My Mother the Teacher – a reprise

The following post was written seven years ago while my mother was still alive. We lost her on early Christmas morning a couple of years later. Since two weeks ago was National Teacher Appreciation Week and today being Mother’s Day, this post seemed fitting to revisit.

When one of the boys I was coaching in baseball found out my mother had been his teacher, he said immediately about the sweetest woman I know, “Your mother is mean.” I asked him why he would say that and he said my mother put his desk up front by her desk. Now, if you remember anything about teachers, you know when a teacher does this she is beyond her last straw. I also knew the boy was more animated than others in practice and would not listen very well. When I mentioned this later to my mother, she said, “He was a real pill.”

Teaching is a hard job. It can be very rewarding, but it also can be very thankless. My mother has always been a teacher, whether as a second (or first) grade teacher, as a substitute or as a bible study teacher. She would spend (and still does at age 83) hours preparing her lessons and, in the case of elementary school, grading papers. In her paying job, she probably worked ten to twelve hours days. Some might say, teachers get summer off, but they work a week after school is out and a few weeks before every one comes back. But, when you add up the hours, they can rival most year-round employment jobs.

However, because they are relatively low paid, especially in my state of North Carolina where we are 46th in teacher pay, many work summer jobs as well. Our state is trying to remedy the problem it created with frozen budgets and cutbacks on additional pay for masters degrees. Teachers have been voting with their feet leaving the state and the Moral Monday protests added a large voice to that of teachers to shame the legislators into doing something. They are still arguing over this as of this writing.

Yet, through this process, teachers have not been shown the respect they have earned. Of course, there are some poor teachers. But for the large part, my experience has been with very dedicated professionals. And, they also take the blame for things outside of their control. My mother would tell you that it does take a village to raise and educate a child. A good teacher cannot do the parent’s job. It needs to be a team effort between the teacher, parents, counselors and teacher assistants. Also, volunteers help, in a large way, especially if there is not enough teacher assistants to cover the classes.

But, you may have noticed I used the plural of parents. The dilemma these days is if you looked at the demographics of classrooms, the number of kids with divorced parents would not be insignificant. Further, the number of those kids with only one parent in their relationship would not be inconsequential, especially in high poverty schools. In the volunteer work I do for homeless families, there is a significant percentage of single parent families. Divorced or single parent families make it tougher on the kids.

A couple of years ago, I tutored two fifth graders in math. They were interesting and attentive little girls who asked for help in writing. This blew me away. One had ten people and three generations in her house and the other had seven people. Each had a heavy list of chores beyond the normal 5th grader, so school work was difficult to fit in. The nice part is a school counselor was working with the teachers and parents to help these girls keep up. Since English was their second language, word math problems gave them trouble, as did geometry, but that can give anyone nightmares. We worked through their issues and they passed.

Seeing my mother with my kids and my nieces and nephews, she has the patience of Job. She embodies what teachers are all about. They want to help people and take great pride when the children learn and can apply their learnings to something else. In Finland, teaching is one of their most honored professions. Their brightest aspire to these roles and are given the freedom to teach. They are paid well and Finland routinely ranks high in education achievement.

We should value people like my mother. They make such a huge difference in our kids’ lives. They did in my life, as well. So, big shout outs to Mr. Batten, Ms. Bowden, Ms. Regan, Ms. Shrout, Mr. Brickell and countless others. Thanks for teaching me. And, the biggest thanks go to Mom. You are my first and best teacher. I love you, Mom.

The Mighty Casey – a tribute to a great teacher

The following post was written about eight years ago in tribute to a college professor. As my mother was a teacher for years, I have a great affinity for all teachers, but especially the ones who go beyond the call. We should especially honor teachers who are risking their health by reopening their classrooms in these strange times.

Queen Latifah, whose mother was a teacher, is hosting a documentary show called “Teach.” The show highlights the passion, caring, capability and tenacity of several teachers at various grade levels. Peppered throughout the show, are small segments where actors and others come into view and highlight teachers that made a difference to them. It caused my wife and I to reflect on the teachers that meant so much to us. I had several in my K-12 years, but I wanted to highlight one from my college days, as I had his classes several times. I will call him The Mighty Casey, which is actually a nickname from another venue. More on that later.

