Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year/New Ideas

I've always approached the New Year as a clean slate. It's a do over. No matter what the problem, you have a chance in this year to solve it. The past few years have been so personally overwhelming, with my father's death on Christmas three years ago and a rising tide of debt and disillusionment, that it was easier to dwell on the past than to approach the future. For whatever reason this year I find myself thinking ahead. At the age of 50, one would think I knew how to navigate this society, but instead I find myself standing back and making commentary. In reviewing this habit, I think that those of us who spend our days looking for flaws often fail to move on and live in the moment. I understand the whole grasshopper vs. ant lifestyle arguement, but at what most people would call Middle Age, there has to be some sort of action taken or your life stagnates and you end up as nothing more than a blip on the census. I want to take action, to live in the moment more. I want to take care of the problems that do occur rather than anticipating the problems that might occur. I want to resolve issues like messy, uncompleted home projects efficiently which doesn't always mean doing it ourselves. I want to use money wisely without hoarding it. I have observed that many older people are so obsessed with money that it becomes a litany. While I have been known to haunt a Big Lots or Dollar Store now and then, I don't want my life to boil down to a listing of every vitamin, toiletry or device that I bought on the cheap. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle, but I find myself wanting to live a more purposeful life. (With apologies to those who have read that book, I haven't and won't, but I don't think he's trademarked the phrase and I will use it where applicable.) I want to create, I want to change, I want to adapt and more than anything I want some time to be my own person. For so long I have been Mommy and Wife and Teacher and such. I want a chance to do all the things I denied myself during those busy years. I want to paint and to write. I want to take classes in Italian and visit famous places. I want to feel that I have the freedom to reclaim what little is left of my personality. I want to be able to sleep without waking up more tired than before I slept. I want to be able to afford dental work without complicated scheduling. I want ziploc bags that open as easily as they do on TV. For right now, I will start with the small stuff. So here's the list and let's see how well I do:
-Get dental work done ($$$$!)
-Get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
-Redo the bedrooms and jettison old stuff.
-Pack away daughter's high school stuff.
-Redo son's room
-Redo the bathroom
-Take an art history class
-Take a painting class
-Learn about fine dining and cooking
-Eat less but enjoy more
-Stop making lists......

Friday, December 22, 2006

Why It Shouldn't Matter About Christmas Trees

This is a copy of an article from Ben Stein. I admire him greatly for his thoughtful and wise observations on what the media tells us is our "culture". From my perspective, if you look to the likes of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or even Miss America, there is more bacteria than art to our current state of affairs. I have found that kids and their parents are woefully ignorant of literature, art, music and theater that used to be part of our collective make-up. Instead we fill our lives with shallow diversions, meaningless endeavors and overpriced objects that the prevailing and popular stars of the limelight tell us we MUST have. But I have said too much and I don't want to spoil the punch of Mr. Stein's piece.

The following is Ben Stein's commentary on CBS Sunday News from December of last year. -------------------------------------------------------------- "Herewith a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick and Jessica are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important? I don't know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise's baby. Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are. Is this is what it means to be no longer young? Hmm.. not so bad. Next confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in GOD are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution, and I don't like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship GOD as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to." --------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bad Day

This is a rant. If you don't enjoy rants, then I suggest you tune in to something even-toned and bucolic, like Michael Bolton or whalesongs. I want to be joyful. I want to be happy and enjoy The Season, as it is popularly called. But I can't. I can't because I am weighted down with the burden of dealing with all this STUFF. School stuff, home stuff, family stuff...stuff...stuff...stuff. And it's all on me. There's no backup, no substitute Mom and Teacher sitting in the wings with bated breath waiting to take my place. I have so much to do that I am imobilized. I can't think straight. I have "Christmas" stuff to do, a great deal of it begun and never finished by my husband who is out of town until Christmas Eve on a combination sales trip/visit. I wish I could see the generosity in his gesture to visit his father's friend, but where does the generosity to me and our kids start? It's like we are always supposed to do for everyone else, but it's never ever our turn to be on the recieving end. I hate sounding bitter and I hate feeling this way, but I do things for people all the time at work, at home...I am tired. And I need to think that someone gives a damn about me. But lately, it seems likes I am just the housekeeper with outside income. I am everyone's handywoman, everyone's source of solace and support, but nobody is there for me. I am really not trying to have a pity party, but I am exhausted and at the end of my rope. I nearly broke down in tears during class today. The kids were awful. They just don't care. They break stuff and throw stuff and you can call parents and send them out, but NOTHING CHANGES. And I need this job. I need it to help my kids get through college. And to pay off debts. But sometimes I fear that I will be one of those pathetic teachers that they find lying dead on the floor of the classroom. Today my heart was pounding so hard because I was so angry and disappointed with those kids that I honestly thought I might be having a heart attack. I had this horrible vision of dropping to the floor clutching my chest and having them laugh and dance around me like some bad permutation of Lord of the Flies. Scary. I wish I could be more upbeat, but this schedule and this long term are sucking any enthusiasm I ever had. I keep telling myself that I can endure anything for six hours a day. But I am beginning to think I could be wrong.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blackberry Orphans

In this season of family and joy-or so the media and department stores would have us believe, there is a group that isn't being served by any charity or foundation. It's the Blackberry Orphans. They are the children of the self-absorbed generation that expected parenting to come in a box with instructions. These are the folks walking around with bluetooths in their ears looking for all the world like they are constantly talking to themselves. They would rather talk on a cell than talk to their own kids. They can find almost any number of things to do other than communication. It's sad. I heard this one 15 year old on the radio who makes good grades and doesn't get in trouble, but her mother spends all the school commute talking on her cell phone. I see these people all the time. I see them early EARLY in the morning. I wonder who in the world they are talking to. To my way of thinking anyone who calls me before seven in the morning or after eleven at night either better have won the lottery or be in dire straits. But these folks in their neediness to be connected are missing out on the biggest and best connection of all-children. Their own children. What is sadder still is that these kids WILL find someone to talk to them and if you leave that to a kid's own choice, you may end up with a kid who thinks it's cool to break into cars and smoke meth on the weekends. These aren't the needy kids in the classic sense of the word-but emotionally their parents are teaching them some sad lessons. Like family means nothing, relationships are based on what you can do for someone and worst of all, never trust anyone. I wonder down the road as these thirty and forty something narcissists become older and less independent if their children will hang around to help them out. After all, what goes around, comes around.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

This Is Why I Teach

For every teacher that complains to their spouse, their boss, their coworkers there is a reason we are here. Among the gauntlet of testing and accountability, what we are supposed to be doing is filling young minds and giving them in incentive to test the waters, explore the horizons and move beyond the limits of conventional wisdom. Teaching is a hard job. It requires a backbone of steel and a skin of titanium. Now more than ever, teachers are regarded as mere workers by the public rather than professionals. Some of this is the result of the smudges of unionization and some of this is really more about PAC's organized using the money from teachers' organizations than the actual abilities of the classroom teachers themselves.

I have quit teaching once. I had been a teacher at a well respected high school. I had a student who was highly valued as an athlete and he never showed up for class. I gave him the lowest grade my district would allow. They never investigated my repeated claims that he was skipping class. Imagine my surprise when he came in THANKING ME FOR PASSING HIM. I was appalled and when I went to the counselors office to see where this glitch in the system occurred I was told that "it was a better reflection on the school and district if this student graduated and recieved a four year scholarship to 'Presitgious State School' than to fail him." I quit that summer. Looking back, I was young and idealistic. I still don't agree with the decision, but it did reinforce some ideas that I have about education and the Art of Teaching.

I must admit, I used a great deal of my teaching expertise as a stay at home mom. I think my kids' benefited down the line. They were often better prepared and much of the time they had a valid sounding board for their ideas. When I returned to the classroom, I had been a parent for 14 years. I think parenting gives you insight that a mere education class cannot achieve. That's not to say that you must be a parent to teach, but a parent who teaches brings with them experience and motivation that non-parents don't understand. One of the key teaching guidelines I have undertaken it that every teacher MUST teach the WHOLE CHILD. This means that you can't expect them to learn when they are hungry, scared or worried. And those issues can take up huge loads of situations.

