Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

First Day of College Composition Class—Syllabus, Tone, and Thesis Statement

February 19, 2017

zzzzthesis

I do more talking on the first day than I usually do. (Reminder: A teacher should always keep a lozenge in her briefcase. Better to have it and not need than to need and not have it.)

I spend the first day of English Composition class teaching about thesis statement and tone.

Of course, I go over the syllabus first. I always hated it when one of my instructors spent the entire first session covering every word of the syllabus, giving us a preview of each upcoming lecture, so I tell the students that they made it this far and they should be able to read a syllabus on their own. Instead, I focus on the required texts for the class, my grading policies, due dates for assignments, and my expectations for appropriate classroom comportment.

I stress the following sentence from my syllabus:

It is important to maintain a cordial demeanor which facilitates free and open discourse.”

In other words, in this classroom we need to be able to disagree with one another without being disagreeable.

I tell my students that it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, I disagree with everything you just said for the following reasons….”

However, it is not acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, you are stupid and your mother dresses you funny.”

I beg my students to disagree. Please, I tell them, disagree with me, the authors we are covering, and anyone else in the class. That’s what we are here for, the free and open exchange of ideas. My students will receive no brownie points for agreeing with the instructor. This is true for the classroom discussions and also for their essays. Students are not graded on the positions they choose to take; they are evaluated based upon the quality and structure of their arguments and the style of their prose.

In order to teach students about thesis statements and tone, I select two short essays that vary in style and substance; usually I read them a serious article first (for example, Katha Pollitt on reproductive rights or Pat Buchanan on trade policy) and then I read them something lighter (a silly article by Jon Carroll about his cat, perhaps). Before I read the articles, I ask who can tell me what a thesis statement is, and then I type their answers into a machine which magically projects words onto a large screen for all to see.

Their answers will include:

An essay’s argument, an essay’s main point, an essay’s main point distilled into one sentence.

I tell them these answers are correct, but in my class it’s okay to state a thesis in two or even three consecutive sentences rather than trying to jam it all into one very long and awkward sentence with too many clauses and too many commas.

When I ask them where the best place to put their thesis is, they tell me it belongs at the end of their introductory paragraph. I say, “Correct.” (Good job, high school English teachers!)

This is the point where I tell them that different types of writing are bound by different types of conventions and expectations. For student essays (but not for other types of student writing such as journals) I expect them to follow specific conventions, such as placing the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph and supporting their arguments with “evidence” (the quoted opinions of people who are assumed to know what they are talking about for one reason or another.) I tell them that the two essays we are covering today are written by professional writers for popular consumption. Such authors are under no obligation to follow any of Mr. Bray’s rules for academic writing. For example, fragments and one-sentences paragraphs can be very effective tools, but they are not generally acceptable in academic writing.  Furthermore, many professional writers believe that a thesis statement placed at the end of the introductory paragraph is a clunky device.  And I agree with them, but you will nevertheless be marked down substantially if you do not have a clear thesis statement in any paper you submit to me. However, in the essays we are about to consider, the thesis statement might be at the beginning of the essay, it might be at the end of the essay, it might be broken up and scattered throughout the essay, or it might not exist at all.

Next, I ask my students what the word tone means in relation to writing.

Probable answers include: mood, attitude, voice

I tell them that these are all good answers. I also suggest that they think of tone in relation to a person’s actual speaking voice. Many of the authors I teach are people I have seen on television so I can imagine how they would sound reading a particular essay. For example, in my head I hear how Pat Buchanan stresses and elongates the second syllable of “bamboozled,” one of his favorite verbs.

Then I ask my students for adjectives that could describe the tone of a particular piece of nonfiction prose.

I get answers such as: sad, angry, sarcastic, light, witty.

I tell them these are all good answers.

I inform them that my rule about tone is that is must be appropriate in relation to the chosen subject matter of and essay and also appropriate for the anticipated audience for an essay.

For example, if one is writing about 9/11 in a mainstream American news magazine such as Time, a witty tone would not be appropriate. Also, if one were writing an essay for young children about the adorableness of puppies, a sarcastic tone would not be appropriate.

