Education

Directions You’re Gonna Regret

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Every had one of those moments where you decide to follow the directions and then instantly regret it?

The image above shows the directions I followed, which I instantly regretted. Why? They seem relatively straight forward, right?

Not exactly. If you were paying attention, the food is contained within a pouch. The problem is the pouch. The food literally does not need to be cooked in the pouch. But, you decide to follow the directions anyway. So, as a result, one wouldn’t think to cover the top of the pouch…I can see that lightbulb flickering…you are starting to get it…because while to food is in the pouch there is no convenient way to cover the top of the pouch with something that will keep the now heating food from exploding all over the inside of the microwave. POP! SNAP! CRACKLE, CRACKLE, BOOM!

So the written instructions on the back of the food product would more accurately read:

  1. Tear or cut open pouch.
  2. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) for 45-60 seconds. Microwave ovens vary; heating times may need to be adjusted.
  3. Wait for “fireworks” noises to be heard over the humming of the microwave.
  4. If you live dangerously, wait for the time on the microwave to expire and you hear the beep or ding. If you don’t like to live dangerously, curse loudly and pull open microwave door immediately.
  5. Remove pouch from microwave while surveying the messy damage. If you like burnt fingertips, grab anywhere and throw in a little squeeze for kicks; otherwise, carefully grab a small corner at the top edge of the pouch.
  6. Empty remaining content of pouch into a bowl or onto a plate. If the pouch is lighter than when you put it into the microwave, deposit pouch directly into the garbage.
  7. While cursing or muttering under your breath, grab cleaning supplies (we recommend all purpose cleaner and paper towels) and clean the entire inside of the microwave before the next co-worker needs to use it. Return cleaning supplies to proper location after use.
  8. If you are still hungry, ENJOY the small amount of remaining contents from the pouch. Remember, it may be hot (depending on how long it took you to clean the microwave) so use caution. If the remaining contents are not hot, please return them directly to the clean microwave and cover the dish with a paper towel.
  9. If you are not still hungry, return directly to work and try to be productive while your stomach growls all afternoon.

Here’s how it should read since the instructions are out of order or they left out a few steps:

  1. Tear or cut open pouch.
  2. Empty contents into a bowl or onto a plate.
  3. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) for 45-60 seconds. Microwave ovens vary; heating times may need to be adjusted.
  4. Enjoy.

There, now isn’t that better?

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Do you have an example of when you followed the directions and then regretted it? Share in the comments below!

School Picture Thievery

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This school picture thing is a pretty big racket if you ask me, and if you’re a parent you know what I am talking about. If there is any place you know it and can feel yourself being ripped off but can’t do anything about it, it is definitely with school pictures and sports team photos.

I have felt this frustration in the past, but it kind of boiled to a head this year when I went to order my daughter’s school pictures. It usually isn’t a big deal trying to order them, but being the “non-custodial” parent who usually gets the information second-hand sometimes it takes a while to get it done. (Yes, I realize I could just have photographer friend take the photo and avoid all the trouble so I guess I am a glutton for punishment).

Anyway, I logged onto the website with my special code and wanted to just download the image to my computer and then go have them printed in the quantities and styles I desired. So, I selected the outrageously overpriced digital image – $22. Say what? Yeah, you read that right…let’s do some quick math…

If a school has 300 hundred students and the photographer can get 60 students through a line and photographed per hour, then the photographer would work for five hours. The photographer is, most likely, using a digital camera to take said digital images @ $22 each, therefore making $1320/hr, or $6600/day. That is of course presuming that each parent purchases just the digital image, let alone one of the other overpriced packages they offer. Now we know not all parents purchase the pictures, but you get the idea.

So, after choosing the digital image for download I get to the check out page only to see that I am going to be charged a “Shipping and Handling” fee of $7. Uh, wait, what? I am downloading a digital image. Why is there a shipping and handling fee? What’s worse is that I can’t remove the fee either. The radial button is greyed out. I either pay the fee right now, or wait until the next day to call them. So, I opted to call the company the next day since surely the fee for a digital download isn’t $7 bucks…

I called the next day and waded through their automated answering system until I got to a real person to talk to. I explained my situation and asked if there was some kind of error on their website that wouldn’t allow me to remove the shipping and handling fee. The response?

“No, that is a flat fee we charge for all late orders.” 

