My son, the high school graduate

The end of high school for seniors is often bittersweet for their teachers who may have known the students for up to four years.

The end of high school for a parent of a senior, however, resonates deeper for it marks a significant rite of passage.

One senior graduating this year in particular means a great deal to me.  He is my son.

People who know Ben frequently comment that “he’s a good kid.”  Any parent would be proud of a child who generates that reaction from others.

Goodness is in short supply in today’s world.  It does not show up on a standardized test.

Ben is very polite, always responding to a meal at home with a “thank you for the tacos” without any prodding; it comes naturally to him.

I overhear him talk to grown-ups on the phone asking “How are you?” interested in having an adult-like conversation.

He makes his own breakfast of eggs and oatmeal each morning, and often assists me with dinner.

He engages in adult-like perceptions on politics and the world.  Our family TV time is watching Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and “60 Minutes” on Sundays.

He knows cultural history, recognizing an Ella Fitzgerald vocal or an Alfred Hitchcock film.

He has a taste for long-established restaurants such as the Smoke House.

He doesn’t mind getting dressed up to go out for dinner, or picking up after the dog in the backyard.

He rarely wants anything.  His iPhone is not new, his car as old as he is.

He still sleeps in the same bed that he got back in elementary school, though lies diagonally accommodating his nearly six-foot frame.

His only luxury is a flat screen TV that his uses primarily for playing videogames on his PS4.

Something else Ben does:  when he is out, he always calls us (not texts) when he is coming home.   This is not something that we have demanded; it comes from Ben’s own sense of responsibility.

What is the recipe for a good kid?  Along with love and support from family and friends, Ben’s teachers deserve recognition: kindergarten teacher Ms. Solyom, third grade teacher Ms. Rostomyan, fifth grade teacher Ms. Essex, sixth grade social science teacher Ms. Lamb, sixth grade P.E. teacher Ms. Asmussen, seventh grade English teacher Mr. Martin, eighth grade English teacher Mr. Rothacher, biology teacher Mr. Margve, astronomy teacher Mr. Movsessian, AP Psych teacher Mr. Collazos, AP English Lit teacher Mr. McNiff, and AP U.S. History teacher Mr. Thomson.

My wife and I were amazed as his maturity blossomed earlier this year.  Within a matter of weeks, he made the decision to attend CSUN and got his first job.

It was a surreal feeling to have my photo taken with my son in front of CSUN”s Oviatt Library where I graduated 35 years ago.

Back then, the idea that one day I would have a son who would attend the same college as I did was not even a flicker of a thought in my mind.

When we moved into our house 18 years ago, Ben was three months old.  Today, in that same bedroom lives an 18-year-old.   Oh, the baby still lives in the man.  You can it in his eyes, his smile, and the way he speaks.  And you can see his younger brother looking up at him from an early age, absorbing Ben’s life as a textbook on how to grow up.

Ben, you have had a good life so far.  I hope you continue being good and doing good in the years to come.

No Surprise: Trump Diminishes Teachers of the Year Ceremony

Teachers rarely receive national attention which is why the annual ceremony acknowledging all states’ Teacher of the Year honorees is so significant.

For 65 years, these gifted instructors have been showcased at the White House hosted by the President.

If you are a teacher, it is a moment to cherish.   This year, it was a moment to forget.

Last week, President Trump hosted the teachers in the crowded Oval Office, the favorite room of his where he greets paeans, remaining seated as if he was a king on his throne. Also in the room was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an anti-public education advocate, all making nice smiling for the pool cameras.

Remember, Trump lambasted public education in his inauguration speech as a system that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”   This came from the same paragraph lumping education with poverty, job loss, and crime as part of the “American carnage.”

Yet there he was reading from a TelePrompTer about how valuable teachers are.

The entire ceremony took barely five minutes.

Compare this to the forty minutes former President Barack Obama shared with last year’s winners.

Obama relished this annual event, treating it as more of a celebration than a static photo op.  Last year’s ceremony was held in the East Room to accommodate more people, with the teachers standing on risers so that they all are clearly seen.

Obama is announced at the same time as Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, allowing her the spotlight and the lectern first to deliver a four-minute speech, about the same amount of time given to this year’s entire ceremony.

Not only does he personally hand the Crystal Apple award to Hayes, but tells a story about her so that the public can gain an insight to what makes her such a special educator.

This year’s Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, lost among the crowded pack of educators surrounding Trump, wasn’t given an entrance, wasn’t allowed to give a speech, and had very little said about her.