(I briefly explain the distinction between sarcasm and verbal irony, something we will go into in detail at a later time.)

Lesson Plans

#1 Distribute first article.

#2 Instruct students to get out their writing utensils and number the paragraphs.

#3 Instruct students to look for and mark possible examples of tone and thesis statement as I read the essay aloud.

#4 Instructor reads the essays aloud.

#5 Allow students an additional seven minutes to look for examples of tone and thesis statement.

#6 Pair and share (if time permits and if you’re into that sort of thing).

#7 Review as whole class discussion.

An appropriate answer for an example of tone in the essay would be: “The author is using a verbally ironic tone in paragraph six when she says, “I just love it when my boyfriend leaves me dirty laundry to pick up.”

#8 Repeat steps 1-7 with second article.

#9 Instruct students to save the articles for later use with this exercise on strong verbs.

#10 Remind students that it’s going to be a long semester and send them on their merry little way.

by Richard W. Bray

A Few Notes on Teaching Logical Fallacies

July 3, 2016
Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard

 

Have you ever been arguing with someone and you felt that there was something wrong with her argument, but you couldn’t figure out what it was? Perhaps she was utilizing some form of logical fallacy. A fallacy is an unsound argument based on faulty reasoning. Logicians have identified scores of fallacies.

Here are some examples of common logical fallicies:

Appeal to fear

Are you sure you want to give me a ticket, officer? I play golf with the chief of police.”

Things could get pretty ugly around here if I don’t get what I want.

Appeal to pity

You should go out with me because forty-three women have already turned me down and I can’t take much more rejection.

Circular Reasoning (A=B because B=A)

Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation because nobody else is as good as he is.

My mom is terrific because she is wonderful.

Appeal to Common Practice

It’s no big deal to leave trash on the ground in a parking lot. A lot of people do it.

But Mom, all the other parents let their kids stay out until dawn, so you should too.

Post hoc (causal) fallacy

When the rooster crows, the sun rises. Therefore, the rooster causes the sun to rise.

The Lakers won last night because I wore my lucky sweater.

False Dilemma (or False Alternatives)

It will either be hot or cold tomorrow.

You must be a Lakers fan or a Clippers fan.

Slippery Slope

If we allow gay marriage, people will start marrying their dogs.

If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment, eventually the government will ban all cars.

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”)

That man is an awful person because he is wearing a blue sweater.

I cannot eat a cupcake because it is Tuesday.

Loaded question

Have you stopped wetting your bed yet?

Do you still have a Spongebob lunch pail?

Distinction without a Difference

I’m against capital punishment, but I believe we should execute serial killers.

I don’t have a sweet tooth; I just love to eat candy.

One of the most common fallacies is ad hominem, which means attacking a person instead of addressing her arguments.

Here are two examples of irrelevant ad hominem argument which have nothing to do with the legitimacy of a person’s arguments:

1)

Dave: I think the death penalty is a good idea.
Larry: Who cares what you think? You are a stupid, pathetic loser and your mother dresses you funny.

2)

I’m not going to listen to any of your arguments because you wear Member’s Only jackets and you sleep with a Teddy Bear.

An Ad hominem argument is a great way to avoid the merits of another person’s arguments? Many English teachers say that it is never appropriate to engage in ad hominem arguments.  But is it legitimate to attack a person for being hypocritical? My answer is: Sometimes.

Here is an example of a situation where an ad hominem argument is clearly inappropriate:

Let’s say my doctor tells me after a checkup that my blood pressure is too high and I need to lose weight and I should quit drinking and smoking.   I respond: “What are you talking about, Dude? I see you drinking and smoking at my bar every night and you are seriously overweight.

My ad hominem is illegitimate in this case because my doctor is giving me medically viable advice even though he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He went to medical school and he knows what he’s talking about.

Here is an example of a situation where an ad hominem argument is appropriate:

Speaking of practicing what we preach, what about someone like megachurch preacher Ted Haggard who righteously espouses clean living and family values—until he gets caught in a hotel room with a male masseur and a bunch of meth? Does Haggard’s behavior render his message any less legitimate?  Yes, because he is bolstering his argument by holding himself up of as a paragon of someone who is living a righteous lifestyle.

by Richard W. Bray

Discovering and Correcting Un-doable Subject-Verb Combinations

December 4, 2014

aaaaaaaa subject verb

These new disposable diapers work hard to keep babies dry.

