RSS

Category Archives: Education

Student Perception of Speed as Affected by Diction: how charged words, as opposed to academic and neutral language, heighten emotions, create bias and skew judgement with specific emphasis on outliers

It has been a long time since I have done a study. 1988, I think. Designed one or run one. A long time since I have written one, and I know I have made many errors here.

I have been telling my students that words matter. Words create perception and they can be used to create bias, emotion, action or inaction. We study appeals to pathos, logos, ethos, kairos.  Loaded language and logical fallacies. But I often sense they do not believe me.  So I thought I would put them in the middle of their own proof.

The result was many open eyes and one student who insisted he should be filming me as a TED talk.

The results are below.

 

Design
This study is designed to see if using a “charged” term, non-academic diction, can change perception of external events. Such language can be used to create bias or emotional states and it was my desire to demonstrate this to English honors and Advance Placement English Language and Composition classes. If the hypothesis is correct, this can demonstrate how “charged” terms can be used to control the overall responses of populations.

I hypothesis that using terms with a “positive charge” will increase perception of speed in a filmed vehicular accident.

Population
Three classes of tenth grade honors English students were tested, with populations of 18, 19 and 21. All classes were studying the same curriculum and in the same program at the same location in their curriculum and instructed with the same materials, methods and instructor.

Material
Each class was shown a five second film of a vehicular accident or a motorcycle striking a car that had just pulled out of a parking spot, as filled from a helmet camera. The film showed the motorcycle increasing in speed, with the sound of the engine extant, and striking the broadside of the car. It was made obvious, in the film, the rider was not hurt appreciably hurt, and there were no signs of injury in the film.

Method
Each class was asked to estimate the speed of the collision and to write the number, in miles per hour, on a note, but each class was asked using a slightly differently worded query. The control group was asked the question in academic diction devoid of purposefully charged language.  A second group was asked the same question with a word replacement or a neutral for a word with a “positive charge.”  The third group had a query with two words carrying a “positive charge.”

  1. What was the speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred?
  2. What was the speed of the vehicle when it smashed into the other?
  3. How fast was the vehicle when it smashed into the other one?

The notes were collected and the data compiled for mean, median and mode as well as lowest and highest outliers.

 

Population 1

27 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 4 mph. Highest Outlier 53 mph.

 

Population 2

33 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 12 mph. Highest outlier 55 mph.

 

Population 3

38 mph average speed estimate

35 median

35 – 40 split for the mode, with four estimates for each

Lowest outlier 18 mph. Highest outlier was 80 mph.

Results
The language with the least emotional charge, the academic diction, resulted in the lowest perceived mean speed as well as the lowest outliers.

The language with one added “charged” word increased the mean perceived speed 22.22% 33 mph over the control group
The median and mode did not shift but the lowest and highest perceived speed increased by 200% and 3.78% respectively over the control group.

The language with two “charged” words increased the mean perceived speed by 40.74% to 38 mph over the control.
The median increased 16.67% to 35 mph and the mode was split evenly between 35 and 40 mph. Using the mean of this mode to calculate percentage, the mode increased 25% over the control. Seemingly most telling is the increase in the outliers.  The lowest perceived speed increased from 4 mph to 18 mph (350%) and 80 for the highest (50.94%) over the control group.

It is clear using charged words increased perceived speed.

This can be extrapolated to other areas, such as crowd size, levels of violence, impending danger and many other real world events.

Interpretation
This demonstrates several things. Language can be leading/loaded even if language does not appear to be. Academic diction has the lowest “charge,” and this supports the need to teach students to be write in an academic fashion. It also supports the need to instruct them to understand the importance of diction, so they can recognize language which appears to create logos when it is really designed to create pathos, thus allowing students to notice subtle manipulations in language meant to create emotional responses to skew perception and/or drive opinion. Further, it demonstrates the need for careful word choice with high semantic value to decrease linguistic indeterminacy.

Replication and Refinement
In replicating this study, I would select a population corrected for gender and academic level to assure the populations were homogeneous. Further, I would add a 4th group with a variable “negatively charged” term to see if the perception of the estimated speed in such a group would be lower than the control.

In further refinement, I would like to test to see if changing the charged adverb (fast, slowly, quickly) or the verb (smashed, collided, hit) have differing magnitudes of affect.

Discussion
We are aware that journalism can look objective but, upon examination, we find leading words and loaded language hiding in the sentences. This can have an effect on how we perceive an event. The word “mob” used for an assemblage instead of group can, and does, affect how people perceive the assemblage and this carries over to the perception of the individuals within the assemblage.

While I understand, in this test, the outliers skew the data, and it is possible the outliers should be taken into account when calculations are made, the outliers are of interest in themselves. Both ends of the outliers rose with inclusion of the charged words. The outlier at the higher end is of particular interest as it is the outliers in a society that cause the most dramatic and concentrated change and cause the most trauma as well (terrorism, murder, mass shootings) and if a small inclusion of a charged word can create a large increase in the emotional response of the top outliers, this is worth noting.

While we cannot combat this in every instance, we can begin to educate students to be aware it exists and to be on the lookout for the use of such language. Words with a positive charge can be used to excite/increase bias and bring activity when coupled with a call to action.  Words with a negative charge can dampen responses and reduce activity. We see this in political rhetoric as well as in sales, and we are seeing it increasingly in social media and fringe news sources.

It is possible that educating children to recognise and not accept the charging of language may help reduce the effect of this.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Culture, Education, psychology, Social

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Bluebird

The first science article I remember reading was about Thor Heyerdahl. In the 1940’s, the Norwegian ethnographer and explorer postulated the Central Pacific islands were populated by South Americans who drifted from Peru to their new homes on rafts. This article, on a stiff card, came from the box in the back of the classroom. This was, I think, second grade.

