Author Archives: moconservtchr

Runaway Slave: A Documentary All Americans Should See

by Andrew Palmer

I was recently browsing recommended titles on Netflix and was excited to see that Runaway Slave was available to stream. If you are not familiar with the movie, I would encourage you to check it out. runaway

This documentary stars Reverend C. L. Bryant as he treks across the country looking at the entitlement society that America has created. The overarching message in the movie is that we have made great progress on slavery based upon race, but in many parts of the country we have replaced that racial slavery with a slavery of the mind. Inside of the criticism of the entitlement society is a brave look at racial issues that all Americans need to talk and think about.

Here is a preview:

 

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Assessment, Data, and Cognitive Dissonance

by Andrew Palmer

I have been reading So What do They Really Knowby Cris Tovani. It is a great book. In it, Tovani offers a very useful assessment tool called annotation. The idea is that you have a student mark up the text with their thinking as they read. They can write directly on an article or they can record their thinking on post-it notes about a text that they cannot write on. Annotations involve the student expressing an opinion, asking a question about the text, recording a reaction, making a connection, or predicting what might happen next.

As I was reading (and annotating), she made a great point and something that continues to bug me about the mindset of educational assessment in this country. Especially the mindset of those that are not educational practitioners (in other words, foolish politicians and billionaires who think they know something about what happens in a classroom).

Tovani writes:

“I am a skeptic. I distrust outsiders who barge into my classroom, data in hand, making judgments about students they’ve never met. When data from the district and state level doesn’t jibe with what I know about my students, I am driven into a state of cognitive dissonance, often trying to rationalize why the learners in my class didn’t do as well as I think they should have. Teachers often experience a state of cognitive dissonance to examine data they don’t trust. Some react with anger or denial. When teachers don’t trust the data, they don’t use it to inform instruction or enhance student performance.”

This is the problem with the fools that run around claiming their new and precious Common Core assessments will tell me some grand thing about my students. These new assessments, just like the current standardized assessments in every state will not be embraced by teachers, students, and parents. Instead of creating useful data that actually drives better instruction, they will just be another thing that drives them into a state of cognitive dissonance. Students will hate these tests just as much as they hate current state assessments. Student buy-in to an assessment is based upon the reality of prompt, and meaningful feedback. These tests will not provide that data to the child or the teacher. They will waste millions of dollars and create more problems in our public education system.

Of course, that is not really the point, is it? These new tests are more about controlling education from a national level than doing anything to help teachers and students improve.

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January Black by Wendy S. Russo

by Andrew Palmer

When I started the book reviews here on Conservative Teachers of America, there was a specific type of book that I had hoped to be able to find and promote. It is a book that takes the ideas of freedom and liberty and packages it in such a way that a young adult would not realize that they are being taught those values. I am happy to report that I have found such a book with January Black.

This book started off with something extremely rare in young adult literature. Russo states on the dedication page, “Finally, I would like to thank the US military (and their families) for their service and sacrifice to defend our Constitution. Without you, I wouldn’t have had a story to tell, or a voice to tell it.” Rarely do you find young adult authors that could even tell you what the constitution is, let alone actually understand that it matters.

JanuaryBlackJanuary Black is Wendy S. Russo‘s first novel and it is published by the boutique fantasy/science-fiction publisher Crescent Moon Press. Russo is not a professional author and according to her website, she “works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.”

January Black is a dystopian future science-fiction novel that centers around the main character Matty Ducayn. Matty is expelled from school early in the book. He is given a chance by King Hadrian to answer a question and earn a master’s diploma. The problem for Matty is that the answer to this one question (What was January Black?) will affect everything he believes about the society he lives in and his own family history.

Russo does a lot right with this book. One of the things that I love about her writing is how she slowly reveals the plot to the reader. Every time you uncover something new, the story develops a new layer of mystery. I especially enjoyed how the constitution and the ideas of liberty that founded our nation exist in the background as Matty unravels the mystery behind the question he must answer. There is just enough here to get a high school aged reader curious and asking questions of his/her own about our country’s history.

I would recommend this book for mature high school readers and above. The main characters are around 18, and there is a little bit of sexuality in the story. I have no problem with this, and I was actually quite impressed with how it was handled. We live in a society that teaches young adults that the only purpose of sex is physical pleasure. They are told through multiple mediums that there is no greater meaning attached to the act. The message that rages throughout popular culture today is that there is little value in a committed monogamous relationship. Not so in this book. Teens are presented with a completely different message about the topic. It is a message that I would want my son to be exposed to when he is old enough.

Russo really impressed me with this novel. I was left hoping that this would be turned into a series because I want to know what happens next. We need more author’s like Ms. Russo in young adult literature. Ms. Russo…less sleep, more writing, please!

