Book donations!

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As I was thinking about what to share with you this week I gave some deep thought to trashing John Bel Edwards and his tax-raising, money-grabbing administration of our state, and I also thought about listing the myriad reasons why Mitch Landrieu would be a terrible president of our country should he actually run (I think he will run, for the record), but instead I’ve decided to be more positive today and write about philanthropy and the generosity people have in their hearts.

I do a lot of writing on my own blog and in other places about my classroom and my students; it is no secret to anyone that I stand in strong opposition to Common Core which has stripped my sophomore English classroom of novels and implemented a 75% non-fiction reading curriculum.  I firmly believe that my students need to read novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.  They need to be able to get lost in the pages of a novel, to lose track of their world for a bit and vicariously experience the lives of Scout Finch, Daisy Buchanan, Harry Potter,  Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Meggie from Inkheart, or even Boy21.

In the spring of this year I polled my students about their reading habits and was dismayed to find that almost none of them had read a book for pleasure since elementary school.  They were very candid about their reading and their feelings about it.  Giving me some small hope, I also learned that many of them enjoyed reading in the past but as they advanced through school and they were channeled into more unpleasant reading chores, they turned against it.  I figured then that maybe I could reignite a love of reading in my students, despite the Common Core mandate that fiction is passé.

So to that end I began my campaign to build a classroom library.  I wrote about it (and my students’ responses) on this blog in May.  My goal was to accumulate 500 high-interest books, YA and classics, by the time school starts on August 6.

I’ve spend the summer painting bookshelves in my classroom and collecting books.  I’ve begged for books on this blog and my own and I’ve combed local thrift stores every week since May.  I now have nearly two hundred books for my library!  It’s not my goal of 500, but it’s not August 6, either.  I’m still going!

The kindness of strangers has overwhelmed me – literally.  I established an Amazon Wish List and people I don’t even know have sent books, many with the most supportive and kind notes included!   I’ve received both new and gently used books from the Wish List and people have boxed up books that would be of interest to teenagers from their own homes and sent to me.  It’s amazing!

As each book comes in, I cover the paperbacks with clear ConTact paper to protect them, log them into a database, and put a book pocket and checkout card in the back.  Book jackets for hardbacks are laminated.  I want these to last a long time.  The books that I’ve never read, I read.  I want to be able to “sell” these books to my kids so I have had to do a lot of catching up on YA fiction.  I’ve read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller who is the goddess of classroom libraries and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.

Book donations are still trickling in and I hope that as school starts they will pick up again and I can reach my goal of 500 books.  I have a project on Donors Choose that I hope gets funded and I’ve written a couple of grants that I hope come through.

My point here is one of optimism.  I believe people are really good and really want to help when they see a need.  I’ve seen such generosity and philanthropy through this project that it really lifts my heart.  I spent much of last year angry about not being able to share fiction and reading with my students.  They are in tenth grade and naturally have little interest in an unvaried diet of Supreme Court decisions, presidential speeches, and scientific articles which comprise 75% of our curriculum.

This year, I’m excited about returning to my classroom and introducing them to new worlds!  An of course research shows that readers score better on tests which will make my administration happy.  I care less about tests than creating lifelong readers, but it is a necessary evil, and my students do get a sense of pride when they score well.

At any rate, I have about three more weeks of summer and more thrift shops to hit to reach my goal.  My Wish List is here if you’d like to send us a book.  But most of all, remember, people are really good and even though we see a lot of anger and negativity in the world these days, sometimes we need to look past that and find something positive to hold on to!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (Oct/’18). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Obviously Ayn Rand didn’t write this book. But she could have…

If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.

– Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

 

President Trump visited NATO and told them to buck up and pay their fair share. Gee, if only someone had seen that coming…

Continue reading “NATO Shrugged”

The Blue Whale, Catoosa, OK

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I am guilty of sitting around in my insulated world and not tapping into the wanderlust that is deep in my soul.  I am perfectly content to sit at home under the branches of my magnolia tree and read books.  Thankfully, my husband is more proactive and so every so often we get in the car and actually go someplace.

It is seldom anywhere romantic or exotic like Europe; usually it is to the Midwest to see his family in Iowa.  We have just returned from a two thousand mile trip through six states and while it wasn’t Paris, it was just what I needed.

