All Students Can Learn and All Teachers Get Bashed

One of my favorite things I learned in a workshop given by Bea McGarvey was when she asked us, “How many of you believe that all children can learn?” We all put our hands up. Of course we did. In a room full of teachers, if you don’t put your hand up affirmatively to answer that question then you’re scum. And for good reason. See, if you don’t believe that all students can learn then you shouldn’t be a teacher. It’s true.

But, but, what about the, um, well, you know, the kids that are a little slow on the uptake. Maybe special ed kids, maybe they have a disability or something. Can they learn?

Yes. They can. All students can learn. But, we they learn at different rates and different ways. What this means is that we aren’t all the same. And, as teachers, we need to remember this. The problem is that we don’t always. For example, we tend to expect that students will learn best the way we used to learn and using our learning modality. I like to read so I tended to assume that students will learn best by reading things. I also like to work alone so I tended not to put students in groups. I learned differently, though. I learned to use audial, visual, and kinesthetic modes of learning, sometimes all at once. I realized that all students learn differently.

We know that kids learn at different rates, too. We know that Johnny didn’t start talking right away, but his brother was babbling as soon as he hit five months and started using words by 9 months, sentences at a year. Is Johnny stupid? No, he just took a little longer. Turns out, years later, that Johnny is very methodical and analytical. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does it’s pretty good. His brother rarely shuts up, but he’s highly creative. Both are good at different things.

So, these are very well established facts. Practically every teacher will tell you that these things are true. Bea pointed these things out to us near the beginning of our workshop and I was kind of stunned to realize how simple and true it was.

So, why do we go an ignore all of that when we design schools and testing? See, first, we put kids in grades based on their ages. All five year olds go to Kindergarten, six year olds in first grade and so on. We don’t check to see how quickly they are learning various skills. We just check to see that they have met a baseline and then move them on. Sure, some kids might get held back a grade, or even two in some extreme cases. But, mostly, kids move from grade to grade year after year.

High school is even worse because we don’t even hold them back anymore. Flunk a class and you just don’t get the credits toward graduation. But, all 9th graders are expected to learn the standards. All of them have to learn, say, how to write a three part essay in a personal narrative style or how to analyze various characters in a novel. The should be able to identify setting and the kind of narrator being used in a passage.

What happened to learning in different ways and, more importantly, at different rates?

Then, we mandate testing. We say that by a specific date, all 9th graders have had the chance to learn these given standards and we are going to test them. Then, we are going to take those test results and crunch the data to see which teachers are good.

Do you see how this is an awful idea? We are going to completely ignore that kids learn different things in different ways at different times and we will say that any students that aren’t learning in that teacher’s class are an indication that the teacher is bad. Now, I know the theory is that you can look to track that kid over time and then look at kids in that teacher’s class over time. The idea is that you can see which teachers are making kids better and which ones are making them worse.

It’s not an awful idea, but the problem is that it isn’t that clear cut. You can’t just look at that data only and pass that judgement. You need to get in the classroom and see what’s happening to see the whole story. And that’s why it’s ridiculous that the LA Times then goes and publishes the scores of teachers using their Value Added Scores.

Look, I’m no fan of poor teachers. But, I just think that teaching is too difficult a job to then reduce it to some scores in a newspaper.

To me, this is just teacher bashing taking to another level by using some data to back it up.

When did it become so popular to bash teachers? I must have missed the memo when I was busy teaching, but it seems like all of a sudden in the last two years it has become all the rage to hammer teachers relentlessly. Well, the value added theory at least uses some data to say that not all teachers are bad, just some of them. But, lately, I keep hearing how teachers are lazy, how they’re overpaid, they have “Cadillac benefits” and work part time hours.

One of my thirty-eight readers pointed out that I haven’t blogged since Saturday. My excuse is that I am burnt the hell out right now. I’m whooped. It’s April, we have about eight weeks to go. I was in charge of the Powderpuff football game and acted as the announcer during the game. For an introvert like me, being an announcer for almost two hours, ad-libbing humor, is exhausting. So, getting ready for the game was tough. Doing the game was tough. And, now we have Prom this week. I’ve been doing the elections for court, planning the dance, and so on. We have the California Standardized Tests coming up in two weeks. I’m in charge of testing awareness and publicity. We have to plan the CST pep rally. And, then, about four weeks after that, graduation, the biggest of the big events of the year. I’m in charge of that two. I have been working since January to raise $13,000 to pay for graduation.

I’m tired. I wish to God that I worked part time. I would love me some part time hours these days. In fact, there are few teachers who start work at 7 a.m. and end it at 2:17 p.m. when the last period lets out. What the…? Um, since the students have left, does this mean I don’t have to work any more? I don’t have to lesson plan? I don’t have to grade any homework? I don’t have to straighten the desks and pick up some trash? I don’t have to put up some new student work and take down the old student work I was displaying? I don’t have to prepare the next day’s “bell work”? I don’t have to make any calls home?