Buy a copy of January Black in our Amazon Store!

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Electric Ben by Robert Byrd

Electric Ben

by Andrew Palmer

I recently reviewed Bomb: The Race to Build-And Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon which was the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Medal winner. Electric Ben was one of the three Sibert Medal Honor books for this year. I am really excited to see such great informational books being offered to a young adult audience!

Electric Ben is only a forty page picture book. Because of this, I was under the assumption that it was more appropriate for an elementary audience. I am excited to say that it is not, and it is perfect for middle level readers. Honestly, I think readers of all ages would appreciate this book. I really enjoyed it. I was amazed at how much information about Franklin was included in this text.

Robert Byrd is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and he illustrated this book, as well. He has a very unique style that I think would really attract kids to this text. The drawings have rich color and a bit of a humorous feel to them in places.

I have to admit any time a university professor writes a book about one of our founding fathers I get a little nervous. I could detect no bias or any attempt to disparage Franklin. I thought that Byrd did an outstanding job of delivering who Franklin really was. The book could be an excellent resource for a middle level student doing a research project on Franklin.

I think one of the best parts of this book is how disarming it is to the middle level reader that may not be interested in American history. As I mentioned above, the great illustrations draw you in and the length of the text is not daunting. This definitely is not a “boring” history book. I think this text could very much be a gateway for that middle level reader to discover a curiosity about those that founded this great nation.

Buy a copy of Electric Ben in our Amazon Store!

 

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BOOK REVIEW: The Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders #1) by @PeterLerangis

colossusSeven Wonders is a new science-fiction/fantasy series from children and young adult author Peter Lerangis. The Colossus Rises is the first installment of the series. It had been on the New York Times Middle Level Best-Sellers list every week back in March, and it has popped back in a couple times in the top-15 over the last month. This book is probably most appropriate for the early middle school reader (grades 5-7). I suspect fantasy fans all the way through high school would enjoy this book.

I am not a big fantasy reader. Most fantasy books I start usually get abandoned, but this book kept me entertained and engaged. I really enjoyed the  narrative voice of Jack. It is humorous and witty and keeps you smiling throughout the story. I thought the book had solid characters as well. Jack, Marco, Aly, and Cass have unique personalities that I think will allow different types of readers to connect to.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the mixture of the history of the seven wonders of the ancient world with the fantasy elements. This novel takes the kids to the Greek island of Rhodes (The Colossus of Rhodes). I love science fiction, and Lerangis has mixed a little bit of science into the plot that helped with my buy-in. The kids all have a special genetic marker (G7W) that will cause the kids to die when they turn 14. To cure themselves they must gather all of the Loculi that are hidden around the world at the locations of the seven wonders.

lerangis

Peter Lerangis

There’s nothing groundbreaking about this book, and it is not a book that has deep thematic elements.  In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Lerangis’ editor, David Linker, calls it, “Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson.” This is a pretty accurate description of the book. There is even an allusion to Indiana Jones as the kids enter a volcano with a hidden maze inside of it. It is a fun read, and would be good for the avid middle level reader that just wants to be entertained. Fans of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter and the Michael Vey series will enjoy this book. Overall, it’s a solid first effort of what looks to be a decent series.

Lexile=580

Check out the official book trailer from HarperKids:

Buy a copy of The Colosuss Rises in our Amazon Store!

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BOOK REVIEW: Bomb: The Race to Build-And Steal-The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Bomb

by Andrew Palmer

While I do enjoy reading a great fiction book, I would much rather curl up with non-fiction book and learn something. I realize that not all readers are like that, and young adult readers are often very reluctant to read non-fiction texts. If more writers wrote non-fiction books like this one, more of you would want to join me, and more of our teens would be interested in history.

In the biography in the back of this book, it says that Steve Sheinkin “has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.” On the surface this is a humorous quip, the reality is this is a sad truth about American history textbooks. Frankly, most of them suck. They do not engage students in any meaningful way, and they never inspire kids to investigate more. Add in an uninspiring history teacher, and it is no wonder you have a society that is apathetic and knows very little about its own history. Sheinkin has another book out that has been fairly popular with some of my students, it is called The Notorious Benedict ArnoldBenedictArnold

In Bomb, Sheinkin takes three different story lines surrounding the development and building of the world’s most dangerous weapon and weaves them together. The first is the Americans trying to build the atomic bomb. The second is the Soviets and their attempts to steal the bomb through spies. I was fascinated with this part of the book. I was excited to see this written into a book for young adults. Sheinkin also includes a little information on the reality of who Stalin was. Young adults need to hear the truth on who the Soviets really were. Finally, the third story line was the Allies attempts to sabotage the German bomb program. This was really interesting, too. The details of these missions are sure to impress any reader.

