Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Musings from the Scrapheaps of History

The New York Times ran an interesting column penned by a German editor today (you can read it here). The upshot: many older Germans hailing from the old East harbor a great sense of skepticism toward those who criticize Russia. They're distrustful of policymakers and opinion-makers who may be slaves to a pro-American world view. Perhaps the most interesting angle the author offers is that the sense of loss these east Germans feel at the vanquish of the East more than 25 years ago runs deep. Those old enough to remember life in East Germany remember making all sorts of sacrifices, both small and large. They must have seen some merits in their system. And that system was declared the loser in a conflict between two greater powers. The defeat of that system ended up being their subjugation in a Western system. And, the author points out, there's little that east Germans can point to as evidence of their active role in the end of East Germany, unlike the Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and others who more actively brought about the end of the old regime.

There's a powerful lesson here in how we treat the defeated and other victims of historical forces outside their control. There's also an interesting lesson in what measure of pride victors should take.


It's so exciting to see gasoline prices in the low 2's. My wife's little car sips fuel and has a small tank: filling it the other day cost less than $20. I filled up my minivan for less than $50 yesterday. The drop in prices acts like a coupon for $20 per fill-up.  

But it's not a change in disposable income. And I'm getting increasingly aggravated when I hear journalists say that. 

Misuse of economic jargon like this is becoming to me what wreaths on the door in February has been to my wife. A change in disposable income would be the result of a change in personal income (all the wages, interest, profit, or rents coming into a household) and/or a change in the level of taxes and/or a change in transfer payments. Disposable income is the amount left over for a household to spend after the government gets its bit (or the household gets its entitlement). 

What's happening at the gas pumps right now is significant, for a lot of reasons. For us, it means our purchasing power grows. The dollars we're earning are able to buy more things because a very critical thing on which we rely has become significantly less expensive. In a broader sense, this drop in prices is significant in that it undermines the power of some regimes we dislike (like Vladimir Putin's), discourages some economic activity on which we are ambivalent (like fracking), and encourages some activity that might cost us more money in the future (like buying fuel-sipping automobiles). 

Monday, December 29, 2014


We did worship for the 11th consecutive week. Being the Sunday after Christmas, our church's worship revolved around Lessons and Carols. The neatest part of that was it afforded Sam the opportunity to be a lector. One other eight-year-old got to serve in that role as did a middle school aged boy. It was neat to see some younger folks up there at the pulpit.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Five Myths

Normally I'm not a fan of The Washington Post's Five Myths weekly series. Usually the use of the word "myths" in a column title turns me off with its whiff of condescension. However, this week's offering is a gem, tackling some stories that meandered through 2014.

I've got to agree that the death of the NFL was greatly exaggerated. Yours truly is watching the Bengals-Steelers game as he pens this post. However, if the NFL were a stock, I wouldn't buy. I might sell it. I might hold it. But I wouldn't invest more of my time or money in the sport. The steady flow of players to the sports highest ranks seems to be slowing. The impact of the shrinking numbers of students whose parents will permit them to play football may take years to affect the NFL. In the meantime, the league will probably need to institute rules that will take the violence out of the game. Such changes will begin with prohibiting meaningful contact with the quarterback. Eventually it will turn toward implementing flag football rules in the sport, and those changes will eventually diminish fans' interest in the game.

I often don't agree with Eugene Robinson, the author of this particular segment of "Five Myths" yet I often gain a lot from reading what he has to say. Here he offers a useful perspective that we've moved on a great, great deal from the Jim Crow days. I can think of three reasons for concern, however, regarding race relations: 1) the disconcerting perception that the police community disproportionately targets young men of color, 2) the very real disappointment black Americans might feel about progress not being more impressive than it is by 2014, and 3) the naivete I see in my students about racial stereotypes (not always about blacks, but about other peoples of color). I work with great students and acknowledge that they are products of a world featuring faster-paced entertainment and mixed messages about racial identity. These wonderful young men and women might have very superficial ideas about the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable. It worries me a little bit.

Dead on. Wages are stagnant. America is dealing with an unfortunate demographic trend that has us getting grayer and our population growth slowing. We're weathering these demographic changes better than our peers in the rich world, but ultimately our growth trend is slowing. 

I admit that I've lost track of developments in this corner of the world.

I'm looking forward to another year of news from the Washington Post. Far and away it's my favorite news source. 

Another sample of irony

Just as I published my last post, a post which meandered until it touched upon how important objectivity is to what I do, I came across this column, penned by a Heritage Foundation writer. I'll likely use this column in class next week. It's actually very timely to what I'm teaching in AP Macroeconomics. The students, if we've done a good job, should be able to recognize the bias of an opinion piece (heck, it comes from the Opinion section of a newspaper). Even if they disagree with it, they should be able to objectively use it to better understand what we've been doing regarding policy decisions and the consequences of economic trends.

Happy birthday, Laffer Curve.


This column regarding the Washington Redskins by a Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer caught my eye more than a week ago. I tucked it aside assuming I'd be in the mood to write on it after an Eagles victory. That victory didn't occur. It's been hard to look at or read about anything sports so it slipped my mind.

There's an analogy Mike Sielski makes to Chris Redman in the column that I think falls flat. Otherwise, I think he offers an intelligent perspective on what a professional does about something uncomfortable. The team name and logo for the Redskins bothers me, not so much that I'm inspired to activism, but enough to make me uneasy with its use. I would really like for the team to make a change in name and logo to something else. I'm not a fan of the team, though, and there's no power in me withholding my merchandise or ticket purchasing. From the perspective of moderately interested bystander, there's not much I can do.

Sielski, however, isn't a bystander. He's a reporter and he has to confront and possibly employ the term that may offend him. So I appreciate, therefore, the position he takes about how not employing the term can get in the way of doing his job well.

I find his standards helpful as a teacher. Issues of race, gender, and religion constantly color the topics I must discuss with my students. In those discussions, I choose words that reveal values I have about what is polite, what is sensitive, and what is objective. I also choose words that keep a conversation as unencumbered as possible. Quite some time ago, for instance, I stopped using the phrase "African American" regularly in my classroom. An essay by a former newspaper editor suggested that when race is important to a discussion the term "black" is clearer and less prone to awkward inaccuracy (such as what one does when having to discuss Canadian Olympian Ben Johnson . . . an African-Canadian). There's a lot of trust my students, their parents, and my bosses must extend to me and my judgment of what's not a pejorative, but that's a slippery slop on which one just has to stand in education.