Awesome!!! I love teaching now! It really is easy! /sarcasm (That’s a nerd joke, if you don’t get it. It means I’m turning off my “sarcasm mode.”)

I love the bit about how teachers only work part of the year. Yes, we only work ten months. But, and here’s the part that is gonna blow your mind, we only get paid ten months of the year, too.

Shocker! But, it’s true! We get paid for the time we work, only! Can you believe that? So, those summer months where I’m kicking it on the beach, a cool, frosty, tropically flavored drink resting close at hand, I’m also not getting paid for them. Last time I checked, most full-time professionals get “paid vacations.” Can you tell me about this idea of “paid vacations?” I’m pretty interested in this idea of getting paid for not being at work.

My favorite criticism of teachers lately though is the idea that while we get paid, say, $55K a year, our $30K benefits program really makes it more like $80K a year. Okay, I would be willing to go with that method of calculating my yearly pay if…


… if we all calculated our salaries that way. But, nobody does that. I don’t know anyone who looks at their tax return and says, “Well, yeah, it says here that I make $75K a year, bro, but you have to remember that I have a $25K benefits program so that’s six figures, baby!” Oddly, the federal government does’t take our benefits into account when calculating our tax rate. So, I’m wondering why the teacher-haters get to do it when suggesting we really make more than we do.

Know why we get such good benefits? It’s because we all have college degrees with post-graduate education to get a credential that qualifies us to teach. Further than that, we are required to continue our professional development by going to workshops and conferences to stay current on the latest teaching theories and techniques. Many of us have masters and doctorate degrees. The only other professions that require these levels of basic and continuing education are ones like lawyers, doctors, and so on. I’m not good at math but I think lawyers and doctors make more money than public school teachers.

So, there you go. I hope this post made up for my taking Monday off. I’m not always going to blog on the weekends. And, sometimes the posts might be short. I will make an effort to keep a regular schedule. At least one of you is reading every day and enjoying her coffee over the blog. That’s kind of a lot of pressure, suddenly. But, I am honored by the interest and want to make good on it. But, sometimes, this job gets to me and I’m tired. It’s not my fault, I’m a lazy teacher.

My Response to: "Against the Wind: Is Twitter and blogging all about narcissism?"

Against the Wind: Is Twitter and blogging all about narcissism?: “Is Twitter and blogging all about narcissism? I came across a couple of “regular” blogs today that were not education related. I did not …”

I read this blog post today and it reminded me of all the times lately that I told someone about using Twitter and they said, “Oh, I don’t want a Twitter.” (Note: You can substitute “Facebook” for “Twitter” and the conversation will probably go about the same way.) You don’t want a Twitter?
“No, I don’t care what everybody’s doing all the time! I don’t want to hear about how they’re eating whatever they’re eating or taking a dump!”

I have to say, in all the years I’ve been using Facebook or Twitter, I can’t think of the last time someone posted that they were in process of evacuating their bowels. And, if someone is, and you’re not interested in it, why not unfollow that person.

That’s what’s awesome about Twitter versus Facebook. On Facebook, you are “friends” with someone. It’s pretty serious to be “friends” and then “unfriend” them. But, on Twitter, you follow. And, really, how hard is it to follow or unfollow someone. I follow all kinds of different people on Twitter. If you say something interesting once, I will probably follow you. Why not? If you get on my nerves I can just unfollow you. And, if I get on your nerves, you can unfollow me! Easy. And, realistically, Facebook could go that way. But, Facebook is a different tool, to me.

This points out another difference between the two, in my opinion. I use Facebook to network with the people I actually know. Facebook is personal and casual. But, since I’m “friends” with over 400 people, I do have to bear in mind that ALL OF THEM will read any given status I put up. Now, if you’re truly narcisstic, then that is a best case scenario. Hell, that’s a dream come true!

I turned to Wikipedia for a look at Narcissim…

So, basically, everyone is a little bit narcissitic. But, a real narcissist is chiefly concerned with themselves at the expense of others. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder has an inordinate need for attention and approval. In addition, a narcissist has an inflated sense of their abilities. They think they can do more than they can or are better at what they’re doing than they are. I noticed also that psychological tests that identify narcissism show that it is increasing in the United States and that they think it is related to social networking.

It might be, but I think, that it probably has more to do with parents patting their kids on the head for everything. I mean, giving a trophy to every kid on the soccer team, even when the team lost every game, has to have some kind of an effect. I think that the parents of my generation are way too worried about increasing their children’s self-esteem. A wise man once told me that positive self-esteem is the product of doing esteemable acts. If you do things worthy of esteem, you will have a good self-esteem. So, if we tell kids that everything they do is worthy of esteem, we are encouraging narcissism. Just saying. Now, social networking is being invented by children of that same generation, so they’re probably related. But, social networking isn’t making you narcissistic.

