Saturday, September 30, 2006

Concrete Doesn't Dry

I always hated grammar as a child, but as I began to write more and more throughout my life I began to realize the power of words. Much of that power is lost if you don't understand what words mean when you use them.

On the surface, it just broadcasts to the world a lack of understanding or education. Like when people consistently use "alot" or "allot" when they mean "a lot".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a nit picky person trying to rid the world of dangling participles. I just get a kick out of grammar. If you don't yet, you should check out "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynn Truss.

This is at the front of my mind because I am developing an educational school assembly program about the writing process.

Then, on the local news last night I heard a commentator announce something about concrete on a construction project drying. But concrete doesn't dry, it cures. In fact, if you pour concrete in very arid places, you have to cover it with plastic and/or spritz it down with water periodically as it cures because if it does dry before it cures then the concrete is less stable.

So should she have used "cured" rather than "dried"?

It might have confused a large part of the audience and everyone knew what she meant when she said "dried". But a great part of how we learn things is by seeing, hearing, and experiencing them in context. This is why the school programs I produce are so effective. They aren't a list of vocabulary words to be defined and copied and recited. My programs are a living example of the vocabulary words, defined and presented in context, then used appropriately.

Shouldn't we strive to speak and write as examples to the greatest extent possible?

By the way, I'm not talking about stuffy writing. I think that you have to write to your audience. This is why the concrete thing bothered me so much. Not because she said "dried" rather than "cured" but because I think it was a good choice in this situation. I think saying "cured" might have confused some of her listeners and no one was confused when she said "dried".

So as I develop this program on the writing process I find myself supporting the decision to perpetuate a misunderstanding just because it is already a misunderstanding. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Performing at My Elementary Alma Mater

Today I got to do an educational, motivational assembly program at Oak Ridge Elementary in Conroe ISD in Texas. I've done thousands of elementary school assembly programs over the years but this is the first one at the school where it all started for me.

I still remember the very first time I stepped onto that campus, thirty-some-odd years ago. The school was brand new at the time and I was brand new to the whole "school experience". I showed up petrified, like most kindergartners. My father walked me in and introduced me to someone he said was his friend, but I got the distinct impression that it was just another scared kid who was just as happy to have someone to cling to on that first day as I was.

I remember my teacher, Miss Norman, who no longer works there (surprise, surprise!). I wonder if she knows how in love I was with her. Not in the way a high school senior might fall in love with his 24-year-old teacher, but like a child loves a parent. I don't really know if she was a good teacher or not as I didn't know as much about pedagogy then as I do now, but I know that in my mind, there were simply none better than her.

I still feel that way about her and am sure, in my heart, that she was everything I remember.

The school has changed to be almost completely unrecognizable. When I went there, "open concept" was the new thing. They have since found that this just created loud, somewhat disruptive learning environments and so all the rooms have had walls built. What was once the front office is no longer. Now the front office is where the art room used to be. I think.

It's hard to tell. So much has changed there within the walls.

The only thing that really looks the same is the play ground. I mean, all the equipment has since been replace with newer, safer, more colorful stuff, but the shape of the playground, the way the trees lay, the shape of the outside of the building (which hasn't changed) and the road and fence line. All that remains the same.

So, I'm spending the rest of the evening remembering long forgotten times. Like the day the first graders made tie-dyed t-shirts. And our field trip to some place that made HUGE tires (and that is ALL I remember from that field trip, but I still think it is worthwhile). The games we used to play in the playground. Being "in love" with Kelly Portera and Shea Gustavsen (the former in Kindergarten and the latter in 2nd or 3rd grade).

It was cool to go back for a day.

I even got my old year book out and am excited about our upcoming 20 year reunion. I guess I'll blog on that as well.

--Julian Franklin (a.k.a. Jay Pugh)

Friday, September 15, 2006

You Should Move to Las Vegas

Every now and then someone will tell me I should move to Las Vegas.


"Because you're so good!"

If I had any modesty I'd brush it aside for the purpose of this post, but I don't. Lack of modesty has always been a shortcoming of mine. I've always felt that if I had just a little bit of modesty, I'd be perfect. But, alas.