Late? Yes, it is true I didn’t order when the pictures were taken in the fall, but your website says they can be ordered at any time until following fall AND there is nothing to indicate this is a “late” order on the website. I was a little dumbfounded. I said, “You’re joking right? How does downloading a digital image warrant a $7 late fee or even a shipping and handling fee?”

“Well, we do have to mail you the rights release so you can have the picture printed.”

So what you’re saying is that you are going to charge me $7 to mail me a sheet of paper and an envelope that costs, at best, a stamp or maybe two? I said, “Listen, I understand it costs money to send a piece of paper and envelope out to me but I have ordered digital images from other photographers in the past and they didn’t charge me an extra fee for the rights release, they included it with the digital image download. Surely you have the ability to do that right? So, why would I need a piece of paper mailed to me? It takes less than three minutes to compose a generic email and attach two image files to it.”

“Ok, I suppose I could waive the shipping and handling fee. What email address would you like the images sent to?”

Thank you. Now was that so hard and how about you waive all shipping and handling fees for all digital downloads from here on out? I probably speak for everyone who has encountered this ridiculous fee. There is no reason for it other than you can, and you have families over a barrel. I would venture a guess that many people just pay the fee, which is sad.

Highway robbery, I tell ya, only there was no highway and the bandit holds parents and other family members hostage every dang year around school picture time.

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Logical trade, illogical politics

A week or so ago I wrote about a logical trade when it came to finding a solution to a budget impasse and solving some immigration issues. It seems no one was paying much attention (of course, my readership isn’t that high so that last statement was tongue and cheek).

We wake up today with a government shutdown and while the political spin machines are working over time to spin it this way and that, there is really only one place that blame can be laid here. I say that because when it comes right down to the crux of the issues, there is only one party in this case that is taking an illogical stance and fighting with illogical politics – the Democrats.

The Democrats are where the blame for this shutdown should be squarely placed. This is the bed they made for so many Americans who may find themselves with no job and no paycheck come Monday morning. Or worse yet, those federal employees (like our men and women in uniform serving all over the world) who will have to work and not get paid.

Why do the Democrats take the sole blame for this one? Well, they are standing on a program that protects illegal immigrants, DACA, and they are keeping the government from being able to protect and enforce it’s own borders, which essentially continues to add to the problem of illegal immigration. So, instead of negotiating with a little give and take, they have decided that this is where they will plant their flag and stand.

Just in some quick looking around, this is what we are talking about, by the numbers:

  • 700,000 (+/-) illegal immigrants who are known as “Dreamers” that the DACA program is protecting and allowing to stay in the US because they were brought here as children.

VERSUS

  • 13,000,000 (+/-) federal employees who will be affected by the shutdown, in one way or another.

These numbers come from CNN, who we all know is left-leaning and “fake news” according to the president. The point being, these numbers are from a typically Democratic party friendly source so they may be even higher. There were various estimates all over the net.

All that being said, it shows that one party here is not making a logical stand when it comes to negotiations and is putting even more Americans at risk by taking this stance. The spin machines can spin all they want, but there is not getting around the numbers and what the fight is really over. Remember the old adage, “The greatest good for the greatest number’? It seems one party has forgotten it.

Hopefully, come Monday morning there will be an agreement that involves both sides giving something and the prospect of moving forward isn’t just a hope.

We have a broke(n) government – literally and figuratively.

 

 

Swiss Diplomat Risks All During the Holocaust

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Having been a high school history teacher and also having a particularly strong affinity to things related to the Holocaust, this story highlighted in the link below was of extreme interest to me. I used to use Schindler’s List in class and spend a large amount of time teaching about WWII and the Holocaust in class. Several years ago I found out that I had a familial connection to heroic actions of a distant family member during the Holocaust (a story I hope to tell on here some day), which has heightened my interests in the subject even more.

This story from the BBC is one that many more people should read and know about. I had no previous knowledge of Carl Lutz but his sacrifice and courage while facing his own personal danger is extraordinary.

Please take the time to follow the link and learn about a man who should inspire us all.

