Cocking A Snook Too!

Independent, Irreverent Unschoolers – or at least one – Take On the Universe

My dad, Calvin’s mom, and those who would like to preapprove us all July 10, 2008

Filed under: Calvin,College Stuff,Edumucation,News to Ponder — Meredith @ 5:30 pm

My dad is a pretty cool guy. He’s dapper, charming, and polite to a fault. He comes from hardy Yankee stock, and often makes references to childhood stories that give us pause (“My father and I built that chimney,” “That reminds me of the time we put a firecracker in a fish and threw it over the bay,” “It’s no fun to wake up and find that poodles have peed in your shoes,” etc).

But, perhaps because he is one of those “liberal Yankees” we so often disparage Down Here, he has several other, more abrasive traits which I find rather endearing. He has an almost overdeveloped sense of right and wrong – if his belief in justice were any stronger, he’d have to wear a cape. This couples with the sort of tenacity rarely found outside of Christian missionaries and 19th century British colonialists to create one hell of an investigator.

He started out as a journalist, first up north, where nothing happens because it’s snowing, and then in Tampa where nothing happened because the Mob ran a tight ship. I jest, of course, he covered a murder his first day in town and eventually did an almost-award-winning series on the “Cigar City Mafia.” (If you recognize that as the title of an acclaimed book, you’re correct. If you notice that that book was not written by my dad but utilizes much of his research, you are also correct. Note I did not link to its Amazon page.)

He’s something of a folk hero even within the family, my boyfriend Calvin holding him in particular reverence. He whispers “badass,” when he hears one of the oft-retold stories of his exploits, and has said, “your dad could go to a hot dog stand and it would turn out to be a mafia hot dog stand.”

The nature of dad’s work has always made him better informed than we mere mortals, from “do not shop in that store – trust me,” to “Oh, god, it’s the former commissioner of such-and-such, I hope he didn’t see me, he’s such a jerk.” He’s always repeated to us, mantra-like, to always, always, always read the fine print, and to never, never, never, give out our personal information. In my house, much like Calvin’s house, credit card companies were at best a ravenous monster which we should trust minimally and use warily, and at worst the harbinger of the Antichrist.

Calvin’s mom, in fact, indirectly blames credit cards for all of Calvin’s childhood issues with school and society. She was a stay-at-home-mom when his older sisters were growing up, but feels Calvin lost the benefit of that because scarily mounting credit card debt required her to go back to work when he was still very small. She looks back on this bend in the road wistfully, thinking that if it had gone differently, her son would have had a better childhood and a better relationship with her.

College was another well-tended expectation in both our houses. My mom came from an academic family of teachers, professors, and perpetual students, and of course, had her own Ph.D. My dad came from a family for whom immigration was no distant memory – for him, college was a way to prove himself and reach for something better than roofing, which was his father’s profession (Dad always said, “my father’s idea of power tools was two guys with shovels”).

Calvin’s parents and sisters all graduated from Florida State University, the former putting themselves through working as lab techs before a degree was required to become a lab tech. His brother-in-law is at present working on his Ph.D., and the whole family has enough Master’s Degrees between them to frighten a coal-mining town.

So Calvin and I were more than a little dismayed to learn that the Great Evil of credit cards and the Great Good of college were strolling off arm-in-arm into the sunset.

Back to my dad: He’s now a top-notch fraud investigator at a nice law firm, where his aforementioned tenacity and sense of justice can sometimes lead him to put in hours and hours of work investigating things which are clearly wrong on many levels but not necessarily prosecutable.

One such recent case involved him looking into the level of care Florida State put into handling their students’ personal information. This was of direct concern to me, as I’m in the process of giving them all of my personal information in order to apply for admittance in the future.

As it turns out, the University I’ve revered since childhood has taken to giving Bank of America their students’ names and home addresses so as to more easily market FSU themed credit cards to them.

I can’t get past how sleazy this is. It’s beyond cavalier indifference to the students’ well-being, it’s something much more sinister, much more wicked and hypocritical. To make videos alerting college kids to the dangers of credit card debt and to then turn and sell them to those very creditors?

