Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Blog: My Mom Says Thank You

Hi everyone, here's a note from my mother to thank you for your thoughtful words on her birthday.  See you tomorrow!

September 27, 2010

Dear CCAA History Students,

Thank you very much for your wonderful birthday blog wishes.  It’s absolutely true that I’ve repeatedly told my son that I’d prefer a piece of writing from him more than any other kind of gift.  He and all of you gave me the best present in the world.  Want to know the way to any mother’s heart?  Compliment her child!  Well, you’ve won my heart by writing about how much you’re learning in class and how much how you appreciate Martin’s -- sorry, I can’t call him Mr. Toomajian – teaching.  It seems from what I read on the blog that you have the opportunity to not only learn about historical and current events but also to express your opinions about them through debate and writing.   I’ve really been enjoying reading your ideas on various topics and will keep reading as the year progresses.

I’d love to come to your classroom again and see how the library is doing.  It would be good to have the books classified by topic.  Maybe I’ll have to visit later in the school year, work on the book collection and see you, too.

Martin was correct; I had no recollection of the dinner table conversation about Anne’s Turkish friend.  I’m not surprised to hear how my husband and I reacted, though.  I was happy that Anne had a new friend from Turkey, in spite of the fact that the child’s ancestors may have persecuted my ancestors.  The Turks under the Ottoman Empire did unspeakable things to Armenians.  We’d be wise to never forget that human beings are capable of such atrocities and that we have to do our part to keep such things from happening now and in the future.  That’s a tall, almost impossible order!  Martin told you about my grandmother’s first husband and sons being lost, but he didn’t tell you about my grandfather who was a shoemaker.   Some of his customers were members of the Turkish military who came to him to have boots made and repaired.  As conditions became more and more dangerous for Armenian men in Turkey, a Turkish military officer (and customer) helped my grandfather escape to safety in Egypt.  Without the aid of this “enemy,” my grandfather would most likely have been killed and not have made it to the United States in 1913.  How could I let my son think cruelly of a child who had no idea what went on during the reign of the Ottomans?  Where is the sense in perpetuating generations-old fear and hatred?   It’s possible that a Turkish child of the late twentieth or twenty-first centuries is a descendant of someone who saved Armenians.  Note well that Martin’s dad and I were a team in correcting our 9-year-old.  I wouldn’t be nearly as good a mom if I didn’t have a great husband to share the parenting responsibilities. 

And, yes Helmsley, I’m pretty passionate about books, especially books for kids and young adults.  I try to keep up with new literature as much as possible, but I fall short of my expectations.  I’m always playing catch-up.  At the moment I’m listening to the audio version of the 2008 book The Dead and the Gone, a doomsday novel about New York City by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  It’s her second science fiction book about what happens when a meteor hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit, creating tsunamis, severe weather aberrations, famine and all kinds of devastation.  Sounds dismal, but it’s really exciting to hear how 17-year-old Alex Morales labors to keep himself and his sisters alive as the city falls apart around him.  There are all kinds of New York City references and addresses that you’d appreciate – as long as you don’t mind thinking about lower Manhattan being completely flooded and the temperature being below freezing in September.  Now I’ve got to get my hands on the third book: The World We Live In.  I’ve got some lighter, younger material on my to-read list, too.  The Dead and the Gone isn’t a book I’d recommend to my elementary students, but I think you older kids would appreciate it.

I’ll continue to follow the blog and see what’s going on at CCAA.  Thank you again for your kind wishes.  What a memorable birthday you gave me!

Janice Toomajian

P.S.  I join my son and a lot of you in heaving a sigh of relief that the Yankees did not get swept this weekend.  Phew!

P.P.S. from Mr. Toomajian: I'm sure that, as of September 28, my mom would join us all in celebrating that the Yankees are back in the playoffs where they belong.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Happy Sunday

Yesterday, I went to my friends' wedding at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn.  The groom, Daniel, may actually be a bigger history nerd than I am, so he chose this church largely for its history.  I wonder if the pastor realized that he was standing at the same podium from which Martin Luther King preached in 1963.  Or that Abraham Lincoln attended this church just days before he announced that he was running for president in 1860.  Or that, beneath his feet, slaves were hidden as part of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.  Or that...I've got to stop.  History overload.  That said, beautiful wedding.

Hope you've gotten some rest this weekend.  We'll all be seeing each other again tomorrow.  Can't wait!

