Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You Talk Bad

a few examples

Age is a funny thing. My youthful idealism is still intact. My belief that people should help others when they can is sound. Live and let live, don’t judge a book by its cover, everyone deserves a second chance… these and many other ideals continue to help guide my daily life. But, one virtue that I have never had an over-abundance of has been on the wane for a few years now.

I have lost patience with language abusers.

The normal annoyances afflict me, as they do many others. Like people who don’t know the difference, or don’t care about the difference between “your” and “you’re”. I realize we’re all busy, but, when did it become so hard to understand where and when an apostrophe is to be used? Or, those who use words like “irregardless”, or people who use the term “at the end of the day” more than once in a conversation when describing a time when all dialogue has been exhausted. Things like this make me yell at my TV or computer screen.

But, what really makes my head swim is more insidious than these rather benign examples of linguistic fluffery. What really makes me want to palm people on the forehead is turning nouns into verbs, or vice-versa. This is mostly a kid thing, and I have to check myself quite often to avoid the much-deserved passive-aggressive retort.

Let me set the record straight. “Solution” is not a verb. You cannot “solution” a problem. Saying,“that’s a fail.”, That’s “beast” or “that’s epic” MAKES NO SENSE. I know what you mean, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. Everything is not “awesome”. Does that song really make your mouth hang open, speechless and in awe? No? Then, shut up. Referring to someone as having “mad skills” also makes no damn sense. And, I’m quite certain the word “amazing” has taken the top spot in being the most over-used descriptive term we have in our language. Very few things amaze me, certainly not fifteen things I see every day, which is about how often I hear it.

I long for the days when everything was “cool”. Men, women, children, the elderly… all were referred to as “man”. Not knowing the difference between a shizzle and a hizzy doesn’t really affect my daily life, so don’t hurl those terms at me like I’m supposed to be okay with it.

Now, get off my lawn.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Body Mass and You

BMI article

In the district where my children go to school, a new rule was instituted a few years ago. They were to be weighed and their BMI, (Body Mass Index) was to be recorded. I was told by the school nurse, (a really nice woman with a long history of doing her job and doing it well), that the rule was required by the state, and it was little more than a formality.

Which got me thinking. Could it be that, at the state level, someone was really, genuinely concerned about childhood obesity, and instituted this rule so as to gather data, and then do something about it? As much as I would like to believe that… uh, no. Sorry. Can’t.

I know first-hand that the folks in charge of food service in our school district do care, and have instituted policies to help make the transition to healthier choices available to my kids. I know they are working hard to exceed the guidelines set forth for them by the state and federal government. There is still a long way to go, but they are working on it. Because of those guidelines, I was wondering why, then, do we need to send the BMI data on our children to some database where who-knows-who can utilize it?

The paragraph below is complete conjecture and conspiracy-minded theory. I have absolutely no proof of this. Consider yourself warned.

Here’s my guess. Insurance companies will have access to that data. As more and more diseases and afflictions are claimed to be rooted in our American Obesity Lifestyle, insurance companies will be able to use this data for two main reasons. 1.) To boost premiums based on a family’s or individual’s obesity level, and 2.) To be able to deny claims using a childhood BMI rating as sufficient information to declare just about any ailment as a pre-existing condition, because almost every affliction known to humans will eventually be traced to obesity as its cause.

There. I said it.

I was a fat kid, with all of the teasing and being picked last that comes with it. Currently, my triglycerides level is double what is “normal” for a human, (just not one from my family). When I asked my doctor about this, she told me that with levels like mine, it is most likely genetic. I can work out like crazy and eat right, and I’ll still have crazy-high levels.

My kids are built just like me. Low-waisted, thick around the middle, with quick minds and a predilection for sitting down. Their levels will most likely be high as well. My wife and I have been instituting better eating habits in our house, like no starch course at dinner and double, (and sometimes triple), vegetables. But, as the saying goes, you can lead a kid to broccoli, but you may have to sit there a while, cajoling and threatening, to make them eat it. As it stands, their BMIs are not at the level that some council somewhere has set as “normal”. Are they to be penalized as adults? If my predictions are true, they and so many others will be.

