On the Anniversary of My Falling Apart

On the Anniversary of My Falling Apart

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I’m not going to preach. I’m not going to lecture. I’m not going to beg for sympathy or accolades or anything, other than your attention, and maybe, hopefully, your understanding.

This is about the anniversary of my falling apart.

Last year, tonight, I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, and even today, a year later, I’m almost convinced that it would have been easier had it been a heart attack. At least heart attacks are very physical things. They can be fixed with surgery, and actual tangible things can be done to repair a heart when it’s physically broken.

But when it’s not your body that’s broken, it’s a much more difficult thing.

In my case, the little man inside my head that managed all of my emotions walked off the job. I say that jokingly, but what I really need to say is that every ability I thought I’d ever had at managing everything in my brain was gone. Poof!

Suddenly, it was just me and everything I had bottled up since 1970-something.

To say that that was difficult would be the worst sort of reverse hyperbole. I do exaggerate and embrace the hyperbole in life because it’s so much fun, but when I’m talking about the week that led to my anxiety diagnosis, I am not exaggerating or hyperbolizing or making things up.

Anxiety is a very real thing. It is such a very real thing that even a year later, I am still fighting for control.

When that little emotional manager left his post and walked away, I was left with nothing to control everything up there. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to cope or deal with everything as it was happening over the course of my life, because I really was trying.

But I wasn’t doing it in a any sort of healthy way. I canned things up and stored them in the little twists and turns of my gray matter.  Then, I’d have a meltdown, or I’d pick the callouses off my feet and cut my toenails too far down. TMI and gross, yes. But it’s true. I ate all the wrong things and binged at all the wrong times. I went through a well-hidden drinking phase. I hit abysmal depression amidst genuinely happy stretches.  And it all felt normal to me.

Looking back, the little guy in my head probably needed to walk off the job, because in retrospect, he pretty much sucked at it.  I just wish I’d had some notice;  you know, the standard two weeks.  I’d’ve really appreciated that.

So last year, thanks to the sudden absence of my Angst Manager, I was forced to face myself. And I was not prepared to do that.

Mental illness, like any other illness, manifests differently in all its targets.  (It helps me to personify Anxiety.  If it’s a person, I can stand up to it and strategize and eventually win.)

Anxiety takes away my ability to be me. It takes away your ability to walk into your job, and do your job, the same job that you have done thousands and thousands of times.  It takes away your joy in your job, and your confidence that you’re pretty good at what you do.

It takes away your ability to drive home, to walk into a store, to watch a TV show with your kids. Because you never know when it will strike.

When it strikes, I can’t breathe. My heart races, palpitates, and I feel like I’ve been running, which if you know me at all, you know is not something I do unless there are actual zombies after my brain.  That’s why the first time it hit me, I thought it was a heart attack.

My hands shake, and that feeling of not being able to hold something securely in them is body-wide—nothing is safe, nothing is secure, and everything is wrong. There is an almost uncontrollable need to release primal terror that’s building up, and curl up in a corner and hide.  It makes me want to escape whatever I am doing right that minute, and GO.  Doesn’t matter where, just go. All of this even though I’m doing something I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of times.

There is an absolute certainty that everything is going to fall apart. Right. This. Minute.  And at first, Anxiety shows up completely unannounced. No one likes unannounced guests.  Especially not like this.

When those moments hit, I have to physically stop everything I’m doing, and focus on breathing. It sounds like a horrible cliché, but it’s probably a cliché because it’s true.  If I don’t concentrate on breathing, my heart rate escalates into scary three digit numbers, and everything else kicks in.

Sometimes I have to take my shoes off and with my toes, massage the ground below me.

Sometimes I have to turn on music and ignore the world around me, sometimes I need absolute silence, the kind that allows you to hear that fly buzz.  Sometimes I have to color.  All while breathing in, holding it for a count of four, and blowing it out to a count of seven.

But in all of those times what I really want to do is disappear to a dark corner and sob hysterically for hours. That’s what anxiety feels like for me. It feels like there’s nothing in my life that I can control because I never know when I’m going to fall apart again.  To be clear: Normally, I don’t ever want to hide in a corner and sob for hours, but when Anxiety attacks, that’s what my brain feels like it’s screaming for.

Sometimes—even a year later—it feels like I’ve forgotten to breathe normally. It took some time to figure out that I’m not actually forgetting to breathe:  I’m holding my breath.  That held breath becomes the cliff the rest of me tumbles off of into anxiety’s chasm of racing heart palpitations, sweatiness, rapid breathing, loss of focus, and the urge to hide in a corner under a blanket.  There’s always something that triggered that held breath, and a year later, I’m working on identifying and controlling those things. Sometimes I can manage it. Sometimes it wins. But I’m starting to win more than I lose.

