Sunday, December 08, 2013

Let Teachers Teach available in paperback

The essay that allegedly got me fired and some that may have contributed to that firing are included in Let Teachers Teach, available for the first time in paperback on Amazon, as well as its CreateSpace website.. The book features cover and design work from David Hoover and Cody Dyer at Drop Cap Publishing.

 Let Teachers Teach features a new introduction and 46 of my essays on education with updates and notes included on several of them.

The book includes the following essays:

1. Violence, Statistics, and American Education- This one, written just after Sandy Hook, is the one that is being used against me by the joplin School District because I posted a link to my book No Child Left Alive from it when I copied and pasted it onto Room 210 Discussion.

2. The Writers' Wall of Fame- A more personal essay, this one describes the Writers' Wall oF Fame I use to reward my students for excellent work and some memories of it.

3. The House of Bricks- One of my Joplin Tornado essays, includes the hunt for one of my eighth graders in the apartment complex behind the 15th St. Wal-Mart.

4. Missouri's Newest Lobbyist, Michelle Rhee- My examination of the StudentsFirst organization and how its name does not go along with its views.

5. A Seventh Grader's Gift That Keeps On Giving- The effect of a New York teenager's gift to my class after the tornado

6. A Day of Miracles- A return to school after the tornado

7.Joplin's Apocalypse Now- Another tornado essay

8. Returning to My Tornado-Ravaged School- My first visit to East Middle School, two days after the tornado

9. Sanitizing of Huckleberry Finn- My thoughts on a new version of Mark Twain's classic that removes the N word, plus remembering my sixth and seventh grade teacher Mrs. Jean Rowe, who read the book to me and my classmates.

10. Speaking for Victims of a School Shooting- Looking back at the shooting at Memorial Middle School. So many people were sympathizing with the shooter. I wrote this one for the other students.

11. The Dangers of Data-Driven Education- No wonder the people in administration have a problem with me.

12. The Lies They Tell About Teachers- The next few essays are all written as a response to the ongoing attacks on classroom teachers.

13. The Changing Expectations of Teachers- I tell the story of a student who came by after school just to talk and I found out years later that innocuous conversation had driven thoughts of suicide out of her mind. Now, with a culture of highly scripted, micromanaged meetings disguised as "collaboration" and "professional development," I wonder if a teacher will even be available for the next young person contemplating killing himself or herself.

14. A Teacher Witch Hunt

15. Glenn Beck and Public Education

16. Tribute to an Inspirational Teacher- Each year, until this one, I have asked my students to write essays describing an East Middle School teacher who has inspired them. The students vote on the Most Inspirational Teacher, not based on which teacher is the most popular, but on which student wrote the best paper. In this essay, I write about when this award was received by one of my favorite East colleagues, Kim Frencken, because of a paper written by one of my favorite former students, Taryn Parker.

17. To Sir With Love Revisited- Usually every year, again not this one, I show the Sidney Poitier movie To Sir With Love. In this essay, I talk about the difficulties his character, teacher Mark Thackeray, would have with today's soulless data-driven education.

18. Remembering Ryan Baker- One of the most difficult essays I have ever written. This is a tribute to one of my Diamond students after he committed suicide.

19. There Is No Crisis In Public Education- I make the case for public education

20. Tribute to a Middle School Principal- The essay I wrote after former East Middle School Principal Ron Mitchell was forced out.

21. A Warning to Young People: Don't Become a Teacher- Ironically, I wrote this one the day before I was removed from East by a police officer in front of my students and it was published on Huffington Post the next day.

22. Mr. President, My Students Deserve Better- After the State of the Union Address, I expressed my disagreement with the president over this goals for education.

23. When Technology Isn't the Answer- What happens when the lights go out? This essay was based on an experience that occurred this year while my students were working on their third quarter research project.

24. StudentsFirst Report Cards to Fail to Mention, Crime, Poverty- According to this organization, the only thing that has an affect on education is teachers. Strangely, their report card also grades states down if they actually have pensions for teachers.

25. No Guns for This Teacher- Written after Sandy Hook when arming teachers was the fad.

26. An Argument for Teacher Tenure- I would think my own case would be a convincing argument for teacher tenure.

27. It's Not Bad Teachers; It's the Economy, Stupid- My thoughts on how the state of the economy affects education.

28. Teachers Do Not Have to be Political Eunuchs- Teachers can reveal how they think about issues without forcing students to follow those beliefs.

29. Message to a First-Year Teacher- I wrote this after seeing on Facebook how my former Diamond student Stephanie Taylor was preparing for her first year at Carl Junction. It offers advice for any young teacher.

