I simply love December… in the valley. December really starts to creep in during November when the mornings get cold and the evenings start to feel like… well, like winter. The time change… you know… setting the clock back in November was always my signal that the real winter… December… was on its way. Fall back… the clocks were set back almost attempting to tell nature to correct itself… from man’s sad attempt at creating an order that always was… one that we messed up… now fixed. The first December watery attacks, different from November’s feeble attempts at washing the summer dust and harvest dirt from the houses and roads, just seemed special… overdue. I remembered the days, nights, weeks of rain which left the barren fields, naked almond trees, just smelling differently… rich. Those December rains left my small city smelling differently, too… leaving the blacktop roads and concrete sidewalks glistening, filled with puddles, somehow better… than summer. Gusts of wind would strip the trees of what little red and yellow remained from that short time called fall. Sticks, once green clumps of shade, were finally allowed to sleep and wait.Then there was the fog… me, blindly walking down Union and turning right on 20th Street… only a few blocks to Charles Wright School, with fog so thick that two blocks seemed like 100, other kids only feet from me, were invisible… tires squishing on the damp road, the only signal that cars were there at all. My walk to school was slower during those days, not because I could not find my way, instinctual by that time, but rather because my hair… wet, sweatshirt soaked, just made it all complete… made me complete, even as a little kid. That slow walk was a way to… just be. That same feeling of… completeness… sitting under a shelter at Applegate Park one December afternoon after a Senior high school day… already wet, but somehow warm… much older, but somehow still that little boy, still complete but still made small by December rain. I don’t know if Mr. Denno, Mr. Tharp, Miss Low, all my English teachers at Merced High School… actually knew it or not… but they all picked the best poems… the best short stories… for December. They completed the past… the present… the future… of December. Maybe it was them who made me love December… maybe it was the weather. I wonder if they were just older versions of what I was becoming. I still love December in the Valley, the rain, the fog… feeling more complete… apart from the group… a part of those who simply get it… December.
Writer’s Block… I have it.In all my years as a student, teacher, administrator, writer… never. I never have had “writer’s block”… I have it now. Writer’s Block.So, like everyone in the modern world, I turned to the internet to find out about this disease of diminished creative written expression ability.Ten different types of writer’s block? I didn’t know that there were ten types! I have one of them… I think it is the “clutter” one. Too much junk cluttering the mind. What scares me to death is that I have nine more to go! Exciting!I like definitions… they bring a type of simplistic clarity. I really liked this definition… ”(Writer’s Block) can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some ‘blocked’ writers have been unable to work for years on end…”Unable to work for years?! Great! I can’t imagine going through this for years! One month has been enough. Years????The more I read, the more I really like the idea of just “clutter”… my brain… my life… cluttered.One solution noted in almost all of the research was to take a writer’s break. I like it… a writer’s break.Two days later, I am ready for a day of meetings. A writer’s break.It was a writer’s nightmare… more clutter.Meetings about stuff. The government shutdown… how many this has been? Democrats and Republicans duking it out… both ready to declare “victory,” no matterwhat happened. I couldn’t help but think of the word “victory.” Whose “victory” wouldthis one be?Anyway, then there was the discussion on health care and how the new program, and what are we supposed to call it, impacts schools and families and businesses and the economy and… hey, it is a “victory” for all. There was that word again.I moved to a conference call on the implementation of the shift from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top to Common Core to… a “victory” for kids because we were told that we were finally going to develop schools that deal with how kids learn, how they each learn differently, how they need more or less time to learn things, how to teach the teachers who teach the kids, get to expand assessments, use this new information to influence our teaching and the kids’ learning, have enough funds to really reach all kids, free up personnel laws, develop new flexible facility requirements… stuff.I was beginning to get a headache, so for survival, my mind began to float… I noticed a “ding” on my email. A buddy of mine… he’s an artist… emailed over a cartoon that he had just finished. It was about his school going paperless. Timely.I can’t share it.I had to put my phone on mute for a bit. I haven’t laughed hard in a while… it is a great cartoon. I’ll see if he will let me put it on my facebook! Talk about “victory”… he had one… he totally got me!Hey, he never has… “drawer’s block.” He never gets stuck on a lack of ideas for drawing a great cartoon. I know that he has clutter in his life and work, but I think he would say that the majority of clutter comes from us administrators… stuff. He doesn’t get “blocked”… he just uses us administrators for subjects of his cartoons.I guess he shows me that I sometimes take life way too seriously… I sure was taking this “writer’s block” thing, too seriously. I just won’t write any articles this month… I’ll think of something meaningful to say next month. It will be December… my favorite month of the year.
Look in the Crib
It really is a great book. She really is a great speaker. I told the 200 or so people sitting in the conference room at our County Office that, even being an English major, I seldom have the chance to read anything but Education Code and legislation. Once in a while I get the chance to read Sports Illustrated... it’s pretty short and generally mindless. Kathy Focacci, our director of our charter school, gave me a great book that I am reading right now... but these are anomalies of a life that has been relegated over many years to codes, laws, and emails. Anyway, it really is a great book. She really is a great speaker. I was first asked if I would introduce the author. I thought I had better read her book. I always try to read something right before I go to sleep... so, as I went to bed to read, I had no excuses... the print was large enough to read without strapping on my glasses; it was 11:00... earlier than usual. No excuses. I always read the “preface.” I don’t really know why. I think it must have been those English classes at Humboldt State, where some professor would ask that obscure question from those early pages that don’t even have numbers. “We can learn as much by looking in the crib and the nursery as by looking in the petri dish or the telescope. In some ways we learn more – we learn what it means to be human.” She is a scientist. The author is a scientist and is talking about being “human.” That is what we English teachers talk and write about…not scientists. She trapped me... ”what it means to be human”... hooked me into reading further. The first half page of the preface and she hooked me.“(Babies) have emotions and drives that actively cause them to explore the world and learn more. And they get much of their information from other people who are, in fact, designed to fulfill just this purpose.” What? “We begin with representations of the world, and in concert with the other people around us, we alter and revise those representations.” It really is a great book... but when she was talking at this conference... all these printed words became clearer... yet more muddled. The complexity became so simple in respect to how research explains how kids learn, and how we should teach, and... probably due to my own biases and the people with whom I truly like to spend time... further solidified my views of education in respect to the developing of learning environments where kids question, do, explore... rather than “sit, get, and go.” Her words confirmed my philosophy of developing schools and classrooms where students can choose to go by guiding interests, rather than by default. By the time she had finished her speech... inserting the occasional fun jabs at my Humboldt State alma mater... I was inspired and confused and clearer... as to purpose and future. Some will read her book and “get” the blend of research and vision, coupled with a “blue print” for developing schools that prepare kids for the future... not the past. Others won’t... and sadly never will. I really did not want to read her book. I wanted to read Sports Illustrated, or Focacci’s, Journey of Souls. I am so glad that it was big print... no glasses needed... and it was early evening... no excuses. Oh... the author? Alison Gopnick. The book? The Scientist in the Crib.