Blogging is, though. ha ha

There is healthy narcissism too. I don’t think you can write, paint, lead, direct, or teach without some kind of narcissistic tendencies. It’s a normal human trait. But, like many traits, if it is out of control, it’s a problem. There is a note on that same Wikipedia page near the top that says some think there is a disproportionate number of narcissists in medicine, finance, and politics. I believe it. I bet there are a bunch of them in teaching and entertainment, too.

Okay, so that was a huge digression about me defending my narcissism. And, being narcissistic, I am going to leave it there instead of deleting it. But, back to Twitter. If the people you are following are only talking about the nonsense they did today then you should unfollow them if you don’t care what they did today. The people I follow on Twitter post links to news and stories that I care about. They say things that are interesting to me. I follow tech writers, teachers, entertainers and several comedians. I love following comedians. The good tweeting comedians will drop a funny nugget at least once a day. I use Twitter to learn and to find out what’s going on. I follow people that post about current events, especially events I care about.

Twitter is a tool I use to gather a bunch of information from a variety of sources into one place. Facebook is where I try to share some of that information with people I know and care about. And, blogging is where I reflect on that information and add my part to it and hope to share my thoughts, reflections, and knowledge with others. Plus, you know, I just like writing.

So, that is my take on social networking. Narcissistic? Yes, obviously. But, in an healthy way? Not necessarily. I guess I could have saved a lot of time and just written those couple of sentences… but then, I’m a narcissistic writer, don’tcha know.

Top Ten Ways April Fool’s Day Gets On My Nerves

1. Most people are unqualified to be making jokes.
Comedy and being funny is hard. Trust me. I try on a regular basis, daily even, to be funny. The only sure way is to hurt yourself in front of people. Not in a fatal way. Leaping off of ten story buildings is not comedy. Leaping off the roof of your one story house into your backyard pool and missing the water just might be. Shooting yourself in the head? Not funny. Shooting yourself in the foot? Possibly.

2. You have to be on guard all day long.
Every story you read, especially on the internet, is suspect. News stories? Watch it. Oh and you have to open doors carefully, not take anyone seriously, watch your back. It’s just exhausting maintaining that level of vigilance all day.

3. It’s arbitrary.
Why should we limit joking and pranks to one day a year? Like Christmas, I don’t understand why the spirt of the holiday has to be limited to a single day. Jokes and pranks should be a year round practice.

4. Too much pressure.
It’s like it’s expected that you will try to mess with people and prank them all day. Have you planned ahead? Are you sure your prank is going to be epic? If not, why are you wasting the day of all prank days to do it? Look, go hard or go home. If your prank isn’t clever, well thought out and devastatingly funny, just don’t bother. That’s a lot of pressure.

5. “Is that ironic?”
Why do people always want to know? Why can’t they figure it out on their own? As a trained English teacher and writer, everyone wants me to tell them if it’s ironic. Kinda like when you run into a doctor and then have to, I mean, just have to tell them about that pain you get when you do that. It puts them on the spot. Look, I don’t know if it’s ironic. I don’t, okay? I have no clue if it’s ironic when that guy dies from whatever after he just did that thing. Okay? I don’t know.*

6. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day but without the alcohol.
Just like all kinds of non-Irish people get all worked up about St. Patrick’s Day and wear their ridiculous four-leafed clover lapel pins, we get all these non-funny motherscratchers running around and trying to be funny. And, the next day, they’re back to normal like it never happened. And you can’t even at least be smugly happy that they’re hungover. But, about St. Patrick’s Day: stop pinching me. I didn’t wear great because it’s dumb, okay? I’m not Irish and I’m busy having a life and stuff so I didn’t wear green because I have real things to think about and deal with. If you pinch me again I’m going to qualify for an assault charge.

7. Racist jokes.
All of a sudden we get the closet racists rolling out offensive jokes and wiping it all away with an “April Fools! Aha! Got you!” Look, unless that racist joke is really funny, then just keep it to yourself. Right? Unless it’s like the one where the Japanese guy, the Mexican, the White Guy and the Native American were on a plane when the pilot announced that they had to bail out as the plane was going to crash. But, unfortunately there were only three parachutes. So, the Japanese guy, being the smartest, grabbed the first parachute and jumped out of the plane yelling, “Banzai!” Next, the Mexican guy leapt up and grabbed the second parachute and jumped out of the plane yelling, “Si, se puede!” Finally, White Guy and the Native American looked at each other. There was a tense moment until the Native American pushed the White Guy out of the plane and said, “You never thanked us for the corn.” See, that’s funny.

8. Isn’t the news a big enough joke?
Just to keep it real; isn’t it enough of a joke that we have a Democratic president giving tax breaks to the rich and getting all up in another Middle Eastern country’s war. We have corporations and banks posting billion dollar profits and not paying any income taxes meanwhile the Republicans want you to believe it’s the greedy teachers and other public workers on $50K a year salaries that are the problem. We have a third straight year of cuts to public education and a greater emphasis on standardized testing scores. Oh and Charlie Sheen.

9. There is no tenth.
April Fools!

See? Don’t you hate April Fool’s Day?