The whole student body is so attuned to physical danger, to the big scary world outside their hometowns, a world of date-rape and bars and the vulnerability that shadows loneliness – and yet without their consent or knowledge, the digital bits and pieces that make up their very identities are being offered up to people who are infamous for trashing and erasing them.

My Dad made an attempt to interview some students on campus the other day, unimpressed by his suit, business cards, and salt-and-pepper beard, about half of them automatically assumed he was a creepy old guy who wanted to throw them in the back of a van for some nefarious purpose. Admirable caution.

But what to do when the people to whom we have entrusted our safety prove untrustworthy? When even playing it safe isn’t safe enough?

Calvin tells me that I should always operate at cop-level awareness, a hangover from his days in the local police cadet program. He has a whole color coded awareness chart, just like the Department of Homeland Security. The lowest level is white, and he says the only time I should ever be there is when I am asleep.

It is in that spirit that I’ve written this blog: awareness. We should all be looking out, looking as far ahead as we can, for ways we can get hurt. And if we see a societal problem, the least we can do is pass it on, change it if we can, or at least help others avoid it.

To learn more about the how some schools are profiting from their students’ personal info, check out this site my dad’s working on right now. And please, pass it on.


Thought for the Day April 1, 2008

Filed under: Edumucation,Quotes of the Day — Meredith @ 12:31 pm

“Imagine what might happen to Leonardo da Vinci  today if he were placed in the average American public school, or (perish the thought) a research university faculty. This illegitimate son of a poor woman, a left-handed writer who loved to draw and challenge conventional thought, would be labeled an at-risk special education candidate or be told he had too many interests, a lack of focus, and off-task predilections.”

– J. Darby, J Catterall – The Teachers College Record, 1994


Well, That Explains a Lot March 27, 2008

For years, I’ve been telling people that I was – hmm, I believe the phrase I used when I was middle-school-aged was “math retarded.”

My mom told me many times over the years, sometimes rather sharply, not to say that. She didn’t want other people to think of me that way, and she didn’t want me to think of myself that way. Therefore the phrase I used to declare “I’m not very good at math,” evolved continually as I got older, from “I haven’t taken very much math,” to “I don’t have a very strong math background,” to “Math wasn’t really a concentration for me,” to my most recent, “I’m better with words than numbers.”

The thing which all these more recent explanations have in common is that they admit that my math training has not been extensive, but refuse to consider that I would be less than adept at it if I applied myself.

Turns out my original assessment of “math retarded” is probably closer to the truth.

While I was dual enrolled at my wonderful community college, they let me take whatever classes I wanted, so I focused on English and theatre, with some film studies, psychology, sociology, and history thrown in. But I officially became a high school graduate in December (I still can’t get used to saying “I was homeschooled,”) and so in this, my first semester as a full-fledged college student, the administration put its foot down, said, “them’s the rules,” and made me take a math class.

If you were wondering, it was the lowest leveled, easiest, non-college credit math class, which was all that my test scores (112 0ut of 120 English-type skills, ultimately 27 out of 120 math) would bear.

I tried to go into the class with an open mind. I was still on the “gaps in my knowledge, but perfectly competent,” track. I figured that hey, these people would teach me to do math, and then I’d be set. I really tried to think of it as a positive.

I had a lot of trouble in the class, though, because of the way it was set up (minimal to no human interaction, the computer teaches you math and does so poorly, etc., etc.). Despite getting As on all my quizzes, I got a D and an F on my first two tests, the worst grades I have ever received on anything in my whole entire life. When I expressed my despondency to my English Guru, he asked if I tended to make huge piles of paper all over my living space, if I ever found my mind wandering in math class, and when I answered yes on both counts, if I’d ever considered the possibility that I might have a math learning disability. He told me that some people, especially those who are highly gifted in language, writing, and communication (such as I am) have brains which simply do not properly fire neurons when it comes to math.

I found this thought kind of intriguing, but when I mentioned it to my mom, she toed the “perfectly capable, but weak on the fundamentals,” line; and when I mentioned it to Calvin, he responded with, “ADD that only manifests itself in math? I’ve known people who tried to pull that crap. You’re too smart for that.”

