You Can’t Judge a Historical Figure by Today’s Standards

Some people take it upon themselves to make wholesale changes to history by applying contemporary sensibilities to those who lived in the past.

Matt Haney, San Francisco School Board President, made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he recommended that George Washington High School be renamed due to Washington being a slave owner.  He suggested replacing Washington’s name with Maya Angelou’s.

As much as I admire Angelou, she worked as a prostitute and a madam when she was young, not exactly noble professions.  However, overcoming these obstacles as well as a childhood rape makes her story of survival and success quite compelling.   There should be a school named after her, but not at the expense of removing the name of the father of our country.

Back in the 1770s, wealthy men typically were slave owners.   To his credit, Washington had written in his will that his slaves were to be freed.  The Mount Vernon website states that Washington was “the only slave-holding Founding Father” to do this.

Think of all the schools, streets, and cities named after George Washington.

Since half of Washington, D.C.’s population is African-American, should that region be renamed as well?

It is wrong to judge a person from the past based on current mores.

One could make the case that all historical figures have something in their past that would not pass the 2016 litmus test.

John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, probably would not have been in favor of same-sex marriage in 1960, but that was not even an issue in his time so it is unfair to judge him on it.

Who is to say that something people do now may be viewed as abhorrent 50 or 100 years from now?

Some people protest the teaching of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in schools because of the frequent use of the n-word.   Those ignorant of the book might even label Twain a racist without understanding that what Twain was writing back in 1885—a white boy sharing a raft and a life’s journey with a black man who serves as a surrogate father—was quite progressive in 1885.

Flash forward 130 years later, and people wish to denigrate Twain’s legacy.  However, he was not living in the 20th or 21st century.

This weekend the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens in Washington, D.C. with artifacts about Bill Cosby including a note about the current sexual accusations against the entertainer.

Some people wanted all mention of Cosby to be expunged from the museum.

If he is convicted, should he be wiped out of history?

Evidently there are not enough legitimate issues for the San Francisco School Board to grapple with, allowing them the luxury to raise issues that do nothing but put their district in the news for the wrong reasons.

Ask students what they want from their school and changing the name of it probably does not appear on their to-do list.

Mr. Haney and others like him should cease the high and mighty posture and stop altering with what people did before they were born.  That’s not their job.

Let’s hope removing George Washington’s name from the history books does not appear on the next school board meeting’s agenda.

 

A Tale of Two Football Players

There is always more than one way to make a difference in people’s lives.

Some people donate to charities, some protest or march, some write newspaper columns.

And some people choose more controversial ways.

Colin Kaepernick, back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has garnered massive attention in recent weeks due to his refusal to stand for the national anthem as a protest to the way people of color are treated in America.

By latest account, his jersey ranks near the top in all NFL sales.  Not all people buying his jersey are wearing it; some are burning it.

While his story has lit up headlines, talk shows, and social media—even President Obama chimed in that Kaepernick has a constitutional right to his silent protest—another story about a different football player has received less attention.

Travis Rudolph, wide receiver for Florida State University, along with a handful of his teammates, visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee on Aug. 30 while the students ate lunch.  Rudolph picked up a couple of slices of pizza and sat next to a sixth grader who was eating by himself.  It turns out that 11-year-old Bo Paske has autism and, because of that, often eats alone.

A photo was taken of the encounter.  Upon viewing it, Leah Paske, Bo’s mother, posted on her Facebook account that “this is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.”

“I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say it will not soon be forgotten.”

When all the parties appeared on “Fox and Friends,” Bo retold the moment when Rudolph asked him, “‘Hey, can I sit down with you?’  And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ and just like that we were eating lunch together.  And he even signed my lunchbox.”

Rudolph said, “We clicked.”

When watching the interview, it is curious how uncomfortable Rudolph appears, as if he really does not want all this attention for doing something that to him must have been second nature. He had no idea a photo would be taken and that it would go viral.  He did not seek publicity.

Compare that to Kaepernick’s endless stream of tweets about his protest.