Chili Beans in September
I can’t help it. September just means “school” to me. One thing that I can’t shake about my early days was those school lunches. I don’t know what your lunches were like back in your day… but my lunches in school were… unique. Each year my mom and dad “encouraged” me to try the school lunches “one more time.” I think it must have been twelve years of “one more time.” Those lunches were truly memorable. I cannot forget having chili beans while sitting outside in the 110-degree afternoon September sun of Merced. I couldn’t eat inside the cafeteria because it was hotter in there… nothing like having flaming chili on a flaming hot afternoon. Oh, yes… you know where I’m going… corn bread! How was it possible to make corn bread that hard? I think the sweat from my forehead and hands helped soften the bread a bit, but not enough to encourage me to attempt to drown the concrete like substance in my mouth with the milk that had apparently been warmed in a solar oven. The combination could only be augmented by those stringed beans that truly lived up to the name… string… as in consistency of string. I think that I am permanently damaged when I think of lunch, which may explain why I packed my lunch following that first week of school each year. I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple, some chips, and water… forever. In fact, I pack peanut butter sandwiches today. HOWEVER, I was so stunned by two of the best lunches I have ever had… and these were at schools. If you have never gone to Tracy High School’s Feast Lab, you need to go. Doyle Dixon, the chef at Tracy High… and his kids… put on the best lunch ever! Doyle advertises his lunches throughout the year. They are awesome. Manteca Unified’s Culinary Arts program does another unbelievable lunch; their chef Bryan Ehrenholm does a super, great job… you have to go! The cool thing about Manteca’s site is that it is open virtually every morning and afternoon. They have a cute little place to sit, or you can “grab and go.” Both chefs teach kids to make these lunches, which are truly great… the added benefit is that the students are learning from the best! That all being said… know what I think? I think those two chefs had the same school lunches that I had! I think they must have been “inspired” to do lunch differently. They certainly do! Check them out!
It was different. It was a blue Scion, made by Toyota, with the simple white letters on the side…”taxi”. Rather tasteful. It did have a lot of room, for a little car. There was the sameness that accompanies all taxis…the little black square box with the neon-like red numbers that increased seemingly at random, the phone with the static voice spouting numbers and streets…asking for locations. The driver’s seat was so close to the steering wheel that it was almost as if he was simply an extension of the machine he was driving. There was plenty of room. “Lots of room. I move up to give more room. Great gas mileage. Easy to get around cars. Faster to the places. From Morocco…won the lottery.” Won the lottery? He said that he had won the lottery. A taxi driver. He was living in France or Spain, but he was from Morocco…I missed that part…I was fixated on the lottery piece. He had signed up for a visa to the United States...many times. He was in college and wanted to come to the United States...his dream. He just kept signing up for a visa. Selected…his name had been drawn…won the “lottery.” It wasn’t about money…it was about opportunity. He was picked to apply for a visa to the United States. He came to the United States, not knowing anyone, speaking French, a little Spanish, and a little less English. His eyes lit up when he turned his head, “I won the lottery.” Now, four years later, at 26, he is one year from graduating from the university with his bachelors in Business. “I paid for my school, myself…no help.” Owns his taxi, plays soccer every other day in the park, lifts weights, eats healthy food, doesn’t drink or smoke…goes to class every day…drives his taxi in between. “I am going to own my own company… not a taxi company…a transportation company…make a million dollars a year.” That’s his plan...his dream… I listened as we drove the back way to the airport…shorter and cheaper he said… it was. As I listened…I looked out of the window. Garbage tumbling down the almost deserted streets, cars without tires… stripped, windows boarded or broken, the occasional vacant stare from the young man leaning against the brick wall, the woman pushing the grocery cart, the kids walking…I don’t know where. He pulled my bag from the back. “You think I’ll make it?” I was thinking that success has a lot to do with finding another way…passion… drive. “You’ll do fine.”
One of our students asked me if I had heard the thunder and seen the lightning the other night? I did. It would have been impossible not to where I live. It was amazing. No rain…just huge booms, the ones that roll for minutes and make you believe that earthquakes can come from the sky. The vein-like silver streaks across the black sky reminded me of an old Frankenstein movie…but real…not pretend. I just knew that if I let my imagination free, like I did when I was little, the result would be real terror. On and on and on…it was fantastically terrible. Ray Bradbury’s, Something Wicked This Way Comes…I was sure the darkness broken by the flashes would illuminate the carnival wagons, like shadows hidden by the night, creaking down the field behind me, and Mr. Dark would come to my door. I was sure. Dogs barking… far away, almost like shadows themselves. Not a car on the street…silent at times…warm, except for the not so occasional thunder and my own chills. I really don’t know if I slept that night. I must have. I opened my eyes in the morning…I must have slept. I suddenly realized that I was just thinking…dreaming…might have been a few seconds or a minute or two. She was looking at me. Our student. “I was afraid.” ”Me too.”
Learning by Living
I remember when I was in the fourth grade…or maybe it was a different grade.I don’t know for sure. I do know that I was little. I was a little boy surrounded by little boys who were all…well…little boys. We could barely focus on anything, let alone a lesson on geography...evolution of land and water and its impact on planet Earth. We must have driven our teacher crazy by our lack of “engagement.”I do remember that, to capture our attention, we were given an assignment to build something! We were each charged with making a wood frame, with a screen bottom…to sift dirt! We were told that we would be taking our “sifters” to an exciting spot…to sift! A little boy’s dream…a school assignment where we got to saw and nail, and then play in dirt! Weeks passed, an eternity, and then that morning came. We all boarded the bus, clenching our sifters, wearing jeans and t-shirts, awake and wild-eyed, even though we were boarding the bus as the morning sun crept over Charles Wright Elementary School. The bus-ride went on and on and on and on, but we eventually arrived at a barren forever of dirt. A dam was being built. This trip kept getting better and better. A dam…dirt…sifters! Wow!I remember the bus door folding slowly open. We fell down the bus steps, stumbling over our own feet, and sprinting to our patches of dirt, plopping down…sifting. We didn’t need directions. We didn’t need lessons. We figured “sifting” out on our own. Cool rocks, sticks peaked out from the dirt that disappeared through the window screen tacked to my wood frame...and then it happened! A tooth! We all started finding teeth…sharp teeth! Fangs!!! Our teacher, excited, called us together, knowing that we little ones had experienced that sought after “aha” moment that teachers only dream of. We sat in the dirt, looking up at this wizard of education. He asked us what living creature these teeth came from. The brainiac in the class shouted out, “Shark’s teeth! They came from sharks!!!” We all died laughing...how stupid! The teacher yelled, “That’s right!!!!” We felt stupid...again.One of my good friends, trying to show his new found intelligence, while attempting to distance himself from his buddies who were relegated to ignorance, quickly shouted out to our inspired teacher, “This is so cool! You hid these teeth everywhere so we could find them!” We all nodded in approval, but I could see it in our teacher’s eyes…no “aha” moment for us. He slowly crouched down, eventually joining us in the dirt. He was a part of our circle and we sat…quiet…staring into his eyes…listening to his soft voice. He held up a shark tooth and re-told the story of the Earth, this place where we sat, covered with water, the ocean…and of those sharks that roamed the water where we now sat...he paused as we sat in silence. “Aha.” It was like he had never told us this before...he had…in class…those weeks before. I still have those shark teeth and I will never forget that lesson. Never.Recently, I was able to go with six high school students and a teacher to San Antonio, Texas…a trip sponsored by a local farmer. None of the students had been to San Antonio; none had been to an ag-fair this big; two had never flown. These kids were judging animals in one of the largest agricultural shows in Texas...and discovered that each really did know “stuff.” They discovered that the months of lessons, from their inspired teacher, had real-life applications, and that they…these young kids…actually did have skills…big skills. They also discovered that reading about history, is not quite the same as standing in the middle of the Alamo, looking at the walls, at the cannons, at the place where hundreds died…and where a State was born.Ironically, and accidentally, four students heard a young taxi driver tell the story of escaping from Iraq, not being able to finish his last year of college, moving through Jordan, with his parents, coming to a new world, prepared only with a new dream for a new life, in San Antonio…a bit different from the lesson in the classroom. These kids also learned about each other…and in-turn, a little bit more about themselves. They were so tired…but so ready to learn…so excited to learn.Anyway, I still have those shark teeth...I wonder what they have.
