Friday, March 30, 2007

Thievery Update

The crime is more vast that could have imagined. For those of you who read my post "The Fine Art of Thievery", I have an important update. I also have some words that I must reluctantly eat.
Today I found out the THE LITTLE RASCAL HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT BEFORE! I am struck dumb. I thought I was soooooo clever, writing about how good I am at busting young criminal masterminds. Well, I have been challenged. I now know that my skills need some honing.
The perp's sister came into the library this morning, to return some books that her brother had "checked out" (yeah, right). She knew what happened yesterday, and when she got home from school and saw him reading library books, she decided to do a good deed (knowing he was banned for the moment) and return them for him. OR, the two siblings thought it would be a good laugh to flaunt their skills and prove me inferior. Either way, the sister unzipped her backpack and produced.....two more pro-wrestling books from the same series. I kid you not. My face fell. At that moment I knew that I had been duped.
I told the sister that these were similar to the book her brother had been trying to smuggle the day before. She looked appopriately shocked. I looked up the computer's record of their checkout history, and guess what I found? That's right. He had never checked them out.

Well, security system be damned. This kid was better than I thought. My only consolation is that this recidivist is now on my radar.

Hear Them Roar

For Women's History Month (March), I invited our 8th grade girls to partcipate in an essay contest. The Woman In Me was the title of the contest, and the girls were asked to write about women they admire and the kind of woman each hopes to be. The results were both disheartening and touching. First, the disheartening part. How far could we possibly have come if the 8th grade girls of 2007, in Los Angeles no less, write things like this?

"I see the role of women as second class in our world. The reason I say that is because women are still being beat this day and age by their husbands and boyfriends. Also women are still being controlled by their husbands or boyfriend which means they tell them when they can leave, talk on the phone, have friends or not all of these things. Some women have no role and it's sad because their man just walks all over them like a candy [w]rapper."

Spelling and grammatical errors aside, this provides a pretty clear picture of what this girl sees at home. Other essays included these phrases:
  • women must "not care about people telling you ugly, dumb, and letting them make you lose confidence in yourself, and making you fell like your not worth a thing"

  • "we help do most of the house cleaning, since most men can't even handle a broom. We women have to cook, even though some men DO know how to cook but are just to lazy to do work"

  • and a very hopeful: "Boys rule the house. Women can rule something bigger like the world!"
What does this say about how our young women are being taught about womanhood? The men in these scenarios seem like pretty big dopes if you ask me, but they are somehow maintaining control over the women in their lives. I worry about these girls in South LA. They're thirteen, yet they wax off their eyebrows and pencil them on. They have lip rings and tongue rings. Their bodies have developed well beyond their years, possibly due to poor nutrition. They know that they have to fight for their place in the world, but they are ill-equipped to do so. At thirteen, the battle against the boys is still fun. It's flirtatious. It gets them attention.
When will it turn on them, I wonder? When does note-passing and hand-holding turn into obeying orders and answering to the man (literally)? How will these girls learn to overcome the suffocating gender roles that serve as their models?
The good news is, they've been paying attention. Somewhere, somehow, the idea that women know how to struggle and beat the odds has wiggled its way into their adolescent brains. One girl wrote about Tyra Banks, saying that she is "a great speaker, creeative, humble, and furthermore outgoing." Another girl writes that "A fierce personality will take a person a long way if she really wants to make it in life." Another says that "women are as important as men are", which is both hopeful and infuriating, making me want to scream, "OF COURSE THEY ARE!"

My favorite passage, however, is so lovely, so thoughtful, so sincere, that it leaves a big lump in my throat. It goes a little something like this:
"I want to be a mother who takes pride in herself and her children. I want to be a wife who takes good care of her husband. I want to be a loving sister who looks after her siblings. I want to be a niece who treats her aunts with all the respect in the world. I want to someday be a grandmother who can teach her grandchildren how to be brave and live life to the fullest."
She goes on to say, later in her essay, "I want to be the woman who steps up and speaks out for woman across the nation. I see the role of a woman being important and leaving a mark in history. I live to see women make it with or without the help of a man. In the end, I want to be me, [insert name here], a self-respected woman of her word."