Kids who are hungry simply cannot concentrate on anything other than their hunger. I often kept granola bars in my desk for just such a situation. And these kids aren't necessarily needy, just too rushed or too crammed with activities to stop and care for their own needs. They have to learn to do this, but often cannot due to inordinate pressures to succeed. And sometimes they aren't hungry for food, but for attention, for positive words, for kindness. A kind word can go a long way in helping a kid make it through the day, yet too often I see people who would rather drag kids down than build them up. Kids who are scared may be scared of gangs or bullies, or their parents, or the situation. I know of kids who panic in classes because of a personal history of failure. If you allow a child to fail enough they don't push themselves to succeed, but instead become the worst example. If that's the only way they can get attention, they can and they will resort to this type of negative behavior. Being an art teacher, I get alot of these kids. They come in expecting to disrupt. I tolerate enough, but draw the line at threats and violence. While I have had kids who were menacing, they were able to talk to me, because I didn't talk to the image-I talked to the person. I find we have a large number of kids who worry. They worry to the point of neurosis. The worry so much that they sometimes don't even try because they are fearful of failure.

What kind of backgrounds do these kids have that they are afraid to put their own emotions in writing, in drawing, in painting, in performance? Have we taught our children to stifle their opinions in the desire to fit in? Have we limited them by telling them to stick to the books and not look for the meanings behind the words? Have we cut them off from questioning, debating, or doubting in the name of political correctness, respect or other inane philosophical reasons? We, as teachers, must return to the true vocation of teaching. By that I mean, we must start teaching children where they are and bring them to where they can go on their own. We must stop trying to punch children into molds and cease expecting every child to hit the same mark. There must be room for kids who are potential Einsteins as well as those who are workers on the assembly line. And we must value them all the same because we aren't here to judge, we are here to teach.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

TV and Me

I am a child of the Television Generation. I like TV. I am not one of those closet snobs who claims not to watch TV, then spikes the ratings of vapid non-entertainment such as "reality television" or any of the current soap opera in the guise of humor offerings. I like two types of TV-things that help me forget the boring, dull, frustrating path of my workday and shows that make me laugh. If you can do both, you are a winner in my little award show. Sadly, it seems that most of the Arbitron raters are either humor impaired or stupid because the shows that usually rank in the top ten aren't shows I would voluntarily watch. Let me add here, that while I said I like to laugh, I have never been really fond of adult shows masquerading as kids shows-so the Simpsons, Family Guy and the like give me that odd, queasy feeling-like when you were a teenager and discovered that your parents had have had sex to have you. Yuck.

I do like shows that have a message. I don't like shows shoved down my throat. And no, I don't like Ugly Betty or 30 Rock or any of those shows that all us hipsters are supposed to like. Sorry about that, I guess "hipsters" no longer means "with it" but instead refers to a type of underwear, but I digress. What I do like right now are show such as those listed below. Sorry if I offend you with my middle brow taste, but it's what I am and I like it. Just like Norman Rockwell and Jello Pudding.

Law and Order-any of them
Heroes (!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Lost (whenever they have it...."whining")
My Name is Earl (okay-but it DOES have a moral)
The Office (Please, if you don't love this then you don't work in a normal office.)
Scrubs (So underrated-the Wizard of Oz episode itself was award worthy.)

And to the critics-I HATE Two and a Half Men and most of the shows you like. So deal with it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


There are only so many days in a year. And it seems that lately every single one of them is a holiday, holy day, celebration day of some sort for some religious, ethnic or cultural group in my school. I don't mean to complain, but there has to be a limit. Right now a friend of mine who teaches elementary is looking at a Winter Holiday spectacle that has to offer paeans to the Three Major Religions AND seven or eight cultural variations. Nobody likes anyone else's music. Everyone hates the commercial stuff and what ends up happening is that some parent will get their knickers in a twist and file a formal complaint about how their child was "damaged" by not having every little essence of the holiday meal, show or celebration to their liking. Talk about people who know how to suck the joy out of everything...

I can understand that some religious issues are touchy. I get it that some Muslim kids wouldn't like singing "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel" and some Jewish kids might balk at singing "Away in the Manger". But like it or not, we live in a society of pluralities. And contrary to what many think, that doesn't mean you get to cover your ears and mutter nahnahnah until the bad song or sight passes. It means you make the choice to GET ALONG. Let me repeat that for all the upstanding Baptists, observant Jews and active Muslims-it means that you deal with it by letting others do what they want and they in turn, will let YOU do what YOU want. That's what this whole Freedom Of Religion thing is all about. It's not me telling you what to do, it's not the ACLU telling me what NOT to do, it's not mayors shutting down nativity scenes or atheists picketing midnight Mass. It is about being grown-up enough to realize that everyone, even those who are in your own family, have slightly different perspectives on life and religion. Rather than focus on building walls, isn't it about time that we start concentrating on the values we share? I am personally tired to death of one religion poking at another one for some slight that happened so long ago that nobody remembers when or what or why it happened.

In the meantime, take a moment, and no matter what you believe or if you don't believe in a Higher Power at all, and consider how you can let go of your anger and prejudices and make your part of the world a better place.

BTW, contrary to popular views, I am a conservative.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I have always been a somewhat nervous person. I tend to dwell on details and rework them in my head. It's probably what makes me a good teacher and a borderline neurotic. One of the biggest hurdles I have to deal with is returning to the classroom after time off. It's not that I can't teach, or that I feel inadequate, it's simply that after time to decompress from the rushing and paperwork and stress of daily classroom life, I find myself seriously wondering if I want to return. What would happen if I didn't? Would it be the end of the world? I guess I am especially nervous because the day before Thanksgiving break, I was out of class at a teachers' convention. So I have this dread of returning to a classroom in shreds or to a class report that the sub didn't do what I wrote in the lesson plan and I will have to deal with this tidal wave aftermath of whining kids and angry parents. You see, there's this project due. We worked on it in class from the first day of the term. Students recieved a list of requirements and have been allotted time in class to work. But, as so often happens, they procrastinate, they argue, they goof around and do anything but work. The project is due on Wednesday. I have babysat them through the writing and the production of the piece, but HONESTLY, I weep for their incompetence when I see seniors in high school that don't know how to cite a resource or that can't format a page to specifications. It's like pulling teeth to get them to work. And since my class doesn't count toward the GPA, they only need the credit, they give me schlock and expect to pass. Then there are the parents who like to argue over every grade their kiddo doesn't ace. I have a kid who is making an A, but who gave me a half-baked assignment for which I gave him a generous 80. His dad calls me up with a rambling, rumbling monologue of "Why didn't he make an A? He always makes an A. He's playing international soccer. He's on a special accellerrated plan....blahblahblah"...and so on. I have 25-30% of my classes FAILING. I don't have time to argue over a 96 vs. a 97 average. Maybe that's why I dread returning. Yet I need this job. Next year I will have THREE kids in college. And as a nonethnically diverse, middle class, two parent family, the powers that be who give out scholarships and grants think we merit exactly NOTHING. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. I wish I could just pluck out this fear and push it under the bed where it belongs. I wonder how many other teachers go through the same thing the night before classes begin. Or am I the only one?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Change for the sake of Change

What we just witnessed in Tuesday's election was a perfect example of change for the sake of change. It's a phenomenon frequently seen in high schools before and after social events. New, straight ticket voters let the top of the ballot dictate their votes down the line. And some good people on the local level were voted out of office and replaced by people not qualified to hold the job. In one case a county court clerk couldn't read the accounting documents. Fun times in Dallas next time around! On one hand, there' s no question that some things needed to be changed. There were quasi-Republicans riding in on conservative coattails and doing a large amount of damage in the form of reckless spending and porkbarrel politics. That is not to say Democrats were blameless. There are countless taxes that will be reinstated should the Pelosi's Party have their way. And like it or not, we do have the highest homeownership, the lowest unemployment and the highest revenue in circulation in quite a while. So what happens now? The Dems have cried foul at every turn without offering any concrete idea as to how they would change the landscape. Many of them voted to go to Afghanistan and Iraq. You cannot simply wave your hands and remove the US military tomorrow and not expect the vacuum of power to lead to a bloodbath. And that is what was on the books for a plan from the Republicans. Are the Dems so lacking in support for our troops that they would rather pull out precipitously and leave them as targets rather than do things in a safe and measured manner? In short, the Dems have offered nothing but promises and rhetoric. That's all well and good during a campiagn, but now that they have power, their voters are going to expect things to change. I don't know that it will be that easy. In salesmanship you underpromise and overdeliver. When your pizza is promised in 45 minutes, but gets there in 25, you are happy. But if it's promised in 30 minutes and takes an hour, you are one very ticked off consumer. And that is the mood that the Democrats are going to have to deal with. And let's face it, these are folks who will turn on their own kind. Witness the way Lieberman was treated. People he had worked with and supported for nearly two decades betrayed him and spoke against him. The litmus tests are going to come fast and furious:abortion, stemcell research, gay marriage and so on. In the end all that will survive this beating will be the most raving loony liberals on the ticket. And I truly don't think most people will vote for them. Two years down the road, the Democrats will either have delivered their shiny new economy, health care, no war and so on, or they will have to answer to the straight ticket voters who thought that magic existed and that Nancy Pelosi could change the world with just one smile.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

College and Intellectual Rape

These days, many college educators have obvious political bias in the material they offer in the classroom. Often, this bias makes or breaks a student's grade. The student can choose to fight the bias and risk their grade or the student can write and perform to the bias, saving their grade but losing thier personal integrity. Is this right? Should students be forced to adhere to views they do not support? Should students be penalized for failure to agree with a professors point of view?

