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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

One of Nashville’s favorite Hockey players, Predator’s Viktor Arvidsson, was recently signed to a seven year contract for 29.75 MILLION dollars! All he’s got to do is show up and have fun. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/cover-story/article/20999248/viktor-victorious-an-interview-with-viktor-arvidsson

You don’t have to attend college to play hockey, you just have to be born with some natural talent and determination. And the juxtaposition of that almost 30 million contract next to the starting salary of 30 thousand a year for our teachers (the same educators some think we should train in firearms) says volumes.

In many states across the country, public school teachers are organizing for a living wage and better conditions for their students after years of funding cuts.

” For K-12 expenditures, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that in 29 states, total state funding per student was lower in the 2015 school year than in the 2008 school year in real terms. In Arizona, spending per student was down an astonishing 36.6 percent; in Oklahoma, it had dropped 15.6 percent; in Kentucky, 5.9 percent.”

Why is this union walk-out different? Because teachers aren’t just looking for a pay hike; they want well-maintained, not crumbling buildings, they want a smaller student-teacher ratio, they want every student to have up-to-date textbooks. This did not just happen overnight or after our 2008 “recession;” I recall outsourcing janitorial staff in the 90s to save money. Property taxes were funding everything from an increasing need for special education staff and transportation, to maintaining teachers’ rising pensions and medical benefits.

In TN, teachers can expect a starting salary of $36,402. Of course you don’t risk loosing your teeth due to pedagogy, and you don’t have quite as much down time as say a hockey player. But you are expected to furnish the ever-present supply of tissues and Purell, pencils and paper, and the patience of a saint. It’s no wonder there’s a teaching shortage – even when both partners are working, it’s nearly impossible to provide for a family of four on a teacher’s salary.

“Inherit the Wind” was playing down the road at the Nashville Repertory Theater, so Bob and I braved the cold and Lyfted over to see a play about a man who was trying to teach evolution to his high school science students. Based on the real “Scopes Monkey Trial” that took place in 1925 just east of here in Dayton, TN, the courtroom battle between science and religion ran in almost every newspaper in the country and around the world.

The ACLU was challenging passage of the Butler Act earlier that year; “The Butler Act forbid the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical story of Creationism. By teaching that man had descended from apes, the theory of evolution, Scopes was charged with breaking the law.”

The play was turned into a famous movie in the 50s in partial reaction to the McCarthy hearings. But the playwrights were more concerned with our “right to think,” rather than a battle between evangelicalism and facts. Still, this anti-intellectualism is alive and well today at a time when almost 40% of the American people still believe in Creationism.

On the brighter side, since the election there’s been a growing resistance to Trumpist ideology; red states are electing their first blue legislators in years, students are leading the country fighting gun violence and the NRA, and the #MeToo movement has ushered in a new wave of feminism.

The more Mr T chips away at fundamental human rights in the name of personal and corporate greed, the more WOKE our citizens are becoming; it would seem that critical-thinking skills are thankfully still being taught in our schools. My generation started a sea change in the fabric of American society, now it’s up to our children’s generation to repair some of this past year’s damage. And young voters are registering in record numbers!

After all, who doesn’t want to save the polar bear’s ice? Or is ice hockey more important than the Antarctic? Granted, the 24 year old “R-V” Predator seems like a great guy, and who doesn’t love a good hockey game? Are they both mutually exclusive?

Meanwhile, remember our cherry tree the Love Bug was climbing? It’s in full pink pom-pom bloom despite freezing temperatures.

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The Bride and the Original Groom are trying to decide if the Love Bug should start Kindergarten early. On the one hand she IS ready, but on the other hand she would be among the youngest in her class. With her summer birthday she is just two weeks shy of the deadline for turning five. Oh, and she would be the tallest.

Right before our four year old Bug was scheduled to stroll across the lawn throwing flowers this month at Uncle Dave and Aunt KiKi’s wedding, my daughter was having second thoughts. Maybe this is too much, she might suffer from performance anxiety. She might refuse to walk, or stop mid-stream and run away, or maybe just collapse in a puddle of tears. These things have been known to happen. Like me, my daughter likes to examine every scenario before plunging into deep water.

Probably she was remembering her own walk down an apple orchard hill to her Groom. Her flower girl at the time, three year old cousin V, was so immersed in her task, it took her quite awhile to find the Officiant, her Grandpa Hudson. V was steadfast in her circuitous route, and eventually placed flowers on Hudson’s feet! It was a magical beginning. So spontaneously, the Bride asked our little flower girl if she wanted her to walk alongside her as she was throwing her petals.

“No Mom, I’ve got this!” the Love Bug said. And she pushed her little hand out, palm up in the universal sign of “Talk to the Hand.”

