Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top Ten Signs I Might Be a Fanatic

In all my years, I’ve worked at many different jobs. From mowing lawns, to instructional design. But after becoming involved with the Open Content movement, I think I’ve found something to become fanatical over. So here, in no particularly order, are the top 10 signs I’ve become too passionate.

1 – In any given week, four out of seven days will find me wearing a T-shirt with the word ‘open’ on it.

2 – I categorize the world into two parts. Those that understand openess, and those that I haven’t had a chance to talk to yet.

3 – After hearing any problem (including the phrase, ‘my toilet is clogged’), I respond with, “You know what would fix that? More openness.”

4 – I enjoy liberating content.

5 – I don’t have time for a hobby, but if I did, I’d be remixing educational material.

6 – I curse the Sony Bono copyright term extension act, and last year at Disney land, I tried to beat up Micky Mouse.

7 – Because to me, open is not a four-letter word.

8 – Many of my heroes are 1970’s hackers. Or 1980's hackers. Or Hackers from the 90-07 years...

9 – The first action I will take after getting the copyright back from my first book will be to post that book on the internet.

10 – I decided that the last reason I’m a fanatic is ‘open’ to the community for further discussion.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I've cornered the market...

Go ahead and try it. Go to google and type in 'exploding coconuts'. You don't need to click search, just click on 'I'm feeling lucky' button. That's right, it will take you directly to my post on the subject almost two years ago.

That means either a) people see me and my blog as the definitive source in exploding coconuts, or more likely b) exploding coconuts are such a rare occurrence that my little backwater blog is one of the few spots that actually talks about it.

The reason I bring this subject up again is that as you can see from the comments, there has been another coconut exploding event. We had my original experience in April of 2005, somebody else had one in August of 06, and now we've had our first explosion of 2007. Anybody with a lick of math sense can plainly see that the occurrences are speeding up. At this rate, in a few years you won't be able to walk through your tropical paradise without feeling like you're under heavy mortar fire.

So, there you have it. If you're walking down the produce section, and two roads diverge, don't take the one less traveled by, take the one that goes past the relatively safe bananas, and not the potentially unstable coconuts.

Friday, January 12, 2007

This is what I work on all day...


The Cutting Room Floor

Ok, sometimes when your book is published, things are taken out and you hate to see them go. I really liked this part of the book, and it's roughly based on a true experience. I replaced it with another real event, but I still like this one better. Anyway, I thought since it will never see the light of day, I'd post it here for you to enjoy. The scene is three brothers at bedtime. Simon is the oldest, then Matthew (who is telling the story), and Peter is the younger brother.



Simon leaned over the bunk bed. “Sometimes when I'm trying to sleep, my legs feel all twingey, like I want to shake them. Do you legs ever do that, Matthew?”

“Um, no.” I said, from under my covers. I was hiding there in case there were spiders roaming around the bedroom.

Simon climbed out of bed. “I'm going to go ask Mom.”

I slipped out of bed and followed Simon to the top of the stairs. If Mom or Dad asked, I could tell them that I was just making sure Simon could make the trip on his weak legs.

Simon went downstairs, and I crouched down so I could hear the conversation.

“Mom,” Simon said, “my legs feel strange. Whenever I lay down they feel all twingy. And I want to shake them.”

I wondered if Simon was exaggerating. We often came up with bizarre reasons to get out of bed, but somehow it sounded real to me.

“I’m sorry, son,” Mom said, “try resting some more.”

“But that’s what makes them feel weird!” Simon protested. “Every time I lie down!”

Dad was watching the TV, but at this comment he looked over. “Sounds like restless leg to me.”

“He’s too young to have restless legs, dear,” Mom said.

“He might be having a growing spurt or something,” Dad said. “You know what my mom used to swear by?” Dad asked, and then waited for somebody to ask him. Mom and Simon just looked at him.

“She used to say, and I know this is going to sound weird,” Dad said, “She used to say that if you put a bar of soap between your sheets, then it will fix your legs.

“WHAT!” Simon said, and it seemed he was a bit too surprised.

“You’re making that up,” Mom said, smiling. It was nice to see Mom poking fun at Dad.

“I am not,” Dad said seriously, “She used to have the same problem when she was pregnant, and a bar of soap did the trick every time.

“I am not putting a bar of soap between…” Simon began

But Mom’s patience had about run out. “Simon, if your legs are really bothering you, try the soap thing, otherwise, you’re just going to have to live with it.”

Simon stood there for a moment, and then started back upstairs.

“We have soap in the bathroom,” Dad called after Simon, “I promise, it really works.”

Simon came up the stairs.

“Can you believe that?” Simon asked me as we made our way back to bed. “Whoever heard of something that crazy?”