I am not talking about right and wrong here. Obviously there are disciplines such as math and science where answers are definitive. There are cut and dried responses that don't provide wiggle room for opinion. An example would be "Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address." Where the bias can sneak in is often with what used to be called liberal arts. Social sciences, history, literature, philosophy and even psychology can be manipulated through reading lists, lectures and expectations to create a student outcome that is defined by whether or not the student sticks to the expressed code. Is this a true liberal-in this conjecture it means free-education? Should professors not be held accountable for teaching a wide range of views rather than simply loading the course with reading that supports a narrow view?

I have had former students come back and tell me that they have experienced this in upscale private universities as well as state institutions. Regardless of the source, these schools are supported by federal dollars in the form of grants and scholarships. As faithful stewards,these institutions have a legal obligation to provide the best education possible. I am not sure that trying to indoctrinate students under the guise of education fulfills that obligation. In many respects this is a type of invasion. Many professors are using their personal bully pulpits to force students into taking views they cannot and do not hold for the duration of the class. If they were using similar methods to promote illegal activity it would be called brainwashing. But the force of the method, the resistance of some students and the outcome of resentment and fear resemble rape more than any other crime. How can we as parents, as taxpayers allow this to continue?

I am not supporting any sort of pogrom of professors based on political litmus tests. But I am recommending that universities and colleges be pro-active in the way they monitor their teaching staff. They need to demand reading lists, syllabi and lectures that expose students to the entire spectrum of intellectual thought, not just the limited range of liberal or conservative politics. By definition a university is expected to provide a "universal" source of knowledge, if we continue to limit our students by only telling them half the story, they in turn will produce increasingly flawed and limited solutions to the problems our nation and world will face in the future. Half the truth is half an education. We deserve more for our money.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Why IKEA Is Just Another Big Box Store

First of all, I like IKEA. I like the idea of good design and reasonable prices. I don’t even mind the do it yourself shopping. There are people out there who laud IKEA as the perfect example of what modern companies should try to emulate. Many people-captivated by the trend, modernistic trappings and the Eurocentric (i.e. Scandanavian) aesthetic sense strive to attain some sort of mystic materialistic nirvana through the tight organization of their worldly goods. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But on the other hand, I think we have magicked up the whole IKEA mythology way out of proportion to reality. I know that those who make pilgrimages to distant IKEA’s in search of a Billy bookcase or a Stronfors mattress will pummel me with tersely worded missives, but I want you to remember all the vile things you have said about Walmart and after reading my story, ask yourself if the IKEA image is way out of proportion to its reality.

Today…my daughter, a hardworking student whose life revolves around a ridiculous cycle of school, work and rehearsals moved into a new apartment in August. She’s tall. And the twin bed from her girlhood bedroom wasn’t really a good size for her to sleep in. Either her legs stuck out or she rolled out of bed. Not a recommended way to get a decent night’s sleep. She had saved her money, shopped online and through the IKEA catalog and found the bed of her dreams. It looked like an antique wrought iron bed. Looking for store hours, she came home and we headed to the store. We shopped for two hours buying all the cute sheets, comforters, etc. that would jazz up her room. We had to buy it today because this is the only day she is ever off of work. So we reserved the bed and mattress and waited for my husband to come home so we could pick up all the stuff and travel with her back to her apartment 50 miles and probably 90 minutes away depending on traffic and put things together. We hung around our house for a couple of hours then headed back to IKEA. We went down the aisles selecting the headboard and such accoutrements as it would require. When we went to check out, everything was peachy. We simply had to go over to the Furniture Pick Up desk and get the mattress and we would be on our way.

Not so fast. The clerk looked at the receipt and told us that it would be ten minutes. My husband went to move the van into the loading area. We waited ten minutes. Then twenty. Then twenty more. Finally, the clerk called the number and told us that “because people were in the aisle, we would have to return at closing-nine o’clock-or tomorrow.” Now if you live in town, and have a way to transport this stuff, that wouldn’t be an issue. If it was out of stock they would have told us so when we checked out and we could make a decision from there. But instead they waited thirty minutes to make a decisions. My daughter tried to tell them that she didn’t live in town and only had today to get this bed and in fact that was why she chose to go to IKEA rather than a conventional furniture store. The clerk was adamant. My husband, ever the salesman, goes in to intervene and gets a “manager guy” who tries to suggest that they could deliver it. The original problem is that she is in school from 8 until 1, at work after than and in rehearsal after that. Once again, that was the reason we went to IKEA. They did offer free delivery, but with nobody to let them in, it would be an invitation for theft. And when she asked if they could give her an idea when they would deliver, the manager guy said “we’ll call you before we come.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t take a day off work to wait for deliveries and I know that my daughter can’t miss a day of classes during midterms. The manager wouldn’t budge or help or ever go down the aisle and look. Heck, my husband worked in a warehouse-give him the keys to the forklift and he’ll move the stuff. But nobody wanted to make the call to make things right. For lack of willingness to go down an aisle, close it off for ten minutes, IKEA lost a nearly $600 sale.

But that’s the point. If you sell in enough volume, customers don’t matter. Customer service is already on a downhill slide, and right now everyone is so in awe of IKEA, being all European and cool, that they don’t see it for what it is. It’s another Big Box store. It’s just like Lowes and Walmart and SuperTarget. But because it’s the darling of the glitterati and wannabes, the shortcomings of their customer service is sometimes overlooked.

This isn’t the first time I have seen the shine go off the silver at IKEA. A good friend of mine, who’s daughter worked there for one week, found them to be slavedrivers with little concern for their employees.This kid wasn’t a slacker, she’s an honor student with a strong work ethic. But she couldn’t take the reality of IKEA vs. its image. Is this the image we have of the Happy Socialist Countries that exist in Scandinavia? I thought everyone worked cooperatively for the Common Good. Or that’s the theory. What is amusing is that the same folks that would erupt in protests over a SuperTarget or God forbid, a Walmart, in their neighborhood, will welcome IKEA with open arms. But don’t be fooled, it may claim to have this warm, family feel, but underneath, it’s just another Big Box store with all that implies negative and positive.

P.S. Does anyone know of a furniture store that actually tells you when they deliver and that delivers to Denton for a minimal charge?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just for Fun.

So here's my rating on Intellect vs. Knowledge. I don't know what this means, but it looks impressive.