Why, then, don’t the people in charge of such things put their efforts into stopping federal corn subsidies, which are the main factor in cheap, abundant corn? With so much corn, farmers don’t know what to do with it all, so they sell it to other companies who process it into… say it with me… high fructose corn syrup. Which is basically sugar, and is in just about EVERYTHING we have available to us in the way of processed foods. That is why we are the only country in the world with fat poor people. It’s cheap, it makes everything taste good, and can be found in every single aisle of the supermarket. The healthier food is in the outer ring. Once you go down an aisle, you’re screwed.

So, to recap… Our government makes the production of highly fattening foods massively cheaper than healthy food. Our airwaves are constantly bombarded with ads for such foods, many of the worst kinds targeted directly at children. Our economic system is hopelessly slanted in favor of wealthy people getting wealthier while poorer people get poorer, forcing them to survive on cheaper, processed foods. And then our kids are admonished for not having a healthier lifestyle and penalized, (in the future, if my predictions come true… come on, you know I’m right), for being “obese” based on the BMI data that was collected when they were young.

How long will it be before that information becomes part of the standardized test data? Will our kids have to worry about being accepted by the college of their choice because of their weight?

I’m getting tired just thinking about all of this. Maybe I need a Snickers. The peanuts and nougat will energize me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Ad Dad

Advertisers know who buys stuff. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I’m pretty sure that women handle most of the purchasing in our culture. What makes me say that? Just look at the ads.

Whenever you see an ad on TV that features a family element, (food and travel are real stand-outs here), it’s always the Dad who is the knucklehead, the clown or the hapless loser. Mom sweeps in to put right whatever he has destroyed or messed up, usually with that look of knowing wisdom that I saw on my mother’s face more often than I care to remember while growing up. Men are just big children, the ad seems to say, and women are the sensible ones.

Right. Because men will buy six shirts, four pairs of pants and three pairs of shoes with the absolute certainty that most of this stuff is to be returned to the store. Men know that when you buy something on sale, even if you didn’t really want it, it’s still a bargain and you’ve saved money on it. And, men always flick through every piece of clothing on a rack without the slightest target in mind. Really?

Men don’t do these things. Why? Because they don’t make any sense whatsoever. These practices are illogical, and companies know this. Only someone who can view consumerism through such an illogical lense can be influenced to believe that it’s a virtue. Ads are masterful at playing to this idea that it’s okay to be completely illogical, as long as you buy something… preferable spending more than your gift card has on it.

This, to me, is blatant pandering to the female consumer, but it goes beyond the simple, “Dad’s a jerk but Mom will save us” mindset. The ads we and our children see are playing, not to the strengths of the women in our lives, but to their fears. Ads still objectify women and their bodies, but they do it to stoke the fires of a woman’s fear of being alone. Right after the ad that shows the Mom smirking at the camera while Dad falls down in the background, an ad for lacy bras over flat tummies comes on to push the message that says, “Hey, at least you have a man. Wanna keep him? Well, you better look this good to do so!” The twenty-something slacker with his two-day shadow is fine, but the woman needs to be polished and perfect in order to be worthy of this moron.

Then there are the ads that show Dad not as an idiot, but as a hero. Interestingly enough, Dad is usually alone in these ads. Power tools, cars and lawn tractors extol the virtues of being in command of the elements and bending them to your will. They play to Dad’s fear of being lost in his own environment, and having no control of his surroundings.

The bridge between these two extremes is the beer ad.

Beer ads are simple in their message. Young men who couldn’t tuck in a shirt to save their lives want to have sex with women, and they know that women want them, as long as they are in the right place at the right time. Preferably drinking a Miller Light, (served, of course, by the all-knowing female bartender). What these ads allude to is the fact that once you find a woman who will have you, you can go on being the hapless dork you are, because she will take care of everything, being the wise one in the family.

These themes carry over into sitcoms as well, where the Dad provides comic relief, (often with his adolescent-minded buddies), to great hilarity. Then, Mom comes in and straightens everything out in the end, giving the Dad some measure of credit to assuage his ego and allowing him to save face before the children. But the kids know this. When Mom says “No”, they go and ask Dad. Dad will let us do it… he’s an idiot. The only time Dads on TV make a good call on parenting is when they express a fear of their wives…, “I can’t let you do this… your Mom will kill me!”

