Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sign of the Times

I was wrong. Many blog posts ago I was writing about my frustrations with the seeming disconnect with many of our political candidates. Specifically I was talking about our local candidates. Before the primary election, I was disgusted with the number of responses I received from the candidates running for Representative in my district.

My feelings are still valid and truthful in many circumstances, such as with incumbent Charlie Denison. However, I was wrong with Democratic candidate Nancy Hagan. I suggested that maybe she was nothing more than Denison in a Dress. I said that because I sent two emails to her and both went unanswered. She later explained that she was having server troubles.

A lot has happened since then, and she has done a lot to change my mind and prove my earlier statement false. To the credit of her staff, someone was watching the blogs (which is something that every candidate should do if they want to know what their constituency is really feeling) and caught my post. He emailed me and then alerted her as well. It wasn’t long until I had a response from Hagan.

I was skeptical, thinking this was nothing more than a back peddle, although I never as much. Let’s be real. Politicians back peddle a lot when they get caught doing something wrong. It’s the nature of the business and as pessimistic as they may sound it is also pragmatic.

I sent Hagan some questions, specific questions, about the upcoming election and some important issues, local and state. She answered them all. So I sent her a list of follow-up questions and she answered those as well. She came by the neighborhood one day and left me a handwritten note on the door saying she was sorry she missed me.

I have lived in this home for years and neither Roy Holland (former Representative) nor Denison (current Representative) have ever personally stopped by my home to speak to me. Never. Nor have I received a personal note from either of them. Hagan has done that and more.

I have never asked for a candidate to place a sign in my yard, but I did this year. I emailed Hagan and requested a sign. I came home one night and there it sat. Hagan has done something that no other candidate has ever done:

She came to home and left a handwritten note.
She answered several questions written by me and others, to be published on my blog.
She has emailed me since.

My earlier suggestion was not correct. I mischaracterized her. She is Nancy Hagan. She has responded to my questions and has made attempts to connect with me on a personal level. Holland and Denison has never done those things, even though I am a concerned voter and have written them both letters before. Hagan has proved that she cares very much for her constituents.

I am endorsing Nancy Hagan as my Representative. She has my vote, and I have her sign proudly displayed in my yard. I hope she wins and that we can continue to develop a constituent-politician relationship. I look forward to offering her my thoughts on issues and having her respond as she has done, with a personal note to me. As a former professional disability advocate and future educator, I hope to offer my expertise in the fields in which I have knowledge and to learn from her in the field. I am voting for Nancy Hagan. If you’d like to see a reprint of my Nancy Hagan interview, you can see all the questions in one post over at Springfield Citizen Press.

And Then The Listeners Started Talking

Ron Davis of Chatter recently wrote a dandy little article on blogging for a new Springfield publication, Stim Magazine. He interviewed several local bloggers and mentioned others. It was a good article and not just because I was mentioned in the story.

Stim Magazine is a publication from Springfield, Missouri. Created in response to a growing number of local newspapers, magazines and tabloids but a declining mass of solid content, Stim is a 5"x7" magazine printed on 80# matte paper, sized and produced on quality stock to encourage the reader to keep their copy on shelf somewhere and show their friends.
Of course, readers wouldn't have anything to show their friends if Stim didn't have interesting and well-designed stuff going on inside. To this end, we've developed relationships with some of the most well known talents in the area, including many rising stars that are looking to get the exposure that other local publications don't provide.

Stim is all about stimulating (get it?) the local creative culture, and therefore will be presenting the best writing of all flavors, visual arts, design, photography, articles and anything else we think is interesting and worthwhile to the public. With the support of a group of advertisers that are all about jumpstarting Springfield's economy and creative scene we are able to provide thousands and thousands of each issue of Stim, free to the public. In addition, the entire mag, plus exclusive content not available in the print edition, is available online.
In addition to publishing Stim Magazine, 2and2is5 Design sponsors local events, including a combination concert and fashion show that took place September 8th at Jordan Creek (with 750-800 people in attendance, all told), and the screening of a very controversial documentary at The Moxie, a local independent theater. We are currently putting together a 'get out the vote' style event for the end of October that could very well be bigger than both previous events put together.