*It’s ironic when a teacher with an English credential and a degree in writing doesn’t recognize irony. Dang! Why do I always have to explain this!

Tired and sad

Not going to go into details but the staff meeting at my school today bummed me out. If you’ve read some of the more political posts on my blog you know that I don’t blame my administrators, nor the superintendent, nor our school board.

No, I am going to take Metallica’s advice, kinda. I’m going to save all my hate for those that deserve it: the politicians that sold us out and the corporations that own us.

I’m tired and sad because, as a teacher, I know we are wasting time. We aren’t wasting time like, as in, hey, stop wasting my time, bro, with your silliness. We are wasting time as in years, formative years, in children’s lives. We are wasting their time to get educated, to get prepared to contribute to the world and realize their potential. We are wasting years of their lives. But, then again, I learned some time ago that education isn’t really for the kids. Education, as an industry, largely exists to employ text book writers and publishers, people who make smart boards and other “Ed Tech”, administrators, and, yes, teachers. If you doubt me, sit in a board meeting, read the minutes. Go to a school and spend a little time there. You can tell what’s important to a business by how they spend their money and what they use to make decisions.

For example, when I directed plays, I had to examine the text to find the theme. I would then use the theme to help me achieve the “purpose” of the play. My decisions for paint, costumes, acting choices, casting and so on all had to be tested against whether they helped me achieve that purpose, whether they contributed to the theme.

My experience is that most of the time people in education will do what is right for kids. That makes sense, right? But, you have probably noted the “most of the time” in that statement. That’s a problem. See, because the sentence really should read that people in education always do what’s right for kids. That’s who is being educated.

But, many times, if it is not convenient, or expedient, we do what is right for adults.

I will be the first to tell you, no one gets anywhere without a teacher. You can’t learn if someone doesn’t teach you. If you think about it, this is maybe the most true statement I have written. Even if the teacher is the ground and you learn that climbing trees is dangerous, you still need the ground to be your teacher. The nice thing about a school is that you can learn most things there without risking broken bones or even slight injures.

So, you can’t run a school without teachers. And, teachers need support. We need good administrators to organize and coach. We need them to see the big picture and steer the staff in the right direction. We need support from clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, receptionists, custodians and food services. And, yes, we need counselors in those schools.

I’m tired and sad because today California found out that some tax extensions will not be sent to the voters. Without those tax extensions, the “worst case scenario” that our board of education prepared for is now the reality. So, basically, our district cancelled the entire counseling program. No more school counselors. I’m tired and sad because I can’t believe I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is acceptable. That we will take away vital services for our children because it is expedient. That we accept this because we don’t want to pay taxes.

No, I take that back. We allow corporations like General Electric to not pay taxes. No, no that’s still not right. We allow corporations to post record profits and we still give them a 3.2 BILLION DOLLAR TAX CREDIT!

Unbelievable, right? The New York Times article says it’s true. If that doesn’t absolutely frost your melon, then let it sink in that the chairman of GE, Immelt, is who Obama just tapped to be the Chair of the Presidents Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

Nice. I can add a new emotion. Angry.

So, the students of my district are going without so many things, already and now we can’t have ANY counselors. I guess we have as many counselors as GE paid taxes. None. No, instead, we gave our money to them. Could that have anything to do with General Electric making a lot of stuff that we use to fight wars? Nah. And, Obama, the president I voted for, appoints this guy to work on creating jobs and making us competitive? Immelt needs to return that tax money and resign. Obama needs to go on TV and apologize for either an appalling lack of information or an even more appalling sense of humor.

I’m tired and sad and angry because I live in a country, in a state, in a county, in a city where this is okay, where we will accept it. Or worse, we will watch GE and the politicians squirm and someone will get their hand slapped and the news cycle will move on.

Or finally, what’s left of the people, the middle class and the working class will stand up for themselves and make all of them pay for betraying our trust. We have to think past insipid and vapid sound bytes and look for people that will actually do what leaders do. Leaders make followers better, not worse. Leaders protect their greatest resource, their followers.

I’m tired and sad and angry. I’m tired of being lied to. I’m sad that the people that run our government and our corporations have zero respect for us, and I’m angry that I have do something about it. But, I’m going to write letters, and blogs and tweets. I’m gong to talk to people. I’m going to knock on doors with my union brothers and sisters and educate the people. I’m going to vote and I’m going to keep voting until we finally get decent people in office to do what they’re supposed to.

Are you tired and sad and angry, too? Are you with me? Comment, share, speak up, tweet and let’s take our country back from the corporations.

The danger of the tweet. – What evil lurks in the tweets of teachers?

Virginia Board of Education Urges Policy on Social Networks as Teaching Tools

At first I thought this was going to be an article about how this School Board of Ed was going to look at ways to integrate Twitter into the curriculum. The first couple of paragraphs look like that. I was very disturbed.

What a horrible idea.

