If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

When I was a Crow

Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

In the fall of 1957 our family moved to Blacksburg, VA so my father could earn his Ph.D from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, aka Va. Tech). I entered the second grade with a northerner’s accent and a reading disability. I had learned to read by rote, which is how they taught us in Rochester, NY where I had spent kindergarten and first grade. I had a good memory and did fine under that system. In Blacksburg they taught reading by phonetics, of which I had not a clue.

In the first day or two of the school year, the teacher gave me a reading test and assigned me to the Crow reading group. I did not want to be a Crow. VPI was at the time an all-male, primarily engineering and agriculture institution. Crows were pests; they stole corn. People shot crows. (A useless fact: In my current home state of Michigan there is still an open season on crows with no bag limit. Other times of the year crows may be legally harvested if they are “pests.”) Crows were black (and we are talking 1956 during segregation with separate drinking fountains, etc. for “colored.”) Crows were obviously stupid, since we were the slow readers.

I do not recall what the intermediate reading group(s) were, but those in the top group were Cardinals—the state bird. (Another useless fact: the Northern Cardinal has the record as the avifauna with the most states (7) calling it “their” state bird. Supposition: I figure that’s because they are relatively abundant and distinctive so people can actually remember their name. The common name is now Northern Cardinal, but at the time it was known as the “Cardinal,” and I suspect if the Northern had been attached at the time state birds were being recognized by legislatures the Cardinal would not have been Virginia, North Carolina or Kentucky’s choice.)

I wanted to be a Cardinal. Cardinals were everything Crows were not: colorful, friendly, didn’t raid cornfields, came to bird feeders one or two or a few at a time. Everyone loves a cardinal.

Geez-o-Pete—when a bunch of crows get together, we call them a murder. How bad can you get?

Human labeling of people and things is often wrong. Cardinals are bird-brained. I’ve watched male cardinals attack their reflection in a car side-view mirror again and again until either someone moves the car or the bird bloodies itself. Another time, in a different place, a cardinal attacked a picture window that reflected light. He repeatedly flung himself at his rival until he finally knocked himself out.

Crows and other members of the corvid family (like the raven above, which I photographed in Yellowstone), on the other hand, are among the smartest birds. They have demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests (unlike their distant cousins the cardinals) and they use tools. They have been observed using a twig to stir up insect nests and when the insects grab onto the twig, they haul them out and eat the insects. They have learned to crack nuts by dropping them where cars will drive over them. When the coast is clear they swoop in and pick out the nutmeat. A recent YouTube video shows a rook (another corvid) snowboarding down a roof using a lid.

By prejudice the teacher mislabeled the reading classes. We should have progressed from the showy Cardinal to the intelligent Crow. Unfortunately, we humans too frequently allow our biases to misinform our knowledge. Too often we mirror the Cardinal and beat our head against something that we take to be a threat because we don’t understand it.

Alas, I have to report that by the end of the year I had joined the Cardinal reading group. For years now, I have been struggling to be more like the Crows.

~ Jim

16 comments:

Kaye George said...

Love it! Yes, I don't know why there are any cardinals left, they're so stupid.

This reminds me of having the bald eagle for our national symbol. It's a thoroughly mean bird, will eat other birds if there's not enough fish around. It's also a scavenger, like a vulture. Ben Franklin didn't want it for our national symbol, saying it was "a Bird of bad moral Character."

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, when I was a kid, my cousin found a baby crow that had fallen from it's nest. She took it in and it became her pet and would sit on her shoulder. She actually taught it to talk - at least a few words. She faked a Brooklyn accent, and that's the way her pet crow talked.

The first year I taught 3rd grade, the other 3rd grade teacher had me teaching groups. It was how it was done then. The next year my students were still put in groups - sitting together in groups; Green Beans, Purple People, Red Hot Peppers, etc. according to the color of the dividers my husband had made for me. They were in groups of 2 boys and 2 girls and their abilities did not come into it. Every grading period I changed the groups having the kids write who they wanted have in their group secretly. Of course, there were those kids everyone wanted to sit with and those no one chose. After the change, I'd tell the class that even if they didn't get to sit with someone they chose, someone chose them. Not always true, but sometimes not telling the truth is kinder than the lie. I never had reading groups after that first year. Those who struggled were taken out once a day anyway for remedial reading.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jim,

As a retired teacher who taught everything from kindergarten to college, I understand well how stigmas can destroy student confidence. The most difficult classes to teach reading are those with "learning disabilities." The labels hurt students because they lose confidence in themselves and give up on trying to learn. Teaching methods are changing for the better these days and it is encouraging.

