Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Education and The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken is one of my all-time favorite pieces of written work. Whether I've consciously done so or not, I've often stood at that fork in the road and chosen the path less traveled and it has, indeed, made all the difference.

That's what I'm hoping will be the case with my children. I hope they'll travel far and wide and, whenever possible, mark the unworn paths. I hope their choices will be informed by a broad variety of experiences, conversations, books, adventures, curiosity, interest, excitement. I'm not sure that's what CPS is trying to accomplish.

So I'm a little at odds with my partner. And I say partner because that's what it is, a partnership. I've hired CPS, with annual property taxes near $10,000 every year for more than 10 years --that's roughly $100,000-- to partner with me in educating my children. I'm a little disappointed that what CPS has to offer me by way of innovative solutions to the declining scores on CPS students' tests is 90 minutes. 90 minutes?

Ask a child what makes it hard for them to learn in school, and you might hear:

- it's hard to focus when I'm sitting in the hallway to read and people keep walking by
- I can't talk to my teacher in class because she's too busy with other students (32 of them)
- we don't have a computer in our class anymore because it was taken to a testing room

Ask a teacher what makes it hard for them to teach and you might get:

- I know it doesn't make sense, but I have to get this in before the test
- the problem is, he's not eating at home, so I can't get him to focus
- she's working independently because she can; I have to pay attention to those who can't

So if you had these and other problems in education, would you suggest that 90 minutes would cure these difficulties? 90 more minutes of the same stuff that's failing? Why? What about taking what's great from other educational systems that are succeeding (and no one seems to agree that more time is one of those elements of success) and applying our own best practices to create a dynamic, rigorous new path for our children to travel?

The folks at CPS, even if well-intentioned, are displaying a real lack of interest in or understanding of what needs to happen. I think they need to show us why those 90 minutes matter more than other ideas to improve our educational system. At the end of the day, we don't want scores, we want educated citizens, right? We want explorers, entrepreneurs, scientists, mathemeticians, dancers, drivers, and things we haven't thought of yet! We want folks who will walk those roads not taken, to see where they'll take us all. Are the 90 minutes going to get us there? I don't think so.

Frankly, I believe the powers that be at CPS need to brush up on their poetry. I'd have them start with Frost.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Planning Your Own Surprise Party

The results of our efforts are upon us, and somehow, we're managing to be shocked. This makes us about as clever as folks who plan and execute their own surprise parties.

I should probably clarify that in some circles, we're not even shocked. We're accepting of our absurdity as if we're all guests at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (I love the parity between this and the political movement) and it's all just fine. But it isn't fine and some of us need to keep a handle on that before the whole thing falls into the sea.

Here's what brings me to the precipice:

I was flipping through channels last night and fleetingly landed on NBC. Jay Leno should not have a show. Folks should not be going on his show. Advertisers should not be advertising on his show. Jay Leno, whatever his talents, screwed Conan O'Brien out of his lifelong dream. He did so publicly, with little regard for the consequences. It wasn't the first time. He did it to Dave Letterman a few years back. The network aided and abetted this screwing of Mr. O'Brien, just as they did with Dave. Jay is a hypocrite and an ass and a backstabber. He doesn't deserve our attention, our money, our loyalty. He made his bed and then he decided he'd go lie in someone else's, leaving behind a mess of crumpled sheets and worn bedding. But there he goes glibly onward, making millions, smearing our faces in our own disregard for decency. Makes me sick.

As does Newt Gingrich's campaign, and the more than a quarter of a million Americans who have given him their precious votes. Are you kidding me? Newt Gingrich gets to claim redemption because he went to God for forgiveness and now he gets a completely clean political slate? Uh, no. God forgives and relieves you for your true repentence, loves you unconditionally, but that doesn't mean you don't pay for your sins here on earth. It doesn't mean that the hypocrisy of being a multi-million dollar consultant for paid lobbyists is forgiven because you aren't technically a lobbyist yourself. It doesn't mean that the outright disgusting-ness (is that a word?) of persecuting a public figure for their private trysts is forgiven because you finally landed on wife number three and were too old to muster up a bail to number four. Or is it just that she hasn't developed a debilitating disease yet?

