Magnetic paint: go away

The craze these days for chalkboard walls is getting complicated. The latest thing is to use a metal-based paint under the chalkboard paint so that your kid has a wall that is both chalkable and magnetic.  This post is for parents considering this endeavour.  The gist, for all you busy people, is fairly simple:  NO.  For those of you with some leisure, I’ll lay it out now in point form.

Chalkboard paint is friendly and wants you to be happy.

-It smells good.
-It remains mixed in the tin.
-It applies to the wall like cream.
-It cleans up with soap and water.
-And it does what it promises.

Magnetic paint hates you and wishes you were dead.

-It smells like turpentine on steroids, and continues to smell for days.
-It settles at the bottom of the tin within minutes of an industrial shake-up, and can’t be remixed without 20 minutes of muscular stirring.
-It applies to the wall like a lump of metal, which is, in fact, what it is.
-It cleans up with NOTHING.
-And, the coup de grace: it does not do what it promises.

But, I hear you saying, I’ve come across people on the web singing the praises of magnetic paint!  Yes.  I read those things too;  that’s why I decided to use it.  But I’m here to tell you today those people are lying to you . I know why they’re lying too.  They’re lying because this stuff is so malevolent they’re embarrassed to admit they bought it.  They struggled, they suffered, but now it’s over — and the last thing they want is their friends and neighbours to know how stupid they were to get duped by the other liars on the web and the smiley fellow at the hardware store.  I have no such shame. I was stupid.  Two coats worth of stupid.  Learn from my example.

The one thing people on the web do admit is that the stuff doesn’t really work.  You have to get “rare earth” magnets, they say, by which they mean really strong magnets, and even those have problems sticking if you haven’t put on enough coats of the vile stuff.  They say “rare earth magnets” instead of strong magnets in a desperate attempt to make their bad decision look like a super bougie decision:  not just any magnets for us, no! only rare earth magnets!  Feh!  And the only reason they admit this one, glaring, overwhelming problem with the product at all is because it’s the one they can’t hide.  Anyone who’s come into their house and tried to stick a magnet on the wall already knows.

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Back to basics

I want my life back.  I have to get to the gym, and I have to blog.  By way of catching up, I’ll describe something that’s been bothering me all year:  Eila’s schooling has been abysmal.

Last year, when she was in first grade, the teacher tested all the kids to diagnose their levels and taught them accordingly.  This meant that Eila was mostly doing second grade math and that her spelling words were things like “eclipse” and “gravity.”  This year the teacher also did diagnostic testing but seems to have ignored the results, explaining to me when I asked for harder work that she’s a “believer in drilling the basics.”  This means that Eila is re-doing math she mastered more than a year ago and that her spelling words include “to,” “an,” and “for.”  I have trouble getting to her to do homework, as she’s lost all respect for assignments, in class and out.

Eila’s class is a one/two split, which means it includes both first and second graders — and there happen to be 17 first graders to 8 second graders.  So I can see why the teacher might be focused on easy material.  But split-level classes are one of the things this school is famous for, and they are supposed to ensure that a teacher doesn’t follow the curriculum by rote but instead finds the students’ levels.  The policy of the school is that in a one/two split, kids should be doing work that ranges in difficulty from K to fourth grade.  I know for sure that no one in Eila’s class is asked to do any work above second grade level.  But even worse:  as far as I can tell the work that the second graders are doing now ought, by the curriculum, to have been done in around October.  Right now, at the beginning of the spring semester, we’re about a third of the way through the fall semester math workbook.

Each week a little newsletter goes out to parents.  Here’s a bit of this week’s.

“Reading:  Please talk about “character” when reading and personification.  Math:  We are working on all kinds of things.  Please continue to help with money & time.”

I find the teacher an enormously pleasant person.  And everyone is entitled to a fallow year every now and then.  Still, I’m distressed.  Elementary school teachers should teach to the curriculum if they can’t teach more.  And they should have a grasp of basic grammar.

Notice, btw, that I leave double spaces after a period.  In fact I feel strongly enough about them that I do them twice:  WordPress corrects them in my draft and I have to go in and put them all back.  Take that, Mr. Manjoo!

Identity and morality

I present Eila with a couple of those little philosophical problems involving identity.  “The philosopher breaks the handle of his axe,” I tell her, “and replaces it.  A few years later he breaks the blade and replaces that.  Is it still the same axe?”  Eila says, without a moment’s thought:  “no.”  “Theseus has a ship,” I say.  “We’ll call it The Ship of Theseus.  Over the years, he replaces each plank, throwing the old planks overboard.  They all wash up on an island where a master ship-builder is marooned.  Once the master ship-builder’s got them all, he builds a ship in which each plank ends up in exactly the same spot it held in the original, and sails away.  Who is now sailing The Ship of Theseus?”  She answers immediately: “the master ship-builder.”

