Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


October 16, 2006 2 comments

Just last week
I wrestled expectations
to the ground again.

Today I’ve added
eleven lines of verse
to the bank account,

stitched a single quilt
from sheaves
of disparate sources:

page of Talmud
thick with Rashi-script
nestled beside the koans

of a Zen poet
whose brush
spills only virtual ink.

Even in the way
Hebrew letters

there’s a lesson
about how to reveal
our true faces.

by Rachel Barenblat of Velveteen Rabbi

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October 12, 2006 1 comment
Categories: Education Tags:

Omaha High School Poetics

October 9, 2006 3 comments

The difference between reading a poem
and writing a poem is just not fair.
Like Miss Plath assigned this red
wheelbarrow poem for Friday. Like right,
I’m gonna see a red wheelbarrow?
Gramps maybe has one in his garage –
rusty, dented, & all scratched up.
Daddy doesn’t have a clue if to push it
or pull it, and glazed chickens? Come on,
gimme a break, you mean the glaze on
the sweet and sour at Wongs
in the mall? Will yum Car los Will yums.
It’s enough to make you hurl & this
T.S. Eliot. Don’t even get me started.
He wants a wasteland? Let him come
check out the nerds in my 5th hour.
So see, we have to bust butts reading

Modern Poetry just for a measly grade
to take home to mommy poo?
But take my best poem on my blog
where I have put in all the good stuff
& class weirdoes and even my best friend
never even get it that my boyfriend
in my poem is not my boyfriend
but is a metaphor for the great romance
of my life which may or may not
be happening now, or if you care, may not
ever happen. There. What’d I tell you?
You take off all your clothes and lie down
on a piece of virtual real estate like your
whole freaking life and nobody gives a rat’s
assets to say anything but oooh, gross. I say
the difference between reading a poem
and writing a poem is just not fair.

by Paul Dickey

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October 5, 2006 1 comment

I remember walking up the cold dark path
to the tall mesh gate to the school,
wearing my brown blazer and beret,
my hair thin and frizzy at the back
from sleep and fiercely twiddling strands
that grew so tangled I had to pull them out
and put them down the side of my bed.

I remember all the pegs in the cloakroom
and the awe I felt for the boy
who taught me how to tie my shoes;
and the day we all sat and gazed
at the giant television on its mighty stand
as men in space-suits lurched and floated
over the sandy surface of the moon.

by Polly Blackley

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Higher Education

October 2, 2006 4 comments

A portfolio of photographs


We live in a bit of a schizophrenic time. On the one hand, we realize how modern sciences have brought improvements that have greatly enhanced the quality (and actual durations) of our lives. On the other hand, we have become increasingly suspicious of science and, especially, academia – where it is not directly involved in the development of new weaponry. We have seen deep cuts in funding, especially for sciences deemed not useful enough – in particular liberals arts, or – oh, the horror – art itself. And we have come to call scientists “eggheads” who are out of touch with reality, in particular if the results of their research clash with our political beliefs.

But what does academia really look like? In what kind of environments do those people work who, it is assumed, are overly pampered “liberals”, out of touch with the common people?

And if we do not want to dwell on the conditions of work of academics, let’s not forget that those academics fulfil the role of educators. So by asking what the academic environment looks like we’re also asking what the environment looks like that young students are subjected to when learning the skills that are supposed to help them in life.

“Higher Education” is an effort to portray academic environments. It is an ongoing project.

by Joerg Colberg of and Conscientious





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Iguana 101

September 29, 2006 4 comments

I often debate with myself the merits of children keeping pets (mostly I lose the debate). My daughters’ grandmother, who is supremely wise (after having raised five kids of her own, my wife Karen among them), has a simple rule about pets. It goes something like this: No Pets.

Since grandma is the landlord of our domestic domain, my own three daughters have learned to respect her rules. They don’t keep pets. The animals that inhabit their room, swim in fish tanks, burrow in terrariums, crawl across the floor, are not pets. They are family. In our household, the animals have as much standing as the humans, maybe more; certainly they have more standing than the only male.

Maybe “No Pets” is a good rule. Or “No New Family Members.” I have a feeling, however, that my girls would argue for my dismissal before they would give up their slimy, warty, scaly, and furry “family.”

Caring for animals will teach us responsibility, I can hear them say. So why am I assigned the litter box and the lizard cage? Why do I get to clean up the vomit and gut piles on the living room carpet? Why is it that if something smells the girls always look in my direction?

