Tag Archives: language

Stop Already!

6 Mar

Winter Storm Saturn Brings Heavier, Wetter ‘Heart Attack Snow

This was a headline that popped up when I googled “Winter Storm Saturn” and well, here I go again…

Hurricane Sandy, whose name I have argued against for just being too damned cute for a devastating storm, was certainly a storm for the ages and it did cause a tremendous amount of damage and grief that some people here at the shore are still experiencing…and I certainly don’t want to make light of that suffering…

but we do not need to start the suffering before the suffering even begins, do we?

Heart attack snow?! I do understand the metaphor but please we need to get back to the good old days of “There’s a storm-a-comin’!” and leave it at that.

Does snow cause a heart attack? Can rain cause drowning? Will fog bring zombies? Does dark of night mean blindness?!

Here at the Jersey shore we are all still shell-shocked as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

And we really do not need to be frightened by any more self proclaimed meteorological experts, thank you very much. We get it. We know what a storm is.

storm  /stôrm/ Noun -A violent disturbance of the atmosphere with strong winds and usually rain, thunder, lightning, or snow.

Is there any other kind? Really?

Can we just call the next storm Uranus please, and leave it at that?

 

Racism 101:

5 Jan

Racism 101: Are Hispanics: The New Race?

One day in class a young African American student raised his hand and asked a question.

“Mr. Picone, I just don’t understand it. Why are white people afraid of me?”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Wherever I go, whenever I see a white person or they see me, they always look scared and afraid. I don’t get it. What did I do?”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that we don’t always have the answers to questions that students ask, even though we want to have those answers. It’s been over 30 years now and I still don’t have the answer to that students question…and I still wish I did.

Teachers know that when it comes to life, there is always more to learn and perhaps one of the most confusing and complicated problems in the public schools involves learning what to do about the complicated problem of racial inequality and injustice that is still plaguing our society today…and yes, it still is a plague on our society.

And just when you think that the question of racism in the public schools couldn’t get more complicated a new race comes to town! Now the question is are Hispanics white or black?… and who cares? Are racists simply people who believe in races? After all what does the division of people into “races” really mean? Aren’t people just people after all? Your nose belongs where mine does, right in the middle of my face! Eyes, heart, liver, lungs, legs toes, you name it and we’ve all got one…same number of bones and muscles too and all in the same places on our bodies and all interchangeable! Even our blood! In fact the only thing that really separates us is our blood type and the only thing that can really identify us, one from the other, is our DNA. Isn’t everything else really all just about looks? What races would exist in a land where no one had eyes?

What we have learned in the public schools is that when young children first go to a school with a culturally diverse population they may first notice that there are different skin colors and different faces but as they interact they quickly understand that kids are kids. Pre school and kindergarten teachers know this also. There’s no “race” of children who know how to share or play fair or smile or make friends better than any other children. They all have to learn the basics of how to interact and get along with one another, just like everyone else.

So my question is: with all that children need to learn and with all that adults need to teach, then why do we still insist on teaching them about races and differences when we should be concentrating on our sameness and shared needs and shared interests? Over my 33 years in teaching I have had many Hispanic students tell me that they don’t consider themselves “white” because their white friends aren’t being profiled and asked for identification papers and threatened with deportation, and they don’t consider themselves “black” because their black friends aren’t being profiled ID’d and threatened with deportation and they don’t consider themselves Asians because (you can see where I’m going, right?)

So, do we have a new race?

Vowels and Vulgarity

28 Sep

One Day in Class…

A student raised his hand and said, “Hey Mr. Picone, why is that bitch in the front row so ugly?”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that on most days you just never see it coming.

I must warn you. Life in the public schools is not that easy…There is vulgarity there!

! I’ve never been to sea and I’ve never been a pirate but I’ve often heard that sailors and pirates are famous for their salty talk and off color language however, I have spent 50 years in the public schools and I can tell you that the vulgarity and profanity that can be found within our halls of education is a match for any profession legal or ill. And oddly enough in education it’s the kids who lead the way and blaze new pathways in obscenity not the adults. Adults have to watch what we say or it’s the highway for us. Some punk will rat us out to the administration and the next thing you know you’re being reprimanded for not setting a good enough example for the children. Good grief!