May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, who was a school board member of the Bath Consolidated School, in Michigan, planted bombs under the school…and ignited them. Thirty-eight elementary students were killed. Forty-five people died in all. Kehoe blew up his pickup truck killing himself and the superintendent.January 17, 1989, Patrick E. Purdy, who was a drifter with a criminal record, walked on to Cleveland School in Stockton, carrying two pistols and a semi-automatic weapon, and began shooting. Purdy killed five students. Purdy killed himself at the scene.April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, walked on to Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado. They carried guns, knives and bombs and began shooting. Twelve students and one teacher were killed. Harris and Klebold killed themselves at the scene.December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked on to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Before he drove to school, he shot and killed his mother. Lanza carried his mother’s semi-automatic weapon. Twenty students and six adults were killed. Lanza killed himself at the scene.1927 or 2012? Bombs or semi-automatic weapons? Mental illness.
A new year
January. A new year. A new beginning. Resolutions…I never make New Year’s Resolutions. It is funny about “new beginnings.” It seems to me that we cannot begin anew without our past, for we are products of our past; in some respects our past becomes the early roadmap for our future. I guess that depends on what, or if, we have learned anything from that past. Maybe it does not depend on that at all, because the past truly does determine our future…one way or another.I can pick out four or five significant experiences that have shaped me and, at the time, my future…and now my present. You can probably do the same. If you are anything like me, I have embraced some of those experiences and have ignored others, but in doing both…my future choices have been shaped, my journey guided, my present established.To be complete, it seems that one must embrace the totality of the past. This is the challenge for me…really learning from those past experiences and taking a path that is, in some respects…or in all respects… “more noble.” Better.Better for me? Maybe. Better for others? I hope. Of course this whole discussion leads to a definition of what is “better.” I don’t even want to go there. I’m getting a headache just thinking about where that will lead. Pretty philosophically complex. I actually have become a simple “one issue guy.” Sure, I love old homes, antiques, guitars, goats, art, great writing, sports…but none is the issue that consumes most of my waking hours…the fate and plight and accomplishments and sadness and happiness…. and greatness of kids. Creating a better learning place for kids has become my “one issue.” Unfortunately, my past experiences and choices sometimes cloud that one issue, get in the way, and move me from my path…from my journey…my one “issue.”When I listen to others, that sometimes clouds my path…my journey ….my issue…but, I like to listen to others. I appreciate the diversity of thought. Others’ thoughts, however, are also products of their past and of their issues which influence their future paths…and their present…what is important or ”better”…to them. Here we go again. “Better.” Sometimes when I listen others’ views, those views and opinions, ever so heartfelt, divert my path…my one issue…creating a better learning place for kids…all kids.I don’t think I have said a thing this time. I’m sorry for wasting your time. A lot of rambling. Anyway, I look forward to this New Year. I know that it will be full of challenges. I will embrace the past, learn from it, and make good choices with the goal of creating places for kids, not forcing kids into a place.Hey, I never make New Year’s Resolutions…today I will…and that was it.
I think I will go for a walk
I think I will go for a walk…We really don’t have seasons here. We have summer, with those 90 degree plus days. We have winter, some fog…not as much as we used to…and rain…not as much as we used to. There is a sliver of fall, where the maple trees share their red and yellow leaves with the browning lawn beneath. But mostly we have two seasons. Summer and winter.I like winter. I don’t know what happened to me, though. When I was younger I walked in the rain, embracing the individual drops, without running or covering up…or staying inside. I loved the rain. I so remember walking down 21st Street as the cars rushed by making that swishing sound, and the Modesto ash trees would hold those extra drops of rain on the few remaining leaves, waiting to release them on those of us silly enough to be walking on shiny sidewalks that waited to soak my green Converse high top tennis shoes which were never made for winter…or rain. I remember looking up at the grey clouds. There is something special about grey clouds sometimes looking like a single sheet of darkness, and other times like puffs of black, grey, and white. I most like the clouds just before nightfall, when they blend into the darkness, the blackness of night, but I love when the sun tries to get in one last shot at a summer long gone…a slice of light, soon covered and left to memories. Then the rain. I really like winter…l like rain. What happened to me…I don’t walk in the rain anymore. I seldom look at the clouds. I don’t notice the swishing cars much.It is supposed to rain Friday.