30. Pray for Those Godless Public School Teachers- An argument against those who claim we are pushing secular humanism.

31. It's Time to Use Test Scores to Determine Teacher Pay- If you can't tell, I was being sarcastic.

32. My New Pacemaker- A personal essay, about my missing class and MAP tests to have my pacemaker implanted last year.

33. The Crisis in American Education is a Myth

34. A New Hope High School for Joplin- This one was written after the bond issue passed.

35. Saying Goodbye to the Forgotten School- My final trip to the old South MIddle School before it was torn down after the tornado.

36. I'll Miss Arne Duncan's Visit; We're Testing That Day- We were giving the Acuity practice tests when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Joplin.

37. My Students Don't Remember 9-11

38. All Public Schools Left Behind

39. Finding Hi in My Joplin Classroom- One of my favorite stories from the Turner Report and 5:41, about a student's gift to me.

40. Tornado Ends School Year for Most Inspirational Teacher- An essay about former EMS reading teacher Andrea Thomas, who should still be teaching there.

41. Gutless Media Has Failed American Schools- The media's poor coverage of education has allowed this ridiculous "reform" momvent to flourish.

42. Kick Me, I'm a Public Schoolteacher

43. Teaching to the Test

44. The Failure of American Teachers (my first Huffington Post blog)

Free downloads of The Devil's on Facebook beginning Monday

My novel The Devil's on Facebook is available on Amazon Kindle as of a couple of hours ago.

The book is an updated version of my 2006 novel, Devil's Messenger, a horror mystery that tells the story of teenager Cassandra Harper who becomes a victim of date rape, has her beloved father murdered, and then discovers that the biggest threat of all may come from the computer that her father gave her for her birthday.

It is through that computer that her murdered father communicates with her through Facebook. Cassandra soon discovers that her father kept many secrets from her and those secrets threaten to destroy everyone she loves. Meanwhile, a mystery figure lurks in the background, attempting to uncover the secret that led to the murder of Cassandra's father.

The Devil's on Facebook will be available as a free download beginning Monday, December 9, and lasting through Wednesday, December 11. After that, it will be available for $3.99

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Joplin Tornado books available at discount prices

(I originally ran this in August, but some of the prices have been reduced even further by Amazon. For those who want the most thorough history of the tornado, complete with first person stories, photos, essays, transcripts of speeches, and the obituaries of all of those who died in the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado, these books offer the most comprehensive look at the disaster that has been published to this date.)
541Three books authored or co-authored by Inside Joplin Editor Randy Turner on the Joplin Tornado have been reduced in price on

The first book, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, by Turner and Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker, originally $20 is now selling for $15.26 on Amazon, while its follow-up, Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado, again written by Turner and Hacker, originally $26.99 is now selling for $14.39.

The final book in the trilogy, Scars from the Tornado: One Year at Joplin East Middle School, originally priced at $12.99, is on sale for $8.60.

The three books, which formerly would have cost approximately $60 can be purchased together for $38.25, plus shipping, or separately.

A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the contents of each book is featured below:

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado


Chapter One- Surviving- John Hacker's on-the-scene reporting minutes after the tornado.

Chapter Two- 45 Seconds- Kelly Maddy's tornado experience

Chapter Three- Armageddon at the Hospital- Emergency room doctor Kevin Kitka's details of the tornado at St. John's.

Chapter Four- Death, Destruction Hit Joplin, Missouri- Randy Turner essay on the morning after in Joplin

Chapter Five- Nightmare at Freeman- Carthage artist and Lamar native Kristin Huke offers an eyewitness account of May 22 at Freeman Hospital.

Chapter Six- Fire Chief Was a Hero- John's story on Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles

Chapter Seven- Death at the Full Gospel Church- Randy Turner's story on the tragic death of Ozark Christian College student Natalia Puebla, one of four people killed at the Full Gospel Church.

Chapter Eight- God Was With Me- Melissa Rainey-Campbell's survival story

Chapter Nine- Back to the Country For Me- Diamond High School graduate Gary Harrall made a momentous decision after his Joplin home was destroyed.

Chapter 10- Laela's Story- Former Joplin Daily reporter Kaylea Hutson's interview with Joplin High School senior Laela Zaidi, whose family lost its home, but whose doctor parents continued working to help those who were injured.

Chapter 11- Sarcoxie Soldier Saved Lives at Wal-Mart- John Hacker's story on Jeffrey Price, one of the heroes at the 15th Street Wal-Mart

Chapter 12- A Survivor's Story- Rhonda Hatfield's tale of returning home to a nightmare moments after the Joplin High School graduation

Chapter 13- McCune-Brooks Deals with Disaster- John Hacker offers a look at one of the overlooked stories of the tornado, the yeoman work done by those at McCune-Brooks Hospital in Carthage, which had to take much of the traffic that normally would be going to St. John's.