Every unutterable syllable of perverse, offensive and sexually explicit language that I’ve ever learned, I’ve learned in school from some classmate or student of mine. (well at least until the invention of HBO) I was never in the military nor did I work in construction so I will admit to leading somewhat of a sheltered life and I will also admit to being a little behind the curve when I was a student in high school as I often had no clue as to what other students or adults were talking about or referring to when they spoke about sex or used profanity. I had no idea what a douche bag was just that I didn’t want to be one and I thought that Pussy Galore was just a cute name for a girl that James Bond liked. Back in those days (when I was a kid) adults could use double entendre and innuendo to make inside adult jokes that were secretly shared between other worldly adults… and only the savviest and most corrupted children might be in on the secret, but naive kids like me still had no clue. Heck, I only just recently realized that Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke fame on TV was a prostitute who ran a whorehouse! How did I miss that? They called her Kitty which rather than just another cute nickname for Katherine was undoubtedly another inside joke that Ms. Galore would have clearly been in on.

Anyway, as I got older I picked up more carnal word play by listening more closely in the hallowed hallways of high school, college and beyond until suddenly in the late 70’s,  I found myself right back where I started; In high school again! Only this time there was a new generation in town and the walls of double entendre and innuendo had all but crumbled and disappeared. So much so that not many people even know what those two words mean anymore. And I was shocked to hear what I was hearing. The adults no longer owned profanity. The kids did! How did that happen???…I certainly know that teachers did not teach it in school, that’s for sure.  The Great Vowel Shift in the English language which changed the way we speak and pronounce and even spell words began sometime during the 14th century for reasons still not sure to linguists…but who or what was responsible for this great vulgarity shift in civilization that has changed the actual civility of our civilization? Any thoughts or guesses? Discuss! (nicely)

If You Think Numbers Are Fun then you’ll Just Love Percentages!

11 Sep

 

If You Think Numbers Are Fun then you’ll Just Love Percentages!

 

Of all the U.S. students in the graduating class of 2009 who had advanced skills in math, only six percent performed at the advanced level. Maybe this is why.

My bank gives me .1 percent interest on the money that I keep in my checking account. I keep it in my checking account because let’s face it, I never get to keep my money for very long before it’s headed someplace else.  They used to pay me 6 percent interest when I was little but that was a long time ago when banks had way less money than they have now and could afford giving me more interest…wait a minute…is that correct? Unfortunately it is. Anyway, 6 percent is another way of saying .06 and .1 percent is another way of saying .001

As far as numbers go .06 and .001 don’t look all that much different do they, but .06 is actually 60 times more than .001. That means that the bank cut my interest by 60 times! They are now giving me 60 times less interest on my money then they were giving me when I was a child. Boy, I sure wish that banks had more money today than they used to when I was a kid…oh wait…they do!

Anyway, back when I had 1 million dollars in the bank and was getting that 6 percent interest I would make 60 thousand dollars every year just for keeping it in the bank. Today the bank only gives me 1 thousand dollars a year for keeping my 1 million dollars there. But wait! I don’t have 1 million dollars. I lost some in the Savings and Loan scandal and then lost some in the Enron Scandal and then lost some more in the latest banking scandal (Did they name it yet? Perhaps they can call it the Bernie Madoff Did It All By Himself and Nobody Else in the Whole Wide World Could Figure it out but Him so Only He Was Punished scandal)  when the banks lost most of their money too (which they then got back from the government I think, even though I didn’t get any of my money back) but I am getting .1 percent interest from the bank for doing me the favor of holding onto my money before they lose it.

Anyway, that .1 percent looks an awfully lot like 1 percent doesn’t it? But it is actually 10 time less. That’s the power of the percentage point. So now the 10 thousand dollars that I have left in my account gets me an additional 10 dollars a year in interest which I can use to drive myself to the poor house…As long as it’s no more than 3 gallons of gas away!)

Perhaps this is why kids in the United States don’t like learning math. Math is just too sad…but I will say this: If we use math wisely and apply it to our daily lives, troubles, problems and deficits, we can solve all of our problems! When will we learn what every math teacher already knows? Just do the math!

How Much Is Much?

10 Sep

(More math fun!)

The wealthiest 400 Americans have 1.37 trillion dollars between them.

According to the 2010 census 15.7% of all Americans live in poverty.

304 million Americans X 15.7% = 47.8 million Americans in poverty.