OK. I admit it. I am sitting here watching the Giants play the Cardinals. Game 7. Winner take all.I played baseball once…I was terrible. I was a little kid, playing little league. I liked our team color…purple. I was never so excited to get that purple baseball hat and purple t-shirt. I wore it everywhere. I also liked it that all of my friends were on the team, and our coach was awesome. I remember my coach wanted me to “crowd the plate.” I think he knew that little league pitchers were not all that good, and that I was not all that good at hitting the ball, but if I would “crowd the plate” there was not just a good chance, but actually a great chance, that I would get hit by the ball, thus moving me to first base. He was a genius…it worked like magic. That was about the only way I got on base. I learned a couple of things those early years. Sometimes, great strategy can overcome limited ability. Getting hit by a baseball, even one thrown slowly, hurts…it stings.It is funny how trying things helps a kid decide what might be good to do…and what might not be good to do.I think my dad had that figured out, too. He helped getting me my first two jobs. I remember my first real job was working as a kid, during those hot summer days, doing weeding around bee boxes…picture that. Guess what I learned.He also helped me get another summer job. I picked peaches for a year in Planada, California. I propped peach trees for a couple more years. Del Monte Corporation. Planada. My crew chief was Benito Banda…he would lecture us about going to school. “Ya think?” I REALLY wanted to go to school after that; Mr. Banda did not have to convince me.I played music in bars when I was about 16. I really liked to play, but not at 1 AM in the morning, not in rooms so thick with smoke that you couldn’t see the door, let alone the few people who stayed until that last song. I pulled green chain at a lumber mill in Humboldt. I learned that I did not want to do this, either.All those experiences helped me figure out what I didn’t like and that I really liked school. I discovered that I liked English…in fact, I loved English. Looking back, I loved all of the experiences…just not at the time.I just believe that kids need experiences so that they know what they like to do, and what they don’t. I worry that we have gotten so far away from experiential and applied learning. Most of the time we hear political folks say that they appreciate this type of learning, but somehow it does not get funded. Go figure.As for sports, I loved playing football; I discovered that it was a lot better doing the hitting than getting hit…by that baseball.Oh, baseball…the Giants won.
I wonder if they listen to us…adults.“Education is the most important thing…it is our future.”So California, the ninth largest economy in the world, funds schools like a third-world country. We complain about childhood obesity, and cut physical education. We complain about kids not being able to be creative; yet, we cut programs like art and music. We complain about kids not being ready for work, while we cut career and technical education. We complain about students not being college ready, and eliminate proven support programs like AVID. We even cut the number of days kids go to school. Education is the most important thing?I wonder if they listen to us…“The safety of our children is the most important thing…it is our future.”I cannot remember a year where we have had more of our youth killed. I cannot remember a year where we have had more of our youth…kill. I can’t remember a year where our kids have cried out more for safe after school programs, safe weekend activities, safe evening events, and safe places to walk, run, and play. Safe? Another kid was killed yesterday. Safety is the most important thing?I wonder if they listen to us...“We love our children.”I know we sometimes lead the nation in foreclosures…and kids sleep in the alleys, and under the bridges. I know our communities struggle with unemployment…and our kids go to bed hungry. I know that some of our children wear the same clothes to school over and over again. I know some of our children are abused at home. I know some of our children live with those who are not their parents. I know some of our kids never get a positive hug, or a positive kiss. We love our children?I wonder if they listen to us…I wonder if…during this election year… we adults will even bother to listen to those adults who are asking us adults to vote for adults who are supposed to make a positive difference to those who may not listen to us…adults.We do make it confusing, don’t we...It’s no wonder why they don’t listen to us… adults.
Tips for back to school
The idea of writing an article for parents regarding “tips” for kids returning to school…well…was interesting. I couldn’t help but think about so much that has changed since when I went to school! I remember that school ended that first week of June and started back after Labor Day. By the time that first day of school came around, I was dying to get back to school. I had a few weeks of summer school that curbed the monotony that eventually crept into my naive youthful perspective of a summer of sleep and frivolity; however, that long summer actually served as an incentive for return to seemingly endless endeavor called school. If we could make summer really long again, then we could use summer as a “tip, ” but we can’t do that anymore since summer has morphed into two months, or eight weeks, or basically enough days to just tease the spirit of a young child, never giving up the pure pleasure of three months of mindless peace. So much has changed.I don’t know if anyone else remembers breakfast before school; I think breakfast has been erased much like summer. My mom, even though she worked at the Merced County Health Department, somehow managed to make breakfast in the morning. You know… “the most important meal of the day.” I don’t know if it really was the “most important meal,” but it sure was worth waking up for. It seemed that there was an endless cornucopia of menu selections that ranged from the quintessential eggs and potatoes to oatmeal to cereal to French toast to…well, just lots of great stuff! I was always just full enough to be hungry come lunch, when that paper bag would open up between my anticipating fingers and watchful eyes. I always loved peanut better…it was supposed to be filling…but I also loved the surprise of those “others” that augmented that universal bland staple, and brought life to lunch! Does anyone eat breakfast or bring lunch to school anymore? I used to think that food would be a “tip” to get kids ready for school, or at least looking forward to lunch time at school. Not any more. So many things have changed.I know that there are computers today; heck, I am typing on one now, but I loved my old binder. The one that had lined paper, a pocket for some pencils and pens, and even a small scissors sometimes. Could you imagine bringing a sharp object to school today? I know you would get suspended or expelled. That binder was the holder of knowledge through my copious note-taking skills, to the valued handouts that came from each and every teacher! Computers take the place of that old binder. I thought that getting a new binder would be a “tip” for getting kids to look forward to school. Not anymore. So much has changed.Anyway…tips for parents about getting kids ready for school. It would be better for you to Google it on your computer. I did. A lot of cool stuff. My advice? Make sure your kid wakes up to a great breakfast…the most important meal of the day. Pack a lunch for them or have them help you pack a lunch…they will probably eat it. Give them something that they can take notes on, and something that they can keep those notes in; it could be a binder or a computer. When they come home from school, ask them what went on…and listen…be amazed and supportive. Make sure they have a quiet place to study, and help them as much as you can. This is great bonding time…and it also humbles us adults. Make sure they eat dinner…together…with you. Help them get to bed early enough to get a lot of sleep. Oh…the most important thing…the thing that should never change…Make sure to give your kid a kiss goodnight and the last words they should hear before they close their eyes is “I love you.” That is my “tip.”
Summer is coming
Well, it’s May. Remember when school ended in June and not in May? I remember it being hot. Really hot. Not like May hot. June hot. Sweaty, 105 degree hot. No breeze hot. We didn’t have air conditioning in any of the classrooms. Heck, we didn’t even have fans. I loved my morning class because it was still sort of cool. I remember how the grass smelled outside of my first period class. The lower windows were slanted open, inward, just enough. Sometimes my teacher would lift that long metal hook from the wall and would reach up to those windows the ones so high that they almost touched the ceiling. And pull them inward just enough. The morning dew made the grass smell green. I know that green is not a smell, but it smelled green and fresh like summer. Like summer vacation. Like three months away from school.I loved June of my senior year. Graduation from high school was a big deal not because of making it through twelve, long, and sometimes torturous years of school. Although my mom and dad never went to college, they expected me to go. Heck, I expected me to go. Summer meant I was going to Merced College. I couldn’t go away to a four-year university because I wanted to play college football, and although I was good in high school I was a bit small and a bit slow and a bit weak; not a good combination. That, coupled with the fact that my family couldn’t afford to send me to a four-year college, made Merced Junior College perfect.One and a half years flew by. Walking to college during that first summer. Pat Mahoney, the trainer who I would get to know all too well.Dr. Bean’s comparative religions class - the class that made so much sense to me. Mr. Wilson’s English class where I finally learned to learn how to write. Roger Imbrogno’s weightlifting class where I became strong and fast. Anatomy, history, music, art.The strange thing was that, as those years flew by, there was always one thing that remained constant; that June 105 degrees of hot and that early morning smell of dew on freshly cut grass that smelled green.It is May, but June is coming.I cannot wait.
