‘Weird Al’ for the ‘Al’ Award

Weird Al Yankovic is up for the Al Copeland Award on Jay P. Greene’s Blog. The “Al” honors “an entrepreneur or activist who has significantly improved the human condition but has not been fully recognized for their contribution.”

“Weird Al” was a childhood nickname given to him by school bullies, writes Patrick Wolf.  His parody hits include “Like a Surgeon,” “Eat It,” “I’m Fat”, and “Smells Like Nirvana.”

“Yoda,” a takeoff on “Lola,” is my favorite Weird Al song:

Why all kids should watch South Park

South Park kicked off its 17th season with Cartman’s discovery he’s being monitored by the National Security Agency.

All Kids Should be FORCED to Watch South Park!, argue Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Jim Epstein.

Virtually every episode points out the difference between legitimate authority and the abuse of power and scare-mongering. Whether it’s the show’s Jew-baiting jerk Eric Cartman going nuts as a traffic cop or former Vice President Al Gore trying to scare the boys into hysteria over ManBearPig, South Park always emphasizes thinking for yourself rather than blindly following what leaders say.

In addition, South Park respects real diversity.

Today’s kids are constantly force-fed hosannas to tolerance and diversity that ring hollow and false. But even when it’s brutally satirizing something like Mormonism, South Park actually fosters a true live-and-let-live ethos that’s sadly lacking in most K-12 curricula.

Finally, one of “South Park’s core values is taking responsibility for one’s actions,” write Gillespie and Epstein. “In the episode where Stan’s father develops a drinking problem and seeks supernatural intervention for a cure, it’s the child who lays out the case for self-control and accountability.”

Field trips really are educational

Visiting an art museum improved children’s knowledge about art, critical thinking skills, historical empathy and tolerance, concludes a University of Arkansas study. It broadened their minds. Benefits were particularly large for students from rural areas and from high-poverty schools.

Photo © The Walters Art Museum, Susan Tobin
War News from Mexico

Artist: Richard Caton Woodville , 1825 – 1855 

When the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Arkansas in 2011, many school groups wanted to tour.

Researchers created matched pairs among the applicant groups based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors, and then randomly assigned school groups to receive a tour that semester or at a later time. Students in selected schools took a tour lasting roughly one hour, during which they viewed and participated in discussions about five different paintings.

Asked to write a short essay on a painting they hadn’t seen before, the field trippers “noticed and described more details.”

 To measure historical empathy, researchers employed a series of statements and asked students to agree or disagree, including, “I have a good understanding of how early Americans thought and felt.”  Tolerance was also measured with statements to which students could express agreement or disagreement, ranging from “People who disagree with my point of view bother me,” to “I think people can have different opinions about the same thing.”

Students who toured on a field trip were more likely than expected to return to the art museum with their family.

More than half of schools throughout the country eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11 according to an American Association of School Administrators survey.

‘Burka Avenger’ fights for girls, schooling

Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night, the Burka Avenger fights corruption and oppression, and aims to empower the girls of Pakistan.Enlarge image

Mild-mannered teacher by day, masked superhero by night, the Burka Avenger fights corruption and oppression, and aims to empower the girls of Pakistan.


Pakistan’s newest caped crusader, “Burka Avenger” fights corrupt politicians and religious zealots using pens and books, reports NPR. A schoolteacher by day, she dons a burqa to fight for girls’ education.

Burka Avenger, which made its debut on Pakistani TV this week, aims to empower young women in a country where attacks on girls’ schools and repression of women remain enduring problems. It’s the brainchild of Pakistani entrepreneur and pop star Haroon Rashid . . .

“She is a schoolteacher named Jiya. She is a warm, bubbly, intelligent young woman who’s concerned about education, and concerned about the city and the people of Halwapur [the fictional city where the show is set]. … And then of course, to fight the bad guys, and to hide her identity the way superheroes do, she puts on the burqa. And it’s a really cool, sleek burqa, and she can leap off buildings and glide from, almost like a flying squirrel … and she only fights with pens and books, because I wanted a nonviolent message. Her message is, ‘Justice, Peace and Education for All.’ “

Jiva doesn’t wear a scarf or a hijab as a teacher, Rashid tells NPR. She chooses to wear the burqa to mask her identity like other superheroes.


It’s reunion time for MTV’s Daria

Daria Morgendorffer debuted on MTV in 1997 as a disaffected high school student. Gothamist has the five-minute pilot and a link to a fake trailer for a movie on Daria’s high school reunion.

Why we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’

Why do we say “please” and “thank you”? On Brain Pickings, Maria Popova cites anthropologist David Graeber’s “illuminating” Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying “please” and “thank you.” To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it, just as the moral guardians of our society — teachers and ministers, for instance — do to everybody else. We often assume that the habit is universal, but … it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.

The habit of always saying “please” and “thank you” began to take hold among the middle classes during the commercial revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, writes Graeber.

It is the language of bureaus, shops, and offices, and over the course of the last five hundred years it has spread across the world along with them. It is also merely one token of a much larger philosophy, a set of assumptions of what humans are and what they owe one another, that have by now become so deeply ingrained that we cannot see them.

“Please” comes from “if you please,” as in “if it pleases you to do this,” writes Graeber. “Thank you” derives from “think,” as in “I will remember what you did for me.”