Our animals can teach us empathy, they continue. Now they’re reaching. What I’ve learned from keeping animals is just the opposite. Animals point out just how irresponsible we can be, and just how greatly we can come to despise them.


I offer this story as a warning. If ever you take your children to a pet store—a foolish misjudgment to begin with—keep them away from the cute baby green lizards with the golden eyes imploring you to take them home with you. Yes, these lizards, green iguanas, cold-blooded reptiles, have that much personality, even more than the puppies, the kittens, and the screaming canaries. What these baby green monsters won’t tell you until it’s too late is how demanding in their care they are, and how demanding in their size they will become.

We carried “Pern” home in a small, hole-punched cardboard box pet stores use for packaging their mice and birds. The girls decided on the name because they had recently become enamored with a series of books by Ann McCaffrey that depicted a planet inhabited by dragons, and people who had become marooned there from a lost Earth ship. The author called the world “Pern,” which as I remember was an acronym for something. So, my daughters named our tiny green iguana for a mythical dragon-world populated by a few people who had learned to build a society around the beasts. The girls should have christened our household with the name instead.

I bought the iguana and its cute little leash. Karen, always more brilliant than me, returned to the pet store and bought the book on iguanas. Then she read it. When she finished, she said, “Just another small thing you’ve given me that grows up!” Karen never minced words. “And this one is worse than a baby. At least babies wear diapers.”

Green iguanas, we learned very quickly, have special needs. Because they come from rain forest climates in Central and South America, the lizards pale to our rock-tough desert lizards. Iguanas require a cooler, more humid environment than our hot, desiccating desert offers. They want to be indoors. They like to be misted.

And this is just the beginning. Because they now live indoors and out of the heat, you must provide a heat rock for them. This enables your new iguana to properly digest all the fresh bananas and mangoes, spinach leaves and squash blossoms you feed her on a daily basis, when you’re not misting her majesty as she basks under her sun lamp. Did I mention the full-spectrum light? Also, because your iguana is living indoors and away from harsh sunlight, you must supply a source of ultraviolet light in the form of a special (and expensive) lamp. UV keeps iguanas healthy and tanned. Your iguana needs to look good for all the socialization she requires. Yes, socialization—like getting out of her cage so she can meet people and scamper unexpectedly up their bodies. Iguanas enjoy high places because they normally live in trees rather than on the ground like any self-respecting desert lizard. When a tree isn’t handy, a person’s head will do.

You don’t want to know what happens if your iguana isn’t properly socialized. She can get a bit testy. Like a desperate housewife (or househusband, as the case may be) she gets an attitude. “You never take me anywhere,” her eyes accuse, every time you walk past her cage. Eventually, those penetrating eyes and the mounting guilt break you down and you let her out. But by now she’s antisocial, and she takes out her frustrations on you, the closest family member within reach of her toothy mouth, her needle-sharp claws, and her ultimate payback weapon, a long, bony-stiff tail that raises welts where she whips it across your legs. And dragons only breathe fire!


Pern adjusted well to our home. The girls created a place for her in a ten-gallon aquarium tank with a basking rock and tree branches and a large bowl of water she could bathe in. They took her for walks on her leash or rode around on their bikes with her gripping tightly to a shoulder. I still have photographs from this time when she was small: Pern with her oversized leash on the porch fence. Pern perched on my smiling daughter Kasondra’s head. Pern with RainCloud and Mittens.

She didn’t tolerate the kittens when she was small. She’d puff up and her dewlap would flare and her skin grew darker when they came around, so the girls kept them separated. But Pern soon learned how to escape her cage. One day my wife and daughters came home and found her under the couch, unmoving and nearly black from playing with the kittens. Apparently, Pern didn’t want to play but the kittens insisted. She had a few chew marks on her but nothing serious.

Over the next year, the kittens grew into cats and Pern grew into a cat hater. Encounters between them changed from kittens-chasing-lizard to lizard-attacking-cats. Her tail was lethal. I swear she could nail a fly on the wall with that thing. The cats avoided her, but if by mistake they came within lashing distance, she’d remove a patch of fur from their butts as they raced to recover the error. There was no messing with her now. Pern would no longer fit inside a cardboard pet carrier. She no longer fit her leash. In fact, she had outgrown the ten-gallon tank, its thirty-gallon replacement, and had begun to look uncomfortable in the fifty. I know she had designs on the living room, the largest room in our house, and I also know she insisted on some changes first.

