Class Dismissed

May 01, 1990 5 min read

Silly Putty, that pink stuff in the plastic egg, first appeared in toy stores in 1950, entered classrooms uninvited that same year, and has been bugging teachers ever since. This year, to commemorate Silly Putty’s 40th anniversary, its manufacturer, Binney & Smith Inc., is introducing new colors. Teachers will soon be able to confiscate blue, green, yellow, and magenta blobs, as well as the original pink concoction. Binney & Smith guarantees that, like the original, the more colorful Putty will have no useful functions other than bouncing, stretching, and peeling the ink from comics.

Playing In The Material World

The schools may be having a hard time deciding which values to teach children, but America’s toy manufacturers have already made up their minds. Here are some of the new toys displayed recently in New York at the American International Toy Fair:

Matchbox Toys unveiled its Real Model Collection, featuring doll look-alikes of Cheryl Tiegs, Beverly Johnson, and Christie Brinkley. Accessories include a one-yard-long pink limo with phone, makeup table, and Jacuzzi. Little Tikes’s toy Grande Coupe also comes complete with car phone.

Mattel presented Barbie Style, a line of cosmetics, sheets, outfits, and other accessories, and a new Flight-Time Barbie wearing a pink pilot’s uniform.

Pressman Toy Corporation introduced Let’s Go Shopping, a game in which, according to The New York Times, “girls as young as 5 years old can move shopping bags around a board and race through a mall.’' For its part, Milton Bradley introduced Electronic Mall Madness, a board game featuring a recorded voice that announces sales to players.

Welcome To The 90’s

When most teachers take continuing education courses, they pick classes with titles like “Hands-on Science Instruction’’ or “The Whole Language Approach to Reading.’' But in southern California, things are a little different. At the request of area teachers, Chapman College in Tustin is offering an independent study course titled “Gang Recognition and Behavior.’' The course has been “very well received,’' says Don Jacobs, its creator. For $120, teachers learn all about youth gangs, including how to interpret their hand signs and secret codes and how they pressure young boys into joining.

Ms. Manners

If it’s Friday in Nancy Davies’s 4th grade class at Northwood Hills Elementary School in Dallas, it’s time to mind your manners. That’s the day that Davies’s students eat their lunches in the classroom with her, and their behavior would have made Emily Post proud. There isn’t much resemblance to the usual elementary school lunch scene: The boys seat the girls, and students request permission to be excused when they are finished and in other ways carefully monitor their manners. Once a year, students really put their etiquette to a test with a formal lunch--complete with RSVP’s, china, and other trappings of proper dining.

Davies says the idea originated with the students, who wanted to eat lunch with her in the classroom and were willing to be model diners to do it. But, at a time when dinner for many children means grabbing a piece of pizza or stopping by a fast food restaurant on the way to a soccer game, the sit-down lunches also fill a gap. “So many of the children don’t sit down as a family,’' Davies says. “A few don’t even have tables.’'

The Point Of The Pencil

You’ve handed out pencils to your class for tests, and you’ve seen students hang them from their nostrils like tusks, but have you ever wondered why most of them are yellow, or why Henry David Thoreau left teaching to join the family pencil business? The answers are in The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski (New York, Alfred A. Knopf). Filled with 434 pages of “pencilmania,’' the book traces the origin of the pencil, how it is made, its survival against the adversary pen, and the perfection of its design. Says Petroski, a professor of civil engineering at Duke University: “While the common seven-inch-long yellow writing pencil may account for the vast majority of all pencils made today, there is no single yellow pencil that is everyone’s favorite, and the beauty of a pencil will no doubt always be in the eye and the hand of the beholder.’'

Another Victory In The Drug War?

Remember Billy Beer, named for President Carter’s late, hell-raising, gas-station-owning brother? Billy Beer, alas, is no longer made, but unopened cans of the brew are considered collector’s items. So when 8-year-old Haley Woodfin, who lives in a Richmond, Va., suburb, took a can of the beer to her 3rd grade class for show-and-tell, she thought it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Henrico County School Superintendent William Bosher Jr. didn’t think so: He suspended Haley for three days for violating a strict drug-and-substance-abuse policy. Bosher also notified the police about the incident. “Suspending young people is not what we are about,’' Bosher said, “but we want to help young people understand that alcohol and drugs are not appropriate.’' Melissa Woodfin, Haley’s mother, called the action “asinine,’' adding: “She took it in for show-and-tell. She didn’t run into a closet and pop it open.’' Haley served her suspension, and the can of beer in question is now back at the Woodfin’s home, safe behind a display case.

And Just Wait’ll You See The Hanging Gardens Of San Juan

“Visit sunny Puerto Rico. Be sure to sample the traditional tacos. Dance the samba like a native. And sway to the songs of our own Ruben Blades.’'

That’s how an ad for a cruise to America’s island Commonwealth might read if it were written by the Philadelphia public schools, even though Puerto Rico is not the home of the samba, the taco, or Ruben Blades (he’s from Panama). The district, refusing to let accuracy stand in its way, recently published a five-page essay containing these and many other factual flubs about Puerto Rico.

Ironically, the essay, which was included in a district multicultural-education booklet, was written to encourage cultural understanding among teachers. It was published, however, without being reviewed by teachers or administrators of Puerto Rican descent. The district’s office of curriculum support, which distributed the booklet, now says it plans revisions--with help from a local Puerto Rican cultural center. Says a spokesman for the school district: “The review process, as we see it now, was not as exhaustive as it should have been.’' Teacher Magazine welcomes submissions of short items, including student malaprops, for “Class Dismissed’’ and pays $25 for material used.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Class Dismissed