For more information about Stim Magazine, or the design studio that produces it, 2and2is5 Design, please contact Colin Wright at, or browse around this site a bit more.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Restaurant Changes Policies Because of Citizen Journalism

Score one for the meek and lowly blogger. Citizen Journalism does work and has an impact on society, even if that society happens to be on the municipal level. Recently I wrote about an incident involving Mexican Villa East across from St. Johns hospital.

That Mexican Villa location put in a new bathroom, then posted a “Handicapped Use Only” sign and then locked the door tight. So if a person has a disability, they must go and ask permission to use it. Not so with the typical bathroom.

As you may remember Tony Messenger picked up the story on his Springfield News-Leader blog. Soon thereafter Larry over at Simple Thoughts of a Complex Mind also picked up the story. As a disability advocate, and board member of The Disability Advocacy and Support Network (The Network) he wrote Mexican Villa about the issue.

Mexican Villa, in a gracious and tactful move that our current governmental administration could learn from, contact Larry and apologized for the transgression. But they didn’t stop there. They took down the offensive sign, and furthermore asked for help on addressing their concerns regarding that restroom. Here is what they had to say in response to Larry’s correspondence:

Thank you for your recent communication regarding the visit of your friend to one of the Mexican Villa Restaurants. From your description of the restaurant, I believe that you were telling us about his experience at the Mexican Villa East. If that is not correct please let me know.

We're always pleased to hear from our customers – that's one of the best ways that we know to gauge how we are doing our jobs. Therefore, we especially want to thank you for your suggestions regarding our disability access restroom.

In response to your e-mail, we have removed the "Handicapped Use Only" signage from the door of that restroom. It is now signed with only the chair symbol. Also, I have talked with the general manager of the restaurant and asked him to visit with the employees regarding using more sensitivity toward our customers.

Now, I would like to ask your help with a couple of things. First, does your organization have any instructional information in the form of videos, brochures, etc. for employers to use in employee training? Or, would you know of a good resource for this material? We would like to use such for an employee training program if we could access it.

Secondly, we are sorry that when your friend asked at the cashier station for the key to restroom, he felt uncomfortable. It certainly is not our intention for any customer to feel as if he or she is being treated in any lesser way than any other customer. Our dilemma with locking or not locking the door is with being able to have the bathroom available for customers who really need to use it as opposed to those who just go into that one because it is closer or it is the first bathroom that they see. What would your recommendation be to eliminate this situation?

As with most structures that were built in the 1960's, the Mexican Villa East's original bathrooms were not built ADA compliant. In an effort to provide a restroom that was, we built this one. We were limited because of the building design and layout from reworking the original bathroom hallway to allow room to maneuver a wheelchair in the available space. We certainly did not intend to make any person with a disability needing to access that bathroom to feel as if he or she was being segregated.

Thank you again for your communication, it has been helpful to us. And, I would appreciate your input and information on the above issues.

Best Regards,
Phyllis Ferguson
Operations Manager

It’s not always easy to admit when we make a mistake, but Mexican Villa did, which is what we expect especially from a local establishment. Rather than get angry over the criticism (which has happened to one blogger over a criticism) Mexican Villa responded appropriately. Who could ask for me.

Having worked in the disability field for eight years, I have every intention of writing them a letter thanking them for their response and for their request for information and willingness to training their employees in disability sensitivity. I will be sure to post that letter on my blog as well.

For now, I will pay Mexican Villa the biggest compliment I can: by offering them my patronage. I thank them and my belly thanks them. Oh, the Sancho Enchilada Style.

As for citizen journalism, well this may be a small thing, but we made a difference. Not only am I able to fill my belly with homemade chips and a sancho enchilada style, but on a bigger scale persons with disabilities will not have to ask permission to use the restroom. That is an important thing. Each time we eliminate one barrier, one road block, we create a world with less discrimination. That impacts many more people than just a patron with disabilities. And it all happened because of successful citizen journalism and activism. We all played a part, Larry, Tony and I. And I thank Larry and Tony for the parts they played. Today is a good day for the Springfield Community.

