The Gettysburg Tweet?

Newly inaugurated U.S. presidents are often judged by the work completed in their first 100 days of office.

We can judge President Trump by the first 100 tweets of his presidency.

George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post reported that “more than half his tweets end with an exclamation point and more than one-quarter [have] at least one word in all capital letters.”

Take a look.

“Enjoy the Super Bowl and then we continue: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.  Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

“I will send in the Feds!”

“FAKE NEWS”

Words matter.   They can threaten or they can heal.

February 12 is the 208th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth whose words still endure today.

Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns made “The Address” in 2014 about the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, a small boarding school for boys with learning disabilities who each year recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a rite of passage that demonstrates their confidence to overcome their challenges.

In 272 words, it may be the best written speech by any president under two minutes.

He uses the rule of three twice, done to perfection: “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground” and the famous coda “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln was not the featured speaker when the battlefield was dedicated as a cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863.  Edward Everett, noted orator of the time, spoke for two hours first, then came Lincoln.

The photographer assumed Lincoln would speak longer allowing him more time to focus his camera on the president.  By the time he took the photograph, Lincoln had just sat down.

Little did Americans know at the time that the Civil War would continue for almost two more years.

And it wasn’t until years later that Lincoln’s words would burn an indelible mark in the American story.  In fact, before he was assassinated, many in the country disliked Lincoln.   After his murder, however, his reputation rose.

This year I had my English students learn about Lincoln and recite the speech.

After they finished, I asked them their thoughts.

“I loved presenting this speech and learning about it and the person behind it,” one student wrote.

“It inspires people and reminds us how great Lincoln was” that “he was able to bring the country together,” remarked another.

The speech showed “how much he cared about his country,” how “he cared about the American people deeply.”

He “was very intelligent and eloquent” who “showed compassion” and “loved his country;” “a good, true, honorable man.”

And one student said “funny how in the speech Lincoln says ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here’ but people still remember the speech today.”

If only our Chief Executive could word his thoughts as well as a 15-year-old high school student.

Indeed, in the turbulent times we live in where there is a pervasive dark mood, it is comforting to read the words of someone who truly led a divided nation.

When he was assassinated on April 15, 1865, he had recently turned 56 years old.   Even with an additional 14 years of life, Trump has a lot of catching up to do before his memorial ever breaks ground on the National Mall.

Over 150 years from now, will a Trump Tweet be recited by school children, examined as one of the finest collection of words coming from a president?

Take a break from all the bad news and read over the Gettysburg Address to honor Abraham Lincoln and to remind yourself that we are all Americans.

 

 

DeVos: The Anti-Education Secretary

There I was, using 20 minutes out of my 56-minute period on Jan. 20 showing my mostly non-native English speaking students democracy in action, the inauguration of a new president, when I felt slapped in the face from Donald Trump who said, “An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

As he seems to do with so many issues, Trump took the low road with a clichéd type of sentence that connects extremes—lots of money with nothing to show for it—that reflects his deprivation of knowledge about education.

It’s one thing when the public makes comments about schools without researching the facts.  It is quite another when the man holding the highest office in the nation makes such a remark, then appoints a person to head the department of education who may actually know a little less than he does about schools.

Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school, never taught school, and it is doubtful that her children attended one either.

DeVos is a billionaire, Forbes estimating her family’s wealth at $5 billion.  And she and her husband, son of Amway’s co-founder, aren’t interested in making schools better, but in promoting school vouchers which takes money away from public schools and gives it to parents to spend on charter, private or religious schools.

In other words, taxpayer dollars end up funding private companies and religious organizations.   That runs counter to the separation of church and state edict of this country.

Yet Trump is entrusting her with the highest position in education to do what’s best for America’s public schools.   Does that make sense?

At her confirmation hearing, she exhibited, to borrow Trump’s language, a “deprivation of knowledge” about the federal law that funds special education which has been on the books for nearly three decades.   She also could not explain the difference between the terms “proficiency” and “growth assessment,” a distinction even an average-skilled teacher can clarify.

