Let's make 2014 a super year!
“Never get so fascinated by the extraordinary
that you miss the ordinary.”
(Magdalen Nabb, English novelist)
It was built and put into service in 1911, over a hundred years ago. It has been abandoned since 1994. And it still stands there, in the middle of Oklahoma City, just down the street from the OU Medical Center - an empty testament to times past. Page Woodson is a structure of historic significance, still listed as a "Segregated Negro High School". It was called the Page Woodson Fifth Grade Center, and it's the site of my first teaching position. In fact, the picture at left looks very much like my original classroom.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared to face my first class in 1990. Part of my apprehension must have been due to the interview process. I was not the master of the job interview, and I had been on a few with no job offers. When I met Principal Higgins, I was more than a little nervous. My first impression told me that this man was like Joe Clark, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman in the uplifting movie, Lean on Me. In the interview, Mr. Higgins asked be the unusual question, "What kind of car do you drive?" When I described my 1984 Ford Tempo, he said that was good "because they like to steal Chryslers from the playground (Yes, we parked on the playground, and they locked the chain link fence during the school day.). I really believe my car got me the first job in my professional career.
During the week before school was to begin, teachers were called in for training. That's nothing new, but the subject matter of the training was more of a shock to this rookie. It was not facilitated by some educational guru or even by a principal or teacher leader; it was led by the Oklahoma City Police Department. There I was, hoping to teach children, and learning instead about gang hand signals, tagging, Satanist and gang symbolism, drug deals, and how to take a gun away from someone. This did nothing to squelch my apprehension! To top it all, Mr. Higgins expected me to teach students from cultures quite different from any I had experienced.
That said, I held my own during the first week of school, and my fifth grade class did not have any discipline issues. We were learning history in most of my classes, but I was also responsible for teaching reading to my homeroom class. Unfortunately, there were no reading books. "No problem," I said. "I'll use my history books to teach reading." Meanwhile, kids were freestyle rapping and break dancing in the halls between classes.
If I could say nothing else about my school, I could say it had character. We didn't need the radiators since it was over 100 degrees. The box fans in the windows drowned out most of my teaching, and our endless sweating drowned out any attempt to focus. Nevertheless, I pressed on.
I had a good friend at the time who was in the Air Force. He was going to Iraq in the war effort after the Iraqi military invaded Kuwait. I asked my students to write letters to him, and we soon earned the attention of the local media.
Then came the word that the student population had not met expectations, and Mr. Higgins needed to downsize the staff. Being the new guy, he told me I needed to find another position in the district (I interviewed for three other schools and was offered all three positions.). I upgraded to a school in a less violent area. Later in the same school year, Mr. Higgins was reported to have taken several knives from his students, and there was at least one gang shooting across the street from the school. I was only at Page Woodson for a few days, but when I found the pictures of the school on the Abandoned Oklahoma website, it all came back to me - the parking lot/playground, the staircases, the hallways, the auditorium, and the swimming pool. Yes, this school - a Segregated Negro High School put into service some 18 years before Martin Luther King Jr. was born - had a swim program, and a rather large pool facility (The pool was already closed when I worked there, and I never laid eyes on it until I found the AOK website.).
I suppose it is just a building, but it seems to me that there was a lot of history there. I didn't appreciate that history when I was there, and I'll probably never drive through the area again, but it does provide one thing for me now: it reminds me of how close we are to a major part of American history, so close, in fact, that I touched it every time I walked through the doors, up the stairs, and into my classroom. I saw it in every wooden floor slat, every door knob, and every window frame. I just didn't know it at the time.
I can't even imagine the teachers who came before me, the lessons that were taught in that second floor classroom. The teachers didn't look like me. They didn't use the same methods. They read from different textbooks. They adhered to oppressive laws.
The water fountains were not for "Negroes", and the restroom weren't labeled for "Colored Only"; the fact is the whole school was labeled as such. To think I was working, daily, in such a place - surrounded by such a history - really is unbelievable.
Special thanks is extended to Justin Tyler Moore of the Abandoned Oklahoma team
for permission to use the photos in this post.
Conduct an internet search for "rudest generation" and you will find reports of a study about the way 18- to 34-year-olds treat other people. Generally, the study reveals that this age group is 23% less likely to carry out common courtesies. More specifically, we can note the differences in people over 55 and the 18- to 34-year-olds:
THE DEATH OF MANNERS: TOP COURTESIES IN DECLINE
Of course, these are just a sample of the study results. I can't say I do all of these things myself, but the study does indicate a decline in kindness from one generation to the next. I am a little baffled that my age group is in between the two shown, and I wonder if those numbers would fall in between the two generations that have been contrasted here.