Shari Randall said...

Managing a classroom is an art - I have seen examples of grouping that actually led to problems for the students, as some teachers let "mean girls" determine seating. Elementary school can be a battlefield!
We had A, B, C grouping when I was in school - when my children went to school the names had become a bit more creative. In one preschool I remember the groups were Curious Cats and Bunnies. (Everyone wanted to be a bunny!)

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Gloria,

Wish I'd a had you for my teach. Love the crow story.

~ Jim

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Jacqueline,

There have been some terrific studies showing both how negative labels hurt students, but also how (false) positive labels produce results far above those predicted.

It's not only the students who behave differently based on labels, the teachers did as well.

~ Jim

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Shari,

During the late fifties and early sixties "tracks" were all the rage. If a child was labeled as "vocational" they were segregated into separate classes and the only time the rest of us saw them was in phys. ed. or health or on the sports teams.

In high school another group was segregated from the rest--the "honors" students. They were the top 5% of students. I wasn't one of them because in Jr. High I was super obnoxious, "knew everything" and got mediocre grades -- a heck of a combination!

Of course, like the vocational people, the honors folks were a closed group and even though I graduated in the top 2% of my class, there was never any possibility of joining the "smart" kids.

Because of this labeling, the first time I made high honor roll, I thought it was a total fluke because I wasn't smart enough for that to have happened. I was sure SURE! the teachers made a mistake.

~ Jim

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Jim, what an excellent post. When my kids were growing up I helped out in the classroom and challenged the teacher for this very reason. Labeling children. Your example is such a blatant case of ignorance, I'm having trouble finding the words to reply to this post. Put a label on a young child, and unless that child has a firm foundation, parents who recognize what is happening and are active in his/her child's life, that label has the chance of sticking. And how sad that her label encouraged bigotry as well.

I have a feeling this system was taught in education as I'm in Colorado. Nothing as blatant as your example. But children are smart and they see what children go into which groups. A rose by any other name in other words.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Donnell,

I credit it to the times. We were in the middle of schooling the baby boomers and and entering the wild world of experimentation in schooling.

Not everything worked as well as they would have liked.

And back then everyone supported education - no one voted down school budgets.

However, now there is no excuse. The research is there to support positive educational experiences. Unfortunately, not all of us who benefited from public education and inexpensive college are willing to pay the taxes necessary in order to pass that gift to our grandchildren.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I agree entirely with Jacqueline. Having labels at all is for the convenience of the teachers, not the kids. Sorry you had to go through that.

Warren Bull said...

Jim, Crows also have good memories. Researchers say if a person bothers a crow, the crow quickly learns to recognize that person. A crow will call in other crows to dive bomb and pester the offender.

KM said...

I'm afraid that we really don't have the research we need to produce educaional programs that work well. Nobody lets a educational theory be implemented long enough before somebody else come up with a new one. We're just winding down with "No child left behind" (oh, yeah? Do you know how much we spend on trying to "educate" students who are totally non-responsive, due to medical conditions like comas? And we expect them to perform on grade level with age-level peers? It doesn't work) Now we're moving on with the assumption that all students need to meet certain academic standards and devalue other abilities and skills. Then we wonder why we have a shortage of blue collar workers who take pride in themeselves and their jobs. Four years of sitting in advanced algebra, failing each time, when they could have been honing their job and employability skills, has destroyed their self-worth.

When I worked as a apecial education teacher in an urban district, the assistant principal, who had worked there for 40 years, would get up in the beginning of the school year and read a list of programs that had been started but abandoned, although officially they were still on the books. He said no one ever graduated under the same educational theory and program they started school.

Lourdes Venard said...

There are enough cliques in schools without teachers/school officials creating even more. Great post!

Norma Huss said...

I remember coming back to the first grade class after being sick. When the teacher called for the blue birds, I noticed I had some blue in my dress and confidently joined the group. I was not a blue bird. I don't remember anything else about that, but I did eventually learn to read, evidently. (This was in the 1930s, so such stuff has been around a long time.)

Kara Cerise said...

Excellent post, Jim. I think of labels as a judgement on someone's potential. Sadly, many people believe the limits that someone else imposes on their life. But, despite being labeled, you moved up a reading level and made high honor role.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Norma,

Isn't amazing how these little humiliations (at least for me projecting myself onto your circumstance) stay with us so long.

~ Jim