Performing acts of kindness isn’t a box that is checked off on a form of doing one’s duty as a human being.  It has to come from within one’s soul.

Rudolph told ESPN, “I feel like maybe I can change someone’s life or I can make someone a better person or make someone want to be great or be like me, or even better.”

One major distinction between these two football players is the avenue they chose to make a difference. Kaepernick’s choice—a football game on national television.  Rudolph’s choice—a lunch table with a solitary boy.

What adds a deeper meaning to this relationship is that Rudolph, African-American, and Bo, Caucasian, are building a bridge between the races, one relationship at a time.  The only bridge Kaepernick is building is pledging to donate $1 million along with proceeds from his jersey sales to communities dealing with racial injustice, but so far no action has happened.

Bo summed up his feelings about Rudolph eating lunch with him: “It was kind of like me sitting on a rainbow.”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick is sitting on a bench.

 

 

The Workers That Make Life Worth Living

With Labor Day approaching, this would be an appropriate time to acknowledge working people who we see and talk to on a regular basis, but who are not part of our inner circle of family and friends.

The cashier at the market, the waitress at the coffee shop, the person who cuts our hair—all play an integral role in making our lives flow smoothly and adding a depth of humanity to our existence.

What is peculiar about these brief encounters is that for the worker, one customer is just one of hundreds while for the customer the interaction holds more meaning; it’s easier for us to remember them because we only have one hair stylist, one mechanic, etc.

Take Tony, the owner of Cornejo’s service station for over 40 years.   This is where I get gas and have my car serviced.   Mechanics have a notorious reputation, but I lucked out finding someone who does quality work for reasonable prices.  Beyond that, we keep up-to-date on each other’s families, and Tony’s views on the political scene is worth the visit alone.

For the past 28 years, Petite holds down the fort at Handy Market.  She knows me as the syrup guy since she special orders a maple syrup that my kids can’t seem to get enough of.  When she was in school, she was a slow reader and because of that many classmates made fun of her.   Now, she is the face of Handy Market, entrusted in opening the store up each morning.  The girl who was teased at school has become an integral part of the Burbank community.

The epitome of customer service, Marti works at the Tallyrand coffee shop.  Once you sit down in her area, she acknowledges you within a minute with bright eyes and a happy grin.  For regulars, she doesn’t take your order; she tells you what your order will be from memory, including special requests like “crispy bacon” and “hold the avocado.”

Her energetic personality—“are you ready, ready”—puts a smile on the grumpiest customer.  She often shares segments of her life story, some good, some not, yet retains an optimistic outlook with her faith in God.  May she be there another 20 years.

For over a quarter of a century, Don cut my hair at three different hair salons that he owned.   During that time, we learned a lot about one another’s lives even though each monthly visit lasted barely 30 minutes.

Interesting how we often share intimate details of our lives with service providers, sometimes things we don’t share with people we live with.

When Don retired seven years ago, I panicked, not just because I needed to find someone to creatively cover my bald spots, but because the history we shared vanished, and I had to get to know a new stylist unsure if we would hit it off conversationally.

Fortunately, I met Armand at the same Joseph Lamar Hair Salon. Once a month we converse about how the Dodgers are playing as well as how well he plays golf.  Just as he has gotten to know about my family and career, I’ve gotten to know the career trajectory of his two musical sons.

I feel an emotional investment with these individuals.   I dread the day when I go where they work and discover that they are no longer there.  How hollow my life will be.

What makes these folks stand out is their pleasant attitude, willing to go the extra mile in performing their job with nothing but kindness to motivate them.

As we travel life’s journey, the road would be less familiar without them. Clearly, it is a labor of love for these dedicated folks.

Absence makes the mind grow flounder

It used to be that going to school on time every day was a given.   Only truly sick children missed school.

Not anymore.

Six million children missed at least three weeks of school in the 2013-14 school year, according to the U.S Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection report.  That equates to 13 percent of all students.

Think of a business that could operate effectively without 13 percent of its workforce.