First off, when was the last time anything good happened because of Twitter? I think there are a few Middle Eastern rulers and former rulers that would have something to say about the danger that Twitter poses. Look, we have to realize that China, one of the largest, most populous countries in the world, doesn’t even use Twitter! Think about that! There’s something like a hundred billion Chinese people and none of them tweet! You don’t hear anything bad coming out of China; just great gymnasts, amazing and inexpensive technology, and good food. Right? Am I right? So, when I read further that the Board was actually going to craft policy to keep teachers from interacting with students on Twitter I was very relieved.

This is a step in the right direction.

But, I think we have to take it further. I think it’s great that our Educational leaders are following in the footsteps of a demonstrably great country. For example, look around you. I bet that most of the stuff within reach was made in China. Go ahead, look at it. I’m right, aren’t I? Can a country that has such a huge capacity to produce so many goods and consumables be wrong? Also, China isn’t having terrorists attack them. China isn’t involved in three different wars and it sure isn’t nosing around in Japan’s business right now while they try to recover from disaster. China knows how to mind it’s own business. It doesn’t even get involved with other countries. So, if China bans social networks, don’t you think we should too?

Social networks are dangerous. Proof? Well, the article cites a very clear example where a teacher was convicted of molesting a student. He was sending messages to many students through Facebook, another great evil descending on the world. Obviously, you can’t have teachers messaging students through any social networks! Let’s just call a fact a fact. How else would this teacher have gotten the opportunity to molest a student if he couldn’t message them through Facebook? It seems like every time some teacher gets caught acting inappropriately with students there was some kind of digital messaging going on. Obviously the only safe contact between a teacher and student is face to face. The internet is far too tempting and dangerous; it is like the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings. The One Ring had great power and potential in the hands of its wielder, but it was evil. It bent even good people to its will and twisted them until they committed heinous and treacherous acts. That’s what the internet does with its smut and porn. Any decent communication has potential to fly off the rails and get nasty in digital form. If a teacher wants to speak with a student they should only do it in real life, analog style.

It’s the only safe thing to do.

Further, interacting with students via Facebook or Twitter means that teachers will possibly see the horrible things kids do online. You didn’t know about that? Well, consider yourself lucky. It used to be that if a student wanted to say something filthy to another student they had to pass it across the class like prisoners passing illicit drugs from one cell to another (I saw that in a movie!). This way a teacher had the opportunity to intercept the message and punish them. But, nowadays, students can text each other, instant message, or email. Well, students don’t use email. But, you know what I mean. Those digital messages go floating away and there’s no way to use them to punish the offenders. We can’t have that. Students need discipline and they need to write on paper like we always have. If they are going to write disgusting things to each other they will use ink, just like I did. That is not to say that I wrote disgusting things to anyone because I didn’t. Moving on.

We can’t have teachers interacting with students on social networks. It would be better to just let the parents deal with it. Let the parents catch kids sexting (I heard about this on the news – it’s where kids combine sex and texting, which I can’t really imagine but, then, I’m not as young as I used to be.). Parents give kids the birds and the bees talk so we should let them give the turds and the tweets talk, too. Students are much more apt to listen to their parents in this matter, as they always have.

I actually heard someone suggest that teachers could teach students safe and appropriate ways to use social networks. Laugh out loud! Okay, after I finished administering the Heimlich maneuver on myself with the corner of the table and got that bit of bagel out of my throat, I had to just laugh. Seriously? You think a teacher can figure out how to use Twitter or Facebook in an appropriate manner, first of all, and then teach it to kids, second of all? It’s just silly. We all know that students barely listen to teachers on regular stuff. But, can you see kids listening to us old people on how to tweet?

And, besides all that, who is going to teach the teachers to use Twitter? What good would it do? Do we really want teachers all over Twittter, tweeting about, “Oh, my goodness, there’s so many tests to grade!” or, “I’m sorry but you spell it ‘your’ not UR.” or, “So excited to introduce photosynthesis to 3rd period!”

Ugh. It’s sickening. Nobody wants to see all that. We all know that the only reason to use Twitter is to tweet inane nonsense about what you’re doing now. Or, tweeting inappropriately with students.

And that’s the danger of the tweet.

Defending Mencia

I will probably take massive amounts of flack for this from all five of my regular readers (God bless you, or you know, whatever), but I think Carlos Mencia is funny, smart, and misunderstood.

I will wait for you to clean whatever beverage you were previously enjoying off of your iPad or cellphone (My stats tell me at least one of you is reading my blog on an iPad, a cellphone, and an iPod. Or one of you is loading the blog up on multiple computers. And the other three of you are using Windows. There was one guy on Linux but he only read like one post and hasn’t been back and frankly, we won’t miss that neckbeard.)