There were four boxes back there. Maybe eight inches cube, maybe a bit longer than wide, they were named after birds. Each contained cards with articles and stories plus reading comprehension questions. Bluebird was the highest of the four levels.

If that was second grade, then four years earlier was when I learned to read. And five years earlier was when I learned to walk and when my parents were told learning to read would be out of the question for me..

Heyerdahl was wrong, it turned out – South Americans did not drift to the Central Pacific. He was terribly eurocentric and felt the migration could not possibly have come from east to west due to lack navigational skill and instrumentation. That the Pacific islands could only have been populated by accident. His son, an academic, said his father did everything backwards – came up with an idea, then made the facts fit it. Genetics, some seventy years after his voyage, would prove him wrong.

But I didn’t know that in second grade. In second grade I could not get enough of Thor Heyerdahl, or anything else that came from the Bluebird box.

You can’t have bluebird boxes today. See if you can follow this. I can’t, and I’m a professional.

Having boxes the kids move through and up from is now considered tracking. This is like having a college track and a technical track in secondary school. Even though the kids can progress from one box to the next, it still separates the kids into groups. But teachers are supposed to differentiate. They get reviewed for, receive scores for, differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher recognises students have different skill levels and adjusts the work for those differing abilities. That isn’t tracking. When I taught ESL, recently, we used a computer program that tested the student’s reading skills, took articles and adjusted the lexile (reading level) of the content so it was a just difficult enough to make the students stretch their abilities, but could still read it, and then gave them a series of reading comprehension questions, letting them move up through the levels of difficulty at their own pace. That isn’t tracking. But boxes are.

When I was reading from the Bluebird box, computers were more true to their name – they computed. They performed complicated functions with numbers. They counted people and trajectories and helped send men to the moon and took up entire large rooms. They didn’t fit on a desk, adjust articles for kids from Honduras, China and Syria, and then fold up when not in use. Maybe it’s just that boxes are bad. He boxes were simple. The boxes were tactile. I liked the boxes.

I walked proudly to the Bluebird box for another article every chance I got. I devoured them. Anthropology. Botany. Zoology. Mineralogy. Physics. By mid-second grade, I had moved to articles that weren’t in boxes, and then books.

My first book inspired by the Bluebird box was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – the story of his 4, 300 mile trip across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. Then Leakey and his discovery of Lucy. Once I read a card from the Bluebird box, whatever it was about, I wanted to read more. More about bees. More about volcanoes. More about of trees. More about Aborigines. From the box to the books..

I read anthropology. And archeology. I was fascinated by them. And myths. Lots of myths. In sixth grade I read book after book of Aboriginal and African myths. From there, Philosophy. In eighth grade, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Bach. Realm of Numbers and The Planet that Wasn’t, essays on mathematics and Physics, respectively, by Asimov. I read the collected works of Carl Jung. I read Also Sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Tao Te Ching, translation by Feng and English. I read the biographies of Steinmetz and Tesla. I read The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, and started the ABCs of Science Fiction – Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. I eventually made it to Zelazney, though I am not a fan.

I also learned about primary sources. I found I preferred reading first hand material rather than second hand accounts. Why have someone tell me what a bunch of other people said when I could read it for myself? After that, my disdain for textbooks was obvious. This often drove my teachers to distraction as I would raise my hand and say, “actually. . . ” and quote exactly what the inventor, explorer, or author said, instead of the paraphrase which was, often, to my understanding, watered-down, misinterpreted or wholly incorrect

In ninth grade, I had heard about pep rallies. They sounded like monstrous things and I dreaded even the idea of them. I’d rather read and didn’t want to participate in anything that wasn’t academic. So every time we students were supposed to be in the gym, I was hiding in the library with a book. I succeeded in avoiding pep rallies until I was found with Oedipus Rex under a table and was removed from the library as I protested that I was learning, which was the function of school, and saw no point in the pep rally, let alone forcing me to attend it. I recall citing Dewey regarding the Pragmatic philosophy of education as I was lead down the hallways and into the gym. Kids were stomping and screaming. I collapsed in the bleachers. Fell on another student. They never made me leave the library again.

That is not entirely true. Once I was asked to go back into the gym.

I don’t like dissection and I took part in only one. A frog. The smell of formalin was terrible, and I did not slice it open myself. I was paired with another student who did the slicing and who was, unfortunately, not Grace Barcia. As I was watching him poke around inside I, popular as I was, felt something  wet hit my head. Then my face. I was soon being pelted with livers and lungs and other airborn ampbianalia. The teacher had a rather loose concept of classroom management, especially considering we were in a lab with organs, scalpels and chemicals. So I walked out. I never took part in a dissection again.

Thus, when welcoming the incoming ninth graders with a gym-full of tables displaying all our school had to offer, I was a strange choice to put in charge of the table displaying our menagerie of dissecta. It had the usual jars of fetal pigs, frogs and other animals, none of which I had ever personally taken a scalpel to. One notable object on the table was a (If you are squeamish, please skip down four paragraphs) cat. Skinless, four furless paws adhered to a board, one could examine the surface musculature in detail. I was left, behind a table covered in dissected animals, with a skinless cat, a gym full of high school students, and I was in danger of being bored.

So I sold the cat.

I hawked that cat to everyone who walked by, billing it as the perfect pet. “You’ll always know where it is, you never have to clean up after it and all it takes is a little bit of dusting now and then. Plus, it is guaranteed never to shed!”

I finally sold it for nine one-dollar off Frito-Lay’s coupons. I knew better than to accept actual money. That might have gotten me in trouble.

