Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jayson Blair Excellence in Plagiarism Award for 2008

We have a winner! Each year around this time, all of the counselors submit their entries to the Jayson Blair Excellence in Plagiarism Award committee, hoping their camper is chosen for the prestigious award. This year’s award goes to 9th grader, Duane Daryl Pigwhistle.

Young Duane’s writing endeavor pushed the envelope and went well beyond the norm in the art of plagiarism. Here are some of the reasons why the committee had an easy time selecting this year’s winner:

The paper was one month late. Even after he was told that his paper would not be accepted, he persevered and turned it in anyway, fully expecting to get full credit because, “I turned in my work”.

It was a verbatim download from Wikipedia. He didn’t even bother to cut-and-paste.

It still contained every hyperlink embedded in the original Wikipedia article.

But the pièce de résistance was the fact that Duane left the caption of the illustration to the original article in his paper. No photo, just the caption!

Thank you Duane. You make teaching exciting and fun!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

Navy jets fly overhead the camp, in honor of those who have given their all for freedom and access to the world's natural resources. We take solace in the fact that we have not lost a Camp Nickleby alum to the wars yet. But we anxiously wait. We are now in the sixth year of a manufactured war, brought to us by BushCo., with no end in sight. Wars are easy to start, but a bitch to stop. A few years ago, when the U.S. death toll was only 1025, I had a zealous, war-mongering student in my class who remarked that 1025 deaths was nothing to defend our freedom and punish the Iraqi people for flying planes into the World Trade Center. He is now serving with the Army near Sadr City. I think about him all of the time.

Many people think that we need to stay in Iraq until we 'win', whatever that means or looks like. I believe we extract ourselves like you would out of any alcohol-induced mistake; wait 'til they're asleep, then just sneak out around 2:30 in the morning. And don't call them later! Bring them home now! Please vote accordingly in November.

I came upon the following poem by Mark Twain. It was written in 1904, but it still rings true today. Although some people might consider war 'romantic', it is anything but.

The War Prayer

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen".

--- Mark Twain

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's Good Though!

It’s a sad day at The Nick. I started my Sunday morning by tuning into Across the Great Divide on KPFA. Robbie Osman, the host, was playing a Utah Phillips song early into the show, and I knew something was wrong. I checked Utah’s blog and learned that Utah made the transition from is to was Friday. Needless to say, I unplugged the big screen and put the Indy 500 on the back burner. For a KPFA archive of Robbie’s show, go here:

For those of you ‘Nicksters’ who don’t know anything about Utah Phillips, he was a folk music legend, peace and labor activist, and a favorite ‘curmudgeony’ raconteur of mine. In 1956, he joined the Army and did a tour in Korea, which would motivate him to become a peace activist. Go to for a complete article about Utah.

I first discovered Utah Phillips in 1980 or thereabouts. I lived and worked in the San Jose area and listened to the very iconoclastic radio station KFAT. We ‘FATheads’ were fed a daily dose of Phillips’ Moose Turd Pie, a hilarious retelling of his times as a cook while working on the railroad. To this day, I know every word by heart.

Seeing Utah Phillips perform live was always high up on my ‘bucket list’. I was able to scratch this off my list about six years ago, when I traveled to Fresno to see Utah perform at the Forestiere Underground Gardens, an ‘earthy’ venue to say the least, a cross between an art farm on steroids and the catacombs of Europe. Although a physical condition prevented him from playing his guitar most of the night, just hearing the guy tell his endless stories was well worth the admission price. Being a ‘foamer’, I also enjoyed Utah’s train songs. Utah Phillips should be considered a national treasure. He will be missed.

“My God, that’s moose turd pie! (pause) It’s good though!”

For further info, go to

Friday, May 23, 2008

Real fuzzy math!

