No More Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room: Tracking Chips On the Rise for Junior High and High School Students

I have a child in junior high and a child in high school. Every day, both of them must wear their school-issued identification card on a lanyard around their necks at all times. The doors to their schools are locked at 8:30 a.m.  After being checked out on a video camera and buzzed in, parents and other visitors must present a driver’s license upon entering the building, and then that visitor is issued a sticker with a scanned image of their license picture and their name in bold letters.  The sticker must be worn at all times while on school grounds.

My children do not attend school in the Gaza Strip. They are in a small Texas suburb where, honestly, the biggest threat to their well-being are West Nile mosquitoes, all of which, sadly, are too tiny for State-issued sticky-IDs.

Still, it is not enough. Now in addition to their dog-collars…err.. I mean “IDs,”… soon, they, like thousands of other Texas’ kids, will be required to have their IDs “chipped,” as in microchipped with GPS tracking devices that will let administrators and, presumably, teachers, know where they are at all times.

Not surprisingly, there has been backlash. One student, Andrea Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas, just won the right to refuse to wear the embedded identification.  While Hernandez’s reasons for balking at the requirement may be unusual (she believes the tracking is “Satanic”), many parents and students also contend that the practice is invasive and in violation of their rights. It all feels a little too creepily “Big Brother-ish” to lots of dissenters.

For their part, schools are embracing the GPS IDs because increased attendance means increased funding. Additionally, they claim that students’ “rights being violated” is inapplicable since the students are under age. Moreover, there are voices on all sides, parents, teachers, administrators, and students, who argue that there should be nothing to worry about and no objections…if your student (or you) are where they (or you) are supposed to be.

What do you think? Yes to chips or no? And why?


2002 Has No Idea What You’re Talking About, 2012!

A couple of years ago, my then 10-year-old son declared that “everything is the best it could ever be.” He was quite sure that, new iPhone in hand, nothing could surpass the (then) current marvels of the Modern World.  I was just as sure that everything could and would be surpassed. Twenty-five years ago, if you told any adult that typewriters would be as extinct as the buffalo, no one would have believed it.  Today, 95% my 19 and 20-year-old students have never even touched a typewriter. I have seen card catalog cabinets busted up for firewood (not really, but you get it). I remember when floppy disks really were floppy. Now there aren’t even disks! I remember when…. excuse me, “Hey, kid! Get off my lawn!!” 

Anyway, a group of friends and I got into a discussion about what has changed in the last ten years. I asked them to come up with sentences that would have made no sense to someone in 2002.  Here is what we came up with:

1.   There’s an app for that!

2.  You can download movies to your tv and control it with your Android tablet.

3.  Did you check in? I’m the mayor of this coffee shop.

4.  “I’ll Facebook you.”

5.  “I’ll Text You”…”I’ll IM You.”

6.  I just got this 4D camera.

7.  I can de-friend anybody I want to.

8.   I am going to put all these thumbnails on my flashdrive.

9.  I asked a silly question and got over 60 responses from all over the country in a matter of a few minutes.

10.   I 3D printed a new handle for my suitcase.

11.  Call Homeland Security.

12.  Dang it! I got busted by a red-light camera.

13.  Did you see the Tupac hologram?

14.  There’s a fee for checked in baggage.

15.  Let me check Snooki’s Twitter feed.

16.  I drove over a cliff because I trusted my GPS.

17.  Hey, wanna Skype?

18.  Gay marriage was approved by voters in several states.

19.  We elected a black president. Twice!

20.  I store my books and music in the cloud.

21.  I don’t know what time that show comes on. Everything’s on the DVR.

22.  Send that PDF to my FTP.

23.  Stream it.

24.  I’ll download the podcast from iTunes.

25.   Park in the Blink so we can recharge the car.

26.  thx ttyl kbye o_0

27.  “Can I haz cheeseburger?”