Some things to consider as you do your homework today:
  • You've only got those three thematic questions as required homework.  We will use them tomorrow in class, so everyone had better have them.
  • Everyone is strongly encouraged to send me a rough draft of your persuasive letter.  More advice on your persuasive letter is on the blog here.
  • If you're in 803 and you didn't take the test yet, your test will be Tuesday.  You should be using your study materials, including page 6 of your binder and what's on the blog here.
  • My best friend from first grade, Captain Jeffrey Kennedy, is now in the process of returning from Iraq.  He has planned and led missions, survived explosions, lost his friends, and received praise for his work from the top general in Iraq, David Petraeus.  In at least two good, well-written, grammatically-correct paragraphs, you may e-mail me a letter that you want him to receive.  You can thank him for his service, ask him questions, and tell him anything else that you think is important.  If your writing is good enough, I will forward your e-mail to Captain Kennedy and you'll get extra credit on a test.
  • There are still great opportunities for discussion on the blog today.  We haven't said all there is to say about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.  And I really want to know what you think of Mark Zuckerberg's donation to the Newark public schools.

Sorry if I don't return your e-mails promptly this evening.  I'm going to be at Yankee Stadium!!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Facebook CEO Gives $100 Million to Newark Schools

Did anyone watch Oprah yesterday?  If you did, you saw Mark Zuckerberg--the Facebook founder and CEO--announce that he was giving $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, schools.  If you didn't, here's a clip from yesterday's show.  Here is the Wall Street Journal's article about Mark Zuckerberg's announcement.

On Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a blog post to explain that he has formed a foundation to give money to public schools.  His foundation is called Startup: Education and he's created a Facebook page to promote it.  Here is where he gets the most specific about his goals:
Mayor Booker has committed to make education his single highest priority for his current term in office. He will provide the same oversight over education in the next four years that he has in his efforts to reduce crime in Newark during his first term. The Mayor will work with the citizens of Newark to establish new community metrics to measure the performance of students, teachers and principals. His goal is to build a community that delivers greater recognition and rewards for excellence.

I believe in the Mayor and his vision, and that's why I want to help them succeed. Using my own Facebook stock, I'm creating the Startup: Education foundation with over $100 million to invest in educating and improving the lives of young people. I'm also challenging others who want to improve education in America to match my contributions.
What do you think of this situation?  Do you think Zuckerberg has good ideas for improving public schools?  Are you glad that he's giving his money away?  What do you think are the big problems with public schools today?  What do you think we--students, teachers, principals, parents, politicians, Americans--can do to improve public schools?

My friends have asked me about my opinions on what Mark Zuckerberg has done.  I told them that I'm going to find out what my students think first.  So please post and let me know.

Persuasive Letter: Rough Draft Due Monday

Good morning, everybody.  Hope you've got exciting plans for the weekend.  I also hope that one of those exciting plans is to write the rough draft of your persuasive letter.  Remember the basics: you can choose to write to one of three people--Mayor Bloomberg, the imam of the mosque near Ground Zero, or the editor of a newspaper (so your opinions might be published in the paper).  Your goal is to persuade others that your opinion about the mosque near Ground Zero is best.  Remember that more specific requirements for the letter are found on page 9 of your binder.

I've given you a model persuasive letter.  Some classes did not receive my annotated version of the letter, so I'm posting it here. Notice that I wrote the letter three years ago (to persuade Senator Schumer to improve teacher effectiveness).  Around the margins, I've written down and pointed out how I fulfilled each of the requirements of your assignment.  (Remember, the requirements are found on page 9 of your binder).

You can always e-mail me ( with questions; I would be very happy to receive your rough draft via e-mail this weekend.

Speaking of exciting plans, guess who's going to the Yankees-Sox game on Sunday night!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Preparing for Tomorrow's Test

Look at this amazing photo of a lightning bolt outside of Yankee Stadium.  I could make some comment about how you'll all be struck with lightning bolts of brilliance on tomorrow's test, but that would just be corny.  Not that I don't appreciate some corny jokes here and there.  (I found this photo on the LoHud Yankees Blog.)

I know you're studying for the test, but don't miss the chance to weigh in on the discussion that's happening under the post titled, "Different Perspectives on the Mosque."  The prevailing opinion seems to be that the mosque should be built where it is.  But Danny and Alannah have bravely gone against the trend, pointing out that it could probably be moved farther away and that there always could be some possibility of terrorism linked with the mosque.  What do you think?  It would be great to hear as many opinions as possible.

Okay, so tomorrow, you'll have your first test that counts for my class.  We've done plenty of preparation, so as long as you spend some significant time studying seriously tonight, you should do well on the test.  Here are some things that will help you to prepare.  I know this looks overwhelming.  Here's what is in this post:
  • Each of the model quote analyses--one for each class
  • Your homework
That's it!  So just look at what you need.  Remember, you can e-mail me at with questions.  You can post questions on the blog to ask for help from classmates.  And you can call your friends to ask them for help, or ask family members or other friends for help.  Good luck!

