The Tragedy of Teaching To Kill A Mockingbird in Middle School

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

As if on cue, eighteen or so sets of preteen eyes would turn and stare at me, sitting behind them at a desk with a small ballpoint tattoo on the bottom left corner. They were looking for the tears I had promised them. Pulling out a tissue as a white flag of sorts, I conceded, “Every time. I told you, every…single…time.” Satisfied, they all turned their heads back to the television screen and continued watching a story unfold of which they already knew the ending.

middle school and to kill a mockingbird by harper lee To Kill A Mockingbird was a staple of my second semester curriculum as an eighth grade English teacher, which was something I simultaneously loved and hated. The book, by far, was my favorite unit to teach because, you know, that whole “one of the greatest books of all time” thing. I never tired of rereading it, and the rich story and dynamic characters made it a veritable treasure trove for engaging lesson plans and assignments. However, I also felt a particular sadness that the real brilliance of the book was lost on the average eighth grade mind, and I mourned that so many people are probably introduced to this masterpiece way too early to really appreciate it. I mean, these were kids who never failed to derail a class discussion by relating to the most insignificant detail in a story and running with it. Continue reading “The Tragedy of Teaching To Kill A Mockingbird in Middle School”

It’s a Dog-Eat-Turtle World

Our dog Scout is about as sweet and undemanding as animals come, which (by the fact that the rest of our family registers at varying degrees of selfish and demanding) pretty much makes her the low man on the totem pole in our house. This past weekend, poor Scout did something that knocked her down even one more rung lower on that hierarchical ladder: she found a turtle.

All the comforts of home

We were all in the backyard on Friday evening, enjoying the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Kurt and I were lounging in the hammock watching the kids play in the sprinkler (can’t you just picture us in one of those new JCPenney commercials?), when Scout emerged from a hunting excursion under a bush with something rather large in her mouth. Upon discovering it was a turtle, the kids declared that we had a new pet, and the immediate construction of a new turtle habitat began (a.k.a. a cardboard box with one stick, a clump of grass, and a few stray leaves to make the box “feel like nature,” along with a hunk of kale in case the turtle stopped peeing himself out of fear long enough to realize he was hungry). And with that, Scout lost her new chew toy AND her spot of most beloved family pet.

The naming discussion begins

Logically, the next thing to do was name the turtle. Michael immediately went to his second go-to name of “Max” (his first go-to name usually being “Bob”), which Grace of course vetoed right away…mostly because she didn’t come up with it. She wanted to make up a name using the first letter of each name in the family. But being that “KKGM” has no vowels, it didn’t have a real good ring to it. Then there was talk of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which of course led to the name “Michaelangelo.” That was the favorite Michael settled on, but not before offering the very typical and very expected suggestion of “Toot Tootbutt.” This was vetoed for obvious reasons. I thought I would throw out the name “Atticus.” I mean, how perfect, right? Scout and Atticus. I giggled in my head as I pictured Atticus the Turtle lecturing Scout the Dog that she could eat all the blue jays she wanted, but that it was a sin to eat a mockingbird, “because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy.” But alas, my seven-year-old and three-year-old didn’t get my literary allusion. Grace, in her creative fashion, wanted to name him “Turtelo.” Finally it was decided: “Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo.” We’ll call him MAT for short.

Scout was ready to fight for her turf.

Scout just wanted to call the turtle “dinner,” and soon her innocent sniffing became more aggressive paw batting and gnawing…which sent Grace into a fit of dramatic crying that mean bully Scout was going to kill this new pet that she loved so much. The turtle was gaining even more ground in the battle for most beloved family pet.

About, oh, five minutes after christening the turtle with his new name, Grace curiously wondered if maybe, just maybe, the turtle was a GIRL.