A new study from researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities suggests something we in this crazy business have known for some time, that "state requirements that students pass exit tests to graduate from high school appear to do nothing to improve achievement on federal reading and mathematics tests." According to the study, comparisons of math and reading scores "of children in states with exit examinations to the scores of children elsewhere in the United States...concluded that there was no evidence that requiring passage of such tests improved academic achievement in those subject areas." No @$#& Sherlock! And I am reminded of this fact on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, I started my ceramics class on a glaze testing assignment. Each student is to mix a dry glaze with three different percentages of a glaze stain, apply to three individual test tiles, and fire them in the kiln. The percentages used are 2%, 4% and 6% of a 50 gram test batch. Of course, to ascertain prior knowledge, I made the mistake of asking them what would 2% of 50 be? Mind you, this is a class made up primarily of soon-to-be-graduating seniors. They have ALL PASSED THE HIGH SCHOOL EXIT EXAM. I found out, much to my surprise, that 2% of 50 is 25!!! How is this possible? Bet the folks at ETS just laugh their way to the bank everyday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What we've got here is failure to communicate!

Yesterday was just wonderful! I gave each camper a printed progress grade for the semester. As expected, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some were even close to tears. A great way to start the week! And as usual, I feel like I’m in a remake of Cool Hand Luke, and I’m cast in the Strother Martin role.

It never ceases to amaze me how many campers still haven’t learned how to actually listen. I can only imagine what it sounds like in their little skulls. How much of what I tell them actually gets through the barricades. My most recent guess is about every fifth word. Could be less.

There was a steady pilgrimage to my desk yesterday, each camper asking when projects were due and if they could still make up work, even though I gave each camper a very nicely printed end-of-the-year calendar for them to keep, with due dates clearly showing. As a back up, I have a large calendar posted in the room. Didn’t matter. They don’t read either. Would take up too much of their time.

And of course, I was the one giving them an ‘F’. Their performance was nowhere in the equation. Two more weeks to go. Dear gawd make it go faster, please!

Monday, May 19, 2008

If you're flunking and you know it, clap your hands!

You can almost smell it. Like blood in the water to a shark, the scent of the end of the school year is in the air. And the kids are falling apart. Three weeks away. They can’t wait. The staff can’t wait.

How come I’m flunking, I do all my work?!?

Today, in a few hours, I will hand out progress grades. I can almost hear the shrieks of pain and hopelessness coming from the seniors. Always my favorite time of year. And I will get the usual question, “how can I be flunking, I do all my work.” Not really sure where this phenomenon started, but I hear it over and over. Somehow, in their little academic careers, they learned to equate just turning in an assignment with automatically receiving an exemplary grade. They don’t understand the concept of a ‘spectrum’ of performance.

Of course, most will be in denial. They can’t possibly be flunking an art class! Then comes the anger. They will hate me for giving them an F. It’s all my fault, of course. Then the bargaining. There will be last-minute negotiations. Maybe they could clean up the room for a bunch of extra credit??? Next comes the depression. They will mope around for the remainder of the semester, digging themselves even deeper in a hole. And finally the acceptance of the fact that they won’t be graduating this year with their friends. That cap and gown purchase was all for naught.

I love this time of year.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The itsy-bitsy spider tried to stop the war

This has nothing to do with NCLB but we at Camp Nickleby would like to extend our kudos to singer/songwriter Neil Young. He has had an honor bestowed upon him that is not received by many musicians -- his own spider! This is, like, totally awesome!

An East Carolina University biologist, Jason Bond, discovered a new species of trapdoor spider and chose to call the arachnid after his favorite musician (mine too), Canadian Neil Young, naming it Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi.

"There are rather strict rules about how you name new species," Bond said in a statement." As long as these rules are followed you can give a new species just about any name you please. With regards to Neil Young, I really enjoy his music and have had a great appreciation of him as an activist for peace and justice."

A dog-eared Neil Young songbook and my Guild D-35 served me well in my college days. Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi . . . long may you run!

Oh yeah, the resemblance is uncanny, no?

Who let the horse in? Who, who, who, who . . .