And I thought of my four year old Bride, who always stood with her hands on her hips. The leader of her pre-school pack, a determined future collector of bottle caps on the schoolyard playground, and later, much later a healer of any and all people, young and old, rich and poor.

Our little flower girl did an outstanding job!

When educators evaluate a child’s readiness for school, their ability to listen and take direction, to be attentive, is rather low on today’s list. In fact, it’s rated #9 of the “Ten Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs:” right after #8 “Reading Readiness,” and #7 “Cutting,” aka playing with scissors.

# 9 Attention and Following Directions
Read lots of stories with your child and work up to reading longer chapter books, one chapter each night or as long as she remains interested and focused.
Give your child two and three step directions. For example: “put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and pick a book to read.”
Play Simon Says with two or three step directions. For example: “Simon Says jump up and down and shout hooray.”
 https://www.education.com/magazine/article/kindergarten-readiness-secrets/ 

But I wonder if maybe we should be evaluating the parents’ readiness to part with their child for Kindergarten. Some parents never do, and home-school their children. Some parents wait a year, until their child is six or even seven to start Kindergarten, particularly for their sons. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out in his book “Blink,” this gives a boy the decided advantage in sports. He will be among the biggest, and strongest of his team members. The advantage to waiting for a girl is not so clear.

Will the Bug become a world-class volleyball player? She loves gymnastics, and enjoyed ballet lessons. I remember dancing with the young Bride every year in the Nutcracker with the Berkshire Ballet. Traipsing out to Becket, MA with her for Friends of Jacob’s Pillow meetings. Wanting her to love dance the way that I loved movement of every kind. But one day she came to me and said, “I can’t take any more ballet lessons.” She had too much homework, and she was riding horses at a stable near our home. She was almost afraid to tell me since she knew how much dance meant to me, and she also knew this would not be her passion.

Parents cannot see into the future, we can only take our best guess when we make life-altering decisions. In hindsight, I wish I had held the Rocker back a year for Kindergarten, until he was six, but then would he have become such a talented musician? Would his life have taken a different path? At times like these it’s best to turn to your heart and read poetry, like Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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Call me crazy, but yesterday I picked up the latest, golden-colored Atlantic magazine with a picture of the Donald on the cover. “The Mind of Donald Trump” is the cover story, all about how a psychologist would dissect the Trump brain, what makes him tick. Since he had recently entered my dream life, yes folks, Donald gave me six million dollars for a book deal, In. My. Dreams., I figured I owed myself a reckoning. But I didn’t read that story, I read the one about kids, and achievement, and toxic stress. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

It seems we are now a country with more than 50% of children living below the poverty line, requiring free or reduced lunches at public schools. Once I got over that shocker, I read on…educators are looking beyond standardized test scores to predict why some poor kids fail and some thrive in school. They are looking into the character traits that contribute to a child’s academic success…

“…often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.”

In other words, who has true grit? Lo and behold, research has shown that this stuff cannot exactly be taught. It takes a combination of forces, all environmental (although if you ask me, nature plays an important role here as well) that combine in the right way during early childhood, and can be enhanced by a certain pedagogy. And most importantly, if a child is raised with “toxic stress,” he or she will adapt to school in a way that makes learning nearly impossible. They will close off and become “behavior” problems.

Toxic stress is defined as severe and chronic stress, the kind a child living in poverty is more likely to encounter. Is it safe for them to play in the street, or walk to school? Do they see loved ones routinely, are they consistent when they do ? Are they hungry, can they sleep at night? Are their needs being met? Imagine a child growing up in Syria, or Chicago. Stress baths a developing brain with all the wrong signals.

In a way, they are learning not to trust the world, or anyone in it.

“When those signals suggest that life is going to be hard, the network reacts by preparing for trouble: raising blood pressure, increasing the production of adrenaline, heightening vigilance. Neuroscientists have shown that children living in poverty experience more toxic stress than middle-class children, and that additional stress expresses itself in higher blood pressure and higher levels of certain stress hormones.”

Yesterday I also got a note from the Bride telling me that a certain Principal was moving from their neighborhood school to a magnet school. Yes, in Nashville there are public elementary schools where one can be immersed in Chinese and learn to stand and speak in class, into a microphone, with impunity. Students grow their own veggies and feed into the very best high school. The problem is getting into those schools is a matter of luck – it’s a lottery system. Which in my mind seems cruel and unusual.

It’s one thing to abandon “No Child Left Behind,” which arguably didn’t work anyway, but then to offer the best practices at only some schools in the country is a piecemeal approach to the problem. Fostering a feeling of belonging, a willingness to learn and resilience almost always comes down to each individual teacher.

