Over the weekend, the local water protection district issues a “boil order” and ships pallets of water bottle cases to be stacked next to the water fountains on Monday morning. In any place other than a middle school, this would be a good thing.
Construction paper signs are taped to fountains and faucets warning students not to drink the water. Here… have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead.
Students drink two to three times as much as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Man, water is delicious!
Students make two to three times as many trips to the bathroom as they usually do simply because they have water bottles. Yes, go, just go.
The fun wears off, so ingenious students use pens to punch holes in the lids of full water bottles. Squirt guns! Broken pens! (Does this count as a STEM activity?)
The request to leave class to get a drink no longer applies because you, dear student, have a seemingly unlimited supply of water bottles instead. Please stay in the room and drink two to three times what you normally would.
Drops of water appear on desks, turning typed words into illegible gray clouds. Look! There on the desk. It’s an essay! It’s an art project!
Armloads of water bottles are tossed into the trash. Many are mostly full. So much for going green.
Teachers exhibit great patience when students empty those water bottles and then squeeze them repeatedly. Here’s the sound those bottles make: crinkle-crackle- crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle-crinkle-crackle. If teachers calmly wait for the sound effect to end (because this has been happening all day), it just might… but usually it doesn’t. Throw it away. Now.
Tuesday morning feels like it should be Friday afternoon… for the teachers, anyway. This is gonna be one L-O-N-G week.
Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you enjoyed this post. Feel free to leave a comment about your own middle school mayhem. Follow my blog for more posts about teaching middle school ELA, including writing contests and the unique PBL project my seventh-graders are engaged in with a local historical society.
I recently wrote a post on Medium and my sister blog called “Dear Parents: Scientology Wants to Get Inside Your Child’s Classroom” about how an organization known as Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) offers a human rights educator’s kit for teachers to use in their classrooms. Not realizing that the YHRI was a front organization for the Church of Scientology, I had previously and inadvertently ordered and used these materials in my English Language Arts middle school classroom where my students connect the literature they read to specific human rights as listed in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Church of Scientology has no business extolling the virtues of human rights and here’s why. I ended my recent post by promising to provide some alternative human rights teaching materials. If your child’s teacher discusses or teachers about human rights, suggest they check out the materials from these organizations instead:
The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) offers a comprehensive range of teaching materials. Located in Minneapolis, AHR’s mission, according to its publications, is “to implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.”
On the home page, click on Our Work and then Educators. Here teachers will find a useful Human Rights Toolkit that surpasses the YHRI’s booklet for its breadth of information and critical thinking content. In fact, the AHR’s toolkit specifically addresses several questions that my students have asked but not found answers to within the pages of the YHRI materials. Some of these questions include How can human rights be enforced? How does the United States Bill of Rights fit with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Which document addresses human rights for kids?
I’m thinking about downloading the PDF, copying, and binding a class set of these toolkits for my students to use. The toolkit includes chapters entitled Human Rights Primer (basic definitions and vocabulary terms), Human Rights System (UN legal bodies, regional and international groups such as the International Criminal Court), Human Rights and the U.S. ( a timeline of human rights in this country, analysis of the U.S. Constitution and human rights).
Some of the information provided by the AHR is not without political bias, especially in discussions of the death penalty, health care, and post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies, among others. Teachers should review this material before discussing with students, so the information is used to assist students in developing their own opinions on human rights policy.
Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is a non-governmental nonprofit registered as a charity in the Netherlands. HREA supports human rights education through materials that focus on children’s rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment, human rights teaching, global advocacy, and e-learning courses. Watch this HREA video about the right to education.
HREA’s Path to Dignity human rights film surpasses the ten-minute film from YHRI in quality and content. It contains accounts of human rights activity and education in India, Australia, and Turkey. Teachers can view the entire 28-minute film or the portions that best meet their curriculum needs.
So there you have it. Three alternative resources to consult regarding human rights instead of those offered by the Church of Scientology and its front organizations, Youth for Human Rights International and United for Human Rights.
And by the way, the materials from these sources are superior in content to those by the cult. While the Scientology materials are colorful and well-produced, the information contained inside is shallow. The publishers have merely reworded the UDHR, restating each of the thirty human rights into shorter sound bites. The booklet and DVD contain some brief historical information on the evolution of human rights, but little else.