DeVos also argued against gun-free school zones saying that some schools like those near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming should be able to arm themselves especially “to protect from potential grizzlies.”   Thus far, there have never been reports of grizzly bears attacking school children.  Besides, most experts agree that bear repellent is more effective than firearms.

I have long felt it inherently wrong for people who lack teaching experience to hold powerful positions in education, telling teachers how to teach.  Unfortunately, DeVos has company.

Since the Department of Education was created in 1979, there have been 10 secretaries.

Only Terrel Bell, Rod Paige and John King, Jr. were public school teachers before serving their post.  That means 70 percent of the U.S. Secretaries of Education had no first-hand experience of public schools, the institution for which they were setting policy and implementing mandates.

Since Trump thrives on having the biggest, the best, the largest, he has succeeded with DeVos in appointing the most unqualified individual as education secretary.

In fact, she is the anti-education secretary.

As Stephen Henderson wrote in the Detroit Free Press, “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance.”

Until her nomination, she was chairman of the American Federation for Children, a pro-school choice advocacy group whose website refers to DeVos as a “national education reform pioneer.”

In a speech given at the South by Southwest education conference in 2015, DeVos listed “government really sucks” as an “inconvenient truth” about public education.  Nice language coming from the soon-to-be top “educator” in the land.

Some senators requested a second hearing on DeVos, but the request was turned down.

Her confirmation is expected to happen this Tuesday.  If only that were fake news.

 

 

Remembering an Educator

Don Duncan who passed away on Dec. 15 at age 82 is someone whose work in Glendale schools should be remembered.

Mr. Duncan (I can’t let go of the formal title) graduated from Hoover High School in 1952, then taught in Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) in 1957.  He became principal of his alma mater in 1974 and remained in that position until he left in Feb. 1995 to recruit students for California’s first full-time evening high school in order to ease overcrowding in Glendale schools.

By May when it became clear that was not materializing, Mr. Duncan expressed regret in a News Press interview that “if I had any feeling that it was not going to work, then I would have preferred to stay at Hoover.”

His tenure in Glendale ended without much fanfare even though he and his brother Charles combined for nearly 80 years of service to Glendale’s schools, and their father owned Duncan’s Variety Store in Kenneth Village.

I interviewed with Mr. Duncan for a teaching job when I earned my credential.   While there weren’t any openings, he kept me in mind, and when the 1989-1990 school year began (in Sept., by the way), and a position opened up, Duncan called me and asked if I was still interested.

The problem was that I had just started my first teaching job for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

It was two weeks into the school year and Don’s brother, who was in charge of Human Resources for GUSD, was able to get me out of my LAUSD contract, and in Sept., 1989, I made my debut at Hoover.

Mr. Duncan came across as paternal, always in the main office in the morning greeting teachers as they arrived, his height and gray hair adding to an “in-charge” presence without an air of intimidation.  He was even-tempered, “cool as a cucumber” according to granddaughter Nicole, never tipping off if things were going well or not.

Often not going lockstep with the district, he used to joke that we were the Hoover Unified School District.   One example of this was back in 1987 when the school newspaper wanted to publish an ad for condoms right before the prom.   And Mr. Duncan supported the publication of it.  Unfortunately, district officials heard about this and put a stop to the ad before it was published.

In my 24 years of doing the school newspaper, I have had my share of run-ins with principals about stories.  I only had one with Mr. Duncan and he supported my decision.  In fact, he loved the school newspaper.  He often would come to the journalism class and tell the students “nice job” which meant so much to the kids.

Mr. Duncan gave all teachers a generous present of a one-hour coupon for him to cover a class period anytime someone wanted to run an errand or take a walk.

He enjoyed dressing up as Santa Claus on the last school day before Christmas vacation, and would host staff Christmas parties at his house.  He also enjoyed speaking on the P.A. about historical days on the calendars so that students understood why school was closed.

City Halls memorialize councilmembers.  Schools should have a way to honor teachers, administrators, clerks, and custodians who dedicate their careers to education.