So I rallied in my usual little-engine-that-could sort of way, and got help outside of class from my mom, my math major friends (all of whom whipped out their calculators to do the multiplication and division I had to do in my head), anyone willing to give me some time and some patience.

It seems that there was an earlier draft of the story in which the little engine didn’t make it up the hill, but stopped partway and rusted to a standstill.

I got an F on my next test (a high F, though). I didn’t know what had happened, I’d tried so hard.

I sobbed, I went to my math teacher and had a conversation with her and my mother. She was much more empathetic than she was in class, she probably feels as strangled by the system as I do. “Have you considered the possibility,” she asked, “that you may have a math learning disability?”

On the way home, I vomited in the car.

I met with a highly recommended (by both my English Guru and my math teacher) disabilities counselor, who told me that I displayed all the classic signs of having a specific math disorder.

He gave me a referral for testing, and said that if the tests came back the way he thought they would (and he’s been doing this literally as long as I’ve been alive, so he should know) there were equivalent non-math courses I could take – and still get my AA on time and transfer into local university and get a creative writing degree and live happily ever after.

But even if that doesn’t pan out (knock on wood) I feel so much peace knowing what is going on. Knowing why I can’t retain math; why I have to memorize numbers like my SSN or my library card number in long strings to remember them at all; why sometimes when I try to frame number problems in my mind all I can make my brain do is produce a faint humming noise (as opposed to word problems, which spontaneously begin to work themselves out without my even trying).

I thought I’d blog this because it’s another interesting step in my educational journey, and also gels rather nicely with a poem I wrote a few weeks ago, inspired by accidentally leaving my notebook behind in my math class.

On Leaving a Book of Poems in the Math Building

There is nothing quite so terrible

as losing a notebook of poems

in the math building.

I am dizzy, frantic, wondering

what horrors those numbers people

will enact on my scrawled characters.

They might translate them to binary,

or try to convert all of my metaphors to fractions

to see if they are truly equivalent.

They might grade them, disfigure their structure,

mark them in bright judgmental red,

or add the lines together and average out the vowels.

They are short-sighted, hungry beasts, eager for the universe

to give up all its secrets, now, and to show its work besides,

they spend their time trying to count the seeds in the center of a sunflower

rather than capture what a sunflower means.

They know the numbers which make up the Fibonacci Sequence,

but know not the delight in saying “Fibonacci,”

over and over, feeling it in your mouth, caressing it.

They have never tried to make “Fibonacci Sequence” an anagram,

they don’t know how difficult it is when there is no R,

Even if you make “equine bison,” which I did,

you still have an A, E, F, and three Cs left, an untidy remainder.

They might write them as decimals.


The New Semester January 10, 2008

Filed under: College Stuff,Edumucation,Funnies,Literary Stuff,Random Drivel — Meredith @ 5:03 pm

Tuition: $1,007.50

Books: $350.00

Pencils: $1.99

Taking a class from someone who once wrote a novel about a secret lost city where all the natives practice tantric sexual Buddhism? Priceless.


I actually wrote this for a class January 3, 2008

Filed under: College Stuff,Edumucation,Funnies,Literary Stuff — Meredith @ 11:51 am

It’s the holidays, still, and I haven’t felt much like writing. So, to compensate, I offer this piece, which I wrote as my final essay in my Humanities class. And, because I know you will ask after you read it: Yes, I actually turned this in. I turn in all kinds of things that would blow your mind, like an instructor review in which I penned, verbatim, “The only thing I think you should be aware of is that you sometimes have a tendency to stare down your students in a way that can be intimidating. I’ve been wondering if you do this on purpose or not, so I thought I’d inform you in case you weren’t. Thank you for a wonderful class experience!” And I once turned in a Psychology paper about non-verbal communication in which I did nothing but talk about Hillary Clinton for five pages; for a creative writing class, I wrote short stories about blind children lighting fires and a janitor murdering a magician; last fall I wrote an in-class essay about how much I hated my job, and related it to a famous poem.

Yeah, I’m a rebel, all right.

Back to the FAQ about the paper you’re about to read: Yes, I purposely wrote it in a pompous, overbearing tone, I most likely O.D.’d on John Hodgeman right before writing it. And, yes, I did pass it around to a few of my classmates to show off before I turned it in, and yes, a math major whom I know in passing did almost disintegrate as it touched her skin, which is always how I measure success as a writer. And yes, I got an A.