Chaper 14- Code Black- Randy Turner's story of life and death in the 15th Street Wal-Mart.

Chapter 15- Missouri Southern Tested After Tornado- John Hacker takes a look at how Missouri Southern State University stepped up after the tornado.

Chapter 16- Hall's Half Hour- Michael R. Sharp takes a unique look at the entire tornado as an act of the devil, but at the same time reaffirms the faith of the people of Joplin.

Chapter 17- A Graduation Day I Will Never Forget- It was a day that certainly will stand out for Lacy Heiskell, who offers her first person account.

Chapter 18- In An Instant, Everything Was Gone- Iris Fountain tells how her family survived the tornado.

Chapter 19- An Incredible Ride- The first person account of a Freeman Hospital maintenance worker

Chapter 20- The Day That Changed Everything- Joplin High School student Shaney Delzell waits out the tornado at Wal-Mart.

Chapter 21- The Voice of Joplin- Randy Turner's story on the incredible work done by Zimmer Radio which helped hold the community together in the time right after the tornado and since.

Chapter 22- Lucky to Have a Home- Joplin High School junior Denton Williams' final year at East Middle School was cut short, but he and his family made it through.

Chapter 23- Life of Will Norton celebrated- Randy Turner's coverage of the memorial service for Will Norton, who died shortly after graduating from Joplin High School

Chapter 24- The Story That Affected Me for Life- Shanti Navarre's tornado story, which includes thoughts about the death of her daughter Cheyla's friend, Will Norton

Chapter 25- Tornado Victim was a Shooting Star- Randy Turner's look at Will Norton's YouTube fame and his death

Chapter 26- How Will Norton Led Me to Joplin- Rose Fogarty tells the story of coming from St. Louis to help with tornado recovery and the formation of the St. Lou Crew for Joplin

Chapter 27- Tornado Ends School Year for Most Inspirational Teacher- Randy Turner feature on former East Middle School teacher Andrea Thomas, who was scheduled to be named Most Inspirational Teacher at East Middle School, but the ceremony was never held...and she lost her home in the tornado

Chapter 28- Calm in the Storm- That same teacher, Andrea Thomas, tells the story of how faith helped her and her husband Joe survive.

Chapter 29- Joplin Forever Changed Our Hearts- Tanya Snedden, a volunteer from Harrisonville, writes about her experiences.

Chapter 30- Joplin's Apocalypse Now- Randy Turner's trip through Duquesne and the apartments behind Wal-Mart, including his conversation with the father of Pizza Hut hero Chris Lucas.

Chapter 31- The Volunteer Spirit- Stephen and Della Bergen of Samaritan's Purse tell their tornado stories to John Hacker.

Chapter 32- A Return to East Middle School- Randy Turner returns to his tornado-damaged school

Chapter 33- Finding "Hi" in My Joplin Classroom" A special gift survives the tornado.

Chapter 34- The School Year That Never Ended- East Middle School students come to the Fourth Street Bowl three weeks after the tornado for a final get-together, but the belongings of many students remained unclaimed

Chapter 35- The transcript of Rev. Aaron Brown's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

Chapter 36- The transcript of Gov. Jay Nixon's memorial service speech

Chapter 37- The transcript of President Barack Obama's memorial service speech

The official National Weather Service report on the Joplin Tornado

In Memory of Lives Lost- The obituaries of those who were killed in the Joplin Tornado

Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado

Spirit of HopePreface- Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles offers the introduction to the book.

1. Spirit of Hope- Randy Turner's introductory story and thoughts about how the people of Joplin have provided an example for the nation.

2. Historic Storm, History Reoovery- John Hacker relives the moment he arrived at the tornado site moments after it occurred.

3. One Year, One Community, One Direction- John Hacker's coverage of the Day of Unity

4. I'm Proud of Joplin- The transcript of City Manager Mark Rohr's speech from the Day of Unity

5. God Was With Me- Randy Turner's story on the Joplin High School Graduation, featuring senior Sarah Kessler, who lost her home during the tornado

6. St. John's Has Been Hit That's All We Know For Sure- Rebecca Williams of Joplin Tornado Info tells the story of how that innovative and essential web page began.

7. A Lazy Afternoon- One of the most searing memories of the days after the tornado was the viral video of people inside Fastrip when the tornado hit. One of those people, Carthage Press Sports Editor Brennan Stebbins, tells the story.

8. Love Led Me Through- Former East Middle School teacher Andrea Thomas told her tornado story in 5:41. In this stirring story of faith, Andrea tells the story of what has happened to her and her husband Joe since May 22, 201, and what she has seen while helping others.