I write best when I am tired. I am really tired tonight. This should have been a heck of a good column…but it isn’t. I don’t have much to write about. I am tired beyond creativity. Do you ever get that way? Tonight I am at that tiredness that pulls your heart into your stomach and makes you sick to your soul. I am so tired of what is happening to our children…and to our teachers…and to our schools…My friends who work in schools…at any level…in any job…work to “keep that stiff upper lip” in a time where those with power say that they value school, but continue to slowly erode what should be the cornerstone, or pillar, or foundation, or…Heck, you know the rest. Educators are optimists by design…they are generally “made” to keep a positive outlook. That is who they are…they are optimists inside and out. They have to be. Their kids depend on that human star that guides them through a difficult lesson, later to learn that it was not about the “lesson at hand,” but rather was about a life lesson…far beyond that classroom problem, far beyond that high school or elementary school quiz. Our young people count on us educators to give them the academic, social, and emotional tools that will prepare them for…as cliché as this might seem…life.I remember that poem, that chemistry experiment, that art project…because their lessons helped me reach for answers that would come to life years later in settings that had relevancy that were born in classrooms, designed by teachers who knew the future power of foundational work that had begun in classrooms, but would have true meaning in a real life, in a real time which transcended those hour-long classroom lessons.What a week. A text message from a teacher who was really tired from trying to reach her 38 students…and not being able to. Listening to a counselor who has 1,000 students to care for…and not being able to. Hearing a principal who struggles, alone, to give his teachers, his support staff, his kids the help that they need…and not being able to. Talking with a group of parents who want to believe that their kids will have that complete educational experience…and not being able to. Trying to believe our elected leaders, and candidates, when they say that “education is the most important part of our future”…and not being able to. Our schools are doing so much, with so little. What could we do if we were given just the funding that the law says that we should have? What would our children look like? What would our future, as a society…as a State…look like?I am tired, and truly write the best when I am tired…but not tonight. I guess I could have written a story…you know I like doing that…but not tonight. I am tired, but am actually looking forward to the coming days. You see, I am tired of giving away our future, and believe that it is truly time to say…not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever. An election is coming. Don’t accept the rhetoric. Ask the questions. What have you done to support our children in our schools; what will you do? Our kids deserve it.
A call forward
Sometimes going backwards helps you go forwards.I got a call the other night from someone I consider to be my best friend…Sparky Gehres. He is an art teacher at Livingston High School. I think people down there call him “Mark” Gehres, or Mr. Gehres, or Coach Gehres. I know him as Sparky. I never see him enough or talk to him enough…but he just intuitively knows when to call, and when to keep calling until I answer. He has always known when to…not so simply...show up…to call. When each of my parents died. Those first years of teaching, coaching. Trying to figure out his family and my family. Girlfriends. Playing football. College. Our kids. The current state of education. That’s where I have been stuck. He called.Since Sparky is a teacher, we always start by talking about how messed up the school system is…not the teacher part, not the kid part, not the sports part…the political part. The money part. The tidal wave of rules part. We both talk ourselves into a frenzy. It’s “counseling” at its best. We both talk at the same time, say the same things, have the same examples. We both agree, think that we are right, and ultimately come up with a solution…that will never be attempted other than in his classroom, and at my place. The machine gun conversation is usually followed by a silence. Then we go backwards…to when we were kids. We have some history…too long to even begin to explain. His brother, Rob. The Biscayne. Merced Junior College. Football. Bands…We played football together, but we played in a band together. We have some history together. The American Legion Hall, Applegate Park, dusty nightclubs, hilarious musician friends…we both continued to play in bands for many years after those early kid days, different bands, different clubs…Sparky still plays. He is really good. I don’t play anymore. Somehow, though, Sparky convinced me to scatter some guitars around my house, so that when I get stuck…when I get frustrated…when I get sad…I can go backwards. I never play enough to get good again. My fingers don’t get callouses. They hurt just enough to help me remember what we did as kids…what our dreams were…who helped us…a gateway to the past, a bridge to the future. Going backwards to help go forwards. A bridge over the messy water that stops future dreams…that stops future goals…that simply stops future promises. Sparky always intuitively knows when I am stuck, and he has always known that my bridge has strings, frets, smoky smells, and those once-in-a-lifetime moments and memories that explain…no…define what life should be. Sometimes going backwards helps you go forwards. I bet most people have that person, that reminder, that bridge…that helps each of us keep a dream alive. I think I will take a break and pick up the Gibson. The blonde one.Thanks, Sparky.
I started out by doing some research. I wanted to really know how this “Valentine’s Day” thing started. The Internet is wonderful. I can see why we all just jump on our computers and start looking up things that we don’t know about. After even just a few minutes, I learned more about Valentine’s Day than I really wanted to know. I was going to write about the history of Valentine’s Day…but stopped. All of the stories have some “issues.” A couple of superintendent friends of mine got into some newspaper “hot water” when they made innocent comments about the last, most recent holiday, and I’m not going to open myself up to that. If you are interested in the history of Valentine’s Day, take a look on-line. It’s pretty good.Anyway, my earliest memory of Valentine’s Day is when one of my elementary teachers, had to be first grade or so, had all of us make a card in class for our moms or grandmas. We got to measure, cut, and paste! We got to draw! I remember being fascinated by being able to cut a piece of paper into a square…she taught us how to measure, explained what a square was, and slipped in some other things about rectangles and triangles. Always teaching. So, we folded our square piece of paper in half, drew something that looked like a stretched out letter “C” and started cutting. Wow! Out came a perfect heart…and if we gave a little space on the bottom of our folded, square piece of paper, right where the lower part of that stretched out “C” was, we could open up the paper and find that we had a square with a heart in the middle. We got two things! A heart…and a square with a heart! The whole experience was magical! I remember that while we were cutting, pasting, and drawing, she would slip in some stories about caring for others, about telling our parents, family, and friends that we cared about them. Always teaching. Looking back, it was a total set-up. Teachers are good about those types of things…set-ups.She knew that one of the kids…you know the one…the kid who always knew all of the answers, always was first to “jump in there” with a raised hand, always wanted to stay after and wipe down those boards rather than go outside and “run till you dropped”…that kid, after subtle…well-placed