You are 68% knowledgable and 92% intellectual. Excellent! You have a powerful mind backed by a good amount of knowledge. Keep cracking books and nothing can stop you.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Trouble Brewing In Texas Education

With the new implementation of what is popularly known as the "Four By Four" plan for graduation, there are some ominous signs on the horizon. This plan is a way to basically force all high school students to take four math classes and four science classes in order to graduate. The stated purpose is to produce, or as the Father of State Educational Testing H. Ross Perot likes to say, programming kids into tomorrow's future workers. Excuse me for a minute while I wipe away the mental images of the silent film-"Metropolis".(
This means that ALL students have to take Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-calculus as well as Integrated Physics and Chemistry(formerly known as Earth Science), Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Originally, the classes were designed to be aligned to help students achieve by offering math and science classes that complement each other. Right now in our state, and in most states, there are a good number of kids who have difficulty making it through math and science as required right now. They often veer after Geometry into Math Models due to deficits in math skills. This class will not count towards graduation from what I can understand of the mandate right now. Many students also have hurdles with Chemistry, yet are expected to conquer the more mathematically and theoretically challenging course of Physics. So what gives. There are several possible results.
1. Students rise to the occassion, pass all the classes and go on to become good little workers.
2. Students pass more than 50% of the time, the rest retake the classes delaying graduation.
3. Students pass less than 50% of the time, and after retaking a class drop out and get a GED. (This lowers the schools AYP and brings down the wrath of the education department on the district with lowering funding, increased scrutiny and possible loss of jobs for teachers in spite of doing the best they can with what they are given in the way of students.)
4. Students view the schedule with dismay and dropout proving to be a burden upon society.
5. Stressed students, forced into educational situations they cannot handle, act out in class in a variety of ways, including increased violence, students depression and parental interventions.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know that children are not machines. Making kids take classes that they cannot handle intellectually is just as insensitive as expecting a blind child to take driver's education. I don't know if other states are approaching math and science with such a heavy handed approach, but in the meantime, we have kids that cannot read and write. Shouldn't that be of as much concern as producing future engineers for the uses of industry? Or better yet, since many of the successful students have become adept at the skill of what I like to call Regurgitative Thinking, wouldn't it be nice if our kids could read a book, or solve a problem in a new way without relying on the previous trends, programs or paradigms? I don't think what this nation is suffering from is a lack of math students, I think what we are suffering from is a lack of students who like to learn, who express themselves in creative ways and who value knowledge. And that isn't something that any mandate from any government is going to be able to address or cause to happen. And I doubt making higher requirements will make any of these kids better students. They will just learn the tricks and forget them when they walk out the door. If you don't believe me, talk to some college professors and find out how they are having to teach the elements of reading and writing to their freshmen classes.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Problem With Art Education

One of the biggest issues with art education in the schools is the need to actually look at art. Art by nature is a recording of events and emotions and images created within the context of a culture. What's acceptable to one culture is taboo in another. What's acceptable at one point in history is forbidden in another. That's the part of history that I thought everyone above the age of seven understood.

But I was wrong.

In a move reminiscent of the worst of the Nixon presidency, an elementary teacher with 28 years of service and experience is now on paid leave for the rest of the year, due to a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Now I realize that I am an art teacher and probably have had more exposure (no pun intended) to art than the average person. But I am pretty sure that even in the wilds of Frisco Texas, people are aware that in an art museum you may just see some "nekkid people". The actual term is "The Nude" and it's considered a viable genre within the categories of art history. The Greeks used the nude to symbolize the epitome of perfection and balance. The Renaissance artists used the nude to symbolize innocence or purity. Sure the nude has been made earthy and "dirty" as in "The Nude Maja" and let's don't forget those hefty dames painted by the likes of Rembrandt and Reubens. But in all honesty, do we really want to classify Bottecelli's "Venus" along with the likes of Paris Hilton? What drives art to be ART above and beyond the common reproach? And why is it that the good people of Frisco seem so ignorant of the differences?

I think it comes from two sources. First of all, within our society, and our schools, there is a movement afoot to compel schools to adhere to social behavior as ordained by specific religious teachings. I have no issue with morality. But I don't want someone coming to what is a public school and demanding that their personal religious needs be served over and above what is good for the general population. Secondly, I think some parent are so worried about child abuse that they literally see molestors around every corner. Too many parents are on campaigns to insulate their children from the rest of the world. They do more harm than good because these same over protected kids come into high school without the skills to operate in modern society. They either become the willing accomplices of the worst kids, or social outcasts due to being held back from developing the ability to deal with the world's problems by learning to avoid issues before they start.

What is the saddest part of this whole thing is that art is already under seige in our schools. Many elementary schools have cut music and art from the general curriculum ignoring how both art and music can provide positive reinforcement to academic classes. and concepts. It's no secret that many of the top students in schools are also in performing or visual arts. But as testing rises to become the be-all and end-all of the school's records, it's becoming a situation that chews up budgets leaving little for anything other than core classes and PE.

But in the end, it's this one teacher who ended up out of a job after 28 years. She did everything we teachers are told to do. She got approval, she got signed permission slips and she got parental chaperones. They didn't go to a bar. They didn't have an unhealthy lunch, but one kid went home and complained they saw a nude statue. And for that the teacher has lost her job. It make me wonder if they kid had gotten in trouble in her class and this was payback. It makes me wonder if the principal was looking for a way to trim the budget by getting rid of a higher cost experienced teacher. It makes me wonder if the principal was threatened by someone who was better liked. But in the end it makes me wonder at what point we lost all common sense and allowed the cranks and bigots to make decisions for us. Shouldn's a school board have more sense than to knuckle under to a loud mouthed parent? In the end this will go to court and be very nasty, if the news reports pan out. And with what I have seen as evidence, the teacher will end up on the winning end because she will have a much more lucrative retirement via the out of court settlement that will come about than she would with a TSR pension.

But down the road, when art is gone from the schools, who will teach the kids about beauty?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Voices From the Wilderness: Words from a convert to Islam

I got this from the Dallas Morning News, but I thought the information it gave was important enough to have it presented intact. It is the story of a Jewish man who converted to Islam only to get caught up in the Wahbism movement, the one that is promoting most of the violence we see on the evening news. What I found interesting was the way their indoctination techniques mirrored those of some of the vintage terror and communal groups of the 60's and 70's. You have your charismatic leader, your isolation from the rest of society, your strict set of rules, your abstemious lifestyle, it's all there straight out of so many different groups, although what comes first to mind is The Moonies. Scary stuff, but worth the read. This man is coming out with a book soon, and I plan to read it. The emphasis in the text is mine.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:
When I practiced Islam and went through my own process of radicalization, I found the case made by radicals (as opposed to the case made by progressive Muslims) to be more logical and sound. The logical force of the radicals' interpretation of the Islamic faith cannot be denied; anybody who brushes off Islamic radicals' interpretation of jihad as clearly and simply distorting Islam is either dissembling or else speaking from sincere ignorance. I don't think, though, that the radicals are inevitably right, and thus haven't yet given up the hope that Islam can save itself. One of my major long-term projects is an assessment of moderate Islam's chances of success. One of the Muslim moderates with whom I've been dialoguing for that project tells me that the Salafi interpretation seems insurmountable at first, but as a Muslim gains greater mastery of Arabic and is able to interpret Islamic history on his own, less radical alternative interpretations may seem more compelling. At this point, it's too early for me to assess whether this statement is accurate. But the fact that I don't think the radicals are inevitably right makes the current controversy over Pope Benedict's remarks all the more distressing.
It seems that whenever a prominent Westerner voices strong criticism of Islam, two things happen: Muslims threaten violence in response and often actually resort to it, and in return the Western media and leading intellectuals condemn the initial statements rather than the violence. Recall Jerry Falwell's statement back in 2002 that Muhammad was "a violent man"; the ironic -- and tragic -- response was
rioting in Solapur, India that killed at least ten people, as well as a fatwa condemning Falwell to death. Yet by and large the media wasn't interested in the Muslim overreaction; it was intent on condemning Falwell. The violent response to Pope Benedict's remarks is indicative of the pathologies within contemporary Islam. Angry Muslims set fire to seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza. An Italian nun in Somalia who worked in a children's hospital was brutally assassinated. There have been calls to assassinate the pope. And Islamic leaders such as Yusuf Qaradawi have called for a "day of rage."But it seems the media would rather condemn the pope and thus place criticism of Islam off limits rather than focus on the pathologies in contemporary Islam. This Western response serves to undermine Muslim moderates and strengthen radicals. It undermines moderates because one of the strongest big-picture arguments the moderates have is that Muslims need to act like adults, that they can't go off burning churches and killing people at the slightest provocation. Yet the signal we're sending is that we're willing to look the other way and create a ridiculous double-standard: that we're unwilling to hold Muslims accountable for unacceptable behavior and unacceptable actions. The extremists are helped not only by the missed opportunity to examine the crisis in contemporary Islam, but also because it increasingly appears to them that if they want to use threats of violence to stifle speech, they will be helped in their cause by hordes of guilt-ridden Westerners who will side with them. We live in cowardly times, and it's sad to see that so many Westerners pick the wrong side in what is a stark choice between free speech and intimidation

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Impact on Education and American Life of Invasion

I know the title sounds harsh, but honestly I can't think of any other way to phrase it. I teach in a diverse district, in a diverse school. I honestly like all of my students as people, even the ones who behave in obnoxious teenaged ways. But you can't look at any school in the southern US without noticing how immigration, especially illegal immigration, has impacted the system. It became very clear to me this year, when I realized that the district in which I live is now majority/minority. Strangely enough, while that qualifies the district for some programs and mandates others, the district is getting further and further behind financially. There are a couple of problems that have created this situation and some of it has to do with illegal immigration.

