Monthly Archives: September 2007

Civics on Saturday

Civics on Saturday is being postponed this week, Class.  I’m off on a weekend-long yoga training session*, and I’ve not had the time this past week to investigate the first article of the Constitution.  I’ll be back here with that lesson next week.

Have a great weekend!

*these sessions are going to happen once a month for the next ten months, so please be patient with me….

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Filed under Civics and Citizenship


A couple of weeks ago, TCC held a series of special events centered around the Constitution. The first workshop was supposed to be about the 14th Amendment – we’ll get into that amendment in detail in an upcoming Civics on Saturday, but suffice to say that the main idea is that states can’t “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

I say it was “supposed” to center around the 14th Amendment, but it didn’t, really. Yes, the amendment got a quick overview, but the bulk of the discussion was focused on the panel of queer youth from a local support organization who volunteered their time to come and talk about what it’s like to be one of the few groups left which is actively, and some (I) would say illegally, discriminated against.

They spoke less about the discrimination and more about what it’s like to be a largely misunderstood minority. They gave their coming-out stories, they talked about how difficult it can be for straight people to understand their fears and concerns, they talked about how people who used to be their friends stopped being their friends when they came out to them (there were a lot of pronouns in that sentence – did I make sense?). The queer kids were brave and honest, and the students at TCC had a lot of questions.

As I sat in the back of the room, taking all of this in, I started thinking.

I’ve always been an outspoken ally. A lot of people I love and care about are queer, and the fact that they can be summarily discriminated against – or worse – just for who they are is completely unacceptable to me. I refuse to accept that queer people are somehow less worthy of the rights, privileges and responsibilities that everyone else enjoys, and the fact that civil rights can be kept from queer people means that MY civil rights are in jeopardy, too.


I make a point of letting my students know that I’m an ally. I manage to work something about gay rights and my stand on them into every class I teach, whether it’s a conversation about gay marriage as a potential persuasive speech topic in my public speaking class or an essay about being gay in a world full of straight people in my composition class or this piece that I use as part of my “this I believe” unit in my foundational English class. A student has to actively NOT be paying attention to miss that I am a safe place for queer kids.

There hasn’t been a single semester that I’ve worked for TCC that I’ve not been approached by a GLBTQ student looking for someone to talk to, someone to come out to, or some advice about an issue surrounding their diversity. That, combined with some of the questions that the audience had for the panel who came to speak during Constitution Week, told me that there was a need on campus, and it’s a need I’m eager to fill.

I sought, and got approval for, the charter for a gay/straight alliance on TCC’s campus. I spoke with the president of the college at length, and he’s given me his enthusiastic and unflagging support – I am, frankly, a little surprised by the incredibly positive energy that I got in response to my request; I was expecting a bit of resistance. On the contrary – I got not only the blessing of the president, but he’s promised to attend meetings (he’s going to be a speaker at the very first meeting in two weeks) and he’s even offered funding so that I can purchase buttons, stickers, and posters for the students who join, I can fund trips, I can book speakers, and I can arrange for social events and movie nights.

I’m really excited about this opportunity. I really think it’s going to make a difference to a bunch of kids on campus, and I’m pleased to be a representative of tolerance at TCC.


Filed under concerns, I love my boss, out in the real world, Questions, student chutzpah, success!, Teaching, the good ones

Grammar Wednesday

It seems that California Teacher Guy is going for the A grade in class participation! Since I blew it last week (she says with sheepish consternation), I’m going to try to make it up to him here…

My Dear Mrs. Chili,

In her most recent blog post, Pissed Off, who writes from New York City, comments on an incident that happened practically in my backyard:

Sep 14, 9:45 PM (ET)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) – A teacher and a 14-year-old student were arrested after trading blows during an argument over taking out trash at the desert’s Riverside County Community School.

Teacher Thomas Silva, 61, was arrested and booked for investigation of willful cruelty to a child, while the teenager was arrested for battery on a school employee, Sgt. Mitch Spike said Thursday. Both were released.

“Neither one of their actions were justified,” the sergeant said.

Methinks the good sergeant needs a lesson in grammar from Mrs. Chili!


CTG, you’re absolutely right – the good sergeant DOES need a grammar lesson, and one for which I imagine a lot of people could use a refresher.

The sergeant’s mistake is thinking that “actions” is the subject of the sentence, “neither one of their actions were justified.” In grammatical reality, however, actions is being used as a modifier for neither which is being used as a pronoun here and is the actual subject of the sentence. We can remove the phrase “of their actions” and still have a sentence that makes sense as it was originally intended – neither was justified. Neither what? Neither one of their actions.

The subject of a sentence never comes after an “of” phrase:

That pile of rocks blocks the back door to the garage.

Each of the politicians has an equal chance of winning the election.

None of you has your homework?!