I call sentences like the one above undoables. Undoables contain a subject which is incapable of performing its assigned action.

I tell my students to correct undoables by picturing the subject executing the action: Can you imagine a disposable diaper working hard?

Each sentence in the following paragraph contains an undoable. See if your students can spot them and explain why they are un-doable.

       One concern that restaurants bring up is the issue of hygiene. Cleaning products take steps to improve cleanliness. However, halfhearted activities will not prevail. Furthermore, the way that many restaurants are maintained does not keep in mind adequate procedures for maintaining a germ-free environment. Many restaurants claim to be clean, but how can we be sure this is true? Our current situation is wreaking havoc on the intestines of restaurant customers. Unhealthy food should force restaurants to have higher standards. Therefore, strict policies must win the battle of the dirty kitchen. That’s why new laws should enforce minimum standards of restaurant cleanliness. Only then will America’s stomachs earn a respite from unhealthy bacteria.

by Richard W. Bray

An Activity for Assessing Characters from a Novel (Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich)

November 23, 2014

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Here’s an activity for assessing characters in a novel. (We’ll be using Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich for this example.)

#1 Class reads a novel with several characters. This activity won’t work with The Old Man and the Sea, for example.

#2 Review nouns and adjectives.

Noun Test

My_______
His______
Her_______
Some_______
A________
An_______
These_______
Those______
This_______
That_______

Adjective Test

My __________ house is __________

My __________ sister is __________

#3 Number off students in to groups of three. (Larger groups will encourage social loafing. It’s better to have two pairs than one group of four.)

#4 Assign a character to each group. It’s ok for more than one group to do the same character.

Group 1
—Marie Lazarre Kashpaw
Group 2—Nector Kashpaw
Group 3—Lulu Nanapush Lamartine
Group 4—June Morrissey
Group 5—Lipsha Morrissey
Group 6—Albertine Johnson
Group 7—Eli Kashpaw
Group 8—Lyman Lamartine
Group 9—Henry Lamartine Jr
Group 10—Gerry Nanapush

#5 Each group uses the novel to generate answers to the following questions:

a) What are four nouns that describe your character?

Example: Nector Kashpaw–Leader, Philanderer, Father, Indian

(Discourage students from going for the easiest, least revealing answers, like man, person, citizen, mammal.)

b) What are four adjectives that describe your character?

Example: Lulu Nanapush Lamartine—Unapologetic, Brave, Concupiscent, Rebellious

c) Explain how two passages (include page numbers) reveal something about your character.

Example—Albertine Johnson

Passage: After two months were gone and my classes were done, and although I still had not forgiven my mother, I decided to go home. I wasn’t crazy about the thought of seeing her, but our relationship was like a file we both sharpened on, and necessary in that way (P 11).

Explanation: This passage demonstrates the tension in the relationship between Albertine, a strong-willed young woman, and her mother Zelda. Albertine is upset because her mother did not immediately inform her about the passing of her Aunt June.

d) What are two things your character wants? (Kurt Vonnegut informs the aspiring novelist to make sure your characters want something, even if it is just a glass of water.)

Example—Gerry Nanapush

1. Freedom
2. To see Shawn, his newborn son

by Richard W. Bray

Don’t Send a Conjunctive Adverb To Do a FANBOYS’ Job

September 5, 2014

Conjunctive Adverbs

I am begging you, in the name of all that is good and beautiful in this world, don’t send a conjunctive adverb to do a FANBOYS’ job.

A clause is a group of words which contains a subject and a predicate. In other words, a clause can function as a simple sentence all by itself. A simple sentence, as I told you before, is a group of words that tells us what someone or something is or a group of words that tells us what someone or something does. Here are two simple sentences (clauses):

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix.

My car just had a nervous breakdown.

You might choose to join these clauses together in one complex sentence using the subordinator although:

Although
I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

You could also join them together using the word but, which is one of the FANBOYS:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, but my car just had a nervous breakdown.