teacher leads…would suggest that we make cards for each other! If it was anything else, the vast majority of those of us who were “others” would have wanted to pounce on that “chosen one”…but in this case, we were all over it…if it meant that we could keep making those hearts and making big and little cards! Our teacher thought it was a great idea…naturally…it was her idea anyway! I remember being excited about it; we all were.We made cards for boys and girls…it didn’t matter. We made cards for that quiet kid that none of us really got to know, and for that kid who was always angry, or for the one who was always sad. We made cards for the custodian and even for the principal. All along, our teacher was telling us about how important it was to be kind to others, to give an occasional hug and that “way to go”…to send a Valentine’s Day card.Well, that was a long time ago…but I still think it was a good lesson. I don’t know if it fits in the Frameworks, NCLB, Race to the Top, or the Common Core. I know for sure that we won’t assess that in any State or Federal tests. It does seem that our world could use a few of us sending some Valentine’s Day cards to one another. Not the computer ones…not the store bought ones…the ones that are made from the heart. Heck. Make a card…send it to someone special. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I have been accused, anonymously no less, of not being able to make a point without telling a story. This accusation is supposedly based upon my previous Outlook articles. This is totally inaccurate and I am actually offended by the accusation. As this year comes to a close and a new year begins, I cannot help but think about who may be the author of what, as it appears to me, is an affront to my very character.It could be anyone.I was sitting with two people from my work the other day, Jamie Mousalimas and Doug Martin. We were at The Ranch in Stockton. I have known Doug for probably 30 years and I cannot imagine it would be him, but you never know. I have to tell you that we were laughing pretty hard about when Doug first started teaching at Juvenile Hall; he was about 24 years old, and was attacked by a student wielding a long pencil…resulting in the “golf pencil” rule at the Hall, which only allows short pencils to be used in our school. Of course that led to a story about a new teacher, Andrew Beam, who is about the same age as Doug was when he started; Andrew got in the way of some pepper spray during his first month at the Hall. Doug, Jamie, and I could not help but think of the parallels. That led to me thinking about the story that Jamie told about when he was in Saudi Arabia and SCUD missiles were being dropped by his school. What started out as being a discussion about how tough it was this year, turned into some pretty funny stories. Anyway, I don’t think it would be those guys.It could be Ed King, though. We were talking about a recent trip that we went on to look at a special building that could be used as an Ag Pavilion. He started laughing about how I drove down a one-way street the wrong way. I can tell you, it was not my fault. He and Rashonne, one of our teachers, gave me the wrong directions…at least that is how I remember it. Ed remembers it differently and was taking great liberty at laughing about the situation…and at me. I think his memory is fading. I thought that Ed might be the one, but probably not…especially with his inability to recollect things accurately.It could be any of the Superintendents…they are a shady group. I have known Carl Toliver for many years; we have some history. We always remember the time that a reporter was trying to pit us against each other like a little kid working his mom and dad. Carl had the idea to trap him at my favorite spot, Jack in the Box, where we could “double team” the guy. I will never forget the look on that reporter’s face when he was supposed to be meeting with me, and had to sit with both of us. Carl is retiring again for the third or fourth time; I cannot imagine it would be him. He is like the Bret Farve of the education world. I go to lunch with Ron Costa, Bill Draa, and Dana Eaton each month. Ron missed last month…it could be him, but I don’t think he even reads the Outlook. Jason Messer could be the one, but anyone who raises chickens can’t be that mean. Louise Johnson makes a great quiche; it couldn’t be her. Cathy Nichols-Washer is one of the most caring, but straightforward people I know; she would just call or write if she were upset. I guess when I really think about it, none of them would probably be the one. It has been a tough year for all of them.It has been a tough year for everyone, myself included. I don’t think that I could make it through these tough times without being surrounded by caring people. I remember being told once that “good people always trump bad times.” I think that must be true.Anyway…what was my point? Oh, yeah…I cannot believe that someone would say that I cannot make a point without telling a story. Wow!
Mick Founts, Ed.D. SJC Superintendent of Schools
Our Holiday Tradition
I cannot remember when we ever had a “Christmas tree.” I always wondered about that. We had a manzanita tree. I remember going up to Mariposa. I think it was Mariposa… but it could have been La Grange. It was cold, but never that cold to warrant being “bundled up.” I always hated the cold because I had to “bundle up,” too many undershirts, too many sweatshirts, a coat, gloves… just too many pieces of clothing. It just was not that cold. We drove up in our Hilman. It was a little foreign car that had two bucket seats in the front, separated by a stick shift on the floor. It had a back seat that was straight across, just long enough to sleep on if you were a little boy driving to the foothills. The Hilman had a hatch door in the back and a flat storage area behind that second seat. It was perfect to put a manzanita tree in.If you haven’t seen a manzanita tree, it looks like a stick. I remember one year, in particular, when we went on our trek to find the perfect stick. I was the one who found it. Looking back, I think they let me be the one. It had about six limbs, not too many and not too few. I quickly estimated that all of the ornaments could fit. We made most of our ornaments, so I could adjust if needed. It was the perfect height... it would fit in the Hilman. The one good thing was that it was already broken from the larger tree, which meant the old wood-handled saw was not needed; the bad thing was that the branch was already broken from the tree so the old wood handled saw would not be needed. Half of the fun was sawing and cutting… and taking off the too many, bundled up, clothes. But, this was the perfect tree… the perfect stick.I couldn’t wait to get home and begin the tradition. My mom and dad would help. First thing was to wipe off the stick, attach it to a base, and then paint it white. I would place the tree on the table right in front of the floor-to-ceiling middle window in our living room. Gingerly wrapping the lights strategically on the branches took hours. Some of the branches got special cotton. I hung the ornaments carefully, changing a few here and there, making sure that each one was in the right spot. I always remembered plugging in the lights. It was like a miracle. We would open the curtains so that everyone who drove by at night could see the “once a stick”… now a work of art. Perfect.It was a stick. I have what’s left of it today. It’s smaller and doesn’t have as many branches. Many have broken off. It’s shorter, or maybe that’s because I am taller. It still is a stick. I always wondered why we drove so far… why, what could have taken a couple of hours took an entire day and night. I wondered why we stopped at the same park, sat at the same bench, to eat a lunch that my mom had packed; we could’ve eaten it in the car. I always wondered why we grabbed one of those now antique glass bottled sodas out of the red machine at the same little two-pump gas station about half way home. I don’t wonder anymore.
Pull the trigger?
