Posts filed under ‘Journal Entries’

Gaston, Flood Walls, and School Safety

The NRA-funded politicians are lining up in favor of protecting school children by intentionally bringing guns into schools…legally concealed weapons in the hands of educators. The reality of the many things that can go wrong at the intersection of guns and children is too vivid. In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it is unspeakable. I can only resort to allegory.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia; a city built on seven hills along the James River that was first surveyed by Captain John Smith after his settlement in Jamestown. Progress rarely tampered with historical tradition there, but that was before we experienced two different 100-year floods within a three-year period.

Shockoe Slip was a gully between Church Hill and the Capital that was one of the oldest districts of the city. Once a thriving trade post, it was all but abandoned because it got washed out regularly during heavy rains. Shockoe Bottom didn’t stand a chance when the James rose. Only the city’s poorest lived along the cobblestone streets of yore.

Urban renewal came to Shockoe after the second major flood, made possible by an engineering feat. A retaining wall was built to keep the water out, and the rundown neighborhoods and abandoned tobacco warehouses were transformed into the hottest restaurants and shops in the city. Bankers and statesmen dined there by day. A chichi nightlife emerged in the revitalized historic district. The area flourished…

Fast-forward to the summer of 2004 when Hurricane Gaston hit the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A weather trifecta trapped rain clouds over the city of Richmond. In a very short time, almost 13 inches of rain fell. Shockoe Slip’s flood wall became a retainer that trapped the water in the low-lying business district.

Flash flooding came with no warning. Workers on the 2nd floor looked out and saw tractor-trailers floating toward them that would knock out brick walls. People got trapped in their cars. And a man lost his family when their chain of linked hands broke as they tried to flee their home in the powerful current. The flood wall held. No water made it out to the James River. Nine people lost their lives.

The enemy in Shockoe Slip was water; the enemy at Newtown was a gun. Guns and children do not mix…either from inside or out. Fortifying schools by keeping the guns inside can only end tragically. This is no way to stop the madness.


December 18, 2012 at 9:37 AM 1 comment

Fact-Checking the Washington Post on Governors Patrick and Romney

Comments below were posted on the Washington Post site to correct the record for Deval Patrick and support the validity of his comments in his speech at the Demoncratic National Convention. The erroneous fact-checking as reported by the Washington Post can be found here. The Washington Post had suggested that Governor Patrick’s claim that he had to pick up the pieces after Governor Romney left crumbling roads and bridges across Massachusetts was debatable because the evidence was subjective?!?

TRUE on Romney’s crumbling bridges and roads in Massachusetts…

During his first year in office, after the Minneapolis bridge collapse in August 2007, Deval Patrick ordered that all bridges in Massachusetts be assessed for safety, and hundreds were found to be in serious need of repair or replacement. Patrick has delivered on a large number of bridge repair/replacement recommendations so far in his administration, and the work continues. On the roads…The Big Dig consumed the vast majority of funds for road repair projects through the many Republican administrations in Massachusetts from 1990-2006. Highways and surface arteries were is severe disrepair. Patrick has restored the roads to far better condition.

In response to a reader comment suggesting that road work was just a timing thing…

The Big Dig was not completely over…the project had been poorly managed, taking years more than planned and cost overruns resulted in about twice the original budget. A daunting punchlist remained with no money, fatalities from falling ceiling tiles, flooding, and use of dry concrete in bridge work. Patrick was the first governor to try to hold contractors accountable.

In response to the same reader suggesting that Martha Coakley was responsible for a settlement…

Martha Coakley and Deval Patrick serve together. Ms Coakley does the legal work as Attorney General. In cases where a contractor screwed up, that firm was given the 1st option of setting things right. Then the suits were filed, if necessary. 

September 6, 2012 at 10:26 AM Leave a comment

A Time for Unity

There has never been a more important Democratic National Convention. As educators, we cannot get hung up on resolving our pet issues this week. Rather, we must support the election of the political leaders we consider most ready to serve us for the next four years. If we are looking for a presidential candidate who will continue to serve all Americans, we must rally around President Obama under a big tent.

