Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Earth Hour

Compiled a list of a few comments I read on various blogs that I felt noteworthy. Certainly worthy of discussion in a classroom.

Re: Earth Hour 2009

"Its funny, sitting here thinking that Afghans are struggling to survive, while the world is concerned with Earth Hour. Sorry, but its a joke! Participants will feign outrage at their neighbor for not turning off lights, but not a word against an enemy who will happily kill them 'for a cause' " - me via twitter

"Why do we home school? Could it be because across America, children can't read or do the most basic math or logic problems, but, boy, they sure can re-cycle! Is there so much time on our hands that we can spend all of it "tilting at windmills" (or wind farms)? Heaven help us. Maybe those who die at the hand of Islam are the lucky ones -- the rest of us have to witness the rapid decline of western civilization at the hand of the College Marxists... " - hecowe

"When you turn out the lights, you are ... uh, like ... in the dark. Right where libs want everyone to be." - Anonymous

Teachers: I know I might lose some of you here, you can see where I stand on this issue. That's alright, I understand. I've presented only one side, you have your opinions too, I respect that. But when it comes to kids in classrooms, we owe it to them to present BOTH sides of an issue. As teachers, we should encourage discussion based on fact (not emotion - for teens, is that possible?), and let students decide for themselves what they believe. I think this will help stimulate them into becoming thinking, participative citizens. To do otherwise, is unfair, selfish, and borders on teacher malpractice.

So come on, have a discussion in your classroom. You don't have to know both sides of an issue, just be knowledgeable about how to facilitate a discussion without it getting out of hand. i.e. one speaker at a time, respect for the speaker, strive for facts, not emotion - teach them the difference, etc. Good luck.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh Canada

Recently, I heard the sad news that four Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan; in two separate IED incidents.

The news brought to mind an email I received a short time ago from a Canadian citizen who follows me on the social networking site, Twitter. From out of the red, white, and blue wrote Garwood:

"On Twitter you asked me what we Canadians think of war. I cannot speak for everyone of course, but the general consensus is that Canadians are pretty humble, docile people, who would prefer peace to war. Of course we have our military but certainly not the power and the might of your armed forces. We don't have a strong feeling about signing up for God and our country like you do in the United States, and I think that is sadly lacking in Canada. We see your love and enthusiasm for your country, your flag, and your military, and we envy that."

"As with any war, there are many who do not think we should be in Afghanistan or Iraq (some of our men are posted in Iraq) but our Prime Minister has committed us to the middle of 2011. Our armed forces have been primarily peace keepers until we got involved in Afghanistan and this is all out war. We've lost 113 men over there in the last two years. To you and your military families that isn't very many but every loss of life is a tragedy. We cannot imagine here in Canada what it is like to have the numbers of dead and wounded that your military has sustained since this war began. Our hearts go out to the families of those brave men and women."

"My wife and I lost a fellow Winnipeger (that is someone who lives in Winnipeg, our city) in the World Trade Tower collapse on 9/11. My wife and I attended the first memorial service in NYC on 9/11/ 2002. To stand amidst the thousands that gathered at ground zero and talk with them, cry with them, and wave the American Flag with them was an experience I will never forget. Yes, Canada could take lessons on patriotism from the US. My wife and I have travelled throughout your great country and we love it."

As evidenced by the message, not all people dislike Americans, as our biased media, and some fellow citizens would have you believe; fretting at their whine and dine elitist parties about the state we're in. How chic, à la Hollywood style!

Quite frankly, I'm not too concerned about those who don't "like" us. So what, who cares? I've always been amazed at those who worry about that sort of thing; our perceived reputation. I've never believed what the media, and others, claimed was a generic distrust/dislike by foreigners towards the US. Garwood helped reaffirm that for me, as I hope it does for you.

His message is indicative of what I believe people throughout the world REALLY think of us. Garwood's humble message should be shared, shouted from the rooftops, and spread throughout our schools, so as to foster and instill the love and pride we continue to have for our great nation.

I was moved by the above email, and wanted to share it with you. How interesting, to have a Canadian so eloquently say, what most of our politicians won't, about the US as a nation!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lesson in Fact Finding Too

The following story caught my eye, and I thought, hmmm? Let's see what you think, history buffs.

General "Black Jack" Pershing and Muslim Terrorists in the Philippines before WW I:

Just before World War I, there were a number of terrorist attacks on United States forces in the Philippines by Muslim extremists. So General Pershing captured 50 terrorists, and had them tied to posts for execution. He then had his men bring in two pigs, and slaughter them in front of the horrified terrorists.

Muslims detest pork, because they believe pigs are filthy animals. Some of them simply refuse to eat it, while others won't even touch pigs at all, nor any of their by-products. To them, eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from Paradise (and the promised virgins), and doomed to hell.