The bad habits students practice in kindergarten through 12th grade cannot simply be altered like a light switch once they enter the job market.

Name one job where people get paid for not being there.

“Even the best teachers can’t be successful with students who aren’t in class,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. told reporters last June.

California has a Compulsory Education Law stipulating that “every child from the age of 6 to 18 be in school—on time, every day.”

A student’s education suffers when he is not in school.  Period.

There is a direct correlation between missing school and falling behind academically. According to the California Department of Education, “first grade students with 9 or more total absences are twice as likely to drop out of high school than their peers who attend school regularly.”

Last December, President Obama signed into law a revision of the No Child Left Behind act that requires for the first time that states report individual absences for all students.

It’s not just the learning that suffers when a student isn’t in a classroom.  Money is lost as well.

Schools derive much of their funding based on Average Daily Attendance or ADA.  In Glendale the ADA is $55 per student per day.  With an enrollment around 26,000, that adds up to $1.43 million if all students are present.

If 10 percent of students are absent for one day the entire year, that results in a loss of $143,000.  Multiply that by 180 school days and you have $25.7 million.  Quite a sum of money that could go towards hiring more teachers and funding more programs.

Last semester, I tracked the number of students present over a 78-day period and here are the results:

In my first period class, 25 percent of the time I had full attendance, second period had seven percent, third period had 17 percent, fifth period had 20 percent, and sixth period had 12 percent.

Looking at the numbers in a different way, 88 percent of the time I had at least one student absent in my Per. 6 class.   This makes it quite difficult for a teacher to maintain consistency in lesson planning as well as cooperative learning groups.

I had 25 students who had double-digit absences including one who had 24 (that’s a loss of 5 weeks of instruction in a 17-week period), plus five students with double-digit tardies (the highest 16).

When I returned to work last week, teachers were asked to do more to encourage students to get to class on time in order to decrease the number of tardies.   However, the bulk of the tardies come at the start of school; in other words, due to kids arriving late.

Unless teachers don Uber hats and pick up kids from their homes, the responsibility of getting children to school rests on the shoulders of parents.    Parents need to model to their children good work habits and work habit number one is getting to school every day and on time.

 

 

Too Many Don’t Dress for the Occasion

As my wife and I were having lunch recently, we noticed a man with tattoos on his arms, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, bowling shoes and an Oakland A’s baseball cap, plugged into earbuds.  His appearance would not have caught our attention except that he was carrying a bag with the United States Postal Service (USPS) emblem.

It made us wonder if someone had kidnapped the employee and stole the mail.

Lately I have noticed several letter carriers who could pass as hobos due to their ungroomed just-woke-up look.

According to the USPS’s Authorized Uniform Items code 931.23, uniforms “provide immediate visual identification with the Postal Service to the public, project an appearance to the public that is neat, professional, and pleasing.”

I spoke to Richard Maher, a USPS spokesperson, who said that due to a current surge in hiring, postal employees are not issued a uniform “until they pass a probationary period of 90 days on the job.”  He also said that in recent years a “more comfortable” shirt was designed to be worn untucked.

Regarding the use of electronic devices, however, Maher said that “letter carriers wearing earbuds . . . while on duty delivering mail is against Postal Service safety regulations and they would face disciplinary action if found doing so.”  The question is:  who enforces this when they are on their routes?

I contacted the National Association of Letter Carriers to find out if the union adheres to this policy, but officials declined comment.

Uniforms are important for identification purposes.  Often I catch myself approaching someone whom I thought worked in a store only to realize it was another customer.   Wearing a badge alone is not enough.

Besides the instant recognition factor, having employees wear uniforms helps build an esprit de corps, a sense of belonging to an organization, helping to define one’s role.

One study published in the Social Psychological & Personality Science journal last year supports the benefits of dressing up for work.

Co-author Michael Slepian told The Huffington Post that “Formal clothing made people feel more powerful” resulting in “more big-picture thinking.”  Additionally, “formal clothing might improve your mood if you feel good in the clothing and think it looks good.”