“It doesn’t sound that crazy to me.” I said. Putting soap between the sheets didn’t make sense, but it didn’t exactly sound crazy.

“What?” Simon asked, “Do you mean you would you do it if your legs hurt?”

I shrugged as I got back in bed. “Sure,” I said. “It’s not that big of a deal – especially if your legs are really hurting.”

Simon stood there for a while. After much deliberation, he went to get a bar of soap. When he got back, he climbed back into bed and lay still for a while.

“So, do you think I’m supposed to take it out of the wrapper?” he asked down from the top bunk.

“Hmmm,” I said. “I’d try it first with the wrapper on, and then if that doesn’t work, you can take the wrapper off.”

There was some shuffling on the top bunk, and then Simon called down, “The wrapper pokes.”

I couldn’t figure out why he felt I wanted a play-by-play of his soap experiment. “Then take it off,” I said.

There were some unwrapping noises, and then pieces of soap wrapper fluttered off the side of the bed and landed gently on the floor.

“That’s not any better,” Simon said after a minute. “Now I’m all itchy.”

I couldn’t figure out why Simon’s legs would itch, just because he had a bar of soap between the sheets. We used soap in the tub, it’s not like it should irritate his skin.

“Try moving your legs away from the soap.” I suggested.

“They’re not next to the soap,” Simon said. But I heard him shuffling his legs.

“That just makes it worse!” he said, finally. “It’s getting sweaty down there.”

“Let me take a look.” I suggested, and started to get out of bed.

“NO!” Simon shouted, and there was some shuffling coming from the top of the bunk.

“What is wrong with you?” I asked, completely confused.

I stood on the edge of my bed, and looked at Simon He had the covers pulled up to his chin and he looked embarrassed.

“What exactly did you think Dad told you to do?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Simon asked.

“I mean you do realize that he told you to put a bar of soap between your sheets, right?” I asked.

Simon’s eyes bugged out.

“Wait a minute…” I said, and then suddenly I realized what had happened. I burst out laughing. “You mean you thought…” I couldn’t finish the sentence because I was laughing so hard. I fell to my bed.

“Be quiet, Matthew.” I heard Simon say from up top. There were more sounds of adjusting, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

Simon jumped out of bed, the soap held in his right hand between a single finger and his thumb.

“Make sure and throw that away!” I hissed after him, still laughing.

When he came back, I could finally finish my sentence “You thought she said ‘cheeks’, didn’t you?”

“Be quiet, Matthew,” was all Simon would say.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Charles Brown

Now, the final student, our hapless hero, Charlie Brown. Brown’s solo is delivered as if he is wringing his hands. You can hear the stomach juices churning inside his belly (not literally, of course. That doesn’t make for good Broadway audio quality).

If I start writing now
When I'm not really rested
It could upset my thinking
Which is no good at all.
I'll get a fresh start tomorrow
And it's not due till Wednesday
So I'll have all of Tuesday
Unless something should happen.
Why does this always happen,
I should be outside playing
Getting fresh air and sunshine,
I work best under pressure,
And there'll be lots of pressure
If I wait till tomorrow
I should start writing now.
But I if I start writing now
When I'm not really rested
It could upset my thinking
Which is
No good at all.

Charlie Brown needs help. He’s not slow, or dim-witted. He just thinks too much. He needs some one-on-one guidance. He has needs (don’t we all), and a few kind words could put him at ease. He probably does need fresh air and sunshine. This assignment might be too hard for him. He needs some individualized help, and he is one student in a group of 25-30.

Charlie Brown repeats these phrases throughout the song, and he also has the final words in the song. After everybody has finished their lines, and reports, Charlie Brown shouts out:

I haven't even started yet!

The end result here is much more tragic. Like Schroeder, Charlie brown will get a poor grade. He will begin to hear the words, “slow, behind, special needs”. And those will be the nice words from his teachers. His peers will likely call him ‘stupid, moron, retard’. A kid this age can’t brush these comments away, especially when they are coming from authority figures. Poor Charlie Brown will begin to believe these words, and in a tragedy of self-fulfilling prophecy, by the time he is in High School, he will be behind, slow, and have more needs that he did in elementary school. He will probably drop out and never have much of a life. This in spite of the fact that he is not stupid, only that he learns differently from others. He needs an active role in his education, not a passive one. He can’t sit and learn, he needs to get his hands dirty.

The song is meant to be fun and silly, but it is much more. The point, at least to me, is that each student is different. They are on different levels, they have different skills and needs. They need individual attention. Do students get this attention in public schools? Yes, two or three times in 7 hours if you ‘fit into’ the public school model of quietly sitting at your desk listening to the teacher expound. You'll get much more ‘individual attention’ if you don’t fit that mold, though that attention often takes the form of negative reinforcement (Sit down! Stop talking! Listen to me! Put that book away, pull out this one!).