The forgotten Swiss diplomat who rescued thousands from the Holocaust

“Never again”…and the world stands by

The news about the Rohingya population in Myanmar (Burma) continues to astound me. As someone who has taught about genocide to high school students, this struggle for life is heartbreaking. I wrote about genocide in the past (Duck, Duck, Genocide) and it would appear that the United States (and the West) is taking the same position is has in recent years, calling genocide “ethnic cleansing” just so it doesn’t have to do anything about it. The United Nations “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”  is pretty clear, but there are too many ways to avoid committing to stopping genocide. This is one area where we seem to pick and choose how we will respond – sometimes we do something, most of the time we do nothing.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, when he said “Never Again” after the Holocaust, continue to ring hollowly in the collective memory of the world. I would venture to say that we have not learned from history and we are doomed to repeat it, at the expense of humanity.

Here are a few articles to get you up to speed if you need to know more about this:

No Such Thing as Rohingya: Myanmar Erases a History

Rohingya Crisis: US calls Myanmar action “ethnic cleansing”

US Denounces Violence Against Rohingya as “Ethnic Cleansing”

When will the world stop sitting back and watching as peoples, and histories, are erased?

 

 

 

Check Your Bias: Media Evaluation

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I used to tell my students there was no such thing as unbiased media – everyone has a slant – and I stand by that statement. However, there are media resources/outlets that do their best to remain “neutral”, as hard as that may be. One thing we know, even if an outlet tries to remain bias free the person/people contributing the media still have a bias.

I recently found a source I wish I had known about while I was in the classroom. It would have been incredibly valuable! The site is called AllSides.com. The cool thing is that you can get news from across the political spectrum – the Left, Center, and the Right. So, if you are a news hound like I am, you can get your news from all perspectives, not just the ones Google thinks you want to see (remember, Google logs your clicks and searches so it progressively narrows the results you get based on your selections).

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AllSides.com site banner

An interesting part of this website is the ability to check your own bias. It has you take their short bias survey, but you also have the ability to complete a bias survey from Pew Research as well as a political party quiz from Pew (for confirmation of where you fall, specifically, or seriously have no idea). All together those surveys give you a pretty complete picture of your social and political bias.

From there, you can rate the numerous media outlets based on your perception of their bias. Of course, your opinion is only a small part of the overall bias rating. They take all the submissions (a sort of crowd-sourcing) and then use statistical research and methodologies to develop on over-all rating for the media source. The methods they are using is really quite interesting. For me, I agreed with the bias rating on about 70% of the media outlets. I gave my input and added it to the aggregate results.

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An example of what you would see at AllSides.com

The important thing here is that you are contributing to bias awareness. Why is that important? Well, too many American’s get their information from too few sources. If more Americans took time to look at the same topic from different sources/perspectives, they might understand the topic in a more well-rounded way. Instead, many Americans fall into or use a confirmation bias. This is dangerous, especially in a technological, highly connected society that is hyper-sensitive and hyper-politicized.

We have to (no, really NEED to) stop using just one source to support our argument. Or, even better, we need to stop using sources that fit our point of view. We need to encourage more media sources to go back to what they used to do – report, without editorial and bias. We need to stop trying to argue our points over social media and instead demand truthful, unbiased reporting.

I know. Maybe I am too hopeful that we can “turn this ship around”. But, I believe that if we are more aware of our own bias we might have a chance. I think using websites like this is a good first step in the right direction.

**Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement for the website mentioned above and I am in no way affiliated with the organization. Just a satisfied new user.**

Transitioning from the classroom

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Over a year ago I stepped out of the classroom as a high school teacher (after 15 years) and began a new career in software support. I am still in education, technically, since I work for an educational service district and I am supporting the school information systems used by a large number of school districts in my state. It has been a good move and I don’t regret it at all – except that I miss “my kids” and the conversations about history and current events.

Anyway, my last post on this format was about a “branching out” of sorts. Not really in the sense of something completely new, but in the sense that it gave me an outlet to share some of the fun memories I gathered over the years, and it also helped me keep a “promise” (to publish) to “my kids” by getting their words out there for them to enjoy again.

There are, however, still two areas from my teaching career that I am trying to figure out what to do with. And by figure out, I mean how or what do I do with some of the resources I created over those years? Lots of work and time went into them so it would be nice to get something from them. So, now I have links to them here on the blog (over there in the margin on the right) with the hopes that at some point they may get some traffic and generate…something.

The first thing is what to do with all those teaching materials I created over the years. A few years back I found a website called Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), where teachers can post their work and make a little extra money while saving fellow teaScreen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.34.47 PMchers time and money. I started posting my teaching materials on the website and lo-and-behold, people started buying it! I have continued to post materials up there over the last year and I am starting to see a nice return (it could always be more!) on my work. I don’t think it will ever make me rich, but it is something and at some point may produce a little extra spending money. As of now, I think I have solved this dilemma.