Standing to Trump’s right, Trump barely looks up at her, quickly pats her arm, then awkwardly holds the Crystal Apple himself smiling at the cameras as if it were meant for him before giving it to Chaffee.

He doesn’t shake her hand, he doesn’t stand up to hand the award to her, he doesn’t say anything about her except her name, what she teaches, and where she works.

Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss discovered that very few relatives of the teachers were allowed in the Oval Office; most “who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend were left to wait in a building near the White House.”  Even Chaffee’s husband and daughter “were kept waiting in a hallway before being allowed to enter the Oval Office.”

In fact, the video does not appear on the official White House website link of “events” videos.

One video that is featured came a week earlier showing Trump welcoming this year’s Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots.  Their ceremony happened in a larger arena on the South Lawn with more observers and media in attendance.

Trump spent 16 minutes with the team, underscoring how some people care more about the champs on a football field than the champs in the classroom.

But not Obama as evidenced by what he said:

“Part of the reason this event is so important is for us to be able to send a message to future generations of teachers, to talented young people all across the country to understand this is a dream job; that this is an area . . . where you have the potential to make more of a difference than just about anything you can go into.”

If only Trump did his homework and plagiarized even a bit of Obama’s remarks as his wife did copying Michelle’s.  Then again, to paraphrase his comment about healthcare, who knew that honoring teachers could be so complicated?

Buckle up and put that phone down

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month.  Considering the car calamities that occur regularly on the road, such a proclamation should be year-round.

I bet if you asked a bunch of people in a room to raise their hands if they knew of anyone who was involved in some kind of accident due to a distracted driver, at least one hand would go up.

One out of every eight drivers uses a phone while behind the wheel as reported by the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2016.   Such distractions affect 80 percent of car accidents.

 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost 3,500 died (16 percent of all fatal crashes) and 400,000 were injured in 2015 due to distracted drivers.

The AAA Foundation discovered that drivers ages 16-24, who use their phones one-fourth of the time while on the road, have the highest incidents of deadly accidents due to inattention.  In fact, six out of every 10 accidents involving teens is due to driver distraction.

Both my wife and I have been hit by drivers using phones, luckily minor collisions.

In one 24-hour period I observed at four-way stop intersections three drivers who were looking down at their laps or holding their phones near their heads barely stopping and rolling through the stop sign to the amazement of other drivers.

Just last week a young man was driving behind me on Kenneth Road.  Since I always check the driver’s face in my rearview mirror, I saw he was looking down more than half of the time.  The car ahead of me inched up to turn left so I couldn’t proceed.  But the kid behind me sensing movement started accelerating, then had to slam on his brakes to avoid rear-ending me.

I noticed a shocked look on his face.  So, I thought, “Good, now he knows not to use his phone while driving.”  Wrong.   He continued behind me for several blocks, constantly glancing down at his lap.  If a near-miss did not alter his behavior, what would?

What is scary about those who refuse to put their phones down while driving is that it doesn’t matter how defensively one drives, there is no protection against a person willfully breaking the law.   Many innocent people have lost their lives due to these selfish, self-absorbed menaces.

Cars should have sensors that prevent the car from operating if a driver is using a phone in any way, similar to navigation systems which do not work while the car is running.

It’s not just cell phone use that creates distracted drivers.  Everything from talking to eating to applying make-up can make a difference between a near-miss and a casualty.

And drivers with earbuds in their ears:  can they hear sirens or screams?

Peculiar that people have no problem texting while driving, but for some reason can’t use their blinkers, an action that would require less effort.

Instead of autonomous cars there should be signals that automatically go on if a driver turns his wheel a certain number of degrees in either direction.  That would also save automakers money since there would no longer be a need for the turn signal lever on steering wheel columns.

It seems that the only way a driver obeys the law is if an officer is spotted nearby.  That logic of “not to get caught” creates dangerous people on our highway who evidently count on others to obey the law.

Some neighbors have posted lawn signs that read, “drive like your kids live here.”  They should say “drive like your kids are in the other car.”

 

Vulgar Words Against Women Must Stop

“Daddy, can we eat breakfast at Eggslut?”

“Sure,” replies the father to his 10-year-old daughter.   “What do you want to get there?”

“The Slut, of course,” answered the young girl.

Call me 20th century, but I don’t understand why this hypothetical exchange would not bother a parent who cares about his daughter’s self-esteem and how women are viewed in this world.

Still, many parents and their children are waiting up to an hour to eat at this breakfast spot which recently opened in Glendale.

I feel embarrassed even writing the word down for this column.  In fact, when I type the restaurant’s name in Google on my work computer, the filter blocks it out.