I've been pretty critical in these little essays, but I do not blame school teachers. I do not blame school districts. The blame lies with us. It is our fault for thinking that sending a 7 year old to sit in school 7 hours a day is a good thing. It’s not a good thing. There will be a time when the student is ready to learn in such a way, but not at such a young age. My children love to learn. I loved to learn at their age. When they are most excited it’s not because they’ve received a gift, or eaten a good meal. It’s when they’ve figured something out. The most enthusiastic and passion filled words out of my children’s mouths are ‘Dad! Guess what!” They’ve learned something, and they want to tell me.

I hope that passion never leaves them. And that is why we homeschool.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Let’s move to Linus. Here we have an interesting dilemma. Linus’s solo goes thus:

(Spoken)“In examining a book such as Peter Rabbit, it is important that
the superficial characteristics of its deceptively simple plot
should not be allowed to blind the reader to the more substantial
fabric of its deeper motivations. In this report I plan to discuss the

sociological implications of family pressures so
great as to drive an otherwise moral rabbit to
perform acts of thievery which he consciously knew were
against the law. I also hope to explore the personality of Mr.
Macgregor in his conflicting roles as farmer and humanitarian.

Peter Rabbit is established from the start as a benevolent hero
and it is only...

The last line is delivered with pure excitement. Linus can’t wait to delve into the deep intricacies of this story. The problem? Linus is not being challenged. He should be looking at much harder work. The end result will be that despite his current enthusiasm he will soon be very bored with school. To Linus, this is all too easy. He will come to think that school is something that you can just ‘coast through’. You don’t need to pay attention because you already know this stuff. Four years later, Linus will wake up and realize that he is suddenly behind his classmates. He will have no work ethic, since he’s used to just hanging out. Linus is a genius, but that ‘problem’ will quickly be solved by years of inactivity and lack of challenge. The culprit of course is once again the large class size. The teacher probably tires to challenge Linus where she can, but she can hardly be expected to hand out individualized assignments. In two or three years, Linus will no longer be asking for harder work, he will be on par with the rest of the class. “No child allowed to excell,” is the motto for young Linus.

Probable grade - A

Monday, January 08, 2007


Schroeder’s solo is an interesting one. We get a really good feel for the kind of student Schroeder is.

His part starts out very slow. He is clearly bored with this project. Maybe he’s not too bright? Maybe he is slow? It sounds like he doesn’t really care much a bout Peter Rabbit. Maybe he can’t read?

"The name of the book about which…
This book report is about is..
Peter Rabbit which is about this
I found it very-
I liked the part where-
It was a-"

Here in the song, Schroeder suddenly sounds excited. The music suddenly picks up and Shroeder rips out this next part.

"It reminded me of "Robin Hood"
And the part where Little John jumped from the rock
To the Sheriff of Nottingham's back.
And then Robin and everyone swung from the trees
In a sudden surprise attack.
And they captured the sheriff and all of his goods
And they carried him back to their camp in the woods
And the sheriff was guest at their dinner and all
But he wriggled away and he sounded the call
And his men rushed in and the arrows flew-
Peter Rabbit did sort of that kind of thing too."

Well, we no longer need to wonder if Schroeder is slow, dim-witted, or whether or not he can read. It sounds like he’s loves reading He’s probably doing it at a higher level. The problem? He didn’t care for the Peter Rabbit story, and that’s what he has to write the book report on.

Later, Schoeder again tries to pull in his real interest, and make it fit in the report that he HAS to write:

"Just then an arrow flew in- whing!
It was a sign for the fight to begin- zing!
And then it looked like the sheriff would win- ah!
But not for long.
Away they ran.
Just like rabbits.
Who run a lot
As you can tell
From the story
Of Peter Rabbit
Which this report
Is about.

What are the objectives of the Peter Rabbit report? Is it to demonstrate reading comprehension? Composition? Literacy skills? Whatever they are, wouldn’t a report on Robin Hood work just as well? Schroeder would certainly enjoy school more if that were allowed.

We can’t lay the blame on the teacher. Maybe she picked Peter Rabbit because that is something that would hopefully entertain the entire class (made up of both boys and girls). Or maybe the choice was made at a district, or state, or federal level. At none of those levels do they realize poor Schroeder doesn’t much care for rabbits, and would be happier writing about Robin Hood. Schroeder’s probable grade – C-

The tragedy, of course, is that Schroeder is labeled. He's 'below average'. Hopefully Schroeder doesn't buy into this, but it's hard to do when your teacher (an authority figure) tells you you're below average. Even though Schroeder is an exceptional reader, he may start to think he is dumb.

Tomorrow – Linus.

More press...

