In a bit of a first, Monkey Trials now comes to you direct from the Lone Star State. We're having a bit of a family gathering at my folks' place in Arlington. My aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides are with us along with my brother and his wife following the funeral and gravesite service for my grandmother.

I took the time while I was at the cemetery in Cleburne to also visit the grave site of my father's parents (Charles and Virginia Hatfield). This marks the end of a stage in our family's history. With all of my grandparents having shuffled off this mortal coil, and with my Mom and Dad in Arlington, there will probably be no desire to ever return to Cleburne, Texas. Unless one of us grows pathologically nostalgic, which seems doubtful.

We now face a future that is no less uncertain than before in other matters.



Humor being a defense mechanism....

STUDENT: Mr. Hatfield? Could we turn up the heat? Ple-e-e-e-ease? I'm freezing!

Yeah, I get that all the time from my students, Chumley. I tend to keep my classes on the chilly side. While your personal mileage may vary, in my experience students become less attentive above 77-78 degrees Farenheit, so I tend to keep it colder than that (68-72). Sure, I often have to explain to the kid doing their best Tennessee Tuxedo impersonation why I'm not going to turn up the thermostat, but in general my students are more productive. And, on those days in class when we have the hot plates out, the lowered threshold keeps the classroom pleasant.

But, as usual, my school district tends to push these things to the limit. Witness this newspaper coverage of Fresno Unified's failure to provide adequate heat at certain school sites, particularly where I work, Bullard High School.

Just to make things clear, my classroom does not have one of the space heaters the article references, and yes, it has been quite cold: in the mid-40's during much of the morning yesterday, and (I suspect) probably much of today as well. I think I will post temperature readings on the blog later today just to document this stuff for future reference. After reading it, you may wonder, just how does the district expect us to function?

That's a rhetorical question, since I have no idea what the district expects at this point. All I can do is document what I and other clients of Fresno Unified deal with from time to time on this blog. You can click on the label 'The Classroom (ugh)' on the right to find a whole series of posts on this topic, if you have the time and care to sample the 'whine.' Believe me when I say that this latest episode of 'chilled' education is just....

....wait for it....

...the tip of the iceberg.


I pulled out five hot plates and had them running before first period began on Friday. It was about 49 degrees outside when class began, but by mid-morning I had managed to raise my shivering students to 60 degrees. By the afternoon we topped out at 64 degrees. Not optimal, and many of them kept their hoods on, but at least we were able to function: I did a demo of different pigments absorbing or reflecting specific frequencies of light using lasers and solutions that I had previously made by dumping leaves in alcohol (spinach for chlorophyll b, poinsettias for anthocyanin), and we completed notes on the Calvin Cycle.



...it was my Grandmother's birthday, slightly more than three years ago.

But yesterday, while undergoing the last mind-numbing day of district-mandated training for CLAD, I received a phone call from my mother letting me know that my grandmother, Leno Ellington, had died.

Leno was a willful woman who had the habit of saying that she 'didn't care for such as that' and as she grew older she seemed to say that more and more. She was straight-laced, stiff-necked and was not always easy for her children to deal with---a fact that I only came to appreciate when I was an adult. As a child, I remember my grandmother having a seemingly endless supply of energy in the kitchen and treating I and the other grandkids very sweetly. Other than a modest habit of Coca-Cola and an entirely understandable hatred of the Washington Redskins (she was a fierce fan of America's Team), she had no vices as such. She might've enjoyed an even longer life if she had been able to force herself to exercise, a constant sore spot with my mother, who took up an active role monitoring Grandmother's health and other affairs following a car accident nearly twenty years ago.

As Leno deteriorated, it became evident she could no longer live alone. She was moved into a retirement facility a few years ago and in March 2005 celebrated her 90th birthday, an occasion that saw the immediate family all fly in for a celebration:

It was a bit of a strained affair, held in a parlor at her old church in Cleburne, with what remained of her peers from the pews popping in and saying 'hello'. We eventually repaired to a local eatery which didn't exactly have the right ambience, with the Rolling Stones coming out of a overdriven jukebox and one of my guilty cousins doing what she could to hide the fact that she was drinking an adult beverage at the same table as 'Mrs. E' (as my Dad has called her for years).

In the back of our minds, some of us probably felt a bit guilty whooping it up, as we knew how easily her arthritic bones would tire at that point.

My mother (sitting next to Leno, and mercifully blocking my belly in the birthday picture) has worn herself out the last two months trying to provide care for her mom, and I am frankly grateful that her caregiving has come to an end. Now, I will be making the trek back to Cleburne, probably my last such trip to Johnson County, Texas, where I spent so many holidays, to help pay respects to the last of my grandparents. I guess I really am getting old after all.