Economics challenges me more in terms of speaking clearly and accurately without offending. As I get more comfortable with that discipline, I increasingly see dilemmas and policies through the prism of rich and poor. When I use the term middle class, I often am lumping that group in with the rich. And this comes up often, for there are implications about wealth distribution in almost any policy discussion I have with students. Issues of unintentional wealth redistribution also come up when I talk with my students about news developments (I have often quipped with them that Costco is a middle-class benevolent society). I can think of more times in the past year, however, when I've cringed at an indiscreet way of phrasing something in that class rather than in the field with the more obvious verbal landmines, history.

Sielski's column serves as good reinforcement for the place of objectivity in one's professional work. Students love to use "biased" and "unbiased" in class dialogue. Though those terms have their use in evaluating informational sources we see, I don't care for using those words to characterize someone's intentions. We're all biased. We all have preferences and tastes on things innocuous (like chocolate vs. vanilla) to things significant (like religious faith). The behavior I want to model for my students is objectivity, the ability to see things as clear from personal preference as possible. That's a habit of mind I think they can emulate.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Nuclear Winter Begins Now

Goodness gracious, it's been some time since I've written. Good news, I'm back. What with the Eagles' sudden fall from grace, and imminent elimination from playoff contention, I'll have time to write.

There are many times in one's life as a fan that one must mourn the end of the season. As a Philadelphia fan, we normally get to do this four times a year. This funeral, however, seems particularly bleak given the suddenness of it (wasn't it just three weeks ago we were laughing at their swashbuckling victory over Dallas), the fact that it's at the hands of Dallas, and that there is no hope for a good season from any other team in Philadelphia.

Further, the immolation of this football team was so shameful, so sharp, that it leaves virtually every aspect of this team's prospects next season in doubt. It's going to be a long winter.

So now I must give thought as to how I'll fill the space. At home that's easy: spend more time focusing on my kids. Read more books. On my commute, I'll need to say good bye to sports talk for a few months. I'll have to figure out some good podcasts to pass that time.

Back to home: more time to write, I guess.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The long, short first half

The winter break is almost near. Only four school days stand between me and more than a week and a half off of teaching. Like I am any year, I'm somewhat exhausted, and I feel just a bit in over my head, fatigued by the nature of "this year."

But this is an annual exercise for me. I walk into every winter break filled with the motivation to do something different the next semester. And I believe that's true because, by falling before the true midpoint of the year, there has enough time to infer lessons from the administrators and the students about how to proceed for the remainder of the year. And, there is enough left to the year to justify trying a new approach.

Last year, around this time, my educational guru started sharing ideas with me about differentiation that slowly but surely transformed the atmosphere of my class. I hit the second semester with those ideas in place. I also mulled over how to rearrange content of a politics and civics class I taught then, and approached semester two with a distinctly different approach. I remember spending time a few years ago mulling over how I needed to be more transparent online about my lesson planning (okay, that's a very nerdy revelation).

The good news is that my middle-of-the-year revelations are stemming more from what I perceive the kids need rather than what I think my higher-ups want. I'm glad to know that I haven't lost my ability to read and hear the students. In short, I know at mid-year how I need to push my students but the manner in which they need that push is more subtle. It's not as much about expectations of content mastery as it expectations of use of time and nimbleness of mind.

This job remains exciting. Every class is a puzzle, and one has a given amount of time (9 weeks, 18 weeks, 27 weeks) to figure out what works for them. You're reading the post of someone who, in week 14, figured out how to make a group of students work and think and contribute in the way he's been looking for.

I'm very proud of what my administrator saw when observing me today. He saw a teacher who knew how to keep a group of 11th graders moving, both intellectually and physically, for 90 minutes. He saw a teacher who knew how to blend instruction and assessment so fluidly it was a bit hard to tell what the kids were doing when. He saw a teacher able to improvise and laugh and adapt. And he saw kids honoring the atmosphere the class needs.

I chuckle a little bit when I think on how different my room and lesson looks now than it did half a career ago, when I came to the high school. I'm lucky that I have a career that challenges me to keep things fresh.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Eight weeks in a row. Big Kahuna will be devoured on Advent 4. I wish I could say my time at church got me any closer to making up my mind on a few difficult decisions. It didn't. Still, eight weeks is a good streak.

Some more Mojo . . .

I might have just created a board game. Holy cow. More, later . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Getting one's mojo back

The first two days of this week were defeating: days on which it seemed I couldn't find a groove teaching, coordinating, parenting, husbanding . . . you name it, I felt like I was off. I was due for a good day teaching, and I think I got it today.

At least in two of the three classes I teach. The other, okay, I'm still off my game a little bit.

Back to Macro. I came across a great column written by Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. It did a very good job summarizing the health of the U.S. economy, and therefore served as a good review of recent course content. Moreover, her column contained a rich assortment of references and allusions. Good writing is filled with references that intrigue, inspire, and offer meaning on different levels. If one doesn't get those references, one cannot appreciate what they're reading. Heck, one might not even understand it.

So, I challenged my students to take her column, and use their phones to Google three references. Here's what we learned . . .

  • "mojo" has its origins in Voodoo
  • my students have the tact to not read out loud the definition Urban Dictionary offers for "mojo" (I praised them on respecting the PG boundaries of a classroom in a world that is sometimes Rated R)
  • most of my students had no idea who "Mr. Magoo" was . . . until today
  • the "one-eyed man" reference has possible roots in Genesis
Some students' learnings. 
More learnings.
We categorized their learnings according to how jargon-ish the terms were. 

In an attempt to light a fire in my one history class, I've decided to enlist my students in an endeavor to create a contest like Twilight Struggle relevant to the 1860s. There is a chance it might actually work.

Students drafting the cards. We're now up to fifteen. 
Boy, wouldn't I love to see a class playing cards with titles like "Freeport Doctrine" and "John Brown's Raid" while vying for control of the border states' loyalties?

On the motivation front, I ended a long day yesterday looking for a tome that would most certainly put me to sleep. So, obviously, I reached for . . . 

Doesn't everyone have this fine work of scholarship on their nightstand? 
It worked. Within two paragraphs I was getting sleepy. In closing it up, I noticed an inscription inside the front cover. Then I remembered, this book was a gift from a student nearly five years ago. 

It was a pleasant, and timely, reminder of why I do what I do. Teachers occasionally receive great compliments like this, and it keeps us going on rainy days. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I write this post in the hopes of updating my faithful followers as to our experiment with the cherpumple over Thanksgiving. This 2014 Thanksgiving will be the remembered for being the year we made the churpumple and odds are that it will be the only Thanksgiving featuring that dessert. This endeavor isn't for everyone. And I don't mean to say that in a menacing I-dare-you-to-try-it tone, I say that because, frankly, it might not be worth repeating.