The district in which I live straddles two towns and two counties. The older of the two towns has been around for forty years. It was one of the first suburbs, a bedroom community of blue collar workers. The area was zoned largely as single family homes and many of the original residents have bought and paid for their homes with the idea of having this, their largest asset, as collateral for a comfortable retirement. We are talking retired teachers and fire fighters and small business owners who must rely on their own to survive. The northern city is newer, but zoned for more apartments. Add to that the building of a new tollway and you have a corridor for travel that has attracted a number of people.

The first thing that happened is that the Dallas Housing Authority built public housing just outside the boundaries of these two towns. Although the facilities were nice, the children would end up in the neighboring towns' schools-which were already overcrowded. The cities begged Dallas not to build there, but the then head of public housing forced the issue into court. The results were that schools which were formerly suburban in feel suddenly had to deal with inner city crime. Drugs became more common as did domestic violence. As the prices for the nearby private homes and apartments came down due to the crime, these houses and apartments were bought and rented by companies that would then turn around and sublet the rooms to large groups of people. Many of these people were here without documentation-which is the PC term. I prefer to call it as it is-they have done something illegal by coming here without a visa or permit and therefore are illegal. In too many neighborhoods, rental houses were filled with multiple families or groups of young males. The burden on the schools in terms of free breakfast, Pre K classes, free lunches, ESL programs, health clinics was in no way compensated by the rent. Plus as the property values eroded, the tax revenue also dropped causing such things as road, sewer, water, street repair, park services to be forestalled or dropped altogether.

The increase in people who may have dangerous histories also increased the amount of crime, especially that related to gangs. Areas that had been middle class became war zones. People were either prisoners in their own homes or sold out for lower prices. In short, the massive uncontrolled influx of illegal immigrants has negatively impacted every social system. People who have lived their entire lives here are doing without basic social services because they can't even get through the lines. Elderly folks are seeing their investments in their homes vanish. This isn't a victimless crime, although there are those who would like to label it so. They are the same folks that like to scream "racism" and "bigot" every time they don't get their way. But wait a minute, this isn't about any specific race, this is about the SITUATION, which is one where someone has breached a law of another sovreign nation. In some countries they shoot you for things like that.

If we have finite resources such as water, food and land and allow uncontrolled overdevelopement of those resources, they go away, often never to return. That is the message environmentalists have been touting for decades. So why then is there so much silence from the same folks that eat organic foods and drive electric cars? I'd like to think it was simple naivete that they believe in their own superior way that the "simple peasant folks" would live some sort of primative back to the earth lifestyles. That isnt' why they are coming here. They could do that in El Salvador or Mexico or Ghana or wherever they came from. They want the glitter and glitz of the American Dream. I can't blame them for that but if you take a pizza and provide for a small crowd, it's not going to be the same sized slice if you provide for a larger one. If I were more cynical I would think that the liberal left was turning a blind eye to illegal immigration hoping to gain votes via Motor Voter and other silly acts that permit people to vote when they shouldn't.

But the endgame is this, when I speak to my friend who teachers ESL and is from Mexico City, she says that the kids coming in aren't just ignorant of English, but of Spanish, of reading, of math of everything except what they pick up on Univision. In short, they are chronically behind because their nation and many of their countrymen have shown that education isn't valuable. We spend tens of millions of dollars on bells and buzzers and programs and support for these students and all too often it's just a big stinky failure. They see no reason to learn because they can make a living on an underground economy that taxpayers are paying for. I have never begrudged someone who honestly needed help a handout, but this appears to more like locusts than wounded butterflies. It's time for Mexico to begin to take care of their own people. And by continuously allowing free passes into the United States, we are providing a social safety valve for our neighbor to the south. Things must change soon or we will be looking at an internal problem similar to what France is dealing with in regards to people who originated in the Middle East. When the USSR was in power, they always said they would conquer us from within. I am quite afraid that is what is happening now.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

School Day's/AP Tests/The Future

I just finished reading the linked article and then I looked at my blog and realized that in the frenzy that is late summer, I had totally forgotten to post anything. I think that is how it is with summer. From age five on we are conditioned into this two to three month period of mindlessness and then suddenly without warning, Krogers is stocking spiral notebooks on the endcaps and large envelopes full of forms start arriving. It's like a migration of children from the swimming pools and playgrounds into brick buildings where they live their lives away from parents and often it's a life that is totally unknown by parents. It's a child's world, where they make the choices and call the shots.

Every year about this time, since I was very young, I would get this clutching feeling in my chest. I always liked school. I usually did well in school. Okay, I did fine unless there was math. But the whole social environment of school always felt toxic. I never felt like I had friends. I never felt comfortable. And I truly did think that teachers by and large were the enemy despite my good grades. I can't even imagine what the pressure is like now. At the time I was in high school, pot and LSD were pretty much the only thing other than alcohol in town. Plus, 18 year olds could drink and DID drink. I was terrified of drugs and only drank occasionally to fit in. I don't have the rosy memories of high school that some people portray. In fact, I've only gone back to one reunion only to see the same people who were merciless and cruel in high school, were still in charge at the reunion. Sometimes I look at their prideful biographies on and I wonder where exactly I missed the boat.

I see kids today with far more burdens that we had as high school students in the 70's. Quite often they live with their moms and money can be an issue. They often work and are more motivated by their paychecks than by grades. While the top 20% are bright and ambitious, it's often for financial wealth over knowledge. In my daughter's 2003 AP classes, more than half the kids opted to major in engineering. These kids hold the same profiles academically as the kids who were Business majors in the 70's and 80's and Computer Science majors in the 90's. They don't do it because they love engineering, but because they want the money that they think will follow. It is as if the laws of supply and demand were magically suspended and they will still command huge salaries upon graduating. I think there are experienced engineers and techs in Silicon Valley that would beg to differ. And in many cases it's parents and counselors who are pushing these students into careers that they think will guarantee financial success. These are some of the same parents that helicoptered all through public school to cushion and control their childrens' lives. They honestly believe that this will insure happiness. I think we are on the verge of seeing major generational burnout with the X'ers.

I am also concerned with the pressure the upper echelon kids feel they have to attain in order to maintain status quo. These kids load their schedules with AP classes, volunteering, clubs, teams and work to the point of burnout. And quite often, the kid who makes 4's and 5's on AP Tests such as Physics, Chemistry, Calculus or even English may be denied credit unless it is outside of their major. I know of a student who should have had 21 hours of credit in these classes plus Spanish and Ecnomics. The university, claiming that it wanted all students within this major at the same level, only accepted the Spanish AP exam for credit. I can't help but recall the huge amount of time this student spent in and out of class working on these disciplines and althought there may be some merit to making a student take a course in a skill he's already mastered, it appears that it's a jobs programs for grad students that have to teach these entry level classes.

AP classes are no longer the bastion of the best and brightest, but instead many schools are pushing kids who do not want or cannot do the level of work into these situations. I wish I could say the purpose was to raise these students to a higher level, which is often the stated purpose, but I think the end game is that it looks really good for average yearly progress scores if more students take AP classes and exams. Don't get me wrong, I think if a student wants to pursue such a course, they should be given a chance. And as an AP teacher, I want as many kids in the seats as we can hold. But if we are permitting students who may not have the skills required for AP classes, at some point will we be forced into a position of offering remediation in these classes? And when that happens, paired with denial of credits by colleges and universities, what is the point of having an AP program at all? It points to gaming the test which could unfortunately lead to the same kind of lunacy that surrounds high stakes testing at other levels.

I don't want to sound alarmist on this theory, but when a list was released by a national magazine siting the Top 100 High Schools, one of the key criteria was the number of tests TAKEN, not PASSED. If this and similar stats are thrown in the mix, it's really easy for a district or school administration to pay outright for every kid to take AP tests and virtually cook the books when it comes to perceived status. I have heard rumors that this is already happening in other states. It worries me and it should worry many more people, because we are driving kids into professions they often don't care about. And workers who don't care about their work do a bad job and create more problems than they solve. This was not the goal of NCLB, but with the increased pressure on teachers, schools and students, that could be the outcome.