I don’t know what happened to that cat. It was the morning, and it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, or into anything but a fully empty locker, so I imagine it was hard to not see a student walking around with a skinless cat glued to a wooden plank, but it would not be the first obvious thing missed at my high school.

Another obvious thing missed at my high school was the relatively vacuous state of our library, and our local public version wasn’t much better. The large, full, beautiful library was too far away, in downtown Miami, so I spent quite a bit of my time at Waldenbooks in the Mall at 163rd Street or Arts and Science Bookstore in North Miami. There I read the bulk of Freud, Heisenberg, and as much Alan Watts as I could find. Through the next years, right through college, and still today, I found the use of secondary sources was only to lead me to primary ones.

In college when we came to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I went to the original for a more full understanding, reading Toward a Psychology of Being and finding it so much more meaningful, making much more sense. Reading the original took Maslow’s work from a theory in a textbook to something whole, deep and complete. Once I read his own words, I could see his theory played out everywhere in daily life. That is not something I would have ever gotten from the textbook, no matter how much it cost.

Having Marty Fromm as a teacher in Human Relations, I read the works of her lover, Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls. Then Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, and Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, then Rogers and more Rogers. Having read Adler’s Understanding Human Nature, as well as other essays by the famed psychologist, when I had the delight of meeting, and spending an extended amount of time with, Margot Adler, author, activist and NPR journalist, we were able to discuss her grandfather’s work, at length, with an understanding of the original texts. Luckily, I had read her books as well.

I read Piaget from Piaget, not a textbook. I read Assagioli and Ellis, Harlow and Groff. I read Milgram from Milgram, Zimbardo from Zimbardo, Allport from Allport and Kohlberg from Kohlberg. In education classes, I read Jefferson and Mann and Dewey, Skinner, Hegel, Kant.

As a massage therapist, I read my textbooks, but I also read Alexander, Feldenkraise, Ling and Rolf. I know that made it difficult to have conversations with me, but if you knew the other students in my class, you’d see that was certainly a plus.

As a teacher I’m an absolute fiend when it comes to source reliability and the use of primary sources in research. Just ask. It’s ok, kids. You can tell them the truth.

Today, though I read less now that my eyes are often problematic, and sometimes listen to books, I’m still likely to read an article, see the study discussed, regardless of the field, and then immediately go to find the study. I am always appreciative of the nuances of the original which seldom translates into the paraphrasing and description found in secondhand accounts.

And, regardless of what I’m reading, and right now I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, I think, believe it or not, nearly daily about the Bluebird Box. and what it did for me. Shallow enough to be beautifully wide and varied and deep enough to provoke an interest that has lasted my entire life, with neither dulling nor diminution, in a child who was never supposed to be able to read. The Bluebird box is still the best box. You can quote me on that.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Social

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Halfway Through March

When I woke this morning, I was afraid I could not write. I felt it was gone. It, whatever that is, felt absent. But during the day’s discussion, in the three minutes between classes, in moments during planning, the topic of poets came up. I found the poem “We Bring Democracy To The Fish,” by Donald Hall. Don’t blame me for the way the title is capitalized – blame Donald. Anyway, he was Laureate until that poem was published. Then he was Poet Non Grata. He and the Dixie Chicks hung out together looking for work.

Distressed Haiku had this line: “I finished with April/halfway through March.”  His wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had died in the month of April, 1995. That line. That one line. I have said that myself, nearly word for word. And I was writing again. But would I ever write of anything else?

I ask that, yet I have. I have. But, time and time again, I return to it. Why? Because one doesn’t go on. One doesn’t heal. One continues, with the wound. With the weight. One may be happy, one may be loved, and one may be content, one may have a wonderful life. I certainly do. But that is still there, because it is part of our lives. For those in this “club we’re in that I wouldn’t wish anyone to belong to,” as a friend of mine put it, one doesn’t go back to the old way of being, but creates a new normal around the space.

Everything is made of space. So, I guess, I’m still writing about everything. I guess.

 

Halfway Through March

It is second period.
I have been discussing
Poetry with Mr. Wolf.
Poets, appreciated but
Never paid well,
Never paid attention to,
Paid heed, respected,
Honored, yes: the Poets Laureate
Paid, at first, in wine.
Chaucer paid in
Gallons of wine.

Name bridges after them,
Put up markers roadside,
Have them inaugurate
The president, but don’t
Pay them enough to
Leave their teaching posts
So they can develop
Their craft without
Daily worries of bills due.

The discussion moved to
Donald Hall. One year only
He held his post.
He published
“We Bring Democracy To The Fish.”
So long and thanks for all that.

But now it is period three,
Donald Hall is in my brain,
So I am reading.
Students working,
Teacher reading, because
I can barely think
Anything else.

I didn’t know
He lost his wife.
Twenty-six years,
Cancer comes and
She goes.

I had always pictured him
Alone. Solitary, New Hampshire
Snow. Writing.

But he wrote of
Her leaving and
What was left,
He wondered if he
Would ever write of
Anything else.
Here, listen to his
Distressed Haiku:
“Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?”

Here is the Universal.
Here is the experience
Of the creative. Of those
Who take everything
Of their lives, of their
Surroundings,
Turn it into something

To understand.
Make the internal life
External, visible, palpable.
Make something with
No hands reach out,
Shake you, shock you,
Leave you thinking,
Understanding what you
Did not understand before.