If you’d like to comment, you can reach Mexican Villa at:

Mexican Villa Corporate Offices
1100 W. Sunshine

Springfield, MO 65807

Keeping Students Informed

Everyday the Springfield News-Leader places 20-tons of newspapers on the Missouri State campus. It’s a service that is free to the students. I didn’t realize it for a while, but I finally figured out that it is there everyday, just for the reading. They aren’t in every building, but they are available in many buildings.

I pick one up every chance I get, usually from Strong Hall on my Tuesday-Thursday schedule. The Monday-Wednesday schedule is very hectic as I have my student practicum in an elementary school on those days. I rush off campus to get there in time to complete my 30 hours.

Media outlets get criticized for caring only about the bottom line, and that criticism is true in many circumstances. Missouri State is a public affairs university and the News-Leader is engaged in the community by supporting that mission and giving students free access to the newspaper. For my part, I am thankful that I have access to the paper. I don’t have the money to purchase my own subscription, but I am very interested in the news of my community. I don’t know how many students take advantage of it, but I know that some days I have a hard time tracking a copy down.

Good for the Springfield News-Leader for supporting the educational process and participating in Missouri State’s public affairs mission.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Scholarly Thoughts

I started my student practicum today. It’s a lot like student teaching, except in this case I am more like an aid. I am in the classroom for a minimum of 30 hours, but it must be completed over 10 weeks. I’m sure I will end up getting more than the minimum hours, as I will probably end up with 4 hours per week. But I don’t think a few extra hours will do me any harm.

More than 30 fifth grade students in one class are too many. That much I know. There’s just not enough room to move. Fortunately for my teacher, that is only the case during Science. The rest of the time the class is in the 20’s which is much more manageable.

Ms. M got me right to work. She introduced me and put me in the reading area. The class is split into reading groups of 4-6 students per group, each with it’s own book (based on reading level.) I read to the kids, or in some cases they took turns reading, and we finished one chapter per group. Then we discussed what happened, how it applies to us, what we liked and did not like, and then each student went back to his or her desk to write a summary.

I enjoy getting right to work. During Science I observed the classroom, discipline, seating arrangement and other issues that I am supposed to reflect upon. It was interesting and quite fun. I wish I could take pictures for you, but there is too much legality involved in something like that.

My wife, the lovely giver she is, bought me a new bow tie for the occasion: a butter colored tie with cursive lettering, just like the wall hangings in third grade. I wore it proudly with jeans and a sweater vest. I know; I know. It's a bit of a diversion from the biker me. My ability to wear multiple hats is always a joy. I consider that one of my strong points. Besides, when you are big as a house you stand out in a crowd anyway. If you are going to stand out you might as well do it right.

Wednesday I am to bring a bag full of items that are a reflection of myself for a creative introduction. I don’t think my iron horse will fit in a bag and I’m sure they won’t let me ride it into the room. I think I have a die case model of a Harley-Davidson Road King around here somewhere or maybe my helmet would work better. That, my karate belt and a copy of my graphic novel adaptation of The Hobbit should serve well enough to peak some interest.

So far it was a good first day and a positive experience. We shall see what happens after the honeymoon stage is thoroughly over, but I don’t suspect I will change my mind. As trying as they can be, I do enjoy kids. Everyone in teaching seems to say “children” a lot, but that term bugs me a bit. Seems a bit condescending to me. Some object to the term kids as that is what baby goats are called, but I think that rule is quickly falling by the way side. Ms. M, when speaking directly to them, calls them “ladies and gentlemen.”

I like the respect and expectation with that. But for me, I think I prefer “scholars”. Seems to me that scholar illustrates my intentions that they will, above all things, learn. And the bigness of the word sets the stage for strong vocabulary and high expectations. I couldn't be happier than to be reading to students. Reading is, in my opinion, e most important skill a student scholarl can learn. If you can read, you can do anything. First thing I ever did on my path to education was to read to the students. I love the foreshadowing.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lots to Say and No Time to Say It.