So they think I'm good (by the way, I am NOT a very good magician as any competent magician who has ever seen one of my shows will quickly testify). But some fans think I may be a contender in Las Vegas and I graciously accept the compliment for what it is (a compliment) and dismiss it for what it is NOT (good business advice).

Even if I were the type of performer that Las Vegas wants and needs, why would I want to move there to compete against all the other performers? You may say Vegas is where the gigs are, but that simply isn't true. The magicians outnumber the gigs a hundred to one in Sin City, where as back here in Texas I can't even do all the shows I get calls for.

So what I miss out on is the glory. I don't have adoring fans throwing themselves at me. Or rather, my adoring fans consist of eight-year-old boys who want me to tell them how the handkerchief trick works and second-graders who want my autograph.

I prefer it this way. They are a better fan club anyway.

I was thinking of this after finishing up a Family Fun Night at Travis Elementary in Mineral Wells, Texas and while loading up my stuff a group of kids came up asking for an autograph. That's all the glory I need.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I was on 9/11/01

I was a school teacher that year.

My wife and I had recently (about a week before) learned that she was pregnant with our first child.

I was in the classroom and a fellow teacher came in to tell us the news. She wasn't sure (no one was at this point) if it was an accident or terrorist attack.

I turned on the television set we had in our room and we were able to tune in just as the second plane hit the other tower. At that point there was no question we were under attack.

I taught high school in a self-contained classroom. I worked with children with Severe Emotional Disturbance and I made the decision to keep the news on for the day. I still don't know if it was the right thing to do, but I felt like we spent enough time studying History that had happened decades or centuries before, and this was History in the making. I wanted them to know they were experiencing something they would remember for the rest of their lives.

"Why are you watching this stuff?" the students asked.

"This is history. One day, people will ask you where you were when you heard abou this. One day your children will study this in their history books."

"Psshaw!" They scofffed. "That's what you said about the Monica Lewinski thing!"

Yeah. Go figure.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How Much Would You Pay for US Gasoline?

I just read that we recently discovered an HUGE oil field in the US Gulf of Mexico. The oil contained therein are supposed to boost our available reserves by 50%. That's pretty amazing if you think about it.

But we still import a lot of oil from the Middle East because we use so much and because we can get it there pretty cheap.

Now, this isn't a political blog and I'm not going to turn it into one, but I was curious how much, if any, a person would be willing to pay as a premium to know that their gasoline was refined only from US oil. It would be more expensive, but the cheapest price isn't always the only factor when determing purchases. Most often other factors like reliability, quality, and cost of ownership come into play at least as much or more than price. This is why people pay much more for a BMW than they do for a VW.

But lately people have been willing to buy everything from salad dressing and ice cream all the way to electricity based on how those products were created and what the profits were spent on.

So I asked myself if I would pay a 20% premium on fuel costs if it came only from US reserves or from close allies.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teachable Moments

I am a big believer in the value and importance of "teachable moments". These are the little opportunities that arise dozens of times each day to teach the children in our lives more about the world around them. This is a tale of caution, however.

Children are human sponges, and sometimes we jump on those teachable moments without thinking about potential consequences.

So one day my daughter's skirt is slipping down. She is oblivious to the "plumber's crack" that she's showing the world and so my wife, Andrea says "Pull up your skirt. You're mooning us."

"What does 'mooning' mean?" Madeleline asks.

"A 'moon' is when your bottom is showing." I explained.

That was the end of the conversation. It was never brought up again by anyone.

Two days later, we went out to the video rental store to get a movie. We were coming out of the store at around dusk and I could see the moon in the sky. I asked my daughter, "Do you see the moon, Madeleine? Where's the moon?"

I don't suppose I have to finish the story for you other than to say, while we are proud of our four-year-old's ability to recall and apply information in new and creative ways, and while we are very proud of her well developed sense of humor, we were not really that impressed with her response to my question in the parking lot of Blockbuster Video.

--Julian Franklin