Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Redeeming Story

I found this nugget at the end of a cranky Op-Ed from George Will. I'll paraphrase Will: if one has been been dismayed by the pessimism, cynicism, narcissism, and negativism of the news and those it covers, this story goes a long way toward redeeming the world.

A Marketable Skill

So my wife suggested this morning that my family exchange names for homemade gifts this holiday season. I promptly vetoed the suggestion, mostly out of selfish concern that I had nothing adequate as a homemade item. My cousin and uncle are excellent carpenters. My brother is an adept outdoorsman. My wife, sister, and mother can all bake very well. I brew beer, but not nearly as well as my sister's husband.

The products of my talents and knowledge don't have much of a market. I'm great with directions, but Mapquest et al. has made anachronistic any set of maps and directions I could create. I could give one heck of a historical tour of a variety of attractions, but that doesn't have the appeal of a table or turkey call.

There are times when I feel somewhat inadequate about my practical skills. I'm at best a proficient painter. But I can't work with electricity, plumbing, or wood. I don't have much that I can do which would make money on the side or save us from the cost of hiring contractors. I'm skilled at teaching kids. I'm skilled at explaining the way our country or economy works. I'm skilled at interpreting the past. I'm skilled at elevating students' ability to write. Those skills earn me a nice living doing a job I love, but they don't lend themselves to bragging rights.

In an earlier conversation this weekend, my wife complimented me on being an outstanding student. It's a sign of nerdiness, but it's probably right. In one way, it seems out of date given that I haven't been a full-time student for more than fourteen years, and I haven't been a part-time one since 2007. I did harness those skills and talents for my National Board Certification, which I worked for last year and learned that I had earned last weekend. And I do harness those skills to learn the material for courses at which I am a novice at teaching. Perhaps it's time I gave thought to how I can do more with that skill set.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Today's Exercise in TINSTAAFL (There is no such thing as a free lunch)

This is just kind of disgusting to read, even though I am a sports fan: Story on hidden costs of cable television. Might cable and broadcast TV as we know it be entering their twilight years?

Friday, November 9, 2012

A small wish list

I'm happy for those who were rooting for the president's victory this week and I wish the president well in his new term. My mourning period was short for the Republicans. In fact, I can't help but think that this defeat will help reorient the Republicans. Political parties exist for one reason - to get their members into office. The Republicans will want to win in 2014 and in 2016. This defeat will help them dispense with some foolish strategy and focus more on a positive winning message around which more Americans can gather.

In the meantime, I have a modest political wishlist:

For the Republicans: Please move on from social issues. Right or wrong, stances on those touchy topics that are most personal are best left for individuals to sort out. Trust people to do the right thing.

For the Republicans: It's time to give up the fight on the Affordable Care Act. I'm heartened to see John Boehner throw up the white flag on it. The party can prove a vital role as an opposition watchdog by looking for ways to minimize waste and incentivize good medical practices as the new law comes into effect. A massive change like what that legislation brings about deserves the watchful eye a competitive party can offer.

For the Republicans: Mend fences with the Latino community. Fast. The anti-immigrant thread of the Republican Party has struck me as foolhardy at best and unkind at worst. At times, the sentiment has seemed tinged with racism. And if it seems that way to an Anglo like me, it must often feel loaded with racism to the Hispanic community. Other immigrant groups also voted blue this election. Patching fences with the Latino community will have carry-over effects on other minority groups. Besides, it's just a decent, tolerant thing to do.

For Congress: Let's get a VAT in place. It's time.

For the president: Be bold. That doesn't mean reckless. I could easily support some seemingly liberal ideas to address issues of inequality and government involvement. I hope the president uses his eighteen months of political momentum to bring about some substantive changes in ways that will help the future. Here's an odd one, authorize post offices to become small-time banks, thus knocking payday loan stores out of business. Let's get serious about high-speed rail if we're going to do it. Let's wire the whole country with fiber optic cable. Let's make wi-fi a public good in urban areas. Let's go to Mars. I can support increased government spending and increased government intervention if it's in the interests of helping our future. That would be far bigger than just appeasing and rewarding factions within the big tent Democratic Party.

For the president: Less drones.

For the president: Get in the face of China's leadership about human rights.

For the president: More cheer, more lightheartedness, more optimism. These four years featured a guerrilla political war. The opposition has been cowed. It was a good year for Democrats. At times the president has shown a thin skin in the eyes of withering opposition fire. He's got a great opportunity to rise above it and strut presidentially. I hope he can do so. It's time to channel FDR not Truman.