Another strategy for emphasizing the connection between these two clauses is to use a conjunctive adverb. The following words are conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, and thus.

However, you must separate the two clauses utilizing a period or a semicolon. Then place the conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second clause. Most conjunctive adverbs should be followed by a comma when they are placed at the beginning of a clause (but not then). (Don’t capitalize the conjunctive adverb if you choose to use a semicolon.) Here are some examples:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix; however, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix. However, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

One reason this can be confusing is that many conjunctive adverbs can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence, punctuated like the following examples:

However, we did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not, however, see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers, however.

Indeed, Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is, indeed, the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, indeed.

What you must not do under any circumstances is connect two clauses together with a comma and a conjunctive adverb as though that conjunctive adverb were merely one of those common FANBOYS. (Conjunctive adverbs deserve more respect than that.)

If you are still confused, try this. First, memorize the above list of conjunctive adverbs. (Or, if that seems too daunting a task, simply have them tattooed to the underside of your left forearm.) If you want to know when you are abusing a conjunctive adverb by placing it between two clauses with nothing but a comma for protection, simply cross it out. If you discover clauses on both sides of the conjunctive adverb, do the right thing and provide it with a period or a semicolon.

Evaluation. Correctly punctuate the following sentences. (Warning: I sneaked in a few FANBOYS and/or subordinators.)

I need to comb my hair in front of my eyes then I will be as cool as Justin Bieber.

Sharon won’t mind that I borrowed her new dress without asking besides I’ll return it before she ever finds out.

I was a skaterboy therefore she said, “See you later, boy.”

It’s not my fault that your weeping willow died for I am merely a tree surgeon, not a miracle worker.

My homemade cinnamon buns moreover made me the most popular person in the William Hung Fan Club.

I want to be rich and famous so I am going to introduce myself to Rihanna.

I will show all my dance moves to Rihanna subsequently she will marry me.

Rihanna won’t respond to me on twitter even though I have downloaded all of her songs and memorized the lyrics.

Rihanna’s bodyguard told me to stay away then she got a restraining order.

by Richard W. Bray

Best Friend

June 22, 2014

img_0011

You always listen
To my words
And you never
Criticize
You’re astute
And self-assured
Sensible
And wise

When we’re alone
I take solace
And comfort
In your eyes
You’re solid
As a stone
Your presence
Pacifies

We don’t even
Have to talk
I love to
Brush your hair
I love it
When we walk
Together
Anywhere

Thanks for keeping
Me content
And helping
Me survive
Truly heaven-sent
You’re the
Greatest
Dog alive

by Richard W. Bray

Of FANBOYS and Conjunctive Adverbs: How to Compose Compound Sentences

October 27, 2013

fanboys

Let’s start with the FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so). I’ll use this handy, easy-to-remember mnemonic device instead of a more technical term because some people refer to them as conjunctions (as in, Conjunction-junction, what’s your function?), some call them coordinators, while others use the term conjunctive coordinators. (Oh, those wild and crazy linguists. In England they’re called philologists. Is that cool, or what?)

FANBOYS are used to combine two simple sentences into one compound sentence. You’ll be relieved to discover that compound sentences are much easier to punctuate than those pesky complex sentences. All you have to do is replace the period with a comma, insert the appropriate FANBOY, and change the first letter of the second sentence from uppercase to lowercase.

Here are some examples:

I want to go out. My girlfriend wants to stay home.

becomes

I want to go out, but my girlfriend wants to stay home

Don’t hurt me. I am just the piano player.

becomes

Don’t hurt me, for I am just the piano player.

(I know this sounds a little goofy, but when for is employed as a FANBOY, it means because.)

I worked very hard. I should get a good grade.

becomes

I worked very hard, so I should get a good grade.

I studied all night. I got a “D” on the test.

becomes

I studied all night, yet I got a “D” on the test.
(But and yet can be used interchangeably.)

I love pizza. My best friend owns a pizzeria.

becomes

I love pizza, and my best friend owns a pizzeria.

(A note on and: By my crude estimation, only about half of the high school English teachers in Los Angeles County enforce the comma rule for compound sentences using the word and. Moreover, the comma is unnecessary when combining two simple sentences with the same subject. Thus, the following sentence requires no comma: I’m going to go out and buy a car.)