In the first sentence, our subject is the singular pile, not the plural rocks. The same goes for the second sentence – the subject is each which is also singular; we’re talking about this politician and that politician and that politician separately – ANY of them could win singularly.

In the third sentence, the subject is none – and nearly ALL my students think that I’m wrong when I use the singular “has” instead of the plural “have.” It usually brings up the collective noun conversation and I have to explain to my lovelies that yes, they’re a class – a group, a collective noun – but they’re functioning within that group as individuals; each of them is separately responsible for his or her own homework. They’re almost always confused, so I give them these examples:

The chorus practices at 6:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The chorus were given their sheet music last week.

In the first sentence, the chorus is behaving as a collective – they ALL practice together, as a group, on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30 – so we can use a singular verb form, practices. In the second sentence, though, the chorus, while still a group, is functioning individually: the tenors get one version of the sheet music, the altos get another version, and the sopranos yet another. In that second sentence, we need a plural verb, were given. If I look out on a sea of glazed eyes, I ask them to change the nouns to pronouns. For the first sentence, they come up with “it” and, for the second, “they.” That helps them to understand which verb form to use.

Now, before my linguist buddies get all up in my stuff, I do have to concede that informal usage allows a plural verb after neither. I discovered this at the site:

As an adjective or pronoun meaning “not either,” neither is usually followed by a singular verb and referred to by a singular personal pronoun: Neither lawyer prepares her own briefs. Neither performs his duties for reward. When neither is followed by a prepositional phrase with a plural object, there has been, ever since the 17th century, a tendency, especially in speech and less formal writing, to use a plural verb and personal pronoun: Neither of the guards were at their stations. In edited writing, however, singular verbs and pronouns are more common in such constructions: Neither of the guards was at his station.

Being that Mrs. Chili (and, it would seem, California Teacher Guy) prefers the more formal, I teach my students to use the singular verb after the pronoun neither.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!


Filed under Grammar

Civics on Saturday: The Constitution, Part I – The Preamble

Happy Saturday, Everyone!

I’m continuing my investigation of the founding documents of the United States of America. We had a close look at the Declaration of Independence a few weeks ago (and please, continue to comment – there’s no such thing as a closed Civics on Saturday post) and, after your generous granting of an extension, I was able to put up a reasonably coherent post about the Articles of Confederation last week.

This week, we’re going to begin our study of the United States’ Constitution. It’s likely going to take us a good long while to make our way through this document – it’s a pretty complex piece and I like to pace myself, so we’re going to take it bit by bit. Ready? Okay! Here we go!

We start out with the Preamble. I LOVE the Preamble. Well, more specifically, I love the Schoolhouse Rock lesson about the Preamble.

I learned a lot of my elementary English rules and civics facts from Schoolhouse Rock. For those of you who may not know what Schoolhouse Rock is (is there anyone over the age of 30 who doesn’t know what Schoolhouse Rock is?), it was a series of cartoon shorts set to music which were aired on Saturday morning during the prime cartoon hours. They were usually sandwiched between commercials – there’d be one or two technicolor cereal ads, then a Schoolhouse Rock bit, then a few more commercials, then back to Scooby Doo or The Road Runner.

Schoolhouse Rock segments, like this one, were incredibly catchy. I’m 38 (and 9/12ths) and can still sing almost ALL of the songs – and not just because I’ve bought the CDs and videos for my children, either. The History Rock segments featured events like the Pilgrims’ landing, the “shot heard ’round the world,” the Lewis and Clark exploration, and women’s suffrage. The one about the Preamble to the Constitution is the reason that I don’t have to look it up to post it here for you – I can write it by heart:

We, the People of the United States of America*, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Sates of America.

Seriously. If you call me, I can sing it for you.

This bit is pretty straightforward. The Founding Fathers are following through on the promise they made with the Declaration of Independence – they were putting their proverbial money where their mouths were: government exists because we say it does. It’s the PEOPLE who give the government power, not the government which gives people rights.

The Preamble also puts out what purpose that government will serve. We the People are establishing this government to do these specific things – we want government to exist to help hold the individual states together better than the Articles of Confederation did – to form a more perfect union; we want it to establish and enforce laws to establish justice and insure domestic tranquility; we want the government to provide for the common defense – to establish a federally funded and maintained military – and to promote the general welfare (which, to my mind, didn’t really happen until FDR’s New Deal days, but we can talk about that later). Not only did we want government to DO all that, but we wanted it to KEEP doing it – secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – so that our children – and their children – could live in a free and democratic society.

That’s a pretty tall order, but we seem to have pulled it off… at least, to this point.

We’ll get into the rest of the Constitution later – I think that the preamble is enough for today. Besides, I want to let you live with that catchy little tune in your head for a while…

“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility….”

Happy Saturday, Everyone!