9. Pancakes, Prayers, and Progress- Former reporter Rick Nichols relives the tornado as it hit the International House of Pancakes.

10. The House of Bricks- Randy Turner's journey to the apartment complex behind the 15th Street Wal-Mart after the tornado and his conversation with a father whose son died at Pizza Hut.

11. A Tale of Survival- Andrea Queen writes about how she and her family survived the tornado.

12. Ground Zero- Former Joplin Tri-State Business Editor Jeff Wells describes the helplessness of being in Texas while his mother and grandmother are fighting for their lives in Joplin.

13. Will There be a Christmas Tree?- Marty Oetting's moving essay on the items left behind after the tornado.

14. We Were All Affected- Joplin Tornado Information's Rebecca Williams shares stories from her website.

15. This Town is My Home- Joplin High School junior Laela Zaidi's story was told in 5:41.  This time, she writes the story of how she wanted nothing more than to remain in Joplin.

16-17- The Peace in the Midst of the Storm/Miracles at Walmart- A two-part story with two friends offering their versions of what happened at the 15th Street Walmart.

18. My Tornado Story: A Story About the Heart of America- An eighth grader at the time she wrote this, former East Middle School student Jennifer Nguyen tells a harrowing story of a birthday party that turned into a nightmare.

19. Big Builds- John Hacker's coverage of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Ten for Joplin, two building projects that brought the nation's attention to Joplin.

20. Pushed to the Breaking Point- John's story on Joplin Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer and what happened May 22 and in the days afterward.

21. Local Radio's Finest Hour- In this speech to the Missouri Broadcasters Association, Gov. Jay Nixon praises the work done by the Zimmer radio stations during and after the tornado.

22. Miracle of the Human Spirit- The transcript of City Manager Mark Rohr's speech at Cunningham Park one week after the tornado

23. Sometimes, Love Is All You Have- Amy Gilbert's family lost its home in the tornado, but her survival story has a twist when the band Sugarland invites her daughters to appear with them at the Country Music Association Awards.

24. I'll Never Forget- Pittsburg State University student Amy Herron's touching essay about the tornado.

25. Coming Together- John Hacker's story about how the tornado has affected three hospitals, Mercy (St. John's), Freeman, and McCune-Brooks

26. Autistic Children Benefit from Ozark Center- John Hacker tells another story of how the local health industry was affected by the tornado.

27. Mercy Joplin Opens Component Hospital- A few months after the tornado, Mercy offers a new temporary structure for its patients in this story written by John Hacker

28. An End and a Beginning- John Hacker's portrait of the day the wrecking ball hit St. John's

29. We Will Have School- Randy Turner's story of the Joplin Schools family gathering at the site of the destroyed high school where Superintendent C. J. Huff promised that school would begin on time.

30. Will Norton is With Us In Spirit- This is an article that Turner wrote for the magazine at Chapman University about the effect Will Norton's death had on the campus though he never had a chance to go to school there. It includes Turner's interview with Will's father, Mark Norton.

31. I Will Keep The Spotlight on Joplin, Missouri- The transcript of Rush Limbaugh's July 4 speech in Cunningham Park

32. Blessing in Disguise- John Hacker's story of the incredible job Samaritan's Purse has done in Joplin

33. We Will Not Be Kept Down- Mary Jean Miller, who was president of Joplin High School's Key Club, tells her own tornado story and then writes about how Key Club did everything it could to help the recovery effort.

34. These Are My Students: This Is My School- Randy Turner's essay on the difficulty he had getting ready to teach school in a converted warehouse

35. School Begins Today in Joplin- Randy Turner's story on the day teachers returned to duty and found themselves greeted by a hundreds of community members

36. The Toughest Town on God's Green Earth- The transcript of Gov. Jay Nixon's speech to returning Joplin Schools staff members

37. An Opportunity to Move Forward Together- The transcript of Superintendent C. J. Huff's speech as staff returned to duty

38. A Day of Miracles, Joplin Schools Start on Time- Randy Turner writes about the first day of classes.

39. Back to the Country- In 5:41, Gary Harrall wrote the shortest story, telling about how he wanted to leave the city after the tornado. Continuing the tradition, Gary has the shortest story in this book, too, with a much happier ending.

40. Nothing Stops Us- Denton Williams, another contributor to 5:41, offers an update and a tribute to those who have helped Joplin recover.

41. Tornado-Battered Joplin Honors Victims of Terrorists Attacks- John Hacker writes about the moving ceremony held in Joplin on Sept. 11.

42. Anti-Muslim Sentiment Clouds Gift to Joplin Schools- In every success story, there are a few discordant notes and they were offered here by some people who were not happy about the gift of laptops to Joplin High School students. Randy Turner takes on that sentiment in this story.