Here is a man who devoted his adult life to Hoover, the longest tenured principal in the school’s history (almost 21 years), yet his name is nowhere to be found on campus.

Before another street is named for real estate developer Rick Caruso, consideration should be given to the Duncan family in ensuring their legacy does not disappear from Glendale’s history.

Mortality: The Ultimate New Year’s Motivator

The most chilling part of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” comes near the end when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come points Ebenezer Scrooge to a tombstone with his own name on it.

It is this final vision that does its job in making Scrooge realize he better change his ways before he dies if he wants his life to have meaning.

The idea of coming to terms with one’s own mortality and using that knowledge as motivation to make the most of each day is powerful.

Scrooge declares that “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  And just as with New Year’s resolutions, people have the best intentions to do good in the world and for themselves but often life’s daily happenings can derail them.

It takes a strong constitution and willpower to keep goals on track.

My life-changing moment wasn’t a ghost but a dead body, when at age 11, I witnessed my grandmother in a coffin. That startling image slapped me in the face with the sinking realization that life does not last forever.

I remember many times afterwards lying in bed struggling to get to sleep thinking about the eventual void in our future.

It accounts for the nervous energy I have and the impatience I display knowing that time is short and why I make lists all the time.  Lists of errands to do each day, and lists of goals to work on each year.

In a way, death drives me to get things accomplished.

Of course, the number of years a person has to live can’t be predicted, though many internet tools claim to guestimate one’s lifespan with a high level of probability.

Based on the Social Security Administration’s Life Expectancy Calculator, I can expect to live another 24 years at my current age.

According to life insurance companies Northwestern Mutual and John Hancock, I have another 32 years.

Death clock.org actually gives a projected day of death and graphically places it on a tombstone like the Dickens’ tale.  I have only 13 years left with them.

On poodwaddle.com there is even a clock that continuously countdowns one’s life.

The iconic images each December 31st of an old man representing the year that is ending and a baby representing the new year to come symbolizes the death and rebirth in all of us.

Each passing year marks a slight death for that is one year that will never come back.

However, with the utterance of “Happy New Year” comes yet another opportunity to reboot, redouble our efforts to be better people.   Even if “life happens,” there is always hope that some of what we set out to do will occur.

If each person does something positive once a day, by next year, that would amount to 365 positive actions.   That is a lot of contributions for one person.

One day a tombstone will have our name on it.   And no matter how much money we have or how healthy our eating and exercise habits are, we will die.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”

Here’s hoping that in 2017 you make the most of what days we have to do good for ourselves and for others.

 

 

OMG: Not Even Charlie Brown is exempt from the war on Christmas

As I watched the 1952 film “O’Henry’s Full House” on TCM which ends with a tracking shot on the star of Bethlehem, I thought about how this type of religious symbol would never be shown in a movie today.

In fact, when is the last time you saw a major motion picture or TV program that treated religion in a non-sarcastic way?

In the past, having characters pray to God or attending religious services was considered normal, a reflection of audience’s lives back then.

A Gallup Poll asking Americans about their religious beliefs in June showed that 89 percent of Americans still do believe in God.   Such a number has held steady over the years from a high of 98 percent in the early 1960s.   What has declined is ­­­­people attending religious services.

Reporter Emma Green points out in The Atlantic article “It’s Hard to Go to Church” that “50 or 60 years ago, churches, in particular, were a center of social and cultural life in America [but now] many people may be creating their social lives outside of a religious context—or perhaps forgoing that kind of social connection altogether.”

A litigious segment of the population that wishes to permanently abolish any religious shadings from America’s culture has resulted in what some perceive as an anti-Christian sentiment.

The word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance has been challenged several times.  Some cringe when they hear that word in public (though the initialism OMG is somehow okay).

Yet imagine how less powerful Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life” would have been if in the most gut-wrenching moment of the film when Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey begs for his life back—“please, God, let me live again”—he omitted “God.”  It is the prayer to God that charges that scene with emotion; without it, the scene would not have resonated so deeply.