I love getting out and meeting people on the road, hearing their stories, and tapping back into the heart of America.  I spend far too much time on the wrong side of the computer screen.

We drove Route 66 through Oklahoma and, armed with my maps and research, we explored The Mother Road and its roadside attractions.  We located original alignments and near Sapulpa, Oklahoma even found a patch where the asphalt had worn away right down to the original Portland concrete.

Sometimes it’s the little things!

We met a couple there who were doing the same thing; they had done half of Route 66 last year and were back this year to finish it up.  “We thought we could do it in two weeks,” he explained, “but each time we stop and talk to people or look at something, well, two hours have gone by!”

Near Catoosa, Oklahoma where The Blue Whale is, we met a man on a motorcycle who was taking the Mother Road east to west on his bike with his daughter; she learned how to ride just to do the trip with him.

In Baxter Springs, Kansas, where the Rainbow Bridge is, we found the friendliest people of the entire trip.  We talked to a man over breakfast who was originally from Louisiana so we had a lot in common.

This is what is so restorative about our little summer trips to the Midwest: we meet the nicest people, hear the coolest stories, and see the neatest things.  It’s not Paris, it’s not London, it’s America.  Real America, real people, and the roots of who we all are.  The trip restored my faith in us as a country and as a people.  To read the news, we are all angry about something or injured in some way by a monument or a bias.

This isn’t really true.  We are a land of proud people who love their communities and who have the capacity to reach out and be human.  We show kindness and can welcome strangers into our cities and towns.  We take time to talk to each other and find common bonds.  We share stories and meals and we always can appreciate the simple joys and the beauty around us.

Get outside this summer, y’all!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

USS VIRGINIA (CGN-38), By Camera Operator: PH2 D. KNEISLER (ID:DN-SC-88-06640 / Service Depicted: Navy) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You can’t stop hearing about the Chinese Navy and their advances in technology. Did you know they have an aircraft carrier?

There is a “considerable chance” the number of aircraft-carrying ships available in the Chinese navy will be seven instead of four by 2025 because of a “lower profile defense program” that has already taken shape, a new report indicates.

Or what about a super cool railgun, apparently better than the U.S. Navy’s?

While the United States spent years dithering over the future of its much-hyped electromagnetic railgun project, China ate its lunch. The Chinese navy plans to field its own secretive version of the electromagnetic railgun on naval vessels as early as 2025, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment first reported by CNBC.

Or the latest Chinese anti-ship missiles?

China unveiled its Type 055 naval destroyer on June 28, the latest step in its decade and a half of military buildup. The new Chinese destroyer outcompetes U.S. destroyers and cruisers, highlighting a major failure in U.S. Navy planning that stretches back to the 1990s. Given the 055’s long-range supersonic YJ-18 and YJ-12 over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), the Chinese destroyer currently outcompetes U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyers and bigger Ticonderoga class cruisers.

Man, it’s like so…1971.

Continue reading “China’s Navy is a flashback to the 70’s”

President Trump’s announcement that he wants a Space Force has sparked plenty of complaints and tons of memes. He’s not the first to clamor for a space force, but he would be foolish to let the Air Force (which seems like a logical choice) run the Space Force.

The President needs to put a retired Admiral or Marine in charge of any Space Force if he plans to get it off the ground.

Continue reading “Put an Admiral in charge of the Space Force”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I abhor censorship, especially when it comes to books and things like banned books lists and instances where people who deem themselves more forward thinking than all the rest of us in their decisions to “protect” us from offensive material.

You will have no doubt heard by now about the decision to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious book award title:

A division of the American Library Association has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans.

The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) made the unanimous decision to change the name on Saturday, at a meeting in New Orleans. The name of the prize was changed from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

The association said Wilder “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values”.

The first award was given to Wilder in 1954. The ALSC said Wilder’s work continued to be published and read but her “legacy is complex” and “not universally embraced.”

So this is my question:  why must something be “universally embraced” for it to be acceptable?

As a child I read every one of the Little House on the Prairie books; I loved them.  They transported me to that frontier era and taught me a lot about how those early settlers survived.  I was fascinated by them.

I never read the books as a child and thought, “Well, my goodness, that’s an awfully racist way to depict Indians.”