43. I'm Proud to be a Rising Joplin Eagle- Joplin High School student Micaela Tennis writes about the first day of school.

44. The Six-Month Anniversary: Nov. 22, 2011, in Cunningham Park- John Hacker's coverage of the activities on that eventful day, including the texts of speeches by Mayor Mike Woolston, Billy Long, Jay Nixon, and Chris Cotton

45. Come Home to Joplin- The text of Mark Rohr's speech at the six-month anniversary observance in Cunningham Park

46. Cunningham Park: Joplin's First Park- John Hacker writes the history of the park.

47. God Bless the People of Joplin, Missouri- In 5:41, Rose Fogarty wrote about how the story of Will Norton brought her to Joplin. Since then, she has continued her volunteer work and she offers a moving story about that volunteer work.

48. Remembering the Forgotten School- Not much attention was paid to the desruction of the old South Middle School, where Randy Turner taught. In this essay, he offers a tribute to it.

49. A Day in the Life of a Joplin Student- Karissa Dowell offers a different look at going to the mall high school- the feeling of a being on display in a glass house with different visitors every day.

50-51. Student to Student: Sharing Stories/College Students Forego the Beach to Help with Recovery- John Hacker writes about college students giving up their spring breaks to volunteer in Joplin.

52. A New Hope High School for Joplin- Randy Turner writes about the passage of the bond issue for new schools in Joplin.

53. A Seventh Grader's Gift That Keeps On Giving- Randy Turner's story about how a seventh grader from New York contributed to my students.

54. Avenue of Hope- John Hacker's story about Peace Lutheran Church, which had its building destroyed, beginning with outdoor services a week later and ending with outdoor services one year later

55. God Remains With Us in Joplin- Peace Lutheran Church's interim pastor Bill Pape writes about those first outdoor services.

56. Thanks Be To This Ever-Present God- A transcript of Pastor Kathy Redpath's sermon at the outdoor service at Peace Lutheran Church one year later.

57. Rejoicing, Remembering, and Rebuilding- Laela Zaidi's thoughts after the Joplin High School commencement program about how far this city has come.

58. Tornado Teaches the True Meaning of School- Randy Turner's story about the last day of the 2011-2012 school  year in our East Middle School warehouse

59. Joplin High School Prom Photos- taken by John Hacker

The following items are featured in the back of the book:

Death Doesn't Get the Last Word: Life Wins- The text of Rev. Aaron Brown's sermon at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

The Long Journey- The text of Gov. Jay Nixon's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

Joplin Taught the World- The text of President Barack Obama's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

The World Will Never Forget What You Achieved- Gov. Jay Nixon's speech at the Joplin High School Graduation

Because You Are From Joplin- President Barack Obama's speech at the Joplin High School Graduation

Center for Disease Control Report on Fungal Infections from Joplin Tornado

National Weather Service Central Region Assessment- The Joplin Tornado

Scars from the Tornado: One Year at Joplin East Middle School

Scars from the TornadoForeword- This features a story that a former East student, Joplin High School sophomore Rylee Hartwell, wrote about the school shortly after the tornado.

A Teacher's Story- Over several chapters, Randy Turner writes about the last day at East before the tornado hit, the tornado and his first trip back to the school, the meeting at Missouri Southern where Principal Bud Sexson outlined what the warehouse school was going to be like, the return to school, the first day and much more.

Tornado Stories- This section features the students recounting their tornado stories. Some were right in the middle of it. Others feared for their friends. It affected all of them. Students with stories in this section include Jennifer Nguyen, Nick Shellenbarger, Abi Killinger, Alexandra Stelts, Donna Tomlinson, Maggie Baker, Cami Sanders, Kaley Moser, Amber Fleming, Desirae Orlaski, Taylor Robinson, Keisha Grunden, Courtney Hunt, Victoria Stehm, Garrett Severs,  and Ryan Ball.

The School Year- This section features stories from the students about our year in the warehouse, with some commenting about the school. Those contributing stories include Sarah Peterson, Megan Hickey, Amy Koch, Jennifer Nguyen, Annie Strickling, Stella Ndauwa, and Melinda Adams. Megan, Amy, and Jennifer contributed multiple stories in this section.

Parting Shots- This section includes a longer story that Randy Turner wrote about the people from around the world who let those at East know that they were not alone in our battle. His story centers around his class's 86-year-old pen-pal from Santa Barbara who came to mean a lot to his students. The section also has shorter comments from Cara Marshall, Jimmie Willerton, Audrey Kanan, Taelor Stone, Logan Whitehead, Amelia Street, and Madison Meinhardt.