There is no mention, for example, of the International Bill of Human Rights, which provides a framework through international treaties and covenants that allows the force of law to be applied when violations occur. There is also no mention of the many human rights treaty bodies around the world and the obligations governments assume when its leaders sign a treaty or covenant.
Like all those website photos of Scientology’s sterile, empty church facilities and imposing high-rise towers, YHRI’s educator’s kids are slick but superficial. Teacher of human rights can do much better. They should avoid the Church of Scientology, Youth for Human Rights International, and United for Human Rights and try these alternative resources instead.
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It’s hard to find mentor texts sometimes, and occasionally I just write one myself when the need arises, or I scroll through my sister blog to find stories I’ve already written.
For my students, I define “memoir” as a personal narrative that contains a beginning, middle, and end, plus a lesson learned from the situation. That lesson learned can also be simply a realization or understanding of the writer’s place in the world, or how the world, (or more generally, life) works. For younger or struggling writers, the lessons learned can be overtly stated in the concluding paragraphs, as in “From this experience, I learned…” However, for more skilled writers, the lessons learned can be implied and woven into the piece in a more unexpected or creative way. Here’s my memoir. Feel free to use for educational purposes.
Exactly Why You Should Be Aware of Your Surroundings
During my growing-up years, I had always been taught by good parents to be aware of my surroundings — whether at home or out on my own. And while I heeded that advice, I needed my parents to complete the thought. I needed to hear why: because bad things really do happen to unsuspecting women and if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, someone might take you away from us.
I finally figured that out after college when I was living on my own and running daily near my apartment in Topeka, Kansas and had a “close call” with a stranger in a car. My route, which I ran alone and required about thirty minutes to complete, took me through a recreational complex across the street that contained what was known then as The Gage Park Zoo and a well-landscaped public park.
My route then continued on into an adjacent neighborhood clustered with middle-class homes, and finally back to my apartment community. Every day without fail, I would get up at 6 a.m., walk through the zoo and park, run through the neighborhood, have some breakfast, shower and get ready for my 8-to-5 job at the Kansas Press Association, which was a short five-minute drive away.
One fresh, quiet morning as I entered the park, I noticed a car in a parking space near the front edge of the zoo. As I walked by, I saw that a man was sitting inside the car. Strange, I thought, for six in the morning. Suspicious. It was light out, but barely. A humid haze hovered over the park grounds and the only sounds you could hear were the whir of traffic on the distant freeway, the chirps from a few songbirds, and the drowsy mumblings of teenagers catching up on the previous night’s news at the park’s swimming pool.
I continued to make my round-about way through the park: past the central square lawn, right at the rose garden, then another right back down the other side of the square lawn. When I rounded this last corner, I noticed the car again. It was backing out of its space. Good, I thought. It’s leaving.
But then, instead of turning toward the way out, the car turned into the park, and made a right onto the lower edge of the square lawn. Our paths would intersect, I knew, if he made a left at the corner of the square lawn. Which he did. Now it was inevitable: we would meet. He was up to something. Was he going to stare at me? Was he going to kidnap me? Would this be an abduction?
Keep in mind that this was in 1989. Before cell phones. Before pagers. If there was trouble, there was no way to contact someone. These were the days of the pay phone, but I was unaware of any pay phones in the park.
With the car approaching, I glanced over at the pool and knew I could cut across the lawn and find refuge there. But my independence didn’t allow that. I stayed on the paved road and continued heading straight toward the car, which was now approaching me. I eyed the car. I told myself to make eye contact with the man. Make good, solid eye contact when he gets here, I thought. Even though I was terribly afraid, I was not going to appear to be that way. So I would maintain my stride, look him in the eye, and keep walking. I would walk strongly, confidently, quickly. This is what I do every day of my life, mister, and you aren’t going to stop me, I grumbled under my breath.
Soon, the car was upon me. Driving slowly. Five miles per hour, if that. The muffler on the older, metallic, olive green sedan hummed and coughed. All too quickly, he was upon me. We made eye contact. I looked at him clearly, intently, and held my stare. He was white, unshaven, sun-tanned, with hazel eyes. His gaze met mine for a long, tense moment, all the while driving slowly, window rolled down, his left arm lazily resting along the top of the door. He drove on by. I had previously decided that I would not turn and watch him continue through the park. Didn’t want to provoke him. Didn’t want to make him suspicious of what I might do. So I kept walking and heard the car gradually accelerate behind me. And he was gone.