- - -

Though I don't agree with his political outlook on most issues, I admire the man who has earned the job as our president the next four years. I wish him well. The country benefits from a strong, confident president. I hope he can be that, at least until the "lame duck" phase kicks in 18 months from now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Nasty, scathing, but in many ways dead-on op-ed piece penned by Michael Smerconish in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. I agree with many (or maybe even most) of the points he makes. It's a negative political climate, and it has been since 1992, though the nastiness has had its most dramatic crescendos when out-of-office Republicans were criticizing in-office Democrats. Smerconish's take is congruent with The Economist's analysis that this election will leave deep scars. It will.

But, still, it looks like I'll be pulling the lever for Romney Tuesday. Smerconish's very good arguments notwithstanding, a perhaps unfair opposition to him doesn't earn my vote. Though my opinion of the president as a person remains high: I think he's a good man. Though he has occasionally shown flashes of being thin-skinned (as even The Washington Post conceded in its endorsement) I largely respect the man for the grace under pressure he has exuded. Still, I cannot vote for someone out of sympathy.

I feel like a failure, though, in that I still can't articulate a positive reason for voting the way I am Tuesday. My vote will be cast more as a reaction against the policies and direction the president would take in a second term than anything else. My hunch is that most Americans will go to the polls Tuesday with similar motivations, voting against one of our candidates rather than for a candidate. I envy the citizens who feel positive reasons to vote for their candidate.

Therefore I hold out hope that, in 2016, a man or woman comes forth from one of the parties that sells me on their vision for the future in addition to their character as a human being. I want to vote for someone in 2016 rather than vote against someone's philosophy.

Friday, November 2, 2012


So I'm about to spend the morning working on school work. Grading. Preparing. Trying to stay motivated after a week of idleness.

But on such a morning, it's impossible to not get a bit rueful about the cost of this involuntary vacation: I'll be working a day longer this summer than I would otherwise have to.

I don't expect much sympathy. Many who aren't teachers scorn the schedule we maintain. Such individuals look at our eight- to eleven-week vacation in the summer as a luxury or something undeserved. Long ago I came to the realization that though there is a lot of time off as a teacher, it comes with the cost of rigidity. There's not much choice in what days I choose to not work. Vacations in the cooler months are simply not an option.

Okay, let me get to my point. I'm frustrated that I'll likely have to work a week or more longer than I otherwise would due to this one-week outage. I'm not begrudging the decision to close the schools for a whole week (I think that was outside the hands of my administrators). What aggravates me is the lack of options we have as a school system to make up these days.

We'll return Monday, but then be out Tuesday for election day. Then we teach two more days until students are dismissed early Friday. We teach a week. Then we're off a whole week for Thanksgiving (teachers report three of those days): students enjoy the whole week to make time for two days of conferences. At the end of January we'll have a long (five-day) weekend, though teachers work all those days students get three days off.

We could more successfully recover from this week-long interruption if we could more flexibly use those days. Does the district really need to block out three whole days a year for conferences? Or could we make do with four half-days for conferences? Must we really shut down the whole school system because a general election is taking place Tuesday? Is the community really unable to switch out teacher work days for student days if the announcement is make ten weeks in advance? Must teachers report for work any day they work? Can we not tolerate some work-from-home system on days when students aren't in session?

Schools have become increasingly reactive, so afraid of something wrong that might occur that we handcuff ourselves, preventing the flexibility that would help us better weather this week-long interruption. The cost of this week away from work will be longer penetration into the summer, both for students and teachers. Isn't it a shame we can't mitigate that cost with some creative scheduling?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Canceled Week

The last time I had a week like this, it was 1994 and I was a high school senior celebrating his birthday marooned at home during a snow storm. This time I was a dad and a teacher marooned in the aftermath of a storm that rendered so many people without power. But, like that week 18 years ago, everything in my life seemed to be canceled. 

  • Work: canceled all week
  • Band practice: canceled
  • Choir practice: canceled
  • Kid's choir practice: canceled

So what have I to show from my week that wasn't? Not much. 

  • I think I was a really good father in this past week, one who spent a lot time with his kids. 
  • I did a masterful job keeping kids out of the way of working adults when, on Wednesday, our house became something of a wi-fi remote office. 
  • I gained some perspective on the stresses associated with my job, and chuckled at the humility I gained from creating lessons that were scuttled as a result of continued delays. 

It's funny: when it's all said and done I will not have seen my students in ten days. This has been a wonderful departure from the norm. The bill, in the form of days tacked on at the end of the year is going to be ugly when it comes. I may as well enjoy this calm interruption while I can.