Tornado Poems- Among those contributing to this section are students Mykah Campbell, Michaela West, Sean Harrison, Ashton McGehee, Karly Weber, Jacy Welch, Mackenzie Gunderson, Bridget Ingham, Jerry Bland, Joseph Fry, Beth Dulinsky, and teacher Kathy Weaver.

The book also includes a photo section.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Students, teacher reveal "Scars from the Tornado"

Few schools have ever had to face the difficulties Joplin East Middle School encountered after a May 22, 2011, killed 161 people and destroyed one-third of the community, including the school building.

Less than three months later, the students and staff were back in business, conducting school in a building that had once been a warehouse.

In the new book, Scars from the Tornado, the students and eighth grade English teacher Randy Turner tell their stories about the tornado and their year in a warehouse school.

Following is a breakdown of what is included in Scars from the Tornado:

Foreword- This features a story that a former East student, Joplin High School sophomore Rylee Hartwell, wrote about the school shortly after the tornado.

A Teacher's Story- Over several chapters, Randy Turner writes about the last day at East before the tornado hit, the tornado and his first trip back to the school, the meeting at Missouri Southern where Principal Bud Sexson outlined what the warehouse school was going to be like, the return to school, the first day and much more.

Tornado Stories- This section features the students recounting their tornado stories. Some were right in the middle of it. Others feared for their friends. It affected all of them. Students with stories in this section include Jennifer Nguyen, Nick Shellenbarger, Abi Killinger, Alexandra Stelts, Donna Tomlinson, Maggie Baker, Cami Sanders, Kaley Moser, Amber Fleming, Desirae Orlaski, Taylor Robinson, Keisha Grunden, Courtney Hunt, Victoria Stehm, Garrett Severs,  and Ryan Ball.

The School Year- This section features stories from the students about the year in the warehouse, with some commenting about the school. Those contributing stories include Sarah Peterson, Megan Hickey, Amy Koch, Jennifer Nguyen, Annie Strickling, Stella Ndauwa, and Melinda Adams. Megan, Amy, and Jennifer contributed multiple stories in this section.

Parting Shots- This section includes a longer story Randy Turner wrote about the people from around the world who let the students know they were not alone in their battle. His story centers around the students' 86-year-old penpal from Santa Barbara who has come to mean a lot to them both last year and this year. The section also has shorter comments from students Cara Marshall, Jimmie Willerton, Audrey Kanan, Taelor Stone, Logan Whitehead, Amelia Street, and Madison Meinhardt.

Tornado Poems- Among those contributing to this section are students Mykah Campbell, Michaela West, Sean Harrison, Ashton McGehee, Karly Weber, Jacy Welch, Mackenzie Gunderson, Bridget Ingham, Jerry Bland, Joseph Fry, Beth Dulinsky, and teacher Kathy Weaver.

The book also includes a photo section.

A link to the page for Scars from the Tornado can be found in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Violence, statistics, and American education

No phrase irritates me as much as "data-driven education."

As someone who has dealt with educational data for the past 35 years, first as a reporter and now as a classroom teacher, I have learned that statistics should never be taken at face value.

From my discussions with teachers across the United States, I have seen many of my thoughts confirmed and many of them in a way that scares me, especially when it comes to statistics on violence in our schools.

I have heard one story after another of how school administrators, seeking to climb up the organizational ladder, report declining statistics on violent incidents and referrals, often by categorizing them differently, or by adding a separate layer of reports that are then not included in those that go to the state or federal governments.

I also hear from teachers who suffer the consequences when their building administrators, often following edicts from top administration, send those who commit classroom disruptions back into the same classrooms without any type of meaningful consequence. This has led to an increasing feeling of isolation among teachers, and in fact, has led many of them to leave for other, less stressful, better-paying jobs.

That lack of discipline has led, despite "statistics" from many school districts showing that the number of such "incidents" is on the decline, to an increased amount of bullying, which always leaves the door open to the sort of violent incident that happened April 20, 1999, at Columbine, and has been repeated since then across the country.

Education, in a frenzy brought on, in part, by No Child Left Behind, perhaps just as much as a reaction to the so-called "reformers" who are looking for ways to profit from public education or want to destroy it so they do not have to pay taxes (since they are sending their own children to private schools, anyway), has jumped on the bandwagon of one fad after another, often with sketchy, sometimes non-existent statistical backing.

And let's face it, it is hard for school boards and administrators to make names for themselves, unless they are trying the latest "innovative" methods of teaching, even as they discard those two years later for the next round of can't miss, cutting edge, state-of-the-art advancements.

All of these factors increasingly leave classroom teachers in a struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff among these educational ideas, and being forced often to make "innovations" work even when common sense says they won't.