When one hears “Pull the trigger,” most of us immediately think of a gun, a shot, a wound…a death. Will the Governor “pull the trigger?” Will our legislature and Governor inflict an economic wound to what the vast majority of our citizens believe to be the only salvation for our future, the education of our children? Isn’t there some pathetic irony in the use of “Pull the trigger,” when the discussion is about our children’s future? Think about it. “Pull the trigger.” Children. A wound. A death.Most of us know the California numbers: almost last in educational funding; last in counselors; last in student-to-teacher ratio; last in administrator ratio; last in…you know the numbers. Eighth largest economy in the world…last in support of our children’s education. You know the numbers. Make it worse? “Pull the trigger?”How about these numbers…in San Joaquin County: six young people in juvenile hall are being tried for murder…today; 48 young people in juvenile hall are being tried as adults…today; Almost 2,500 homeless children in our county….today; Over 1,600 foster youth in our county …today; One in four children ages five-19 obese in our county…today; 20% of school age children living in poverty in our county…today; Zero counselors in many of our schools…today; Over 35 children in a class…today; Only 175 school days for our children…today; Spending $4,000 less per student than many other States…today. How about those numbers? That is TODAY. “Pull the trigger?” Make it worse for our children? Make it worse for children who need more teachers, more counselors, more school days, more education, more opportunity? “Pull the trigger?” We are getting close to an election. “Educating our youth is the most important priority that we have.” We will hear this statement many times in the next months from those who have been in office, and from those who want to be in office. Where have they been? Where will they be? “Pull the trigger” does not seem to be consistent with providing a “bright educational and economic future for all children.” Inflicting a wound…a death does not seem to be consistent with caring about kids. When and if our Governor “pulls the trigger”…when and if our legislators “pull the trigger”…our schools die a little bit more, our educators die a little bit more. Our children die a little bit more.Let’s remember who is important…beyond the political rhetoric, beyond our legislators’ inability to compromise, beyond their excuses. “Pull the trigger?” Our children deserve more.
We left later than we wanted to, which is the “usual.” We had to wait for the “vet check” so that we could go across some state lines. It was clearly my fault, and not the fault of our vet, who I truly love. I should have done it earlier….but didn’t, which is the “usual.” Our vet, Andrea, is so patient with us and is always willing to help; she has always been that way. We left at 11:00, when we had planned to leave at 6:00. My fault. It really didn’t matter; we would still get to Twin Falls, Idaho in plenty of time. My daughter and I decided to show at a Boer Goat show in Twin Falls. We only took seven goats and it was going to be an easy, fun drive.I think we were between Winnemucca and Battle Mountain when a truck drove along side of us and honked his horn, pointing at us. I thought he was mad at me for some reason. I wasn’t driving too fast or too slow. I wasn’t swerving. He pulled in front of us and started blinking his lights. We pulled over. One of our tires on our trailer was shredded, blown out, destroyed. The trucker was just trying to help. While we were waiting for the AAA guy to show up, a couple of cars stopped to see if we were OK; they were trying to help….pretty nice folks. The AAA guy showed up after a bit, and he changed the tire on our trailer. He lived in Nevada all of his life, but somehow had acquired a Texas accent; but, he was the most helpful guy in the world. We got to Twin Falls at about 1:30 a.m., tired, but with plenty of time to get some rest before our 6 a.m. check in time. Then it hit us, it was really 2;30 a.m. Five o’clock came early and we could have used more than two hours sleep. The Twin Falls Fair Ground really wasn’t in Twin Falls…it was in Filer, which was about ten miles away. What a beautiful drive. When we pulled in, we knew something was up. We were from California and they all knew it! They even said, “You’re from California”…that’s how we knew that they knew. They immediately started treating us really nice….we knew something was up. They put our animals in the best pens, right next to the show ring; they helped us unpack; they even helped us find a tire place in nearby Buhl so that we could have a safe trip home….now we really knew that something was up! Even the guy at the tire place, who was originally from San Diego and who had acquired a Texas accent, was friendly, helpful, and ended our tire change with a “see all y’all at the fair.“ This behavior continued all that day, and into the next…even when we were showing and in the ring. They were all nice….we knew something was up. After the show, someone brought us a couple sacks of potatoes and some fish that was caught a couple of days earlier. The two people who ran our part of the fair invited us back for next year, and let us know of a couple other events that would happen in June. We ran into the guy from the tire place, and he congratulated us on doing so well at the fair. A couple families told us that they were going to swing by and visit with us in California in the next month or so. Something was indeed up!This something cannot be faked…compassion. We loved our long trip to Twin Falls, Filer, and Buhl. We loved their fair. We loved the people. It did not matter if it was the ticket taker, the tire guy, the barn chair, the little blond haired boy….something was up. Compassion.What does this have to do with my work? Everything. Sometimes that word, “compassion,” gets shoved to the back of our behavior and our educational focus. It is not a part of our API, AYP, or Exit Exam. Maybe it should be.
Memories of school
It’s the first month of school…. again. There have been many “again” school moments for me, but when I think of my past schooling, I cannot help but think of specific teachers. Of course, there are the ones that none of us forget because they were just “characters,” so different from anyone… so different from everyone. We all had them, and we all remember them. I cannot help but think of my junior high PE teacher who used to manage to “talk and spray.” He was such a nice man, but no one wanted to stand too close to him when he was talking, let alone yelling. I remember my chemistry teacher whose somewhat short, gray hair stood up on end, just slightly longer than what a crew cut should be, and somehow extending on the sides of his head like a porcupine. Today his haircut might have been almost cool, but not during my high school years. He just screamed, “mad professor.” A weird thing is that I found a slide rule the other day in my office at home, the same one that I used in his class; I cannot remember how to use it. I don’t know if I ever really knew how to use it.I do remember my first real English teacher. He was young and “hip.” I was a freshman. It was during the Vietnam war and we read poetry. War poetry. We read poems from the Civil War, World War I and II, wars that I did not even know had happened. They were all so sad. They were always the same…different time, but always the same. So sad. Of course we read Thoreau and Emerson….and Bob Dylan. We read some Phillis Wheatley, and started talking about the civil rights movement. I think I read my first novel in his class. He taught us how to write, and how to love writing. He taught us how to think, and accept the thoughts of others.I wanted to play football, and did. Football is a violent sport. I loved it. Honestly, I loved the violence. I remember that my freshman coaches were the first people to say that football was not a contact sport; it was a “collision sport.” That sounded so exciting to me. I guess that is why, years later, as a head football coach myself, my teams always started each game, lining up on the 49 yard line, facing the opposing players, and yelling, in unison, “We will hit you!” The problem was that I loved the collisions and the great hits, but also loved the sensitivity that came with a great short story, or three lines of great verse, or the last powerful sentence in a novel. Great collisions…physical or poetic.The funny thing to me was that those collisions, both types, elicited great emotion. The searching, for both, made me work hard in two separate arenas, in two seemingly different “classrooms.” The classrooms were, in actuality, quite the same. The teachers were the same, too, but none were “characters.” I do not remember them for any unique looks, or strange behaviors, or quirks. I remember them because they taught me the same things.I learned about being human. I learned that people really matter…their race, religious views, societal beliefs really did not matter to my human connection to them. Even the opposing players were not my enemies; they were actually my reflection. I learned that great emotion comes in different places, through different activities, in different ways. I learned that the softness of reading and the violence of a game like football is not an “either or” but is rather the differences that make a person more whole, more one. I guess what I remember about school is the many teachers who somehow added to my “balance,” added to what might seem contradictions, but in reality have turned in to a caring for all people, an understanding of all views, and a love for the uniqueness that life brings.