And on the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that I’m still breathing, still alive.

I can tell you that I have learned who in my life I can trust with absolute certainty, and who I can’t.  I think a part of me always knew, but didn’t want to face the fact that a good many of the people I really wanted don’t feel the same way about me.

Modern pharmacology is a beautiful thing. But I can also tell you that all of those wonderful pills and drugs aren’t a permanent fix, and they aren’t enough to live on when anxiety attacks. Medication has its place in treatment, but education, therapy, and practice will always trump it; medication will numb the attack, but education can head it off and stop it in its tracks.

And prayer.  Faith.  Priceless parts of my fight, they have helped sustain me on the many sleepless nights.  Wait, I didn’t mention the loving gift of insomnia that anxiety often gives? (If you didn’t read that line with oozing sarcasm, you read it wrong.) God didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and I miss the joy I once had.

Therapy.  Oh, how I love my therapist.  I’ve told her a few times that I’d love to be friends with her, but have realized that the client/therapist relationship is better; she’s required by oath and professionalism to push me really hard to learn, to practice, and to embrace me. Friends will encourage you, love you, and stand by you, but often, they don’t push for fear of hurting your feelings.  I’ve had to hurt a lot of my own feelings to get this far.  And my success in this is largely thanks to the guidance I get from her.

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that a good savasana is one of the absolute best ways to end a Sunday night. Savasana is the last thing done in a restorative yoga class. You’re lying on your back, a small pillow on your eyes, arms outstretched, a blanket over your stomach, legs propped up as high as you want them.

And you’re breathing. Deeply in. Slowly out. Controlled.

There’s soft music, usually stuff you wouldn’t listen to under other circumstances, but it’s relaxing and soothing, and pretty much my new favorite thing ever. There are no distractions, and all you have to do is stretch and breathe.  If I could do this every time the big A shows up, it’d be a totally different fight.  But people frown on you lying down and getting comfy in public, so I relish those times when I can go to yoga.  Set all your blockades aside and go to a restorative class; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that anxiety requires its victims to stop everything and focus on it, and how I focus on it will determine my success or failure in that moment.  I’m a high school teacher, and sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of class, and I’ll have to do one or more of the things I mentioned earlier to hang on.  I have had to stop what I was doing, put my head down, and just count my breaths.   I’ve taught barefooted at my board, and from my desk while coloring, all the while desperate for them not to notice how on edge I am.

I’ve done yoga in my classroom during lunch so I could get through the hour and a half until my planning period when I could let myself fall apart a little, and not do it with a room full of teenagers.  I’ve even had students join me in my lunchtime practice.

Yeah, they think I’m a little weird, but that’s part of the fun of teaching. I can be a little odd and it’s charming or quirky. Were I in any other profession, I’m pretty sure it’d be different.

At home, my husband has been wonderful about tagging me out so I can get it together.  My kids have noticed me “breathing funny” but hopefully, they’ll grow to see that as a good thing: Mommy handling herself so everyone else can handle themselves too.

And as I type this, I noticed that I was holding my breath, and starting to shake a little.  I’m nervous about this piece, and being nervous about something is a trigger.  But I’m still typing.

Because on the one year anniversary of my falling apart, I am sharing.  I am letting the world in, and giving it a tour because so many people deal with anxiety silently, and I never thought that person would be me.  If you know me, you know I’d talk the ears off a donkey given half a chance, and maybe my sharing will help someone who isn’t so chatty.

Many other people don’t think anxiety is a real thing, and I can tell you unequivocally that they are wrong. It is real, and can be debilitating.  In my case it’s trying to be, but I am not letting it.  I am slowly winning this fight, because it’s a fight for my life, and I won’t live it on someone else’s terms.

So, on the anniversary of my falling apart, I hereby declare that I am now falling together, pulling the good pieces back in, and discarding the things that don’t fit, don’t feel good, and don’t encourage the positive.

I am looking for and embracing the lights in my life—those lights are who I am and why I’m here, and anxiety will not get to steal them away from me.

Reddit Rocks.

Reddit Rocks.

Dear Jesse Lee,

Last week I received a box from Amazon that held a box of black markers and a hand sanitizer wall pump.  I was so happy!  I got teacher stuff from a total stranger on Reddit!