The other thing that I created a couple of years ago was a “classroom website.” I got to the point in my class that I was tired of trying to keep track of all the places on the internet I would like my students to go and all the materials I needed them to have (even when they were absent). So, over the summer a few years ago I spent my hours designing and creating a website so that it could be used as a supplement to my classroom instruction. It worked out far better than I could have imagined and the students appreciated having access to the materials (really, I promise) even when they were not at school. Since leaving teaching, I have kept the website (though I have done little updating to this point) but I am not sure what to do with it at this point. I think it may still be useful to some degree so I don’t want to give it up quite yet until I explore some possibilities, but I am just now sure on what to do. Suggestions? I am looking for some hints or helpful tips that might make the work I did in the past and how I can use that to my advantage going into the future. Leave a suggestion in the comments if you have any advice at all. Note: Some pages are password protected because there is material there that is copyrighted.

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If you are interested, you can visit the two sites by clicking on the links (TPT or Grenz History) or over there on the right side of the page. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me. If you know someone who is a history teacher (specifically US/American history, Civics, American Government, Contemporary Issues, Current World Issues), I would appreciate a recommendation for at least a look. Again, some feedback would be nice.

Branching out, er, expanding?

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Just a quick note to have you take a look at the new page on the blog. You’ll find it up there in the top next two “Home,” “About,” and “Contact.” If you can’t figure it out from all the hints, try looking for “Stupid Board: Classroom Quotes.” There is an explanation about what it is and where to look as well.

Happy viewing, and I hope you will be intrigued enough to join me on Instagram as well!

9/11: Inside and Outside Perspectives

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So we may never forget…

Every year as a history teacher I used to be faced with the reality that the anniversary of 9/11 also came very close to the beginning of the year. I was always challenged with the question, What do I do to commemorate the anniversary in my classroom this year?

It actually is an easy question, aside from the myriad of choices I had at my disposal. I mean there are a plethora of sites, organizations, and materials that are available to these days so there is no shortage. But, the harder part was always what can I use to help students who were barely alive, at the time of the attack, understand the scope of the attack while also helping them to understand the feelings of the day. That is a much harder task because helping students connect to historical events is really tough. So, I had two videos that were really the mainstay to my instruction and let to larger, more in-depth units later in the year or even to following year.

In most cases, I would start their exposure to the subject during their junior year since I had them for US History. It is, of course, an American historical event. The following year, as seniors, I would pick up where I left off in their exposure and delve more deeply into the background and aftermath of 9/11 via units in my Contemporary Issues class. This would allow them to develop a deeper understanding with a more complete history of the event instead of just a simple moment of commemoration.

Two invaluable resources are shown above and each are briefly described below.

Inside Perspective: 9/11

There is of course really only one video that can be used for this purpose. What was it like inside the Twin Towers that day? While this can’t be fully known, there is only one surviving video from inside the towers that day and it is the one shot by the Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, as they were recording a documentary about become a New York firefighter. The video, 9/11, is or should be essential watching, really for all Americans.

Perspective. Always an important thing to consider. There is no better video to show students what it was like inside the towers. I really believe this is a MUST SEE for students.

If you would like to see this video (if you haven’t, or want to remember) you can see it on YouTube, in its entirety (here / here / here), though it is hard to tell for how long as it is copyrighted. I have included several links just in case one or more becomes unavailable. It is also available for sale from many of the popular shopping sites.

Outside Perspective: 9/11 Day that Changed the World

Again, I believe there are questions that have to be answered and students often wonder after watching the first video, What was going on outside the buildings and what were our leaders doing while the attack was happening? This video answers both those questions with incredible insight so this was also an important video for them to see.

This video takes actual news footage, firefighter and police radio broadcasts, phone calls, hijacker cockpit radio transmissions, air traffic control conversations, and weaves it together with interviews of the most important people (except President Bush) who had a role that day. This video was put together by the Smithsonian Channel for the 10 year anniversary of the attack, therefore giving the people who were responsible for running the country and cities a chance to put a little time and perspective into their insights. The video is extremely powerful as it bounces between cities as the timeline of the attack unfolds and then incorporates the interviews of the officials

This video is currently available on YouTube as well (here / here). It is also available to order at the usual places online.