I relate all of this in the hope that you will do a simple test each time you see one of these ads or shows. Switch them around. When you see the ad where Dad says or does something really stupid, and Mom saves the family, imagine the dialogue being swapped. In your mind, have the Mom do the stupid thing and have Dad tell the world that you can be as smart as him, even if you have to put up with this ridiculous female in your house. Would such an ad invoke the hue and cry that the media would raise from all corners decrying the deplorable “women-bashing” of this ad or show? Of course it would, but you don’t hear that kind of outrage from men.

That’s okay. We Dads plod on, changing light bulbs, mowing the lawn and serving as your stud-puppets. It’s fine. We know the truth. The battle of the sexes is over. We all lost. Now go buy something that makes you feel better about it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Bravery of Kids

As someone who has stood in boardrooms and conferences and spoken on topics where my expertise ranged from extensive to non-existent, I can sympathize with those who fear public speaking. I've often thought that it takes a certain level of distain for the audience in order to calm those fears. How wrong I was in that notion. While that attitude may work for some, I've discovered what really makes for a good public presentation.

Bravery... where you acknowledge your fear and do your job anyway... is what it takes. Preparation, confidence, being able to read an audience, all of these things are important and necessary, but bravery will get you through like nothing else.

I had the opportunity to videotape an elementary school talent show recently, and as with all events of this caliber, one can see them in a variety of ways. You can view it as a "celebration of mediocrity", or you can find the beauty in the simplicity of it. I’ve run a few of these shows when my kids were in those school years, and I can say, first hand, that it’s a ton of work for the adults. You manage time and schedules for 30+ acts, arrange for the performance space, sound crew, programs, get teachers involved, deal with parents and school administrators… the list is endless. But, for the kids, the event begins and ends with their three minutes on stage.

I’ve seen kids who can sing like birds, dance with talent far beyond their years, and work a room like a Catskill veteran, alongside kids who couldn’t carry a tune if it had a handle. I’ve seen kids perform who obviously never made the connection between success and rehearsal, who felt that their parents’ praise would be universal, and who viewed their slot as a way to justify all of those extra after-school dance classes. The single, unifying point among them, though, is that no matter their talent level, their comfort level, or what brought them to this point, they performed. They go out there and do it. To see an eight year old stand on a stage in front of 600 people and belt out an a cappella version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a stirring sight. It transcends their individual ability. It goes far beyond self-consciousness and youthful embarrassment. You gotta give it to them… they did it.

In my opening remarks of one show I helmed a few years ago, I reminded the audience that these are kids who were braver than many of the adults present. “How many of you, “ I asked, “would like to get up here and sing a song just because you like it? Stand up here and belt one out without fear of embarrassment, your only preparation being singing in the car or around the house?” Not a hand went up.

Later, one mom offered an aside about a kid’s ability to do such a thing. “They don’t know enough to be scared yet.” Not true, I thought. Kids live between two worlds… one populated with knees and elbows at eye-level, where they are always the smallest person in the discussion… if they are even included in the discussion. The other world is one of peers, who always have more, or less than they do… both in material things and in ideas. And they aren’t always shy about expressing their point of view. Fear of not “fitting in” or “being weird” starts early. What adults might view as “little fears” are shadows that follow many kids around each day. They know what fear is.

And yet, they do it. They get out there on the stage and dance and sing their hearts out, letting the chips fall where they may. That, to me, is a life lesson and a life skill that will serve them well for years to come. I wish more of us could carry that into adulthood, where life tends to beat the snot out of that particular brand of bravery.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teacher merits

This is just a small part of the debate about teachers, administrations and school districts budgets. More to come as the season rolls on. - JD

Quite a bit of debate in these days of belt-tightening and budget slashing is focused on teachers' salaries.  The conservative view would be that teachers are highly paid, without tangible, measurable results. After all, how can one measure how much a teacher cares about their students' achievement? The Bush administration tried to combat that view with No Child Left Behind, which, while there are many intricacies and trade-offs, roughly amounted to using student test scores to judge teacher effectiveness.  This method of evaluation lacks common sense in so many ways that it just makes me shake my head, but, at the very least... somebody tried something!