Teachers' struggles to cope with all of these outside forces are the focus of my novel, No Child Left Alive. I had initially planned a Christmas promotion for the e-book this weekend, but I do not intend to try to make a profit from a book with that title and with the tagline "If the shooter doesn't get them, the system will," in the wake of Friday's shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,

At the same time, I firmly believe that the issues brought up in the book are worthy of discussion, so I am offering free downloads of No Child Left Alive today (Sunday, December 16) and tomorrow.

Buzzwords like "data-driven education" and "best practices" are often the enemy of real education and rely on statistics and personal ambition that have nothing to do with the reality our nation's teachers see in the classroom every day.

Please feel free to download the book today or tomorrow and let's start a discussion.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Illinois law prohibits students from making online threats

The problem of students threatening each other online has been a major problem in schools across the nation. The biggest dilemma facing school officials is the question of what can they do when the students making these threats are doing them on their own time. A new law in Illinois addresses the problem, according to an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

While examples of abusive behavior by students have multiplied across the nation and studies suggest half of all teens have been victimized by cyber-bullies, the law’s impetus came from an incident at Oswego High School six years ago, Illinois House minority leader Tom Cross said.

When an Oswego student posted an online diatribe against his teachers in 2005, vowing “I’m so angry I could kill,” leaders at School District 308 weren’t sure what they could do, SD 308 spokeswoman Kristine Liptrot said.

Since the threat was made outside school hours, away from school grounds from a private computer, they were concerned about interfering with the boy’s First Amendment rights and felt unable to suspend or expel the boy, who refused to take down the message until his parents intervened, Liptrot said, describing the experience as “upsetting and frightening” for the staff members and their families.

Cross said he’d tried repeatedly to change the law to strengthen school administrators’ hands in similar situations, but added that it’s taken a while for legislators to come to grips with Internet issues. “I don’t think kids are getting any meaner,” he said, “30 years ago, a bully might have said something in class — now they’ll say it on the Internet.”

The law allows administrators to discipline students who make any online threat that “could be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security” of another student or staff member.

It was needed because existing laws “weren’t specific enough,” bill sponsor state Rep. Sidney Matthias said. “We’re making it clear to students that this is unacceptable behavior,” he added.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Teenager sneaks off to Iraq

Students, please read the following story and then answer the questions at the bottom on Microsoft Word.

By Jamie Malernee, Kevin Smith and Karla Shores
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 1, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-  He was born into money and privilege, the son of immigrants who came to this country from Iraq looking for freedom and a better life.

They found it, amassing wealth that gave him a home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, tuition to a prestigious prep school, and a $50,000 Infiniti for his 16th birthday.

But Farris Hassan, a lanky, 6-foot-2 straight-A student who loves to debate world politics and shuns typical teenage hangouts, didn't want it.

He left his bedroom unadorned, kept his friends few and, two weeks ago, stunned those who knew him by walking away from his life here. The teen boarded a plane to the Middle East alone, knowing the journey might kill him. His ultimate destination: Baghdad. His plan: to stand with those struggling for democracy in Iraq.

As family and schoolmates awaited his safe return from Baghdad this weekend, they described a young man who feels guilty about the comfort he enjoys, who is brilliant but foolhardy, a boy brimming with idealism and the desire to make a difference.

His father, Redha Hassan, an anesthesiologist, said Farris spent two weeks traveling from Kuwait City to Beirut to Baghdad. He interviewed soldiers and everyday citizens to understand their plight before walking into a war-zone office of Associated Press. The news agency called the U.S. Embassy, which was already on the lookout for Farris.

Officials took him into custody Wednesday and put him on a plane to begin the long trip home Friday. The U.S. State Department warns Americans against traveling to Iraq, although it is legal.

"He wouldn't take it from anyone else. He had to see for himself," said his mother, Shatha Atiya, a therapist, who said she was furious and terrified when she learned where her son was headed.

Members of the media gathered outside Atiya's home hoping for interviews with the family. The BBC, FOX News, ABC World News Tonight and Teen People all wanted to know who this young man was.

Family and classmates said Farris was a junior at Pine Crest School, a Fort Lauderdale prep school that is often a gateway to the Ivy League. He is enrolled in several Advanced Placement classes, is a member of the debate team and the Renaissance Club, and is a vocal Republican.

"He was kind of unusual," said Chris Rudolf, 17, who eats lunch with Farris. "He wasn't really popular, but everyone knew him. He was shy about most things until you started talking about something he was passionate about. He was very passionate about the war in Iraq."

After leaving for the Middle East, Farris sent an e-mail in opposition of terrorism, saying more people needed to get involved in the Iraqi struggle for democracy, people like him. He wrote:

"To love is a not a passive thing; When I love, I do something, I function, I give myself. When I do that, I am freed from guilt. Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience every day."