I never saw the man again, but I did change my routine. I started running in the evenings around six o’clock when there were more people out and about. Before the incident, I had known that keeping to a set workout routine (same route, same time every day) was ill-advised for a woman, but I obviously didn’t take that advice seriously enough either. At least not seriously enough to change my all-too-predictable behavior. Again, perhaps I wasn’t told exactly why I should vary my schedule. After all, it’s hard to do, and in my opinion, an unreasonable expectation for women.
Wasn’t it enough to just be aware of my surroundings? Apparently not. Because even though my parents had already taught me that, my Gage Park “close call” taught me the point of that advice: because bad things really do happen to unsuspecting women and if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, someone might take you away from us.
Follow this blog for writing contests, more mentor texts, reflections and other observations about teaching middle school ELA. I plan to post more mentor texts soon, and if you follow this blog, you’ll receive an email when those are added. Check out my sister blog for more writing. Thanks for reading!
A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my middle school classes.
On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.
My eyes rested on that last one.
I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?
Out of curiosity, I had even read a Scientology text from my local library that, had I been a lost soul looking for some easy—and expensive—answers, would have been convincing; however, for all its ostentatiousness and extremely happy people holding e-meters, the text felt empty and false.
With all the media attention focused on Scientology, it’s easy to conclude Hubbard’s “church” is no religion at all, but rather a dangerous money-making cult that uses Tom Cruise and other celebrities, its 501(c)(3) status, and hyperbole to convince its followers that it’s a major force for good in the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
But on that fall day at school, I was in a hurry to get my classroom put together, so I cast from my mind Hubbard’s name on that list of human rights notables.
I looked through the rest of the educator’s kit:
a set of thirty professionally-photographed human rights posters
a class set of booklets that explain each of the thirty rights, plus
a well-produced DVD that discusses the Cyrus Cylinder, Natural Law, the American and French Revolutions and other global watershed moments in human rights.
I filed the DVD away, laminated the posters and hung them on a wall of my classroom, and then shelved the booklets, which would be used later when my eighth-grade students would start connecting the literature they read to human rights.
Then, over the next few months, I watched Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, the actress’ documentary series on A&E. Alongside consultant and former Scientology Mike Rinder, Remini exposes the Church of Scientology’s abuses, violence, and inhumane practices through interviews with former “parishioners” now disconnected from the group.
During one episode of Remini’s series, I learned about the many front organizations Scientology uses to gain credibility.
And that was my light bulb moment: Youth for Human Rights International must be one of those front organizations, I thought. That’s why Hubbard’s name was on that list. A few minutes of online searching confirmed my suspicion.
Indeed, Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind YHRI. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally to advance human rights.
On Scientology.org, you’ll also find lots of United Nations name-dropping.
Clearly, it enhances Scientology’s image to rub shoulders with the UN, but it baffles me why the United Nations would align itself with Scientology.
Here’s a link on the UN’s website to its annual International Human Rights Summit held last August at its New York City headquarters. According to the article, student attendees spent day three of the summit at the Church of Scientology Harlem Community Center, which is right next door to the Harlem Main Church.
The UN summit was co-organized by the permanent UN missions in Cambodia and Panama and YHRI, which has been a co-sponsor of the summit since its inception fourteen years ago.
Based on the alliance with the UN, many people likely assume YHRI is a reputable, forthright group worthy to publicize in public school classrooms. Heck, that’s what I assumed.
However, there are several human rights that Scientology policies violate, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field of human rights. I’m not an expert on Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on the subject, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities.
For now, here are three that I’m aware of:
The cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed
The cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize Scientology, and
The documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, Scientology’s Ecclesiastical Leader, and other higher-ups.
To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools—even though that inroad, human rights, may be innocuous and noble—it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
So, parents and teachers, please know that if you or your child’s teacher discusses human rights, do not consult Youth for Human Rights International or United for Human Rights because if you do, you will be actually consulting the Church of Scientology.
Thanks for reading again this week! Please leave a comment or thought below and become a follower to read this follow-up post about the reputable organizations out there that are ready to provide teachers with classroom-ready, cult-free materials.
Last fall, one of my seventh-grade students wrote an “Expert Advice” article, one of ten assignments in our Writer’s Workshop project list. My students seemed to like this particular assignment. They chose a topic they were familiar with and then wrote a how-to article. “Jared” wrote an article called “Four Ways Novice Hunters Can Avoid Hunting Accidents.” He wrote a first draft, received feedback from another student, and then submitted a second draft to me.