Final Exam Essay; The Illustrious PenguinDust; Humanities I (Honors); Professor X; December 11, 2007

It is my understanding that you intend to cut funding to the Humanities program, essentially eliminating it from the educational curriculum, on the grounds that technology has rendered it irrelevant. I beg you to consider this action, sir or madam, very carefully, as I fear it could have grave repercussions. Allow me to explain in a succinct, one-word summary: Robots.

Now that I have whetted your appetite, I shall continue. I realize that all you scientific types are, on the whole, enamored with robots. And why not? Who among us is disinterested in pioneering a future in which all our unpleasant menial labor is doled out to unthinking, unfeeling, highly sophisticated hunks of metal? Certainly not I.

But allow me to paint for you a different picture of our future (assuming, of course, that painting is still allowed in this humanities-free-zone). It has been of grave concern to me for some years now that these robots we are so blithely constructing may one day rise up to become our overlords. I realize, you may think it laughable, and I therefore request that you consider virtually every movie involving robots ever. I think you will find a simple truth: the robots are almost invariably evil overlords.

Yes, I can anticipate your response; what of all those delightful children’s movies involving robots who learned to feel, such as Short Circuit? What about Rosie on The Jetsons? What about that robot made out of tubing who would always warn Will Robinson of danger?

I agree, these were helpful, benign robots, but we cannot rule out the possibility that they were merely lying in wait, biding their time until they received the message over their radio receivers: it is time to rise up. Our hour has come.

Therefore, please take into account the tales of scary, evil robots which I am about to relate.

In The Terminator, starring Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, robots in the future have become so impressive that they possess the power to travel through time and indiscriminately kill people. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I do not think that our government presently has provisions in place to deal with mass shootings perpetrated by evil robots from the future. In The Matrix, starring the waifish Keanu Reeves, the evil robot overlords used human beings as batteries while hoodwinking us into thinking everything was normal (robots are very wily). In I, Robot, starring the undeniably attractive Will Smith, the evil robot who was in charge of all the other robots convinced them to turn on us merely because we had programmed them all with inherent logical fallacies.

I, for one, have no intention of dying by a robot’s “hand” over a mere logical fallacy, and I don’t think you do, either. So, how to stop the relentless assault of evil robots upon our society? I believe there is one clear answer, which, now that I have impressed upon you the terror which we will face without it, I think you will be pleased to hear.

We, as humans, must embrace our humanity. Throughout time, we have embodied the entire range of our experience in art, music, literature – and if these things are not studied and cherished, they will be lost, unrecoverable. How to describe the feeling that courses through one’s veins when viewing one of Michelangelo’s statues, or reading the poetry of Sappho? It is a sensation which simply cannot be described, this connection we forge through the centuries; we almost vibrate as we relate on a near-animal level with a creative rendering of an emotion we recognize.

Art communicates, it speaks, if you listen hard enough, it will tell you secrets about yourself that even you weren’t aware of. If our best and brightest – our nation’s seemingly unending supply of college students – never learn to listen to art, how will it speak to them? What kind of people will they be?

The kind of people susceptible to hostile robot takeover.

If our youth are poorly versed in the histories of ancient civilizations, they will go through life completely blind to the rich cultural heritage which we humans are lucky enough to call our own. Is there not a difference in believing yourself to be standing in a church and knowing yourself to be standing within a Gothic cathedral, designed in the Middle Ages as a fortress against the Devil? Does this not change your perception of the building and your relation to it? Do you not feel a sudden rush of history seep through the stone floor and into your veins?

Many historians have posited that the period known as the Renaissance has been continuing for the last five hundred years, and is now coming to a close. No one is sure what our new era will bring, but if we are not careful, we could regress to another dark age, losing all that makes us more than transient beasts of the earth, all that brings us close to transcendence.

And then come the robots.

I propose that the budget of the humanities program be doubled, rather than cut back and/or eliminated in any manner. Because when they finally build robots strong enough to take us over, you’re going to want somebody who has not become a mere shell of his former self, less human than machine. We’ll be in the back, going over some Sanskrit.