Can't you just picture this girl standing behind a podium someday, telling it like it is? This girl makes me excited to be a teacher. They all do, really. All of the girls who turned in essays had something they needed to say. Whether their thoughts struck me as uplifting or tragic doesn't really matter in the end. They thought about womanhood long enought to write 500 words about it. They considered the women in their lives, noticing the bad and the good. I so want good things for these girls.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Fine Art of Thievery

My library has a theft-protection system that works very well thanks to one basic assumption that the kids make that is entirely wrong. Most of our students believe that the book's bar code is what will set of the alarm. If the book is not scanned, the alarm will go off. It's actually a pretty good guess. But wrong.

Kids make attempts to steal books about twice a month. These are usually comic books or graphic novels, books about cars, pro-wrestling, or sex. Boys are usually the thieves, for whatever reason. Maybe the girls just don't get caught.

Today, a 6th-grade boy came in to return the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. He then browsed for ten minutes or so, setting off the alarm when he tried to leave. When I called him back in (they always come back; they never run), he emptied the contents of the large portion of his backpack onto the counter. No book in there.

"Hm. That's odd." I said, curiously. "May I look in this smaller pocket, just to be sure that there's nothing else that might set off the alarm?"

"That's my friend's book. He in my class," says the boy, a wild look of terror in his eyes. I haven't even opened the pocket yet, but I already know that there's something good in there for me.

"Ok." Unzip.

"That's my friends. He in my class."

"What's his name?" I am always willing to listen.

"Ummm." He's gazing at the ceiling, really trying to come up with this name. "He sits next to Arturo."

Oh! Right. The kid who sits next to Arturo in Ms. _______'s class this period. Of course. I know him well.

Needless to say, the book hadn't been checked out to anyone. The bar code hadn't been scanned, and the security device hadn't been deactivated. This was a case of attempted book theft. The young boy, who had fooled himself into thinking his plan would work. became belligerant. He changed his story several times, finally telling me quite severely"You'd better be quiet!" before storming out of the library, foul words on his tongue.

But as all hapless thieves are wont to do, the boy messed up again. He left his school ID on the counter. Ha!

I take great pleasure in busting the wayward student. The library is a place where student crime thrives. Theft, vandalism, ditching class, bullying, inappropriate Internet frolicking, littering, harrassment, extortion, gum-chewing and candy-eating, note passing, cussing, teacher-bashing, ... I see it all. Except for violence, I see every manifestation of school rule-breaking there is. And I love to expose it. I do. I love to realize that I am witnessing a crime in progress, observe carefully to confirm my suspicion, approach the perp with nonchalance, phrase my first question in a non-threatening manner, get a partial confession or piece of evidence due to luck or investigative skill, and then bring it all home. Get the ID, get the name, call the teacher, explain the situation, and see the student realize that the library is not a free zone. The library is a classroom where each offense counts.

I don't spend my day looking for students who are misbehaving; I'm too busy for that. They just appear before my eyes. They ditch class in the library, but sign in using their real names. They attract a throng of observers around the computer screen, only to close the application as soon as I walk up. If that isn't an invitation to check the Internet history, what is? They leave spilled, sugary candy all over the couch....and leave their textbooks right next to it.

I love my students, and this is one of the things I love most about them. Some of them are always calculating the odds of getting away with something, which means that their little minds are churning away in there. I love that. I love to point out to them where they went wrong, and most of all, I love the way their faces look as they consider how they will revise their plans for the next time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Sense of History

Sometimes I like to look at the history of Internet use on the library computers. Today, my favorite search (keep in mind we're talking middle school here) was for "sexy puerto rican girls". Honestly, I would like to applaud this student's spelling exercises. I usually see things like "pusy" or "prono".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


This phone message, written in all earnestness, was left for me by the 6th-grade son of my library assistant.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What I've learned from creating this blog.