The last day of school
I remember that last day of school. It didn’t matter if I was in the second-grade, third-grade, or fourth. It was always the same. That last day was always June 5, or sometime during that first week of June… no matter what day it was, it was the hottest day of the year. Even the morning in Merced was hot, still and hot. There was no breeze, no air conditioning, no fans…just hot.My Levis were finally worn in, or as my mom would say, “worn out.” They were so “hopeless,” that my mom even gave up using the secret starch spray that tortured me for all those early months of school. Those jeans were finally soft and frayed. Even the patches that my mom had ironed on, or sewn in, were worn out. Perfect. Those Levis were perfect. The pocket stitching was basically gone, and it was a miracle of design how those pockets could hold anything…but they did: my pencil, milk money, a couple of marbles, and some well-hidden sunflower seeds. My high-top Converse tennies were also worn out beyond belief. One week more, and my big toe would find a way to set itself free, either through the rubber sole, or through the canvas top. I was finally able to rid myself of those stiff button down shirts that I had to wear during the first weeks and months of school, and was rescued by my favorite white t-shirt. By the end of that last day, my white t-shirt would be sure to have grass stains, dirt stains, and, of course, the sweat stains that came from the 100 degree plus Merced heat.As I think back, I cannot help but wonder why, in September, my mom felt obligated to make me a breakfast of hot oatmeal, but in June, I was able to have cold cereal, toast, and cold orange juice. September was just as hot as June, and June was just as hot as September. Somehow, though, my mom felt oatmeal was appropriate, I guess that in her mind somewhere in the United States of America, September was cold and oatmeal was needed to warm me up…but not in Merced. I was warmed up by the already hot morning…or it might have been by the excitement that I always felt about school. The school year always went by so fast. My teachers always seemed happiest on that last day of school, but they always cried sometime during that day. It was always at a different time, while collecting our books, handing back our portfolio of papers to take home, coming or going from lunch, out at recess…but it always happened. It made me feel like crying, too, but I didn’t know why. Shoot, it was about to be summer. Three full months of freedom. Time to stay up a bit later, and sleep in a bit longer. The strange thing is that on Monday, I would get up about the same time, eat the same breakfast, and leave for Charles Wright Elementary School just like I did in September; just like I did in June. Dennis and Dean would walk down 21st Street right in front of my house and I would join them. The only difference was that my books were replaced by a bat, ball, and glove, or a football, or a kick ball We would walk down Union Avenue where Bobby, the girl next door, would join us, and the gathering of little people would grow until we got to school….just like in September….just like in June. This was an easy tradition, an easy habit; we were about to begin “summer school,” our specially designed summer school where we gathered in the same way, going to the same place all summer long, but not to go to class. We went to play baseball, football, basketball, or just to sit under the trees...at Charles Wright School.I miss those hot days, those walks to Charles Wright School, those stiff Levis on those first days of school, and those worn-out Converse tennies on those last days of school. I miss my early childhood friends. I miss my teachers…and above all else, I miss what school was to me…a place where play was as valued as English, where music was as important as mathematics, where art was as essential as science, and where teachers had the time to make sure that all of us kids were taught to love learning. The last day of school was never really the end, but rather the beginning….the start of the next school year.
A conversation with Darrell Scott
These are the thoughts of Dr. Founts after meeting and interviewing Darrell Scott, the father of the first Columbine shooting victim, Rachel Scott, for Teachers College of San Joaquin’s “A Conversation with” series on March 9.
When I read his books, I cried. I read them all. All I could do was think about his daughter; a senseless shooting, a murder. I watched the news footage over and over again, trying to become desensitized…the picture of a dad straining to see if that was his son coming from the door that was barely cracked open against the blank wall of a school that had become a battleground. The contorted faces of parents. Parents like you, parents like me. Parents like the man who I would be interviewing in a couple of hours. Their tear lined faces betrayed their broken, fearful hearts, even as they attempted to stay strong for others who felt just like them. I even heard him speak a couple of weeks earlier; I was hoping the familiarity of hearing him speak about his daughter would protect me from the connection that one dad has to another.He came early; I think it was a couple of hours before he was to talk about his daughter. After he tested his computer, and put his suitcases in the corner next to the sound system, we decided to take a short drive around south Stockton. He was a dad. His voice had a smile, a melancholy smile. His eyes still sparkled as he talked about the years before the shooting. He talked about his daughter, but I began to focus not on the story that I so vividly remembered, the story that I had spent hours reading about, or about the video news-clips that I had spent hours watching. I was watching a father, a dad…like me.Dads do not prepare for the death of their daughters. Dads do not prepare for the haunting, painful hours and numbing years that follow. I know that I will never forget the story about his daughter: the nausea that sits in my stomach to this day, and the haunting loneliness that was behind the almost all-knowing voice that, on one hand, jokes and then lapses into sadness. By the end of that night, the story that will stay with me forever is not just about his daughter; it will be about him. He seemingly talked to us almost as a way to somehow stay connected to a world of the past, one that he is no longer connected to, but one that he remembers. I will always remember the most basic of his messages, the most simple of his reminders, the one thing that we don’t say enough.“If there was one last thing that you could say to Rachel, what would it be?”?“I love you.”
Parenting and the importance of school
It might be naïve on my part, but I truly believe that all parents want their kids to be “ok.” I think that all parents want their kids to have more than what they had or have, and that they want them to be happy as adults. What is that old saying? “There is no handbook on how to raise children.” Parents may not have all of the “tools” or experience or knowledge or luck to do this “raising children thing” correctly, what ever that means. Some may have had kids too early or too late in their lives. Some parents don’t have enough money to raise kids. Some parents have personal problems that end up hurting the children that they started out loving so much, and probably still love. Some do the unthinkable and leave their kids or become so dysfunctional that someone else has to raise their kids. Some kids end up in jail, or are killed. All-in-all, I still believe that parents start out by wanting their kids to ultimately be “ok.”
Society, government cannot control all of the variables that confront, challenge, and confuse children. Support cannot be legislated or ordered or forced on those who simply are incapable of doing what it takes to bring a little one from birth to adulthood in a way that will result in that child being “ok.” Raising children is a human thing; it is a “feet on the ground” thing. Raising children is a soft hand holding on to another; it is a hug and a kiss. It is that human balance of giving boundaries and giving freedom.
I only know of one place where every child is seen five days a week, all year long, and by adults who provide that “human thing” that is so important to raising children. School. Children are simply “school dependent.” School is that great equalizer where every child’s “toolbox” can be filled by academic skills, health skills, career skills, social skills, coping skills, emotional skills….life skills. Some kids are lucky enough to have great home experiences…privilege of birth; other kids are unfortunate to have horrid home experiences. School, though, is that great place for all of our school dependent children.
What are those other old sayings? The ones that we hear so much around political time? “Children are the most important people in our State.” “Education is the most important thing for our country.”