If all 47.8 million of America’s poor people went to McDonald’s 3 times a day and each ordered one item from the dollar menu each time they were there for breakfast lunch and dinner and then if McDonalds sent the bill to the 400 wealthiest Americans to be shared among them they would have to pay a bill of 143.4 million dollars just for that one day! (Not including tax of course) Then if the poorest 47.8 million Americans continued to dine each day at the Golden Arches on the wealthiest American’s dime, the total bill for one year would be 143.4 million dollars times 365 days for a grand total of $52,341,000,000.00 or in words, 52 billion, and 341 million dollars! Wow!

That means that those poor billionaires would have shelled out a whopper of their fortune equaling a grand total of 3.8% of their aggregate wealth! Yes, that’s right! After feeding 47.8 million poor Americans 3 times a day for an entire year, (albeit on McDonald’s dollar menu…but who doesn’t like McDonald’s?) the 400 wealthiest Americans would still have $1,317,659,000,000.00 left, or in words, 1 trillion, 317 billion, 659 million dollars!

But wait it gets better! According to Forbes magazine the richest 400 Americans increased their overall wealth by 8% in 2010 so even after feeding America’s poor for an entire year; (albeit on McDonald’s dollar menu…but who doesn’t like McDonald’s?) they would still be richer than when the year began! How cool, or sick, is that?! And by the way, let’s just forget about how rich McDonald’s would be! (My apologies to Burger King…maybe next year?)

Of course, the richest 400 Americans would never do this and we wouldn’t ask them to nor would we expect them to. In fact it would be silly to even think of such a thing and it would be un-American too because the rich people earned their money and the poor people didn’t. And besides if we gave money to the poor people then they would have money and then they wouldn’t be poor and how would that make people who already had money that they earned feel? They would feel bad wouldn’t they and cheated somehow too so we wouldn’t even consider such a thing. There are rich and there are poor and that’s the way of things because after all fair is fair. Right? The rich eat in grand style and the poor go hungry and that’s the way it is and always has been and dare I say always should be? Is this what we teach our children? That because of hunger and poverty our food tastes more delicious?

But consider this. In the history of the world there have been many great and prosperous civilizations and they have all failed. And usually at the time of the failing some few folks had all of the money and most other folks had none. They were either Kings or Queens or Popes or Emperors or Czars or Caesars or Pharaohs or whatever and they always invoked the divine right of the gods as the reason for concentrating all of that wealth in the hands of one man or one small circle of family and friends. Eventually the disenfranchised, poor populace grows disinterested and disaffected and the empire succumbs to a force of outsiders who invade and plunder. While the wealthy few run away or hide or are murdered or all 3! Then the new conquerors share in the plunder and even rejoice while sharing, and then the cycle begins anew as the new leaders emerge and invariably begin indulging in their own grandeur until…

Fortunately we no longer have empires such as those in the world today but we still have world leaders who rule with concentrated power and wealth. In the United States however, our president is not among the wealthiest men in the nation and we have no all powerful despot who rules with an iron hand under the divine rights of either religion or lineage but we still have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and those few are now the business and corporate leaders of the world. Where we once had popes and kings we now have CEOs and corporations (The latter which ironically enough have recently been declared to be persons by our Supreme Court composed of actually real people!) and they have quite a large amount of wealth at their disposal which is growing while the wealth of the common population is shrinking. This is the historical recipe for national disaster. No matter how vast and distant the empire may reach, when the interior rots the empire always withers and dies.

Our public schools represent that interior. They are the nucleus which fuels the fire of freedom and free enterprise. We have built our greatness from the inside out and we look to replenish our strengths and our greatness through the rebirth and reaffirmation of our ideals in our children. We have never expanded our influence by conquering other nations and bending their citizens to our will. Instead we have spread our influence through the free trade and free movement of our citizens and by setting an example of economic wealth that can be earned and shared and experienced by all and not concentrated within a few.

Our public schools must be fortified and not abandoned. They must be embraced and enhanced and empowered in terms of anticipating and responding to technological, social, political, economic, and competitive change. Healthy cultures must always be willing to rethink their most basic assumptions about themselves in order to improve and grow and repair their societies and we must be willing to accept that what our schools need now more than ever is not a cut in spending but rather a renewed effort to spend more on the future and the future generations who will lead us.