This is a simplified view of what it takes to create a blog. My boyfriend, Jason, is very clear about his belief that blogging is not something you DO, but a blog is a medium and should be treated as such. I am brand, spanking new to all of this, so my opinion remains to be formed. This flowchart reflects how I might use a blog, for my daily musings rather than for a greater purpose. As many people seem to do, I intend to use this blog much like I would a journal.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Photographs of Photographs

These photographs were taken in the lower 9th ward in New Orleans, about 7 months after Hurricane Katrina. My family visits NOLA often. We were not touring the 9th ward as part of a "devastation tour", but on our own as part of my parents' ongoing efforts to absorb and participate in the changes that have overtaken this magnificent city. I took a lot of pictures that day, of Lakeview, New Orleans East, Gentilly, the 9th ward, Mid-City, and the surprisingly large Vietnemese community on the east side of town. These pictures, however, seemed the most beautiful and sad when I looked them over later. The photo albums were laid open on the green, lush lawns, undoubtedly having drifted out of one of the open doorways or windows of the many homes in the neighborhood on a wave of flood-water. These singing, smiling, dancing people may have lived blocks and blocks away, for all I know. The waters could have carried the album a great distance, as it did with countless other heirlooms and appliances.

I wanted to rescue these pictures, to find the dancing people and return to them this archive of church gatherings and family reunions. Instead, I took these photographs of photographs. I showed them to my 7th-grade students in Los Angeles, along with other pictures of New Orleans both before and after the flood. It seems strange that now I have these photographs, even if they are just photographs of the originals, instead of the people who posed for and originally took them. It doesn't seem like they should be mine, which may be the reason I want to post them here. To share them opens up the possibility that I can somehow return them to their owners, however improbable that may seem.

Marshall McLuhan, that sly old fox.

Thinking about Marshall McLuhan's statement, "The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perceptions steadily and without any resistance" (page 18, Understanding Media), I'd like to share a little anecdote from my information life.

A few months ago, I was in New Orleans with my boyfriend for a 2-week vacation. We were staying in an apartment without an Internet connection, which to him is about as awful as being without plumbing or food. He brought his laptop, and every day we/he would go to a nearby coffee shop with wifi and "google doodle" for about an hour. Cravings satisfied, we were then free to take walks, read books, listen to music, and vacation peacefully.

One day we decided to go to the Pharmacy Museum, which we had passed on a walk the day before. It was rainy, so we wanted to call to find out the hours before stepping outside, but EMERGENCY! HOW WILL WE FIND THE PHONE NUMBER? My boyfriend was distraught. Would he have to go out into the rain with his laptop and find a wifi coffeeshop to get this number? As he tromped around the apartment preparing to do just that, I looked at him with calm surprise. I got up, walked over to a cabinet, opened it, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to him. He was stunned. Not only had it not occurred to him to use a phone book, HE WAS UNABLE TO USE IT! He could not locate the phone number and did not know the difference between the white and yellow pages. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun at his expense for days afterwards.

Today, I am ashamed to say, I did nearly the same thing while at my sister's house. I recently moved into her guest house and we are now having trouble with phone and Internet lines. Sitting in her living room, I tried to look up the customer service line for AT&T (using the Internet) so that I could use my cell phone to call in the problem. Since we are having Internet connection trouble, the page wouldn't load and I became frustrated. She then walked into her dining room, opened a cabinet, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to me. The number was in the front and I had not thought of this solution. I haven't told my boyfriend about this yet.

So, later today, as I was reading McLuhan, I began to think about his assertion that we are changed by this media whether we like it or not, regardless of the content. It is not what I read on the Internet that determines whether or not I am forever changed by it. It is the existence of the Internet that changes society (and therefore me). McLuhan says that "our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot" (p.18). I AM THAT IDIOT, if McLuhan is to be believed. Dang!

I suppose my point is that I have been either unaware or unwilling to admit how much I have come to depend on certain technologies, prefering instead to tease my boyfriend about his information choices and (what I saw as) dependencies. If the effects of technology do occur without resistance, then perhaps I should stop resisting so much?