28.  Do you have a Tumblr?

29.  Would you take a picture of my paycheck and send it to BofA?

30.  Occupy Wall Street

31.  Fracking destroys water supplies.

What about you? Can you think of any more words in common use that would not have made sense in 2002? We’d love to hear them.  Who knows what is coming, and what will be obsolete by 2022.


Life of Pi: the Book and the Movie

“Which story do you prefer?”

Have you been following the trailers for Life of Pi?

After months of anticipation, I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of it last night. The new movie is the cinematic adaptation of Yann Martel’s celebrated 2001 novel, is directed by Ang Lee, and has been generating Oscar buzz for weeks thanks to its imaginative art direction and astounding special effects. But there’s more about the film you should know…

There are a lot of movie adaptations set to be released in the upcoming months–The Hobbit, Anna Karenina, and The Great Gatsby to name a few–the wait for which brings excitement to the literary masses, though the products often bring disappointment; avid readers time after time conclude that the magic that comes with reading a novel just cannot be translated onto the big screen. And I am usually one of them.

But Life of Pi is a unique case. For one thing, I actually didn’t even enjoy the book all that much. My apologies in advance to the die-hard fans out there, because I know you’re there; the novel has such a polarizing effect, it seems that everyone I’ve ever talked to about it either loved it or couldn’t finish it. On the one hand, its manuscript was rejected by five publishing houses before it was accepted by Knopf, on the other it was endorsed by President Obama in a private letter to Martel as, “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Oh yes, and it won the Man Booker Prize in 2002.

What kind of precedence does that set for its translation into film? Well, having watched the movie, I can say that it’s given me a new appreciation for Martel’s storytelling. His writing, so hard for me to get through on paper, has been transformed into a format that can celebrate all of its surrealist qualities and make them magical. Just watch the scenes on meerkat island if you don’t believe me.

But you’d have to celebrate that surreality to make the film a success. In a novel, the allegorical tale of a boy sharing a lifeboat with a massive Bengal tiger just works. In a movie, the fact that it’s impossible to throw your lead actor in with a real-life mankiller is only upstaged by the greater challenge of bringing character to the animal and making him real. On that I will only say that I was told that fewer than a quarter of the tiger shots in the film depicted a non-CG tiger. Good luck picking out which ones. Not only do we end up believing Richard Parker is real and alive, but we, like Pi, believe in his soul, all thanks to the reality-bending technology of computer graphics and the artistry of Parker’s animators.

Because of his embrace of the novel’s surreality, director Ang Lee has not only managed to retell Martel’s story, but to bring to it a spark of magic that is normally only reserved for the original book, something relatively unheard of in an adaptation.

Based on Martel’s own words from the novel, I think he’d agree:

“That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?”

Life of Pi

So, are you excited to see a movie based on this bestselling book? What are your thoughts and expectations for movie adaptations, or this one in particular?

More on Life of Pi from eNotes:

The Life of Pi eNotes Study Guide, a perfect reading companion complete with chapter summaries and analysis. Have a question? Post it to our Q&A area for the novel and our expert editors will provide answers.

Test your knowledge of the novel with eNotes’ Life of Pi Study Questions.

Teachers, planning on teaching Life of Pi in the classroom? We have an eNotes exclusive Teaching Unit to help you with that, plus related lesson plans from Prestwick House Publishers to aid your instruction.


Would You Tattoo for Education?

Private schools, well-known for their tolerance of the off-beat,  surely welcomed Kari Smith’s son into their fold (sarcasm). In 2005, unable to afford the pricey tuition, Kari did what…well, almost no one, I had hoped… would do. She offered her forehead as advertising space online and soon had a taker, the virtual casino “Golden Palace.com.”

Like me, you may have hoped that this was a random act of desperation but alas, it was just the beginning. While mobile marketing like wrapped cars are a frequent sight, they just aren’t able to get into tight spaces, like Wal-marts. Did I mention Ms. Smith collected a cool $10,000? That fact motivated dozens of other people to go under the tattoo gun.  If you think this sounds like a dandy idea, check out http://leaseyourbody.com. The website promises you will get “novel attention.” And for those of us who are writers, any attention, especially the “novel” kind, gives us pause.