When my daughter was young, I’d pretend that I couldn’t hear any request not prefaced by “please.” She’d say, “Please pass the milk, mommy dearest, best mother in the world.” (I’d made the mistake of telling her about Mommy Dearest, though I’m pleased to say she has not yet written a tell-all memoir of her childhood.) I’d say, “Why, certainly. It’s a pleasure to pass the milk to a courteous daughter.”

Landfillharmonic: Nobody’s garbage

The children of Cateura, Paraguay live on a massive garbage dump, picking through waste to find items to sell. Landfillharmonic shows how trash collector Nicolás Gómez and musician Favio Chávez built instruments from trash — “violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates” – and started the Recycled Orchestra.

Fifty seconds in, Bebi starts playing his cello, made from an oil can, wood and tools used to tenderize beef and make gnocchi. Listen.

Tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles.  Tito Romero, maker
Tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles. Tito Romero, maker

Schools can’t assimilate immigrants

Urban schools struggle to educate and assimilate immigrant students — especially those who arrive in their teens, write  Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, a dean and professor at UCLA.

In 1997, they began a study of newly arrived immigrants, ages 9 to 14, in 20 public middle and high schools in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Many were fleeing violence and living in high-crime neighborhoods in the U.S. Asked  “what do you like most about being here?” an 11-year-old Haitian boy in Cambridge said, “There is less killing here.”

The Chechen brothers accused in the Boston bombings were 16 and 9 when they started school in Cambridge. They were not in the study, but they fit the demographic profile.

Many newcomer students attend tough urban schools that lack solidarity and cohesion. In too many we found no sense of shared purpose, but rather a student body divided by race and ethnicity, between immigrants and the native born, between newcomers and more acculturated immigrants. Only 6 percent of the participants could name a teacher as someone they would go to with a problem; just 3 percent could identify a teacher who was proud of them.

. . . many educators, already overwhelmed by the challenges of inner-city teaching, considered immigrant parents uninformed and uninvolved.

Immigrant students who made a friend who spoke English fluently did significantly better in school, they write. But many didn’t interact with native-born students, much less make friends.

Students who did well academically “tended to be enrolled in supportive schools, to have caring teachers, and to develop informal mentorships with coaches, counselors or ministers.”

Catering to “difference” is a mistake, responds Stanley Kurtz in National Review Online. He cites a study by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, America’s Patriotic Assimilation System is Broken, which found a “patriotic gap” between native-born and naturalized citizens. For example, “by roughly 31 points (81% to 50%), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than ethnic pride.”

Schools “riven by racial and ethnic divisions and a lack of common purpose” should affirm  ”the shared American identity that used to unite this country,” Kurtz concludes.

Boy Scouts lose ‘confident boyishness’

The Boy Scouts will accept gay Scouts — but not gay Scoutmasters. I’d bet parents will be OK with that and critics will not.

Founded in 1910 to promote “self-reliance, patriotism, courage, morality, outdoor ruggedness, and all-around manliness,” Boy Scouts of America has changed along with American culture, write Brett and Kate McKay on The Art of Manliness. 

They cite Kathleen Arnn’s comparison of the 1911 BSA handbook with the modern version published in 2009, which lacks the “verve, punch, and adventurous spirit—the manliness—of the original handbook.”

The Scouts have lost some of the confident American boyishness that loves heroes and makes for heroes.

. . . Whereas the first edition imparts tough-minded common sense, the 12th edition brims with cautionary tales and safety checklists, emphasizing timidity rather than adventure.

Merit badge requirements used to require action, write the McKays. Now they require “more thinking than doing.”

In the 1911 handbook, earning each badge involved the completion of a short list of one-sentence requirements. Modern badge requirements, on the other hand, run to as many as ten paragraph-long sections, the first of which is always a discussion of the need to discuss safety considerations with one’s leader. The gardening badge for example, requires the Scout to discuss with his counselor what hazards he might encounter if he happened to unfortunately plant his tomatoes near a beehive.

. . . The hands-on tasks are now tucked into long lists of requirements that ask the scout to thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.

The 1911 camping merit badge required Scouts to sleep out for 50 nights, build a fire without matches, pitch a tent without help and construct a raft.  The modern badge requires 20 nights of camping, pitching a tent with another Scout and a great deal of making checklists, creating plans and describing camping guidelines, equipment and, of course, safety procedures.

For the 1911 merit badge, the Scout had to “invent and patent some useful article” and “show a working drawing or model of the same.” Nowadays, the requirements are very, very long — and no patent is required.

The “firemanship” badge is “geared towards preparing the Scout to actually fight the fire and rescue people.” The modern badge — called “fire safety” — focuses on “how to prevent and escape fires.” Scouts learn “how to safely light a candle!”

Of course, today’s Scouts can earn merit badges in “Game Design (which involves playing and describing what you like about your favorite video games), Skating, Traffic Safety, Citizenship in the World (as opposed to just the nation), and Disability Awareness.”

Bieber sees Anne Frank as ‘a belieber’

“Truly inspiring to be able to come here,” wrote Justin Bieber after spending an hour touring the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. “Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”


Adolescent girls obsessed with the Canadian singer, who’s now 19, are known as “beliebers.”

I guess being a pop star rots the brain.

Anne Frank hid with her family and other Jews for two years in the attic of the house before they were discovered. She died of typhus at 15 in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Her father, who survived the camp , edited and published it in 1947 as The Diary of a Young Girl. It must be one of the most assigned books in U.S.  schools.