The following words are conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, and thus.

Now repeat after me three times: FANBOYS are NOT conjunctive adverbs and they must never be utilized as such. More on that in a future post.

Quick lesson on combining simple sentences with FANBOYS:

#1 Share the above examples of simple sentences combined into compound sentences with your students.

#2 Number off students into groups of three.

#3 Instruct each group to compose eight pairs of simple sentences and then combine them into four compound sentences. (4+8=12)

#4 When groups have completed this task, they will show their work to the teacher who will put an asterisk next to one of the complound sentences.

#5 Students will copy the compound sentences along with the two simple sentences from which it was combined on the board.

#6 Teacher will review the sentences on the board as a whole-class activity.

by Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan on Complex Sentences

July 14, 2013

zzzsubordinators

#1. Read the following paragraph to your students:

This morning I woke up. The time was 7:30 a.m. I went to the bathroom. I took a shower. I shaved. I brushed my teeth. Max barked at me. I took him for a walk. It was a glorious day. He was happy. I was happy. I felt famished. We both had breakfast. I went to work.

#2. Ask students how they liked your paragraph. They will probably tell you that it sounded “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.”

#3. Ask them why it sounds “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.” Someone will say because the sentences are too short. Or, if you have already taught this lesson, someone will say that they are all simple sentences. Bingo. Paste a metaphorical gold star on that student’s forehead.

#4. Explain: Simple sentences are elegent and beautiful, and you wouldn’t want to live in a world without them. They are great for headlines, epigrammatic song lyrics, and those occasions when you want to make a point cogently and directly. But a story or an essay made up entirely of simple sentences is apt to be “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.” (There are some exceptions to this observation, notably books by Dr. Seuss and James Elroy). Fortunately, there are various sentence patterns which, along with strategically-placed simple sentences, will give your writing rhythm and flair. Today we will be entering the wonderful world of complex sentences.

#5. Explain: A complex sentence contains two clauses: a main clause and a subordinate clause. It’s easy to spot the subordinate clause because it begins with a subordinator.

#6. Provide students with this list of subordinators.

while, after, though, because, as soon as, wherever, when, before, as,
so that, unless, since, although, if, until, even though, whether

#7. Explain: If anyone ever presents you with a complex sentence and asks you to identify the subordinate clause, you can say, “That’s easy; it’s the one that begins with a subordinator.”

(One of the most common mistakes my students make is putting a comma in front of the subordinator. A complex sentence only requires a comma when the first clause is subordinate.)

#8. Provide students with these pairs of correctly-punctuated complex sentences. (If you love trees as much as I do, you can put them on the same piece of paper as the subordinators. Or, if you are a tree-worshipping Druid, you can post the information on Blackboard or some other Cloudy space.)

If I were a rich man, I wouldn’t be here.
I wouldn’t be here if I were a rich man.

I did not pass the Algebra exam even though I studied for over twelve minutes.
Even though I studied for over twelve minutes, I did not pass the Algebra exam.

Because you have a pool, you can be my friend.
You can be my friend because you have a pool.

#9. Activity
a) Group students into threes.
b) Number each group.
c) Instruct each group to create a complex sentence test with six problems like the two examples below.
d) Examine each test.
e) Have groups swap tests and answer each other’s tests on a single sheet of paper. (Students should not write on tests.)
f) When finished, the students should check their answers. (If they have any arguments with the answer key, they should not take matters into their own hands; they should call the teacher over.)
g) Continue to swap tests until every group has taken every test.
h) Students hand in all tests and answer sheets.

Examples Below

Create six problems. Place key on the back.

1.
___a. If you love me you will take out the trash.
___b. If you love me, you will take out the trash.
2.
___a I love you because you buy me things.
___b. I love you, because you buy me things.

Key
1.b
2.a

Coming up: Spectacular lessons on compound sentences and conjunctive adverbs.

Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan on Simple Sentences

April 23, 2013

grammar puppy

Step 1. Teach this lesson on parts of speech.

Step 2. Ask students what a simple sentence is. Correct working answer for the purposes of this exercise: A group of words that tells us what someone or something is or a group of words that tells us what someone or something does.