All clean now? Let me start with misunderstood because it’s his own damn fault. My only experience with Carlos Mencias was from his race-baiting Mind of Mencia show on Comedy Central. It was like they said (and I’m about 98% sure it went exactly like this), “You know, that f@cking Dave Chappelle show is awesome! We get great ratings from him! I think it’s because of all that racial s#it he does. We need a Hispanic version of Chappelle.”
“What about George Lopez, sir?”
“No, f@ck that guy. He sold out. His show is on Nickelodeon now.”
“Okay, then how about Carlos Mencia?”
“Orale! Get him on the phone!

You might not realize it, but practically every show business executive curses like a longshoreman. I guess. I don’t know any longshoremen and neither do the show business executives which is probably why they get away with telling everybody that’s who they are swearing like. Regardless, they swear a lot.

So, this is why it’s his own fault. Mencia goes on his show and proceeds to give us all the impression that his comedy consists of racial nonsense, half of which is not very funny, Then, on top of that, there’s a controversy that Mencia has stolen material from other comics. And, there’s YouTube videos that make a compelling case for it. So, I had decided that Mencia was an unfunny, talentless, hack.

Then, MFWITWWW* goes and tells me that, in fact, Mencia is hilarious. Now, she is my favorite woman in the whole wide world for a good reason. She is SMART. She is so smart that I actually have to write it in all caps as I properly did right there. She is so SMART that she actually knows how and when to keep her mouth shut, which probably makes her smarter than me. Hmmm. Oh well, no time to think about stupid stuff like that. So, she tells me that she went to see him in concert and that it’s nothing like his show. Okay, yeah, so you say, I thought. I didn’t argue with her because she’s Latina and I’m still afraid she might cut me.

I let it pass. I mentioned that I didn’t like the show and didn’t find it funny and she said he was smart and I started to think she might only be smart instead of SMART. Cause, to me, he seemed like a buffoon. So, months later, she mentions that Mencia is going to be at the San Manuel casino and will I go with her despite my objections to his comedic stylings, she asked.

I acquiesced to her request. Just like that. Acquiesced. If nothing else, I would get to see this casino out in Highland, CA that I’d always been curious about. Was it a dirt shack out there with some slot machines? I dunno. I thought it was like this old, run-down building about the size of Costco and with as much charm. The parking lot would be gravel and the marque would be one of those signs with the movable letters, “TONITE! C RLOS MENCI “. Someone stole the “A’s” I guess.

San Manuel is about 3,000 times better than that. There’s parking structures, fountains, a covered skyway, and it’s really nice inside. It looks like a nice, but smaller, Vegas casino. Not Bellagio, but at least Rio nice. But it doesn’t smell like a Vegas casino. Can’t smoke in California, you know. Anywhere. Ordinarily, that’s a good thing. But, in a casino, you should smell cigarrettes, like, everywhere.

So, we get there and Mencia is funny. I laughed a lot! And, to me, the most impressive thing was that he did, no kidding, at least a two hour set. Being funny for two hours onstage is not easy. Even more impressive? At least a half hour of that was him improvising on stuff from the audience. That’s not easy. I’ve seen comics try to do that and you can tell they just want to get back to their material. But, he was funny then, too.

Does he steal material? I don’t know. But, he was smart enough to write his own material on stage in front of us. As well, he had a good message about thinking critically and realizing that the world could be a better place if we realized that politics was goofy. Or something. I forget exactly, but it was good; not mind searing truth like George Carlin, but in that vein.

So, if you haven’t seen Carlos Mencia live and you like comedy, you might consider taking in a show of his before you declare him a talentless hack.

Oh, and I also think that some of Dane Cook’s routines are funny, too. Louis CK and Oswalt Patton are funnier, but still.

Is it just me? – Baby talking the news to us

I was watching CNN Sunday while using the elliptical. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Watching CNN, not using the elliptical. Unfortunately. Anyway, I’m watching CNN and the woman on there, Fredericka Whitfield, was anchoring the weekend news. They had a bit on there about the Libyan woman who burst into the International hotel where the press have been staying and claimed that she had been beaten and raped by 14 Libyan soldiers. That’s a whole story in and of itself and you should click on that last sentence and read it if you haven’t already heard about it. Absolutely brutal.

Slight digression, but it plays into my point: if you click on “World” from their home page and look down, the first mention of this story is that a CNN reporter faced a gun and had his camera smashed!

OMG! Right? That poor reporter! I mean, honestly, that should be part of the story, but it’s more like a sentence or two in the story, not the bleeding headline! And, really, this is a big deal for that woman and a good story to really remind all of us what godawful things happen in war and are happening in Libya…

… but it’s still just a story about a woman. One woman. It’s awful, horrible, but, in reality, it’s human interest. It’s not the story. It’s perfect for illustrating how the Libyan government is abusing it’s citizens, how far they will go to hide the truth. Did you know that the press is NOT ALLOWED to leave the hotel without permission and not without a government “minder” either. No freedom of press at all in Libya. So, the story is important but it’s not THE story.

