2011 - %3, May

How To Deal With Relatives Spamming You

| Fri May 6, 2011 8:30 PM EDT

Hi Anna,

My aunt and I primarily "keep in touch" through email, and by that I mean, she sends me chain e-mails almost every day. Most of these are cute, or mildly funny, but sometimes they are scams or racist diatribes. Can I ask her to stop sending them? I don't want to be rude or disrespectful, but there's only so many death-panels-Bill-Gates-wants-to-give-me-money-flesh-eating-bananas e-mails I can take.

~Family Tied

Well, that's the last time I'll warn YOU about piranha produce. We'll see who's complaining when fruitmageddon rolls around. Hint: me, because you'll most likely be dead.

Chain letters (and their modern equivalents) have been around since the middle ages, when a so-called priest named Prester John requested help from Christian armies to rescue his magical paradise that was overrun by infidels. While this land of milk and honey was never found, some say the chain letters, "profoundly affected the geographical knowledge of Europe by stimulating interest in foreign lands and sparking expeditions outside of Europe." In the 19th century, chain letters were used in Britain to help fund a home for street prostitutes, and also to thwart Jack the Ripper. So, they weren't always an obnoxious medium to spread cute kitten pictures or attempt to pyramid scheme you.

It's difficult to tell our elders to stop spamming us for a few reasons. Why? Because they often mean well. Some older folks are technological masters, but for others, e-mail is as far as they got in web savvy-ness. (And, to be inclusive, younger folks are certainly susceptible to spreading chains and hoaxes, especially on Facebook)....

Read the rest of my social media etiquette column on SF Weekly.

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Gourmet Bribes for Test Score Improvements

| Fri May 6, 2011 2:22 PM EDT
Delfina owner Craig Stoll and staff making salads for 900 students.

On the menu for 900 Mission High School students Thursday: Lumachine with Sunday Supper sauce and chopped salad. Translation? "Fancy mac and cheese," Delfina restaurant owner Craig Stoll tells me while mixing 20 giant bowls of salad. Stoll and his volunteers from Delfina were up all night peeling and cutting vegetables for this special celebratory lunch, he says. He's here because Sam Mogannam, the owner of Bi-Rite grocery—another family-owned Mission District neighborhood staple—called him and four other local restaurants and asked them to volunteer their time and food to help Mission High.

Why are these famous chefs standing on a football field under the scorching sun, flipping burgers on portable stoves for high school seniors? Because this is one of many ways in which Mission High motivates students around standardized testing and No Child Left Behind requirements. In 2009, Principal Eric Guthertz promised students he'd grant them one of the three wishes if they helped Mission High raise test scores: A meal served by a famous chef, Guthertz wearing a bear (school mascot) outfit to the superintendant's office, or Guthertz dancing the Macarena in front of everyone. Students voted overwhelmingly for the meal. Their test scores went up by 70 points—more than in any other high school in San Francisco last year—and Guthertz had to pay up.

Mission High parent volunteers serving studentsMission High parent volunteers serving studentsNear the chefs, Mission High School History teacher Amadis Velez plays rhythm-and-blues tunes and English teacher Tadd Scott plays reggae with students using a solar-powered music amplifier. As students trickle onto the football field, parent volunteers Debbie and Emar Garabato—whose twin daughters Haley and Sandi attend Mission High—line up to serve the teens. Debbie works night shifts at a casino, but she didn't want to miss this. "I love Mission. I volunteer here all of the time," she tells me. "Everybody knows everybody here," she says. Garabato tells me that Haley's teacher Taica Hsu just helped her daughter raise $1,600 to write and produce a play that she'll perform on May 18th. Haley's younger sister now wants to transfer here from Washington, Garabato says.

"We didn't even see you chew that!" a student laughs at math teacher Betty Lee, who just finished a hamburger. At another table, choir teacher Steven Hankle tells me he's not used to eating food like this. That's probably because an average teacher's salary—which is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender—doesn't really make it easy to dine at top-notch local restaurants like these. Most students tell me they give the meals five stars.

Two hours later, biodegradable food containers and utensils pile up in compostable bins and the food and folding tables are gone. Students are off to after-school clubs and sports practice. "Thank you, Principal Guthertz!" one student yells as Guthertz puts trash in garbage cans. Guthertz says something back, but I can't hear it. He's lost most of his voice by now.

*Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of an ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where education writer Kristina Rizga is embedded for the year. Read more: "One Undocumented Teen's Tale." Plus: Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get all of the latest Mission High dispatches.