Karen found the birdcage, a six-foot high, four-foot wide and deep, wrought-iron monstrosity that she felt Pern must have to be comfortable living with us. I believe a giant parrot or condor had been the cage’s former occupant. Three hundred dollars later, with some added shelves, hot rocks, and lights, and Pern became furniture in our living room. The only furniture. Since the room wasn’t large enough for a couch and Pern, the couch had to go. We had no place to sit in our living room, but we did have something interesting just above eye level to look at while you were standing there. Something that always looked back and down on you, usually with smug disdain.

Now, Pern became the center of attention. From her high perch, she examined the comings and goings of Karen and the girls, the relatives and the neighbors when they visited. She watched television with us. She played games with us. And, when we pulled out our dining table and set chairs around it, she ate meals with us.

Jessica, who usually arrived last to the table, would complain, “Why do I always get the sneeze seat!” Her sisters normally left her the chair closest to the cage. Iguanas have a particular way of removing excess salt from their bodies; special structures in their nasal cavities collect the salt, which the animal then combines with liquid and forcefully ejects. The behavior doubles as an annoyance mechanism, intended to alarm those who come to close or, in Jessica’s case, thoroughly disgust them.

It worked like this: Jessica would sit at the table in her assigned chair. Pern would maneuver on her shelf to line up Jessica in her sights. Just as my daughter began forking food into her mouth or drinking from a glass, Pern would execute a short nasal burst, freezing Jessica in mid gulp.

“Pern!” Jessica would shout. “That’s so gross!” To which Pern would respond with a satisfied grin. Everyone knew that Jessica disliked Pern—she was big and green and smelled. Apparently, the feelings were mutual.

Pern especially loved breakfast with eggs on the menu. She preferred hers scrambled but she never turned away cheese omelets or wooden shoes, a favorite, puffy, egg-batter concoction passed down to us from Karen’s Dutch side of the family. Pern would become so excited with the smell of eggs that she couldn’t wait for leftovers but would climb down from her perch and demand the door of her cage be opened. She was too large to eat directly off the table, but she didn’t mind taking a meal from the cat dish, often helping herself to the dry cat food. We came to believe that Pern thought she was a cat as she also learned to use the cat door when she felt the need for an afternoon siesta in the sun.

“Pern’s going out the cat door again,” one of the girls would say. We’d watch as she swiveled her hips up the driveway. Then my wife would call after her: “Pern, where do you think you’re going? Bad girl.” And without fail, she’d stop, flatten her belly against the cement, and turn to look at us as if to say, “Who, me? Don’t mind me. I’m just getting in a little basking time.”

Of course if we didn’t notice her, she kept on. I was never sure where that lizard brain thought it was going. One time I found her high in a tree in the next yard, probably daydreaming about tropical forest canopies spreading above tea-stained backwater pools. She left tell-tale drag marks on the ground, which I could easily follow. Another time she had climbed atop a neighbor’s wall that held a large dog on the opposite side. The dog went nuts, and Pern, unable to move, turned from olive green to biohazard orange. She stayed that way for hours after I tracked her down and carried her home.

After Pern reached four and a half feet in length, I finally built her an outdoor, climate-controlled enclosure that filled the western end of our porch. I knew she would be upset about being relegated to a place beyond the main flow of traffic, so I paid particular attention to amenities I believed she’d appreciate. To begin with, the enclosure tripled her living space and included a rock waterfall that spilled into a dark pool. Heavy tree branches rose from the pool and spread to a high sheltered alcove with a hot rock and full-spectrum lamp. I planted ferns and a fig tree in one corner and hung the redwood lattice with flowering bromeliads. Overhead, I secured misters, which kept the entire environment hissing with moisture. The only thing missing was a recording of howler monkeys.

I introduced Pern to her new home by placing her on the floor of the porch just outside of the enclosure’s open door. She stared at the burbling fountain and dripping foliage for a moment, then turned and crawled away toward the driveway where I had stored her former cage. Once beneath it, she raised herself up and climbed inside the bare metal structure. I experienced a kind of rejection not felt since my high school dating failures.