*cute little side-story: when I was in – oh, I don’t know.. fifth grade? – we were learning about the Constitution and, as part of the lessons, we were asked to memorize the Preamble. When I got my quiz back, I had been marked off for leaving “of the United States of America” out of my writing of the sentence. I went back to my teacher during recess and sang the Preamble to her, and I got those points back.  Funny how I did manage to keep some childhood memories….


Filed under Civics and Citizenship, Learning

Grammar Wednesday

California Teacher Guy – a great and enthusiastic supporter of Grammar Wednesdays here at A Teacher’s Education – has sent me another sticky grammar question mined from the vast and seemingly unfathomable depths of the internet’s wells:

Here’s one for you, Mrs. Chili. Dissect this sentence that I found in a comment box somewhere:

“But for the sake of the almighty test scores, I have had to forsake teaching my kiddies the nuances of prepositions in lieu of teaching them how to write to a prompt.”


Good luck! I’ll be watching for your wise and witty rewrite of this sentence!


CTG, I hope you didn’t mean for me to DIAGRAM that sentence because, as you should well know by now, I don’t roll that way.

I THINK the problem that we’re having with this sentence – because MY first reaction to it was the same as yours: huh?! – is the “But” opening. This, Class, is why Mrs. Chili HATES when people start sentences with coordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating conjunctions – and, but, or, therefore, however, and the like – are words that are intended to (sing it with me now) hook up words, phrases and clauses.

They are NOT especially great at starting sentences because they indicate that there is something else that goes with whatever comes after it:

I would have been there on time, but I couldn’t find my left shoe.

Jonah had the calamari and regretted it for a full 24 hours later.

You could hang with your homies, or you could go home and do your damned homework; the choice is yours.

Of course, there are times when even I think it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction: sometimes – though not often anymore in modern speech – “but” is used to mean “if not:”

But for the keen eye of my daughter, I’d have put a cup of salt in the cake instead of a cup of sugar.

We usually hear things like ‘there but for the grace of God go I” or “were it not for his quick thinking, all would have been lost,” so the “but” at the beginning of sentences isn’t as common as a lot of people might think it is. (I tend to want to start some sentences with “and” – “And another thing…” for example – but that’s ONLY in casual writing and only when I’m continuing my or someone else’s thoughts…)

MY guess about this sentence – and CTG didn’t give me a link to see in which comment box he’d seen it published, so I’m making this up out of thin air – is that the writer was continuing a thought and put a period after the first part of that thought instead of a comma; something along the lines of:

“I had a lot of really fascinating lesson plans that would have shown my students just how beautiful and subtle language can be but, for the sake of the almighty test scores, I have had to forsake teaching my kiddies the nuances of prepositions in lieu of teaching them how to write to a prompt.”

That’s the best I’ve got…


Filed under colleagues, frustrations, Grammar

I Love Them

I KNOW I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I do. Every term, there are students who work themselves into my heart, and it is for them that I am grateful to do the work that I do.

This term, I was lucky enough to have some of my favorites from past terms in my classes again; one of them went out of her way to take my public speaking class, even. These kids delight me with their smart and funny, and I’m excited to be a part of their becoming the people they want to be.

There are quite a few favorites from last term – and terms past – who aren’t in my classes, but I get to see them in the hallways on a fairly regular basis. These kids crack me up for various reasons: some of them keep coming to me for editing advice for papers for other professors (and some just pop into my room to show off an A they received on an essay – I LOVE that), some are coming to me for recommendation letters and interviewing advice, and one shares my love of Dennis Leary in Rescue Me and of Jeff Dunham‘s comedy, so we hang out in the hallways laughing like idiots or mulling over Tommy Gavin’s latest attempt at utter self-destruction.

Along with these “old” favorite students, I’ve made a couple of new ones this term, too. I’ve got a few students who I really look forward to seeing every week, and whose input in the conversations of our classes I value very highly. They are smart, articulate, and genuine, these kids, and for all that they may challenge me, they do it with respect and a recognition that I really am in this to help them reach their goals, whatever those goals might be. We’ve bonded, and I love that.


In spite of all the hassles I’ve had this term, a part of me is going to be very sad to see it end. On Thursday, I’ll give my usual end-of-term “just because I’m not your teacher anymore doesn’t mean I stop caring about you” speech, I’m going to try not to cry, and I’m going to hope that some of these kids stay in touch. The most satisfying part of my job is seeing “my kids” succeed.


Filed under admiration, Teaching, the good ones

This Cracks Me Up

Wordy geek, is what I’m sayin’.

I get to drive by some fields almost every day – they’re on the road between my house and the next big town over. Every year, the fields get mowed and the hay gets baled into these huge rounds. Some years, the rounds get loaded on to trucks and hauled away; some years they don’t.

This year, someone decided to have a little fun with one of the bales. I HAD to pull over and take a picture; this made me laugh out loud.


Yeah, I know… it doesn’t take much to amuse me….


Filed under little bits of nothingness, out in the real world