Welcome Back!

As we open the 2023-24 school year, I’d like to remind you that when it comes to the blog, the rules are the rules and the facts are the facts.

The rules: 1. Only MSMS students will be allowed to post. 2. Students earn up to 25% of the total number of quiz points each quarter by participating. 3. Students can only post twice in the last week of the quarter. 4. Participants must keep comments civil, but are encouraged to disagree when moved to do so.

The facts: 1. After students submit their first post, I’ll approve it; subsequent posts require no approval. 2. I encourage students to email me with suggestions for topics we should discuss on the blog. The comments space below is a great place to leave suggestions!

Posted in MSMS Stuff | 6 Comments

Bon Voyage, Class of 2023

Thank you, seniors, for keeping discussions on the blog lively.

Juniors and seniors, do humanity a favor and get your noses out of your phones this summer. A full life cannot be lived within the confines of a digital device.

I’m excited about new books by Meg Abbott, Ace Atkins, Eli Cranor, S.A. Crosby, and Michael Smith, and can’t wait to get to them next week. I hope you’ll read something, too. I don’t care much what it is you’re reading. Just read.

I’m also excited about moving my line of sight from books and screens to oceans and rivers, and pastures and woods. Consider doing the same.

The blog closes for the school year at 5 pm today. Happy summer!

Posted in Education, Environment, Ethics | Leave a comment

A Post-GPA Generation

As you probably know, our Executive Director, Dr. Cook, has talked about developing a new curriculum–he has dubbed it “MSMS 2.0”– over the next couple of years. We’ve begun thinking about how requirements for Carnegie units might change. What would happen if the school began offering students written assessments of progress instead of grades? Do you see an upside to this? What are the potential problems?

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 27 Comments

Painful Questions

My youngest child graduates from high school on May 12–fifteen days before the MSMS graduation. He hasn’t had to be on campus for an afternoon class all semester. When finals roll around, he won’t have to take a final for any class in which he has an A. He chose not to apply for MSMS primarily because he loves sports more than he loves classes, though I am happy to report an interest in history and economics has begun to blossom in him. However, he also knew how much more work an MSMS degree requires.

Is it too much work? Do MSMS graduates–survivors?–actually learn more content than they learn how to game our college-oriented system? What damage would be done to the reputation MSMS enjoys if we were to let up ever so slightly on a requirement or two?

A senior recently pitched the idea that we should allow second semester seniors to earn exemptions from exams. If they’re happy with the grade earned to that point, let them go, she suggested. There’s nothing on the line for most of them at that point. They know where they’re going to college. Scholarships have been earned.

So, my friendly bloggers, should anything be changed about the final quarter seniors spend at MSMS? How can those changes involve accountability? How can they maintain–or better yet, bolster–MSMS’ standing educationally? Or should we stick with the status quo?

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 34 Comments

Hero or Villain?

Last week, Jack Teixira, a 21-year-old National Guardsman, leaked military secrets that could damage the efforts of Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression. It will certainly damage the reputation of the United States with its allies, and could help Russia identify American agents abroad.

What should be done to punish this person? Should he be tried in civilian or in military court? How are his actions different from those who seek open government?

Posted in Ethics, National Politics | 28 Comments

All Work and No Play Isn’t Necessarily Stupid, But Might Be Inhuman

I was a child entrepreneur. I loaded up paints and stencils in my wagon and painted street numbers on curbs. I mowed grass and raked leaves. I babysat. When I was old enough–15, which was also old enough to drive–I sold clothes at a mom and pop store. These pursuits helped me develop a work ethic, a relationship with money, and a BS detector. But they did not cost me my childhood.

Several states, including Arkansas and Ohio, have rolled back laws that prevent employers from hiring children younger than 15, or that limit the number of hours children can work. As the Los Angeles Times noted, these changes, coupled with educational issues born of the pandemic, threaten to create an underclass of young people: lure kids away from school with wages that seem high when they’re 14, and they’ll by working themselves to death by the time they’re 25, and undereducated to the point that they won’t be able to do much about it.

A pragmatist might argue that the spate of laws deregulating child labor simply prevents employers from being penalized for offering children and their families what they want: an opportunity to make money. As a culture, they might claim, we cut off access to a labor because we have sentimentalized what childhood should be like.

However, this might be a case where the government should protect people from themselves. Kids need to be in school. Not merely because they need to be kids, but because without enough education, they can’t be fully functioning adults. What constitutes enlightened policy here? At what age should a kid (or the kid’s family) be able to say, “I’ve had enough school and I want to make money?” How should such laws be enforced?