Pern is gone now, finally succumbing to a weakened immune system after she became egg-bound several years ago. (You’ll never understand how alien it is to be male until you’ve lived in a 600-sqaure-foot house with an egg-bound, four-foot female iguana and four premenstrual women.) The episode had caused her to lose most of her toes on her front claws, which hampered her climbing ability only to the degree that she looked less than graceful at it.

The girls probably won’t miss her slimy sneezes, her biting, clawing, and tail-lashings, intentional or not, or the aroma of her pasty excretions. But I’m sure they will never forget her personality, especially the smug pleasure she took at maneuvering her way into the center of our family.

Regardless of what I said before, I never really came to despise her, although she was adept at pointing out my character flaws. She was quick to correct any lapse I might have in attention paid to her. Her needs were met or else, and I could assume nothing about those needs. Perhaps if Pern had been a male iguana, things might have been different, more balanced. As it is, I will always carry the scars of our relationship.

by Ken Lamberton

This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress entitled My Daughters and Other Animals: A Father’s Notes on Being Raised by Girls.

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Professor Lucifer’s Sea of Operations

September 26, 2006 7 comments
Categories: Education Tags:

Professor Lucifer in the Arena of Angels

September 26, 2006 10 comments

“. . . Zooplasty on a grand scale, Uncle’s
yen to adorn the soul with sense beyond
Xs sewn for eyes on sock dolls (Jacko’s
watch, a parallax in that lax, cross-eyed
vision: sight sans insight, its dazzled look
under scrutiny), hence, mind, rather, how
the mind, being an appendage to the
soul, is in the scheme of things meat met with
raison d’être for a treat, then the barbe-
cue where for dessert there shall be apple
pie flown back from Eden, a rare entrée
of undetermined fare preceded by
none other than a gangrene salad, a
much-maligned primordial soup, and, at
last, appetizers beneath a spell of
knelling, metaphysical handbells—no
jumbo tolls, no subliminal signal
invoking a horde of winged dogs to the
hunt. O, my incalculable lovelies,
gods of the loft that in such myriad
forms are but air, stacked vapor, and old light
everywhere but where you are, which of you—
deaf ears, hollow eyes, numb tongues, and no thumbs—
can tell me whereabouts besides the foul
bowels I shall make the incision, what
angle take to free from flesh the angel?”

by Karl Elder

For online definitions of “zooplasty,” see here. -Eds.

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The Investigation

September 22, 2006 5 comments

It was the year that Lisa Lisa rocked the charts, and G-Force dominated every dance floor, and Sporting-Waves pomade was in the hair of the bad boys (not me), and almost all the girls had breasts the size of tangerines straining from behind the blouses of their school uniforms, and some of the boys (the bad ones, again) claimed to have “pressed” them.

It was also the year my bunkmate Mike Denani, who was not a bad boy, astonished me one afternoon behind the Social Studies building by telling me exactly which of the two holes in the mysterious region below a woman’s waist babies emerged from. That was a disgusting thing for him to say, and though I laughed it off at the time, I could hardly look him in the eye for days afterwards, mostly from the suspicion that he was actually telling the truth.

The main trouble in those days, though, was with the toilets attached to the house, which were in an awful state, regardless of how much the one-eyed Warrant Officer who served as our House Master screamed about it. They had to be scrubbed clean every Saturday morning at the first sign of daylight. The finger and palm blisters we got from cutting grass with dull cutlasses were far better than the stink and gloom of the shithouse, and every first-former wished dearly for a lawn or farm assignment on Saturdays rather than toilet duty. The toilet was so foul, in fact, that many of the pupils preferred to squat in the wild bush behind the dormitory and wipe with leaves. Yet, though in those days I missed toilet-paper with an intensity I have never since then felt for any absent lover, I could never bring myself to wipe with leaves: too oily, too crinkly, too unpredictable. And what if the leaf tore and I got shit on my hands? What if I accidentally used lemongrass and carried an itchy ass around for two days? Or, worse, if I attracted the curiosity of one of the black mambas that nested in those tangled grasses?

No thanks. I was happy to take my chances and stand tiptoe over the horrible open pit in the unlit toilet and do my business there. I washed with water, cleaning first the little pucker (that is, the one that women also had but apparently didn’t use for delivering children), and then obsessively washing my legs in case anything had accidentally run down, washing as obsessively as a squirrel washing a nut. I was nothing if not hygienic, and our prison camp of a school wasn’t about to change that. There had to be a modicum of order to my life, even out at this gulag.