The Association for Library Service to Children has the right to make decisions about their own award, certainly.  What concerns me, and always has when it comes to things like this, is where does it stop?  Are we now to go back and revise every piece of literature that mentions Indian violence on the frontier?

What else in our American literary canon might offend someone?  The list could be pretty extensive.

This is so closely related to those people who want to ban To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from reading lists and libraries because they contain language we no longer use today.

Somebody cue Guy Montag…he can handle this.

 

 

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  She is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter.


Amidst all the news about the military housing children illegally entering the country (because somehow that relates to fighting our nation’s wars??), the story about the abrupt resignation of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON), the most senior enlisted leader in the Navy, seems to have received little press coverage. But it’s a big deal. He was under IG investigation for having a toxic work environment, and the resignation is seen by many as acknowledging that the charges are at least partially true. We now have a vacant MCPON seat, the first time in the positions 50+ year history.

Should we even bother filling it?

Continue reading “Why exactly do we have a MCPON?”

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) President and CEO Stephen Hayes CCA Chairman of the Board of Directors and Symbion Power CEO Paul Hinks February 2, 2016

President Trump has been making news with desire to close trade gaps with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada, attempting to counter trade practices that make it significantly more difficult to export to these countries and have resulted in a significant trade gap with the world. While we keep focusing on these big countries, I think we’re missing opportunities that are presenting themselves in Africa.

Continue reading “Since we’re talking trade, let’s talk about Africa”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In my post last week I attempted to take you inside the Common Core classroom, to pull back the curtain and show the complete and utter loss of autonomy and creativity teachers have experienced under this program to the point that teachers are not even allowed to use their own words; we work from scripts, prepared slides, and prepared teacher notes.

From my post last week:

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled, and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

There are many problems with this approach to teaching, only one of which is that every student is taught in the exact same way.  All that training we received on diversified learning styles was apparently hogwash.

Another problem is that some teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of recriminations, so we don’t really know how bad this really is.  Some of us just close our door and teach the way we know students learn.  We use our own words and our own activities developed with specific student needs in mind.  Then when the test scores come back, and they are wonderful, it looks like Common Core is working.

Let’s restate that: teachers are silently rebelling against this boring drivel and teaching as they were trained, and they can’t speak out for fear of getting in trouble.

Other teachers are just leaving the profession.  The nationwide teacher shortage is epic.

Consider this teacher from Georgia; explaining why she left the classroom she writes:

You start talking to teachers, trying to figure out where their fire for education has gone – why they appear as robots, or automatons, simply going through the motions. What has happened? You dig deeper and learn of prescribed and scripted curriculum; teachers are expected to be at the same point in the same lesson every day. For transient students that idea seems based in reason, but the practice has been detrimental to teachers.

You learn of the pressure felt by both teachers and students to perform well on standardized tests. You learn of the autonomy stolen from teachers to make any decision beyond a seating chart in their room. You learn of the complete lack of empowerment (and active process of disempowerment) of the teachers and then learn this is a widespread issue. Teachers across the country are begging for a shift away from this robotic sort of teaching.

Some are leaving the field. I did, and, while I ultimately found myself working toward my doctorate, I knew the k-12 space was no longer an option as I refuse to leave my brain on the sidelines and act as a robot. Feeling disempowered was a nonnegotiable for me and for many educators.

It’s all about the test.

When did it quit being about the students?

Michael Deshotels at Louisiana Educator writes:

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today’s world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the American education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

As a veteran educator it hurts me to see this happening to students.  I don’t teach English: I teach kids, and I care deeply about my students.  To see their eyes glaze over when the slides come up and the informational texts come out, when the script is read, is so disheartening.  So yes, I’m that teacher that goes off script. But I’m also speaking out.  Tentatively and yes, with some fear.  I love my job and don’t want to lose it.

At this point I can only hope that this fad goes the way of all of the others that I’ve seen in my twenty-three years.  These programs hang around for five years or so and then we reinvent the wheel and do something else.  I hope I can survive this one.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

I really liked Anthony Bourdain’s shows. And while I don’t know Kate Spade, I didn’t like the news that she also committed suicide.

But I’ve written before on suicide (here, if you’d like an older article), and I’ve been watching young people over the last ten years. I honestly don’t think it’s going to get any better in the short term.

Continue reading “Fiddling with the edges of suicide”