Odd Day


So, here’s what’s happening. I’ve written a post for another blog and hopefully it will be up soon and I will link to it when it goes up. And next week, no post because it’s Pesach and I’ll be celebrating with my family.

And that’s all I was going to say today. I mean, I could talk about Steubenville, but it’s too depressing and I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times. But then I was watching Bill Maher and he had on Michelle Rhee, who I already hate because she talks smack about my cousin (and because I fundamentally disagree with her on education), and she said something I want to talk about so I’m going to.

Bill Maher asked her what any individual teacher can do in an environment where poverty and a lack of education and/or ability to be involved on the part of the parents seems to create the major problem. Rhee insisted teachers CAN make a difference, and cited her experience visiting an underperforming school at which most classes were ill-attended. But one teacher’s classroom was full to the brim that first period, with 35 kids in the room. She asked one of the, as she described, “tougher”-looking kids in the room what was up with that, and he said this teacher was really good because he always teaches them something new every day, and because he always answers all the questions they have. Later, she saw him and his friends walking out of the building despite the fact that they still should have been in class. They said that the other teachers were boring, so although they made a point of making it into first period, they were out for the day now. They had better stuff to do.

Rhee’s point is that this teacher is awesome enough to get these otherwise unmotivated kids out of bed and into school in the mornings just because they like being in his classroom. Which is great. I mean, it’s not great that these guys view school as an entertainment option instead of a responsibility/door to their future, but good for that teacher for having a dynamic, interesting classroom.

But I wanted Maher to ask the follow-up that has to be on anyone’s mind who cares about education and the direction “reform” has taken in this country – “Do the students in this teacher’s class get higher test scores?” Rhee is all about test scores to keep teachers accountable, right? So is the good pedagogy she witnessed correlated to good test scores or what? And if not (and I strongly, strongly suspect not – if for no other reason than, these kids walked out of the building when no longer sufficiently stimulated. Do you really think they show up on test day?), doesn’t Rhee need to re-evaluate what standards she uses to “hold teachers accountable”?

Like my cousin, I’m not against holding teachers accountable for doing well at their jobs. I do think that “doing well at their jobs” cannot mean “Every single teacher must be an amazing superhero with creative and engaging lesson plans every day who obviously does nothing 24-7 but teach and plan to teach and then all of those plans are awesome! And every student tests in the 99th percentile!” In the first place, that’s not how math works. If you honestly think that, if the teachers were just trying a little harder, we could get every student in this country somewhere into the 90th percentile on standardized tests that are GRADED ON A CURVE, you are too stupid to pass those same tests. In the second, amazing superheroes in ANY job are really rare. And they’re even rarer when the pay is what we can afford to pay public school teachers. (Which is not always terrible, depending on where you live, but if someone was that amazing, intelligent, creative, and energetic, and willing to dedicated all their time to a job, they could probably get paid significantly more elsewhere.)

But anyway. While it’s fine to hold teachers accountable, you have to have standards that make sense. And if you are calling out one kind of teacher as the good kind, the kind that can make a difference, you have to make sure your evaluative processes would reward that kind of teacher. And if you don’t, you’re either too lazy to do it or you’re committed to your own evaluative processes for some other reason that has nothing to do with genuinely wanting the best schools for our kids.

So, Michelle Rhee, did that teacher’s students do well on standardized tests?


First, I must apologize. I am exhausted. I have had a very long weekend. Awesome, but long. Come to think of it, I’ve had a very awesome but long few months. So this is going to be even more half-baked than last week.

Do any of you know Crappy Pictures? This woman draws very basic cartoons about the joys and bizarre-nesses of parenting; she’s really funny and it’s cute. Last week, she posted this. I don’t think she’s gotten much flak for it, though, to be honest, I’m not about to go through all 1,000-plus comments to find out. Or even more than skimming the top five.