This got me to thinking of not only the importance of wearing uniforms but of people knowing how to dress in general.

It seems people no longer differentiate what they wear at home or in public.  Men especially have assumed that a t-shirt, shorts, and baseball cap amounts to a 24/7 wardrobe whether they are washing the Tahoe or eating at Ruth’s Chris Steak House—no need to change.

People don’t seem to care how they look when they leave the house.   In the past, they would get dressed up when traveling on planes and trains, dining out, attending religious services, even going to TV tapings.

When I took my 11-year-old son to see “The Sound of Music,” he was better dressed than most of the adult males in the audience.

I saw a man in his 20s wearing shorts and flip flops, pouring handfuls of M&Ms down his mouth in the theatre during the performance.  And this was in the front row.

How ironic that the L.A. Philharmonic holds Casual Friday concerts when people dress casually every day of the week.  A more eye-catching promotion would be Formal Saturdays.

Dressing up transforms the way you feel about yourself and the environment you are in.   As proof, when I have my 10th graders give speeches, I ask them to wear nicer clothes.  It is remarkable how much better they perform.

It’s too bad that so many have a blasé attitude towards dressing appropriately including the mailman mentioned at the beginning.  He might as well have worn pajamas.

Clearly, “dress for success” has been replaced with “dress for yourself.”

Thanks for the Memory, Bob Hope–Now Goodbye

There was a time when the name “Burbank” was nationally recognized.  The TV comedy show “Laugh-In” and The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson made Burbank a household name referencing it with the popular mocking proclamation, “Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Burbank!”

Though a joke, it brought attention to the city.  Now, few people under 40 years of age remember “Laugh-In” or Johnny Carson or Bob Hope.   Which explains why the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority decided to change the name of the airport from Bob Hope to Hollywood Burbank.

According to airport officials, the facility has seen a drop in traffic from nearly six million passengers in 2007 to four million in 2014.

Any Burbank resident would question these numbers by the huge amount of development that has occurred over that time period.   And now the airport wants to demolish the terminal building with an even larger one apparently believing that if you build a bigger airport, more people will come.

Quite frankly, those who live near the airport can only negatively be impacted with increased traffic who don’t desire a mini-LAX in their backyard.

In their quest for money, the commissioners have trashed history.  When the airport took on the Bob Hope moniker shortly after the entertainer died 13 years ago this month at the age of 100, it was an honor well deserved.

Bob Hope was considered by many as the most popular performer of the 20th century, achieving success in all aspects of the entertainment industry:  vaudeville, radio, film, television.   Additionally, through his USO tours during World War Two and future conflicts, he made entertaining the troops the good deed that celebrities should do for Americans fighting overseas.

Hope taped most of his television specials in Burbank at NBC Studios.  Plus, he lived most of his life in Toluca Lake.  His name attached to the airport is a tribute to his link to the city.

Sometimes changing names from the past makes sense.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s when Burroughs High revised its Injunettes cheerleader squad to Indianettes.

And just last year a town in Spain finally changed its name “Castrillo Matajudios” meaning “Fort Kill the Jews.”  Well, that only took 500 years since the Spanish Inquisition.

Other times replacing names eliminates the history of an area.

Back in 1993 the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors changed the name of Brooklyn Avenue in East Los Angeles to Cesar Chavez since the demographics went from Jewish to Spanish. In a few decades from now when a different demographic is predominant, surely there will be another rebranding.

I work at a school named after Herbert Hoover who often appears on lists of the worst U.S. presidents. Hoover High opened just a few weeks before Black Tuesday, the beginning of the Great Depression.  Even students who attend there don’t know who he is.   Should the Glendale Unified School District rebrand the school with a more well respected chief executive in order to attract more students?

I understand the appeal of the name “Hollywood” but its geographical location is Burbank, so the proper name should be Burbank-Hollywood Airport. Or, if the main reason for the change is to attract travelers, call it the Ikea Hollywood Airport since the city will soon be home to the largest Ikea store in the USA, and charge naming rights.