Even 1990’s “Home Alone” known for its slapstick comedy has a scene in a church.  As “O Holy Night” plays in the background, Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, meets his neighbor, Old Man Marley.   Neither character is shown praying, but the idea that two people who don’t know one another, one a child, the other an elderly man, can share a contemplative moment in a place of worship is a scene that would never make the final cut nowadays.

Just this week a legal battle ensued concerning 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the animated classic which depicts a school nativity program and Linus quoting from the Bible, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.  That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Dedra Shannon, a nurse’s aide at a middle school in Killeen, Texas, took that quote and, along with a likeness of Linus, taped it to the door of the nurse’s office.  The school board ordered it removed.  But on Thursday a judge ordered it back on the door with the words “Ms. Shannon’s holiday message” added.

Frankly, it is amazing the show is still played on TV without being edited or a disclaimer tacked onto the opening.

We are living in a time where religion and gender are being rubbed off of human identity.   Then what is left?

Zooey Deschanel who recorded a Christmas album along with M. Ward as She & Him told the Los Angeles Times that “we tried to do ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ but then we realized how religious that song is.”

What specifically bothered her?

“It goes, ‘Santa knows that we’re God’s children / And that makes everything right / Hang your stockings and say your prayers…’” Deschanel then began to laugh.  “It was kind of scary.”

Pretty sad the times we live in when using the words “God” and “prayers” make people laugh or scared.

 

School Calendar Deja Vu

This year school began on Aug. 8.

Back in August of 2015, thousands of parents signed an online petition pleading with the Glendale Unified School District to begin the school year later.  For many, the early creep of the first day of school infringed on summer plans and enrichment programs.   Besides, it wasn’t that many moons ago when school began after Labor Day in September.

After months of meetings at school sites and the formation of a calendar committee comprised of teachers and parents, the new school year will start on Aug. 16 – a mere six weekdays later than the current start of school.

The new calendar, revealed before the Thanksgiving break, was approved by the school board with a 3-2 vote.  The end of the school year will be three days later meaning that the complete school year calendar remains at 43 weeks.

Summer vacation stays at 9 weeks, 4 weeks for those children enrolled in summer school.

So, what was the point of all the machinations of seeking input from all stakeholders and then coming up with basically the same plan that has been in place for the past few years?

That’s what parent Sarah Rush would like to know.  She and many others are dismayed that despite the protestation of starting school later, nothing changed.

“It was an overwhelming consensus that our 18,000 families wanted a longer summer and a start date after the third week of August,” Rush said.  “If public outcry is unheeded, then all of the meetings were a waste of our time and taxpayer funds.”

Board Member Greg Krikorian who along with President Armina Gharpetian voted against the new calendar sympathizes with those parents who are upset that the start of school wasn’t delayed later.

“We need to put students and parents first,” Krikorian said.  “Family time is crucial.”

Rush encourages parents who feel likewise to let their opinions be heard by emailing school board members and attending the Dec. 13 meeting.

Curiously, school districts neighboring Glendale have easily figured out how to plan 180 instructional days that accommodates the wishes of families.

While Burbank schools have pushed the start of school up to mid-August, they have kept the year to 41 weeks due to fewer days off, leaving 11 weeks of summer vacation.  Next year Burbank children return Aug. 14 but end May 24 before Memorial Day.

And La Canada schools while providing two additional days of instruction still contain the school year within 42 weeks.

Yet somehow Glendale can’t seem to keep schools open long enough between August and June so that school can start later and end earlier.

While the curious Friday day off before the Labor Day weekend has finally disappeared, the full week off during Thanksgiving does not help to shorten the overall calendar.   And as many educators can attest to, ever since GUSD has been closed for a full week, a teacher never quite gets the kids’ attention back since in a few weeks they will be off for nearly three weeks.

Think about this:  From Nov. 11 through Jan. 8, amounting to 55 calendar days, students are in school for 21 days, or 38 percent of the time.

Here is how the calendar can quickly be fixed.  By eliminating the three days off before Thanksgiving, school could start on Monday, Aug. 21, or end on June 1, cutting the calendar to 42 weeks, providing an additional week of summer vacation.