Ruh Roh, JK Rowling Upsets Middle England and Sikh Community

It seems that when beloved Harry Potter author JK Rowling departed Hogwarts with her latest novel, she strayed a little far from her adoring public, too. The new book, A Casual Vacancy, has been published for all of a week and is already shrouded in controversy. Though it was never intended to be for a young audience, its mature content was the first apparent no-no that sent some readers over the edge. Next, she offended her home county of Gloucestershire by depicting its inhabitants as snobby bigots. Now, the author battles allegations that her novel is offensive to Sikhs, and may actually face a nation-wide ban in India. Deary me. Before we’re all caught up in the sensationalism of these allegations, here are the straight facts of the book:

1. This is NOT Harry Potter and the Casual Vacancy, people.

Anyone expecting this book to be a follow-up to the Harry Potter series, or even in the same vein, has quite the shock coming. Clearly, when she wrote The Casual Vacancy Rowling was looking to her next project as a departure from the world of fantasy that she dwelt in before. I think I would be too if I had been writing in the same world for nearly two decades. She has been quite clear from the start that this is not one for the kiddies.

Unfortunately, the writer will have a hard time shaking the identity associated with her name, as parents now have the tough task of explaining to their kids that they can’t read the latest Jo Rowling creation. For one thing, her self-described “rural comedy of manners” has some quite mature content. While the most deplorable word uttered in Harry Potter was b****, in this one Rowling gets a little more, um, creative… In fact, some of the scenarios and colorful vocab seem to have been heightened by the sheer fact that Rowling couldn’t write them in her first seven published novels. She explains her need to write the rude bits in an interview with The New Yorker:

She was ready for a change of genre. “I had a lot of real-world material in me, believe you me,” Rowling said. “The thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy. You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.”

Quite right. In any case, you’ve been forewarned–this one is rated R.

2. This book should be placed under the Fiction section.

Rowling comes from a small village in the English countryside called Tutshil. While she probably used the quaint Gloucestershire surroundings as inspiration for the backdrop of her story, I doubt the plot of a parish council election gone haywire is anything but the figment of her imagination. However, the book’s fictional town of Pagford, “a hotbed of cruelty and snobbery,” has tongues wagging all over Middle England, saying Rowling has shed an unflattering light on her home county, probably for “the novel’s bleak subject matter, which includes child abuse, prostitution and drugs.”

Does nobody read that fine-print reminder that everything and everyone contained in the book is a work of fiction, and not based on facts or real people? I suppose that message flies out the window when your hometown’s feelings are hurt. Still, this is a little blown out of proportion.

3. The characters’ thoughts do not reflect the author’s.

This goes for any book. One doesn’t read American Psycho and assume Bret Easton Ellis shares the views of deranged serial killer Patrick Bateman. But for some reason, perhaps because of the grand scale that this novel has debuted on, readers are offended by the derogatory views expressed by a select group of unsavory characters in The Casual Vacancy. In particular, the language used in reference to an Indian girl in the novel has members of the Sikh community in an uproar.

In the novel, Sukhvinder is a young Sikh girl who is bullied by some of her peers. In the dialogue (NOT in the third-person objective narration) she is meanly called “the Great Hermaphrodite,” a “hairy man-woman,” and finally “mustachioed yet large-mammaried.” It’s these descriptions of her that out of context have Sikh spokesman Avtar Singh Makkar calling for a widespread ban of the novel. Note: the important words to reiterate there are out of context.

From The Telegraph,

Rowling has said she included Sukhvinder’s experiences as an example of “corrosive racism”. She has spoken of her admiration for the Sikh faith and said she was fascinated by a religion in which men and women are “explicitly described as equal in the holy book”.