Model Quote Analyses:

Each class honed one student's quote analysis to create a paragraph that would earn a perfect score on the test.  I wanted to share all of them with you.

First, here are the directions for the quote analysis, exactly as they will appear on tomorrow's test:

Put the quotes into your own words using clear, complete sentences.  Identify the speaker of the quote and the occasion on which he/she spoke the words.  Explain why the quote is important and significant, explaining any historical details that are necessary for understanding the quote.

Now, here are the quote analyses that relate to quote 1:
The quote: “New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants – by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.”

An analysis written by George and honed by class 802: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this on August 3, 2010 on Governors Island.  He was giving a speech stating that the mosque should be built near Ground Zero.  This quote means that everybody is an immigrant because everybody (except Native Americans) emigrated from different countries.  Starting with the Dutch, the city’s buildings have been built by immigrants.  We have all done wrong and we should all treat each other with respect because we are all citizens of New York now.  We should all give each other the freedom to do what we want.  Since we’re all God’s children we are all welcome in New York City."

An analysis written by Nyah and honed by class 703: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a speech on August 3, 2010, on Governors Island, in order to declare that the proposed mosque should be built near Ground Zero.  This quote is significant in meaning because it means that New York City was made because of immigrants.  At its very beginning, New York was built by the Dutch, who emigrated from a European country called the Netherlands.  Immigrants come from all over the world, being special in every way.  They put together our world and hold it together.  Even today, Dominicans help to build buildings and Mexicans manage restaurants.  No matter whether you are a local or a newcomer, you make New York a community."

Now, here is the quote analysis that relates to quote 2:
The quote: “We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.”

An analysis written by Sam and honed by class 801: "Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this quote on August 3, 2010, on Governors Island.  He was arguing that Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque near Ground Zero.  The significance of the second quote is that we can’t deny the rights of the Muslims because of what happened on 9/11.  Therefore, we have to do something that seems wrong, but it’s actually right.  We have to honor the rights that those who died on 9/11 were defending.  Specifically, we need to honor the rights protected in the First Amendment, that Americans can practice their religion freely.  That is what the second quote means."

Now, here are the quote analyses that relate to quote 3:
The quote: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

An analysis written by Will and honed by class 803:  "This is a very serious statement, said by Martin Luther King Jr.  One day everyone will come together regardless of religion, race or what we look like; we will all know that we are equal.  Dr. Martin Luther King said this in his “I Have a Dream” speech, during the 1963 March on Washington, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  His goal was to end segregation in the South and for all people to be treated equally and to respect each other.  King is quoting from the Declaration of Independence, to point out that they declared freedom and believed all people were equal, but African-Americans were not treated equally."

An analysis written by Rosanna and honed by class 804:  "The significance of this quote is that back in 1963 African-Americans faced discrimination and were segregated.  At the March on Washington, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King said he had a dream that one day we will be treated all the same.  He was quoting from the Declaration of Independence, which declared America’s freedom.  It said that everyone is made equal, but blacks were not treated equally.  Now we are.  Even though there are people that are still racist now, we still stick together."

All of these paragraphs are excellent examples of quote analysis.

Speaking of corny jokes...
Time to get off AIM and get that studying done!  (That is, unless your friend on AIM is helping you to study...)

You may also want to take another look at your homework.  Since there are so many important and helpful things in it, take a look:

Vocabulary Practice—Matching

1.       Tolerance
2.       Mosque
3.       Synagogue
4.       Petition
5.       Controversy
6.       Ground Zero
7.       Peter Stuyvesant
8.       New Amsterdam
9.       Islamic extremist
10.   Muslim

a. Jewish house of worship
b. the site of the World Trade Center
c. someone who practices Islam; someone who believes there is one God and Muhammad is God’s prophet; someone who believes that the Koran is a holy book
d. lengthy public argument concerning a major issue, in which people hold different opinions
e. Muslim house of worship
f. original name for New York City, named after a city in the Netherlands
g. someone who calls himself a Muslim and also believes the Koran tells him that non-Muslims should be killed; Islamic terrorist or supporter of Islamic terrorism
h. Dutch governor of New Netherland (original name for New York State); governed until the English took control; prohibited Jews, Quakers, and Catholics from freely practicing their religions
i. request to change something, usually made to a government official or public organization
j. willingness to accept another person’s opinions or beliefs when you disagree with them

Quote Analysis Guiding Questions
1. In Quote 1, the speaker claims that “New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants.”  What are some facts that support this claim?  In other words, what specifically did immigrants do to help build the city, and what specifically do they do to sustain the city today?
2. In Quote 2, what are the “Constitutional rights” that the speaker mentions?  When he talks about the people that died protecting those rights, what people is he referring to?
3. In Quote 3, what document does the speaker quote from?  Why does he do that?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

Here's a photo of my dad, my sister Anne, me, and my mom in Central Park. My parents live in Troy, a beautiful city in upstate New York, but they come to visit my sister and me in New York City occasionally.

