Thursday, June 26, 2014

Local Color

Four years ago we moved to Scooba, MS, population 600 or so.  It's in Kemper County, next to the Alabama state line.  Not much has happened in Kemper County.  It's all farmland.  It used to be cotton and corn, owned by white farmers and worked by black sharecroppers.  When farm profits crashed, the white farmers sold their land to the timber companies and moved away.  The black sharecroppers were left with no work and no way out except for a degree from the old agricultural high school, now turned into a community college.  The farm houses were torn down and what used to be a landscape dotted with the lights of tiny family farms is now mile after mile of blank pine plantation, it's paved roads torn out and replaced with dirt to discourage traffic.  The buildings on Main Street are being torn down for bricks; there's only two left intact.  The rest are piles of rubble being wrapped in plastic and shipped out.

The biggest thing that's happened locally took place about half an hour from here, right outside Philadelphia.  Fifty years ago last Saturday night three civil rights workers were murdered in the cause of defending state's rights against those who would help the state's citizens register to vote.  It's hard to find the exact spot these days.  There's no marker.


It happened just down the road from the Neshoba County Fair, a teeny-tiny gated vacation community for second-tier rich people out in the middle of nowhere.  It's not what you usually think of when you hear the words "county fair", more like a miniature Jackson's Hole (without the scenery) than an amusement park.  You find it by looking for the tiny pastel houses enclosed in a huge, black iron fence.  Sixteen years after the murders, Ronald Reagan would kick off his first Presidential campaign with a rousing speech defending state's rights.  Not one word did he say about the blood spilled on the ground just beyond the gates.

I remember Mississippi folks being surprised, and quite a few of them disturbed, by that omission.  Some people defended him, saying he was incompetent, not amoral.  "He's an actor.  He doesn't know the context."


It was 1980.  The world did not yet know that Reagan was a supremely competent political campaigner who always knew the context.

But we would learn.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Pushing 2

The girls are watching Dark Shadows with their father.  He's using the opportunity to point out the structure and limits of the old daytime soap opera format.  Also, to re-watch Dark Shadows.

Last night they told me they were up to Victoria's witchcraft trial in the 18th Century.  Seizing the opportunity, I said, "Those scenes are based on a play called The Crucible.  It was written around the same time as The Mouse That Roared and was about the Salem Witch Trials.  Let's read it next week when this sequence finishes so you can see how they're alike."

"Yay!"

Whew!  I thought The Crucible was going to be a harder sell than that!

They wanted to talk about their current book, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.  They're up to the fashion chapter, which, alas, time has provided even more glaring examples of how conspicuous waste generates ugly clothes since Veblen's death than before the book was written.  We talked about the similarity of purpose between Leisure Class and Darwin's Origin of the Species.  I began pitching Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century as the modern update.

Not bad for the first part of the supper conversation.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Pushing

I found some Pyrex banana boats at an antique store (vintage kitchenwares are my therapy shopping) and served banana splits in them yesterday.  The girls wanted to know why in the world there were so many kinds of dishes and utensils.  It was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to one of my favorite books, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.  Today they're going around exclaiming, "Wow, that finally makes sense!" twice an hour.

Last week I snuck up on them with The Mouse That Roared, but that one didn't need ice cream.  All I had to mention was some of the sillier plot twists and they were all over me to produce a copy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What's Wrong With Her? She's Gifted.

I was adopted anonymously by parents who wanted a normal, healthy baby.  For a while it looked like they'd got their wish, but by early elementary I started to show signs that something was wrong.  I'd had good grades briefly, then they had crashed.  I'd soon become inattentive and withdrawn.

In fourth grade, around 1975, the experts went looking for an explanation for my straight-D grades, inattentiveness, and poor social skills in school.  The suggestion that I might be gifted was made by my reading teacher, who noted that while I didn't pay attention in class and always had my head stuck in a book, it was a different book every day.

Her suggestion was met with universal derision.  How could a very smart child be such a failure?  But upon reflection it was decided that I might be retarded (the term was still used clinically at that time), and that I should be given an IQ test to see if I qualified for Special Education.  So I was abruptly pulled out of class and sat down at a bewildering exam the likes of which I'd never even imagined.

To the amazement of most, I barely squeaked in as "gifted".  Something had gone wrong!  I had cheated, or there had been a mixup involving the grading of the test.  So I was pulled out of class and given the test again, and the tester made to score the test on site in front of a committee of teachers.

But this time the test was not a complete surprise to me.  I had been through it once before, and knew what to expect.  This time I scored 20 points higher, over one standard deviation, easily clearing the "highly gifted" mark.

Oh, the consternation!  Such hooting, hollering, and carrying on you have never heard in your life!  I'm told the administration wanted to test me a third time with even more rigorous anti-cheating measures in place.  "You want to see how much higher she'll score next time?" snarked the gifted ed teacher.

(The answer, when another school system tested me four years later, was 30 points or 2 standard deviations higher than the second test.)

The testers tried to explain that only half of high-IQ students perform well in a regular classroom.  The other half become bored and disengaged.  That explanation only made the administration resent me for not being a team player.  However, with so much documentation staring them in the face it was felt that they risked a lawsuit if they didn't put in me in the gifted program (they didn't know my adoptive parents very well), so I was grudgingly allowed in on probation.


Of course, once I had access to people like myself doing things that actually interested us, school became a lot less boring and more engaging.  I paid more attention, and my grades improved.

It makes me angry that regional schools no longer have gifted ed programs.  Those schools have undiagnosed gifted children in them who are starving for the companionship of their peers and for an IQ-appropriate learning environment.  That doesn't do them any good, and by adding to their burdens instead of lightening them we take away their ability to do our country any good.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Running Up the White Flag

After almost a decade of fighting it, I finally got a Facebook account.   Y'all can friend me if you like.

Who knows, in another decade I might even make it to Twitter.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

First Book

My husband and I have begun turning the material he worked up for his junior high and high school science classes into a curriculum. Here's the first e-book:

Earth and Space

This is nine weeks worth of lesson plans and quizzes. We're planning to put out something more comprehensive at a later date, but this was what we could get out right now.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, please look it over and tell me what you think.

ETA:  Fixed the link.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Progress

There's been a breakthrough on finding my biological parents.  I don't want to say anything more right now -- I'm almost afraid to breathe for fear it will all blow away -- but progress has been made.

Right now I've got a whirlwind of emotions swirling around inside me.  I'm trying to process them now so they don't get in the way later on.  Cry now, be calm later.