You can find many arguments, both pro and con, on NCLB... so go do some homework.

The question remains... do teachers make too much money?
As I have stated before, this question is really only half of the question.  Do teachers make too much compared to X would be the way to ask it in order to get an answer.  Of course, that is predicated on the notion that you want facts as opposed to simply emotional table-pounding.
So, if the question is; Do teachers in my district make too much compared to other states?- 

teacher portal or

... you can judge for yourself if your district pays teachers comparably to other states.

If you base the question on comparable business standards, which I think is flawed on it's face, (how can you compare a middle management worker who oversees adults to someone with the immeasurable task of teaching our kids to be ready to compete in a global economy?), you can easily see that nobody seems to agree on this, and the arguments swing wildly, depending on your political bent.

OC Register
6 reasons

The above links are just examples... not intended to be an exhaustive list.

The real problem, in my opinion, is that teachers aren't paid based on merit.  Good teachers make the same as great teachers, who make the same as crappy teachers. The seniority rules and tenure system are the basis for the plight we are faced with these days.  Who would deny a teacher a high five- or low six figure salary if they were producing high achieving students on a consistent basis?  The answer, I admit, eludes me.  How do you measure a good teacher?

Teachers fresh out of school often take jobs in urban or low-income districts to shore up their credentials, help pay off loans and for a variety of other reasons.  These are the teachers who are well-versed in up-to-the-minute tech and research advances in the educational field.  They are also the teachers who are charging forward, the fervent gleam in their eyes, ready to change the world and make a difference in a kid's life. (That's not to say that all teachers who have remained in the field have lost that desire, or that all teachers fresh out of college have it, but... well, you know what I mean...).  These are also the teachers who are the first to see the dreaded pink slip when budget season comes around, or their union negotiates a particularly aggressive contract necessitating layoffs.  This creates a revolving door of teachers in these hard-hit areas... something districts that are better off economically try to avoid with higher pay scales and beefier contract benefits. Often those policies result in more drastic belt-tightening every 6 or 7 years as the economic indicators swing back and forth.  None of this helps our kids.

So, we need to first find a way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher, and then base our salary and district employee retention models on that. Then we will have the data necessary for debating teacher salaries.

One of my clients happens to be the local school district, and I am the guy standing behind the camera at every school board meeting, capturing the evening for local broadcast. Consequently, I not only attend every meeting, but I actually have to pay attention, and listen to what is going on. So, while I don't profess to be an expert of any sort on school budgets, I do have the opportunity to hear the rationale behind the decisions made by the group of volunteers who sit on our school board.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Our Kids Are Worth It

This is just a small part of the debate about teachers, administrations and school districts budgets. More to come as the season rolls on. - JD

I live in what is termed a "bedroom" community, which means a community where people leave each day to go to work elsewhere. There are plenty of dry cleaners, pizza places and nail salons, but no real industry or retail base to speak of. No factories or industries. It's beautiful here, surrounded by woodlands and waterways, old stone walls and neighbors who wave as you go by. The problem is... dun, dun, duhhhhhn... taxes.

Our taxes are high. Higher than this mix of blue collar and white collar working families can stomach. People often feel powerless when state-level politicians give lip service to addressing their concerns by attacking the whipping post du jure. The only real effect people have is at the ballot, which, no matter how much vitriol is expressed, still remains woefully under used. So, when school budget time rolls around, it is seen as a chance to make a difference, without digging too deeply into the hopeless morass of politics. This is local. This is a fight that's manageable, after homework and dinner. One can jump on the bandwagon of grassroots disgust and be heard. The local school board meeting is where the sane argument is given the same level of respect as the crazies, the uninformed and those who feel the need to be seen on local TV. Even if one speaker's plea conflicts directly with the next person to step up to the microphone.

When arguments of teachers' salaries being too high are expressed, the question that always pops into my head is, "Compared to what?'. Other states' teachers? Test scores? Student achievement? These are answers that no one offers because there is no corrolating absolute. "Too high" is a value judgement, based on a personal opinion. The only quantifiable answer is , "too high for us to pay". That answer, I understand. Median incomes vs. tax level vs. long-term outlooks, etc. I get that. It makes sense. It can be measured with math. If you can figure it out, thank a teacher.