At the end of they day, one must remember that it's three frozen pies in the midst of those cakes. Frozen pies! Sherry has made superior versions of each of the pies in that monstrosity. But it would be a waste to put the time and effort into pies just to have them baked into the Godzilla of desserts. In essence, cherpumple forces us to visit the logic behind Papa John's slogan: better ingredients, better pizza. In this case, frozen mass-produced ingredients, mediocre dessert.

Frankly, the pumpkin-spice combination was disappointing. If I were to do this again, I'd replace it with blueberry.

Okay, away with the gloomy Gus portion of the review. Here's the fun stuff.

The basic ingredients. Stacked in order of final assembly. 

The pies on the way into the oven. 

Sherry and Anastasia did establish a rotation to ensure even cooking. 

Cooling. That description takes on more meaning given that Sam accidentally called the cake (see below) the "Chernobyl." The name has stuck. 

Cherry pie atop 1/3 of the white batter. 

Covering the cherry pie. 

Anastasia removes air bubbles before baking. 


She's such a talented baker. It's a shame Sherry was talked into this charade. 

A complete, un-iced layer. 

Before final assembly. 


More icing.

Nearing the end. 

We contemplated a few means of actually cutting the thing.

An exquisite presentation. 

After serving the first slices. It was at about this point that Sam likened it to reactor 4 at Chernobyl. 

Catastrophe! At approximately 7:00 pm the top two layers began and epic slide off the serving dish. 

The serving dish after we moved the remaining half of the cake to a cookie sheet. 
Approximately 1/3 of the cake remains. Sherry and I both think the refrigeration is enhancing the cake's flavor, and we see no shame in eating the good parts while ignoring the not-so-good.

As our Thanksgiving concludes (and as I try not to succumb to pessimism that we all return to work and school tomorrow) I am thankful for having ate at three holiday meals for three consecutive days and didn't repeat a single menu item at any: a ham feast Thursday, a traditional turkey dinner Friday, and an Italian feast yesterday.

Enjoy the holidays, readers.


We stretched our streak to seven today. We also made it a fairly busy morning. Sherry and I played handbells at 8:15, which meant we had to get to church at 7:45. Sherry then volunteered to sell singing telegrams, a fundraiser for the youth choirs, at 9:30. She completed her hat trick by playing flute at the start of the 10:45 service. I enjoyed getting to see her perform up front.

The service is making more sense to Sam. I see him engaged with more of what's going on, following the bulletin more actively. It was the first Sunday since he received his Bible, a Bible he promptly left on a shelf with the coat hangers during the Sunday School hour. Ah, baby steps.

Three more Sundays and we're eligible for the Big Kahuna. Oh, we were on time so we stopped at Yum Yum. I had my normal. Sherry, however, had something new that looked fantastic: something covered in cinnamon and filled with cream (creme?).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Six. Six weeks now. Six.

A whirlwind weekend ended today. That weekend included a sixth consecutive week at church, on time, too (but we ran out of time to pick up the donuts). Readers might want to see what all we did.

Friday night: hosted some family over before seeing my nephew in Once in a Lifetime.

Saturday: ran a 5k, saw a friend in a play, took in the Lansdale Mardi Gras parade (yes, in November), ate out

A bright sun made a good selfie impossible, not that that stopped me from taking a selfie. I posted a pretty good time: 7:50 per mile, which is a minute-per-mile less than the 5k I ran in March.

I actually finished in the first sixty. I was more than a little surprised. 

I even tried to sell this car in between events this weekend.
Okay, so this selfie didn't turn out too bad. I loved that Hatfield Quality Meats brought out the retro delivery van. 
Sunday: attended church, performed in a concert.

Dads who Cook

My wife is a better cook than me. She is a superior baker. However, I'm the primary cook of the household. It's been that way since 2000 when she switched to a new employer and started getting home from work later than me. Though we both grew up in households where our moms were the primary cooks, this arrangement hasn't seemed at all strange to us. I therefore appreciated this New York Times article regarding the phenomenon of men in my generation becoming the primary cooks in the household.

I don't pretend to be the caliber of cooks mentioned in this article. I can cook decent food from decent recipes, but my kids (2/3 of my clientele) prefer quick and simple meals. It might, therefore, be more appropriate to call me the household's short-order cook. As a consequence, I don't think my children will grow up remembering my cooking for its quality as much as they will remember it as a symbol of how I was there and how their parents acted as a partnership.

Sherry and I were fortunate in that we were raised in households characterized by parents who were there, who were involved, and showed us what a partnership looked like. Of course in the 1980s we were closer to 1950s and 1960s definitions of gender roles than we are now. Also, I think cooks (for our generation, usually moms) had at least a little bit more time to prepare meals. Also, they had fewer gadgets and toys (I don't remember microwaves coming to the kitchen until the mid-1980s), a fact that both necessitated and incentivized a higher skill level at the stove. So, I think Sherry and I will continue the tradition of showing our kids what a marriage premised on partnership looks like but will not pass down as powerful a legacy of good cooking as we enjoyed.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cold War Roadshow

PBS recently aired an episode of American Experience entitled "Cold War Roadshow." It chronicled Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the U.S. in 1959. The story is an intriguing one about misunderstood motives and unintended outcomes. At times neither the Soviet leader nor American citizens behaved at their best. The short film is filled with all sorts of video featuring the pale color or grainy television broadcasting of that era, the sort of video that gives me historical chills. This shouldn't surprise my readers, given my disposition to play boardgames for hours on end depicting the Cold War. In fact, I could think of a few cards to add to Twilight Struggle based on scenes from "Cold War Roadshow."

The plane Khrushchev flew to come to America in 1959 apparently exists at a museum in Russia. That would constitute another bucket list entry. 

My idea of a good time involves swapping cards like this across a table with a friend on a weekend afternoon. 
We often talk about heroes and legends who bring about great moments in world history. The video made me think of a stumbler who brought about something great in world history. Khrushchev was clumsy. So clumsy he was essentially fired as the Soviet Union's leader in 1964 (and lived to tell the tale). So clumsy, he almost precipitated a nuclear war when he directed his missiles to Cuba. Thank goodness we had a fairly sure-handed president who defused that crisis (after he had stumbled earlier with the Bay of Pigs). In fact, there is a narrow period of the Cold War characterized more by stumbles than steps: the late 1950s and early 1960s. It's somewhat remarkable there wasn't loss of life, or loss of human civilization, as a result of such missteps.