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Tests, projects and my practicum are taking up my time. What little time I have is for studying and spending time with the family. I have several posts in mind and will get to them as soon as I can (hopefully this week.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Hell Of A Thing To Do

(Some Halloween lights hanging above our kitchen table.)

Our holiday tree is up for the season and it shall remain until right after Christmas. We dig Halloween, my wife and I. We met at a theatre audition in college and are drawn to the playacting involved with Halloween – the dressing up, the fantasy, the story telling, the play pretend. We love Halloween.

(The Halloween tree.)

A few years ago we started putting up a Halloween tree. It’s taken us a while to acquire the decorations. Some of them we’ve made and some have been given to us. Some of the ornaments are scary, some are folk art and some are handcrafted. We also have a flickering “Bates Motel” sign. Oh yeah.

For a very long time, Kathy and I have enjoyed taking youngsters to the haunted houses. It started with some kids with a church youth group and grew from there. For the past several years my cousin, Austin, has been visiting the House of Jack during October for a fright-filled weekend of haunted houses, corn maizes, and scary movies. His younger brother, Evan, has decided he’s ready this year. Other cousins, nieces and nephews are interested this year as well. And if you’re wondering, I bloody well dress up on Halloween.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ton of Fun

Seven miles on the bicycle path is all we can manage to squeeze in each week, but it’s exercise and makes use of those shiny, new, basket-totting bicycles. We are both big old boys, Paul and I, and we can yammer on like a gaggle of geese. I’m sure we disturb the tranquility of the bike trail, but most people seem to be jacked in to their iPods anyway. We peddle along and talk about all kinds of things. Education mostly as we are both trekking through an advanced degree in education.

The show 20/20 had an interested show about race and expectations the other night. We’ve been talking about expectations in my elementary methods class. Everyday I realize just what a tremendous impact a teacher has – good and bad – and she scares the begeebers out of me. I am thankful that I am seeking this profession after having matured for some years first. It will make me a better teach I think.

But I have a few more classes and many more miles to peddle before all of that starts.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Not Much To Say

Sorry for the lack of posts the past seven days. Tests this week and tests the next (and I mean that in the boardest sense possible.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Nancy Hagan Happily Answers More Questions

Remember, remember the seventh of November when all you citizens, concerned for your democracy, make your way to the polls. Here are my questions for Democratic candidate for District 135, Nancy Hagan, and her responses. This is the final installment of this Q&A. I appreciate Ms. Hagan taking time out of her candidacy schedule to answer these questions from this voting citizen.

JACK: It’s easy for folks to say that raising the minimum wage will do thus-and-so. In what ways do you believe raising the minimum wage will benefit our state economy? Be specific about how the opposition is incorrect in the assumption that raising the minimum wage will hurt Missouri.

HAGAN: Raising the minimum wage would improve the economy by providing a stable and productive work force. It would help stimulate the economy because lower income workers are more likely to spend pay increases. An estimated 7.3 million workers (5.8% of the workforce) would benefit from an increase. Of these workers 72.1% are adults and 60.6% are women. More buying power means more tax revenue for the state.

JACK: You stated that Missouri has lost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in federal matching money. Most people do not understand the federal government’s 60-40 split. Explain how this works and how that quarter of a billion dollars was spent before it was cut.

HAGAN: Federal matching dollars are just that. If the state puts in money the federal matches that amount. A typical example of a program that received matching funds that was cut is the MAWD program. The CHIPs (Children's Health Insurance Program) that helped working families provide coverage for their children.

JACK: School vouchers are becoming a nationwide issue, which appears to be split among party lines. As a school teacher, I know that you will have strong feelings on the subject. Explain your belief that vouchers would be a bad move for Missouri. What leads you to believe that? If vouchers are not the answer, then how do we address the public's concerns that public schools are failing the community (as a nationwide concept) and that private institutions provide a better education than the public schools. (Are the public's views valid?) How do vouchers help or hurt minority populations including persons of color and children with disabilities?