After weeding through all of the expressed outrage, constructive critisims and utter nonsense, the choice becomes to either lower expenditures by the school district, (a HUGE chunk of the school budget goes toward salaries and benefits of its employees, so attacking salary levels makes bumper-sticker political sense), or increase the resident tax payers ability to pay. For everyone in the area to get a 25% increase in pay seems unlikely, (duh). And, even if this fantasy did occur, we, as Americans, would bristle fiercely at the prospect of turning such an increase over to the tax collector. The obvious choice, then, is to lower salaries. The effects of such a move can be debated, with as many good arguments as bad, but the bottom line is simply that we have to pay for teachers to teach our kids. To achieve a budget that will pass the local electorate's scrutiny, then, means cuts to programs and services.

But, wait, you say. Isn't there another option... one where my kids don't have to suffer because of the budget cuts, layoffs and general morale-lowering antagonisms between labor and management? There is, but it won't be easy, nor quick. It would certainly be a better use of effort than barking at the volunteers who give up their time to preside over the school board. The Board of Education members aren't the foxes guarding the henhouse. They are the watch dogs. We are the farmers, blindly firing off rounds into the darkness, hoping to scare the foxes away. It is the legislators, both at local and state levels, who are the foxes in this admittedly abused scenario.

Our efforts should be focused on the people who make the rules. Not those who, like our school boards, have to find creative ways to operate within the increasingly idiotic rules imposed upon them. It is at the town, county and state levels that we find residents arguing against this or that commercial development. It is there that we find the special interests writing the laws that force our local schools to bend the taxpayer to the breaking point. And, it is there that we find the same foxes telling us that they are working for us, while marching in lock step with their party bosses regardless of what we really need.The voice of the concerned parent is under-represented at this level.  This is where the ire needs to be focused.

I welcome the day when parents who have banded together focus their efforts on truly advocating for our kids by marching on the Town Board, the County Executive's office and the Statehouse, (just as our Board of Education members do), to let them know that we need industry and responsible commercial development to add to the tax base and assist us in making sure our schools provide our kids with everything they can need to succeed in a global marketplace. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the school board and the adminsitration, advocating with them for saner rules governing development, tax levies and rules for dealing with unions. Then we can say we stand up for our kids. Then we can stand up at a school board meeting and relate that we care enough to do so. Anything less is simply that... less.

One of my clients happens to be the local school district, and I am the guy standing behind the camera at every school board meeting, capturing the evening for local broadcast. Consequently, I not only attend every meeting, but I actually have to pay attention, and listen to what is going on. So, while I don't profess to be an expert of any sort on school budgets, I do have the opportunity to hear the rationale behind the decisions made by the group of volunteers who sit on our school board.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

FOMO? nope

In my mind's eye, I'm still 25 years old.  Comfortable in the fact that I am at my physical and intellectual, (or so I thought at the time), best.  While I was never truly happy, I didn't miss out on much back then.  I was a bartender, so nightlife was my life.  If I wasn't greasing the wheels for others in pursuit of a good night, I was imbibing myself, enjoying the dark side at my leisure.

Age and maturity descended upon me at my own bidding, as I chose to remove myself from that lifestyle, get a "real" job and find my way in the world of adults, leaving the head-pounding days and giddy, selfish nights behind.

The beast within rears it's egotistical head from time to time, but this is easily put down as I am reminded that those days and nights belong to the next generation of party-goers and social malcontents. I'm okay with that.  Really.

Social media seems like a great way to bring the world into the bubble that I live in, affording me views of the world and all of its happenings. "Traditional" media, news on TV and print, can only scratch the surface of the human response to the world, try as they might to include it in their efforts. But, with this influx of humanity into my safe, little world comes the events in the lives of others, and the feelings of disconnect from the larger world party. I was never so glad to be disconnected as I am now.

