Omni(school)bus article: Robots, Reality, and Art

The three Rs–if you can overlook the spelling and go with the phonics.

I came across these articles about innovations in eleementary schools and wanted to share them.

There’s the robotics team at Reedville Elementary School in Oregon,

And they’re putting financial literacy in the curriculum at schools in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin School District. 

Finally, Charleston, South Carolina’s “Cool School” of the week: Windsor Hill Arts Infused Elementary School.



Male evolution includes a stint on the PTA


Nearly twenty years ago, when my children were very young, I joined a support group for stay-at-home fathers called “Dad to Dad,” headed by Curtis Cooper. His concept was a new one—so new our group was featured on Oprah, and Curtis flew up to Chicago for the interview.

Other people didn’t know how to deal with us stay-at-home dads. I was a “Room Mom” for my child’s kindergarten class (my PTA wasn’t changing the title just because one guy tried to do it).

When I was chosen to serve as a president at that same PTA, my older brother asked, “Is that allowed?”

Now, many more fathers opt to stay at home and take care of the kids and get involved in their children’s education (see this New York Times article). And the national PTA, after 100 years, finally selected its first male president (or did it take that long for a guy to volunteer for the job?)

According to the Times:

… in many of the top-rated public schools across New York City, where parent groups have become ever-more-efficient fund-raising machines in the face of mounting budget cuts, fathers with financial expertise and a zest for leadership are not just going to those meetings, but running them.

The shift reflects a number of underlying social trends: more women with demanding jobs, more men underemployed in a lingering recession, more shared parenting responsibilities over all and the professionalization of the PTA itself.

* * *

For the most part, female PTA leaders applaud the injection of testosterone. But “both women and men would be lying if they were to say gender dynamics were not an issue,” said Michelle Ciulla-Lipkin, a president of the PTA at P.S. 199 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where 5 of the 18 board members last year were male.

* * *

The surge in male leadership has, in many places, followed a more fundamental shift in the nature of the PTA. Women with advanced degrees, high-powered jobs and technological savvy have brought a new level of sophistication and seriousness to the business of supporting schools. The changed dynamic — committees that are better organized, deadlines that are taken seriously, goals that are more ambitious, schedules that accommodate working parents — helped make many PTAs more comfortable for men.

And yet, according to the website Jane Dough, still remain befuddled by the things women have been doing for decades. Check out the snark.


Chain Gang Elementary: The “how-not-to” guide for parents and teachers

I told people that Chain Gang Elementary was a “how-not-to” guide on conducting parent-educator relationships, and one writer decided to explore that angle. Natalie Schwartz, author of The Teacher Chronicles, interviewed me recently for her blog, Building Successful Parent-Teacher Partnerships. Her article isn’t so much a review of the book as it is an overview of my advice for parents on how to deal with teachers and administrators.

In other words, my version of how to win friends and not get arrested.

She was actually able to get useful information out of me. I even come across as the voice of reason sometimes. Acting!

Natalie included some suggestions I made:

As a former PTA co-president, Grant offered up three ways PTAs can improve their schools:

1.) Facilitate Volunteerism: Organize work days on weekends to give parents who don’t normally volunteer a chance to be involved.

2.) Encourage Reading: Grant’s PTA invited a local librarian to an “open house” to accept library card applications from parents. “Children emulate their parents. They need to see parents reading,” Grant says.

3.) Discourage Electronics: Organize a “No Electronics Week,” during which students must pledge to avoid TV, videogames, iPods and other electronic devices. The goal is to promote an appreciation for reading and other activities that foster a child’s growth and development.

Anyway, check out her blog post. You may learn something. It could happen.

Gov. Deal’s spokesman has mastered the art of being disagreeable

Yes, politics has become nasty. But it doesn’t need to be, especially when you’re in power.

One of the more disturbing developments in Georgia politics in recent years has been the nastiness of the rhetoric the governor’s spokesman uses in describing the opposition. (And I say this as a former state government spokesman.) Brian Robinson has not mastered the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. In debating the HOPE Scholarship in late January (the interview ran on WSB-TV), Mr. Robinson ridiculed President Obama by using his name as an insult and engaged in a lot of name-calling. Meanwhile, his boss depends on Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to approach the White House to get federal help to improve the port at Savannah.

It’s not classy and it’s not smart.