Make the solitary
The common experience.
Remind me
I’m not the only one.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Poetry, psychology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Messy Desk

Einstein had a messy desk. Behind the messy desk were messy bookshelves with piles of reports, journals, and loose papers. A study published in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Sciences suggests, strongly, that a clean and tidy desk, or office space, leaves one doing socially acceptable things, having normative ideas, and, for want of a better set of terms, doing the right things, thinking the right things, and behaving. Those who worked in, or, in this case, filled out a form in, a messy room, with a messy desk, had less normative ideas, made more creative connections and reported being willing to try things much much further afield. They didn’t see the need to do the right things, think the right things or behave as expected.

I may never clean my desk. It does not make me smart. It doesn’t make me a creative genius. I may clean my desk. It does not make me dumb. It doesn’t make me dull. But the messier side of life is about being indicative of webs of connections. Not graphs. Not charts. Webs of ideas, concepts, facts, which may seem unrelated but later are pulled together to solve a mystery, a problem, a puzzle no straight lines or charts could solve and shine light upon an answer no single beam could illuminate.

It is why one needs to learn things that are of no immediate use. Of no seeming use at all. Because the more of those things we know, the more errata we have, the more connections can be made, the greater our potential for creativity. Connecting things no one had thought to connect in ways no one had before seen. That is how the unsolvable becomes solved. That is how the unanswerable becomes answered. That is the creative process.

That is the gift of a broad liberal education – one of curiosity and not direction. It is why America was a creative powerhouse. Losing that is why we no longer are. It now costs too much to be curious. It doesn’t result in a job. And we all lose.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Culture, Education, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

Tags: , , , ,

Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith

Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith.

 

Tags: , , ,

Don’t Touch the Lava

Tenth graders jump in the halls,
leap
from one sparse gray tile
to the next,
avoiding the vast field of
lava
that has magically appeared
during lunch.
White tiles burn.

I poke one in the back
as I walk by.
He staggers,
lurches forward,
touches lava,
screams and falls,
pretending to burn into nothing but
giggles.
Leapers, one by one,
stagger, fall, burn
as the whole corridor descends into
giggles.

High school.
Tenth grade.
They write code.
Build robots.
Judge science fairs and

they still play fort
I bet. I know
I do.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 17, 2015 in Culture, Education, Poetry

 

Tags: , ,

Einstein’s Bagels And Why They Apparently Think I’m An Illiterate Putz.

I have a big superego. I freely admit that. I think a person should go out of their way to do the right thing and if something is wrong then you just don’t do it. That doesn’t make life in this culture very easy sometimes.

I am what the gamers, the folks who play Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, call Neutral Good. As a player, that would be my moral alignment. Good, and Evil, come in three flavours—Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. Lawful Good follows all the laws. That defines his or her idea of goodness. The means justify the ends, whatever those ends may be. Chaotic good follows no rules but acts on the ideas of outcome only, saying the ends justify the means. Neutral Good is defined this way:

A Neutral Good character is guided by his conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A Neutral Good character has no problems with co-operating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict that a Lawful Good character would.

When I see a rule being broken, and I think it is a good rule, a law being scoffed, and I think it is a good law, one that makes sense, one that deserves to be followed, I find myself wanting to do something, and that oversized superego means I have no problem doing it. And I’m a fixer. When I see things that aren’t right, I want to fix them. Need to fix them. Even if I’m hungry.

And I was.

I was up early. Too early, really. At five-fifteen. Why? Because I’m the only one who shows up to Wednesday six a.m. spin class and I don’t want Tammy to lose her income for that class. So I went, even though I hadn’t slept well and even though I had to be back at the gym an hour later to see a string of members for short, introductory sessions of assisted integrated stretching from eight am through six that evening.

Spin class over, I ran home, showered and, after feeding Dusty, let her out. In the meantime I was going to make my own breakfast in my beautiful (and it is) healthy (and it is) lovely (and it sure is) Vitamix. Looking out the kitchen window I notice something. I notice that I don’t notice Dusty. She has leapt the fence again. So much for my salad smoothie. And so much for my coffee.

I walk out the back door and she isn’t there. I walk out the front door and she isn’t there. Down the street to where she plays with Rank and she isn’t there. It is five to eight and I can’t do anything but hope she likes her new family, wherever that is.

So much for breakfast. Sure, Dusty gets to eat and play, but I don’t. Off to the gym.

Two hours and six patients later, I’m hungry. I have a break and my blood sugar is low enough that I know for sure I’m headed for a bad choice. Luckily, Einstein’s Bagels is a block away, on Babcock and Palm Bay Road. A salt bagel and coffee. Maybe even some lox.

Without enough time to walk, I get into the truck and drive over. I park and have my Einstein’s cup, my cup about to be filled with free coffee, in my hand. Coffee. Bagel. Salty salty fish. But first, the bathroom.

On my way in, I see the community board. The last time, there was barely anything on it. An announcement or two. And it was neat. Not now.

The fact that I can barely hold it (and why didn’t I go at the gym? Oh, yes, I was hungry and my blood sugar was dropping) doesn’t keep me from staring at the board and noting that most of the things on it are not supposed to be there, according to the big old sign smack in the upper-middle of it all.

OK. Bathroom. Then I can talk to the fellow at the register as I order my bagel and coffee.

Back out. No line. Here I am. “May I take your order?”

“I’d like a salt bagel please. Toasted, and coffee.”

“Anything else?” I look at his name tag. He is the manager. Perfect.

“No thanks. But I wanted to mention that there is a lot of stuff on the community board that doesn’t adhere to the guidelines.”

He looks at me as though I had said, instead, “Excuse me, but there is a dead body in the bathroom and your mom is standing over it with a knife. Oh, and he’s not got pants on.”

Slowly, with a great deal of emphasis on the last word. “What sort of things?”