Bomb is written in narrative non-fiction. For those that don’t know what this is, it is a genre that takes a historical event and tells it like a narrative story. It is such a valuable genre for getting readers to be interested in history. Those of us that are passionate about history know that it is best told in a story format. I wish more authors would write books in this manner for the young adult book market.

Bomb was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist, a Newbery Honor Book for 2013, a winner of the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award from YALSA-ALA, and it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal for best informational text. Sheinkin should be applauded for his work in this text.

Consider buying a copy from our online store!

Sheinkin

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BOOK REVIEW: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

EndersGameI read several of the Ender’s series in high school. I was excited to find out that Ender’s Game will come out as a movie on November 1, so I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this book. Ender’s Game is a book that will satisfy many young adult readers. For the young reader that likes science fiction, this is a book that cannot be missed.

Ender’s Game is set in a dystopian future on earth. The world has already had one fierce battle with a race of aliens referred to as “buggers.” The world is scared. The International Fleet is created to draft and train the next generation of military leaders to fight the “buggers.”

Ender’s Game is a unique story because the new military leaders in this futuristic world are actually childhood geniuses. To an adult reader, this has an odd feel at times. The characters in this book, especially Ender, have knowledge and wisdom way beyond their years. I found myself trying to remember that this book was written for a young adult audience. The fact that this book was written for young adults is why it matters so much. For a teenager, a challenging part of adolescence is feeling like you don’t have a voice or are not respected by adults. Having a voice requires demonstrating that you actually deserve it. Ender is an intelligent, character-driven leader who shows teens what is required of them to be listened to by adults.

I love the themes in Ender’s Game! Much of this book is about leadership and Ender learning to be a leader. Ender is an advanced kid who is years beyond his peers. Because of this, he has to learn how to deal with bullying from those that are intimidated by his abilities. The discussions that Ender has with himself as he deals with his situations are very valuable to a young adult, especially a student that is “gifted”.

Another theme in the book is the development of the individual. As Ender grows he has to come to terms with the fact that he is a unique individual. Out of the struggles with the other students at battle school, Ender forms an identity that carries him through to his decisions during the climax and the resolution of the story.

Another positive of Ender’s Game is the political themes that run through the book. A reader will think about the relationship between the state, families, and individuals. Ender is a “third.” There are population laws in place. Only the first two children are provided an education. Parents are taxed as they have more children. Religion has been squelched by the international government. People that still practice religion are termed “non-compliant.”

Finally, a lot of the book deals with good versus evil. Ender and his brother, Peter, both walk a fine line between the two throughout the story. The plot events encourage the reader to think a lot about these two concepts and what they mean.

While the book has nothing to do with the topic, Orson Scott Card is an author religious conservatives should be aware of. He has taken much heat for being a defender of traditional marriage and the family. He is also a devout mormon. OrsonScottCard

Buy a copy in our online store!

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Book Review: Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude

by Andrew Palmer 

ThinWoodWallsSadly, kids and young adults rarely get excited about history. Part of the reason is because history is often not taught to them in a way that engages them. It often comes off as a collection of meaningless dates and facts. As many of us know, history is usually filled with fascinating, engaging stories that illustrate the reality of human nature. I have often found that historical fiction is a way to get a kid to read something on history. David Patneaude should be applauded for his effort with this bookIt is an example of what historical fiction can and should be.

Thin Wood Walls tells the story of a Japanese-American family before and during America’s involvement in World War II. The story is told in the first-person narrative of Joe Hanada, the youngest of two sons in the Hanada family. Joe starts out the story as a normal eleven-year-old kid living in a town near Seattle, Washington. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and suddenly his family is at the center of scorn of an entire nation.

A couple things stood out to me in this book. First, I loved the fact that it tells the truth about this ugly period of American history. The fact is, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the beloved progressive Democrat, through Executive Order and no congressional approval, tossed 120,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in the Mountain West. The first-person narrative really drives the point home of how cruel this was. You really get angry reading this as this young person tells his perspective of what is happening to him and to his family. Not only does this family get put in a camp, but the father is sent to another camp away from his family for three years!

Second, whether intentional or not*, I love the theme of being fearful of your government. Joe’s Grandmother has no love for governments. She left Japan because of the government, and as events unfold, she has no faith that the American government can or should be trusted either. It seems to me that many young adults in America are being conditioned to have way too much trust in their government. This book shows just how dangerous governments can be. They are ran by human beings, and human beings can be quite fallible. Our constitution was designed to actually protect us from the government. FDR and other progressives violated the constitution and trampled the civil liberties of these American citizens during this period of American history.

Thin Wood Walls is appropriate for kids as young as upper elementary. The younger reader may need a little background on the subject matter of the text, but I think they could handle the book quite well.

Lexile=620

Buy a copy of Thin Wood Walls in our Amazon Store!