Right away, I could tell it might be a piece I could submit on his behalf to a magazine, print or online. I knew Jared had a publishable story because of the way he tackled the assignment. First, he wrote his article in steps, which always makes for a reader-friendly piece. Second, Jared’s advice indicated that, as an avid hunter, he wrote from experience and possessed some natural expertise. In addition, his writing contained his own voice with tips such as, “Hunting on legal ground is also an important law to follow. By hunting on legal ground, or government property, you can avoid trespassing and a visit from the sheriff.” I knew that, with a few more rounds of revisions and edits, Jared would have an article ready to send out.
So the next morning during my plan time, I googled “deer hunting magazines youth” to see what I could find. A few results popped up. I visited a couple and found one in particular that seemed promising. I read what kinds of articles they typically publish and found the name of the editor. I also discovered that the magazine had a distribution of 57,000 copies!
After talking to Jared’s mother for her approval, I dashed off a short email to the editor asking if he would be interested in reviewing the article after Jared finished it. Here’s my email:
Dear (Editor’s Name):
Good morning! I’m an English teacher in Missouri and I have a student who is working on a very good how-to article for novice or first-time hunters. I told him I would inquire about any publishing opportunities he may wish to pursue.
Does your magazine ever publish student-written articles? Would this how-to type of article be a fit for your publication? If not, do you have any advice on where he might send his piece when it is finished?
Thanks for your time in thinking about this. I appreciate it.
Marilyn Yung, Teacher
Within three hours, the editor responded. (His quick response surprised me, by the way, because in my own writing experience, editors usually require from a few days to a week or two to respond.)
The editor’s reply: Yes, he would be interested in seeing the article when Jared had it ready. He explained that while the advice may not be useful to many of the magazine’s readers, the fact that the writer is a student may be the interesting part. He added that even if it didn’t work for the print publication, it could likely be used for the website. He ended with, “Either way, I’d like to take a look and see. We are trying to provide more how-to info for beginners, and we are also interested in encouraging young hunters and writers!”
So after two or three more revisions, we emailed the final draft just before the holiday break. I’ll let you know when I hear the final word from the editor about Jared’s article. Whether it is accepted for publication or not, it’s my hope Jared has learned he has solid potential as a writer for the world beyond the school walls.
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So are your students and some of them can’t wait to see you.
Even though you love your job, when you think about the first day back at school after Christmas break, you sigh. Ugh, right? Who wants to think about that? The kids certainly don’t. Let me clarify that. Some of the kids don’t want to think about the return to school; however, some do.
Some kids can’t wait to go back to school. They love to see their friends. They love to see their teachers. They thrive on the community of school.
On the last day of the semester as my students and I were packing up to leave for Christmas break, one student told me that she dreads being away from school for so long. She misses her friends and the social environment of school. Another agreed.
Depend on these enthusiastic kids. Let them inspire you as you think ahead to settling back into your busy teaching schedule.
True, not all students look forward to returning to school. In fact, on the last day before break, I overheard one student admit that break could last forever and it would be okay with him. As for these students who really don’t want to go back… give them a reason to return to school. Be a positive presence in their lives. Expect them to fulfill their potential, to be their best. Push them to see the positive results of their hard work. Encourage them.
So, as the holiday break dwindles away, pour yourself another cup of coffee. Read some. Write more. Learn a few new chords on your guitar, bake a loaf of bread… in short, recharge. And when your mind drifts to that moment when you re-enter your darkened, eerily quiet classroom, remember there are kids who want to see you, who want to know what you’ve been up to over the long break. Rely on those kids and smile at the possibilities the new year brings.
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It’s a Project-Based Learning partnership with White River Valley Historical Society
The October-November 2017 issue of WRVHS Whippersnappers was published a few weeks ago! My seventh-grade students wrote all the content for the issue using online archived articles from the White River Valley History Society Quarterly magazine as their research. They designed the content around Halloween and the fall season.
About half of the students wrote for the first issue; the rest are writing for the second issue that prints in December. After the Christmas break, students will return and begin designing and writing content for the February and April issues.
I appreciate the help and support of Leslie Wyman, managing director, and Dusty Ingenthron, webmaster, at the WRVHS. Their enthusiasm and cooperation have allowed me to bring this Project-Based Learning idea to fruition for my seventh-graders!
Click here for a previous post about how this idea got started.