“Lots of business cards. And political advertising for candidates. I saw that the sign said no advertising and no political campaigning.”

“I’m offended!” He says this as though I had said he mom hadn’t any pants on either. And I am quite well confused. I can’t imagine how I could have offended him.

“I’m confused. You’re offended? By the political advertising?”

“No, by you. Everything up there has been approved by management.”

“So, you’re offended? I really can’t imagine how I offended you.”

“Well, you did. I’m very offended.”

I’m not going to win this one, so I might as well have at it. “Well, you must be incredibly easily offended. Exactly what offended you?”

“Your suggestion that we did not follow the rules on the community board.”

“That offended you? My, you ARE easily offended. It says clearly no advertising. And no political campaigns.”

“That campaign is a non-partisan race.  And those business cards and advertisements are not for food. It only appIMAG3762lies if it is for food that competes with us.”

“Come with me, please.” I gave him a follow-me index finger and walked over to the board about four feet away, the order area being at the end of the long counter and just before the short hallway to the bathrooms, halfway down, on the right side off which is the community board. I point out the sign.

“No advertising. It does not qualify that in any way. This is full of advertising. No political campaigns. It doesn’t say unless it is a non-partisan race.”IMAG3763

“Well, it means that though. That’s what it means. You know, you could have just asked if you wanted your cards there.”

I cocked my head to the side. The way a puppy does when he’s confused. I find myself doing that quite a bit.

“Now I am offended” It is his turn to look confused. “You are telling me” (and I step very slightly closer to him) “that I am either illiterate or I am a putz!” I take care to pop my P like I’m trying to explode a microphone.

“I would not ask to put up a card because this clearly states no advertising. If I did ask, that would make me illiterate. If I wasn’t illiterate and I asked anyway, I would be assuming you would break the rule just for me and that would make me a putz. So which is it? Am I illiterate or am I a putz? Which one are you accusing me of?”

I walk back to the counter. He follows. Each of us on our proper side.

Grimly, he looks at me and asks, “Did you want anything on your bagel?”

“I’m not handing you any money! I won’t give money to a place that can’t even follow its own rules and has an illiterate manager. And NOW you can be offended, because that one I meant!’

I walked out. To the car. I get my phone. I walk back in, camera on.

He follows me. “I really can’t let you take pictures of this store.”

“Really? People take pictures when they check in on Facebook. There are pictures on Yelp. On your own Facebook page, people upload pictures. And how are you going to stop me?  Afraid some other corporation is going to copy your community board?” I take one picture. “Besides, how else will I spread this great story all over social media without a picture?” I take a close-up of the sign. I smile and walk out.

Back to the gym I go. I’m still hungry. But I know the bagels are no good for me anyway and now I certainly won’t be having any. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not soon, unless they are really really good ones.

No matter. Right is right.

But I sure could have used some coffee.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Culture, Education, Food, Social

 

Tags: , , , ,

Great Mender

I have felt agitated the last few days. I have been running hot, feeling anxious. It has taken a while to figure out why. Once it was pointed out to me, though, I put my finger on it. I had been taking Great Mender for a busted rib. Jin Gu Die Shang Wan tends to heat the body. Mine is already on the hot side so there are certain herbs I don’t take as they will create even more excess heat. Americans tend to run hot as it is. Then we take red ginseng and other herbs that heat us further. Great Mender is wonderful for helping heal bone injuries but I should have taken something to help reduce the heat from it.

We treat herbs as though they are not medicines. Strange. We think they are powerful enough to be of use but not powerful enough to take the needed precautions. We self-prescribe without knowing much about them or how they interact with different conditions, constitutions, herbs or medications. We treat them like Western medicines when most herbs should be used to treat underlying causes and not overlying symptoms.

Of course, many MDs will do just the opposite, telling the patient herbs are of no use and then forbidding their use. Which is it? If they are powerless, why prohibit their use? But then contradictory stances are nothing new in Western Medicine.

So I cut the dosage down and am feeling better and still healing. The agitation has gone away.

I was feeling useless. With Shelley taking up so much of the day to day functions in the office, I am left to massage therapy, working on patients in tandem with Lee, creating web content, setting up public events, promotion, networking, publicity, and writing a series of essays, poetry and a novel while supervising the illustration of the last children’s book. On top of that, I started a Free Market downtown.

And so I have been feeling as though I am not pulling my weight, even though the weight pulled may well have been quite excessive at the beginning, even though the inertia of that pull is still carrying us forward, I ask, and have done so out loud to my office-mates, “What have I done for us lately?”

I am supposed to take more time to write. When I do, I feel I am shirking my work at the office, most of which is being handled more than ably by Shelley. So she schedules clients most likely to need me around the same time so I am able to take half days or full days to write.

I recognized feeling that was neither here nor there. All the ways I felt are based in real feelings, real assumptions I have of myself, but they were just excuses I used for the agitation. The feelings were there anyway but they were not the cause.

Still, I sat and went over all the horrible things I so often think about me. I spent far too long on this.

Then I thought of the wonderful things people say about me. How misguided they must be. Obviously terrible judges of character. Should I trust people who know me to… See, I will examine this to death. And the more I do so, the more ridiculous it will get. Good, it needs to be obviously ridiculous.

When someone has something negative to say, it is always worth looking at. What grain of truth might there be in it? None? Perhaps. Does something of it ring true? If so, can I learn and grow from it?

If I can learn from that, how about the positive? Should I not listen to that, examine it, learn and grow from it?

Am I really a mensch? Am I really a good man? Does no one really try harder?