Teachers come in all forms, shapes, and styles. Some are more demonstrative than others, while some are fairly studious even in front of a class. The Mighty Casey was actually more of the latter. He had a great sense of humor, yet did not use it as part of his teaching method. He was interesting beyond his subject matter skills (more on that later), but did not use those interests as props in his lectures. His gift was his magnificent ability to explain complex things for many to understand. And, if you did not get it, he was very generous with his time after classes to help you understand. He was quite genuine and approachable. This man, who could have had a large-size ego on exhibit due his reputation and authoring of books and papers, was not one to condescend and make you feel stupid.

We even drafted him to play on our basketball team at the college, which may have been the worst team ever. As one of our departing gifts at graduation, we framed a quizzical picture of him in a rag-tag basketball shirt. I reflect on that with an open question – how many students would give a picture of their favorite professor wearing a ill-fitting basketball shirt? But, that was part of who The Mighty Casey was and is. His love of sports was a reason behind the nickname he chose for a radio sports talk show he used to call into.

The DJ had a quiz format at the end of each radio show. Over a period of months which turned into years, when the questions were not answered by any listeners, our professor would call in and correctly answer the question. Instead of giving his real name, he chose the nickname “The Mighty Casey.” Many Americans know the reference to the Mighty Casey, from a baseball poem about a hero who strikes out to end the game called “Casey at the Bat” written in 1888 by Ernest Thayer. But, our professor rarely struck out. He became so proficient, he became the go-to guy on tough questions, not unlike his ability to explain complex topics to students. When the DJ needed to conclude the quiz part of the show when it ran long, the DJ would ask if “The Mighty Casey,”  “Casey” or even “Case” was listening. He usually was and would call in and answer the question correctly. And, it was not unusual for him to provide some deeper context to the events around a question.

Not using his name on the sports quiz show is a look into the character of this great teacher. He did not desire the acclaim for his name. He just loved to share what he knew so others could learn. I think that is the best way to think of him. His joy was helping people learn. He did not want people to only know the answer. He wanted people to be able to solve for the next answer using what he taught them. The Mighty Casey was a mentor and teacher to many. He made a huge difference to my career and life. His patience, understanding and love of learning and teaching are remembered well by many people.

Thank you – The Mighty Casey. You did not strike out when it mattered the most. All the best to you and your family. Readers, please feel free to share your favorites and why. I would love to hear your stories.

Please do not rewrite history – there is too much to learn (a still needed reprise)

The following post was written about six years ago. Unfortunately, the white washing of US history continues as would typically be done in more autocratic regimes. If we do not bother to know history, we are destined to repeat it, especially by some who do not want us to know.

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missing a key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and right a wrong.

I have written before about May 35 which is a real reference to an imaginary date. Per the attached article in the New York Times, it is a reference to what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989, which has been expunged from Chinese history, including internet search references to that date. So, to make sure the Chinese kids remember this protest which was brutally squashed by the Chinese army, historians established a May 35 web link.*

I mention this extreme, as we must know our history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Here are few things we must never forget and constantly remind ourselves and question the why, the where, the what, the when and the how around these issues. If we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes.

– our forefathers did not give women the right to vote in our US Constitution. This was not remedied until 1921 after a significant and building level of women protests.

– our forefathers did not disallow slavery, but to give the southern states more clout agreed to count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Slavery was not outlawed until near the end of the Civil War in 1865.

– our ancestors conducted a war on Native Americans who would not play ball to let settlers live amongst them as we seized their land. These tribal leaders were constantly lied to, mislead and slaughtered in some cases. Eventually, we made tribes move to designated areas for their own protection.

– during the industrial revolution, business tycoons exploited everyone and everything to make their profits. These folks were called Robber Barons and it took a concentrated effort of President Teddy Roosevelt to make sure Americans got a Square Deal. The traits of these Robber Barons can be found today in major funders of political elections who want to win and do away with those pesky regulations around job safety, pay equity, and environment, etc. that get in their way.

– one of our greatest Presidents in FDR confessed later his chagrin over having to place Japanese Americans into guarded camps during World War II. It was a malpractice on the rights of Americans and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

– we remain the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on people and did it twice. While we may understand the rationale, as bringing a Japanese surrender would have been a horribly bloody affair, we need to learn from this and never, ever let it come to this again.