HAGAN: Vouchers take public funds that should be invested in real reforms to help all children – like smaller class size initiatives, reading improvement, incentives for teacher quality, and school modernization – to subsidize private education. The bottom line is voucher programs hurt public schools, many of which already are underfunded. We know that unlike public schools, religious and private schools can – and do – discriminate in admissions on the basis of prior academic achievement, standardized test scores, interviews with applicants and parents, gender religion, income, special needs, and behavioral history. In other words, private schools do not have to follow federal guidelines.

JACK: The Springfield Bloggers group has tossed around the idea of a legislative forum, where candidates will be invited to a public forum to answer topical questions on important issues. If we can ever get off our lazy bums and coordinate this event, I hope we can count on your attendance.

HAGAN: Yes, I would participate in a legislative forum.


FROM A READER: What are your thoughts on the Missouri voter ID legislation. How will it impact our society? Is there such a thing as voter fraud? How will it affect poor persons, persons with disabilities, and persons of color?

HAGAN: My main objection is the fact that this is a Poll Tax. Even though the state is offering free identification cards, Missourians will still have to pay the state for the documents necessary to obtain the ID.

FROM A READER: While it's not a local issue, explain your thoughts on the Fair Tax issue. How will it ultimately affect the residents of Missouri?

HAGAN: I oppose the Fair Tax. It puts the burden upon a volitile sector of our economy (i.e. retail sales). As far as effecting the citizens of Missouri I don't think this will ever be an issue.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Carrying the Disability Banner

News-Leader Editorial Page Editor, Tony Messenger, gets it. He understands the disability civil rights movement and the impact of decisions made, big and small, toward individuals with disabilities. He picked up on my rant about the special, locked up bathrooms for the “wheelchair people” and posted it on his News-Leader blog. Many thanks for that. We need reporters who see issues beyond the typical yip-yap of the AP. We need reporters who are sensitive toward all cultures, not just some minority cultures.

(NOTE: Persons with disabilities are the largest minority population in the United States at 19.3% followed by African Americans at 12.9%, according to the 2000 US Census Bureau.)

There have been a lot of disability-related issues in the blogosphere lately and the locals have been carrying the banner. Chatter and Granny just get it. Chatter broke the recent outrage when Republican Governor announced that he would not call a special session and fix the Medical Assistance for Workers With Disabilities (MAWD) as promised. It’s a broken promise and should be front page news. People should be outraged.

Why fix MAWD? It makes good Republican sense the way it is. When folks work then they pay for their own things like apartments and then use MAWD for health insurance. When you cut MAWD, then they sit at home, draw Medicaid, apply for HUD housing, Food Stamps, and live off the government completely.

That is great Republican values. That’s why Republican’s voted for it, right? That’s what we told them would happen. Remember, great thinker Rep. Charlie Dennison told my wife that he didn’t need to ask any disability advocates or persons with disabilities what would happen. He was well informed because he was on the committee. So I have to believe that he knew this would happen. And now that they know what happened and are choose not to fix it, well then this is the Republican value that they wanted. After all, they promised to fix it during the session and didn’t.

It is a thankless job, but I proud of the local bloggers who continue to carry the banner for persons with disabilities.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Piano Is Dirty

If you aren’t a writer; or a reader; if you aren’t interested in the raw, gritty, blue-collar scribbles on a wine-stained cocktail napkin, then you probably haven’t heard of Charles Bukowski. Many a literati have denounced Bukowski, treating his writing, his poetry, short stories and novels, as nothing more than glitches in good taste by bad publishers.

But we know better. Some of us know things that the elite of academia do not. We appreciate, we love it, when the artist bites those who stand to make him famous. Charles Bukowski found his audience despite academia’s lackluster embrace, and for me that makes him all the sweeter. Factotum is a new movie based on one of his books.

Bukowski’s writing is not for the weak. His words are strong. His actions are raw and animalistic. He drinks, he fornicates, and curses, he fails, he hits, he cries, he hates, and he drinks some more. Neither the author, nor his subjects are likeable. He is what he is and he writes his life and for that I am happy. Because Bukowski tells me the truth, his truth, his wretched, gutter-filled, truth.