Final Thought

It is important to remember 9/11. We can never forget what led to it, and the profound affects it had on our nation moving forward from it. There were implications in and to all facets of life. We must never forget – ever.

 

**Please be aware that both of the videos deal with sensitive topics and show some alarming scenes. Do not let that discourage you from showing them to students, however be sensitive that each student may handle to emotions differently and react differently. It is always good to follow up each viewing with a discussion to process what they saw, what they felt, and how it impacts them.**

The Ministry of Objectionable Materials

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Doesn’t it seem as if life in the United States is getting more and more surreal every day? It almost appears that we are watching scenes from a movie unfold before our eyes. Movie scenes we thought we would never see in our country. The events on the East coast over the last couple weeks just make it more and more clear we are headed for a change and I don’t think it is a good one.

As most of my readers know (at least I hope so), I am a history guy. I think it can be very useful to study it and think it is more important than ever to teach it (something our schools and society doesn’t think is important any longer, but that’s another discussion). No, I am not in the classroom any longer, but there are times like the last couple of weeks that make me wish I was still there.

History is being made. Every day. Good. Bad. Ugly.

At the moment, I believe we are headed into the bad…into a scene from a movie I never thought I would see in real life. I used to show it in class because it provides a good example of how a government can become oppressive, but also how the people of a country can allow it to get that way – mostly because they DEMAND it to become that way.

I used the movie V for Vendetta in my classroom as I wrapped up my unit on the Constitution with my seniors. It is an awesome teaching movie as it uses lots of references and allegories that are historically based as well as great examples of what a government shouldn’t be (and how our Constitution should keep it from getting that way). Plus, it’s just kind of a cool but that isn’t really for discussion here.

What is important is one of the things it references in passing, a government organization called “The Ministry of Objectionable Materials.”  The female lead character asks the main character where he got all of the works of art, film, music, etc. (because she obviously knew they were all banned materials) and he responds by saying he stole it back from the government (see clip).

Apparently we are demanding this of our government now. Any by this, I mean that we are asking out government to protect us (or better yet, others) from things we find objectionable. We are doing it because we have many in society who can’t handle our own history. We would rather run and hide from our history than learn from it or, perhaps we’d rather run to hide history because we’ve still not learned from it.

lenin-statueThis is offensive,” said Tony Barger. “This should be taken down. This is an actual Russian relic and should not be here on American soil.”

History is beautiful. History is ugly. History demonstrates many successes, but it also exposes many failings too. That is why it is important not to hide it away. As Americans we should certainly want to learn from the “historical black eyes”, we ourselves have put into our own history. We certainly shouldn’t want to tear down or hide our history. As Americans we should celebrate the successes we’ve had, and I honestly believe we have had more success than failure.

Tearing down our past and hiding it away isn’t going to make our history any better, but it just might make it worse. Public memory fades fast, probably faster than any of us would really like. If we don’t have reminders of the past before us, we will forget it. Does that mean we should keep monuments commemorating our “historical black eyes”? Yes, even if they offend. They are important reminders to times that were not so good and they also represent mile markers in our road to success.

There will be some who use those monuments as a rallying point to their agenda or beliefs, but they typically represent a minority point of view and while it may be disgusting they are within their rights to believe, and assemble, as they wish (the Supreme Court says so and the ACLU helped, surprisingly). As a society we need to work to change their views, but we can’t do it the way it is being done right now. The more attention you give it, the worse it will get. Think of it along the lines of a bug bite – if you leave it alone (not ignore it) it will go away faster but the more you scratch it, the longer it sticks around (sometimes opening it up so it can fester into something more/worse).

Obviously, we can’t ignore it. Nothing just goes away on its own. Hostatues-removed-at-ut-austin-20174518-700x467wever, if not given attention on a grand scale, it will diminish. Fire, as destructive as it can be, if left alone eventually burns itself out. The president of the University of Texas wrote a letter to students just before classes resumed for the fall. He made some good points, but I can’t help but think he only provided fuel for a fire that wasn’t burning (at least not brightly). Instead, by giving a voice to the small fire that may have burned there on campus, he most likely made things worse.

Where should the Ministry of Objectionable Material stop? Where does the line get drawn? Who gets to decide where the line is drawn? When do we stop getting our feelings hurt? When do we stop getting offended by nearly everything around us?

For some more food for thought, check below.