Glendale High recently named its auditorium as the John Wayne Performing Arts Center.   That makes sense since Wayne was an alumnus.   But if the goal is to attract people, calling it the Kim Kardashian Performing Arts Center would have been better.  Sure, she never attended the school, but she did consider running for mayor of the city once.

Meanwhile, Burbank has the Robert R. Ovrom Park and Community Center.  I wonder how many years it will take before people scratch their heads not knowing that Ovrom was a city manager.

By the way, has Burbank ever named a building after a teacher?

Tom Marshall taught history to thousands of students for more than 50 years at Burroughs High School.  Yet his lifelong dedication to kids is not memorialized.  It’s as if he never existed, his past vanished.  You would be hard pressed thinking of a worthier individual who positively affected people’s lives, not some city employee who opened the floodgates to the daily traffic jams that clog Burbank streets.

At least Burbank still has a Bob Hope Drive though it is the shortest street in town.

Every generation has a duty to maintain, not eliminate, history regardless of its marketability.

It behooves all of us to remember Hope’s most famous song, “Thanks for the Memory.”

 

More Like High School Completion Than Graduation

“Graduation rate at Glendale’s high schools tops 90%” read the Glendale News-Press headline recently.  On the surface, this statistic is celebratory, something Glendale Unified should prominently display at the top of its website’s homepage.

Before we pat each other on the back for a job well done, keep this in mind:  many high school graduates are not ready to start college or get a job.

For too many, a high school diploma only confirms that an individual met minimum standards.

If the purpose of a high school graduation is to give a thumbs up for job accomplished, i.e., you attended school kindergarten through 12th grade, then we should call it “completion” rather than “graduation” because disturbing trends lurk beyond high school.

There is a high remediation rate in colleges.  Some surveys say 20 percent of those attending 4-year colleges and 60 percent attending community colleges take at least one remedial class, meaning that whatever knowledge and know-how students were to absorb and practice through their high school career is not evident.

Such retraining often continues when college graduates enter the workforce.  According to Washington Post reporter Jeffrey J. Selingo, employers say that young people lack “problem solving, decision making, and the ability to prioritize tasks,” skills needed to excel on the job.

Somewhere in the education pipeline, especially in high school and college, young people are just getting by with underdeveloped abilities that delay future success.

Much of the hype surrounding the Common Core standards is that its higher expectations on what skills teachers should be teaching at certain grade levels will produce a higher caliber of student.  In reaching for an elevated learning level, we should see a drop in graduation rates due to students struggling with the more rigorous work.  So what accounts for the rise?

A push to ensure that every last senior crosses that stage at the end of the year.  No district official or principal wants a less than stellar grad rate for it darkens the reputation of a school.

At the high school level, there is pressure on teachers to pass students (a grade of ‘D’ or higher).

Some administrators contact teachers who have too many students with failing grades.  In other words, the teachers are questioned why they are failing the kids rather than the kids being questioned why they are failing the classes.

Then there is the wide variation among educators on how they evaluate student work and calculate grades.

Teachers are permitted, rightfully so, to determine their own amount of work to assign, and what percentage of a class grade is based on participation, homework, and tests.

But when some ingratiate themselves with their pupils by grading easy, the result is that an ‘A’ in one teacher’s class does not signify the same level of achievement as an ‘A’ in another.

Years ago when California developed the High School Exit Exam its original intent was to make a diploma not attainable but meritorious.  It didn’t work.   Soon after piloting the test, results showed more than half the students not passing it.  So, the test was whittled down to the point that it would merely rubber stamp the diploma not elevate it, adding a bureaucratic hoop for students to jump through, wasting millions of tax dollars and hours of classroom time.

School should not be the place where kids survive but where they thrive.

All of us—educators, parents, children—need to accept the challenge and work towards meeting higher expectations so that more young people finish college and perform well on the job.

Maybe if students knew that there was a realistic chance they may not cross the graduation stage, more effort would result so that the diploma would not simply be a piece of paper.