When you crippled the government during your tenure as House Speaker you were not doing it for the good of the people. You were screwing the opposing party leader in the White House. Your strategy failed, and that means you exercised poor judgement. Often. Now you want to take credit for the things that did work? It doesn't go like that, friend. Or it shouldn't. You think it's petty to open up a debate with questions about your ex-wife's take on your swinging lifestyle? It is. It's petty and base and disgusting. So get off stage and stop making a spectacle of yourself and your tawdry personal life. If you wish to serve the public you may do so under quieter lights and with less media attention. I have a further unkind observation to add here about selling yourself to an audience, but I'll show restraint. You should try it some time.

As for 'values voters'? If I hear one more of you say "We all have our baggage," I'm going to mail you my barf. Are you kidding me? We all have our baggage? We all abandoned our cancer-stricken wife to marry our mistress, until our mistress contracted MS and then we abandoned her to carry on with our new mistress - not before suggesting we all just do the 'sharing is caring' version of marriage? Actually, we don't all carry those bags. But a single man cannot devote himself to a single man through marriage and raise a family together, on account of that defiles traditional marriage. Right? Fly a kite.

Seated next to Newt at the table are the legions of moronic sportswriters and fans who continue to glorify and/or demonize Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno shall be judged by He who judges. The rest of us can only make observations. Here's what I observe: the day a guy's record winning games as a coach matters more to some folks than an innocent child is the day those same folks come face to face with their own immorality. Paterno allowed a man to get away with raping a child. If you or I saw someone raping a child, or heard from a co-worker that they'd seen it, would we report it to the manager in our office and then go back to our desks? Of course not. That's insane! Would we continue to hang out with the alleged rapist and never ask him a question? Or shun him? Never ask the manager what happened? It wasn't just one little mistake. It was a lot of mistakes over a long period of time and winning football games does not relieve him of those failures.

So are they serving cake at this thing? Not likely. We're hurtling at greater and greater speeds toward an end that can't be much good and we're mangling so many of the messages it's hard to keep track of the truth. If you can, every once in a while, center yourself and get hold of it. These folks, Jay, Newt and Joe - they're all human - all worthy of forgiveness. I dig that. But let's not act like everything they did either didn't happen or didn't matter - that's just wacky.

Our futures are in the hands of those who come behind us. Our examples teach in more powerful voice than our words. So exactly what are we saying? I don't know about you, but I won't be surprised if it all comes back to bite us. We planned this party.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


My best friend's mom has passed away. I'm usually pretty good with words, but sometimes the clouds in a stormy moment get in my way. This is just such a time. I'm grateful to have been loved. I'm glad to have loved. I'm sorry to have lost but relieved to have had so precious a time. I am renewed in faith and rejoice in its comfort. I am strong because I am needed and I am brought to peace by those who seek to bring me there. I don't want to be alone, nor do I want to leave others alone, and so I link my arms generously with those who open their arms to me - - something I learned most pointedly from this gracious and loving woman. I learn and move in her example and so I don't say good-bye. She glides away into another place just outside my reach, so that when I arrive there is a smile to greet me and a warm embrace to bring me in. She rejoins those who have gone before her and now in that moment they are, indeed, joyful.

With all that, it's not easy not to feel like there ought to be a pause in the day that recognizes the sadness at having lost this magnificent person. Why are the buses still running? Why is everyone just going about their business? Why is it snowing instead of still? I don't have the words to express this any better than W.H. Auden did... look up the Funeral Blues if you get a sec. All I can say is that as the natural progression moves me forward in waves away from my childish self to a time when I am the mature adult in the room (yes, it's happening) I can't help but wish I could cling again to the legs of my best friend's mom and beg her for a few more minutes of play before she goes. Now, instead, it is her grandchild, who clings to me with his melting eyes and asks to stay just a few moments longer so he can play with my own children. I acquiesce, as she always did, and smile. It is indeed, so bittersweet.