My fellow writer friends from college, with whom I am still dedicated friends, introduced me to Bukowski. I am thankful to them for that act of vile kindness. If you read even a little Bukowksi, you will understand that statement. Periodically, I will pick up my Bukowski book and turn to page 101 and read one of my favorite Bukowski poems. I will read about Chopin and I am reminded about writing and my duties of writing to myself. I remember that not everything I create is good, but it is mine. And frankly you poor sons-a-bitches, it’s better than yours, and you know it. That Bukowkski just brings out the worst in me. Enjoy this entry from page 101.

By Charles Bukowski
From his book, Love is a Dog From Hell

this is my piano.

the phone rings and people ask,
what are you doing? how about
getting drunk with us?

and I say,
I’m at my piano.


I’m at my piano.

I hang up.

people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get

But if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.

my piano says things back to

sometimes the things are
scrambled and not very good.
other times
I get as good and lucky as

sometimes I get out of practice
out of tune. that’s
all right.

I can sit down and vomit on the
but it’s my

it’s better than sitting in a room
with 3 or 4 people and
their pianos.

this is my piano
and it is better than theirs.

and they like it and they do not
like it.

Herding Cats

I got schooled last week. I discovered that as enlightened as I am, even in the midst of formal schooling, I can succumb to old paradigms and fail my students. I fell for negative stereotyping, scraping my knee as it were. I did the one thing that a teacher should try so hard not to do: teach as I was taught.

I teach Karate to children ages 5- to 10-years-old or so. I started with an all girls class and after it grew, we added an all boys class. We decided early on to separate the genders. Our reasoning was based on stereotyping I suppose, but I still think it is sound. During athletic-style engagements, girls can tend to take a submissive role when surrounded by boys. Kenpo Karate is about self-defense. I want the girls to be able to become fully engaged, confident, and aggressive when event-appropriate. Our fear was that the girls may not be appropriately aggressive in a mixed class. In fact I was fearful they would take a submissive role, feeling they would not be able to compete with boys. Now I didn’t use research to back that up; I used instinct. Instinct can be very misleading, but it is what I did. However, I have heard of research that shows that all-girl schools are very successful.

I have found that the girls have blossomed. They are aggressive when they need to be, and they are engaged. They punch, they kick and they practice their art. I just do not have enough good things to say about how hard my girls are working. They work till they have red marks on their forearms and knuckles. They beam with pride when they show me their battle scars. When they get hurt, they cry a bit, but not once do they give up. They fight on. The Mom’s are digging it and so do I.

The boys, well I have to tell you something, the boys class is smaller and is much different. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that boys and girls are the same. They are not. That is a myth. Stop in and watch my girls class and then watch a boys class and you will see a big difference. In the words of my beautiful wife, “Teaching the boys’ class is like herding cats.”

Managing an all boys Karate class is like trying to herd cats. This class is small and consists of mostly 5- and 6-year-olds with a couple of older boys thrown in. One of my student’s has a disability. They touch each other, the walls, themselves, the floor and the equipment. Standing in one place consists of a 4-foot diameter circle. They spin, the blink, they twirl, they fidget and they somehow manage to chew on their karate belts. It’s amazing. The class is only 45 minutes.

I don’t mind the difference between boys and girls. Those are natural, normal, good and should be celebrated and even laughed about at times. What I mind, and where I fail as a teacher, is when I allow those biological differences to affect my expectations. That is when I allow gender differences to turn into gender bias. Teaching karate degenerated because my expectations were that my boys could do no better. Once that expectation solidified, then I compared them to the girls, which lead to an end of learning and an increase in frustrations, both on my part and on the students’ part. They failed because I failed them.

This week I made some changes and I saw instant results from the boys. Their ability to focus, stand still and complete what was asked of them occurred. They did it and they were proud of themselves. I was proud of them and happy with myself too. We learned together, although they didn’t realize it. I may have to use some different techniques with one group (or one child) than I do with another group (or another child), but that is inconsequential. It is nothing more than a means to a final goal. There are still differences between the two groups and diversity within the two groups, but that just that keeps life interesting.