I usually have it in my room, but get asked constantly, “Do you have hand sanitizer?” because my bottle migrates around to different locations throughout the day.

And black markers? A classroom can never have too many markers.

So when I got this box, I was excited.  I took a picture of the two items, and emailed them to my work email so I could post them, and thank you.  This was Friday.

Then on Sunday, it became Classroom Christmas.

A large box mysteriously appeared outside my front door while I was dropping one of my kiddos off for some playtime.  I wasn’t expecting anything from Amazon because I’d already gotten my goodies from the Reddit Teacher Thingy, so I was intrigued and confused. Had my husband ordered something?  Did I forget a Subscribe and Save item? What was in this box????

I opened the Big Mystery Box, and squealed like an 80s fan girl at a Duran Duran concert.  Holy Moly Ms. Jesse!

I cannot thank you enough!!  Cleaning supplies!  BInders!  Dividers! A yoga ball!  Highlighters!

You, my new friend Jesse Lee, are awesome, amazing, fantastic, terrific, fabulous, generous, beneficent, amiable, and all things wonderful.  Thank you for your donation to a total stranger and her students.

You rock.  And so does Reddit for hosting this.

Look at this stuff!  I can't thank Jesse from Reddit enough!
Look at this stuff! I can’t thank Jesse from Reddit enough!
Naughty Caps and Student Poetry

Naughty Caps and Student Poetry

Literature is not written with the teenage audience in mind.

Macbeth’s comic relief is a drunken porter who talks about how alcohol increases the desire but takes away the performance.

In Antigone, King Creon loses his temper and tells his son to forget having Antigone for a wife and that there are plenty of fields he can plow.

See what I mean?

I get the naughty humor, but most of the time, there are only one or two students in the class who do.

When this happens, I tell my students to “put their Naughty Caps on” to get the adult side of the writing. I also remind them that the literature they’re reading was not meant for a juvenile audience. And then we take metaphorically take our naughty caps off and move on.

And because teenagers often wear their Naughty Caps when they’ve not been told to, I often have to take a step back and ask myself, “Is this really what that child meant to write?!?”

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And this kid?  He/she might win the naughty cap award. Or therapy. Or both. This is a double tanka poem written by one of my students in 10th ELA.

Here’s what lead to this.  Each student was given an abstract concept to contemplate and personify; there were abstract nouns like patriotism, success, determination, etc, that can’t be physically touched, but we know they exist. I asked them some creative thinking questions about their concepts, to get their brains up and running and to try to see their concept as a person, with likes and dislikes. Would your concept prefer tacos or pizza?  Flip-flops or athletic shoes?  Sports car or pick-up truck?  Which abstract noun is your worst enemy?  What’s your concept’s favorite color?

I love this activity.  Listening to the kids figure out how they have to think in order to do this is entertaining, enlightening, and rewarding.

Then I taught them about the Japanese poem called a tanka, which is a five-line poem that follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count per line; like a haiku, but with a couplet on the end.  There’s a group of poetry contests I’m having them write for that includes a double tanka, so they had to write a one using their concept. No, they don’t have to use everything they just wrote down during the questions; however, they should consider those things as they write.

When we first started poetry, I told my students that there are three kids of teenage poets:

  1. I will only write a poem if I have to for a grade.
  2. I write great love poems and sad-mad poems.
  3. I love poetry and creativity and might be a writer “someday.”

After reading this poem, I may have to add a category:  Most Likely to Write for Late Night Television.

I have to admit that I keep my naughty cap on all the time—I never said this was a high-class kind of blog—and when I first read this student’s writing, I started off shocked and appalled, and then ended at chagrined and impressed.  I bit that hook: worm, line, sinker and all.

When you read the first two lines, where did your mind go?  Admit it.  Go on. Raise your hand.  You went there too.  And then you laughed, both at the fact that you went there, and that a tenth grader’s poem made you do it.

Now here’s the funny part:  I know this was intentional.  This writer did not want you to know what he/she was writing about because the topic wasn’t taped to the top of the page, like every other kid’s in the class was—because I passed out strips of tape so they could do it.  This kid WANTED us to read this with our naughty caps on.  And wanted us to NOT know what he/she was talking about until the end.

And while there are some syntax issues that need to be addressed for clarity’s sake, it is not a bad first effort.

The sad part is, this kid didn’t put his/her name on the paper. So I don’t even know who to thank for the humor.

_________________________________________

I’m starting a new “thing” that I have named Teacher Wisdom Wednesdays.  Every Wednesday, I’ll post about something that has or hasn’t worked for me in the classroom, or at home with my kiddos that relates to education.