Let’s train and teach our educators, ALL of them, to foster true grit in their classrooms. Failure is OK, keep trying. Don’t say to the boys who sit at the back of the class with their caps pulled down covering their eyes, “We know who the losers are in this class.” Let’s make every school magnetic, with high expectations for every student and : “…less lecture time; fewer repetitive worksheets; more time spent working in small groups, solving problems, engaging in discussions, and collaborating on long-term creative projects. It’s a style of teaching and classroom organization that is relatively common in independent schools and in wealthy suburbs but quite unusual in inner-city public schools.”

School is almost out for the summer. It’s time to raise a child who feels her or his world is a safe place. Let’s work on our children’s resilience this year, a little indomitable spirit never hurt anyone. It’s takes a piece of grit to create a pearl.  IMG_4265Yesterday, the sun came out.

 

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There was a time in my life in NJ, when I had to renew myself. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a Mom, but ripping me out of the beautiful Berkshires, where my babies were born, left me adrift in suburbia. I didn’t fit in.

People in the North ask you, “Where did you move from?” People in the South ask you, “What church do you belong to?” Neither move had an acceptable answer, since I don’t go to church, and when I told my NJ acquaintances that we had lived in Pittsfield, MA, the resounding reaction was why the hell did I move to Central NJ?

For my husband’s job? To be closer to our family? Partially true.

Up until that point I’d been coasting along. Marry your high school sweetheart – check. Maybe not at the age of 30 after many years of Woodstock and Westchester, but hey, I was a late bloomer. I felt connected to the Berkshires, I started writing there and made friends that would last a lifetime. There was something about the New England character that spoke to me, something deep.

I kept a saying on my Jersey refrigerator, “Bloom where you’re planted,” and i tried to grow roots.

So I got a job writing at a weekly newspaper, I joined a beach club and ran for the school board. I started working on a Master’s Degree at Monmouth College (now “University”). I ran around trying to get my new suburban life started. And then one day my professor asked me to attend an educational symposium and my editor asked me to write about it too. Some dots were connecting.

That’s where I met and interviewed Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard. They were fresh off the buzz of Dead Poets Society and I wish I could link you to my article but we weren’t online in the early 90s. I do remember one thing that Hawke said to those teenagers, “Don’t wait around for your life to start, it’s happening right now.”

In light of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve been thinking about that movie. He played the English teacher we all wish we had in high school – and in fact, I did have Miss Flanagan who was phenomenal. I wish you had waited Robin, just a little, to see that your life still has so much meaning, that you brought such beauty and laughter to us all.

“Poetry beauty romance life, these are what we stay alive for…you may contribute a verse…the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse…”

“What will your verse be?”         

 

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At some point, we will all become teachers. Some of us have the gift, others will struggle. Patience is a prerequisite.

Great Grandma Ada is not afraid of technology, she embraced the iPad with her usual flair. The Rocker put a picture of the Love Bug on her home page and we downloaded the NYTimes. I taught her how to use the Notes App, and Bob explained the fine points of email. Then the Bride put her Great Grandbaby right into her hands…virtually.

Is FaceTime great or what?

While we were in NJ, teaching Ada the finer points of iPad, our little Bug was in Nashville learning how to clap her hands. Her Dad was playing his music as usual, and out of the blue her arms opened wide. She’d already started dancing, bouncing and swaying to the beat, but this was new, real clapping!

And I thought of all the possibilities all the joy all the sheer number of “things” this beautiful baby girl has ahead of her to learn. She is a perpetual student of life, much like her Great Grandmother. And experiencing this through my daughter’s eyes is magical.

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Last night the humidity broke and I met three friends on the historic pedestrian mall for shrimp and grits, perfect almost summer evening. As we picked a little, we talked a little about the latest scandal in this university town. On Sunday the UVA Board of Visitors announced a parting of the ways with our beloved President, Teresa Sullivan. Less than 2 years into her 5 year contract, it came as a shock to faculty, students and the community at large. People were talking about how they waited for graduation, for people to disperse around the world on their summer programs, and that fact, that lack of transparency, is what is still setting our little city on simmer.

The official reason, as stated in letters to faculty (full disclosure, Bob got one) was that they were experiencing “philosophical differences.” However, in a bold reporting move our little freebie weekly http://www.readthehook.com/104213/cabal-hall-why-does-darden-trump-carrs-hill dug up some new Albemarle red clay dirt. Her departure was “… less a mutual agreement and more of a palace coup orchestrated by alumni and friends of the Darden School.” Now Darden is the Business School here in Mr Jefferson’s village; it is quite exclusive competitive and sits high on a hill overlooking the university. Needless to say, many of the strings the Board has to pull come from behind the Darden curtain where alums of the $50,000 a year program go on to become 1 percenters in big time financial fields where money and power collide.

