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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interplanetary Science 102

In our previous lesson, I presented the fundamentals of boys' and girls' most basic needs. While all humans share these and other needs, those discussed are the most essential -- once satisfied, individuals can focus more attention on their wants. While children will see to it that their needs are met by hook or by crook, it is the murky area of their conflicting wants that can ensnare unsuspecting teachers. Therefore, I offer this tutorial.

Boys want life to be fair. If you can assure them that everything will be fair, you earn some respect. This can be difficult and requires much discipline, but it's quite logical and if you have any difficulties, boys will be glad to set you straight. However, you have probably realized by now that life is not fair. While this may seem like an insurmountable obstacle to a teacher of boys, rest assured that it, too, can be dealt with quite simply. Techniques will be discussed in the next lesson.

Girls want life to be nice. Though not as treacherous as "friends," "nice" can be frustrating in its own right. Mark my words and you will be spared disappointment in the future: Nice has no limit. You will never be "nice" enough.
Now, girls believe in fair, too. They will use this word hourly, on average. Do not be fooled. Girls do not want fair. I repeat: Girls do not want "fair." When a girl says "It's not fair!" she really means, "I want you to be nicer to me." If you play fair with girls, be prepared to ignore tears.

Lest you suspect me of taking a negative view of our dear children, let me assure you that both nice and fair have clear advantages. A child truly dedicated to one or the other principle will apply it in all situations, even if the beneficiary is not him- or herself. This can be a wonderful springboard for character development... as long as you lay off their needs, as discussed in the previous lesson and to be explained further in the future.

In our next installment: Techniques for making life look fair to your advantage, and how this relates to the needs of both populations.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Interplanetary Science 101

Before you yell, I ask you to look past the sexist stereotypes, appreciate good humor, and think about the truth. I also offer the requisite disclaimer: Yes, people are complex and cannot be entirely explained through generalized rules; however, G-d created species with certain characteristics that can be used to further our understanding of the specimens in our lives. Now, for our feature presentation:

Above you will find an excerpt from "A Tale of Two Brains," Mark Gungor's attempt to explain the differences between men and women. Below please find "A Tale of two Hearts," Bas-Melech's attempt to explain the difference between boys and girls, a subject necessary for every would-be teacher to master.

To facilitate their coexistence and the continuation of the human race, boys and girls do not have the same basic needs and wants. Therefore, they are not natural competitors. However, it is essential to recognize the differences so that they can be provided. We will begin with their needs.

Boys need pride. It's really very simple. You insult me, I punch you, now we all know who's stronger. (you can now proceed with the interrupted activity.) Note to teacher: Lay off his pride or he will fight you to the death. Yours. Every boy can succeed because he'll always be able to beat somebody. If you have a real weakling, chances are he's smarter than someone. If he's a dumb weakling, he'd better have a big brother, rich father, something. He'll be OK as long as he has his pride. That was easy -- this is why I teach boys.

Now let's talk about girls. Girls need friends. This is not something any teacher can provide. Don't even try -- if you mix into friends, trouble will surely ensue. Friends are difficult to provide because one of the requirements is that they have to be entirely voluntary and whole-hearted. Even if they are entirely voluntary and whole-hearted, there is almost no way to prove this, so a girl's quest for a true friend can go on forever. Even once some friends have been acquired, they can always be lost, so watch out. If a girl fears that she is losing a friend, her entire life is cast into turmoil.

Although much more can be extrapolated on this subject, this ends our brief introductory segment on the differing needs of boys and girls. In our next installment, we will discuss the oft-conflicting wants of boys and girls and how these interact with their needs. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I remember noticing the change.
I don't remember when it happened.
I remember his somewhat better days.
I don't remember when he was really young and quick.
I remember feeling frightened:
I don't remember what it was that time --
A forgotten name?
A wobbly step?
I remember moments of relief:
I don't remember whether he'd won checkers or chess
but it proved that his mind was still here.
I remember how he cried
because my father introduced me
and he thought I was my namesake, his wife.
I remember bringing him dinner
I don't remember what was wrong
but he refused to eat, like a child.
I remember knowing that we'd lost him.
I don't remember whether that was before
or after
he died.

On the occasion of my grandfather's yahrtzeit.
(Written a few years ago)
He was a very special person who did a lot for the preservation of observant Judaism in America.
I never knew that person.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just had a little idea... wonder if it would work.

Team Lifeline ran last week in Miami. The idea of running for a cause motivated a lot of people to get fit in a way that they may have pondered before, but didn't actually do. Hey, even I considered it...

So I was thinking, what if I could get people to sponsor my students' quiz grades? Maybe they'd actually start learning? And what about behavior? I'm starting a classroom economy this week, where they earn "money" for following rules and such. I could offer to donate "maaser" of their earnings in real money. We could have a big, clear bottle in the office (classroom doesn't lock) as our goal -- Every time the bottle fills, we can go to the bank to roll the coins and send a check to a different charity. The kids can see and feel that they're doing something real.

Anyone want to make an offer?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Elementary, dear Watson

OK, the poll is closed and now it's time to explain what it was all about.

Our friend, the former blogger Behind A Smile, noted that most of her American friends like the Sherlock Holmes series while her non-American friends are decidedly less enthusiastic. We decided to see whether this phenomenon is universal, or if it's just that Ms. Smile keeps odd company.

The first fact that the survey revealed is that there are twenty-one participating readers of this blog. Now that I have proof of your existence, I demand that you show yourselves. I like my readers. Don't be shy, you can comment just to say hello and tell me how much you love me :-)

The next shocking revelation was that nearly a third of those readers haven't read Sherlock Holmes. I recommend that you check it out. I find them both relaxing and stimulating, a rare combination made even more flavorful by the old-style English. You can borrow mine; the semester's getting underway and I don't have much time for pleasure reading anymore.

As for the original intent, while most of the American participants do, in fact, like Sherlock Holmes, the non-american participants were evenly split. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of my readers are American, so the results of the study are inconclusive.

In closing, I give you this link to clarify the title of this post.

A moment in the life

I tend to agree with modern educational philosophy that supports making students think. I'm all for encouraging critical thinking instead of just cramming kids with information, validating their ideas, and all the rest. But the bottom line is, beneath all that hype, we teachers have an agenda. Or at least a curriculum of actual facts that we want our students to know.

At times, bridging the two -- the thinking and the information, that is -- requires the skill of a mental contortionist.

Take this lesson, for example. We were learning about vaccines, and we'd already learned about how epidemics spread, so I was hoping that with a little pulling, I could get the kids to synthesize the two concepts:

Miss Melech: OK, so I understand now that it's a good idea for me to get shots so I don't get sick. But before I go to camp, they give me a form for my doctor to sign, saying that I got my vaccinations. Why should they care?
(Stated objective on lesson plan: Open-ended question gets kids to think critically.
Actual objective: Understand that if one person gets sick, it can spread to others, so it's in everyone's best interest for everyone to get stay healthy)

Kid: They don't want you to get sick.
MM: So? Why should they care if I get sick? It's my tough luck.
Kid: They won't pay for your medicine.
MM: Well, that's also my tough luck. Why should they care if I don't want shots? What happens when one person gets sick?
Kid: If they don't give you medicine, you could die.
MM: Chas v'shalom! But still, what difference does it make to other people if I get sick in camp?
Kid: They don't like making funerals.

Can you beat this logic?