So, Ms. Whitfield is anchoring and I’m listening to her seque between stories and go to the weather and whatnot and it struck me. It’s like she’s talking to children. I didn’t feel like she was talking to me. It was like she was addressing a class of middle-schoolers. And, it wasn’t just her. The weather woman did the same thing (I didn’t get her name and don’t feel like researching to find it out). Then, another woman came on to do a segment with Ms. Whitfield and, I forget what they were talking about, but they cut to some video where the woman in the video said something about men doing obnoxious things, including farting. When they come back, Whitfield is giggling and can’t stop. She can’t even do the next story and they cut to commercial.

Okay, to be fair, we’ve all been there where something strikes you and you gotta giggle and can’t stop and it gets worse when you try to stop. Fine. But, on the other hand, you’re on CNN. Yemen, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, et. al. are in various stages of revolution and people are dying. Japan is still in the throes of dealing with one of the biggest earthquakes and tsunami’s in history, and is probably dealing with a nuclear plant meltdown. But, you’re giggling about farts?

But, it got me to thinking… A lot of the news anchors talk to us like we’re children. Does that work? I know this is going to be a big shock to you, but I enjoy listening to NPR. Honestly, between reading blogs and Twitter for news, that’s my main source for fiding out what’s going on. Most broadcast news, like CNN and the local newscasts, is really just newsy entertainment. When there’s a huge, breaking story, I think CNN is probably the best place to go. But, if I want real information, I need to go on the ‘net or to Twitter or NPR.

And, that’s weird to me. I mean, with the stuff that passes for news on Fox News Channel, it’s weird that people don’t realize they’re being pandered to.

Okay, so I’m getting preachy. But, it was just a weird moment to me. I kept waiting for Whitfield to say, “Wow, like the stuff in Libya is just awful. Poor widdle woman just having awful, yucky things happen to her. Yucky! Let’s think happy thoughts now.” Is it just me? Do the news anchors have to talk like that? Do we really require our news to be entertaining? Isn’t it enough to be informed?

Bill Hicks: comedian, prophet, pale demon

Just watched “Bill Hicks: Sane Man” on my Netflix stream. This is not my first exposure to Hicks. I have five or six recordings of his. But, good lord he was funny. He was sacrilegious, profane, vulgar, offensive, dark, full of hate, bile, and spewing gouts of flaming truth wherever he went.

I think my favorite part of a Bill Hicks set is how much his audience hates him. I have one recording where they get downright hostile toward him. And let’s face it, he wasn’t there to win friends. That might be what I love most about him. He was telling the truth as he saw it and if you didn’t like it, too bad. He was probably going to make fun of you next.

In case you’re not familiar with Bill Hicks, he was very liberal. He absolutely hated Reagan, the first Bush and was intensely critical of the first Iraq war. Can you imagine what it would be like if he lived today? Here’s what I think he’d being saying:

What is wrong with you people? You elected the son?! Did you miss all the crap his daddy did? And you let him go back to Iraq to finish the job? You believed that bit about the WMDs? You people are dumber than I originally thought!

Seriously, Bill had it nailed. He spotted the anti-intellectualism movement, the take-over of corporations, the awfulness of pop culture and on and on. He reminds me a lot of George Carlin, another truly great comic. The great thing about both of these guys is that they are funny but they are telling great truths and making serious points. They are using the laughs because, I think, that is a great way to get you to listen to some things that are otherwise unpalatable to most of us. I think they can’t help making the jokes either. I think they are those guys that are in a car accident, have their arm amputated and look at the doctor to say,”I’ve been meaning to lose weight, doc, thanks.” They’re the ones getting dirty looks at funerals because they couldn’t help making the people around them giggle.

The thing is, we need guys like this now more than ever. I think this is where Jon Stewart and The Daily Show come in. And, Stephen Colbert, yes. We have to hear some humor. Maybe I should try writing more humorously when I have something serious to talk about. Hmmm…

Mr. Hicks was, if you can believe it, darker and harsher than George Carlin. Hicks would point out how the great people of history tend to be murdered, they don’t die of old age. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, JFK, etc. But, Ronald Reagan? He got shot, lived through it, and was old as Hell when he died. Note: this is well before the beatification of Reagan and the whitewashing of his legacy (go read the record, that brother raised taxes lots of times! And he dug spending tons of money on defense.) so Reagan was still the devil as far as Hicks was concerned. At the end of his set, Hicks sometimes would tell the audience his plan for world peace: if you took the trillions being spent on wars and gave it to the citizens we could build a home for every person in the world, then spend our time and money exploring space together in peace and harmony. What a wonderful world to live in. Then, Hicks stands with his arms up as the audience applauds, his set over… And gunshots ring out loudly in the room. Hicks crumples to the ground, clutching his chest, apparently shot to death, assassinated. The lights go out. Hardee har har.

In the tradition of dark comedy, Hicks makes sure that the laugh you were having a second ago gets caught in your throat. Sure, it’s a little self-aggrandizing, but, well, the man had some awesome, funny, truthful, and brutal bits. And, guess what? He was right. We could easily house the entire country if we wanted. But, no we can’t do that. House freeloaders??? No way!