September 22 is my mom's birthday. Unfortunately, I've never been very good about getting birthday presents for my mom in advance. So, the day has arrived and I still haven't ordered a gift for her. But she often tells me that she'd prefer that I write something for her; she'd appreciate that more than another sort of gift. So, on the blog today: meet my mom.

On the first day of school, about half of you eighth graders said that your mother was a great leader to you. I agree with all of you! My mom has been leading and guiding me since before I was born. She has been a great role model for me: since I was six, she has been an elementary school librarian, and her students are very lucky to have such a hard-working and creative person in the library. More importantly, she's been a loving, loyal, faithful mother to my sister and me--and she's been a great wife to my dad, and a great daughter to my grandma. She loves me and cares about me. She'd do anything for me. And I love her too.

But what makes her such a loving mother? When I was starting to teach, I had a very difficult time and she supported me through it. When I was having trouble in college, she always encouraged me and sent me resources to help me write papers and study more effectively. When I was a self-conscious, anxious, shy middle school student, she helped me to deal with the stress.

But let me take you back even further, to a conversation that she may not even remember, that happened when I was nine. I was in fourth grade, and my sister Anne was in first grade. We were both starting at a new school, and my sister was starting to make friends in her class. One night at dinner, she said that one of her friends was Turkish. In response, I made a nasty face and a disrespectful comment.

Here's why I was disrespectful: I am Armenian and, at age nine, I was starting to learn the history of my family and my people. My great-grandparents came to America around 1915 because of the Armenian Massacres. During the Massacres, Armenians who lived in Turkey were being killed in huge numbers by the Turks and their government. My great-grandmother's first husband and children were lost or killed at the hands of the Turks.

Why did the Turks want to kill the Armenians? Short answer: there's no good reason. But here are some ideas: the Turks were worried that the Armenians would threaten their power during World War I. They also hated Armenians because Armenians are different--Armenians are usually Christians; Turks are usually Muslims. If you wanted to be very simplistic, you could just say that Muslims killed my family. But that would be way too simplistic, as we know. Just because some people who call themselves Muslims were violent doesn't mean that all Muslims are responsible for it.

Back to the scene at my dinner table in 1993: When my sister mentioned that she had a Turkish friend, I made a nasty face and a snide comment. Instantly, my mom and dad raised their voices and said, "Don't you ever do that. The Armenian Massacres were a problem between your great-grandparents and Anne's friend's great-grandparents. We don't have any reason to have problems with the Turks today. So don't act like you do."

My mom and dad loved me enough to correct me when I was doing something wrong. I could have gone down a bad, hateful path if they hadn't said anything to me. But, instead, I learned from them and became a better person.

I'm so thankful for my mom. I know she'll be reading the blog. If you want to leave her a "Happy Birthday" note, I'm sure she'd appreciate it. You can call her "Mrs. Toomajian." And if you'd like to share something about a lesson your mother has taught you, please feel free to do that here too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Different Perspectives on the Mosque

This map helps you see just how close the proposed mosque site is to Ground Zero.

Here is a photo of the building that will be renovated and turned into a mosque, according to the current plans.

This protestor believes that the mosque is being built near Ground Zero to show that Muslims won a victory over the United States on 9/11. It's true that Muslims have built mosques near the sites of their military victories. The leaders of the NYC mosque have never suggested that they want to build the mosque there for that reason.

Tomorrow we discuss our viewpoints on the mosque. It's going to be great. To help you decide what you believe, here are some opinions from other writers. Read what I've written first. Then you can try to read the indented paragraph, which is a quote from the writer's article about the mosque. If you want even more information, click on the writer's name, and that will take you to the full article. Okay, here goes!