The soldiers then soaked their bullets in the pigs' blood, and proceeded by firing squad, to execute 49 of the terrorists. The soldiers then dug a big hole, threw in the terrorists' lifeless bodies, and covered them in pig blood, entrails, etc. They let the 50th man go.

And for the next 42 years, there was not a single Muslim extremist attack anywhere in the world.

Teachers: A very interesting, albeit, brutal story; that means your older students should love it! Lots to research here: Who was Gen. Pershing, and why was he famous? Why were we in the Phillipines prior to WWI? Muslims in the Phillipines, whats up with that? Throughout the ages, what were some similar strategies that societies/cultures/armies/tribes used to frighten their enemies away? You get the idea. But be sure to check out, as dear departed Paul Harvey would say, "...the rest of the story" at Snopes.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy New Year

It's the Afghan New Year today, Saturday, March 21, 2009

And yet again, the Afghan translators have invited me to their company party (I think I've been officially adopted) to help celebrate the new year, 1388! That's right, 1388.

One of the younger Afghan translators remarked; " Yeah, it's 1388, maybe that's why we're so far behind". We laughed, but in some ways, from what I've seen, he wasn't kidding!

This brings to mind the words of the artist, formerly known as Prince (or is he Prince again?):

"...Yeah, everybody's got a bomb
We could all die any day
But before I'll let that happen
I'll dance my life away

They say two thousand zero zero party over
Oops, out of time
We're runnin' outta time
So tonight we gonna, we gonna

(Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999)"

Let's see, I guess if I take Prince's advice, and party like its 1999, I would be 611 years ahead of the Afghans! Whoo Hoo! Wonder if they'll be ready for me?
Wonder if any women will be wearing a burqua, for old times sake? Here I come naan and kabob!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Airman and Teacher

When I'm not an Airman, I'm a Special Education teacher in an incarcerated facility, working with juveniles. As I get closer to leaving Afghanistan, my thoughts are slowly turning to teaching again, although, I will probably not be in the classroom until next school year. Once home, am taking the summer off to be with my family, and honor them for THEIR sacrifices. Think we're going to France!

While deployed, our base chaplain sends out words of encouragement on a daily basis. Although all are thought provoking, the one below, I associate to the students at the court school I'm assigned to. I see it, I live it. I just have to think back to the times I've gone on home visits, and seen the home environment my students are being raised in. Yup, this quote holds lots of meaning.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Russian Mined

Today, as I was walking to the office, I came upon familiar LN workers walking towards our building. Lagging behind, was the elder gentleman of the group, limping a bit.

I'd guess him to be around 50-55 yrs. old, hard to tell. In Afghanistan, if born in a village, people generally don't know what their birth date is. When asked for one's age, an Afghan might respond with something like, "I was born when the King died" or "The year the Russians invaded is when I was born". In addition, I'm told, there are only two major ceremonies in their lives: when they're born, and when they die.

Mind boggling, huh? Can you imagine all the possibilities if we used that same reference system to answer the question, "When were you born?" Some example responses in the US might be: "When the first car came out", or, "I was born when we landed a man on the moon" or, "When President Clinton denied having sex with that intern, Monica". But I digress!

As I approached, I asked the elder why he was limping, like he could understand my impeccable English! Then, I reverted to what I know best, gesticulating, pointing to his leg, and raising my voice like he had a hearing problem, as opposed to a comprehension problem. Now he understood my question!

I was stunned by his answer because I knew he spoke little to no English. He stopped, looked down, lifted his pantleg to show me a prosthesis and exclaimed, "F***n' damn Russians mines! F***n' Russian mines!"

Whoa, Polish flashback! I was not sure whether to laugh at his impassioned, totally unexpected outburst, or be disgusted by the reality of the Russian legacy left for Afghanistan. After an awkward pause, I congratulated him on HIS impeccable English, encouraged him to continue expressing his feelings concerning the Russians, and shook hands as we continued our walk silently to the building.

I saw this gentleman later in the day, and after having thought about what he'd said, asked if I could take a picture of his prosthetic leg to share with the world. He smiled and obliged.

In hindsight, the "MINES" picture I share with you at the top of my blog, has more meaning than ever to me now, and I will always think of this man, my "I was born when the King died" aged, Afghan friend.

Teachers: I know we've delved into this a little before. But this puts a face, so to speak, to the story. It is first hand from a real person and the effect it has had. How many mines do they estimate in Afghanistan, rent the movie Kandahar, it is very good but has subtitles. It deals with people who were victims of mines. A real eye opener and depicts life as it is in Afghanistan. Probably better for HS students.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Empower Afghans

Somebody brought up a great point about where to draw the line in how much we help Afghanistan and it's citizens. I was having a discussion concerning Afghan children on the other side of the fence, "outside the wire". The translator said "Yes, children typically stand there, with puppy dog eyes, hoping a soldier will throw them some bottled water, candy, etc." Soldiers are torn, because they see their plight, maybe even see their own children in their eyes, and naturally, want to help.