But having the word on a business stirs nary a protest.

I tried contacting Eggslut’s part-owner and chef Alvin Cailan about the word he chose for his business, but received no reply.

However, in a 2015 interview with the Asian Journal, he explained that he selected the name to “make waves.”

He said that not everyone liked the name, calling it “disgusting and vulgar” and, because of that, “we couldn’t do [some] events.”  Still, he continues using the name.

One popular dish on the menu is even called the “slut.”

I don’t care if that is the most delicious food on the planet, I won’t patronize a business that is so insultingly named, just as I wouldn’t support one with an ethnic slur.

Didn’t Cailan feel his food was good enough without having to insult over half of the U.S. population?

People go to the streets to protest the policies of President Trump, especially the words he uses to describe women.  Why aren’t the same people in front of this restaurant protesting its name?

What I don’t get is how women’s issues have grown in prominence since the Equal Rights Amendment days of the 1970’s, yet the proliferation of sexual insults against women has likewise risen in songs, TV programs, and social media.  The ubiquitous B-word is to women what the N-word is to African-Americans.

Back in 2012 after a six-month courtship, Kanye West showed the world his love for his future wife, Kim Kardashian, by writing a song for her, “Perfect B—.”

People are becoming so desensitized to words and, in doing so, have no barometer, no sense of when their words are not ones others may want to hear.  That is why more and more I get looks of puzzlement from students whenever I ask them to watch their language.   They apparently do not know what words are appropriate to use.   For many, the way they talk at school is the same way they talk to their friends and is the same way they talk at home—no sense of adapting to various environments, or being sensitive to others.

If the name of an establishment pushed the envelope further such as Bacon B—-hes, would that be okay as well as the BLTs were delicious?

It is difficult to have serious conversations about campus assaults when women are vulgarized throughout mass media and popular entertainment.  As a society, how do we reconcile mandating sexual harassment job training while allowing a free-for-all outside of the workplace?

For all our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, the message must be clear.  If we want to view women as equal to men in every way, then we need to clean up the language and stop accepting hateful words that demean them. Not in locker rooms, not on iTunes, not on Neflix, and definitely not for breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Legalizing Illegal Bicyclist Behavior

Drivers are often reminded through posted signs to “share the road” with bicyclists.  But what about “share the laws”?

If assemblymen Jay Obernolte and Phil Ting get their AB 1103 passed, this will no longer be true.

AB 1103 would allow bicyclists to run stop signs legally.

Obernolte told the Times that bicyclists’ “loss of momentum causes them to spend a substantially longer amount of time in the intersection.”  In other words, those two-ton monsters roaming the streets ruin their cardio workout.  Well, drivers could argue that stopping for bicyclists and providing a three-foot clearance for them impedes their progression as well.

Bicyclists will be the one type of vehicle traversing the highways that follows Mad Max-type of rules, leaving the rest of us drivers and pedestrians at our own peril navigating along Fury Road.

Imagine the confusion as you pull up to a stop sign, and when it appears to be clear, you press the accelerator only to quickly slam on the brakes due to a blur of wheels speeding in front of you.

If the rule of thumb is to change laws to reflect the way drivers and bicyclists operate their vehicles, then you might as well do away with stop signs and red lights altogether since so many people run through them.

Whenever I see a driver or a bicyclist speed through a four-way stop intersection as I alone obey the complete stop, I think about what would happen if the other person met someone like himself.   The result?  A crash.

Instead, these menaces count on law-abiding citizens to keep them safe.  How loony is that notion?

Once I observed a bicyclist going at least 30 mph downhill in a residential neighborhood, blowing through a four-way stop.  A driver honked his horn at him to which the bicyclist stopped, turned around, and gave him the middle finger on both of his hands.   The bicyclist knew what he did was illegal and wrong, but didn’t care, even about his own life which could have ended right there if not for the driver following the law in stopping at the intersection.

It is amazing that there aren’t double the number of traffic accidents when one sees on a daily basis blatant disregard for rules of the road.  No wonder Glendale has the distinction as one of the least safe cities in terms of traffic in America.

And before we unleash anti-immigrant venom into the discussion to explain this behavior, I have seen young and old, driving jalopies and jaguars, all perpetrators of bad driving.

The cause is complex, but much of it is rooted in the increasing selfishness of people.   They don’t care who is around them on the streets; they are determined to do whatever they want without risk of being caught or shamed.

What motivates a bicyclist or a motorist to make a complete stop when there is no one else around?

I feel embarrassed if I do something wrong in public; too many others do not feel the same.