Does this reveal a decline in society? Are there implications for the under 18's?
Are schools to blame? Parents? Churches?
How have advances in the media's reporting procedures? Advances in technology?
Is anyone paying attention to anyone else? Or are we too wrapped up in our own cell phones and facebook accounts to care?
Finally, where do we go from here? Is there a solution?
I was a fan of the original design for the 2003 Missouri quarter. That design was altered for the final striking of that limited-edition coin. The final quarter, not as beautiful or as detailed as the artist's original design - still portrays Missouri magic. Indeed, it is an excellent example of Missouri history touching United States history. When I think about the images on "our" quarter, I am proud that our state was so crucial to our nation's history.
On the reverse (back) of the Missouri quarter, before a separate image of the "Gateway to the West" (the Arch in St. Louis), are three men rowing in a dugout canoe. The men in the front and rear of the boat are Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark - two incredible explorers who made history in ways that put their exploration in the background.
Did you know...
There is a page on our class website that focuses on this amazing scientific and historic expedition. The page includes links to some very interesting information, along with some videos (accessible at home, but blocked at school).
Of course, I can't leave the discussion about the Missouri quarter without mentioning some anomalies:
Upon studying the journals of these men, one must recognize that the journey of Lewis and Clark is perhaps greater than the man's journey to the moon in 1969. How so? Not because Neal Armstrong had computers, but because Armstrong had contact with Mission Control. Lewis and Clark were completely on their own - with no emergency contact, no guidance from experts, and no way to communicate their feelings with their families. A true study will reveal a great appreciation for a very romantic story from our history - both rugged in its depiction of survival in all kinds of elements and romantic in its deep revelation of humanity and its forward-looking treatment of minorities. What an amazing time in our past!
There may not be many better examples of my basic teaching philosophy - that we need more wonder, exploration, and discovery in our classrooms. If you're interested in digging deeper, I encourage you to visit our webpage about the Corps of Discovery.
Three questions up front:
That being said, if you are one to make resolutions, consider the following:
I don't make formal resolutions, but I think and pray about these things every day. These suggestions, and others, guide me in my very serious task of parenting (Of course, I have a number of similar thoughts concerning the children I teach.).
May the new year bring with it new desires to improve,
learn from mistakes,
and of course wonder, explore, and discover!
John Adams, our second president, said famously, “Be good, do good.”
His wife, Abigail, expressed the same sentiment when she said, "To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man comprised in a few words.”
Of course, we may be more familiar with the phraseology of J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie. They wrote one of my favorite songs for the season: “…so be good for goodness’ sake.”
I wonder how many times I've told my children that Santa Claus is watching them, when I should be teaching them that "Character is what you are willing to do when the spotlight has been turned off, the applause is over, and no one is around to give you any credit” (Ann Landers).
Find more Meaningful Quotes about Character - and other topics - under the Positivity tab at the top of our website.
Saturday was the first day of winter, and the season blew in with some moisture...which quickly froze onto our trees and cars. I spent part of my day moving broken tree limbs to the curb and scraping the car windows to have them ready for church on Sunday.
When the weather outside gets frightful, and you can't stay inside where it's delightful, please be careful. A friend of mine - the parent of two former students - visited the Emergency Room after falling on icy steps and receiving neck and back injuries. Whether it be steps, roads, or whatever, be aware of your surroundings.
I spent some late hours creating pages on this website for parents, students, and teachers to access external links on the interweb (Yes, I know that's not the real word.). These pages are essentially lists of games and sites that can help students improve skills and learn information. It would be nice if students would use these links to improve on needed skills and not only to practice what they already know.
Fair warning: at this point, some of the links lead to dead ends; most, however, should be working well. Also, while I monitor students' computer usage at school, I hope parents will monitor usage of these links at home. There may be other links and lures on some of the pages that will lead to unsavory locations. We should share in the responsibility to protect our children and teach them to make appropriate decisions concerning the internet. If you discover something that I need to remove or change, please let me know immediately.
All of these pages are located by clicking Bookmarks under the Digital School Supplies menu in the Exploration tab at the top of our website.
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Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Because of Mr. Terupt
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