Please be aware, I am not anti-testing. Tests are a necessary evil. They reveal weaknesses and strengths and are essential for the purposes of meaningful evaluation. But this idea that we can control outcome based on testing and force kids into cookie cutter lives regardless of their natural abilities is one that will ultimately impact the economy. We need to look at something beyond the numbers and past feelgood articles and TV mentions for what is really happening in the schools. We have fixated on the idea that "all kids MUST go to college". While we want to open the doors for students really wanting a college education, the idea that every kid MUST go ignores the numbers of kids that drop out after the first year. Should colleges even have remedial reading and writing? Shouldn't a real college student come to college ready to go? Rather than have kids who go through the humiliation of failing at something such as college in which they had no great desire, why aren't we fostering the idea of getting everyone working by offering meaningful vocational programs? And NCLB doesn't take vocational programs into account. While you have the grandaddy of testing in Ross Perot claiming that high stakes testing will create workers for high tech jobs, there are other jobs that go unfilled due to the lack of skilled technicians. These are the jobs that are growing in scope because fewer and fewer people know how to actually do ANYTHING with tools. Think of what you paid the last time the air conditioner went out or the car stopped running? We need to revamp education to provide training in these skills as well.

All in all, I see myself approaching each year with a little more apprehension. Sure, we will have the pep rallies and dances. And the same smart aleck student will show up in class. And the same slacker will sit at the back of the room trying to sneak his IPOD out of his backpack. But as my own kids get older and I see younger kids coming into high school, I see more anxiety, more nervousness. There seem to be more IEP's and more parental emails. It's as if there's some menacing force driving these kids into exaggerated lifestyles. I dont' know if it's the media influence or simply a symbol of our times, but they seem so jaded and old as such a young age. They have lost that joy that kids have to learn something new. Everything is a faded replay of One Tree Hill. And in a way, I pity them and want to try to bring back that wonder into their lives. I guess that is why I keep teaching. Heaven knows I won't get rich, but maybe I can change a kid's life in a positive way. I would hope that is what all teachers at this point are planning to do.

Quote from youngest son-
"School will give me a chance to recuperate from summer..."-
-he's been riding BMX bikes every day, all day in 100+ heat since June.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Working my Way Northward

I got this link from Darren's website RightwingontheLeftCoast. I seem to have the Southern US covered. Maybe I can take that trek to Montana next year.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Weapon of Mass Disturbance: Religion and Terrorism

A Weapon of Mass Disturbance: Religion and Terrorism

It's the End of the World As We Know It....

I am not usually easily persuaded to believe apocalyptic rants. I haven't read the Left Behind series, and probably won't. I am usually pretty optimistic about things. But I have to admit that the situation in the Middle East is scaring me. I look at these mindless drones that hate just for the sake of hating and it seems senseless and wasteful. Last year I read a book The Search for Zarathustra-one of my little dives into anthropology. In it, the author traveled the Middle East trying to reconcile religious beliefs with cultural practices. Strangely enough, there were many traditions and beliefs in ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF THE REGION, that predate any established religion. And that was Zarathustraism. This particular religion featured a prophet with a direct link to the deity, a belief in absolute right and wrong/good and evil, and an underlying support for the philosophy of "if you aren't for us, you're against us". If you look at various religions from that region, there is this thread of commonality that exists. And that is the belief, or stubborn opinion, that there is Absolute Right and Absolute Wrong. Unfortunately, with no gray area, there is also no room for negotiation. So on one side you have a religion that denounces all others, supports an attitude of quashing other religions at all costs and is convinced it is absolutely right. And you have the other side that believes almost exactly the same thing. Israel has at least been willing to give up land, but in payback they get kidnappings and suicide bombers and continued threats. Appeasement isn't going to change things when you have a population that is caught in an Old Testament mindset. While the thought depresses me, there are times when might does make right, even when its a case of a truly backward country being put to rights by an advanced one. Backing down evidentally doesn't help the cause, because we did that after Desert Storm and Saddam still made threats to the region. Israel has given up land and tried to deal, only to be repeatedly attacked. I am not sure where this is all going to end up. I'd like to think that something miraculous will occur and things will be peaceful, but there are too many players and no trust. Right now, Iraq feels safe in swaggering around and supporting Hezbollah because it thinks that Russia and China will support them. Little do they know that the second the tide changes and Iraq's power structure shifts, Russia and China will change allegiance in a snap. There are too many nations trying to relive old empires (France) and others that feel themselves above the situation from a moral high ground (Germany) when in reality, everyone's hands are dirty and everyone is looking out for themselves. I don't think that the United States is absolved in this case, but I do think in some instances, we are the goat due to the fact that we are the largest target. It's easy to hit an elephant, but you are more likely to be killed by a snake. All we can do is hope and pray. And in the meantime, would it really hurt if a few moose lost some land in the ANWAR? I mean if liberals REALLY think this war is all about oil, then why don't we do something to produce domestically and use our own resources such as coal until we have a better solution? Anything is better than being a sitting duck.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bumper Bowling is Ruining the World

Bumper Bowling. It seem pretty innocuous doesn't it? But hear me out. Early on in childhood, a baby learns to talk and walk through methods of trial an error. You learn to ride a bike, skate or climb a tree based on the idea that if you do it wrong, bad things will happen. Then comes bumper bowling. On the surface, not a bad thing, but the underlying message just may be one that is corrupting our country. If you take a kid bumper bowling when he or she is four and they slam the ball to the right, and if you continue getting bumpers when they are eight, then ten, then twelve and they continue to slam the ball to the right, but still hit the pins, what will the child have learned? Isn't it just possible that when that same kid is 23, and out having a few beers, he or she will be humiliated by a constant flurry of gutterballs all slammed to the right because as a child, they were never allowed to learn how to control the ball? And when that happens, who will be to blame or what is worse, who will the now grown child blame?

And that gets to the core of the matter. My generation, the children of the sixties and seventies, have been so immersed in the idea that we can affect the outcome of every situation, that we have too often sheltered and cossetted our children to protect them from the very necessary process of failure. There are no longer any absolutes, no longer any wrongs, just "mistakes". And as these children reach adulthood, the "mistakes" get larger and larger, and more serious. There isn't a teacher in the nation that hasn't had dealings with the "helicopter Mom" whose little precious child can do no wrong. Rules are to be bent and achievement altered to fit the child's needs rather than the needs of society. Cheating is the norm and even when grossly obvious, to be ignored according to some of these standards. These are what I like to call "Ostrich Parents." They are very open to pointing out the flaws in other children or schools or families, but stick their collective heads in the sand when the shortcomings of their own are brought to the forefront. As teachers, we have some legal censorship that must be used so that we can stay employed. For example, if Johnny comes to class half-baked and reeking of pot, I can't say that. Instead I used euphumisms such as "red eyed" or "sleepy" or "dazed" and hope that the parents have enough interest to ask a few key questions. Most of the time, they don't. Similar things occur with every other rule from innocent tardies to more serious sexual harassment, but until it gets to the legally serious point, most parents choose a hands off policy. And by hands off, I mean that they don't ask questions, don't take away cars and credit cards and don't do the things that might mean they find out something is wrong.
Too many parents choose to ignore problems and furthermore, they want the rest of the world to ignore them as well. This sets up a future in which Mommy and Daddy may end up paying bail, hiring lawyers and generally running their adult children's lives simply because they refused to admit a few absolutes into their early childhood experience.