My Tibetan name, is Karma Bondru Zangpo. Excellent Diligence. Such a name, given when one takes Buddhist Refuge, is a lesson. It is called a Dharma Name, and it is the person’s best, most prevalent quality. It is also that person’s biggest, most prevalent trap. It is the trait that makes them wonderful and that which trips them up. It is what they do. It is their undoing.

As I diligently examine myself into a state of anxiety, I think of my name, slow down and become just a bit less diligent. The anxiety dissipates just a little.

I have just had the air conditioner replaced in my office. The handyman did not move anything before setting to work. A bookcase fell. The CD cases not broken before are more than broken now. It takes me two hours to clean up the mess. Broken plastic, plaster, sheetrock, books, CDs, cards. It is an opportunity to examine what was there and move something to the front that had, over time, moved to the back of the bookcase. Time to take stock and time to thin the herd.

I find an envelope. It is from a class I took two, maybe three years ago when I was teaching middle school. We work during the summers, most teachers do not have long summer spans free, and this was just one of the many summer classes I had to take. This one was on poetry. Poetry Alive. How to spoon feed sugar-coated poetry to kids who have no interest in it at all. They do performances and classes in school all over the US. That explains quite a bit. The class itself was awful. The idea was to have kids perform poetry instead of read it. If they perform it, they will have to investigate the poems more fully, get deeper into them. Perhaps. But, in the end, it taught close reading, as I taught, and the performance aspect was just a way to allow the teacher to grade the students when a discussion, a real discussion, long, without goal, without preconceived ideas, would have done much better and be far less tacky.

More often than not it resulted in bad performances that would drive even the most ardent lover of poetry to prefer spending his or her time watching reality TV instead.

The teacher for the course had each of us make a bag, a small brown lunchbag, and put it up on the wall. Anytime we felt the desire to say something nice, to compliment a fellow student, we were supposed to write it on a piece of paper and put it in their bag. It was supposed to be anonymous.

We were supposed to decorate it in a way that portrayed our true selves. I did this by not taking a bag. No bag, no decorating. Not pinning it to a wall. No thank you. So the teacher did it for me. Now there’s a lesson for me.

I still do not understand why the notes could not be given directly to the person. Why we could simply not have told the other person. Why was it supposed to be secret?

I pull out that bag now and remove the varying slips of paper.

You are always such a patient and compassionate example to those in the group. You work so hard to help others and to understand them – who they are and what they need. This group would certainly be less without you in it.

Adam, Sometimes I feel like you hold back on getting to know people or letting others know you. You are a wonderful friend, love to spend time with you.

Adam, You exude wit and intelligence and keep me on my toes.

Sage, poet, artist, warm-hearted man. WOW.

An honest sage and philosopher always when we need it most.

I am always amazed at you when we talk.

Thanks for the reality checks.

You are an intelligent, insightful person though, at times, you overanalyze a situation.

Of course I can’t believe people who know me too well and these people don’t know me well enough to be believed. How far do you think that thinking will get me?

Looking at these comments, I realize this must be a different bag. None of this is about poetry, or teaching. Somehow, at some other time, I must have done this exercise with another group. I can’t recall, but the evidence is in my hands.

Evidence. Now comes the analysis. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 15, 2009 in Culture, Education, Poetry, psychology, Social, Suicide

 

Tags: , , , , ,

My Poetry Dollars (not) at Work or How Elizabeth Alexander Destroyed Poetry in the United States

Where were my poetry tax dollars on inauguration day? I want to know what we’re paying a poet laureate for if we are not going to use him or her on important state occasions such as, but certainly not limited to, presidential inaugurations. If the job of Poet Laureate is “to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” then it is also his or her job to not allow actions which will decrease the appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Therefore, I must suggest it would have been an appropriate action by the poet laureate to have offered Ms. Alexander a stiffly spiked drink before her reading of the inaugural poem, just enough to send her sleeping silently while the poetic moment passed, so we may all have been spared the experience of everything poetry is at its worst and what people who do not like poetry are sure it always is: dreadful, banal, trite, pedestrian, boring and bad. And, in keeping with our expectations, Ms. Alexander read it badly as well. Ms. Ryan, where were you? Why did this happen on your watch? Why did you not protect poetry?

As I listened to her read the inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration,” (32 pages), the camera cut away to show the masses leaving in what appeared to be an exodus from tragedy. Within ten minutes this arrived in my email:

God, what an audible THUD to a great speech by Obama when that poet came out and started reading her poem “Deer in the Headlights” from her collection “I Am A Robot: Emotions are for Ethnic People.”

I was asked if I were moved by the poem. I answered, “Yes, indeed I was. I moved to the kitchen.”

The poet laureate is paid $35, 000 a year for his or her services. When I was paid less than that as a teacher, I was busy all the time. When the school needed English taught, which was, strangely, every school day, I was there doing my job. Where was Kay Ryan?

While I agree this is a terribly petty salary to pay a poet (though much more than most poets make as most are paid nothing at all) Ms. Ryan is, nevertheless, a public employee paid with my tax dollars and, on that special occasion I expected the Poet Laureate of the United States to offer her well-crafted professional artistic services. I paid for it. I want it. My tax dollars at work.

But I do not blame Ms. Ryan. I do not know if Mr. Obama chose Elizabeth Alexander or if the chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chose her or if having Alexander read was the result of someone calling in a marker, but surely, someone must take up the gauntlet of repairing the damage she has done to poetry. Someone must pay.

Kay, I’m sorry, but your job just got harder.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on January 22, 2009 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

Tags: , , ,

Mr. Tritt’s Parent-friendly Guide to Why Teaching Didn’t Completely Suck

I taught for a long time. I don’t want to get into it. It depresses me. Yes, all you students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me – it depressed me. It affected my voice, my habits, my health mentally, spiritually and physically. Hell, I even ended up with a bladder infection because we, students too, were thought so much as mechanisms that we had to pee by the bells. See, that’s how much I hated it. You have never heard me use the word pee before. Now I’ve used it twice.

