Rayson, 865/385-4421.

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American Library Association List of Books People Tried to Ban in 2010

In our enlightened world, people are still trying to ban books. The American Library Association (ALA) has just released its list of the 10 books which Americans tried hardest to ban in 2010.

  1. "And Tango Makes Three" by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: Homosexuality, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
  2. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Offensive language, Racism, Sex Education, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group, Violence
  3. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: Insensitivity, Offensive Language, Racism, Sexually Explicit
  4. "Crank" by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: Drugs, Offensive Language, Sexually Explicit
    Note: Crank is available for the Kindle
  5. "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group, Violence
    Note: The Hunger Games is also available for the Kindle
  6. "Lush" by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: Drugs, Offensive Language, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group
    Note: Lush (Kindle version)
  7. "What My Mother Doesn’t Know" by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: Sexism, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group
    Note: What My Mother Doesn’t Know (Kindle version)
  8. "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Reasons: Drugs, Inaccurate, Offensive Language, Political Viewpoint, Religious Viewpoint
    Note: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Kindle Version)
  9. "Revolutionary Voices" edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit
  10. "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer
    Reasons: Religious Viewpoint, Violence
    Note: Twilight (Kindle version)

Do you agree or disagree? What books would you ban?

The State of America’s Libraries Report documents trends in library usage and details the impact of library budget cuts, technology use and the various other challenges facing U.S. libraries. The full report is available at [Source, American Library Association]

DayRiffer, Cowardly New World
Guardian, Brave New World among top 10 books Americans most want banned
American Library Assciation, "And Tango Makes Three" waddles its way back to the number one slot as America’s most frequently challenged book

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Knoxville STEM School Excites Students

The student/parent orientation and final tour of the STEM school before major renovation begins was this week. Noah received his official acceptance letter and will be one of 43 students in the sophomore class. A graduating class of 43! My graduating class from Germantown High School in 1988 was 672 people. I can only imagine how unique and special Noah’s education will be. The orientation was akin to a family reunion. Everyone seemed to know each other and be very like minded with regard to the goals of education. The principal is extremely enthusiastic. I have high hopes and think the Knoxville STEM Academy will do great! Oh, one of the highlights was the announcement that all students will be issued an iPad 2. There will be no textbooks. I’m thrilled and I’m thrilled for Noah.

Video source: WBIR.

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Dorm Room Flashback

The in-laws must be cleaning out their garage. The children brought home a huge box of highlighters. So I started thinking, "What could one do with so many highlighters?" Then I remembered Clement Hall room 308 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. That was my room. The walls were the color of an 80s computer that had been used too long. Dingy. Gray. Like a light but wet modeling clay. And the walls were cinder block.

A fun trick for the frequent traveler who stays in hotels a lot is to leave a message on the bathroom mirror using a light application of chap stick or other oil. Done correctly, the message remains invisible until a hot shower steams the mirror.

Highlighters on cinder block painted in that gray color work the same. Draw the highlighter art by turning off the normal lights and turning on black lights. The art in room 308 was quite intricate when my friends and I were done. When the black lights are turned off and the normal lights turned on, the highlighter disappears. Turn the black lights on and feel like you stepped into a Jimmy Hendrix black light poster.

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We have a new baby in the house!

Dear Knox County Schools, If I beat your fancy $500 electronic baby, does my son lose points because abusive granddad was raised in the 70s? Sincerely, I have 5 children I know what a baby crying all night sounds like and so does my son I thought I was done when Cathy said we couldn’t have a 6th

Yes, we have an electronic baby in the house this weekend. The irony is that Noah has probably changed more diapers and spent more baby time than many of his schoolmates ever will. If this is demented sex education lesson on abstinence, I give the schools an F because we don’t educate through fear and making the wonder of life a thing to dread. If the lesson is truly about the responsibility of caring for a child, I give this gadget an A+. This is a cool toy and Mattel had better step up because my 7 and 4 year old children are loving it! The diapers even have to be changed! Oh, I like the fact that there are no Caucasian electronic babies because I’m sure my son’s absentee interracial girlfriend is going to be quite the buzz at the inlaw’s church. I wonder if Noah will have the wherewithal to actually turn electrobabe into the daycare instead of carrying he/she/it into the teenager’s sanctuary.

Update: I just learned that the baby and Noah are more than a certain distance apart that the baby’s head explodes because Noah has an electronic wrist band secured to his wrist. Side note, you really should secure the bands a little tighter because I’m quite certain that I could slip it off Noah’s wrist so that he could help Evan get to sleep but no, we will be honest and I will take over for Noah tonight. Of course, I could get Evan to sleep easier if your do dad had a mute button! I must say that it is amusing watching Noah try to put electrobabe down long enough to play his video game only to have crying drag him away from the keyboard with a grin and an eyeroll.

Update: Electrobabe turned off about midnight. I have the sneaky suspicion the program was set up wrong and we’ll be seeing this child again.

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My child’s safety is more important than your schedule

Update 31 Aug 2009: Mr. Roy Mullins contacted me today to say the stop will be returned to Aspen Drive and Huntington Road. My many thanks to Mr. Roy Mullins, Knox County Schools, and the Transportation Department!