So, for those of us who love bullet points, here are my first ever Teacher Wisdom Wednesday Take-Aways:

  • The Naughty Cap is a part of my teacher tool box. You can ham it up and have everyone pretend to put on hats, or you can just say, “Guys, this is a naughty cap moment.”   Also, there’s Naughy Cap Kid in every class.  Enjoy it.
  • Creative thinking and tanka writing: The assignment covers vocabulary flexibility, critical thinking, writing process, figurative language, working in groups, and (eventually) public speaking.  I threw in the requirements that there be at least one simile, metaphor, or hyperbole, and that there be a discernable tone.

PS–If you want the handouts that go along with this assignment, shoot me an email, or leave yours in the comment box, and I’ll send it to you.  I haven’t figured out how to post a pdf here yet.

A Spectator’s Shame: Tunnel to Towers 5k, Part II

A Spectator’s Shame: Tunnel to Towers 5k, Part II

I’ve already posted about that one amazing moment from the Tunnel to Towers race Saturday, but now, I want to post about some of the things I saw that day that made me feel like Lazy McSlackerpants. 

First, moms pushing double strollers, one kid strapped in, one jogging beside her. My kids would out run me after about six steps, assuming I missed the narrow window to trip them. Then they’d pick flowers, try to talk someone out of gum, and pet every dog in the vicinity, all accompanied with the saccharine smile of faux innocence. 

Two moms running a 5k wearing their babies. WEARING their babies, I said. WEARING THEM! That means the babies are small enough to be tied to them while they are running. Which means they are running so soon after delivery that it makes me squirm uncomfortably. See what I mean about feeling like a loser?

Then, there were whole families out there, sweating together. One family was pushing a double stroller, while one kid jogged and one kid got carried, and they had a grandparent running with them.  

The fastest I’ve ever seen my dad run was trying to get to first base in a slow pitch softball game with the VFW in about 1978. That was seriously funny to my 6 year-old self, and he may have even caught his breath by now. Mom? I’ve never seen her run or do anything remotely athletic, but I’ve always been scared to test whether or not she could…Because she brought me into the world, and can definitely take me out of it. Still. 

I saw a grandma carrying her granddaughter. A GRANDMA, for Pete’s sake. Carrying a grandchild on her back, and she was STILL JOGGING. I love my grandparents, but even when I was young enough to be carried by one of them, I’m not sure that a 5k would even have been on the radar. 

Elementary school kids. That’s not as physically impressive as the adults; I have three little kids, and they probably do at least a half marathon in any given day. But some of them were on the race route, and looked like they’d either run slower or faster than whatever grown-up they started out with. 

And there were some really old people, and when I say this, I am saying it with all the love, respect, and outright jealously my heart can produce. These were old enough they could be in a nursing home commercials old people, and there they were, moving faster than I’ve moved in a really long time, and wearing stretchy tight clothes to do it.  

Me + tight stretchy clothes is one of the top reasons I don’t exercise. I’d have to dress like that to exercise, and since I’m a sympathetic puker, I wouldn’t get anything done except for vomiting with the people who saw me in tight stretchy clothes. And since bulimia is unhealthy, I don’t risk it. See? Safer for everyone else. 

There were also a couple of people I know from work. One lady I knew ran a lot, and two I don’t know well enough to know their level of fitness dedication. Now that I do, I carry that lazy shame with me to work, too. 

I saw two women running in full firefighter turnout gear. Talk about fighting off feelings of complete inadequacy and uselessness–those two women are completely badass. (Yes, I know this is cussing, and yes I know I wrote about my cussing problem already, but if you have a better way to express the supreme compliment that is “badass” please tell me.) Those two women are tougher than me and stronger than me by far, and I’m not ashamed in the slightest to admit that. 

And look in the pictures for the firefighter with her kids.  There just aren’t pretty words to describe how awesome she is and how not awesome I am in the same sentence. 

And as I’m writing this, my belly full of buttery spaghetti and ice cold milk, I know I want to be that healthy, that physically fit. But at 43, and at least twice the weight I was back in my college days, it just feels too overwhelming.   

But then, I think about some of the other people who ran that day, and I think that maybe, there might be hope for me if I just get up and move.  Like Cool Blue Running Pants Lady or Pink Rain Boot Lady obviously did. 

So maybe I will. 

After another episode of Doctor Who. 