Education Roundup: How to Teach Students About Osama's Death

| Wed May 4, 2011 2:20 PM EDT
  • Osama bin Laden's death became a featured topic in classrooms around the country this week. So how are teachers translating this violent news story into a lesson plan suitable for kids? For younger students, there's educational website BrainPop, which made an animated movie that explains bin Laden's death and what happened on September 11. There's also the Molly Ringwald route: compare bin Laden to Harry Potter's Voldemort.
  •  How are students reacting to news of bin Laden's death? Kandi Lancaster, a social studies teacher at Walnut Creek Intermediate School, told Bay Area News Group reporters "many of her students didn't think it was right for Americans to be celebrating bin Laden's death in the streets. A lot of students, she said, feared retaliation." First grader Alejandro told HuffPo that bin Laden should have been imprisoned, rather than killed. One student at Monticello High School in Minnesota asked her US history teacher, "Why, as a largely Christian nation, are we celebrating the death of someone?"
  • Teacher Appreciation Day hit. The Tennessee Senate uncelebrated by voting to end teachers' collective bargaining rights.
  • Meanwhile, the 2011 National Teacher Of The Year is... Maryland teacher Michelle Shearer! Shearer will take a one-year sabbatical to speak at educational conferences about what's best for public schools. So what does a teacher with 14 years experience think works best for public schools? Check out Shearer's interview with The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss. Highlight: "teaching can't be boiled down to a formula."
  • One group that thinks teaching can be boiled down to a formula is the Bloomberg administration in New York. Dana Goldstein reports that Bloomberg is arguing in court for the right to release to the media the "value-added" ratings of 12,000 NYC public school teachers. The Los Angeles Times tried this last year; an LA educator committed suicide after he saw his low score published.
  • In other sad news: If Alabama governor Robert Bently signs SB 256, undocumented children in that state won't be allowed to go to the prom, join the school band, or participate in any activity deemed extracurricular.
  • Twenty percent of the students in Florida's Fern Creek Elementary School are homeless, The New York Times' Michael Winerip reports. But small class sizes, talented veteran teachers, and strong support systems have helped students score proficiently on tests for six years. Maybe some of those strategies could help the other 954,000+ homeless students in the US.
  •  Lastly: Since 2006, Tennessee teachers have lead students in Bible study sessions, school board meetings have opened with prayer, and other religious endorsements have been going on in the Sumner County school system, according to an ACLU suit filed against the district.

Osama Death Merch: 6 Disturbing Gift Ideas

| Wed May 4, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but America's entrepreneurial spirit lives on. Want a creepy relic to commemorate NOsama Day? Bid on bin Laden's (alleged) beard! Got $12,000? The domain name BinLadenConspiracy.com could be yours! Below, 6 OBL commemorative options, starting with two Mother's Day gift ideas:

The Top Media Policy Stories of the Week

| Mon May 2, 2011 2:53 PM EDT

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger continues to dominate media policy headlines, but the wireless merger isn't the only game in town. AOL's recent buyout of the Huffington Post has raised intellectual property issues, rural communities still lack speedy broadband access, and a proposed Verizon antenna in Oakland has come under fire by neighborhood activists.

AT&T an Underdog?

Telecommunications giant AT&T is many things, and an underdog in need of federal assistance isn't one of them. Yet Colorlines.com's Jamilah King says that's exactly how the company is portraying itself in its proposed $39 billion dollar takeover of T-Mobile.

In its official filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), King reports, "AT&T spends nearly 90 pages describing T-Mobile's weaknesses, while detailing the roadblocks it says it'll face if federal regulators don't green light the deal." If federal regulators block the deal, AT&T argues, its customers "would face a greater number of blocked and dropped calls as well as less reliable and slower data connections. And in some markets, AT&T's customers would be left without access to more advanced technologies."

Tiempo Libre: From a Rooftop to the Big Stage

| Mon May 2, 2011 7:00 AM EDT

It all started with a coat hanger: "If they catch you, you have to pay," says Jorge Gomez. "We made our own antenna. We listened to everything." This isn't a description of a secret espionage effort. It's the story of how a Cuban teenager and his friends—now members of Gomez's timba band, Tiempo Libre—fell in love with American music. They rigged up a makeshift radio using a friend's military-issue guidebook and frequency map, the hanger, and some cable. This allowed them to listen to music banned during Cuba's "Special Period."

But catching Miami radio waves from their moonlit Havana rooftop wasn't the kids' only form of subversion. Many a night was dedicated to recording the songs of Michael Jackson; Earth, Wind, & Fire; Chaka Khan; and Gloria Estefan. "We recorded by night, and then in the morning we made parties. We had a six-hour recording," Gomez reminisces. "When there is a good thing, we don't sleep for days."

The island's weather didn't stop them either: "Some weeks, you would have the wind blow and be recording in the middle of a very huge shower in rain with an umbrella," he adds.

The three-time Grammy-nominated band eventually made it to Miami, where the musicians immediately feel at home among all the Cuban expats. "You can go anywhere and there is a Cuban. So you are living in Cuba with everything, but with no ‘Special Period,'" says Gomez. He admits there are some things he misses from home, like gossiping and playing dominoes in the old neighborhood, "the smell of the city," and the ability to just kick back. "Here it is only work, work, work," he laments.

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John Work III: The Man the Blues Forgot

| Mon May 2, 2011 6:45 AM EDT

As the story goes, the folklorist Alan Lomax was traveling around Mississippi with his recording equipment in the summer of 1941 when he came upon the house of a blues singer named McKinley Morganfield. Lomax recorded a few tracks for the Library of Congress and moved on, later mailing Morganfield a check for $20 and two copies of the record. What Lomax couldn't have known at the time was that Morganfield, better known today as Muddy Waters, was to become one of the most famous blues singers of all time—the undisputed king of the electric Chicago sound.

Morganfield, along with Son House, went on to be known as one of Lomax's greatest discoveries. And while it may be true that without Lomax, we might never have heard of these artists, it's worth remembering that—despite what his own memoirs suggest—Lomax didn't actually discover either of them. That credit falls to a little-known black folklorist named John Work III, who died 44 years ago this month.