"Cold War Roadshow" interviews some historians who make very good points about how Khrushchev may have unwittingly brought about the end of the Cold War. First, by denouncing Stalin in 1956 he precipitated a significant decline in the ideology on which the Soviet Union was founded. That decline couldn't be reversed. Second, interactions with common American people (the leaders he met often angered him) during that road trip might have disinclined him from ultimately giving the order that would push us into war. He met too many Americans to not understand our common humanity. Those sentiments, the one historian argued, tempered Khrushchev during the turbulent misunderstandings that began with the shooting down of the U-2 up through the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It might be helpful for us to consider the role of stumblers like Khrushchev though it seems more simple to look at the sure hands who are more often given credit. Ronald Reagan was the smooth communicator. Mikhail Gorbachev was the precise engineer. These two are most often given the credit for ending the Cold War. I appreciate American Experience's interpretation that its end wasn't quite so intentional or sure-handed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Squandered Day

Since I began teaching Macroeconomics in 2011 I've instituted a tradition of shutting down the class one day per semester* to play economics board games. All of the games, being economic in nature, implicitly convey opportunity cost. Over and above that, the games can also teach about . . .

Comparative advantage and specialization (Pandemic)

The importance of investment to productive possibilities (Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Settlers of Catan)

The value of trade (Settlers of Catan)

Injections and stimulus measures (Kuhhandel)

I take great joy in watching 12th graders spend an hour or so learning a game they've never even seen, get involved in disputes over livestock and cars, and walk out of the room figuring out how they'll pool their resources to buy their own board to play again.

*Usually, at students' request, there's a 2nd day near the end of the semester.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five, I meant five!

Yikes! I'm getting lazy in updating this blog. We made it to church last week too. It was for a Saturday service, seeing two good friends baptized, an event that made our day.

I'll be blunt: I had misgivings for much of my first couple of years at our new church home. We joined in 2009, when the church was going through a prolonged version of the dreaded "t" word: transition. It's a large congregation, at least by Lutheran standards. I'm glad we gutted it through, because it's good to have a spiritual home and Trinity has become that for us.

One of my happier moments in the last couple of weeks was seeing my son's reaction to the pair of classes we attended on reading the Bible. Sam will be presented with a Bible next week, something our church does for 3rd graders. I loved the invitation offered to my son that he write in his Bible, that he interact with it. And I'm glad it's a behavior I've been modeling for him all this time.

Some day I need to write about the mess that my Bible is.

Trinity has become a home for us. It's a place my kids know. It's a place where we have another shell of friends and acquaintances. It's a place where I've learned about tolerating imperfection and appreciating patience.

Five weeks in a row. Half way to the Big Kahuna.

Another Sign My Teaching Has Changed

I granted my 12th graders 90 minutes to work on a research paper due Wednesday. I pretty much stayed out of their way, rotating through to deal with individual issues regarding citations and organization. I gave some instruction about some methodological issues and made some materials available they might find useful. But generally, I let them work. And they worked. The conversations I overheard consisted mostly of peers checking with one another on how to cite a source, or how they'd recommend structuring an argument. The talk and work, the hum of activity, showed me that they came prepared.

Today was one of many signs that my efforts to create a the culture I've wanted with these seniors has largely paid off. 

There was another sign. I called one of my students aside to congratulate him on earning a perfect score on Friday's test, a test I'm returning to the class later this week. A smile beamed across his face. "Hey, that's the first unit that I read the chapters for!"

I exercised my discretion by not reminding him of the dangers of ending a sentence with a preposition. 

I don't doubt that it was the first exam for which he adequately prepared. I've approached the economics course I teach in something of a casual style. There is no point value for homework completion or for quizzes. The only grades that matter, really, are for exams and projects. I permit students the freedom to evaluate the costs and benefits of spending their time to prepare for class. They can conclude whether or not they were satisfied with the grades coming forth from their efforts. Teaching this course has given me the humility to know that despite the best of my efforts, some of the material will come more easily to some than to others. My understanding of the nature of kids is that they need to experiment with cutting corners and taking risks. 

Some might say that I'm irresponsible for not requiring reading and homework, for not demanding more of a commitment from my students. Yet I consider myself privileged to be in a position, due to my experience and credibility, to offer my students the chance to take risks and figure out what they want. It's an over-programmed world, a world in which kids are accustomed to adults making the major decisions for them. AP Macroeconomics is a forum in which I can let them dabble with responsibility and irresponsibility, and let them figure out what they're capable of doing, even if doing that means learning from the lessons of underperforming. 

I'm learning a lot this year about fostering the atmosphere that I want to foster in my high school classroom. An atmosphere for learning about what's interesting, about cultivating curiosity, about how to model the way in which adults and adults-in-training work with one another. I'm learning a lot about engaging with kids who have a lot in front of them and a bewildering amount of stuff going on around them. I'm laughing a lot, and modeling what it is to be engaged with the news, real life, an academic discipline, and with intelligent, interesting people.

I'm also learning how one cannot conduct a classroom in a manner inconsistent with the values of the discipline one teaches. Economics often leads us to the conclusion "it depends." Economics teaches us that we can give our best efforts to make something more likely, but a lot of stuff can intervene. It's a different kind of humility than the discipline of history, the discipline in which I have my formal training. And, sadly, it's a discipline that commands such a different outlook on how I should engage the learner that I might become unsuitable for teaching history. 

Four by Two

Our Sunday streak hit four this week. Actually, we got to church twice. We attended one service because Caroline was singing at it. We then attended another because we were welcoming some friends into the congregation, which was pretty neat.

By the way, I arrived early because of Caroline's singing. Sam and Sherry arrived about a half hour later. Sam couldn't wait to tell me of the documentary he had watched about Chernobyl before coming to church. It's like he knew it would make my day to hear "Daddy, do you know what Pripyat is?" He was right, it did.

A collaborative artistic endeavor by the family. Sam made sure that Chernobyl, with its radioactive plume, figured prominently in the picture. 
No, wait, it hit five!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Current Streak: 3

This post is coming one day late.

A neat tradition at our church is the display of portraits of loved ones who have died on All Saints' Sunday. I don't have much more to say on it than that I'm taken back at the time it must take for the church's decorators to put all those portraits up in the nice manner they do.

I ended up making a morning of it at church. Took Sam and a friend up to sing with choir at 7:45, heard them at 8:15 service, met some new members whom we're mentoring (one of which is a friend of Sherry's) and then sang at 10:45. That's a long morning. Should've earned two donuts for that.

Oh, and now for something a week late: Neat post from a pastor whose sermons I'm starting to follow from afar. I like his summary of the Lutheran tradition, and how it relates to what churches can consider today - I invite you to read it here. Ironically, this comes shortly after reading some of the interesting posts from the New York Times' Ross Douthat regarding his Catholic faith. Though I don't identify with the positions he takes in his posts (I'm a Lutheran after all) I appreciate the chance to see someone else's articulation of their faith and defense of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Trap Month

October is done. God be praised!