Our newest beloved pet. Call me crazy, but I think the turtle is looking for a little tongue…

Now we have to start all over again. Michael thought the very best name for a girl turtle was “Crystal.” At first, Kurt and I found this to be odd, but then considering the connotation that sometimes comes along with that name, maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice for an animal that has its own mobile home. (I do apologize to any Crystals who may be reading this…from their mobile homes). Grace wanted to name the turtle “Jennifer” after my brother’s girlfriend. (Jennifer, if you’re reading this…not from a mobile home… I’m guessing that’s an honor?) So again, the compromise of “Jennifer Crystal” was made.

All of this agonizing decision-making was really a moot point though, because the next morning we found that Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo/Jennifer Crystal had somehow escaped from its new “natural” habitat and was nowhere to be found. Apparently we should have named him “Houdini.”

Grace and her first fish, “Herbert”

There is a happy ending for Scout though, as she now remains our one and only beloved pet. She came close to having some more competition two days later when Grace caught her very first fish during our day trip to Innsbrook Resort. I think she would have gladly kept “Herbert,” except that we had to throw him back by law, which was even less of a reason than the fact that the poor fish ended up having a fatal encounter with her hook. Really, we should have expected Herbert’s demise considering the track record we had with our series of goldfish a few years ago: R.I.P. CallieEllas I-III and Chocolate Milks I-IV.

Now that I think of it, maybe instead of worrying about being our most beloved pet, Scout should just be happy she’s made it nine years…

Four Score and Seven Lies Ago…

michael jackson
Don’t you see the family resemblance?

When I was in the first grade, I told everyone that Michael Jackson was my cousin. Before you get too excited, that statement is unequivocally false. I have no idea why I said it. Could I have already felt the push to be cool even as a fledgling student? Anyway, an immediate divide occurred among my classmates: my supporters versus my non-supporters. Heated debates on the playground raged as to whether a black person and a white person could be related. At this point, I am sure I felt pretty caught in the lie, and I fessed up to the truth. Surprisingly, I was not shunned as a crooked liar for those next eight years that I coexisted with these children. Some, even in the face of defeat, continued to argue in my favor that I could be Michael Jackson’s cousin if we traced my family tree back far enough.

Does the story sound familiar? I think it does. We hear it all the time. Nixon, Clinton, Blagojevich, Spitzer, Craig, Edwards, and most recently Weiner. A politician lies (which means he’s breathing – hehe), the country goes at each other’s throats trying to prove their side is right, the politician admits to the lie, some people argue that the lie is irrelevant anyway, and eventually we all move on. All the while, real problems go unsolved.

abraham lincoln
Sorry, Honest Abe. Politics ain’t what they used to be.

It will be a rare occurrence that I blog about politics…unless it is a rant against the politics keeping The Monkees out of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (I told you they would pop up now and again – see my page “Why I Like Bananas“). I am not much for politics. In my opinion, politics are what is wrong with government. Too much “my side is right,” not enough, “let’s see if we can compromise.” Too much abuse of power, not enough empowering the country. Too much feeling I am above the law, not enough making laws that will help our people. It’s enough to cause disillusion. And that’s about where I am at with the whole thing; I have a feeling a good portion of the country is behind me.

I am aware there are people who will chide me for my apathy. I know I should care more. I know I should read more newspapers and less Sandra Boynton. I know I should watch more CNN and watch less Real Housewives. I know I should, but I don’t. I am glad there are people out there still passionate about politics, because we obviously need someone to run this country. I just wish more of the sincere, level-headed citizens of that passionate crop were the ones elevated to office: more Atticus Finches and less Svengalis. Perhaps there will come a time when I find the desire to change a crooked system. After all, my mom, who I pretty much never heard utter even the word “politics” growing up, has now become seriously active in a political campaign. Her kids all moved out, and she decided it was time to put her mark on the larger world. Maybe that will happen to me…maybe.

In the meantime, I will likely tune out when the news anchor reports on the latest politician caught in a scandal. I will get a queasy feeling when I hear a Democrat and Republican calling each other idiots for having a difference of opinion. And I will head to the polls only to stare at the ballot and sigh, because I don’t like any of my choices.

Now I think I might go listen to “Christ for President” by Wilco and ponder what life would be like with Atticus Finch as president…and Michael Jackson as my cousin.