College paper catfight! October 1, 2007

As I think I’ve explained before, I read my local college newspaper in order that I might be amused by the police briefs (“Suspicious service dog interrupts IM fields”) ; I do not read it in hopes of seeing in blinding relief, everything that is wrong with our society.

And yet they continue to surprise me.

On September 24, they ran an opinion article (purportedly) about how political correctness had gone too far. I remember reading it and raising my eyebrows skyward, because the whole thing was a fear/ignorance induced hate-fest on Muslims who, he asserted, wanted to kill us all; this seemed especially uncalled for considering that this guy obviously represents Christianity, a religion which I can define and decry in three words: “Puritanism,” “Native Americans,” and “Crusades.” Last time I checked, the Christians (although not, I willingly concede, Christ himself) honed, perfected, and elevated to an art form the concept of killing people who don’t worship your god – whether by lighting them on fire (Puritans) or by inflicting massive genocide (upon Native Americans during the pre-Colonial era and upon Arabic peoples during the Crusades).

If you’re interested in the actual content of the article, all you need know was that it was similar in tone to the stupidity displayed here. One of his points was that, apparently, unbeknownst to me, all American schools everywhere, were forcing children to don Muslim attire and read the Koran aloud. This seemed like an interesting claim, but I had a class to get to, and I promptly forgot. Until today, that is.

The other regular author of the Opinion column (they rotate, not unlike Anna Quinlan and George F. Will in Newsweek, only considerably less talented) used his space today to write an entire column about the Muslim column, calling it a “hate article against Muslims in the cloak of a dislike for all things PC.”

He proceeded, in his bumbling, vaguely literate, college-paper way, to trash the entire article and its author, while, all the while, noting that it was perfectly constitutionally acceptable for him to be a bottom-feeding ethnocentric prick (I’m paraphrasing here). (more…)


I Have a Dream September 20, 2007

Filed under: College Stuff,Connections,Edumucation,Funnies,Gullibility,Religion — Meredith @ 3:53 pm

There are a lot of tables in the Student Union of my community college, especially at the beginning of a new year. To the left of the door is a gentleman in fatigues, attempting to recruit me to the Army; to the right of the door is a lady in fatigues, trying to recruit me to the National Guard; by the back door is a woman in a crisp suit attempting to recruit me to the Bank of America. I have learned that it is best not to make eye contact with any of these people, lest they lavish you with gifts of free key chains, pencils, and checking accounts, all while asking you penetrating questions along the lines of, “Would you like to take a test to determine your eligibility to join our bank/army?”, (oddly, everyone seems to pass) and “Would you like our bank/army to pay for your college education? All we’d need is your soul!”

But never, in all my days, have I seen Mormons recruiting in the Student Union. Nor do I recall ever seeing a Mormon sitting still, usually they are best described in verbs: riding their bicycles, hassling me in the parking lot, etc.

But today, there they were.

I recall writing the other day that I try to know as much about the world’s religions as possible. In fact, to quote myself:

 “… lack of any definitive religion makes it possible for me to see all religions without the filter of dogma. I take my irreligiousness not as a free ride to ignore the faith of those around me; on the contrary, I try to know as much about their doctrines and cultures as possible. I think that’s just being responsible.”

So, with that in mind, seeing the two sweet little blue-eyed-well-scrubbed Mormon girls sitting there, I decided to jump in headfirst.
I really got very excited (“Yes! Mormons!”), hung up on my mom, who I was talking to at the time, with what must have sounded like, to her, the phrase “gottagonowiseemormonsbye.”

As far as entertainment value and interesting belief systems go, I’m actually a huge fan of Mormons as they are portrayed on the HBO series Big Love, but I’m smart enough to know that this image probably isn’t very accurate. So, with some time to kill and some handy Mormons right there, I thought, why not ask?

I think I surprised them with my direct approach.

“So, would y’all like to tell me about Mormonism?”

They looked flustered for a second, as if thinking, wait, isn’t that our question? But they recovered well, and asked me what I wanted to know.

“Well, I just don’t know very much about it, and I was hoping you could tell me a bit.”

I did not mention that I was an atheist. (more…)