A spokesman for Hachette, Rowling’s publisher, said the remarks were made by a character bullying Sukhvinder. “It is quite clear in the text of the book that negative thoughts, actions and remarks made by a character, Fats, who is bullying Sukhvinder, are his alone. When described in the narrative voice, the depiction of Sukhvinder is quite different to this,” the spokesman said.

However, Rowling’s statement of defense may not be enough to prevent a country-wide boycott of The Casual Vacancy in India, if the members of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee deem it derogatory once they’ve finished reading it.

                                                            

The whole controversy surrounding this novel has obviously been brought on by the massive expectations set for Rowling. She certainly wouldn’t have had to face such scrutiny had this novel been published before her famed fantasy series. I can’t help but think that it’s not really fair for her to be accused of such things; it’s as though everyone holds Rowling to a higher standard than other fiction writers. Is it possible for her to shake the Harry Potter image and create a new fan base? Mixed reviews for the content of the book aside, do you feel this criticism is warranted or not?


Names and Nonsense: Ten Curious Names of the Famous, Infamous, and Others

Naming your baby is a weighty task. Most people strive to select names that either have a connection to family or ones that have a  certain panache.  But then there is that portion of the public where the name they select for their newborn is either offensive, unpronounceable, or unbelievable…sometimes all three. In the United States, you can name your baby Dustpan Ghoul III if you please. Hey,  freedom of speech, although I am guessing none of the Founding Fathers would have envisioned this right being applied to Lil’ Dustpan. Some countries, however, are not so laissez-faire. In New Zealand, as much as you may want to,  you are officially, not, nope, no way, allowed to name your bundle o’ joy “Anal” and your fall-back choice, “Prince of Darkness,” is out too. Here are a few odd names from history that you will probably be glad you never heard screamed at you on the playground.

1.  Armand Hammer, famous industrialist born on 21 May 1898 in Manhattan, New York. His father “had named him after the symbol of the Socialist Labor Party.” As a youth, he sometimes claimed that his father had named him after Armand Duval, a character in the Alexandre Dumas novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848).

2.  Ima Hogg: Ima Hogg’s first name was taken from The Fate of Marvin, an epic poem written by her uncle Thomas Hogg. She endeavored to downplay her unusual name by signing her first name illegibly and having her stationery printed with “I. Hogg” or “Miss Hogg”. Although it was rumored that Hogg had a sister named “Ura Hogg”, she had only brothers.

3.  Christine Daae: The Phantom of the Opera fan “changed her name from Victoria Bohm by deed poll” so that “if the Phantom came back today he would have a Christine Daae who would stay by him at the end.”

4. Kal-El Coppola: Is there some sort of pretentiousness contest when celebrities have babies? I vote for Superboy, aka Kal-El, son of He-of-the-Perpetually receding hair-line, Nicholas Cage.

5.  Velveeta: Anyone who has taught for as long as I have has their own personal stash of unusual names. My all-time favorite was a woman named “Velveeta.” She simply explained her mom loved the … cheese… and liked the sound of the product name. Velveeta, the woman, isn’t famous yet but I would not be a bit surprised if she was one day.

6.  Ikea: My 15-year-old daughter has a classmate named “Ikea.” My guess is that the Dr. Spock manual was about as helpful as assembly instructions in Swedish.

7.  Lady Bird Johnson: If I had titled this image “Claudia Alta Johnson” I bet those of you non-Texans would have no clue who this woman was.  She is in fact, the former First Lady of the United States, wife of Lyndon Baines Johnson. “Though she was named for her mother’s brother Claud, during her infancy, her nurse, Alice Tittle, commented, she was as “purty as a ladybird,” which is a brightly colored beetle. “That nickname virtually replaced her actual first name for the rest of her life. Her father and siblings called her Lady, though her husband called her Bird, which is the name she used on her marriage license. During her teenage years, her schoolmates had called her Bird, though mockingly, since she reportedly was not fond of the name.”