Is Barrack Obama your best choice for President as a US citizen and an educator? If so, it is time to set aside your personal agenda and rally around the President in unity. Is it odd that Chelsea Clinton will be interviewing Michelle Rhee, both life-long Democrats? Yes. Will it be awkward to cheer Democratic Party leaders while sitting next to antagonists in the debates over pedagogy, teacher contracts, or accountability? Sure. Do you have unresolved issues with the short list of policy imperatives in the party platform? Of course…No national exigency can be adequately addressed in a campaign designed for voters with short attention spans and infinite needs.

The DNC is not the place for policy debate. It is not about the tactical issues that divide us this week…unions, charters, assessments, evaluations, pedagogy, teachers, parents, funding, etc. We all have our political positions and our pivotal issues, but broad-based solutions for public education can only be negotiated on common ground. That starts with electing leaders who will be most likely to serve all Americans for the next four years.

Here’s hoping for a week that ends with a sustainable big convention pop for the President…not another dreary game of Pop Goes the Weasel in the carnival of education debate. Seriously, the real weasels could win, and that would be a lose-lose for all of us.

September 4, 2012 at 8:50 AM Leave a comment

Maybe “Bully” Should be Seen with a Parent or Guardian

To be authentic, a movie about bullying may not be able to pass all the hurdles for the access provided by a PG rating. Meanwhile, what parent of middle or high school students isn’t looking for an opportunity to see a film with his or her child? The kids already know what is going on, so seeing it with each other may not be the point. Take your child to see the movie, and then talk about it.

The movie Bully has been rated “R“ by the Motion Picture Association, making it less accessible to the very population that it targets. However, I am not sure that changing the rating is the best solution to the problem. Perhaps part of the point could be that the language that mandates an “R” rating does not belong in school. In fact, reversal of that standard would imply that the abusiveness we wish to protest has become an accepted part of the landscape.

My husband and I looked at each other the first time one of his kids dropped the F-bomb in casual conversation. How should we respond? As Baby Boomers, we grew up in a generation that had challenged authority and the limits of the vernacular. However, peppering everyday conversations with any of George Carlin’s Very Bad Words was not intellectually defensible. Yeah, we may have earned a few language citations of our own among our friends, but controversial language needed to pass the test of approval by everyone within earshot, not just one’s inner circle.

And bad words are not just the profane ones. Any language can be turned into a weapon with intent. Again, we looked in the mirror. Sarcasm and irony are valued highly around the house. And no one was prouder than we were when the kids developed their ruthlessly dry wit. Fortunately, there was a teen improv group through which to diffuse mean jokes across a larger audience. But what are the limits?

Then there’s the notion of competitiveness. Isn’t that when an athletic event or debate makes us stronger by allowing us to totally triumph over worthy adversaries? Or some days just sort us into winners and losers? It gets complicated, especially when supporters gather. Is the home team advantage anything more than outnumbering the other guy?

Empowerment is good; arrogance is bad. But who is the judge when even genuine success can be fleeting? We constantly look for opportunities to bolster ourselves and our friends and families. Our homies need us. They are not a gang, are they?

We do not stand taller when the other guy falls down, but no one knows better than a Bostonian that the other guy’s missed field goal can get you into the Super Bowl…

Kids need help sorting it out. So do we. Read the stories, watch the movies and TV shows, and then listen. The kids may come to the right answers faster than we do.

March 1, 2012 at 9:46 AM Leave a comment

Remembering Dr. King

Essential reading for the day…

A few years ago, I was working with a ninth grade advisory group as they were exploring their identities and how they were influenced by personal heroes. One of the girls chose to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr., and three identified with Maya Angelou. The students were about the same age I had been when Dr. King was assassinated, and I was surprised to realize how much of my knowledge of this great man remained as it had been formed in childhood. On Angelou, I had read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” but not the other four books that comprise her autobiography.

Together, we examined Dr. King’s life from the perspectives of the man, the mission, and the message. The student who chose to continue found her focus in the state of his dream and how it inspired her in the present. We talked about how Maya Angelou had been silenced by abuse as a child and found her voice in music and poetry. The assassination of Dr. King was the turning point in her life when she became an activist to keep his dream alive. However, each of the three young women studying her life saw her differently. While they all considered the events of Angelou’s youth similarly, one was inspired by her ability to open up and give and accept help from others; another wondered what drove her activism; and the third seemed most interested in how she achieved celebrity. Regardless, it was an incredible experience learning with my students.