"FOMO", or fear of missing out, seems to be a syndrome people are experiencing due to the constant, up-to-the-minute exploits of friends and strangers in their social circles.  That others are having a good time while I am home on the couch doesn't faze me at all.  I consistently turn down "event requests" and "invitations" on Facebook to occasions that I'm sure will offer 10 minutes of interest within two or three hours of boredom. Likewise, photos of vacations, rock climbing, bungee jumping, et al. have only a momentary effect, as I remain comfortable in the knowledge that I can do such things if and when I choose.  I feel no remorse about not doing them at that moment.

For such a syndrome to cause real changes in someone's behavior, either through the choices they make or the interactions with others they embrace or disregard, seems foreign to me.  I cannot imagine allowing myself to be pulled in many directions in pursuit of fun or leisure.  Work, sure.  But fun? Nah.  That would seem too much like those days and nights when I lived selfishly, with little regard for anything beyond my own pleasure center.

I feel lucky to live now, without such a dilemma facing those lacking the self-regard it takes to avoid the "Everyone is having more fun than me" feeling.  So, I offer up a side note to those who undergo such a feeling; While your friends are having all of this fun without you, they are also checking their phones, lamenting the fact that others are having more fun than they are.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Insight from the Garage Up

It's Springtime in the Northeast, and that means clean, clean, clean.  As my wife set about cleaning out the refrigerator, trying to find the culprit behind that smell attacking the senses every time the door was opened, I set out upon the unenviable task of cleaning out the garage.  No mean feat, considering our two-car garage hasn't had a car in it in quite a while, and has become home to everything we absolutely need, just not right now.

Spring also means taking the plow off and storing it in the garage until next year, which is the main reason why today was garage cleaning day. Everything has to come out of the garage in order to put the plow in, and then everything has to be put back. Fun!

Our house sits up on a hill, and at 2100 square feet, my driveway affords me the thrill of blasting out onto the street like Batman, (if Batman drove a minivan). All well and good, until it snows.  It once took me eight hours to shovel my driveway,(on my birthday, no less), in order for family members to congregate at my house when Christmas day got snowed out. So, I now have a plow for my little SUV.
When I emerged from bed on this bright and sunny Saturday morning, I informed my kids that today was the day, and they had 30 minutes to wrap their minds around the fact that they couldn't play video games all day. After much grumbling and kvetching, (which I tried to ignore), 30 minutes had passed, and I insisted that they get dressed and join me outside.

Their little minds scrambling for a way out, the youngest announced, "I'm hungry!", which of course is a show stopper.  As their mom turned on a dime from her task to attend to the all-important act of feeding her offspring, (complete with smug smiles from the children in response to my exasperated sigh), I announced that they were not to hurry eating, (so they don't choke - which would be all my fault should it happen), but they were to join me when they had finished. It was then that the phone rang.

Of course, one of my children's friends called, inviting one over to play.  Large, round, doe-like eyes asked permission to go. "When we're done." I replied.  Well, that sparked a fire under my oldest, who proceded to attack the chore at hand with the usual attempt at "helping Daddy".

When everything was out of the garage and spread out over the driveway as if the contents had been washed out in a flood and the water had just receded, the inevitable, "Can I go now?" chorus began. My youngest had not yet joined us, so I said, "Sure, you did some good work." My plan was to have my youngest help put it all back.  Unbeknowst to me, two things were occuring inside the house that would change this perfect plan.  The first was that the refrigerator cleaning had somehow become more important than my little "job" and I was to drive my child to the friend's house.  Fine.  I did that, covered in dust and sweat.  Upon my return, I found my other child on the phone with a friend. Knowing that I was now alone in finishing this task, my wife leans out through the garage door to ask if I had been asked to drive the youngest to the other friend's house.

"Can you?" which really meant, "and so you shall."

More dust, more sweat, and this time I have to get out and share small talk with the friend's parents before heading back to finish the job.