So, naturally, I was terrified when our bunk was rattled at 3am on a Wednesday and my leg was yanked through the mosquito netting. The whole house was being woken up. Boys of all ages rose grumpily from interrupted dreams that, I feel sure, all involved either our music teacher or the contraband magazine Ikebe Super, or some unholy combination of the two. The seniors barked out that an emergency house meeting was being called. It had something to do with the toilet.

All the senior boys stood on one side of the central passage of the dorm, and the first and second-formers were made to line up on the other side. The seriousness of the matter made it immediately obvious that connections would not spare anyone from the investigation. The fact, for example, that my school-father, a fourth-former known to everyone as “Paul McCartney” because of his docile manner and girlish voice, was standing right there, was of no use, no matter how imploringly I looked at him. Not that it would have been of any use, since I had wrinkled my nose and complied only reluctantly the previous week when he asked me to clip his toenails. It wasn’t until many years later that it became obvious to me that Paul McCartney’s various ambiguous requests (“rub my back,” “wash my feet,” and so on) were due to his latent homosexuality which even he might have been unaware of at the time.

The House Prefect, ordinarily quite a decent fellow, bellowed at us, calling us filthy worms. If the House Master were present, he said, we would all be getting thrashed within an inch of our pathetic lives. As it was, the crime – some boy had defecated indiscriminately all over one of the toilet stalls – would be investigated. He held up a torch-light threateningly, and switched the beam to the highest power.

The senior boys grinned, as if the whole thing were a grand joke. I avoided Paul McCartney’s eye, but I doubt he was laughing. There was a doleful expression on his face that rarely varied. Meanwhile, we quaked in our singlets and nightclothes, and each of us started loudly protesting his innocence until we were silenced by a blast of profanity from the Prefect.

One by one, we shuffled to the front of the line. Each boy, as he approached the House Prefect, was made to drop his shorts to his ankles, and bend over so that his anus could be examined with the beam of the torch. The seniors tittered delightedly, making comments, craning their necks to get a view. Judgment was swift, and each exonerated boy pulled up his shorts and joined the others with a mixture of relief and acute shame.

My bunkmate Mike was ten spots ahead of me, and even though I knew my turn was soon, I still felt sorry for him as he lowered his underwear and exposed his ass to the torch’s glare. His precocious penis swung into view. I was ashamed to be present at his shame, and I thought I was in a bad dream that would soon end. When the line came to a boy with a barrel-chest and fuzzy hair – of course I’ve forgotten his real name, but everyone called him “Yam Tuber” – who was three places in front of me, I started to unbutton my shorts. I was fearful, because in these situations there’s never any certainty that one is free of incriminating evidence. I concentrated all my energy on not pissing myself.

There was a low whistle from the House Prefect.

“Ah, ah! Oloshi! What is this!”

The seniors crowded in, murmuring their agreement. Apparently, traces of fresh caca remained around Tuber’s sphincter. The Prefect seized him by the neck. “Oloshi! You have been wasting our time!”

The investigation was over. I almost died of relief. It’s even possible I pissed myself just a little bit. We were sent back to our bunks, but it was more than an hour before any of us could get back to sleep. Tuber had been dealt with, and his moans of an injured dog punctuated the darkness at irregular intervals. Though the welts on his neck and back healed quickly enough, he carried an abandoned, betrayed look on his face for a few weeks.

But me? Those things happened a long time ago. I continue to clean with an attentiveness that would impress the most meticulous of domestic cats. And now I buy Quilted Northern or Charmin, whichever of the two is more expensive.

by Teju Cole

An earlier version of this story appeared in the now-defunct blog Abdul-Walid of Acerbia. – Eds.

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The Receptive

September 19, 2006 7 comments

Throw those pennies, listen for some wisdom coiled
in a hexcode to rattle up my spine, broken lines
piling, piling the answer in the gap like every
other lesson learned between now and now: cupped
hands tossing coins away to beg for maps, for old
patterns’ trail-marks from oracle to writers to me.

Yes these hands have been flung open and open ‘til
I swing on what hinges like an old screen door:
the glyph tossed the one that slams shut only to
bounce and judder wide again yielding six broken
lines, a stuck window jimmied loose, scrapes parsed,
untangled, ghost to texts to my hashed scrawl.

by Lori Witzel of Chatoyance

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