When one looks through my files for any given year, one will find neatly arranged files and nicely typed plans for September. Records of my teaching in October are incomplete and intermittent, reflecting weeks of teaching that improvised and interrupted. The piles on my desk get higher. (I swear I'll sort through that big one that sits at my left elbow Monday.) The end of the marking period, which almost always happens early in November, sees me going through some small mountains of work. Many of those fragments of grading are assignments that students made up late, reflecting their own struggles keeping up with a month where too much is going on.

I've often dreaded February as being the nadir of the school year. In that month bleak weather coincides with six months' worth of issues and instructional demands. That, I think is the busiest month to be a teacher. March, by the way, seems busiest for the students.

I nominate October as the second-busiest for both the students and the teachers, which makes it the trap month of the school year. There is so much going on in that month: instructionally and in the life of the school. The pleasant weather (beautiful normally) masks the stress of October. And then we wake up on November 1 looking for the number of the truck that hit us as well as remembering the task that we forgot to do (which I guess I'll be writing as soon as I finish this post).

Thank God it's November.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Current Streak: 2

We made it again. And on time again, which means we had a trip to Yum Yum. However, Sherry put her foot down and has directed all members of the family that donuts will not be consumed until after lunch.

Sam spotted the Big Kahuna at Yum Yum while we waited on our order. I think that will be our reward for 10 consecutive Sundays.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

13th Grade

Twitter brought me a story about Oregon's experiment with a supersenior year. I often use the concept of an optional grade 13 with students when introducing the economic concepts of opportunity costs and marginal analysis. I'm intrigued to see a thought experiment from my economics classroom make its way into public policy, even if the link is coincidental. 

I shared this story with my one class of 12th graders yesterday and they found it amusing. The students with whom I shared it wouldn't be the intended group for that program from Oregon. Oregon is looking to reach students who may not be ready for college. I was discussing it with students who are enrolled in one AP course of many. 

How definite is 12th grade anymore? Senior year has been standardized in terms of the rites of passage that make it up: Homecoming, sitting for their final attempt at the SAT, application deadlines, FAFSA, the Prom. But it's not really standard in terms of the learning and skills the seniors possess. Many of the students I teach are 12-and-a-half or 13th graders in terms of credits and learning. They have a significant amount of AP credit under their belt. Oregon is addressing the reality that a lot of kids are on the 12th grade spot in their educational journey, but have skills and learning that is closer to a 10th grade level. I've seen that true with some populations as well. The lack of standardization is reflected in the varying seat time for our seniors. How many kids in my district, in the one next door, or in Oregon have schedules permitting them to come to school late or leave early rather than sit in a study hall. 

In public school we have free and reduced lunches for needy students. We also have free and reduced schedules for 12th graders who can craft a schedule wisely. Kindergartners, too, given how my district offers only a half-day schedule for that grade. 

I appreciate Oregon's recognition that we have students earning diplomas that don't represent the skills necessary for success at community college (high dropout rates from community college there prompted the program). It's become a mission of public schools to make sure students graduate with a diploma. After all, one's possibilities after graduation really are meager if one doesn't have at least a diploma, and its laudable that school systems work to make it likely they have that degree. However, public school systems have also become much more reluctant to hold a student back at any particular grade and much more committed to preparing students for tests that don't necessarily measure or reward critical thinking. High school diplomas are coming to represent an increasing variety of skills and competencies. 

Despite the misgivings that article shares about how Oregon's scheme might underfund some needy districts, I think Oregon is on to something other school systems should consider. It's fine for students to graduate from high school at different levels of skill and ability. That reality reflects the varying intelligence, motivation, initiative, and discipline of the degree holders. But we've slipped in clearly defining what that degree represents, and Oregon might have a way of acknowledging that reality. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Box of Gimmicks

Was I foolish to take back the task of teaching AP U.S. this year? It's possible. Though I love the course, and though I love history, teaching it and AP Macroeconomics is exhausting. It's not as much the workload that is grueling as it is the starkly different nature of the two courses. Alternating between the thought process behind the disciplines isn't easy. Further, it's hard to treat students in a manner inconsistent with the mentality of the discipline. Teaching economics pushes me to value behaviors, perspectives, and traits (and motivates me to tolerate different quibbles) than does teaching history.

Perhaps the best example of this comes in how I deal with students who don't complete assignments. In economics, I like to give some variety of "it depends" to a student who doesn't finish their readings. I'm confident such a habit will catch up with them eventually, and if it doesn't, well, I guess they got away with something. Students who don't read in history invite my (professional, ethical, stern-look-over-the-rim-of-my-glasses) wrath. 

For some reason, keeping up with prepping these divergent classes has worn me out this year more than I expected. Fortunately, my friend and educational advice guru (Doesn't everyone have one?) recommended that I make a box of simple tools available to my students. Hence the introduction of Mr. Johnson's box of gimmicks. 

He shared it with me as I was consuming my third beer one evening at my favorite watering hole. It seemed instantly brilliant, and I impatiently waited a week until I could visit the dollar store to get what I needed. 

By the way, the investment was a whopping $9. 

The students have bought in completely. They actually like the boxes. As one student said, I've reached gimmickry equilibrium. 

The magic of the box, I've found, is that I can instantaneously improvise and it doesn't look like improvisation. It looks like "ungraded formative assessment" or "checks on learning" or "differentiated instruction." I guess I'm demeaning those worthwhile concepts by putting the obnoxious quote marks around them. 

The boxes have led to some very interesting pieces of work from my students. And it ends up looking really good. 

Students instinctively help themselves to what they need in the box when I'm doing instruction. The boxes permit me to push a video segment right up to the bell without discussion because they can leave their artifacts behind (like in the post-it display above: those were from a viewing of a documentary about John Adams).

It's also led to some interesting things left behind, like one of my student's excellent artwork, some good-natured taunts being exchanged between my seniors and juniors, or the famous artifact of misspelling, a student who left behind a note about the famous "Allen and Sedation Acts" from the Adams administration.

Can't you just hear Secretary Hamilton yelling, "Quick, Mr. President, sedate that Allen!" ?

This was only possible because of an annoying quirk from my students that prompted me to make a change to my room. My students' desks used to be in a U-shape. But this year's students kept rutching their desks toward the center of the room. This odd trend became so profound that by the beginning of October one couldn't even walk down through the middle of the room anymore. I decided that I had to put the desks into tables of six desks each.

And when I told my guru that I had done this, he suggested the boxes.


There are some other big developments in my teaching this year regarding technology in the classroom, namely screencasting and shared drive use. But for $9 (and a visit to the supply closet next door) this change is hard to beat.

The boxes and the new seating has completely changed the tone of the classroom. I love it.

And, most importantly, it might just help me get through one heck of a challenging year.

Homecoming Canceled

Yesterday we received news that my school's homecoming game was canceled due to a hazing incident at our opponent's school. The incident prompted the suspension of their team. At this point, the allegations of wrongdoing look pretty severe and the cancellation of what remains of the season seems appropriate.