This trend started with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s spokesman, a forgettable fellow whose name I don’t recall. I want to Governor Deal succeed and wish him well, but I expect to see a modicum of diplomacy when his spokesman conducts interviews. Please, Governor Deal, use your spokesman as an ambassador, not an attack dog.

Never a good sign

When you’re being sued, it’s never a good sign when the jury, during its deliberations, requests a calculator.

A jury has returned a $1 million-plus verdict against Alabama State University in a racial and sexual harassment case. ASU employee Lavonette Bartley was accused of creating a hostile work environment at the predominantly black institution located in Montgomery. Ms. Bartley and two of the plaintiffs are African-American. The third plaintiff is listed as biracial. All parties in the case are female. Two of the plaintiffs had been fired.

In addition to using racial expletives around the employees, Bartley, associate executive director in the office of Executive ASU Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Knight, was found to have sexually harassed one of the plaintiffs.

The jury apparently discounted the testimony of a high-ranking university official who was a longtime state legislator, as well as that of university trustees.

I wish I could have seen the look on the defense attorneys’ faces when that call for the calculator came in from the jury room.

Read more.


Breastfeeding banned at Chain Gang Elementary, except for hamsters

The issue of breastfeeding is at the root of the enmity between two of the novel Chain Gang Elementary’s major characters. Here’s the excerpt from the novel apropos breastfeeding.

From Chapter Four of Chain Gang Elementary, by Jonathan Grant:

A week after the PTO board meeting, Rita Malloy accosted Richard Gray in the school hall at dismissal. She wore faded jeans and a black sweatshirt emblazoned with words, PHILOSOPHY: I’M IN IT FOR THE MONEY. “I meant what I said last Thursday,” she said. “The PTO’s goal should be to replace Miz Rutherford and bring the school into the 1960s.”

Her favorite decade, no doubt. “I don’t know—”

“She’s a closet segregationist. Another reason to despise her.” She adopted a pensive expression. “Then again, I’ve hated her for ten years, at least.”

“That long?” Richard recoiled in amazement. “What happened?”

“I was breastfeeding Bertie in the cafeteria. Don’t look so shocked. It was empty, no big deal. I’d been working with Catherine’s fourth-grade class. Bertie was four months old and hungry. What could I do? I took the blanket I carried around and shut the doors behind me, went to a corner, and turned my back, hunched over, meek as a mouse. Ten seconds after Bertie starts, I hear the door creak like in a horror movie. Her. My blood curdled. Hell, my milk curdled. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks, real cold. ‘Nursing my baby.’” Rita wagged her head back and forth as she recounted. “‘You can’t do that here. What if a child saw it?’ ‘Every child has seen it.’ ‘I don’t allow it in my school. You must leave.’ Just like that. That’s how it started with me.”

“I see. She’s a baby-starver.”

“Exactly!” Rita cried out. “You know, I’ve got a confession of sorts. Bertie was Stanford’s going-away present. I was forty-two. Ah, such memories. Did you know we named him after Bertrand Russell? Everyone thinks he’s named after the Sesame Street character. The gay one.”

“You were divorced right after that?”

“More or less. Don’t look at me that way. OK, we weren’t big on formality. We’re not really divorced because we never really married. You must think I’m just an old hippie.”

“Old hippies are cool. Got any Grateful Dead concert tapes I can borrow?”

“Shut up. When I told him he’d knocked me up he said, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us strong.’ I said, ‘Bullshit, asshole. That which does not kill us makes us sick.’” She sighed. “He still comes by sometimes, when his grad student du jour locks him out. What can I do? I’m a sucker for a bald philosophy professor who’s always late on child support. He’s … familiar. It doesn’t seem odd to crawl into bed and—”

“Too much information, Rita.”

“We’ll probably end up together, old and toothless. I hate sleeping alone. So, any time—”

“I need to get Nick,” Richard blurted, then saw the principal approach. His Detention Avoidance Reflex caused him to step away from Rita. Miz R gave them a warden’s smile, as if they were a pair of bumbling inmates caught trying to escape. Richard kept moving, leaving the two women who had long ago abandoned attempts at civility staring at each other. When he returned with his son, both were gone.

* * *

Chain Gang Elementary is available at bookstores and online, in both print and eBook editions. To learn about purchasing options, click here.


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