Posted in Education, National Politics, Pop Culture | 22 Comments

Sleep on It

As we approach midterms, it’s increasingly likely that I’ll hear statements like these in halls and classrooms:

I can’t believe how late I stayed up studying last night.

The whole suite was up studying.

I’ve got more than 600 milligrams of caffeine in me right now.

I can’t even crash after class–I have a lab due by eleven.

I realize I am not the poster child for healthy sleep habits; I also know that I drink more caffeine than a person my age should. However, I encourage students to learn two things from my vault of personal experiences. First, if you need caffeine to keep you awake while you’re working on something, the results will probably fall well below the arc of your potential. If you’re not inspired by the assignment or the content, and it’s after midnight, all the saints in the blessed Church of the Red Bull will not make a difference. Accept your fate. Save your GI tract. Get the minimum done as quickly as possible and go to bed–and start earlier next time.

Second, for the love of all things actually holy, do not pull an all-nighter the night before spring break. You’ve got to be able to drive safely home, or to keep your driver awake on the trip.

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 22 Comments


Back in the Dark Ages, talking with a friend on the phone required me to use a landline, which meant being in the kitchen because the phone there had a 20-foot chord that allowed me to pace as I spoke. Twenty feet seemed like a goodly distance, but I knew that no conversation could be considered private. It also meant that no conversation would take place after 10:00 p.m. out of respect for parents in houses on both ends of the line who had to work the next day.

These circumstances didn’t prevent me from having a private life or staying up late. They merely helped me discern what should be private and what could be said within earshot of parents and siblings. They also prevented me from taking a phone into the bedroom with me, which gave me a space the outside world had to knock to enter. I got to choose which books or letters or magazines or siblings came in.

It appears that giving young people constant access to smartphones is a bad idea. This morning’s New York Times reveals:

Of course, there have been major swings in teenage well-being. By many measures, teen mental health has deteriorated, especially for girls, since about 2008. The suicide rate for girls and boys began rising around then. Feelings of loneliness and sadness began rising, too. The amount of time teenagers spend socializing in person has declined. So has sleep. “Young people are telling us that they are in crisis,” Kathleen Ethier, a top C.D.C. official, said this month when releasing the results of a large survey.

2008, if you’re wondering, is one year after the first iPhone became publicly available.

The Times also reveals that students whose access to smartphones is limited, particularly in PM hours, have higher levels of self-confidence and mental health. Of the 66 studies conducted on the impact of smartphones on the mental health of young people, only 11 concluded that little or no damage has been done.

I have no idea what it will take to pry smartphones out of the clutched hands of students. I’m open to ideas. Share them now.

Posted in Social Media | 15 Comments

A “New” Monster

Just over 50 people in Mississippi have tested positive to Candida auris, a fungus that causes bloodstream infections and has an extremely high mortality rate. All infections in Mississippi seem to originate in a long-term care facility (sound familiar?) in a central part of the state. The fungus is extremely transmissible–it stays alive on the skin for hours, which means that many who show no symptoms will carry the fungus to those more susceptible to the problems it poses. (Sound familiar?) It is also drug-resistant.

Given the way that Mississippi responded to earlier pandemics, how well do you think people here will respond to this new issue? I get it–50 people doth not a pandemic make. However, this is the sort of issue that’s just a few mutations away from being truly scary.

I hope, of course, that C. auris is isolated and poses no further damage to folks around here. However, most people I know who are not immunocompromised stopped wearing masks several months ago. Most people I know have not kept up with a vaccination regimen, whether that involves protecting against the flu, the coronavirus, shingles, or HPV. Call it pandemic exhaustion or vaccine skepticism. Whatever you call it, what will the long-term implications for Mississippi’s health system and economy be?

Posted in Ethics, Science | 11 Comments

Windows to the Soul

In poker, a “tell” is a change in demeanor or posture that offers insight into the kind of hand a player has. If Morgan’s eyebrow twitches at the sight of a pocket pair, it’s a tell.

Writers look for something similar in spirit as they try to depict an epiphany. Nobel Laureate James Joyce defined an epiphany as “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.” If I were to describe a character as standing pigeon-toed, leaning against a wall, head down, hands in pockets, you might infer that the person was shy or fearful. Good writers use a character’s body language to tell you everything you need to know about frame of mind.

Look around you today. Watch people carefully. Give some examples–without naming names or violating confidences–of epiphanies.

Posted in MSMS Stuff | 15 Comments