In an excellent magazine called the New Republic, Barry Gewen says we should be very concerned about hatred against Muslims, and we should recognize that NYC's Muslim community is free to build a mosque near Ground Zero. But he thinks that it would be best for the mosque to be moved. If the mosque leaders agree to move, Gewen thinks that most Americans will be very happy and will view Muslims more positively:

The question at this point is whether the center has to be built at the proposed site. It’s understandable that the supporters would want to resist yielding to bigotry, irrationality, and intimidation, but on a simply pragmatic basis, everyone should hope that some solution can be reached so that the feelings of millions of Americans are respected. After all, the sponsors of the center say they are interested in building bridges among peoples. This aim would be better served by moving the mosque a few blocks away, even if that means bending a cherished principle. And just think of the good will that would be generated across the country. Nonetheless, if compromise proves to be impossible, then [tolerance] must have the final word.

In the newspaper The Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer argues that Ground Zero is a sacred site, so a mosque should not be placed there. He also suggests that the mosque could one day hire an Islamic extremist--and that would be a major national security problem:

Bloomberg's implication is clear: If the proposed mosque were controlled by "insensitive" Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he would not support its construction.

But then, why not? By the mayor's own expansive view of religious freedom, by what right do we dictate the message of any mosque? Moreover, as a practical matter, there's no guarantee that this couldn't happen in the future. Religious institutions in this country are autonomous. Who is to say that the mosque won't one day hire an [Islamic extremist]?

An [Islamic extremist] preaching in Virginia is a security problem. An [Islamic extremist] preaching at Ground Zero is a sacrilege. Or would the mayor then step in -- violating the same First Amendment he grandiosely pretends to protect from mosque opponents -- and exercise a veto over the mosque's clergy?

Elsewhere in the Post, a former adviser to President Bush, Karen Hughes, also thinks the mosque should be moved.
Bulleted List
This last columnist does not take a position on the mosque. However, he argues for tolerance of Muslims. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof apologizes to Muslims for Americans' insensitivity toward the religion:

I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

Finally, here are video and text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech, and here is text of President Obama's comments on the mosque. Obama supports the right of NYC's Muslims to build near Ground Zero. Please e-mail me if you have any questions, or post a comment on the blog if there's something you want to share!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Sunday

Hi all, hope you've enjoyed your weekend away. I was in Philadelphia, making sure everyone knew that the best team in baseball is from the Bronx. So sorry, Jorge C.

Here are a few things to help you get ready for the coming week.

Questions About Homework

Yelissa sent me some good questions about this weekend's homework assignment. She wanted to know what sources of information she should use to answer each of the questions on page 4. Here's my answer, which you might also find helpful:

Here is what each question is based on:
What new information did you learn from the reading? <--This is based on your reading of the speech.
What new information did you learn from the other people in the discussion? <--This is based on our discussion in class of the historical context.
How did the text make you think about the topic in a new way? <--This is based on your reading of the speech.
What are some questions that you still have about the text and/or the topic? <--This is (as it says) about the text or the topic.

You'll notice that only the second question requires you to recall things from our discussion. We talked about A LOT Friday in class, so you'll probably remember something if you think back. But if you don't, call a friend to help refresh your memory.

Preview of the Upcoming Week
Everything here is tentative and subject to change!
  • Monday: new seating chart, binder organization, explanation of upcoming test (Friday), discussion of Bloomberg's speech for the purpose of better understanding his opinion
  • Tuesday: full-class discussion of your personal opinions about the speech and the mosque near Ground Zero
  • Wednesday: introduction of a writing assignment based on this topic (final copy will be due next week)
  • Thursday: in-class study groups for Friday's test
  • Friday: test based on all material we've covered thus far (relax, I'll give you plenty of specifics in the next few days)

Blog Comments for Extra Credit

Please remember that you can still earn 5 extra credit points for the test by writing a five-sentence, clear, grammatically-correct paragraph in response to questions on the blog. Please remember:
  • This is an academic website. Your comments should be appropriate and grammatically correct. Check spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. before posting.
  • This is a public website. To protect your own privacy, please use only your first name and last initial when posting.
  • My e-mail address is You may e-mail me if you have any questions about homework or anything else. If you're having trouble logging in and posting, you may write your comment and e-mail it to me, and you'll get credit for it.
Can't wait for tomorrow's discussions!

Back to School with the President of the United States

For the second year, President Obama has visited a school and given a "back to school" speech that's directed to students and teachers across the country. What do you think of his message? Take some time to view the speech or read the transcript, then share what you think.

Friday, September 17, 2010

¡Feliz Día de la Constitución!

Today is Constitution Day. As some of you know, a federal law requires that all American students study the Constitution--our national plan of government--today. Believe me--we followed that law today! Remember, we talked about religious freedoms related to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. We also learned about the right of petition: we are free to contact our government leaders to express our opinions. We might want to think about writing petitions to Eric Schneiderman, Adriano Espaillat, or other political leaders as the year goes on.