It’s ok the students know that. The students who still write me, call me, see me, visit me were generally depressed too – thoughtful, curious, intelligent, sharp and kind. People like that tend to get depressed when treated like mechanisms.

I have written about it before. Suicides, mementoes, workshop trips, field trips, those special students. I have taught classes of one hundred and thirty at a time, had an attempt on my life, been told by a principal he was tired of teachers who thought they were artists and our job was to surround, capture kill and destroy (Yoo-hoo, Mr. Johnson, how come the website blurb next to your picture, as of this publishing, is outdated by three years? ) and by other principals that Shakespeare and Homer were being removed from the curriculum because a classical education would do the students no good if they could not pass a standardized test. You have to be able to run a frialator.

I once had a high school principal, Andrew Taylor of Piper High School in Ft. Lauderdale, mandate all poetry being taught needed to have parental permission slips. Seriously. He would call teachers to stand during faculty meetings and dress them down using such language as “coward” and “useless” coming withing inches of their faces with his wagging finger. Seriously. Not long after, he abruptly resigned after the married fellow was found to have several “inappropriate” relationships with members of the faculty. But I’ve written about all that. I’m much better now.

You see, it was never the students who I had problems with. Not even the one who tried to kill me. Administrations, on the other hand, that’s another story. Really, that’s the whole story. The only story.

Still, after a while one begins to doubt oneself. This one did.

Once in a while I peruse the Internet looking for folks who have co-opted my writing. I find bits of me here and there and usually let them know they are using it without permission (which they know) and what the copyright rules are (which they usually don’t know) and that I could sue them (which I have never done but that is also something they don’t know) unless they remove it or send me something or say please and thank you. Sometimes I even find my work non-cited. I ask for that to be removed. Fair is fair.

This week I found the work copied below. It is from a school at which I taught eighth- grade Honors English. This was the school at which I taught six week workshops to the entire eighth-grade and then the entire seventh-grade all while teaching my normal classes. State assessment scores went up remarkably. I was told I could no longer do this as it was not duplicatable. It upset the department head who could not write an essay even if she were being paid to do so which, essentially, she was. When I asked her for one, to share with the students as an example that everyone writes, she balked. The principal caved. You should have seen their scores the year after that. Flushhhh…

So slow is their movement, so high their inertia or so great their apathy, I still have my web page there even though I have not taught there in two years. In the midst of state assessments, we were required to learn to make web pages on Macs. Stop everything. Build a page. And so I did. Prostitution is prostitution. They want a page, they get a page.

And it is still there. So I read through it. It was good for me. Very good for me, in fact. I’ll let you read what I found before I tell you what it means, as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Tritt’s Parent-Friendly
Field-Guide to 8th Grade
Choice team Language Arts

Ok Mom and/or Dad/and/or Legal Guardian, you are confused. No problem there at all. I understand. Like you, I’m a parent too so I spend a fair amount of my time confused as well. My son is fifteen so I also find myself addled, perplexed and confounded. Some of this is just because he is fifteen. Much of this is over his classes and what their requirements are. While I can’t belay my own confusion, maybe I can alleviate some of yours.

In the next few minutes we can answer most of your questions as long as those questions are about writing and Language Arts in the Eighth Grade Choice Program at Stone. If your questions are about anything else, we’ll see what we can do but I won’t make any promises.

First of all, let me introduce myself. I am Adam Byrn Tritt. I have a bunch of initials after my name. Some are of consequence to teaching, like my masters in Education and my masters in English and in Communications. Others aren’t. I am a writer who teaches and am a published author, essayist and poet so you know and, more importantly, your student knows I practice what I teach and teach what I practice. This adds up to an authentic workshop and class experience for your student where they learn how it is really done (no matter what the ‘it’ is we are learning).

Books. We use plenty of books. But we don’t use textbooks very much. I prefer the students pick books they are interested in and get as deeply into those as possible. I’ll check them for difficulty and appropriateness, of course. We want subjects that can be discussed openly and have literary merit. We also want to make sure the books will develop the students ability to recognize the use of literary devices and themes, have a vocabulary that will allow your student’s minds and brains to stretch and grow, question and reach.

I provide ample opportunity for this with novel suggestions as well as shorter works. Your student can choose among essays old and new, collections of short stories, plays and poetry. Many of the more meritorious of them are worth more points. When I say that I don’t mean the longer ones. Some short essays are worth extra points as well. Have your student ask.

What are they to do with these? Read them, examine them, enjoy them (we hope) and struggle with them. Most weeks they students will prepare a reading log. It consists of five entries and each entry has what book was read, how many pages, plot summary (Colonel Mustard was killed in the parlor with a candlestick. Scooby Doo is on the trail.) New vocabulary, what the student thinks it means from context and what it means when your young’n looks it up in his or her favorite dictionary. The last part is a small portion for notes of whatever your student found was of interest or even a statement of how much they like or, sometimes, dislike the book. Perhaps it mentions writing style, devices used or word choice. In the end, this reading log makes the creation of note cards and the literary analysis a breeze.

I give the students some suggested forms but they make their own. If typed, I give them extra credit for them. If they are for an extra credit book, they get even more credit on top of that.

Five entries per week from whatever novel or essay or collection he or she is reading. If there are no new words one day, this happens. If it happens more than a few times we know the book material isn’t stretching your student. Time for harder material.