This attitude has carried over into society. Please don't get me wrong, I don't think we should return to the days of Hester Prynne and public floggings, but then again, a little decent humility in regards to unwed pregnancy or drug use would be refreshing. I recall when I was in ninth grade when a girl got pregnant, she was sent to a special school. One girl tried to return for a pep rally, featuring the father to be, and was unceremoniously escorted off campus. Of course that was in the bad old days when girls were burdened with the proof of sexual looseness and boys got a free pass. That may have been unkind, but I think how the situation has evolved is wrong. We now see pregnant girls on campus all the time. They have made adult decisions and are given attention by the school, a home by the parents and generally speaking, except for labor, there's no down side. I am not saying that these girls and their boyfriends should be punished, but right now there's no negative consequences at all. Another example would be a boy that went through school with my 21 year old, got a girl pregnant. While he was busy with her, he lost his scholarship because he was absent partying with his girlfriend. You would think those two things would offer some sobering reality to this irresponsible young pair, but instead, their parents are paying for a luxury apartment (2 bedroom/ Washer/ Dryer?Cable/Internet paid) a car, and college tuition. Neither of them have to work. And to some people this seems like a reasonable decision. Excuse me if I disagree. These two very young, and somewhat selfish, young people choose to be careless, get pregnant and parents come and provide a safety net. I am not knocking helping out young couple, young love or pregnancy-all wonderful things in some circumstances, but in this case, as so many others, the parents are so intent at controlling the outcome, that they pay for everything and in effect make it so that the kids will never learn how to budget on a small income, how to limit their spending or how to balance their lives. In this case, it isn't help, it's control. And when you control someone so completely, you are limiting their ability to grow. And this case is being lived over and over every year. I shudder to think what will happen twenty years down the road when those then 40 year olds are still dealing with the problems that should have been resolved as 20 year olds.

When I ran this idea past my own three kids, 21, 21 and 17, even the 17 year old-who's a bit of a wild child-were appalled that even after having kids some couples were relying on their parents to foot the bill. Speculation was made by my older two, who are full time college students,if the intent was to force marriage or to control the outcome of the grandchild's life, which I thought was pretty insightful from kids the same age as the ones in question. The younger one thought that the parents were very naive and that the couple was getting a free ride. I have to say here that although we paid into a college fund for each of our kids, they have paid their own rent and bills after freshman year. And just out of curiosity I broached the subject of marriage and children, and both my college kids refused to even think about it until after they are out of school (for which I breathed a big sigh of relief!) When I ran this same idea by some parents, I got mixed reactions. Some agreed with me that if kids make adult choices they need to go through the consequences such as getting a job and paying their own bills. Others however, thought that they wouldn't want their kids living in a dump and fully intend to pay for everything. Strangely enough, the parents who were more hardline have kids who are all high achievers and have that history and those parents who wanted to pay for everything had students who have lingered in college for years without declaring a major. It's not a scientific sampling by any means, but I thought it was interesting.

So we return to the image of Bumper Bowling. Long cushions keep the ball rolling towards the pins no matter how erratically or carelessly the ball is thrown. They are assured a strike, or at least a spare, by an artificial means. How long to we continue to support adult children that refuse to take responsibility for their actions? If you read current media,you know that the Boomerang Child is not a new situation. But I think it poses some serious implications for my generation. Are we willing to subsidize continued and repeated "mistakes" by adult children at the expense of our own retirement and income? At what point do we cut them loose? And after cutting them loose and expecting them to show gratitude for years of support, should we dare to be surprised when these same children express anger at not ever being allowed to learn how to function as adults? In short, when do we take away the bumpers? For some parents and some kids, it may never happen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

American Waste(ful)land

The other day was trash day. We wheel out 88 gallon plastic drums and blue recycling bins full of the appropriately separated plastic, glass, aluminum and newspaper. I drive down the street and I am AMAZED at the sheer amount of "stuff" we simply disgard as trash. Although I would say I am a political conservative, my family didn't have scads of money, so we shopped sales, renovated or simply did without. Living in what was then the burgeoning suburbs north of Dallas, where many people had a good deal of money and spent it wildly rather than wisely, it was an early lesson in wealth, money and its use. My father went through the Great Depression moving from one place to another as my grandfather's employment changed. I think those folks that suffered severely through that trial never really left it behind and often they imposed its rigorous economy on their children. I was one of those children. And in a way, I think I have imposed a similar fiscal restraint on my own kids. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or a good thing. But it does have some bearing on the topic.

So here we are, a wasteful society that would rather throw something away than reuse it. This was never brought more to light than when our previous neighbors, about ten years younger, would buy things likes sheets or computer printers or clothes and use them sporadically for a short time and then, THROW THEM OUT. They didn't donate them, they didn't share them with the poor in the community, they didn't even have a garage sale, they just threw them away. And what it more, after a time, they decided that one big bin wasn't enough, they needed TWO. We have the same size families, but our bin is hardly every filled up and they throw away two bins of stuff weekly. What's really odd is that this particular family, along with most of the rest of our neighbors, are very liberal. (What is odder is that we are the only family on the street that recycles despite city incentives...) That is certainly their perogative, but is it really a good thing to condemn another person's consumption when you don't curb your own. And this particular family has very much pointed fingers at people who have older cars, disregarding that a well tuned older car driven less still makes less pollution than any car other than electric driven everywhere. It's puzzling that "everyone" is concerned about the environment, but it seems like there's a great deal of fingerpointing when it comes to solutions.

Taken to the celebrity level, I have a great deal of respect for Judge Reinhold, who drives a tiny car or rides a bike rather than tooling around LA in a Hummer or Escalade. And I am truly puzzled by hiphop artists that spout anger at everyone, but seem content to drive around in overblown SUV's. I have heard it said that America is one of the few places where the poor have running water, drive to work and are overweight. So does this make us greedy or covetous or simply so hooked into the GimmeGimme image presented by all of the media that we buy and buy and buy until our credit and our lives are in peril?

Nowhere is this better illustrated than on a college campus. It's a cross section of America, with scholarship kids and work study kids trying to squeak by on Ramen Noodles and Diet Coke while others lounge around for four or five or more years in relatively palatial apartments, including weight rooms, pools, cable and internet access all paid for by Mommy and Daddy. Resident Assistants, of which my daughter is one, have to clean up after the students leave. You would be amazed at some of the "trash" that was salvaged by the more frugal and needy students. These things included working TV's, microwaves, mini-fridges, game systems. ...Relatively new coats, clothing, shoes and furniture....books that could be reused or resold...CD's everything you could imagine. When asked by a couple of RA's why they were throwing away perfecting good "stuff" the students' answered something similar to "they didn't want to bother taking it home because they could always get more..." So what's the message parents have sent these kids? That they can break or lose or simply throw away anything, and get it replaced for free.

And if you aren't concerned yet, be aware that credit card companies heavily traffic the universities and colleges of our fair land trolling for new customers. My 17 year old son got a letter offereing him a platinum card with a $1500 limit. He doesn't even have a job OR a car. Every single one of these kids that threw out good stuff rather than lugging it home or selling it or donating it to a worthy charity is exemplifying the concept of Consumerism Gone Wild. I am surprised the Stock Market cable channels haven't started filming these spending sprees for nighttime viewing, just like Girls Gone Wild.

Then there is the problem of cooperation. We put off letting our kids drive until they were nearly 18. To be honest, this was as much for insurance purposes as anything, but it also forced our kids to become familiar with public transportation which is more economical, more environmentally friendly and an asset to any large metropolitan area. In most cities, that wouldn't be an issue, but in Dallas, they have poked around about getting train service to all but the most demanding suburbs leaving large sections reliant on bus service. While this shouldn't be a problem, it has become one because some of the bus drivers will pass stops with teens. This isn't an accident, it's happened several times with DART. And what is even funnier, our local transit authority doesn't have a listed phone number. So we pay taxes and try to encourage the next generation to use public transit and when they are stiffed, THERE'S NO WAY TO COMPLAIN. So in many ways, it seems that government entities are as much to blame for discouraging use of public transit as anyone else.

I realize this essay is somewhat scattered, but the end run is that regardless of our political preferences, everyone MUST get away from the notion of a Disposible Society. It has come from paper cups to families and marriages. The concept of simply throwing away things, and people, and families needs to come to an end. And if it starts with simply recycling, then great. Otherwise, my kids are going to end up picking up the remains of everyone else's lives.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mastercard and Education

With the electronic age, much in education has changed for the better. Better computers, better access to materials, more current information for students. Much of this is because the payback is immediate. We have come to expect that in life and in our schools. The sooner we have it, whatever it is, the better.

So here comes the traditional school budget. You can't order until September 1, and you have to fill out PO's and hopefully, if it isn't backordered or delayed, you get your materials sometime in mid October. That's too long for some classes and leaves new teachers without materials to start the year with unless they pay out of pocket. (Which, incidentally, I sometimes think the Powers That Be, want them to do....) So here comes a Great Idea. Schools can obtain corporate charge cards and then employees can get materials IMMEDIATELY for classroom use. It's a good idea, it solves the dilemma for newly graduated teachers, who don't have a great deal of money for supplies, and it helps avoid the lag time that occurs at the start of the year. As an art teacher, I assure you that by the time we get our first order in October, the materials that I have hoarded for use are pretty much gone. It limits what you can do in the class, when paper is low and pencils are used up. In my district, only department heads can use the cards. They check them out from the business manager for a 24 hour period, and can only use it at a list of approved district vendors. Receipts are demanded upon the return of the card. No excuses. It's worked very well for us and as far as I know, there have been few problems. It's one of those systems in place that actually make things a little bit easier on the average teacher.