If you're hoping to learn more about the Constitution, here are some things to check out:
  • Here's a pretty tricky quiz about the Constitution.
  • Here's a treasure hunt--a list of twenty things that you can find in the Constitution.
  • Here are a bunch of crossword puzzles about the Constitution that you can print out.
  • Here's a game that asks you to place quotes from the Constitution into the correct category.
  • RECOMMENDED! Here's a pretty sweet "game show" game with multiple choice questions.
You can find more fun stuff by Googling "Constitution games."

By the way, let's remember why it's Constitution Day: in 1787, the writers of the Constitution finally agreed on and signed a final copy of the plan for government. The writers, who were actually delegates to a meeting called the Constitutional Convention, had spent the entire summer arguing about what should be included in America's plan for government. It was a hot, sticky summer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and many other brilliant political minds argued until they could agree on the Constitution.

What a coincidence: I'm in Philadelphia now. I left after school and I'm visiting my friends. We'll go to a Phillies game tomorrow and I'll be back in New York City by Sunday night. I'll post more tomorrow. See you Monday!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stormy Thursday

Is this not the most amazing photo of New York City that you've ever seen? The storm was brewing. Here's the New York Times' coverage of this evening's wild storm in Brooklyn and Queens.

Guys, I can't wait to read that speech with you tomorrow. I'm not going to make another post tonight, but this weekend, I'll post some more background information about al-Qaeda, 9/11, and the proposed mosque. I'm also looking forward to talking to the guy when I get my coffee tomorrow and to tell him how much you all shared and learned today. Great discussion.

Oops, sorry, guys, I just found out that that the picture is photo-shopped. So it's a fake. But it still looks great so it's staying up. I'm also going to post this video of a cat. It's really funny. But, listen, if you click on this link while you're doing homework, don't you dare start watching a zillion YouTube clips about Charlie biting fingers and David going to the dentist. You've got work to do. Enjoy your one minute break and then get back to the task at hand. Time management is key!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Primary Power

First of all, I've been reading some amazing comments on the blog over the past few days. Fantastic stuff, everyone. I must give some special attention to the students in 703, many of whom have written some brilliant things. In the words of a favorite rapper, "Clap for 'em."

Eighth graders, I know you well, I know you're full of just as many great opinions, and I can't wait to read more of them too.

Yesterday was the Democratic primary election in New York City. A primary election determines which candidate will have the support of a political party in the general election. Tomorrow’s election determines which candidate will have the support of the Democratic Party in the general election in November.
Because so many people in New York City are Democrats, the Democratic candidate very often wins the general election. So, the winner of tomorrow’s primary election will still need to win the general election, but a win in the primary is a big step in the right direction.

There were some important political races in New York. You probably saw posters for some of these candidates yesterday.

Eric Schneiderman won the race for state attorney general. The attorney general is the top lawyer in New York State. The attorney general is the main legal adviser to the state government. Mr. Schneiderman is currently a state senator, a lawmaker representing our neighborhood and parts of Harlem and the Upper West Side in the state government. He defeated Kathleen Rice, a district attorney from Long Island, among other people.

Adriano Espaillat won the race for state senator in our district. Espaillat has been our assemblyman, another lawmaker representing us at the State Capitol in Albany. He will almost definitely replace Eric Schneiderman in the State Senate (remember, he still has to win in November).

Charlie Rangel won the race for Congress in our district. For forty years, Charlie Rangel has represented Harlem and Washington Heights in the national government, as a lawmaker in Washington, D.C. Congressman Rangel has been accused of seriously abusing his power, and he will go on trial this fall. Many people said he should have retired--he's eighty years old--so the country wouldn't be distracted by his trial this fall. But Congressman Rangel believes he is right and so he decided to run for re-election anyway.

What questions do you have about the primary elections? Let me know what you're wondering and I'll try to answer your questions the best I can.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"One day, this nation will rise up..."

Note: I'll try to publish a post about the primary election today, but it won't be until much later tonight, and I might not get to it until tomorrow.

I hope you enjoyed watching Dr. King's speech today. I watched it five times today and I got goosebumps every time. He's an amazing speaker who accomplished great things--a great communicator who chose the right message, the right methods, and the right character.

Here is a link to the text, the audio, and a video clip of his speech.

Here is a link to the Youtube of his full speech. It's about 17 minutes long.

Your homework deals with the message of his speech. What about his methods? Why is his speech so powerful? Why did he choose to speak at the Lincoln Memorial? What else is important about the setting? Why does he speak with a sing-song, wavering voice at times? What books and documents does he quote from? Why do you think he quotes from these books and documents?