There.  Problem fixed.  No meetings needed.   A year’s time not required.  Less than ten minutes really.

In this space, I have proposed a joint meeting of GUSD and BUSD school board members to see if a common calendar could be agreed upon.   That never occurred.

For those parents who feel that their voices are not being considered should keep in mind another calendar, an election one that ends on April 4, 2017.  That’s 110 days away—without days off.

 

 

 

 

Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?

Before you vote for California’s Proposition 64 that will legalize recreational marijuana, read over the 32 pages in the state’s Official Voter Information Guide.  You may change your mind.

Like a tsunami that transforms the landscape, expect life to change:  more impaired people on the job, on the roads, and on the public assistance for health issues related to the drug.

Look for marijuana ads to appear on television, on radio, on billboards.

Watch for swaths of agricultural areas to start growing cannabis instead of vegetables.

Get ready for pot stores to pop up all over town.  Prop 64 mandates no establishment can be within 600 feet of a school or day care center.   That’s the length of four city blocks. Children will walk by the pot outlets, guaranteed.

Considering that the vast majority of Americans do not use marijuana, it is bewildering why voters would legalize something that is detrimental to the health of society.

Why would citizens who view cigarette smokers as lepers put out the open house sign for marijuana smokers?  I thought Californians were health conscious.

The state still lists marijuana as a carcinogen.  Tax dollars should not be used to approve the sale of more cancer-causing substances.

What concerns No on Prop 64 campaign spokesman Andrew Acosta the most is “how little people know about the industry” that they are about to legitimize, an industry involving investors whose sole desire is to make money cultivating and distributing a drug.

California, having lost companies to less regulated states, is on the verge of a new gold rush.   Instead of third world nations delivering drugs to the world, it will be California.

It has taken 20 years for Sacramento to figure out how to properly regulate the medical marijuana industry.  Prop 64 allows only one year to get it done correctly for recreational use.

“The only reason that California is rushing into legalization is to make money for the industry,” Acosta said.

The New York Times reports that “the market for both recreational and medicinal marijuana is projected to grow to $22 billion in four years from $7 billion this year if California says yes.”

Steve DeAngelo who runs a marijuana dispensary in Oakland told the newspaper that “my ultimate objective is to get this plant into the hands of every single human being on the planet,” calling marijuana “a religious spiritual thing.”

This is the mentality of those who are pushing legalization.

Just like tobacco companies, these firms care only about money, uninterested in repercussions to our society.

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that fatal traffic accidents involving drivers who used marijuana more than doubled in the state of Washington since the drug was legalized.

And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nationwide nighttime weekend drivers high on marijuana increased almost 50 percent from 2007 to 2014.

The AAA Foundation says that “there is currently no scientific way to predict impairment due to marijuana based on a blood test result.”  Still, voters are willing to roll the dice that eventually a test for impairment will magically surface as we use the streets and people as experiments.

Proponents of Prop 64 have faulty arguments.

  • That legalization will make the illegal market go away. Not true.  In Colorado, the black market for marijuana has increased after legalization.
  • That young people will be protected from trying the drug since the initiative stipulates that edibles cannot appeal to young people. No to lollipops and gummies, but yes to cookies and brownies.
  • That passing Prop 64 will stop the incarceration of people caught with marijuana. False. If you think our prisons are full of potheads, you probably are smoking something.
  • That marijuana is not harmful. Wrong again.   You don’t need a medical degree to know that smoking anything is not healthy.

Brains are not fully developed until age 25.  But at age 21, a person can start using marijuana, a drug that remains in the body’s tissues, including the brain.

Last week 60 Minutes aired a segment on the negative impact legalized pot has had in Colorado.   One doctor described the spike in babies born with traces of THC.

While I don’t want to put the potheads in jail, I do not want the government to validate their drug habit.   Leave the “look-the-other-way” system currently in place alone—no change necessary.

Someone who chooses to abuse their body does not have a right to harm society.