What makes a good university president? My brother Mike, the former President and General Manager of an NFL team once told me it takes “ruthlessness.” I may have said this before, but I’ll always remember that. He had dropped out of college to start working in the sports field, and was now teaching a business course at the University of Minnesota. Unlike Mitt, my brother truly was a Horatio Alger story. I was visiting the Flapper who had been relocated to a beautiful lakeside condo nearby for her golden years. In true outlier fashion, Mike said that every great university president has to have the connections and bring in capital; ruthlessness is what it takes to make money. But a media scholar here asks, “What does she (the Board’s Rector) want? … a top flight scholar and administrator with a sterling reputation who’s able to gather support from every constituency in the university?…If she wants that, she just fired her.” So who’s right? And what was Sullivan’s crime? It’s only in the last decade we’ve seen women rise to the very pinnacles of ivy towers, and maybe the formula for educational excellence has to shift.

And in yet another local university news headline, lawyers for the Lacrosse player who beat Yeardley Love’s head against a wall are asking for a change of venue in the civil case her mother has brought against him. He was found guilty in the criminal case if you recall; this is a “Wrongful Death” suit claiming 30 Million in damages from her daughter’s ex-boyfriend’s reckless indifference in leaving Yeardley, after beating her, to die. Love’s mother has recently filed a second law suit for 30 Million naming the “…Commonwealth of Virginia, University of Virginia head men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, associate coach Marc van Arsdale and UVa Athletics Director Craig Littlepage as defendants.” I don’t know, do you think the media frenzy the Lacrosse case has engendered means our fair citizens cannot come to a fair opinion? I think Cvillians want to know the facts. For instance, did the President mishandle this high profile case? I don’t think so. Were her sympathies with the student-led “Living Wage” campaign? And if so, good for her! Philosophical or financial, everyone is agreed, Mr Jefferson’s Academical Village has suffered some major blows. http://www.cavalierdaily.com/

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We all have our defining moments. I’m sure Jung, Freud and Dr Phil have a word for them, those watershed episodes in our histories that help to forge our collective character. And for many of us, high school was the battlefield for our very souls. I came straight out of Sacred Heart elementary school into a public high school and found my safe center, my clique with the drama club. You can’t tell me that you don’t remember the “pranks” you pulled, I won’t believe you. I distinctly remember a rumor was started about me, although I don’t really remember what it was about. I just knew it wasn’t true, and found out who started it.

One day during a play rehearsal in the auditorium, I saw the girl who started the rumor in the darkened audience. I walked down the stage stairs and over to her, and as I’m typing this I can feel my heart start racing a little. I stood so close to her I could smell her breath, it smelled like tuna fish. I told her in a very strong, loud voice, “If you have something to say to me, then SAY IT TO MY FACE!” She looked sick, and started backing away from me as if I’d struck her but I hadn’t touched her at all. This may sound lame today, but believe me back in the early 60s girls never raised their voices. It wasn’t ladylike. I felt good, in fact I felt better than good. The Flapper had taught me well. It was an early defining moment for me.

So I have to think that Mitt is lying, just out and out shook up his Etch-a-Sketch and wants to start over. How does one forget holding another boy down on the ground with a group and cutting off his hair? Granted Mitt may not have known he was a gay kid, because back then we didn’t even know about gay kids, or adults for that matter, but he saw him as “different,” as a victim and pounced. And we might forgive him for his teenage testosterone temper; but for acting like he can’t remember the incident, for lying? I think not. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kerry-kennedy/mitt-romney-bullying-human-rights_b_1514273.html?ref=new-york

Today’s news from Richmond is that in the dead of night (actually 1 am this morning) the GOP leadership overwhelmingly voted to reject nominating its special Prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland for a judgeship.
http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/virginia-politics/2012/may/15/12/house-of-delegates-rejects-thorne-begland-for-judg-ar-1914948/

Why? Because he’s gay, and would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Now we all know these things are usually pre-approved and are only given up to the House of Delegates for a symbolic vote, so something went wrong in our state last night.
“The rejection of Mr. Thorne-Begland shows that discrimination based on sexual orientation is alive and well in Virginia,” Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax, said in a statement after the vote in the House of Delegates. “And, it shows that legislators are more concerned about the Family Foundation scorecard than Richmond’s District Court.”

What really bothers me – “Ten Republican delegates abstained and 26 delegates, including a handful of Democrats, did not vote.” So we have a bunch of scared people over in Richmond, like those who would stand by and watch someone being humiliated for fear of retaliation. And this leaves me with a sick taste in my mouth. Cowardly is not an adjective I associate with leadership. We need to make our voices heard this November Virginia, it’s going to be another defining moment. We may need to shout!

In this picture in my old kitchen, I’ve just received a graduate degree in education. I was serving as a member of the Rumson High School Board of Education, dealing with pranks among many other things. The Bride was in college and the Rocker was a high school Freshman. He is already taller than us…it seems like ages ago, and yesterday.

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