Today’s students are willing to work hard but what makes us think that they are going to be willing to work hard for low wages that would suffice a life in China or India or some other-where where they don’t live? America’s corporate leaders and great men of wealth need to stop hoarding and start spreading the wealth. They can begin by first embracing the public schools of this country with largess and generosity and then by raising wages across the middle and poorer classes of society so that the term “working poor” is eradicated from our vocabulary.

Today’s students of the 21st century in America are beginning to notice that it is getting harder and harder to bring the American dream, a dream of studying hard then working hard, and then achieving affluence, into focus and for most of our poorest students that dream is nothing more than a taunting apparition of their hopelessness: a happy meal that they will never be able to afford

More Fun With Math

9 Sep

 The average student has a strange and often perplexing aversion to all things mathematical…

Perhaps they have dyscalculia? I hope not although it’s really just a fancy word for an impaired ability to learn grade-appropriate mathematics. Akin to dyslexia, only about 5% of our students are diagnosed with it. However, many of our public school students if not most, will still claim an aversion to math and a dislike for complicated formulas and calculations of the math kind. Still we all must admit that numbers are important since they constitute most of the other segment of our life that doesn’t involve words.

And although numbers can be written out as words, they really require a mental imagery or visualization within our brains to understand them. And even that doesn’t help much when the average human tries to process extremely large numbers. 1 million seems like a pretty large number to most people and numbers beyond that seem to fall into the category of “a lot”. How many people can really visualize how much 1 billion is? Here’s an illustration: If you had 1 million dollars you could spend 1 thousand dollars every day for 3 years. If you had 1 billion dollars you could spend 1 thousand dollars every day for 3 thousand years! Or you could spend 1 million dollars every year for 1 thousand years, but since you are not going to live for a thousand years how about just spending 10 million dollars a year for 100 years? Does that sound more manageable? That’s still spending 30 thousand dollars a day, without taking a day off for 100 years. That’s doable don’t ya think? That’s what having 1 billion dollars would mean.

New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg has 14 billion dollars. He could spend 400 thousand dollars every day for 100 years without going broke (and that’s if he doesn’t earn any more money in the next 100 years…of course he’ll be in his 160’s by then too) During December of 2010 we had a snowstorm that crippled New York City for a few days. Experts say that it costs about 1 million dollars an inch to clean the snow off of New York City streets during a snow storm. The average snowfall per year, over the past 100 years, in New York City is 28 inches per year. That means that Mayor Bloomberg could pay to plow the streets of New York City out of his own pocket for the next 100 years;

28 x 1,000,000 x 100 = 2,800,000,000 (2 billion 8 hundred million)

(Saving the city’s budget a bundle of money) and still have 11 billion 200 million dollars left over! (And that’s if he doesn’t earn any more money in the next 100 years…of course he’ll be in his 160’s by then too) That’s how big a number 14 billion is!

But just imagine if Mayor Bloomberg were to offer to do something like that. Wouldn’t the people love him? I’d vote to make him mayor forever if he demonstrated such largess, and I don’t even live in New York City (but I’d move there) but even though he probably won’t offer to do such a thing Congress has just voted to extend his tax cuts anyway so he’ll be worth more by this time next year.

See, isn’t it fun to try to contemplate how big numbers are? Aren’t numbers fun? Or is it that they make us sad, especially when we use them to illustrate how poor we are. No matter how often we add everything up they always seems to come out on the short side of what we want our total of “whatever it is” to be. Maybe using numbers and math just adds (no pun intended) to whatever it is that makes us all feel miserable about life and so we feel a natural aversion to it?

Stay tuned for more math fun…

More Fun With Words!

5 Sep

 

Still More Fun with Words

Here are some more thoughts on the F Word. Ironically enough the “F” word might just be the most often used word in the English language that no one will admit to using and that we all often pretend doesn’t exist at all except in that moment when it actually comes out of our mouth with shocking clarity and indelible meaning but I’ve heard it used so often and with such frequency by my teenage students that it seemed as common and ubiquitous as the very air that those foul mouthed mother bleepin’ little urchins of mine used to breathe. I’ve heard it used so often that I have spent many a waking hour thinking about how we could all use it to our advantage and even have some fun with it.

Someday I’m going to open a fast food restaurant and I’m going to call it the “Effin Burger”      

 Kids will come in and say, “Hey! Give me an Effin Burger!”

And I’ll say, “You want some Effin Fries with that?”

“Yeah”, they’ll reply

“How about an Effin Coke?”

 “Sure!”

 “Would you like to Motha Size that?”

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