Once a month we’ll be doing a literary analysis using the material your son or daughter read. We’ll start off oral with note cards. Oral presentation is mandated by Sunshine State Standards. After a few the students will have a choice to do this orally, on video, by PowerPoint, in writing or in any other creative way s/he can think of as long as the points on the rubric are covered. Of course they have the rubric and we practice hitting each point first. All this gets them ready for the FCAT and Pre-AP English.

Speaking of books, we don’t make great use to the Literature textbook, which most students appreciate. We also don’t make great use of the Grammar text. Do we use them sometimes? Sure. When we see specific difficulties in the writing we address them in small groups or mini-lessons.

We study grammar in a real-life context; in the context of writing and communications. Studies show we can give grammar instruction and tests but, when given a writing assignment, the tested material does not translate into correct use in writing. So we learn grammar while writing.

If your child doesn’t need help with comma use, we aren’t going to waste her or his time with work on comma use; we’ll save that for the students who do need that instruction.

Likewise, the Literature text is used selectively when we want a specific story or poem to illustrate a point or device.

So what will your child be bringing home? Writing and plenty of it.

We will be working on the ability to format our typed papers in any number of ways. The ability to follow a format means your student will learn his or her way around a word processor and will be able to fulfill the requirements of any class. It means he or she will be able to follow directions, enter contests, publish in the newspaper, submit essays.

Your student will also be learning how to revise and proofread and we hope we can count on your help to support this. Please read your child’s essays out loud so s/he can hear them. Help with grammar is you are able. Look at transitions and check of elaboration, organization, clarity. I have one hundred and twenty little darlings and I could sure use you to check their work at home since we often can’t check them as thoroughly as we’d like in school.

I have provided plenty of guides for your child to use as tools and add to his or her notebook. Don’t throw these away at the end of the year. I assure you your student will find these of great use next year and the years after. You can use these as well when helping your son of daughter proof essays. He or she will have sheets on transitions and transition use, on words to use instead of ‘very’ and other weak words, sensory words, color words, words to use instead of “said.” Verbs to use instead of adjectives and adverbs. S/he has rubrics and evaluation guides so you an look at the work and see, ahead of time, what sort of grade it will get before the paper is turned in. In other words, your little one has tools-a-plenty and, at home, you can help make sure he or she uses them.

Reading the essays out loud to your son or daughter will allow him/her to hear what the writing actually sounds like to the reader. This is invaluable. I assure you, if that is all you do it will be an immense help.

What will your student be writing? Essays to start. Essay after essay after essay. FCAT mandates essays. Our school has the students write at least one every week. Many of these are timed and check as first drafts.

We’ll be writing essays on surprise prompts, essays on literature, essays for Science, essays for Social Studies. Some essays will be for contests in English and we’ll be writing essays for Science contests as well. We write for FCAT and we write for real life.

We practice many kinds. We write some which are descriptive to get use to describing carefully and accurately, we practice using verbs to describe instead of adjectives and adverbs, just alike Twain did. We practice sentence combining and transition use.

We write expository essays to explain, expose and express. We write persuasive essays to convince and persuade. And all the while we practice better writing overall.

We have a monthly week-long writing workshop where the students learn not only to write, revise and proof better, but why we do this. We learn techniques, we learn reasons and we practice again and again. We even learn about the brain and how words affect us physically. We are, after all, a science program.

Students also learn the essay was, originally an art form and we treat it as such, rewarding chances taken and skills learned, creativity as well as accomplishment.

We also do journals. The students will have specific topics and will have to answer, in writing and within a short timeframe, specific questions or write to a prompt or quote. No help is given. This is graded on how well they applied themselves and stuck to the instructions (just like the FCAT) not content.

Let us have a word about homework. I dislike homework. I have to give some. After all, our classes are just 45 minutes long. But it will be minimal. If you help your student with time management and organization, it will be a breeze. We have our reading logs. That means reading a few nights a week and filling in the log.

Sometimes they will have an essay to revise and proofread. As I asked before, please help them with this even if that means only reading it so they can hear how it sounds. Rarely will homework be something they must have back the next day. Most assignments are long-term. I expect about an hour to hour and a half of homework a week.

And speaking of homework and assignments, the work due is listed on the board in our room often more than a week in advance. The work is also listed on StudyWiz so it can be accessed by your student or even by you from any Internet connection. Since your child is probably on the computer typing away in IM, just ask him or her to pull it up for you.

If there is ever a problem with an assignment, please write an email note (best) or send a note with your student. I know things happen and emergencies come up. Late work can be accepted with a note as well. If there is even a problem with a printer at home, just bring the work to me (in the morning) on a disk, flash, thumb, floppy or send it in an email and I’ll happily print it out for your darling.

In the end, no matter what your student chooses to do academically, she or he will be better of, will have the skills to write what he or she needs to, the flexibility to do so for and under any circumstances and the confidence to know he or she will do it well. With your help, we can make their grades reflect the new skills and confidence.

Holy cow. This was the teacher I wish I had. At any point. Middle school, high school, college. Anytime.

I was told once we teach the way we learn. In this case, I taught the way I wish I had the opportunity to learn. And I did my best to bring that to my students. Among them are many in Harvard and Yale and other ivy league school, the youngest Discovery Award winner on record, several students who published in magazines while still in my class instead of just writing for a grade.

Reading this I remember something important: I did good. I did the best I knew and then worked to do better than that – for my students. Because they deserved much better than just ok, deserved better than I got, deserved the best possible and I worked to the end of my strength and ability to give that to them.

I was the teacher I always wanted.

Bless them for that opportunity.

As far as Stone Middle School and their still using my material on their webpage, I get five cents a word standard. You know where to send the check.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: