…I’ve been a little laggy about posting (again) because I’ve been revamping my school’s website. Check it out: http://lams.slcusd.org.

…While I was checking out the sites for other schools in the district, I happened across a feature that Charlie Perryess, one of the English teachers at our sister middle school (about 1/2 of our 730-something students), has on his site. I think I may have to steal it. He only updates his site every three weeks (!?) so he gives a rundown of the activities and such for that time. At the end he has a section he calls, “Questions parents might ask their wonderful,yet not terribly forthcoming kids.” That’s the 8th grade version. The 7th grade version is, “Questions parents might ask to get a little more of an answer than ‘everything’s fine.'” (This guy also has to teach home economics and drama! The curse of diminishing enrollment.)

The questions are beauty. Designed to check to see if the homework is done, in a non-confrontational, encouraging way.  My wife is sooo good at talking to our son this way. I have a little more trouble with the proper…tone.  Example:

1. Which character from Beowulf have you chosen to make into a popular music star? What kind of music does s/he play? May I see the lyrics to the big hit song & the CD jacket art? Are you planning on earning extra credit by performing your hit song?

That’s beauty. I don’t teach Beowulf — our district has approved a middle school-stylie translation that some of the seventh grade teachers do teach — but I might now, just so I can lay that project on the kids. Or:

2. What are you liking about that book you’re reading for the Reading Log? What is the protagonist’s big challenge? Are you planning on earning 75%, 95% or 105% on your next Reading Log, & how will you do that?

I think I’m going to start a feature like this in the near future. It’s gold. Maybe I’ll get the wife to write it. Here’s a link to Charlie’s class website.

…We’re getting ready to read “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” It’s the transition to our next novel, The Giver. Today it was talk of fear and idiosyncrasies.

Here’s last year’s discussion, which seemed a bit livelier than this year’s. Hence the rerun (11/24/08).

I always start this play by discussing a few things:

1. What makes people afraid. We start with death (and spiders) and come around to the idea that it’s really the unknown that most people fear.

“If someone came back from the dead, and said, ‘Hey, it’s pretty cool floating around on a cloud, riffing on your harp all day,’ I don’t think anybody would be afraid of death. ”

2. What fear does to you. It makes you dumb, especially when you’re in a group. We talk about Franklin Roosevelt’s famous line about nothing to fear but fear itself, and after a quick summary of the Great Depression (it’s convenient, if painful, that we’re reliving certain aspects of that currently; this year’s bunch seemed to grasp the ideas better), I ask them,

“How many of you have made a dumb decision because you were scared?”

Every hand goes up.

“And what do you get when you have people in a group who are are scared?

“A mosh pit?”

“Close enough. A mob.”

3. Scapegoats. They love to either vent about how often they’ve been the scapegoat for an older sibling, or brag about how often they have passed blame unto a younger sibling. All of them have been at both ends, and none of them see any contradiction. We talk about Hitler scapegoating the Jews (and others). Soon we will talk about witch hunts.

4. Idiosyncrasies. Oh they love to talk about this one. After we get past the word itself (”No, it has nothing to do with being an idiot”) and its dictionary definition, I start giving examples by asking questions…

“How many of you – I always have a few every year, in every class – are one of those people who…make their beds right before they get into them?”

At least four or five (sheepish) hands go up. The rest are flabbergasted. “What? Why? What the?”

(Remember, I’m leading them into “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”) “I knew it. There’s always a few. You people are mighty strange. Well, I’m guessing we also have a few of you who…well, how many of you are the kind who… how many of you, when you eat cereal, put the milk in first, and then the cereal?” A few more hands. This one, most of them can’t cope with. I knew someone way back when, who got mad after he had poured an insufficient amount of milk on his cereal, and the milk ran out. Cereal ruined; wet, but not wet enough. Ever after, he always poured the milk in first. Most of the kids think this is just weird, though.

“I knew it. You people are almost as weird as the night-time bed-makers.”

“But that’s how I was taught!”


“I have some lucky purple und-”

“That’ll do. That’s more like a superstition, but you’re getting the idea.”

So we do a lot of sharing of idiosyncrasies. (BTW: Wade Boggs used to have to eat chicken before every game. We talk about how a lot of professional athletes have idiosyncrasies and superstitions.) Then I ask them,

“What if all we knew about you were your idiosyncrasies? What if you were judged only by your -isms? Like you people who put the milk in first – you’re just sick. And don’t get me started on you people who have to tap your toothbrush three times. And you night-time bed-makers…”

“Hey! Wait! Wha?

“See what I mean? We all have -isms or idiosyncrasies, and-”

“We’re all weird!” Proudly.