– although slavery ended 100 years earlier, it took a major effort of protests and marches to bring codified rights of equality to African-Americans ending a long period of Jim Crow laws and the killing and maltreatment of people of color. This racism still festers in our country, but we need to shed a spotlight when we see poor behavior, such as the masked Voter ID laws that usually carry Jim Crow like provisions.

– one of the reasons Iranians do not trust Americans is in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow a Democratically elected leader to establish the Shah of Iran who was supportive of the US. The Shah was overthrown by rebellion in 1979. My guess is over 95% of Americans are not aware this happened. Why do they hate us so much, many may ask?

– one President came very close to being impeached, only saving himself from this fate when he resigned. President Nixon used to say “I am not a crook.” Mr. Nixon, you are wrong. You are a crook and ran a burglary ring from the White House, had a dirty deeds campaign to discredit Edmund Muskie forcing him to resign his campaign, and had an enemies list who you spied on with the help of J. Edgar Hoover.  While you did some good things, you got less than what you deserved as you dishonored the White House and dozens of your compatriots went to jail, including your two key advisors.

– we supported folks like Osama Bin Laden to help repel the Soviet army from Afghanistan (watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Once the Soviets left, we left these folks high and dry and the country fell apart. After 9/11, when we had a chance to get Bin Laden, we let him get away. To save face, President Bush led the invasion of an old nemesis in Saddam Hussein under the premise he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This information was fabricated from misdirection that Hussein used to let his enemies think he was more powerful than he was. We have been paying for this invasion for twelve years and will still pay for it with ISIS, who was formed from the police force we helped fire. Our weariness from the wars also led President Obama to pull troops from Iraq leaving the country less stable and underestimate the problem in Syria. A historian notes we overreacted to 9/11 and underreacted to Syria, as a result..

I could go on, but we need to remember all of these moments. We have a great country, but it is an imperfect one. We must learn from these events and avoid repeating mistakes and instead emphasize the equality of all Americans. If we forget our history, then we will not learn from our mistakes and do them again. A good example is fighting an elongated unwinnable war in Vietnam. The same thing happened in Iraq. We owe it to our soldiers to have a set strategy and a definition of what winning looks like. This is their message to our leaders – we do not mind fighting for our country, but give us support and an end goal.

Do not let anyone whitewash history. We need to know the good, the bad and the ugly, as all three are there to be found. We need to avoid the need for May 35th.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/global/24iht-june24-ihtmag-hua-28.html?_r=0eal

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?

What I care about – a note received

I shared that my local newspaper published my letter to the editor whose theme was “Listen to the truthtellers.” I included the letter in a recent post. Today, I received a very gracious letter from someone I do not know thanking me for my letter and “taking a stand and for expressing my views publicly.”

Attached to the letter was a summary prepared by John Pavlovitz (see link below) entitled “What I care about.” I thought I would share that summary below:

“I care that families are being separated.
I care that medical bills are bankrupting people.
I care that we’re drowning in guns and daily shootings.
I care that we’re talking about an asinine multi-billion border wall that won’t solve a crisis, even if there were one – and there isn’t one.
I care that our climate is changing and our planet is warming and our environment being degraded ad we have politicians who see science as an adversary.
I care that this Administration solicited and welcomed foreign interference in a Presidential election.
I care that voter suppression and gerrymandering are making it almost impossible for poor people and people of color to be heard and represented.
I care that racists march without hoods now, that elementary school teachers dress up like border walls, that wrestling coaches cut off a man’s dreadlocks in public.
I care that our President is mentally unfit to lead, and that he is buffeted by a group of professional enablers who know he is unfit and defend him anyway.
I care that every single day brings new legislative attacks on people who are already pushed to the brink.
I care that we have accused predators in the White House and on the Supreme Court.
I care that Muslims are caricatured into terrorists, migrants into advancing hordes, and LGBTQ people into imminent threats, by our elected leaders.
I care about families and sick people and underpaid teachers and hungry kids and unpaid Federal workers and transgendered teenagers – and the millions of beautiful, vibrant, disparate human beings who are daily endangered by the leadership of this country.

That’s what I care about.”

This list boils down many concerns to one piece of paper. It is worth the read and reaction. Let me know your thoughts.