*By all appearances, the author of this book is not a conservative. You can check out his blog on the second amendment where he demonstrates he has absolutely no clue what he is talking about. Guns are a plague, and our founding fathers had many inappropriate ideas, and the second amendment has something to do with muskets. Oh, brother…. He also gave Rachel Maddow’s book 4-stars on Goodreads. I debated not putting this review up, but I decided against it. This book is a good read. It has its place in the young adult library. Unlike many on the left, we know our history.

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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

bookthiefby Andrew Palmer

Every so often you read a book that you know will always stick with you. This is one of those books. The Book Thief  had been on the New York Times Children Bestsellers list for over 5 years (The Times finally figured out a several months ago that there is a difference between young adult, middle school and children’s books. As of right now, it’s still on the young adult list.) Having now read the book, I think I understand why.

One of the most unique features about this book is the narrative voice. It is actually told from the perspective of the Grim Reaper as he tells the story of the book thief, Liesel Meminger. As he tells us in the end of the book, “There’s a multitude of stories that I allow to distract me as I work…” We usually conceive of the Reaper as this evil, hate filled creature. Instead, the Reaper in the book really just has a job to do. When we die he comes to harvest our souls. Sometimes we humans like to create a lot of work for him. It makes him a little cranky. The voice is brilliant, and it really makes this story work in ways that are not possible with a normal first or third person narration.

A good example of this voice comes from the chapter “Death’s Diary: 1942” that begins part six of the book. “A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH: I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold. And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.”

The structure of this book is unique. There are ten parts, a prologue, and an epilogue. Each section of the book is split out into small chapters. Most of the chapters of this book are quite small. Each chapter is then split into numerous smaller sections. There is an insane amount of page breaks in this book. In addition, there are these weird bold sections in each. The only way I know to describe them is to call them important announcements from the Grim Reaper as he tells the story.

Markus Zusak’s writing is amazing! He uses words in ways that sometimes just makes you stop and want to reread because the usage is so appropriate to what is happening in the book. The word choice is very impressive. It is writing that carries you effortlessly to the end of this 552 page text. Once at the end, you want to pick it up and do it all over again.

The title of the book comes from the main character, Liesel. She is, as death names her, a book thief. At the beginning of the book, she is not very literate. With the help of her foster father, she begins to read the first book she ever stole. So begins her love of words and books. As the story goes on, her book thievery plays a prominent role in the story to the backdrop of the events of Nazi Germany and World War II. Over the course of the story, Liesel’s foster parents take in and hide a Jew. This subplot takes a very prominent role in the middle of the book and has a large effect on the character development of Liesel.

I was struck by one of the things that Zusak did in the middle of this book. All of a sudden at the start of part five the Reaper just up and tells you the end of the story. It’s an interesting exercise in something good readers know, we don’t just read for the end of the book. As death states: “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it….I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.”

The main theme of this book can be summed up as the importance and the power of words. It also is a brilliant commentary on the confusion that can be humanity. We are capable of such great beauty, but at the same time we can be capable of such evil. History is full of stories that demonstrate both. I hate to give the end of this book away, but the closing passage demonstrates the point quite well.

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant….All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know…A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR: I am haunted by humans.

There is a little mature language in this book.
Lexile: 730

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White House Hosts “Datapalooza” built on Common Core Tests

Christel Swasey has a great post over on COMMON CORE: Education Without Representation that is worth checking out. I am going to post it below in it’s entirety, and I wanted to add a little commentary afterward.

Did you see the recent view that  Missouri Education Watchdog has taken on “Datapalooza” at the White House?  Most telling is a pleasant sounding speech by eScholar CEO Shawn T. Bay, given at the White House, in which he states that although aggregate data (not individual) is useful, it’s most useful to look at the individual consumer or the individual student. He says, too, that  Common Core is so important to the open data movement, because it’s “the glue that actually ties everything together.”

Common Core tests begin in 2014.  The tests are to be the vehicle for the nationwide student data collection, both academic and nonacademic.  Without Common Core, the federal and corporate invasion of privacy could not be effective.  I do not think many people, including the speaker in this video, understand the underhanded (nonconsensual) alterations to privacy law of the Department of Education.

Here is the video.  http://youtu.be/9RIgKRNzC9U?t=9m5s

At about minute nine, he explains how the data push depends on Common Core State Standards.

Here’s the thing I don’t get, and here is why I really think why this should bug you. You don’t need a whole bunch of educational data in a big database to teach a child how to set goals. The government doesn’t need to retain all that data in a gigantic database to help a child set goals and fulfill those goals. So, not only are our kids going to feel like animals in a cage with this new one size fits all curriculum, they are going to be finely measured lab rats for companies like eScholar. Gee… I can’t wait to sign my kid up for this!

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