News of this incident comes on the heels of a hazing scandal in another end of the Philly suburbs (over in New Jersey). Generally speaking, 2014 has been a bad year for football, pro and otherwise. This decade has been poor for it. Though fan interest and television viewership remains very high, one must wonder if we're on the verge of seeing the sport's decline. The violence and injuries create one basket of problems. The culture of violence creates another set. And then there is what I can't help but perceive as a growing hesitation on the part of parents to let their kids engage in the sport. I don't think the sport is in its twilight, but the shadows seem to be getting long.

High schools can be places of very intense pressure. That pressure concentrates in different places in different schools. At the school where the hazing took place, the pressure concentrated in a program (football) that had met with a great deal of success in the 1990s. It became bigger than the school. Where does the pressure concentrate where I teach? Am I conscious of the pressure? Do I act kindly and fairly in the midst of that buildup of pressure? People who work in high schools should ask these questions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book v. Movie, chapter undetermined

Just finished Silver Linings Playbook in film and print. And the winner is . . .

the book

The book has a pretty good winning streak. 

My thanks to an old friend, Adam Fernandez, for putting me wise to the book. 

Thinking of a Wonderful Town

I'm saddened to see one of my favorite towns shaken by tragedy. What happened today in Ottawa is horrible, and among the many thoughts on my mind is the hope that today's horrible news doesn't threaten what makes Ottawa so special.

Ottawa impressed Sherry and I so much during a one-night stay in 2013 we returned for nearly a week in 2014. It's not nearly as large as Washington, D.C., but like an excellent capital it offers a lot of really neat things to see in the way of museums and other attractions. One thing, in particular, I liked was how welcoming it was. One could walk amidst the buildings of government pretty easily. In fact, on one of my mornings there, I ran right up Parliament Hill to Parliament building, and spent a good 20 minutes talking with a Mountie on duty there. It's hard to imagine being able to do that in Washington, D.C.

My run on August 6.
A really neat light show.
The night before that run, we took in an awesome light show on the very lawn of Parliament. Though security was there, it felt more like a police presence than a police state. One didn't see more police at those events than one would at Central Park or in Center City Philadelphia. Heck, security is more oppressive at an NFL event than in that capital.

Now some violent acts will force the Canadians to rethink those measures. They'll have to evaluate their security, just as we did after 9/11. I pray they don't come to the conclusion to lock down their city and turn their capital into a public fortress. Ottawa and the Canadians deserve better.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Costs Shifted

For the first time ever I shopped health coverage today. Shopped might be too strong a word. Selected might be better. My employer, in an alleged cost-saving move, switched us into a consortium with other area school districts, so we're switching from Amerihealth to Blue Cross. We didn't have too many choices: really just an option of the new-age HMO vs. a preferred provider. But it does involve a choice, whether we want to maintain all the independence we did have or opt for something that costs less in exchange for having our options managed.

I decided to go with the lower cost. If I'm earnest about our nation lowering its health spending, I guess I should be part of the solution.

Ironically, the cost-saving move is costing us more money. Apparently we didn't read the fine print that we'd now be liable for paying for subscriptions. Irritating. Though it's nothing compared to the "deal" shoved down the throats of my colleagues in Philly. I did see all sorts of political figures line up behind that decision because, after all, who doesn't want to see teachers pay their fair share.

It seems like society enjoys making sure we're all paying our fare share.

So, 2014 comes to an end and we see costs shifting decisively to the employee. Cadillac tax, co-pay, premium share . . . it really doesn't matter what the jargon, more of the bill is become more explicitly laid on shoulders of the employee for health care. This might be a good thing for society. The cost of medical coverage has long been obscured, and in such an environment costs escalate. As an amateur economist, I can't help but appreciate the unveiling of a bill for what had seemed to be a free lunch. But I must ask: Now that we're shifting the cost of medical coverage (and retirement) to the employee, are we ready to discuss better pay?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Current Streak: 1

We made it to church today. In a stunning display of timeliness for our family, all four were there by 7:45. That's as in quarter of 8!

Caroline's choir was singing at the 8:15 service, which explains why we were there so early. The incentive to get donuts, which has been a reward set in place since last spring.

I'm not the best at being on time to church, and I'm not quite sure why that is. At some point I'd like to work on the punctuality to church, but as for right now I think it's best that we focus just on getting there period.

The best reward for being in church today, however, was hearing my friend announce that he and his wife have a baby on the way. I like that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Self-Serving Rant on Standardization

I finally had my fill of an obnoxious little function of modern-day life: browser incompatibility. I've learned in 2014 that:

a) Internet Explorer doesn't work with a lot of things
b) Chrome is really convenient to use, but only works well when one consistently uses it
c) Firefox is nice and plays nicely with a lot of things but . . .
d) . . . for some reason won't work with the website of my favorite magazine, The Week 
e) my employer will not allow Chrome on its computers
f) that Internet Explorer doesn't work well with a critical website at my workplace makes a good-natured colleague turn to me for something s/he could otherwise do if it wasn't for this browser idiocy
g) and tonight I learned that the e-version of the textbook I'm piloting has one chapter (of 31) that won't work with Chrome . . .

So, I lost it. Kind of.

I filed a complaint to the company who maintains the website referenced in g) and when the IT person recommended that I try Firefox instead I replied with a comment saying a) I get it and b) I'm sick of this being the answer.

I don't fault the IT people who put up these websites. Full disclosure: I'm married to someone who does this stuff (and I see how she works tirelessly to test these glitchy things).

I blame the usual suspects: Microsoft and Google. Firefox, this time you're escaping my wrath. Same with you, Apple. I'm laying this at the feet of Microsoft and Google. Obviously, they've over-worked features into their over-engineered programs (that we seemingly get for free) to create hiccups like this.

Allow me to don my history teacher's hat for a moment. When I teach my students about our industrial past, I like to highlight the value that standardization* played in the world of America's growing commerce. The railroads standardized gauge and time. Stapler makers standardized the size of staples. Typewriter manufacturers standardized the keypad. As we took to the roads, we standardized signage of highways and the systems by which we assigned route numbers. Standardization promoted efficiency and productivity.** Our worlds will work faster, too, if the damn browsers can play nicely.

*Enjoy the irony, those who read of my fight against the homogenization of teaching. I resist standardization when dealing with human beings, especially children. But I'll champion it for things like staplers, the gauge of railroads, and web browsers.