Wheeled within the barricades of public education six years ago, th
e Trojan horse known as No Child Left Behind is finally getting a chance to work its magic. Unable to meet unattainable goals set forth by this draconian and ridiculous law, more and more school districts throughout the United States are coming under sanctions by the Federales. And we can all be proud that California, according to a recent report, leads the nation in the percentage of school districts not meeting NCLB mandates. California has 97 school districts that failed to meet their goals under the law for four years, more than twice as many failing districts as any other state so far. Nationwide, 411 school districts in 27 states now face intervention. We can all be truly proud of this accomplishment. WE’RE NUMBER ONE, WE’RE NUMBER ONE!

Luckily, these failing school districts will now have ‘experts’ to tell them how to correctly teach children! How wonderful this will be. Apparently, educators have been doing it all wrong for so many years. Of course, no one really knows how to close the so-called achievement gap and raise the all-important test scores. It’s like trying to tie rocks to clouds. But that’s the real beauty of NCLB! This is what it was designed to do; decimate public education. And yet, every day I read or hear about how the goals of NCLB can be met, if only more money was spent, or if a school district hired better teachers or principals, or if Martians came down from space and gave everyone an anal probe.

Predictably, the always comically-delusional U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says California is taking the right steps to punish school districts that are failing. Speaking of our beloved Governator, Spellings said in a recent interview, "He is the first governor to kind of embrace this law, to take it on himself, to be acting for it, and in keeping completely with the spirit of No Child Left Behind.” KIND OF EMBRACE??? What the hell does that mean?

On the positive side, by taking action now, California can collect $45 million from the federal government. The districts facing the most severe sanctions each will receive $250,000 in federal money to pay for intervention teams (ooo, do they getto wear cute little uniforms?) and to start following their suggestions. And what will these intervention teams suggest? More math and English classes, less science, social science, arts and music, of course. Let’s see if we can get that dropout rate to 85%! Why not just turn public schools into little gulags? With this new money, schools might be able to purchase new ‘programs’ like Reading Frist (sic)? It works so well! According to a recent article in the New York Times, “President Bush’s $1 billion a year [Reading Frist] initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report. Reading Frist did not improve students’ reading comprehension . . . The program did not increase the percentages of students in grades one, two or three whose reading comprehension scores were at or above grade level.” Not surprising, our leader, Commandante Spellings, had “no comment” on the report. The best part is, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee (and misguided NCLB supporter), charged that Reading Frist officials had "wasted taxpayer dollars on an inferior reading curriculum that was developed by a company headed by a Bush friend and campaign contributor (not to mention El Presidente Pantload’s brother, Neil). Instead of putting children first, they chose to put their cronies first." Miller asked the Justice Department to initiate a criminal investigation. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen.

As part of the restructuring process, schools will need to hire turnaround experts, new principals and coaches, and many more teachers to replace those judged to be ineffective. What the hell’s a turnaround expert? Where the districts will find these top-quality educators is unknown. California expects to face a shortage of as many as 100,000 qualified teachers in the next decade. It all is quite insurmountable.

Spellings, of course, has a different take. "I think it's going to take leadership, commitment and expectations," she said. "It's just like with the kids: If you think you have a bunch of kids who can't get to grade level, that's what you have. If you think you have superstars, that's what you have." My god, she’s right! That’s all it will take. The Power of Positive Thinking. Close down the schools of education throughout the land and just reanimate the corpse of Norman Vincent Peale. Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?

So I checked out The Power of Positive Thinking at the camp library. Took it back to my cabin and read it by the warm glow of my Coleman lantern. The next day, I was determined to turn my kiddies around. I entered my classroom and looked at all of my ‘superstars’. I gave them a test on Renaissance art. I took the tests back to my cabin and graded them. Spellings was wrong. It didn’t work. I still have a box of hammers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why is this day like no other day?

Always dedicated to providing a multi-cultural education to our campers, Camp Nick celebrated Cinco de Mayo, the holiday commemorating the victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The date is observed around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. This festive day was filled with many wonderful activities at Camp Nickleby.

Early in the morning, flan, the most wonderful of all desserts, was once again the star of the 4th Annual Cinco de Mayo Flan Tossing Contest. Contestants were given a wedge of flan. The object was to throw the quivering flan the farthest. The winner was 10th grader Ricky Hitchens, with a throw of 85 ft. and 9 inches, breaking last year’s record.