She wins the all-around badassery award: two kids AND turnout gear. Give this woman a trophy and a black leather jacket. (PS- I know it’s a crappy picture, but I had to share it, because whoever she is, she’s awesome.)
  
So many reasons she wins: Carrying the flag, smiling at my girls, AND pink rain boots. WIN!
  
Halfway through the race, this woman gave our Daisy Scouts smiles and fun, and a really cute running outfit. She wins, too,
  
This lady wins. I’m assuming she’s Grandma, and she was jogging!!
  
And he’s still smiling. Dad win!
   

In the Presence of Heroes

In the Presence of Heroes

After my day Friday, I did not want to get up at 5 am Saturday morning to chaperone my Daisy Girl Scout Troop at the Tunnel to Towers run.  

I am so glad I did. 

T2T is a race in honor of a young man who ran from the Brooklyn Tunnel to the Twin Towers in his 60 pounds of gear, only to die when the towers came down. 

Each student and Scout along Forsyth Park waved a flag, gave high fives and encouragement, and wore a placard with the picture of a uniformed rescuer who died that day. Many runners do the race in full turn out gear, in honor of those who did it for real. 

One of our Daisy Scouts was wearing the sign for FDNY Engine 226’s Stanley Smagala, Jr. 

About halfway through the race, a firefighter in gear who was jogging across the the road from us, cut across the road, and ran straight for Lauren. He knelt down, and used two fingers to place a kiss on her placard, and quietly, said, “My brother, Stan.” 

He stood, never taking his eyes off Lauren’s sign, touched his heart, turned and took off again. 

Lauren turned around, looked at her mom and me, confused, and asked, “Why’d he do that?”

Her mom responded, “He called him by name. He knew him.” Lauren turned back around to the race– she’s five, and most of our scouts aren’t really old enough to understand the level of sacrifice of the firefighters and rescuers that day. 

I’m not sure any of us are. 

Lauren’s mom and I looked at each other, both of us with tears in our eyes, and chill bumps down our arms. 

It happened so quickly– maybe less than 10 seconds–but I’m still thinking about that man, and will for a long time, and how he ran that race, his dead brother on his mind, looking for Stanley Smagala, Jr’s picture, to find it on one of my little Daisy Scouts. 

The emotional strength it must have taken him to run that race without tears, and with such steady concentration, I cannot imagine. 

I also cannot imagine the kind of courage it takes someone to move forward after losing someone to such a loss. 

I do not remember his face. 

Or what insignia he wore. 

Or when he might have finished the race. 

I even had to check with Lauren’s mom to be sure of the details before I wrote this. And none of the eight parents with me that day got a picture of him. 

It’s just as well.  

I will forever remember his touching tribute to his brother Stan, and how for a brief second, we were in the company of heroes. 

*********************

For more information on the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, visit their website at http://www.tunnel2towers.org.  

This is not the firefighter I’m talking about in this post, but he exemplifies many of the firefighters that ran the race. Plus I really like this picture.
Faith Is Not A Four-Letter Word

Faith Is Not A Four-Letter Word

Hi, my name is Tracy, and I have a cursing problem. 

My first instinct, when pretty much anything off-kilter happens, is to break out all the salty words I learned growing up.

Spit! 

Duck!

Spammit!

Sunuvatrailer hitch!

That’s me.  

Except I use, and fight using, the real versions of these words. Daily. Hourly. And if I’m honest, sometimes it’s actually minute to minute. 

And as an English major, I can use most of these words quite flexibly in at least three, if not four, parts of speech. I am (mostly) not proud to admit it, but those closest to me know my struggle. It is, as the saying goes, real. 

I am a public school teacher, and have managed in my 18 year career to only curse at a student out loud in front of a class, once. Today, members of that class are some of my favorite Facebook buddies, and the object of my frustration that day has grown up to be a remarkable young man with whom I occasionally have really interesting conversations. So, thankfully, I didn’t scar him for life. 

My propensity for profane language has also put me in the uncomfortable situation of having to explain to my children why they are not allowed to use the same words as mommy. I am not proud of this, and am sharing only to place the story to come in its proper context. 

After a lifetime of having to bleep my language for stubbed toes and dropped bowls of cereal, imagine my surprise when, as I was being t-boned by a mid-sized pick-up truck early Friday morning, I wasn’t cussing.

I was calling out, “Oh God! Jesus!”

In the moment of my life when I was more afraid for my personal safety than I’ve ever been, I didn’t use my day-to-day go-to list of sailor’s words. 

I resorted to my faith. 