Step 3. Present the following examples of simple sentences.

N-V (noun/action verb)

Love hurts.

Batman returns.

N—V—N (noun/action verb/noun)

Horton heard a Who.

Mr. Blandings builds his dream house.

Note: In a N–V–N sentence the second noun must receive the action of the verb. Thus, Antonia eats pizza. is a N–V–N sentence, but Tuan walks around the lake. is a N–V sentence. (Around the lake is a prepositional phrase.)

N—LV—N
(noun/linking verb/noun)

Jeremiah was a bullfrog.

Time is a thief.

N–LV–ADJ (noun/linking verb/adjective)

The weather outside is frightening.

I feel pretty.

Note: Linking verbs include all the forms of the verb to be: is, are, was, were, be, being, been. The following words can act as linking verb, but only when they describe or rename the subject: feel, smell, taste, look, appear, seem, remain, stay, turn, grow.

In the sentence This soups tastes funny., tastes is acting as a linking verb.

However, in the sentence Guinevere tastes the soup., tastes is acting as an action verb.

Step 4. Group students in threes.

Step 5. Have each group generate a list of two N–V sentences, two N–V–N sentences, two N–LV–N sentences, and two N–LV–ADJ sentences on paper.

Step 6. Groups show sentences to teacher.

Step 7. Students write sentences on the board.

Step 8. Teacher reviews sentences as a whole–class activity.

Coming up: Lessons on complex and compound sentences that will knock your socks off.

Richard W. Bray

The Three Don’ts of Divorce and an Amusing Preschool Teacher Story

February 19, 2013

kids playing with fire truck

I took it as a compliment when someone chastised me for being “schoolmarmish” on a blog discussion thread. I assume the commenter was suggesting that it was prudish of me to describe reality tv as human cockfighting. (We were discussing the Real Housewives of somewhere or other, as I recall). I was tempted to respond that I’m very proud of the years I spent schoolmarming. Teaching kids is an important, demanding, and rewarding job.

Teaching elementary school is also very educational for teachers who keep their ears open. Not only do kids say the darnedest thing, but parents have a curious tendency to mistake teachers for Marriage and Family Therapists, particularly during parent conference season. And bitter divorcees of both genders are prone to inappropriate disclosures, a mistake which is compounded when done in front of one’s children.

This brings me back to my faded recollection of a long ago teacher’s lounge discussion about The Three Don’ts of Divorce:

#1 Don’t rag on your ex in front of the kids. Making stupid decisions with your life is nothing to brag about. And you really aren’t impressing people when you tell them that you chose to make babies with a pathetic loser. Furthermore, a relationship is not a competition; nobody wins when the final whistle blows. And the biggest losers will be your kids if you embarrass them by unraveling a giant ball of bitter in front of their teachers.

#2 Don’t ask your kids to spy on your ex. If you can’t let it go, try yoga. Deep breathing is not only good for the body, but it’s a wonderful metaphor for life; taking in and letting go is a continuous process. Struggling to hold on to something that no longer exists will rot your spirit; it will also turn you into an insufferable pain in the keyster.

#3 Don’t talk about details of the divorce in front of your kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents trying to justify X,Y, and Z by scapegoating a parent who isn’t in the room. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to divulge sensitive personal information to your child’s teacher. (Like when you’ve have to get a restraining order.) But it’s a good idea to send your kid out to the playground first.

An Amusing Day Care Teaching Story

In college I worked at a very hoity toity day care center on the north side of Berkeley which was run by a friend of my family. Because I was a part-time substitute, no one ever took the time to fill me in on the finer points of local etiquette.

One day I was supervising the sandbox during free play when a three-year-old boy smacked another kid over the head with a toy firetruck.

“Cut that out,” I insisted.

The offending child immediately stopped assaulting his playmate. He turned towards me and gave me a stern glare.

Cut that out is not nice, ” He instructed severely. “We don’t use words like the at the Child Education Center.”

I was taken aback by the rebuke, but I sensibly resisted the nearly overwhelming impulse to say, “Listen pal, we put people in jail for things like that.”

Richard W. Bray