Contrasts In Contrast

Cedric Jennings, Ballou graduate and a man making his way.There were two stories in the Post today that got me thinking.

The first was about a student at an “elite” public high school who was expelled for a 2.8 grade point average. Seems pretty crazy to kick out a kid for a B-minus. As I was reading, the reporter led me to believe that this kid probably belonged at the school. I hope everyone, though, read to the end.

[The student] rejected her offers to work with him during lunch or activity periods, saying he was too busy with Model United Nations, sports and the yearbook.

His grades were not the best, but he had great test scores. Seems like he was having motivation issues. His parents said

their son Matthew has been mistreated. “I believe that the rule is absurd and is doing more harm to our students than good,” Liz Nuti said. The parents acknowledge that Matthew has trouble organizing his time. But “he is a happy, healthy, well-rounded child with no vices“.

But being happy and health with no vices is not a requirement for the school. Doing really well in math and science is. I am sorry that the kid couldn’t get his act together. And even though it’s a tough call, he was on notice and it’s appropriate that the Fairfax school system is letting him experience the consequences of his actions.

‘Cuz not everyone has it so good and easy. You know with dad an engineer, mom an accountant and two older sibs that have blazed the trail for you–and likely greased the wheels so you can get in to a great school. That not everyone can go to. Even if they are smart. Not everyone has alot of chances.

Which is the second article that got stuck in my thinkings. This one is about an incredible young man, Cedric Jennings, who “as a boy clawed out of a Southeast Washington ghetto and over the Ivy gates.” And today he is wondering if he is doing enough. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders–a grad of Brown, Harvard and U-Mich–back in D.C. trying to make a difference in people’s lives. A social worker. And wondering if he is acting on too small a stage. Is he fulfilling his potential? The expectations?

My heart breaks for this 31-year old man who is still struggling to do the right thing. He is still trying to figure out the best ways to apply his prodigious talent and drive. He knows he is responsible for himself. He knows that his choices and his actions have consequences. He is fighting Peter Parker‘s battle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” He knows this is important.

I wish both the boy and the man in these two contrasting stories peace.


Projects, projects everywhere and not a drop to drink!

I need a drink with the cornucopia of school projects overflowing the calendar, tables, computer screens and minds.

There are the science projects. In one, we are creating WMD by exposing a growing nutrient to bacteria from the bathroom sink. UGH!

In the other, there is some ratio-coefficient-decibel thing going on. It entails speakers, microphones cinderblocks and foam. Oh, and a ton of data that nobody knows what to do with.

15-year old: I need to put this in a graph.
Me: What are you trying to show?
Him: Show?
Me: What story are you trying to tell?
Him: Story? Tell? Is that in the rubric?

And let’s not forget the art project. Herein the 12-year old had to chose an artist and a piece of his or her work and then reproduce it. By hand. By his own hand, that is.

Me: How about Jackson Pollock? Like this. It wouldn’t take too long.
12-year old: I like the Escher. The one with the stairs. It’s so cool.
Me: Don’t do the hard one, do something you can just crank out, you have too much to do!

No, I didn’t actually SAY that last part. I just thought it. Really loud, but in my head. I think. And it was especially loud each time he was working on the fabulous art project instead of recording data from the WMD experiment.

You know, bacteria grows really fast. And the data from yesterday is gone. Poof! The stuff unrecorded today is also disappearing–or should I say growing and morphing? I’m thinking that it is almost time to call in the hazmat team. Before it gets too dangerous. (Don’t worry, loyal reader. The procedures include bleaching the insides of the petri dishes before disposal.)

So, somebody spent hours and hours on a really incredible art project. It is really quite nice. He says it will be for sale at the school in a few weeks, long after we have disinfected the house.

I bet I buy it.


Turns out that the 12-year old isn’t allowed to touch the snow while at school. Even when they are on the playground for recess. Even when there is wonderful packing-style snow all over the place.

No snow touching.

Now I got the other touching thing, and watching out where the huskies go, but no touching snow?

“Why?” you ask.

Well, because you might put your eye out, of course!

We have really become a very scared people. And not just terror-wise. We have adopted these zero tolerance modes to protect ourselves and our kids–and the insurance premiums of schools, government, stores, etc.