So I open my Sunday Dallas Morning News on July 2, 2006, and what do I see? In the DISD, people are charging thousands of dollars on district credit cards with impunity. It appears that many of the heaviest users have done so without receipts, one even claiming after the demand for confirmation of purchases that "the receipts were stolen". Yeah, I know, those receipt theives have been busy....right. And I love the comment from the teacher that bought the Ipod and accessories to "give to the best student" but then his class was "bad" and nobody got the glitzy Ipod. And strangely enough, the Ipod doesn't show up on any district electronics list. I don't know what was going on in these teachers' and employees' heads. Were they overwhelmed by the responsibility? Blinded by the exorbitant credit limit? Compensating for their students low income backgrounds by providing enrichment via Ipods? Or just plain greedy and stupid? What I truly don't understand is how the central business office could just blindly pay credit card bills of up to a MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH and not ask for documentation or at least a few well placed questions. You would think at some point a huge gap like that would raise someone's eyebrows.

So we have yet another DISD debacle, one of many. Here are some suggestions.
1. Oversight-demand receipts upon returning of the card.
2. Purchase limits-set a dollar amount that can be spent per purchase without written administrative approval. This should probably be much lower than the $1000 current limit.
3. Limit users-to administrators and department heads AND LOOK AT THE BILLS! One principal spent a ridiculous amount at a chic kids store buying PILLOWS FOR THE LIBRARY. Last time I looked what most libraries need is BOOKS and COMPUTERS.*shaking head*
4. Give each user an upward limit budget for the year. Regardless of the need, once they've blown the budget, they are on their own to find a way to purchases materials.
5. Fire ANYONE who misuses these cards for their own purposes.' Nuff said.
6. Stop whining that the district doesn't have any money. If you have that much money EACH MONTH that goes unaccounted for, then you have a major budget leak and until you plug that, no more money needs to go to the district.

Personally, I think it is beyond negligence or need. It is theft pure and simple. And the DA should be looking at those books right now. Furthermore, if it looks as if these goods were resold, whether privately through Ebay or Craig's list, then there needs to be some serious charges launched.

Friday, June 16, 2006

On Fathers

My Dad wasn't the easiest person to live with. There were times I marveled that Mom stayed with him for nearly 50 years. Looking back, the sadness, disappointment and pressures of his past weighed him down heavily in depression for many many years. It wasn't called that when I was a kid. It was called "being cranky". There were days that my Mom would slave over a dinner, which we ate together, only to have him push it away an make a bologna sandwich. At the time, I thought he was being picky and wasteful and inconsiderate. Looking back, I wonder if he felt unworthy of a decent meal at home, when his job had been one of almost constant travel and sales. Raised through the Great Depression, his family wandered through the Texas Oil Patch following my grandfather's job changes. That had to have an effect on an only child. I suppose that hindsight is twenty-twenty. I wish I had been wiser and more forgiving of his moods at an earlier age. It's easier to recall the bad things, they don't hurt.

Although he wasn't the easy going Ward Cleaver type of Dad, and although he traveled, I will say that my Dad coached our teams, watched our plays and concerts and was there emotionally to the limits of conventional behavior of the times. He wasn't the warm touchy-feely Dad of today's sometimes unrealistic imagery, but he would support us to the ends of the world. Even as an adult, when I was dealing with a difficult problem at work or with my kids at school, he would say ,"Do you want me to go talk to them?" There was the unspoken offer of support. Unlike so many fathers who were wealthier or more successful or more famous, he was always there.

Dad never considered himself successful, which was a burden that he carried throughout life. The promise of his success in college never bloomed, largely because unlike the shakers and movers, my Dad was honest and he was loyal. He didn't think he should jump from job to job. His word was his bond. There was not a city in the Southwestern US in which he didn't know someone. And yet the Harvard-fueled business systems of the 70's and 80's only valued the young and innovative, over the loyal and hardworking. He was forced to change jobs many times and worked literally until he died. He never had a chance to retire. He never had the country home and leisure time. In many ways his work killed him in the end. He was scared when he sold our home in Dallas and moved my Mom to a small east Texas town. I suppose he was trying to recapture a simpler time from his ideas of small, safe, idyllic towns of his childhood. Instead, he and Mom ended up isolated from friends and church and family. It didn't have to be that way, but that is how it was.

It's easier in some respects to remember the bad. I can recall that without pain. What hurts is remembering the good. I laugh when I recall the time that the basketball game depended on my very scanty freethrow skills. He couldn't look from the coaches bench, but I made the shot. I remember how he was the first to see the brilliance in my youngest child who has had a number of learning difficulties to overcome. I remember the room divider he built from a picture I saw in a teen magazine. Rather than 2 by 4's he used thinner wood and the thing leaned dangerously and drunkenly around my bedroom as we laughed. I remember when he tried to put in ceiling tiles in an attic room. The hot Texas sun melted the adhesive and the tiles hung crazily from the ceiling. And we laughed. Bad jokes, puns, his enduring love and talent for playing trumpet. His stories of playing in big bands to work his way through SMU, his stories of meeting Bush 41 as a customer returning oil field supplies and getting cussed out when he told him noall that lingers as a thin ghost of his career in sales. Dad's patriotism, his interest in politics and his faith are all key things that I can recall. Even now I see his face, animated and talking- always The Consummate Salesman. I remember his love of chocolate and how he always had candy, even when he visited to watch the boys play football and soccer. I remember he loved my mom and he and I went shopping together every Christmas and Mother's Day. He sent her flowers and chocolate covered cherries and stayed even when times were bad. And there were bad times. When I was going through the cards after he died, there were messages from secretaries and office managers and customers that had known Dad for decades fondly recalling how he charmed them with his jokes and candy. And those memories hurt because they are gone and there's a hole inside that just won't be filled.

I don't think most people realize the hole left in kids whose fathers are absent. Whether due to lack of interest or travel or military responsibilities, kids who don't have fathers have holes in their lives. Fathers are often the ones who set limits, they often are willing to compete and to have fun. Fathers encourage daughters to be women of self-reliance, they encourage boys to stand on their own. We have a generation of children who are raised by women, and this is a brave cause, but children need men in their lives as well. Fatherhood isn't celebrated as much as Motherhood. I suppose, as with the matriarchal nature of Jewish heritage, this is because, you always known your mother. But Fatherhood should be important. Our young men need to know that they aren't just sperm donors and that their contributions in raising families and building character in children is just as essential as the nurturing recieved from mothers. I pity the children who have fathers who are absent emotionally or physically, and I pity the fathers who often try to reconnect years later when so much time was wasted and has passed.

Although he annoys me politically, I have always loved Cat Stevens songs. The lyrics of "So Very Young" and "Cat's In The Cradle" from the album Tea For The Tillerman express that need for Fathers so vividly. Those songs speak so clearly on the issues of Fatherhood and of Fatherhood Lost and Found. I didn't write this to depress people, or to lecture. I supposed it's a cautionary tale. Don't take the Father in your life, whether husband, brother, father or son, for granted. They are holding up half the world, just as Mothers do. Both are important.

In memory and love of my Dad, who died on Christmas 2002. I hate to say it, but at first I thought it was deliberate of him to "choose" to die on Christmas, to ruin the holiday for the rest of our family's lives, but now I know he had no choice and the only thing he really wanted was to be sure that we would remember him. I won't forget. Don't you forget either.

Cats in the Cradle
by Harry Chapin
A child arrived just the other dayHe came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, "I’m gonna be like you, Dad, You know I’m gonna be like you"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we'll get together then,
You know we'll have a good time then.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on lets playcan you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do"
He said "Thats okay"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said "I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then,You know we'll have a good time then.
Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
You know we'll have a good time then.
I’ve long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said "Id like to see you if you don’t mind
"He said "Id love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It's sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It's been sure nice talking to you........
"And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me..............
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Son, I dont know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
We're gonna have a good time then.