Once I changed my approach then my expectation was met and everyone achieved the goal. We just found different paths to meet those goals. Opening the doors to those paths, my friends, is what teaching is all about. And I am digging it. Sometimes adults think that the change must start with the children. But I disagree. We don’t change the kids. We change and the children follow suit. Kiai.

I learned something. Teaching is like herding cats and it really doesn’t matter who you are teaching. I’m sure my teachers feel the same way about me some days.

Whatcha Readin’? Whatcha Doing?

Besides vast amounts in my History text, a biography of Ronald Reagan, and an interesting education text, I also have a belly full of children’s literature to read this semester:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (just finished)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (just finished)
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
Beauty by Robin McKinley and
Kids at Work by Lewis Hine (non fiction)

I have never read any of these previously, although I should have come across Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden before now. Charlotte’s Web was okay. Just okay. I am not enthralled with it. People (come to think of it, it’s been mostly women. How curious.) seem to be so in love with this book. It’s being turned into a live action children’s movie released this fall. But as animal books go, I think there are so many others of higher quality. Where the Red Fern Grows and The Tale of Despereaux are two that come to mind.

Other students inform me that this instructor chooses Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden every semester. The other books change but not these two. Maybe I should have kept my classroom criticism of Charlotte’s Web to myself the other day? Jack doesn’t do that too well, especially when it comes to literature. I've finished The Secret Garden and am very irritated by the overt racism and multiple sterotypes found inside. I do not find it to be a sensible book for the 21st Century classroom. I'll discuss this in a later post. For now, let's get back to my Children's Lit class.

This class consists mostly of future teachers, the majority of us being focused on elementary. The teacher knows this, as this is the only class she has been teaching for three years. Just by looking at the required books, the reading list for the class, can you make any predictions or form any questions? I know I have one serious question in the back of my mind. How will this class, this reading list, affect elementary students in years to come? Is there a bias? I’m wondering.

I’ll give you a hint where I’m going. I cannot speak for her other classes, but just based on this class I raise a question, and it’s just a question, about gender bias. Are we teaching literature for children or are we teaching literature for girls? Research is starting to show that girls are testing higher than boys. This didn’t used to be true. We used to prepare girls to become inferior, home-bound, baby factories. No more and I’m glad for that. I'm for girl power.

I have no research to back it up, but I might hypothesize, in general, that girls in upper elementary read novels (chapter books) for enjoyment more than boys. Therefore, as a teacher, I might try to tap into that lack of male entertainment reading and find a way to engage those boys in reading. What kinds of books might they be interested in? The Secret Garden? Charlotte's Web? Beauty (which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast)? Generally speaking I would say probably not. At this age, gender differences are what define the social structure. X item is a girl or boy oriented item. We can argue, and rightfully so, that this is not good, but it is true. So I might question a college instructor’s choice of books in a children’s literature class geared for the elementary teacher, if those choices have a gender bias.

It will be an interesting experiment to read these books and discover for myself if there is, indeed, a gender bias in my opinion. Even if there is, that is not to say that the future teachers in this classroom will only choose books that are gender-biased or gender-specific or gender-bent. But that is not to say that they might not unintentionally, as well. Seems to me the best thing to do would be to have a discussion on the subject, if it’s appropriate.

Just for sake of clarity, I do not define a boy as boy or girl based soley on the main character. I base my rating on questions such as: "Would a girl (or a boy) find this book interesting or engaging?" I consider Charlotte's Web more of a girl book. It is a book about how we feel and about language. I consider it a book geared toward girls and I think many boys might find it lacking. Notice, I didn't say all boys. That's just my opinion.