**I know, I know, the QWERTY keyboard actually slows us down.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I'm grateful to have had a chance to read some of Why Nobody Goes to Church Anymore. Something that is challenging me: though 40% claim to attend church every Sunday it's really more like 20%. I'm not in that twenty, but I'm in that forty. If I were to go back to June, the end of the school year, and count Sundays in or out of church, the Sundays out of church might just outnumber those in. If one takes any particular week that we weren't at church, the reason seemed quite logical. Often, it was to free us up for family gatherings or worthwhile events with friends. But are such worthwhile things just an excuse to duck church? Are we treating our church home like a vacation property rather than a true home? Am I oblivious to how being at church is being part of building a community, that others might benefit from me and my family being there?

I'm wondering how many weeks in a row we could get to church, starting Sunday, October 19.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Tracking is something of a dirty word in education. Differentiated instruction is very much in. I can't necessarily say either of these prevailing winds is bad. Tracking can consign a student to a second-tier educational experience. Differentiated instruction acknowledges the difficulty of getting a whole class of adolescents to arrive at the same point in mastering a skill or content piece at the same time.

Today I was sifting through the results of my students on their first couple of tests for me. I broke down the data and sorted my students out into clusters. I made groups based on kids who aren't missing a beat, then groups of students who are struggling. Groups that seemed to be tripped up on the first test but then find range on the second. And so on.

Then I realized, I'm tracking them. I might be up to differentiated instruction, but I'm tracking them within my class.

I'm not ready to draw a conclusion as to whether or not I'm doing the right or wrong thing, or to cast some sort of judgment on tracking or DI. But I think it is worth wondering if tracking might be a more efficient means of doing what I'm doing. It's also worth wondering whether or not DI gives us the benefits of tracking without the cost of the way it traps kids into tracks that limit their possibilities.

. . . But the economics teacher must point out that there's no such thing as a free lunch. What I did takes time. Also, it's done by a novice at data. I avoided Statistics classes like the plague and, still after 17 years, I still don't have a true degree in education.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Or then again, maybe we just don't want to look . . .

I guess I could've read this before my most recent post. Doing so would've made me a bit more salty.

Or, it would've just made me sigh.

Parochialism with Public Schools

I've mentioned before that I like Catherine Rampell's writing, haven't I? She has a brief item on Washington Post's website today that caught my eye. I'm intrigued at the observation on how Americans rally around their school despite misgivings on public education much the same way Americans think their particular member of Congress isn't part of the problem. I also note how one's public school is a fluid concept: if one has children in a public school, that public school becomes their school. One's public school can be the school they remember from their youth. Regardless, we tend to defend what we know or think we know.

There's an angle on objectivity that we cannot overlook here. I think it's possible for people to overlook the negatives of their school, to romanticize their school and experiences at it. To an extent, I think we give our own schools a bit of a pass.

A more important observation I would offer, though, is that we tend to defend what we understand and know. In the past two decades, public schools have become harder to know. We've responded to safety concerns in the era of Columbine and other mass shootings by turning schools into fortresses. Members of the community are largely unwelcome. Parents, except for those who heavily invest themselves in PTOs or parent councils, are deterred by redundant security measures and locked doors. Entering a public school during the student day can bring up obstacles that remind one of scenes from a Tom Clancy movie where one has to pass through checkpoint after checkpoint as one descends the inner layers of White House security. With the exception of theater performances and varsity sporting events, schools are institutionally inhospitable.

The security culture that now defines much of public education means that we work behind brick walls rather than glass doors. A tradeoff for the sense of security is that what we do is harder for the public to know, and what the public doesn't know they have a hard time defending. What can the public really see aside from test scores, teacher salaries, and the "payment due" on their property tax bills? Perhaps public education in general needs to figure out a way to showcase more of what we do K-12 across all disciplines the way wise theater directors offer "golden tickets" to senior citizens and the way sports stadiums invite the community to watch children at play (and work). People cannot defend what they don't know.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thirty Years War (23 years in)

This week's Economist cover depicts President Obama in an posture eerily reminiscent of President Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" moment. I think such allusion was intentional.

I'm unsure, however, if that magazine meant to include a picture in its coverage regarding ISIS that would be so evocative of the images we watched on TV news of the First Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The two images made me (re-)aware of how we have been in direct hostilities in some shape or form in the Middle East for more than half of my life. Our engagement there is approaching the length of the Thirty Years War. I wonder what historians will say a half century from now when they're examining what we did and didn't do.

I don't wonder what historians will say a century from now. Though optimistic, I don't think I'll be around to see that.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Year 17

A particular way in which I'm disappointed in myself is the pessimism I've had about job prospects in my career. Those prospects are lousy. It's very challenging for a young teacher to work into a position in virtually any school district in this area. Too often I've found myself musing that I could never recommend a young man/woman get into this line of work.

It's time to take the holiday (happy 5775, folks!) to pledge that I'll stop talking that way. It's getting old. It's making me sound old.

If you are reading this blog and you enjoy working with children, savor the thrill of the classroom, and take great satisfaction in helping boys and girls grow into thoughtful, responsible adults, come on in. It's tough to find a good, stable position in this career, but any job that is worthwhile presents challenge. If you are reading this blog and know somewhat who wants to do all these worthwhile things with youth, convince them to join.

A worthwhile profession puts the professional in a point of perpetual tension. I think about how doctors must constantly reconcile their concerns for patients' health with insurers' preoccupation over cost. Teachers work with children and are guided by doing what's best for those kids and what preserves the integrity of the discipline they're trying to teach. Meanwhile, they're doing so with limits imposed by a democratically elected board of governance that wants to preserve taxpayers' resources. How can we not expect to feel tugged in opposing directions.

Of course it doesn't help that we're vilified, but so are many other professions. There's a lot of petty jealousy that we have unions representing us by individuals who aren't mindful of the protections (union-brokered or not) that exist in their own work environment. Then, of course, there's the resentment over the "summers off" that we enjoy.

Meanwhile I try to keep my comments to myself when I read pieces in the news about business class seating on airplanes, wondering when I'll ever fly business class (or even have my district pay for me to attend a conference). There's no point in jealousy about the perks of other professions.

If I complain too much about the rigors of entering this line of work, I dismiss the reasons why I entered it myself and why I remain in it. I downplay the reasons why I take pride in the work that I do. Have I been a fool for 17 years? I really hope that's not the case. Perhaps instead of complaining I should do more to leverage my strengths (as a veteran teacher, taxpayer, parent of public school students, individual versed in economics, and voter) to make the profession more hospitable for good young teachers. That would take courage and sacrifice (albeit small sacrifice), much more than it requires to pile on to the air of pessimism surrounding my profession.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Sports Post Worth Reading

I turned to the Washington Post today for base reasons. I thought reading coverage from their paper would help me relive the glory of yesterday's Eagles win over Washington. I found this gem, a term I use without any sarcasm. The "Best and Worst" contains honesty, wit, and at one point a profound comment on how football is struggling to come to terms with the true cost of this physical sport.