When Deseret Book announced that they would no longer provide their books to Seagull there was a lot of outrage. Which makes me surprised that there has been so little in the news about the acquisition of Seagull by DB. It seems like it's no big deal. But there is a bit more in the paper today. A good article over at the Tribune.

Friday, January 05, 2007


So, I was listening to my iPod while driving down to SLC the other day. I currently have 3214 songs, and one of them happens to be a song called “The Book Report”. It’s from the Braodway Musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

I realized that the lyrics of the song describe some of the concerns that I have with public education. Not with the teachers, not with administrators, but with the system that inherently is bad for kids.

Let’s look at the song. The cast of characters includes Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and Charlie Brown. They all start singing about a book report that they have to do on Peter Rabbit. After a brief intro Lucy breaks into a solo.

Peter Rabbit is this stupid book
About this stupid rabbit who steals
Vegetables from other peoples' gardens

She then proceeds to count the words (there are 17), and says, “hmmmm, 83 to go.”

Clearly Lucy doesn’t much care for the story. Why? We don’t know. Maybe the book is too hard, maybe it’s too easy, maybe she has a bad attitude; it’s hard to tell. But Lucy has learned how to beat the system. She is supposed to write a 100 word book report, and by golly she is going to write a 100 word book report. She very likely won’t get anything out of the experience, but she will meet the minimum requirements.

We hear more singing from other characters, but I want to keep focused on Lucy. Later in the song she comes back with more of her report. She uses a whole lot of adjectives and filler words to ‘stretch out' her report.

The other people's name was Macgregor.
(::counts to 23::)

The name of the rabbit was Peter
(::counts to 30::)

There were vegetables
In the garden

“Such as carrots and spinach
And onions and lettuce
And turnips and parsley
And okra and cabbage
And string beans and parsnips
Tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus
Cauliflower, rhubarb and chives.

“And they were very, very, very, very, very, very
Happy to be home.

Finally, at the end she counts up and realized she’s only at 97. So she finishes her report with:

The very, very, very end.”

Clearly Lucy isn’t learning, she’s only trying to meet the stated goal. And the ‘goal’ (100 words) is an arbitrary goal set up by the teacher. Who is to say that a 100 word essay will prove that students understand Peter Rabbit? Why not 80? Why not 200? Some students might be able to encapsulate the story in less, others might need more space. Lucy doesn’t care, she meets the technical requirements, and calls it good. And the sad thing is that since she met the technical requirements, she will likely get a passing grade.

Lucy’s probable grade – B+

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Schroeder.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Charlie Brown - An Essay on Education

Last night I wrote an exceedingly long post, and have decided to divide it up into five parts. An introductory part (the part you're reading right now), and then an analysis of four students.

It's very rare that I ever pass out an assignment. In fact I've never done it before on this blog; but I'm doing it now. I want you to track down a song called, "The Book Report". It's from the Broadway musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie brown." You can buy the song for 99 cents on iTunes, or 12 cents over at allofmp3. Or, if you want to contribute to the RIAA 'help pay for our campaign to sue everybody including your dead grandma' legal fund, you can buy the CD on amazon.

If you just don't want to mess with it all, you can read the lyrics here, but you really should listen to the song, as it's a lot of fun.

Once you've tracked down the song, listen to it a few times. Over the next few days I'll be making some comments.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mormon Stories Podcast

Kent mentioned this in a comment, but I feel it warrants its own post. John Dehlin is a friend of mine, and does and excellent podcast over at mormonstories.org . He starts out the year with a look at the recent acquisition of Seagull Book and Tape by Deseret Book. You can download the podcast for free on iTunes, or over at mormonstories.

A great listen...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

More DB Covenant Stuff

There is some really good discussion going on over at Motley Vision about the recent merger. If you're interested (and I know you are), you can read it here. A few highlights:

"I sincerely doubt that Covenant will continue operating independent of DB for very long. Independent operation would be unusual for both DB and the publishing business in general. The result will be fewer books published."

"DB was probably an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen as they were, but with the acquisition of Seagull, they’re now so much larger than any of their competition that they fundamentally control the LDS market."

"The reason why we’re concerned is that DB now has the ability to literally put any publisher out of business."

"The problem with this goes back to the whole notion of competition. Prior to the merger, Seagull and Covenant made decisions based on one thing, and one thing alone. What will be best for the companies? If it hurts DB, well, that’s too bad. But all decisions were made to help the company succeed. A lot of those decisions also helped authors and customers. If Covenant sells more books (good for the author), the company succeeds. If Covenant becomes more efficient and is able to lower prices (good for the customer), they will sell more books, and the company succeeds.

"But now, with the merger, all bets are off. Is DB really going to allow Covenant/SB make decisions that will negatively impact DB? Will the ‘independence’ and ‘business as usual’ really go to that level?"