Farris is a Muslim, and his interest in Iraq grew from his family background; his parents were born there; and his voracious appetite for books and current events. The only reason he joined the football team his sophomore year, his uncle said, was to round out his college resume.

"He's not your typical teenager," Ahmad Hassan said.

The youngest of four children, Farris is unusually independent, said his eldest brother, Hayder Hassan. His siblings went off to college; his parents divorced.

"Basically, he grew up doing everything for himself, and I think this was all to show us he could do this too," Hayder Hassan said. "It was to prove something to us; that he's not a little kid."

Former football teammate Michael Matthews recalled that before Farris got his driver's license, he would take taxis to practice. Matthews said the teen's parents were frequently working or traveling. Farris' parents also gave him money to trade stocks, which he did successfully. He had his own credit cards.

"He's very much independent and on his own and self-confident," Matthews said.

When rumors about his trip began to spread at school, Farris skipped a week of classes before winter break started; classmates were dubious.

"We thought it was a little joke. I mean, we get in trouble for sneaking out of our house to go to the movies," said Anjali Sharma, who had classes with Farris last year.

When students realized the story was true, some said they didn't know whether to think Farris was extremely brave or extremely stupid. Earlier this year, schoolmates said, he was assigned to write an essay on something he felt strongly about, and he also learned about immersion journalism. That's what he was doing in Iraq, they said.

"Some people thought it was just so cool that he wanted to get involved, and others were scared because it was such a dangerous trip," student Tulsie Patel said.

Farris' father said Pine Crest in no way encouraged his son to go to Iraq. Redha Hassan said that he had planned to take his son there this summer as an extension of a school project, but that his son was too impatient and took off on his own.

Once Farris arrived in Kuwait City, Kuwait, he tried to cross into Iraq by taxi, his father said. When Farris found the border closed, he called his father, who says now that he was furious but gave his son the option of coming home or staying with family friends in Beirut for a week until the border opened and private security could be arranged.

Redha Hassan said he was lenient because of the boy's passion and his own past, which could not be verified independently. The elder Hassan said that when he was 14 and living in Iraq, he became active in a resistance movement against Saddam Hussein, including an assassination attempt on the now deposed leader.

Records show that in 1985, Redha Hassan, living in South Florida, was charged in connection with a scheme to print false Iraqi passports and military identification cards. A judge later dropped the charges. At the time, Hassan told the Sun-Sentinel that his brother had been executed and family members were kicked out of Iraq without papers, and that he wanted to help others similarly dispossessed.

Redha Hassan said he didn't want to kill his son's passion to help the democracy movement. "He wanted to show he was braver than me," Hassan said.

Once he learned of Farris' plans, Hassan said, he arranged for the boy to fly into Baghdad and be met by private security and taken to a local hotel so he could fulfill his quest. But when the boy entered the Associated Press office Tuesday, he was alone and said his parents did not know where he was, the news agency reported.

In contrast to Hassan's story, a U.S. government official speaking on the condition of anonymity to Associated Press said it was the U.S. military who kept Farris safe.

The teen left Baghdad on Friday, said Navy Commander Robert Mulac, who works in the Multi-National Force Iraq Press Office in Baghdad.

When the boy arrives in South Florida, he will face a media circus and punishment for his unapproved trip. His mother said she was going to ground him and take away his passport and credit cards. He also faces a disciplinary hearing at Pine Crest for missing school, though he won't be expelled.

"Obviously there have to be consequences," school President Lourdes Cowgill said. "He could have gotten himself killed."

1. What best explains why Farris went to Iraq?

A. Farris wanted to join the insurgency and battle against Americans.

B. Farris felt guilty because he was comfortable in American while his fellow Iraqis were suffering.

C. Farris won a trip to Baghdad on a game show.

D. Farris was bored and learned about the situation in Iraq by reading an article on the Internet.

2.  Describe how Farris' father found out about his son's trip and what his reaction was to it.

A. Farris' father took away his son's cellphone and MP3 player.

B. Farris' father joined Farris in Iraq where they could both fight alongside their countrymen.

C. Farris' father was proud of his son because his son was fighting against Saddam Hussein just like he did.

D. Farris called his father from Kuwait, and his father was furious.

3. What phrase best characterizes the students who attend Farris' high school?

A. The students are wealthy with parents who tend to be conservative.
B. The students care deeply about each other, and would do anything for their friends.
C. The students tend to get deeply involved in school projects, sometimes going a little overboard.
D. The students are rich and spend most of their time in malls and movie theaters.

4. In the first sentence, it says "he was born into money and privilege." Which of the following best explains what that means?

A. He had his own bedroom and Nintendo.
B. His family had money and a good life.
C. He lost his privileges by being grounded.
D. He was born in an expensive hospital.