It’s kind of weird. How would you rather spend trillions of dollars. Ending homelessness and giving the American Dream to everyone in the country? Or bombing people in another country that may or may not represent a threat to us? As George Carlin put it, they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. I am so grateful for people like Hicks, Carlin, Stewart, and Colbert for helping to wake me up.

Retro Movie Review "Grosse Point Blank" 1997. Starring John Cusack, Minnie Driver. Co-Starring Joan Cusack, Dan Ackroyd, Hank Azzaria, Jeremy Piven. Ooh, and a cameo by Jenna Elfman, I think prior to her sitcom success! This is a dark comedy.

A little 1980’s nostalgia. Minnie Driver with an American accent. I think this is an underrated film. It wasn’t very popular at the time, though I liked it. I even saw it in the theater! The stars are charming as those two always are. Maybe it’s just me but I think John Cusack is charming in practically everything. He just has that quality that I like because he seems kind of pitiful and cool at the same time. Have you seen “Say Anything?” Same thing.
Oh, another awesome John Cusack movie? “Better Off Dead.” Two dollars!!!

Besides this post being a blatant attempt by me to get you to click through to Amazon via my links here and buy something so my blog can get me some money (I’m a teacher, can you blame me for trying to make extra money?) I’m also trying to maybe give you a movie or two to watch.

Minnie Drive is awfully cute. She’s probably done a lot of other movies, but the only ones I can think of are “Good Will Hunting” (You’re one them Hahvahd smaht kids, right?) and when she did the voice of Jane in “Tarzan.” Anyway, this one is interesting in that she does a pretty darn good American accent for the whole movie. I listened for a slip or two but didn’t hear any.

So, my verdict on “Grosse Point Blank” is that you should watch it. It’s a fun movie. I enjoy it. Sure, I have a predilection for professional assassin movies, but this one is a fun twist on the genre. Cusack plays, Martin, a conflicted hitman who sees a therapist (this was pre-Sopranos, too) and is trying to work his way through his issues. He just isn’t feeling the same je ne sais quois about his work. Plus, another hit man (played by Dan Ackroyd!) is trying to get him to join a hitman union and he likes to work alone.

So, he goes to his high school reunion to do a job and also reconnect with a lost flame, Debi.

The movie’s plot is kind of confusing. I remember the first time I watched the movie and not really understanding exactly how he gets his work, who he works for, who that guy is trying to kill him and so on. Honestly, I think that the filmmakers didn’t really care about the plot except as a cute vehicle to tell the love story of the two main characters. And, if you like John Cusack at all, you should see this movie. He carries it, for sure.

***Warning! Spoilers ahead!***

One reason I like the movie is because I think it’s interesting to see how the filmmakers take a repugnant main character (a professional killer) and make him likeable to the audience. It takes a little slight of hand and a bit of cheating, too. Everyone he runs into is like, “Hey, Martin, it’s been ten years! Where have you been? What are you doing for a living?” He stammers a little and answers, “I’m a professional hitman.” They respond with, “Isn’t that nice?” Or, “That’s a growth industry.” I think we are to take it that they think he’s kidding.

So, if they think he’s kidding, why is it that none of the characters every asks again, “No, really, what are you up to?” They all just let it slide. And, if they believe him, why do none of them recoil as we all would? The only “normal” character is his therapist who tells him that he will notify the police if he will commit a crime, then later says, “Try not killing anyone for a few days, see how it feels.” So, that also seems inconsistent. I think that’s cheating. Either you create a world where no one cares that he’s a killer (which they didn’t) or you set it in a realistic world (which they did) where people react normally to meeting a professional killer.

At the end, when Debi realizes that Martin is, in fact, a killer, she screams hysterically and runs away. Now, she’s in love with him (still? again?) so you would think that she might have at least waited for some kind of explanation. But, no, she acts as if he has personally betrayed her. I can’t remember if he ever “jokingly” told her he was a killer. However, she hasn’t seen him for 10 years. He disappeared and made no contact with her. So, if you were her, would you really feel betrayed if in the two or three days since he came back that he failed to tell you he was a killer? I dunno. It just seems like the reaction is contrived rather than organic. Horrified? Yeah, I could buy horrified. Repusled? Okay. But, she is angry at him for what? For lying?

Whatever. You know what? Women are never consistent anyway. So, I guess the movie works.

Haha just kidding. I can’t speak for all women but My Favorite Woman in the Whole World (MFWITWW) has herself some double standards. So, there you go.

Anyway, as some who know me will remember, I wrote a screenplay with a similar main character and it was, in some way, inspired by this film. Professional killers as main characters are interesting. Unsympathetic characters as main characters are interesting, for that matter. One of the things that I struggled with was getting the main character to be likeable enough that the audience would care about him. And, it was tough to figure out how “normal” people would react to someone who was a killer. I still think it was a good screenplay but people get all sensitive about other people that kill people. Weird.

An eclectic mind garden. Cultivate, prune, mulch, compost.