I finish.  I shower.  I sit down to write this when the familiar chime of a text message sounds from my phone.  Of course, I'm alerted to the fact that it is time to pick up the first kid.  I'm convinced the other will call as soon as I return home and sit down.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Corporal Punishment
I read this. And so I then I read this.
And then, because I couldn't believe that I was getting the full story, I went here:

Growing up and living in the Northeast, U.S., I have never been hit by a teacher in school. I'm quite sure that my mother, even as I pushed her toward the brink of her sanity time and time again during my educational years, would never have allowed it.  Raising my children now in the Northeast means that, while I have certainly heard of the practice of corporal punishment, I was under the assumption that it was a thing of the past, buried away with those times of air raid drills, segregated schools and doctors doing cigarette commercials on TV.

So, you can imagine my shame-faced surprise when I discovered that 19 states in our nation still allow, condone and in some places encourage corporal punishment in schools. And, as if that isn't enough to get the blood boiling, perhaps the fact that many instances of said punishments are carried out on special needs children, as a means to better condition them to "behave", will shake up your complacency. It shook mine to its core.

I didn't know this.  When I've seen instances of this on the news, I thought it was just that... news.  So rare in its occurence that it warrants mention in the national media. Not so, it seems.  As I read more about this topic, I was less surprised to find that the proponents of corporal punishment primarily use the Bible as justification for such policies.

Now, while I am no stranger to theological debates, (admittedly poorly informed as I am), I again, thought such arguments to be a thing of the past.

Rather than open that debate here, I put forth the following statement;
I abhor the very idea of someone, anyone, striking my child.  No matter where I may choose to live, no one is allowed, in my eyes, to inflict corporal punishment on my children.  You do so at your own peril. Should any school administrator or instructor ever find themselves in the position to carry out this practice on my offspring, I guarantee that when I have finished with you, you will wish for a long and painful court proceding against the ACLU, because it will be far, far more pleasurable than your one and only meeting with me.
Governors of those 19 states, (and you know who you are), stop this practice now.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A View from the Back of the Room

This article originally published a few years ago on a parent organization website

As a father of two children, ages six and five, it often seems like my life began little more than six years ago. My wife and I, like many parents, have decided to put our children first in our lives. Devoting ourselves, as our parents did, to ensuring that our kids are ready for life outside the nest, when that time comes. This involves many areas, some easy to manage, some more difficult, but tantamount through it all is our focus on the education our kids receive.

Homework comes before TV or computer games. Strengths are celebrated vigorously and weaknesses are treated as challenges to be overcome.  Our home is full of learning tools, educational games and books, books, books. We have, hopefully, created an environment that promotes a love of learning.

And then, we put them on the bus.

Not content to simply hope for the best, we have sought out the opportunities available to us to be involved in the school life of our kids. Granted, my children are in kindergarten and first grade, where parental involvement is encouraged as a necessary part of the transition from sheltered home life to social interaction with new authority figures. This happy fact has provided our family the good fortune of getting to know many of the educators in this school, and I can honestly say that we are confident in their abilities to expand the young minds in their care every day. The teachers our children have make sure we feel welcome, and acknowledge the role that we play in their hearts and minds.  I have never had a question sidestepped, nor have I experienced anything but an open and honest assessment of any situation that I have felt important enough to discuss. The teachers and staff are truly professionals, and have put to rest the natural worries and insecurities that we, as parents of young children, harbored that first time the bus stopped at the corner of our street.

On those occasions when I have the opportunity to be in the classroom, I am afforded a sense of how much my kids have grown, as they demonstrate a capability that I hadn't known they yet possessed, or achieve some mastery of a task they hadn't learned from me. It fills me with pride to see it, because I know that, in their minds, this new skill belongs solely to them. It's theirs, because they learned it in school. My role in their lives is not diminished by this, but simply changed to suit the surroundings. I go from omnipotent caregiver to JJ's Dad, videotaping the painting of paper plates. Underneath it, though, is the understanding that my involvement brings value to the students, and that comes only from a teacher confident in their own abilities. The kids can sense it, and, in my experiences, it seems to be a natural occurrence.

But, just as at home, boundaries are important.  When they are in the classroom, it is important for kids to know that, even though Mom or Dad is there for the party, the teacher is still in charge, and when he or she delivers an instruction, it is to be followed.  To circumvent that authority would serve only a parent's ego, and is, at best, a point of confusion for a child. A teacher strong in their ability to be in charge makes light work of such situations by assigning tasks to parents that contribute to the success of the event. Quality educators handle this with aplomb, making it clear that to be a value-add means allowing them to do that which they have been trained to do...teach your children.