As a future teacher, I would argue for books that have do not have a gender bias, or that have less of a gender bias. I would advocate for books that both girls and boys are attracted too – books that have strong characters from both genders – books that most children can relate to. I will prefer books that do not have racism and stereotypes. Or if the books do, that there is some resolve of those stereotypes or racism at the end, such as in Mark Twain's classic tale, Huckleberry Finn. So far, I’ve read Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden and I am sorely disappointed. Just as a point, they are both girl books. Not that a book is bad because it is a girl book or boy book. Our world needs both girl books and boy books. But our collee childrne's literature class, teaching future teachers, should not teach rely so heavily on girl books.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Cripples Ask Permission To Use Potty At Mexican Villa

The Civil Rights movement, as it applies to persons with disabilities, is still in its infancy. From the White House to the Governor’s mansion right down to Mexican Villa, persons with disabilities are still seen as second-class citizens. For some reason, I cannot quite explain it, the public does not see it as a problem.

We were eating at the Mexican Villa East tonight and my daughter needed to use the restroom. Mexican Villas are not known for their bathroom cleanliness. I don’t eat at them for their tidy floors. The best tasting Villa is the original one on National and it is a filthy rat hole, but it’s my favorite. I notice a new, bathroom near the door, but we can’t use it. Mexican Villa has it locked. That’s right, they keep the door locked.

I asked and the clerk at the counter said she has only seen it “unlocked once since it opened.” She went on to say that it is only for the “wheelchair people.” To my surprise, it has a sign on the front that states the same: “Handicapped Use Only.” It is for "their" use assuming they can find the key. I didn’t realize I was getting a dinner and a circus at the same time. We can parade our cripples around the building, once to the counter to get the key and then again through the building, to the front, just to use their special bathroom. Ain’t that nice?

My guess is someone came along and forced Mexican Villa to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act by providing an accessible bathroom. And they don’t like it one bit. So they lock it up, just to prove a point.

And of course they miss the point. Accessibility isn’t about wheelchairs. Accessibility is about creating something that works for everyone. A man in a wheelchair, an elderly woman who uses a walker, a single Dad with an infant can all make use of a large, single unit bathroom. My daughter is 6 years old, but still, occasionally needs help in the bathroom. But she is ever so aware of her surroundings. A private bathroom, such as the new one at Mexican Villa is perfect. And when we are done using it, the elderly folks who cannot maneuver the tiny bathrooms in the back of Villa can use the one up front too. Target and Silver Dollar City get the point. They both have “family” bathrooms. These are large, single unit bathrooms, located next to traditional bathrooms. I can attest that these family bathrooms get a lot of traffic from a diverse group of patrons, including those with disabilities for whom they were originally designed.

Once again, pride, ego and plain old hatred get in the way. At Mexican Villa East the padlocked, crippled bathroom is located up front. I couldn’t find the Colored’s restroom. Oh I know, it must have been out back next to the dumpster.

Accessible isn’t really accessible if it is locked. But then again the bathroom doesn’t say accessible, does it? It says Handicapped. Poor crippled up bastards have to ask permission – permission – just to use the restroom. As I said, they are still treated as second-class citizens. Too bad we can’t stop seeing folks as crippled and handicapped and just see them as people – people with disabilities – but people first.

Mexican Villa Corporate Offices
1100 W. Sunshine
Springfield, MO 65807

Jack 'n' Jill Don't Have Time To Do Shit

It seems that the Springfield bloggers are all very busy this week, as the usual list of posts has been rather light. As for me, I’m reading myself skinny. I have twenty-tons of reading to do this semester, plus a math class, which always takes me a lot of time. I have wanted to blog, have had blog ideas, but I have barely had time to write down thoughts for later consideration. I will post when I can and try to keep you up on what’s going on.

If this week is any indication, then my posts for this semester may be lighter than you are used to. On top of my 15 hours of classes this semester, I also have a 30-hour student teaching practicum to complete, which must be done over a 10-week period. Add to that a 15-hour volunteer project in a school environment or non-profit, and another 2-hour shadow project with a school nurse, and any time I had scheduled to study goes right out the window.

I hope my daughter doesn’t want to spend too much time with me because she’s shit out of luck. I’m not sure I’ll have time for sex this semester, and I’m here to tell you that will not make for a happy Jack. Sperm back-up is a bad thing, folks. May very well change the voice of my posts. I don’t know what to say except to just stick with me until this semester ends.