For tomorrow: Please make sure you have a pen for class tomorrow. You will be taking a short diagnostic test. You don't need to study for this test. You won't be graded based on how much you know. I just want to be aware of what the class already knows, so that I don't reteach things that you already know or start talking about things that don't yet make sense to you. Of course, you should also have your binder with all of your notes in class every day.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Empire State of Mind

Yes, I'm home planning for your class right now, but--let's be honest--I'd much rather be at Yankee Stadium watching the concert that Jay-Z and Eminem are performing tonight.

Let me be clear, first of all, that both of these rappers have done things that I think we'd all agree are bad. I think we'd all agree that they both have written lyrics that send bad messages and use inappropriate language. However, I think they both deserve some credit for their talent with words, music, and business. They've written some lyrics that show a strong understanding of U.S. history, and they've written other lyrics that just make you think.

So, since your homework tonight is based on quotations, here are a couple of quotations from Jay-Z's latest album:

"I move onward, the only direction
Can't be scared to fail, searchin' perfection"

"Don't be mad 'cause it's all about progression
Loiterers should be arrested"

What do you think these lyrics mean? Do you think they send a good message? Do you agree with them? Are they inspiring? Why? Do you disagree with any part of these lyrics? Why?

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy Sunday

Hi everyone. Glad that you're visiting the blog today. You are welcome to simply visit and read, but I'd encourage you to write a well-written paragraph of five sentences or more in response to one of these posts: We will always remember, Julia Ilowiecki Is Persistent, Fire in Harlem, Yankees Win, or Are You Ready? Let's Roll.

Please remember:
  • This is an academic website. Your comments should be appropriate and grammatically correct. Check spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. before posting.
  • This is a public website. To protect your own privacy, please use only your first name and last initial when posting.
My e-mail address is You may e-mail me if you have any questions about homework or anything else. If you're having trouble logging in and posting, you may write your comment and e-mail it to me, and you'll get credit for it. We'll figure out how to get everyone logged in this week.

Looking forward to seeing all of you tomorrow!

P.S. I took the photo of the honor guard before the national anthem at yesterday's Red Bulls soccer game in Harrison, New Jersey.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We will always remember.

Today marks a national tragedy. September 11, 2001, was the sort of day that every American will remember. Do you remember where you were? Were you old enough to remember the details? For some of you, 9/11 may be your first vivid memory. Were you going to kindergarten or pre-K? How did you feel? What have been the effects of 9/11 on your life or on America? Feel free to write a thoughtful comment of a paragraph or more about 9/11 and your own experience or analysis.

Here is a link to the news coverage on NBC on the morning of September 11, 2001. It is difficult to watch, but you may find it interesting.

Julia Ilowiecki Is Persistent

Julia Ilowiecki and I went to the same high school: Troy High School in that beautiful city of Troy, New York. We hadn't seen each other much since high school graduation, but we met up for lunch yesterday. As she told me what she's been doing for the past few years, I thought, "She's a good example of a leader."

Julia joined the Troy High School diving team when she was 16 and a junior in high school. She had experience as a gymnast, so she was pretty good at diving from the start. But she wanted to be much better: she wanted to attend the University of Miami, and she wanted to dive for their team. You college football fans will know that U. Miami is a huge Division 1 school. Most of the divers there are trying to get into the Olympics, and the coaches are Olympic-level coaches. And here was Julia, with two years of high school experience, trying to make the team.

She applied and was accepted to U. Miami--that's not easy in itself. Then she went to the diving coach and told him, "I want to join your team." Here's what the coach said: "Look, Julia, I know what you're capable of, and you're not that good yet. You're going to need to improve a lot to make the team. And the new season is starting, so I don't have time to coach you. But if you really want to do this, you can go dive with our high school team for the next semester. If you do well, maybe you can make this team by the spring."

Julia wasn't in high school anymore. She was a college student at the University of Miami. The coach had essentially told her that she needed to go dive with 14- and 15-year-olds for another five months. Yes, they were good high school divers, and the high school coaches were excellent, but this was a high school team, and Julia was in college.

But Julia did it. She went and dove with high school divers for an entire semester. She improved tremendously. When she went back to the college coach, he accepted her. She'd made the University of Miami diving team! But the hard work wasn't over. Competing on a Division 1 athletic team is like a full-time job. So Julia had to practice for hours every day, and she still had to attend all her classes, get her homework done, and be a good friend to the people she cared about. It was frustrating for her, but it was worth it.