It can be difficult to see my children learn something that I couldn't have taught them, or to see them look up to someone other than me, but to try to restrain them from those growth experiences by riding shotgun with them every day does no more than delay the inevitable. We are supposed to be preparing them for life without us, as hard as that seems. I often have to step back and ask myself if what I am doing is for them, or simply to protect me from the feeling that they will someday be out on their own without needing me there every minute.

As my children progress to higher grades, what is expected of them in terms of workload and knowledge retained will grow, but the day doesn't get any longer.  They must absorb more and more during the course of a school day. Their teachers will have more to teach them in order to prepare them for middle school. So, as their life changes, we, as parents must change, too. Teachers have to teach, and the way to help them may not always include passing out paper cups or stuffing backpacks. Committees and parent/teacher groups involved in projects that contribute to the student body as a whole become the way to stay connected and "in the loop" when it comes to my kids' education. Involvement in these groups also provides the necessary benefit of allowing school administrators the opportunity to know who is coming and going in the hallways.
Again, the staff and administrators have welcomed my inclusion into these groups, encouraging me to make suggestions, voice opinions and lend a hand when it's needed. Even though it's been a few years since I sat at a desk facing a blackboard, I still get the same feeling when a teacher takes the time to tell me that what I have done is appreciated, and has contributed in a valuable way to what they are doing every day.

So, if you happen to be at my kids’ school and you see some guy standing behind a video camera, drawing washable tattoos on kids during an event or hauling watermelons outside for Field Day, you can be sure that there is a place for parents in our school. There are quite a few of us around.  Feel free to stop and say, "Hi". And maybe carry a few watermelons...these things are heavy.

Satire - Sort of

Previously published on my facebook page - JD
People say to me, "You should run for office.  You could be President! You like to read, you like to think. You like to understand the issues and formulate an opinionated response.  Why don't you run?"  Whenever I hear this, I smile, and shake my head.  I appreciate the sentiment, but it just can't be.

 "Why?" they ask. "Is it because politicians start out as principled public servants who then get broiled under the heat lamp of public scrutiny to the point of manic depression?"  "No, " I say.  "Well, is it because you don't want to put your family through the endless intrusions on your time with them?" "True enough, " I reply, "But that's not it."  "Well," they cry, "could it be that you don't feel that you're stong enough to outthink and out manuever your opponents in the filthy, backstabbing, moral void that has become American politics?" "Nope, " I say.  "Then, why can't you be President?" they ask pleadingly. "It's simple, " I say.

 "I have a moustache.  The best I could hope for would be to do the sports report on the eleven o'clock news.

""You see, " I explain patiently, "Americans like their politicians to be the embodiment of what they, themselves, consider to be the best of us. And, that means they have to be telegenic.  They have to look good on TV.  Moustaches don't look friendly. Moustaches don't look sweet. You can't be a clean-cut, all-American boy with a moustache.  A comb-over is fine. Three ex wives and an illegitimate love child, sure. A compete lack of accountability and a minimal grasp of the language, no problem.  But a moustache?  No way"

"So, shave it off!"  They say dismissively.  "You'll look younger!  It'll work!"  "Nope, " I say. "That would require me to change based on what others would like.  If I did that, the next thing you know, I'd have to get a tattoo to appeal to the younger voters.   Then, I'd have to start pretending to be fiscally responsible, while secretly giving in to my most wanton desires. I'd have to open up off-shore accounts to hold all the money that would be pouring in from the Family Values coalitions and the Hollywood elite, because by then I would have learned how to talk out of my mouth and my ass at the same time.  I would have to start banging campaign staffers in between news conferences with my family standing next to me at the podium. I'd be fending off accusations of wrongdoing while professing my innocence with a wink and a nod.  I'd have to write a book that nobody reads, demand that my corporate masters buy enough copies to put it on NY Times best seller list, while decrying the bias of that particular newspaper's editorial board."

Nope.  I'm happy to sit here where it's safe to whine and complain in my impotent rage. Maybe I'll grow a beard.