I feel this way sometimes but not often. I often feel like I’d like to take some vacation days from the job of parenting – and sometimes, I get to! Thanks, Jason! – but mostly I don’t feel like I want to quit parenting. I’m not saying that to assert my superiority over any other parents; I completely understand and sympathize with the desire to quit. Being a parent is often annoying and sometimes downright excruciating. I just don’t often feel like I really want more than a day off.


I would really like to quit what I’ve come to think of as the “personal assistant” parts of parenting. The remembering that it’s my week to bring cut-up fruit to preschool. The knowing exactly where her hat, mittens, snow pants, boots, and extra leggings and socks are. The knowing what the dates are to sign up for camp, for school, for dance classes, and then the getting all the forms in by that date, including her birth certificate and medical forms for every damn thing on the planet. The making of play dates. Not the going to play dates or the accepting children into my home for the purpose of play dates, but the arranging of them. The constant chauffeuring, which will the the last thing I get to stop doing, because for some reason we make children wait until they’re 16 to drive around here, instead of just building better bike paths and better-planned cities and authorizing all children who are old enough to HAVE activities after school and to ride a bike to TAKE THEIR OWN DAMN SELVES to those activities.

Wow, I’m mad about that and she’s not even old enough for that yet.

Anyway. That’s the sum total of blog-able thoughts I can have this morning. Sorry. Hopefully I’ll do better next week.

A Jewish Calendar, Or, Why Judaism Rocks

So Judaism has the reputation for being, well, a little nerdy. A little boring. A little, maybe, less fun than other religions. This notion is even promoted by some of the most celebrated Members of the Tribe! (Although this piece makes up for that one a little.)

But the truth is, Jews have some of the best holidays in the world! Take a look:

Rosh Hashannah – Our New Year. Which comes right at the start of the school year, sensibly enough. And instead of watching on TV a lit-up ball drop over a crowd of millions of people who’ve been pissing themselves because they can’t get to a Port-a-Potty, we eat bread and sweets. Delicious eggy challah, apples and honey, and anything sweet at all to celebrate a sweet New Year. Plus, usually, brisket. And who doesn’t love brisket?

Yom Kippur – Admittedly a downer, although the concert the night before is usually quite beautiful. But then you have to fast for a day, while also looking into yourself to acknowledge where you could improve for the following year. A day of meditation and reflection. And at the end, you’ll have a bagel with lox. I can think of worse things than meditation and lox for a day.

Sukkot – An eight-day-long backyard barbecue, right at the end of the summer. Awesome!

Simchat Torah – Dance Party!

Chanukah – Despite the naysaying and the negative comparisons to Christmas. Chanukah is EIGHT WHOLE DAYS of presents, gambling, and fried food. I’ll put that against a fat man in a red suit who steals your cookies and gets soot all over your house any day. (I’m lying. I love Christmas. But I also love Chanukah. And by “Chanukah”, I mean “latkes”.)

Tu B’Shevat – Do you know you are supposed to eat fruit you’ve never had before on Tu B’Shevat? Isn’t that kind of neat?

Purim – Yeah, the holiday where we dress up, get drunk, and celebrate a Jewish woman being so sexy she saved our lives? I covered that here.

Passover – A personal favorite. Perhaps not young, hip, and cool, but it’s like the Jewish Thanksgiving, in that it’s the one you come home for, the one where you welcome any and all comers into your house because godforbid a Jew shouldn’t have a seder to go to, so something like 93% of all self-identified Jews, whatever their relationship with Judaism is, get to a seder. So we drink, we tell a story, and we eat while the children play hide-and-seek. And, oh, yeah, lamb is way more delicious than turkey. Way more.

Shavuot – In recent years this has become our “outdoors” holiday. Go pray outside, go for a hike, go camping. Because religion!

And, don’t forget, we have a weekly candlelit dinner, after which sex with your spouse is a DOUBLE mitzvah! And a monthly excuse for a girl’s night!

Don’t tell us we’re the uncool religion. We know how to have fun all year round!