Friday, October 31, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!" -Traditional Scottish Prayer

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"Successful people are not superhuman. Success does not require a super-intellect. Nor is there anything mystical about success. And success isn't based on luck. Successful people are just ordinary folks who have developed belief in themselves and what they do." -David J. Schwartz

Last Friday, our high school held its annual induction ceremony for the National Honor Society. I was unable to attend, due to scheduling conflicts. Immediately after the assembly ended, though, I heard a first-hand account of the event from some very agitated teenagers.

Evidently, an administrator had pointed proudly to the new NHS members on the stage and said to the audience, "They are the future, the future leaders" (numerous sources have confirmed that this is an accurate quote). This left many of the unchosen ones feeling angry and insulted.

Rather than try to gloss over this situation, I asked that my students voice their criticisms, anonymously, in a Word Document, which I promised to share with the principal. Those who were inducted (4 of the 15 class members) added their opinions, once they returned from a celebratory reception.

  • National Honor Society is good because it looks good on a college application and we get recognized for our hard work.
  • I think that the assembly was a thanks that we worked hard and wanted a brighter future.
  • I feel that the National Honor Society is good because it recognized people for good work and their accomplishments. It is also a great contributor to getting into colleges.
  • The positive aspects of National Honor Society are that they are noticing the most accomplished students. It helps people get into colleges and be noticed for their excellence. Other students don't like it because they are not being noticed. It is their fault they did not work hard to accomplish this task. We worked hard to accomplish this and that is why we are being noticed. The National Honor Society is a good thing for our students.

  • I think the assembly was ridiculous because...a few people should have not been up there and a few people from the audience should have been chosen. The Assembly made me very mad because it made me feel not welcomed and not appreciated by this school. [the administrator] said these people are the future, well, what am I, nothing in the future because I was not on the National Honor Society?
  • I don't believe that the Honor Society is the only future. We are the future too. It makes other people feel bad and stupid. Everybody has the same potential. It makes us feel dumb and it's unfair and people are inconsiderate of us.
  • I think it is ******* *** to say that only the people on stage are the future when they're not only the future but it's everybody else too. I think it is just to make those certain people feel good and everybody else like retarded. And it always doesn't depend on your grades and it doesn't depend on your school, it depends on how you are, not just in school. All the students that struggle in classes don't have the same treatment as the people that are good with subjects. Some people just have problems learning. School isn't always the most important thing, you always don't need school. I can get by without school. You give me a hammer and tape measure and I can build about anything and make more money than half the people that went to college and have a great life and get by with no problem. Certain people have certain traits and are good at things.
  • I feel that students should have to go to the National Honor Society so we can support our fellow students. I DO NOT think that [the administrators] should be saying "THEY ARE THE FUTURE..." And what are we supposed to be, scum and low lives? It feels like we are NOTHING, and they are everything. Rachel's Challenge says that everyone is worth something!!! They should have recognized us as well!!!! I think the students should also vote on who should be in NHS!!!! It is SOOOOOOO wrong!
  • I don't like the fact that we all had to go to that *** assembly for all the stupid preps that already think they're better than everybody...and think that they're the best. I think I'm a good leader and I pretty much just got told that I was nothing and that I should pretty much just die. Most of the people that just got called up on that stage are nothing more than I am. It ****** me off that they just got special recognition for stupid **** like school. Outside of school, I do anything I can to help and I don't get recognized for any of it.
  • The assembly: I believe it was sort of unnecessary to have it displayed in front of the entire high school. The leadership and character and all these things...they exclude people and these people in front of us a whole are considered the only ones who possess these characteristics. Why can't we have an assembly with only parents and those who are being honored? The speech said "They are the future leaders." What about the rest of us???? I'm a B student, I work extremely hard for the grades that I do have and I do not get recognized, just because I'm weak in some areas. I work just as hard if not harder than those on that very stage. I just think it makes some kids feel bad about themselves and it's not needed.

  • I really don't care. It will get me out of class.
  • It doesn't really matter to me, but I don't think it should be up to the teachers to pick who has good character because they don't know what those kids do on the weekend...Going to school is not for me. I'd rather work any day of the week and earn an honest living.
  • I don't really care.

The passion and maturity of these responses impressed me. My students appreciated having the chance to make their voices heard, and I appreciated their candor and eloquence.

What are your thoughts on the National Honor Society and awards assemblies? These young adults would like to know.

"Success is not a doorway, it's a staircase." -Dottie Walters

"Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.” -Denis Waitley

"Staircase" by 96dpi

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ants and Bees

I had intended to blog about The Ant and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop's fables. People in my area of upstate New York are busy getting ready for winter's challenges, and I could draw a number of educational parallels regarding preparation, collaboration, and gathering resources.

But a search for suitable quotes resulted in a slight change of focus.

Philosopher Francis Bacon explained different scientific approaches by comparing the ant, the spider, and the bee:

“Those who have handled sciences have either been men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy.”

Aesop's imprudent grasshopper idled away his summer and learned from the industrious ant that "It is best to prepare for the days of necessity."

Bacon, however, found the ants, who "collect and use" less admirable than a bee, which "gathers its material...but transforms and digests it by a power of its own."

The transformative power of the web depends on more than just the tools it provides. It requires planning, creativity, flexibility, and a willingness to continuously monitor and adjust expectations.

The 21st century requires bees, not ants.

"It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?"
-Henry David Thoreau

"Ant on Birch" by E.B. White
All other photos by dmcordell

Monday, October 13, 2008

Politics in the Classroom

"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge." -Horace Mann

The upcoming U.S. presidential election presents a quandary for teachers: how can we interest our students in the democratic process without abusing our position of authority? When does influence mutate into indoctrination?