She’s consistent, eh?  And she has a proclivity for the consistency of things.  Not to mention their materiality:  a thing is the sum of its material parts.  Lots of good common sense there.

On a roll, I decided to try her on the problem of Heinz.  Heinz’s wife is sick, and needs 1000$ for medicine, but they don’t have any money and the druggist refuses to sell it for a lower price.  Does he steal the drug?  According the Carol Gilligan, boys faced with this puzzle play by the rules, arguing either yes or no, while girls refuse to play by the rules and seek other solutions.  After her answers to the other two puzzles I thought Eila would be decisive and boy-ish.  But she took her time, and finally suggested that the people at the bank probably had a lot of money and should be made to give some to Heinz.  Very girlish, and nicely philosophical.

Losing the true meaning of Christmas

Eila knows a good deal too much about the baby Jesus.  Not to mention the grown-up Jesus;  she can tell me exactly what a cross is for.  Who told her these things?  And what happened to the Christmases of yesteryear, the great celebrations of Mammon I remember from the goyish neighbours of my youth?  These days it’s all about brotherly love and the three wise men and I, for one, am quite upset.

Special Needs

Two weeks ago, at theatre camp, a girl ripped one of Eila’s books, bit people, and ruined the final play by running across the stage in every scene moaning delightedly, “I’m scared.” The following week, at a different camp, a boy kept sneaking up on Eila and shouting into her ear; at one point he also grabbed her. Both kids made her miserable. She did have a good time at theatre camp — she always does — but she didn’t enjoy the other camp at all. Every morning she told me she was too frightened to go back.

I have no idea to what extent these children’s problems are caused by their parents or by chemical imbalances. I don’t want to cast blame or give advice. But when I was told by other mothers that their kids were also scared or mad, and by counselors that these two kids had “special needs,” I started to wonder once again about this particular oversized euphemistic umbrella. When “special needs” – which carries with it the ethos of integration – means kids can learn that a person with cerebral palsy is just as smart as they are or that a kid with downs syndrome can be a fun guy, it’s marvelous. When it means that a whole camp group is on edge for a week, I’m not so sure about it. It is not clear to me that these two children benefited from the integration, and there’s no doubt at all that their presence made Eila less tolerant and caring, rather than more.

My baby knows how to lit crit

I try to avoid bragging about Eila.  She’s come up with a few good story analyses before, and I’ve let them pass without mention.  But today’s insight demands recording:  it was material for an article, if four year olds wrote articles for four year olds.  In short, she noticed, and told me — no prompting — that the characters in Arthur are based on the characters in the Archie comics.  Arthur is Archie.  Buster is Jughead.  Francine is Betty.  Muffy is Veronica.  The Sugar Bowl is Pop’s Diner.  She got all that, and if you know both texts it works out perfectly:  the hero, the best friend joker-cum-eater, the regular girl, the rich girl, the love triangles, the joint.

To her analysis I added that Mr. Ratburn is Miss Grundy, and the Brain is Dilton.  She had the Brain as Chuck, because they’re both “brown,” but I think Marc Brown was making an ideological move here: his Dilton becomes the African American Brain for sound reasons of political correctness, and Chuck becomes maybe Marc Brown’s George.  We concluded, Eila and I, by deciding together that Binky Barnes was a combination of Big Moose and Reggie.

Eila sick, Laura coming

Yes, Eila is sick, and once again I notice that the main difference between Eila sick and Eila well is that while she is sick she is obedient.  She remains smart, funny, and good hearted, only it’s not all mixed with foot stamping, door slamming sulks and demonic screams of “no!!”  Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?  Isn’t health supposed to be conducive to politeness?  Isn’t sickness supposed to make you cranky?

I am so pleased that Dmitri Nabokov has decided to publish The Original of Laura.  It was touch and go for a while there: having sat on the index cards for 30 years, despite his father’s instruction to burn them, he began a few years ago to discuss with fans and critics the question of what to do, and seemed for a time to be leaning toward the fire.

Apparently Vladimir wanted them destroyed because he was afraid that an unfinished manuscript would be subject to even more vulgar criticism than a finished one.  And he was always despairing about the critics: of one of the many Freudians who “twisted” his work, he wrote: “And he will be read, he will be quoted, he will be filed in great libraries, next to my arbors and mists!”  Maybe Dmitri was heartened by the many fans who, with love and wit, agreed that the cards should be burned.  But we are all glad to have them.

Savvy with a buck

Spring has sprung (no doubt temporarily) in Southern Ontario, and Eila and I were inspired to have a chat about things we might sell at our upcoming garage sale.  After going over the basics — shoes, toys — she got creative.

Eila:  You know I don’t really need all the money in my piggybank.  We could sell that.

Me:  Oh yes?  What do you think you might sell, let’s say, a dime for?

Eila (after a pause):  Thirty cents.