The translator explained, "...that by succumbing to your helpful nature, you are encouraging a potentially harmful social behavior; that begging is rewarded". He continued, "We must be careful not to lull Afghans into a sense of entitlement". "If you go right outside the ECP, into the village, you will find another world; poor people on donkeys and bikes, beggars, unsanitary water, lawlessness; you'll literally be in a third world country!"

His point was made; the US must be cautious not to create an Afghan welfare state. Creating and enabling a welfare-like society would be an egregious disservice to Afghanistan. We know what that looks like, and it ain't pretty. Watch how this generation of Afghan children evolves. Will they grow up to embrace self-sufficiency? Or, will they remember begging for water and candy from soldiers, expecting entitlements that Americans (and others) have unwittingly bestowed upon them?

Like pebbles dropped into calm water, the rippling waves move from the center outward. Lets duplicate that rippling effect by enabling, rather than entitling, Afghans to farm (crops, not opium poppies), to become self-sufficient, to foster education, etc. in the hope for an empowered Afghanistan.

I'm not a military or social strategist. I don't suggest the above because it is not being done, it is, in various forms. I don't know how we'll measure Afghan progress outside the Taliban influence. Does progress mean fewer beggars, more stores being opened, more shoppers, a larger workforce, increased literacy? Time will tell.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Symbolism and Cartoons

Found this editorial cartoon on an Afghan website recently. What do you think? Cartoons are serious business. Some cartoonists have death threats made against them for cartoons they've drawn depicting religious figures or other cultural icons. Do some research, how many cartoonists have been murdered for expressing their views through art? Wonder who's heads those are hanging? And what about that whip? Is this cartoon inflammatory? Would like your opinions. Just added this article, relevant to the cartoon.

Teachers: Discuss what the term Symbolism means with your students. Is the artist using symbolism or is he being literal? What does literal mean? What do you suppose the artist's message is? What is the difference between an editorial cartoon and those found on the comics page of a newspaper? Have your students deconstruct the cartoon in groups and have each group report on what they believe the cartoon is saying. After they report out, the discussions generated can lead to further investigation concerning the Taliban, religious teachings, Afghan culture, etc. See where it leads.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Great American Influence

I know I've mentioned my Polish friends before (pic attached). They are based here and maintain the Polish helicopters. Their soldiers are also based in Ghazni where they have a larger presence, along with greater military responsibility for that region. My friends Przemec and Tadek flew to Ghazni to do some work. It has turned out so far to be for 2-3 weeks, as expected. They should be returning soon.

Przemek's email from Ghazni (below) reminded me of being back home at school, working with students who are learning English. It is displayed without editing, except for location:

"cześć Mark, thank you for wrtting, Gazni is small place bat I thing so it is safety, I would like to come back to Base X how it is posible , bat My helicopters not flay now. Im going come back this week, TheWeather smotime is good bat not often, The acomodation is wore then ni Base X, is only small gym , bat my soliders are wery funy. I was too on Mass on Ash Wednesday, I dont have a lot of work because we heave problem with secial fiuel to helicopters. so we stay in erth. so sory my writing is not good I think co We will meet too, have you goot day Mark"

I am often humored by Przemek's attempts at spoken English. An example...

One evening we were at the AF rec area and I showed them how to play UNO, a card game I play at home with my son. Thought it would be a good game to teach them, because it involves colors, numbers, and words, in English. They enjoyed learning the game, and playing enabled them to practice speaking English. It just so happened that, next to us, was a group of young Army and AF soldiers playing Texas Hold-Em (poker); they were having their own unique experience. The soldiers were boisterous, enjoying themselves, and of course, were using many colorful, descriptive English words (profanities) to express their pleasure/displeasure with their poker hands.

So here I am, trying to help my friends learn English, and after a while, out of the blue as we were shuffling the UNO cards, ready to start another game, Prezemec exclaims "I like this fokking game, sheet, it is goot dam game"! The three of us busted up laughing and joined in, exchanging profanities of our own ("Shuffle the fokking deck"! "This is goot sheet game"!) . A truly Joint Coalition experience!

I realized my Polish friends were keenly aware of the expletive phrases being thrown around by the young soldiers, and thought it would be fun to practice some of their own interpretations of colorful English phrasing. I'm sure they had heard these cuss words before, but in a learning mode, were intrigued by the soldiers' descriptive vocabulary. They proudly wanted to emulate the soldiers' usage of the newly acquired phrases, as if it were an honor to know these terms. I have to admit, they were quick f*#*n learners!

Teachers: Sorry, you're on your own with this one! Good luck. Just kidding! Have your students write out (individually) what they think my friend was trying to say in English. Then have the class share and compare what they came up with. Are you all able to come to a consensus? If you have an EL class, UNO is a great way to learn colors and numbers and a few select words. I'd skip a discussion on the cussing, unless you want to hear a lot of it coming from your students.

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