Members of the Camp Nickleby Car Club offered a wonderful exhibition of hittin’ the switches. Three students, Humberto, Raul and Skippy showed off their hydraulics-installed cars on the camp’s boat launch. The boys started bouncing their cars, and all was getting very exciting until Skippy’s ’53 Chevy went out of control and fell into Lake Mukasey, immediately sinking to the bottom. Darrell’s towing service was called, but it was too late.

At 2:00 p.m., our Folk Dancing Class provided everyone with a wonderful exhibition of Mexican folk dancing, with the chemical-laden Lake Mukasey in the background.

The most popular of the day’s activities was the game of Where’s Zapata.

Campers in our Home Economics class grilled up a total of eight dozen whole-wheat tortillas over an open flame. The object of the game was to be the first to see the image of Emiliano Zapata in a tortilla. Campers could also win prizes for finding the image of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (large burrito-size tortillas).

The day ended with the ceremonial burning of a copy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Campers gathered around a large EPA-approved bonfire, and tossed a Giclee print of the demon document that ended the war between Mexico and the United States in 1848 and lost California to the United States forever.

Most campers, when asked, thought the day was ‘muy bueno’ and can’t wait for next year’s celebration.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Camp Nickleby's Last Science Fair

Sadly, this may be the last year the annual Camp Nickleby 10th Grade Science Fair will be held. Because of the pressure to increase our camp's English and math scores on the all-important standardized tests, the science curriculum has had to take the back seat in instruction. Science scores won't be figured into AYP/API scores until somewhere in the distant future, perhaps when George Bush and his minions are long-gone and public education has finally been decimated by NCLB.

Mr. Pythagoras, our science and math counselor, decries the quality of the science projects this year. "Putting it mildly," he said, "this stuff is somewhat lacking on so many levels." Actually, it can be summed up in three words; VOLCANOES, VOLCANOES, VOLCANOES! Alas, the every-popular (and easy) baking soda volcano was quite ubiquitous. Out of 45 entries in the science fair, a whopping 27 were volcanoes, in all shapes, colors and sizes!

However, there were a few brave students who managed to forge through the sea of mediocrity and create something of their own, no matter how bizarre or random. Here are some of this year's non-volcano entries:

Helping Your Parent Through the DTs

This thoughtful project, by Jason Normwell, chronicles his time devoted to helping his mother, Charlene Murphy, get through her 12-step program at the local health clinic in Cedarville. Unfortunately, Charlene only got through step nine, then left Jason to fend for his self, when she ran off with an itinerant logger.

When Do-it-Yourself Body Piercing Goes Awry

Cindy and Heather came up with this one all by themselves. Practitioners of the tattoo arts, being somewhat scarce here in the woods, Cindy and Heather decided to do their own tongue piercings, "cuz that's, like, what all the boys like and everything." They decided to accomplish a "two-fer" and document their personal maiming adventure for their science project. Using Cindy's mom's sewing needle, a couple of finishing nails, and a pint of Jagermeister, they were able to pierce each other's tongue, without bleeding to death. Of course, both girls' piercing became infected. For their project, the girls decided to calculate the speed of Heather's infection and how long it would take to travel to her heart. Luckily they got her to the health clinic in time. But the photos of their project were amazing! Definitely Pulitzer material!

A New Look at Our Solar System

A few of the new students from that group at the old Johnson place even entered the science far, although it was quite obvious that science was not their forte. Hope Young-Smith, younger sister of Chastity, entered a model of our solar system. Unfortunately, there were a few problems with it, and she was disqualified. On her model, all of the planets, including the sun, revolved around the earth, represented by a flat, picnic plate. On the positive side, the planet Pluto was reinstated to its rightful place in our solar system.

Other projects that were submitted, but relegated to the back room at Spellings Hall, the venue for the science fair, included:

* Making a Dust Bunny Farm

* Magical Maggots

* Slug Maze

* Forest Fires are Fun!

* Battle Squirrels