As a K-12 teacher/librarian, I've been fielding questions from students of all ages who are naturally curious about the November election. During library classes, I share both non-fiction and fiction books about voting, elections, and the presidency. The younger grades enjoy stories like Doreen Cronin's Duck for President , Marc Brown's Arthur Meets the President, and Kay Winters' My Teacher for President.

With older elementary students, I've been using Grace for President, by Kelly Dipucchio, to spark discussions about the right to vote, women & minorities as candidates, and the electoral college.

When students ask for whom I'm voting, I talk about the responsibility of good citizens to study key issues before making such an important choice. If they push for an answer, I respond that I'm leaning towards Senator Obama but that the adults in their household might have reached a different decision. Informal polls show that the families in our district seem to be evenly divided between the main parties.

In my high school Current Events class, we've been examining candidates' position statements and viewing video clips of the presidential and vice-presidential debates. None of these students are old enough to vote this year, but I remind them that the policies of our next president will affect their lives for years to come. I want them to care about the democratic process, perhaps engage in conversations with their parents about the economy, the environment, social security, health care, and the war in Iraq.

It's a delicate balancing act, educating, without unduly influencing, young minds. I am personally horrified by the Palin candidacy, insulted that Senator McCain apparently thought that I would vote for a woman, any woman, without regard to her suitability for office, but I don't feel that it would be appropriate for me to make a strong statement to that effect in my professional role as a teacher.

The future is in the hands of our students. Their choices will determine whether and how our nation will survive and prosper.

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." -George Jean Nathan

"Fourth of July parade" by cyanocorax

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Brisbins of Saratoga County

On Saturday, my husband and I drove past a tiny, enclosed burial ground and stopped for a closer look. I took a few photos, then decided to try a quick Google search of the family name, Brisbin, later that evening.

The wealth of information that I discovered was amazing:
  • New York Gravestones provided an easy-to-read "translation" of inscriptions on the worn headstones.
  • The Town of Northumberland traced the family's history back to 1765, when 18-year-old James Brisbin arrived in upstate New York from his native Scotland. "He settled 1 1/2 miles westerly of Fort Miller, towards Bacon Hill a hamlet in Northumberland that became the hub of activity with the Hudson River nearby."

  • By 1789, a mature (and, presumably prosperous) Brisbin was elected an elder of the Reformed (Dutch) Church of Saratoga, according to the 1878 History of Saratoga County, New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester.

  • A descendant of the Brisbins noted on her genealogy site that the family name probably "stems from the Scottish name, Brisbane" and adds,
    "There is speculation, as yet unconfirmed, that the Brisbins immigrating to New York were soldiers during the French and Indian war, which ended in 1763. They liked what they saw in the territory and decided to return with their families. Since our family appears on the records of Saratoga Co., NY for the first time about 1765, this seems to add credence to this theory. There is also some speculation that the Brisbin soldiers may have been part of Abercrombie's troop in the French and Indian War, which were known to have been in Saratoga County. From this point on, there are documented records on the Brisbin family, both in America and in Canada."
  • "The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger," by William L. Stone (Albany, NY, Joel Munsell, 1877) mentions the Brisbin property during the time of the American Revolution.
    "As a specimen, the farm of James Brisbin had sufficient wheat and cattle to have paid the purchase price, but it was all taken and consumed by Burgoyne's army without compensation, notwithstanding the fair promises made in his proclamation of July 10, before stated. We should except a single cow, which escaped from her captors, returned home and was afterwards secreted and saved. After the surrender, the farmers gradually returned to their rural homes, erected new log houses, and began again to till the soil. But little progress, however, was made, until the close of the war, as this valley lay in the track of the Indians and Tories, who had fled to Canada, and made repeated raids into this county."
  • A similar genealogy page, that of the McGregors, mentions two sons of James Brisbin.
    "The first settlement of what is now the town of Wilton, but then and long before known as Palmertown, was begun by two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, as early as the year 1764. These two brothers were the sons by his first wife of James Brisbin, who came over from the north of Ireland, and became the first settler of what is now the town of Northumberland, in the year 1765. The two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, made their first attempt at settlement on the south branch of the Snoek Kill, in what afterwards became the Laing neighborhood. One and perhaps both of them had been soldiers under Abercrombie and Amherst in the last French war, and the year after peace was concluded they began the early settlement of the old wilderness they had so often traversed while on the war-path. They made clearings, built a sawmill, and cut roads on to their lands. When the war of the Revolution came on they abandoned their little settlement."
    One of the McGregor daughters later married into the Brisbin family. [There were many "James Brisbins" in the family. The father of William and Samuel might be the father or uncle of the James Brisbin who died in 1835 and is buried in the family plot.]

  • Another local family was the Slocums. In "A Short History of the Slocums..." by Charles Elihu Slocum, we learn that Sarah Slocum married James Brisbin. These are the James, Jr. and his wife, Sally, who share a headstone and a final resting place. Other Slocums also intermarried with the Brisbins. When his father, Giles Slocum, died in 1814, James Slocum went to live with his maternal grandfather, James Brisbin, "near Schuylerville, Saratoga County, New York."

Every town and village has at least one cemetery within its boundaries. The educational possibilities are endless. Students might
  • research prominent local names
  • map an entire burying ground
  • undertake a cemetery restoration project under the guidance of adult professionals
  • place names copied from headstones on a timeline
  • write original stories or poems about the people buried in the cemetery
  • search for information about an individual, then present a scene from his/her life (in period garb)
  • recreate significant events from the history of their county or state, as seen through the eyes of actual residents
It is people that create history, and projects that emphasize human connections can be satisfying, enlightening...and fun!