I encourage you to read the paragraph near the end entitled "Worst nagging concern . . ."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


The sports world is giving us some ugly distractions from the everyday. I have erratic internet service on my phone at work, so messages get interrupted. Which means I sometimes get updated on a day's worth of news within minutes. Therefore, I discovered within seconds that the NCAA had essentially ended its penalties against Penn State and that the NFL career of Ray Rice is likely over.

There's a lot of talk on both issues about the extent to which the punishment fitted the crimes that Penn State and Rice committed. It's not surprising that there is so much talk because the crimes at which each of these figures were at fault were ghastly and for which there is no logical means of evening up or restoring the damage caused. In part, sports fans have erected pedestals for these programs (Rice isn't a program, but he's in the NFL, and that's a program). How does one punish, or even respond to, a fall from Olympus?

I was disturbed and remain disturbed at the disproportionality of the punishment heaped on Penn State. I thought the four-year ban on postseason play was excessive and demeaned the commitments of the current athletes. I thought the banishing of the 409 wins earned by Joe Paterno was Orwell-esque. It's like saying Richard Nixon wasn't president for Apollo 13 because of Watergate. It seemed like a heavy-handed response from a hypocritical organization (NCAA) that heads up an institution with questionable means behind how it earns money relative to how it compensates the athletes. At the same time, I'm disappointed in how slowly the legal process is prosecuting the men who served as higher-ups at Penn State at the time.

Now I'm irked at the heavy-handedness by which the NFL has come down on the Ray Rice issue. It seems like a rush to consequences and a rush to punishment. It seems like piling on. He's been banished from the sport. Though the suspension is "indefinite," Rice is a running back in the NFL who is 27. A couple of years out of his career means it's over. He was an employee of the NFL who has been exiled.

I live in a professional world where procedures are in place that protect the rights of the accused as an investigation is conducted and as tempers cool. Teachers who engage in misconduct are placed on "administrative leave" until conclusions can be thoughtfully drawn. They're removed from their place of employment but not banished until it's determined that banishment is warranted. Such is true even if there's incontrovertible evidence about the misconduct. In short, there's a process: remove and protect the accused, investigate, engage along the way with law enforcement, draw conclusions with evidence.

In the cases of the NCAA and NFL there's simply one step: REACT!

I don't say this because I condone what Penn State or Rice did. It seems to me as if both are guilty of something awful and terrible. In a nation based on the rule of law with a Constitution that affords due process rights, it's inconsistent to have haphazard processes by which someone acts as prosecutor, jury, judge, and executioner as the head of the NCAA and NFL do. I respect decisions made as part of a fair process more than reactions to horrible events. Further, heavy-handed authority figures make mistakes, as Roger Goddell did with his initial not-very-thought-out-or-investigated two-game suspension of Rice.

Moreover, these reactions mask a deeper problem with both the NCAA and NFL. Transgressions are a fact of life within those entities. Player misconduct, unaccountable coaches, unethical relationships between adults and students, covering up legal issues to be out of sight from law enforcement, substance abuse, domestic abuse, cheating . . . these transgressions are abundant in the NCAA and NFL. Usually they're out of plain sight. However, when some of this ugliness surfaces, as it did in these two instances, the authority figures respond with shock and awe to "make a statement."

But the transgressions continue.

I'd rather see the parties, the NFL in particular, own the problem than make exiles of troubled individuals who commit evil, criminal acts. How is Rice to be rehabilitated? How is Rice to be given a chance to be made useful again? If he can't be integrated back into society, why would another abused spouse come forward and forfeit the gravy train that an abusive (but wealthy) spouse provide?

There is no component for forgiveness and rehabilitation in the approach the NFL has taken with the kind of criminal misconduct in which Rice allegedly engaged. That is irresponsible, and less likely to move our society toward ridding ourselves of an evil like domestic abuse. Why isn't the NFL harnessing its awesome financial resources to get Rice into therapy? Why isn't the NFL conducting trainings for its players and coaches to warn and educate about domestic abuse?

It appears to me that civil, criminal acts occurred at Penn State and in that elevator in Atlantic City. We have laws in this nation that, when prosecuted correctly, offer some sense of justice toward those guilty of those acts. We also have a tradition of due process and respect for law. Remove and protect, then investigate thoroughly, then draw reasonable conclusions. And if the conclusion is that the individual has committed transgressions so great they forfeit the right to play, then let it be. That is banishment I can respect. My objections with the NCAA and NFL aren't with the penalties imposed but rather with the lack of process by which those penalties are imposed.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Experiment Underway

That's right, I'm really incensed at the excessive cost of cable TV. It's not necessarily the cable bill that has me upset (the package with TV and internet is only about a $20 difference over internet alone). It's the rental charge of the set-top box ($18/mo.) that drives me nuts. I resent paying so much to rent a five-year-old box with ten-year-old technology. Therefore, I am watching the remainder of today's Eagles game over the air.

Maclin's touchdown catch just looked pretty good.

Questions about the Nutmeg State

I cannot be entirely objective about this story which ran in the op-ed section of today's Washington Post. Of course I think it's good that Connecticut pays its teachers so well. I can't help but believe that high pay attracts good professionals who lead students toward achieving well on tests. It seems as if that states' schools serve its students well. It's more important to me that there appears to be a broader culture that supports the value of education in Connecticut. The statistic regarding how many residents in that state have earned degrees probably represents households where education is important: parents who read to their kids, parents who monitor their children's learning, and non-parent taxpayers who understand that building blocks to success occur in community schools.

So I'm wondering what else might be at work in Connecticut:

Might Connecticut's relatively high standard of living necessitate public teacher salaries which skew comparison to other states?

Is there much disparity between Connecticut's richest and poorest areas?

Does Connecticut enjoy the benefits of large urban centers like New York and Boston without having to pay for them via taxes that transfer wealth from suburbs to cities?  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back to Business

I didn't update this blog much during summer 2014. Immersed in being a dad, I spent more of my attentions on another blog, making it a journal of the summer. Besides, I was so busy seeing the world (okay, this corner of North America) I didn't really have time to read, reflect, and comment on the news.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been tuning into the news more, and the picture of the world it portrays is disheartening. The picture I get of our political leaders is disheartening as well. There's nothing being done by our leaders. Nothing. One side obstructs, the other side is afraid to act. The legislative and policy-making gears have seized up, and anything monumental that's being done is being done by courts. Until the politicians give me anything to talk about, I think I'll just decline to comment.

What will I write about if politics gives me so little that justifies commentary? Perhaps teaching. Perhaps music. Perhaps my goals and ambitions. The summer (and all the time it afforded) constantly gave me something worthwhile to say. Hopefully fall, winter, and spring will too.