Dear Knox County Schools,
Today is my anniversary. The present that you gave me is a rejection letter with a line of bull regarding my child’s bus stop. See, 8 years ago you and I spent 3 years establishing a new bus stop for the elementary students that gets them safely away from S Northshore Drive and adds no time to your route. I’ll grant you an added 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on traffic. For 5 years the bus route was run without problem safely within our neighborhood on a road parallel to S Northshore. Now you’d have my children stand on the edge of a 40 mph road with a blind corner and a blind hill. Already once this first week of school, I had to move a child from the left side of the road where he was standing in the path that cars use to whip from 40 mph down to the 25 mph neighborhood road. The corner is blind with overgrown bushes and had a car turned in the child would have been dead long before the driver saw him. Is that what will have to happen for you to see this stop as dangerous? Will a child have to die? You also seem to have a stop prior to ours. I am not yet sure how that is possible because anything before us is supposed to be in the parent responsibility zone which means all the other children in our neighborhood should now be granted busing. It’s a shame that you and I both have to put resources into this needless battle (a 2nd time) when our time could be spent doing something productive for our school system.
Doug McCaughan

ps. You know. I really had hoped that KCS had reached a point of wanting to work together to improve our education system instead of playing games and fighting.

(you’ll have my official letter soon)

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Juggling for the Elementary School

I had a great day of juggling this morning. Since Clown Day was canceled, the school invited me to participate in their Field Day event so I had an opportunity to juggle for each of the 1st grade classes which mean 20 or so students each time (about 20 minutes) for about 5 classes. The juggling went pretty well without too many horrid mistakes. Amy even did the hand game in which she stands with both feet in one of my hands and balances above my head.

The finish to the day was a bit of bummer. The principal had okay’d juggling fire out of the baseball field but nix’d it when I went home to have lunch. I returned and the teachers had gathered the students but I had nothing to show them. I’d run through most of my tricks, gags, and jokes between the classes. With all the students gathered together outside I really didn’t have anything they had not already seen. So I pulled out the diabolo and tried to reproduce the Clement Hall days. See, in college I juggle a lot. I mean an absurd amount of juggling. And I was fit, toned, and on my game. I once threw a diabolo higher than 8 stories and caught it on a string. I know this because a friend who lived on the 8th floor said he kept seeing this thing fly past his window and he looked down to see me in the court yard catching it. Today wasn’t so good. It went high but got missed several times. Anxious to give them a little more, I pulled out the crystal balls. I never perform with the crystal balls because my contact juggling is super sloppy and when trying to juggling 5 crystal balls I tend to scatter them more than catch them. And that’s what happened today. So the close act was rubber chickens. I must do better next year. The laser light juggling spectacular will be ready ready READY! Moral of the story? Quit while you’re ahead. When they canceled fire I should have said we were done for the day. But like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a true artist has to always go for the next level.

Now my swing shift Tuesday begins. Between now and midnight I’m programming with one break for an errand around dinner.

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Knox County Schools Wastes Students Time

Knox County Schools wasted an hour and a half of our children’s lives today by having every student walk through a metal detector as they entered Bearden Middle Schoool and randomly searching every eighth student. This waste of money, teacher resources, and student time produced no weapons. Randomly searches are ineffective and counterproductive which is why I begged that that the school board vote no to random searches. This is the beginning to the end of your civil liberties. The principal went so far as to say that we need to get used to this because one day we will have to walk through metal detectors just to get in the grocery store. Seriously?! Are you really that scared?

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.

The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.

[Source, Bruce Schneier – Security Expert, Refuse to be Terrorized]

Know what I fear? The emotional damage you are causing my child by putting him through the stress of a pointless random search.

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Knox County Schools – Your lack of creativity astounds me

Yesterday my middle schooler came home with a permission slip for a school field trip to Dollywood with a catch: The price is $43 and only the first 75 students to return a check and signed permission slip get to go. That’s not right! Additionally, the field trip will not allow the students on the water rides because Knox County Schools got all trippy after the death of a student at the waterfall 6 years ago. Yes that was a tragedy but we should have learned from the failings of supervision at that trip and continued water related activities but instead Knox County Schools decided bubble wrapping the children will protect them. Guess what? That won’t protect them either. I suppose Knox County Schools is assuming that of the 2.5 million visitors to Dollywood, our trip will be the one where highly inspected, super safety protected, engineered to simulate danger in the most cautionary way, equipment will fail at the same time all the trained and licensed lifeguards happen to be taking smoke breaks. It could happen! Denying water rides at a theme park? That’s not right! Can we make it better? What about not allowing digital cameras? Yes! Let’s prevent our children from the memorializing their time with their friends by not allowing them to take pictures. Granted, the school is afraid of being responsible for loss, theft or damage to a digital camera. Well guess what Sherlock! If I send a digital camera to school with my child and he loses it, that’s between him and me. I have an old digital camera sitting on my desk wasting away. If it got lost I’m out nothing. Of course, you want me to go buy an antique point and shoot disposable camera that is limited to 24 shots and cost an arm and a leg to print some thumbs over lenses. Brilliant! No wonder our children lag behind. Banning cameras? That’s not right! Eventually we will ban, regulated, lock up, and overprotect ourselves to being scared to death. What will you deny then? Don’t be scared or we’ll suspend you! Well guess what? That’s not right!

Oh, and today, my son brought home a permission slip for the band field trip. Guess where they’re going? Dollywood! (different day) That’s not right! For all the wonderful things we have in East TN, can our schools find nothing fun and mind expanding for our children? Oh, no, of course not; Knox County Schools is too worried about my digital camera. That’s not right!