After two years, Julia injured her hip in such a way that she needed to stop diving. By then, though, she was also pursuing other goals. She studied broadcast journalism, and she became an intern at ABC's Good Morning America in New York City during her senior year. She worked for ABC after she graduated from U. Miami.

But she also wanted to be a musician. She started writing piano pop/rock songs and, before long, she was playing solo shows in New York. She has been performing in New York and around the country for more than two years. She hasn't heard her music on the radio much yet, but she's been practicing constantly and writing new songs often. She sounds better than ever. You can listen to her music on Myspace.

Julia is persistent. She hasn't given up when she has faced challenges. She has a lot of talent, but she realizes she needs to work hard and continue to improve.

Can you relate to Julia? Are there times when you've had to work hard to achieve a goal? How did you feel as you worked? Did you accomplish your goal? How did it feel when you achieved your goal (or didn't)? Imagine yourself in Julia's shoes: could you have done what she did on the diving team?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hello Fellow Bloggers!

Hi Franchii, Julianna, and Rosanna! Congratulations on being the first three to follow the CCAA History blog. Hello to everyone else who's visiting too. I shouldn't say "visit," because this site is yours, CCAA students. I can't wait to read your comments on anything you want to share. Yes, you need to write a full paragraph in order to get extra credit, but you can write as little as a sentence (yes, a well-written sentence) to say hi. I already know you've got great opinions--today I read all of your law proposals (7th graders) and examples of leaders (8th graders). Such a wide range of excellent ideas. It's going to be a good school year.

Fire in Harlem

Today was an extraordinary day. I was sitting at the Indian Road Cafe near Inwood Park when one of my roommates called and said, "There's a fire in our building! I've got to go." I tried to ask him a question but he had already hung up. Immediately, I dialed my sister, who lives in another apartment in my building. On my second try, I reached her. "Everyone's fine and everyone's out of our apartments. There's a LOT of smoke but it seems like there's less than there was a few minutes ago," she said. Firefighters were already on the scene.

I hopped on the subway and saw fire engines lining the streets when I came out at my stop. When I turned the corner onto my block, here's what I saw:

My roommates told me that the smoke had been so thick that people couldn't get down the stairs. Instead, they had to climb to the roof and climb down the fire engine ladders.

The good news is that my sister's and my apartments were not damaged, and most of our building is fine. The terrible news is that the family standing on the sidewalk in that last photo is now homeless. The fire started in their apartment, apparently because one of the kids knocked a candle over. Almost none of their possessions survived the fire. The American Red Cross and our landlords are making sure that they'll have a place to sleep until they can find a new permanent home.

What kinds of leadership are required in an emergency like this? What does a leader do when a fire is discovered? Who are the leaders when the fire is being put out? What leadership is needed after the fire is extinguished? Is there anything I can still do to be a good leader in the days after the fire?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yankees Win! Theeeeeee Yankees Win!

Great walk-off win for Nick Swisher and the Yankees today!

This leads me to some questions:
Who is one athlete that you believe is a great leader? Why do you think this athlete is so great?

Here's my answer:

In my opinion, Mariano Rivera is an outstanding leader. I feel fortunate just to be able to watch such a talented pitcher. He may be the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. However, he also leads his teammates in word and deed. Young pitchers go to him in the bullpen and ask for advice. He speaks softly, but when he gets serious, everyone in the Yankees' locker room listens to him. Mariano Rivera is committed to his team and committed to performing his best at all times--he is a great leader.

What do you think?

Are you guys ready? Let's roll

Good evening, everybody. Hope you had a great first day of school. It was great to meet some of you and see many more familiar faces after the summer. I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely exhausted. But, as promised, before I fall asleep, here's the first post of the new school year:

For homework this weekend, you're reading an article about Todd Beamer, who is famous for what he did on September 11, 2001. Here is a link to the article.

In addition to answering the homework questions, consider these questions:
-What might have happened if Todd Beamer didn't do what he did?
-What would have happened if no other passengers on the plane were willing to cooperate with Todd Beamer?
-How did Todd Beamer's experiences in life lead him to do what he did on 9/11?

To earn extra credit, you can reply to any or all of these questions. Choose to comment on the post, log in, and write at least a paragraph. Check your writing for spelling and grammar before posting--remember, this is an academic website. Sign your post with your first name and last initial only, please.

Come back and visit the blog this weekend. I'll be posting new links with questions almost every day.

Mr. Toomajian

P.S. Todd Beamer's experience on 9/11 became the basis for a movie called United 93. Have any of you seen it? This photo is taken from the movie, so it's not an actual photo of Todd Beamer. I'm planning on watching United 93 on Saturday; I'll let you know what it's like.