On this day of reflection, Dr. King’s words remain essential to our world view. Always a good read.

January 16, 2012 at 11:23 AM Leave a comment

Thank you Martha’s Vineyard…

For the hurricane that got downgraded to a tropical storm and the lights that did not go out

For Chilmark Pottery and the cool glazes that set Geoffrey free

For all the September Issues on top of an autographed copy of Goon Squad at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore

For Jodie in Chilmark who had made a man cry when she bought his stone sculptures in Zimbabwe

For the pie that was as good as the fried clams on that flawless afternoon on the terrace at Aquinnah

For Washington Ledesma’s Uruguayan imagery and his lovely wife who let us into his studio

For the other couple on Mink Meadows beach at sunset showing us how it’s done with wine glasses and kisses

For Back Door Doughnuts still hot out of the oil and the line of happy patrons in the parking lot every night

For Dragonfly and Pik Nik galleries with works by our new favorite artists as well as an old friend

For Vineyard Scripts who were there when we needed them

For State Road Restaurant because they still make carrot cake the way they used to

For the Chappaquiddick Ferry that did not tip us into the sea even though it seemed like it might

For the turtles in small, medium, and extra-large at Mytoi Pond

For the sunset supper from The Bite on the beach at Menemsha

For the late night visit to the ATM on the Haunted Vineyard Tour with cash and ghost stories to go

For the beach at Gay Head with the clay cliffs, rocky surf, and flashbacks of hedonistic sun worshippers from California in the late 70s

For the deer that was staring back at us as we peered over the deck in the early morning light

For the children on the merry-go-round at Oak Bluffs and the Trek mountain bike…with training wheels

For the hairy surfer dudes carrying giant boards onto the Woods Hole ferry

For our first beach vacation in years

For the brief moment when I thought we were still there as I woke up back home

September 6, 2011 at 8:22 AM 1 comment

Hearts and Minds

School must be a safe harbor for the hearts and minds of our children. Sometimes that trust must go the distance for the sake of their very survival. Concussion laws are being considered across the nation, a must for athletes in contact sports. Equally important is the prevention and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest.

Twelve years ago today, Jon and Diane Claerbout faced the unthinkable. Their brilliant and talented 25-year-old son Jos had arrived at work, started checking his email, and suddenly died. Since that time, they have met and supported hundreds of parents who have faced similar tragedies as their children, many of them high school or college athletes, have died suddenly. Diane has worked tirelessly with Parent Heart Watch, an advocacy organization that seeks to raise awareness and enact legislation mandating screening for and prevention of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youths. For emergency treatment, AEDs, or Automated External Defibrillators are becoming commonplace in many educational and sports complexes. However, access to them and knowledge of their use continue to stymie efforts to save collapsed children in time.

Tributes for Jos and the many other young victims of sudden death attempt to ease the pain of loss, but they cannot recapture these wonderful spirits or the promise their lives had held. We need them here and now. I salute my sister and brother-in-law in their work even as I regret their pain and the absence of Jos.

Jos sought to live life well, seeing each day as an adventure. He wrote eloquently and dabbled in TV and film ideas. Describing himself as a migrant worker on his resume, Jos took detours with relish, interrupting his education, once to be a salmon fisherman in Alaska and again to take an internship in Washington to study the religious right, a group he had come to know as a force to be reckoned with while working in Alaska. During his brief career in Silicon Valley, Jos wrote “Don’t Fear the OOP,” a Java tutorial modeled on a formula for writing a trashy Western novel that still earns rave reviews today. He was eclectic and original, at once ethereal and obsessed with details. He could perseverate on a passing fancy for days then take time out to win a Muumuu contest.

Jos was a hero to his young cousins. When we went to Washington the summer before Jos died, my step-daughter, turning her back to the White House impatiently, just kept asking, “When will we see Jos?” I wish we had a better answer today.

August 20, 2011 at 10:05 AM Leave a comment