Note: At the bottom of the summary is a quote from Neil Carter, “Why are we voting into office men who don’t even accept basic principles of biology, geology, immunology, and astronomy, and who believe we don’t have to preserve our planet’s natural resources.”

The weblink to Pavlovitz’s blog is as follows:

https://johnpavlovitz.com/

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

Stop in Nevada

“And she doesn’t know what’s comin’ but she’s sure of what she’s leaving behind,” sings Billy Joel in “Stop in Nevada.” This lyric is pertinent as a stop in Nevada would reveal the only state with a female majority in the stafe legislature.

And, it works well. Nevada has far more bipartisan legislation than any other state. The women legislators find common ground and show men the path forward. As 49% of the state house consists of men, their votes are needed to pass legislation.

The women represent both parties. They socialize and do community service and events together. Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy and Democrat Selena Torres sat for an interview on CBS Saturday Morning News. These two have worked across the aisle to push a bill to improve education.

Hardy said. “I think it has been the most incredible experience of my life,” Torres noted, “I know we have over 90% bipartisanship on the bills passed so far.”

This is what our country needs more of. We need representation that looks like America. Two states I won’t mention have only 15% and 17% female membership in their legislatures. It is important to increase those percentages as women tend to be the primary healthcare giver of the family and make up a higher percentage of teachers. So, dinner table issues of medical bills and education will get more weight.

I also believe women will help us break through zero-sum politicking (I must win and you must lose). It should be noted it took ten female US Senators to avoid the US defaulting on its debts in October 2013 after the government was shut down. This last minute effort was highly commendable and a relief to the male leaders who could not stop their posturing long enough to keep us from driving off a cliff.

We must work together to solve problems. We must demand our politicians do the same, otherwise they are shouting at the wind or come up with extreme versions of laws. I am enthused by the new majority in Nevada as well as the wave of women who won US House seats last fall.

I hope they can break down barriers. The US Congress removed an area where legislators socialized across party lines. Now, about 40% of their time is doing fundraising phone calls, per a retired Congressman. It is hard to work on anything, much less biparisan laws, when you don’t take the time figure out how to pass laws together. Maybe, just maybe, these women will change that paradigm.

Small colleges, large growth

This past week my wife and I attended our daughter’s senior project presentation. She did a marvelous job, showing equal parts poise and command of her material, to well-mask her nervousness. Her professors thought so as well giving her an A on her presentation.

Our daughter attends a small college with about 900 students. She has truly come into her own here, knowing her professors and advisors and having a terrific cadre of friends and associates. She has been involved with several campus groups and is now co-captain of the climbing team.

She has done well making the honor roll each semester, even as she modified her majors, minors and concentrations. She is her own person and diplomatically and eloquently pushes back when she does not care for every part of your argument. She has become a keen observer of protecting our environment and civil rights.

We are so very proud of the young woman and person she has become. As high schoolers and their parents look at colleges and universities, I would encourage them to find the right fit for them. Maybe a big place will be the right fit, but for some, they may get lost. For my daughter, a small college has been profound. She has grown immensely.

 

Everyone needs a Joe

Everyone needs a Joe in their life. You know the person. The one who is curious in learning and sincerely knowing what is going on in your life. The one who can talk with your kids as easily as he or she talks with you.

Joe’s are the kind of people who end up being teachers because of that desire to help others grow. The one who is the teacher that cares about the kids more than anything. Joe may dress and act in an eclectic manner, but is as down to earth as it comes. Joe would give you the shirt off his or her back if you needed it.

Joe is the kind of person who gets animated about upbringing, travels, or subject matter interests. A rapt storyteller is Joe which is a key part of the charming person. When Joe gets going, his or her voice can fill a room.

We had a Joe, but his body gave out on him after only 61 years. Too many car accidents left his body in pain and his big heart likely gave out on him after so much medication for too many years. He was my wife’s brother and left a lasting imprint on more than a few. He loved teaching science and married his soulmate after two earlier marriages went awry. His wife was also a teacher having just retired. It is a shame Joe won’t be with her in this physical world. He leaves three children who love hiking and the environment like their Dad.

Bless you Joe. Our Thanksgiving table will have a huge gap, just like our lives as we carry on without you. But, we will remember you forever.

Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.