8.  Tupac Shakur: One of most recognizable faces and one of the best-selling artists of the 1990s and beyond, Tupac is indeed his given name and he was named after an ancient Incan warrior and chief.

9. Dovakiim: Completely, 100% accurate representation of the offspring of two obsessed Skyrim fans. I think I hear Triumph the Insult Comic Dog warming up in the background… On the plus side, he need never leave his parents’ basement as the reward for naming him “Dovakiim” is a lifetime supply of free games from Bethesda.

10.  Napoleon:  Perhaps you want to honor your French heritage. Perhaps you just like the polysyllabic name Napoleon.  Everyone knows the dangers of giving your child a lofty name to live up to. Maybe it will work out for Cash, or Lakshme, or Sultan. But it might also be this…

How about you? What memorable names have you come across? Whether it be someone you know, a name from history, literature, a celebrity, whether you have been given an unusual name yourself, or given someone a unique name… we’d love to hear them!


Are You with the Banned?

Celebrating Banned Books Week,

September 30th-October 6th

Banned Books Week is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary! “Celebrating the freedom to read,” this annual event aims to raise awareness for the works of literature that are frequently challenged by and even banned from communities across the country.

Did you know that some of the best works of all time, and very often the ones you’ll have studied in school, have at one time or another been censored from the public? Did you know that the practice of censorship in literature still goes on today?

Yup, somewhere out there, a blinkered individual could actually be pondering at this very moment the dangers of a mind raised on an “occultist” story like Bridge to Terabithia, while someone of the same mindset argues that the bildungsroman The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “unsuited to a teenage audience.” Seriously.

And it’s not all Sex, by Madonna, Gossip Girl and l8r, g8r that are considered poised to corrupt our youth either. No, those are part of a tiny minority. What are the most frequently banned books? Our greatest ones, of course.

Of Random House’s list of the 100 best novels of all time, 46 classics have been either challenged or banned altogether, some on a frequent basis. Of Mice and Men is one that is commonly challenged today. Even in the last decade the list of banned books still includes To Kill a Mockingbird (for “racial themes”), Brave New World (for “insensitivity, offensive language,” and probably for being dystopian), and The Catcher in the Rye (for being “a filthy, filthy book”), proving we are far from the progressive culture we may like to think of ourselves as.

No sauciness allowed. Of all the reasons books are banned or challenged, sexual explicitness is cited the most often.

Even when it does not concern “important” works, the point at hand here is that individuals and governments consider it their right to censor what others read, and that (to me) sounds borderline Cultural Revolution/Big Brother-esque. It’s a tad hypocritical that the freedom of speech has been such a huge part of the public discourse lately, while so little thought is ever given to intellectual freedom:

Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate, and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information.

Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th edition

If libraries begin to ban books from the public, we’ve basically descended into a Fahrenheit 451 situation. Oh wait, that’s another banned book, so that analogy means nothing…

If a book offends you, don’t read it. But please, don’t worry that Harry Potter will turn an entire generation of kids into wand-wielding Satan worshipers. Moreover, if the people trying to censor these stories really took the time to read them, they might just realize how much more faith in humanity these “offensive” books store than the censors do themselves.

There’s a lot more out there to fear than a mind fed with imagination, fantasy, and original thought. And with that, I’ll get off my soapbox.

To see a visual history of the last thirty years of banned books, check out this great timeline from the American Library Association. It contains thirty entries between 1982’s banning of Slaughterhouse Five (a “just plain filthy” book) and 2012’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (banned for concerning “ethnic studies”). You can also find out who’s behind most of the book challenges, and other information, in the ALA’s Statistics page.

More famous banned books:

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence

My Sister’s Keeper, Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

The Chocolate War, Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

His Dark Materials trilogy, Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

What are your thoughts on banned books? Do some deserve to be taken off the shelves? If so, which ones? We’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 821 other followers