We warn people that coffee is hot. We don’t allow kids to bring in sunscreen to pre-school without a waiver. We make toddlers take off their shoes and coats and take them out of their mom’s arms before being screened for explosives. And we don’t let them touch snow.

Yet, there is no shielding from pictures of Britney’s privates (sorry, no link to that). Or from the graphic violence in video games marketed to kids. Or from the sexualization of little girls. And we are still afraid to protect kids from sexually transmitted diseases.

This seems squirrely. Do we want our kids’ in a plastic bubble to keep them safe? Do we give up control of our kids to the “media”?

Wait, I am losing track–should I be afraid? Should I be strong? And where on this spectrum is yellow snow?

Blinded Me By Science

I hate science fair.

I used to think that I liked it. That was when we were at a school that didn’t have one.

I used to think that Science Fair was to learn about science, do something with your hands and brain, and then learn to communicate about your findings. Be creative. Have fun. We didn’t do science fair at my school. I thought it would be great.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

First, science projects are lame. My favorite science was chemistry. Blowing things up. Burning chemicals. Seeing the colors. Smelling the esters. Building a distilling apparatus and having some powdery substance at the end. Or, even better, separating liquids. Connecting the Lewis Dot Structures. It was a wonderful, hands-on thing.

But you look for science fair projects and they are in two categories–boring biology projects or building things.

The first is–well–boring. Growing plants. Growing germs. Growing plankton. Nothing blows up. Great for little kids.

The second has a huge cool potential. Except that if you are building something–like a circuit–you might actually learn something. And that is NOT the purpose of a science fair project.

A successful science fair project has four main ingredients.

  1. A graph. You need to measure something so you can graph it. You can’t measure something you build.
  2. A hypothesis. You need to work the Scientific Method. This is the Holy Grail of science fair. #1 is directly related.
  3. A teacher. The teacher has to be of no help, patronizing, mean, and anti-intellectual.
  4. Much yelling. There are absolutely NO good science fair projects. There are no projects of any interest whatsoever to the kid. No matter how you try to sell it.

So after not picking a project, complaining about the lack of support from #3, and refusing to do work. And after going around and around through crummy web sites with science projects perfect for 7-9 year olds when we need an high school honors level project AND a middle school project. And after going through all the ideas with potential and recognizing time and again there was nothing to frickin’ MEASURE, the science fair projects have been selected.

The abstracts have been written. The high-level procedures have been done. Some of the materials have been ordered. After all the shock and awe to get this far, it seems like we should be done.

But then you look at building the experiment, trying to control the insurgent students (aka the 15-year old and the 12-year old) who at times seem intent on sabotaging their own best interests, and a look at the additional resources–time, brain, and materials–required for success, I almost feel like pulling out now. But no, I need to be fully committed to see these projects through their bitter ends.

Maybe I should shut up. At least our experiments have a good chance of success–it could be worse.

See related Science Un-Fair.

The Party’s Over

Yes, that party known as SUMMER VACATION is coming to an abrupt end. The 14-year-old will need to get up at the butt-crack of dawn. This may be the first time that he has seen a morning hour since June 3rd. Except for when we drove all night to make the early ferry to the beach. He mostly slept on the way.

The 12-year-old* has one more day, but, frankly, it’s over for him, too. He is furiously printing out his summer reading assignment. Turns out he needed 5X8 index cards for this assignment. At least that’s what he said. The summer reading info was misplaced sometime at the beginning of summer, so I have to go with his story.

The really good news is that we were able to find all the clean uniforms that were put away a 11 or 12 weeks ago. Well, some pieces were replaced, but others were found, still clean. Sometimes clean clothes that have been put away become less put away. And then they have to be rewashed. We are still, however, without the bucs for the 14-year-old. His size 13’s are backordered. He claims he can wear sneakers until they arrive. Again, I have to go with his story.

So the party’s over for this year. And a New Year starts.

* Don’t get confused. He was the 11-year-old two weeks back. See Naming Convention. I can’t help it if I worry about you, Loyal Reader! Also, I must admit that I originally typed “11-year-old.” He was looking over my shoulder and promptly corrected my big error.