It’s one of the strongest memories I have from the wreck, and may come to be one of the defining moments of my faith. I don’t publicly talk about my faith often, because I know that I don’t set the example of what a Christian should be, (refer back to the beginning of this this for a reminder).  

I also have always treated my faith as a private thing, something to nurture and struggle with privately, individually. I know this isn’t what the Bible teaches, but again, me = completely imperfect. A lot of my family are atheists, and for the sake of keeping peace, I often avoid religious conversations, preferring to live by example rather than profession. But so strong is the memory of 6:17 AM Friday morning, that I’m reconsidering the implicit treaty of silence that my non-believing friends and family and I have shared. 

One of the few sermons I specifically remember from my childhood, involves Reverend Dicer from the Tipp City Church of the Nazarene telling the story of a friend of his who had drowned. He shared with us his hope that his non-Christian friend had looked skyward as he sank and asked for God’s blessing on his life and impending death. 

And a friend of mine once taught me that baptism is the outward sign of an inward change. For me, that inward change has been a slow, decades-long procession working toward doing the best I can each day, every day, to be worth the price Christ paid. 

Most days, I count far too many mistakes, too many moments of weakness, and too many failures of thought, speech, and action to come close to even a fraction of the value of a life sacrificed. 

But the one time it really counted for me, a true test of who or what I’d call on, I feel like I passed that test. 

I hope in the days that come, as my bruises come to the surface and fade away, and the sore muscles knot and stretch, I will keep that gratitude for my life, and that instantaneous acknowledgment of my faith at the forefront of my mind. There is great peace and comfort in knowing for certain what you believe, and why you believe it, and how it will show. 

So for now, as I navigate insurance, claims adjusters, car pool and potential van shopping, I will cling to that comfort, and the gratitude I feel for my life, my aching muscles, and my faith

They aren’t as grown as you might think

They aren’t as grown as you might think

Today’s topic: research.

My goal was to get them to see that research plays a part in just about any kind of writing, whether it is non-fiction or fiction, and the difference between cited and uncited research. We also discussed the importance of making sure our sources were reliable, and how to do that.

I used this meme to start the conversation.

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Several kids rolled their eyes, and gave me looks that screamed, “I am not falling for this, lady.”  That’s not what surprised me.

The surprise was in the number of students who didn’t make the connection that Lincoln did not have the internet.  One student even said, “That makes no sense.  Why’d he have such a hard time winning the civil war if he had the internet? I can’t believe no one told me about that!”   He was not being sarcastic.

In another block, the surprise response was, “Hey, that is true. They can’t put it on the internet if it’s not true.”  I shook my head.  I was so surprised at their naivete.

In another class, a student was shocked to find out that there was an “actual Titanic” that sank, but that Rose and Jack were fictional.  I am not making this up.

These are sophomores.  I love them, and sometimes, there are holes in their knowledge of what I consider “basic facts everyone should know.”  Where do those holes come from?  Shifting curricula? Working parents? Too many video games?

Who knows.  

However, to improve their ability to question what they’re reading, it might be time to bring out the Flying Spaghetti Monster again. Several years ago, leading up to a short unit on satire, I spent about two weeks slowly trying to convince my students that I was, in fact, a Pastafarian.  A few, who knew me outside of school, knew it was a hoax. But I think by the time I told them what was going on, about half of them had started to believe me.  My students think I’m odd enough that it sounded normal to a few.
But after today, and their gullibility and reluctance to question anything has me thinking that it might be time to break out my colander again.

In another part of discussion today, we talked about the difference between a search engine and the sources a search engine finds.  Some were surprised to hear that Google was not a source.  They were also surprised to learn that Google knows lots about them.

So we took a little bird-walk down Google lane to talk about data mining, the dangers of free wifi, and why Wikipedia is still not something they can cite in a research paper.

They really don’t get the permanence that is posting on-line.  In one class I shared with them the story of researchers who were able to track down specific, real, live people based on the data kept on them.  This article talks about one such situation.

“That’s more than a little creepy,” said one student.  Lightbulb!

My kids are writing research-based persuasive papers on the current crop of presidential candidates, and they rolled a 20-sided die to determine who they were persuading each other to vote for.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, was happy with the outcome. Yay! That means I nailed it!

And then this.

Today, one girl raised her hand and told me that her mother said she’s not allowed to write her paper on her topic because it’s against her religion.  I couldn’t stop my response from tumbling out of my mouth. “Sweetie, if you can prove to me that candidate X is against your religion, I won’t make you write this paper.”

I’m pretty sure I need to call her mom.