To bring sanity back to the streets, I have three suggestions.

One, hire more parking enforcement officers.   Provide them with more training so that they can issue moving violations such as running stop signs.   Station them at four-way stops.  The revenue from all the tickets will more than pay for the additional jobs.

Two, have a public service campaign that educates the public how to behave on the road.

Three, contact Assemblymember Laura Friedman who represents the Burbank/Glendale area and express your opposition to this proposed law which will legalize bad behavior, something for which there is no drought.

Doing the right thing can’t be legislated, but neither should be doing the wrong thing.

Teachers Studying Other Teachers

In 28 years of teaching I have probably spent one year of my career attending faculty meetings, conferences, and workshops.  The bulk of the information dispensed varied from somewhat helpful to barely useful; little of it was illuminating.

The one staff development activity, however, that has always been worthwhile missing a day of work for is the walk-through.

In recent years, schools have been implementing the concept of having teachers walk into other teachers’ classrooms to observe the teaching and learning taking place.

While initially some teachers balked at the idea of opening their doors to their colleagues, the walk-through has now become standard practice where I work.  We have been doing it for so long now that newer teachers have no memory of when we weren’t doing it.

While teachers are given observation forms to fill out and concepts to watch for, teachers are on their own for most of the day, something that is not true with other staff development.

Teachers are put in pre-arranged teams, purposely from different departments.   Doing it this way ensures that people don’t gravitate towards those with whom they regularly interact.   Integrating teachers from different departments takes the walk-through to another dimension, becoming a “getting to know you” day.

One of the peculiarities of teaching is that it is a vocation performed by one person in individual rooms.  Dialoging with colleagues to discuss methodologies and students is an independent study venture.

Because of this solitary confinement, it is easy to overlook what a student’s whole day looks like.   Teachers focus on their curriculum often forgetting that at the secondary level these students have five other classes.

It’s not just the homework; it’s how adaptive students need to be in understanding the expectations from their other five instructors.   Yet, it is that variety of teachers and teaching styles that makes their day dynamic and not boring.   If one teacher speaks in a monotone and stays immobile in front of the class, the next period may have one teacher who constantly moves around, having students work with partners and in groups.

Another benefit of walking through other classrooms is coming away with fresh ideas: a creative way to have students write on the board, a decoration hung from the ceiling, an unusual table arrangement.

And it’s fun seeing one’s students in different settings.   One former student had a huge grin that I was watching her play the cello.  Another was making a sculpture, and after discussing the particulars of that work of art, good-naturedly debated where the best breakfast burritos can be found (he says Corner Cottage, I say Larry’s). Such conversation pays in dividends, deepening the connection between student and teacher.

As much as I enjoy the walk-throughs, each teacher does just one a year.   It would be wonderful if teacher observations and conversations were a regular part of the work day or even work week.

Another next step would be to record those teachers who are doing marvelous work as a video library for others to reference.

If a were a student that day, I would have gone to school and learned what makes people mammals, that what separates us from other mammals is our ability to show compassion, and it is that compassion that can be expressed through writing a sonnet, playing a piece of music and creating a work of art.

Not a bad way for a teenager to spend a day.   And it’s free.  What a deal.

Trump speaks like a Fifth Grader

If President Donald J. Trump was a student in my 10th grade English class, here is how I would evaluate his use of the English language as observed in last week’s press conference.

One major characteristic of Trump’s speaking is the repetition of words and phrases, often within the same sentence, revealing a limited vocabulary.

Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump:  The Art of the Deal, told MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid that Trump has a “200-word vocabulary.”

That is why in his 77-minute presser he repeated words so frequently:  really (14), great (19), very (87).

An easy way to impress people, I tell my students, is by using a varied vocabulary when speaking with prospective employers.  It also retains an audience’s attention when the speaker uses different words; using the same words over and over again, well, the message gets lost.

See if you can figure out what Trump was trying to say:

  • “It’s very important to me. I’ve been talking about that for a long time.  It’s very, very important to me.”
  • “We’re looking at them very, very, very serious.”
  • “Very, very strongly. Very, very strongly.”

Avoid saying “honestly,” “I’ll be honest” or “can I be honest with you” because more likely than not you’re not being truthful.

Just like declaring yourself to be 100 percent opposite of who you really are.

“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.  Number two, racism, the least racist person.”

I teach my students to avoid the phrase “I think” because it diminishes the persuasiveness of one’s opinion, coming across as if only the speaker believes that way.  Yet Trump repeated it 42 times in the press conference.

In fact, he used the pronoun “I” 389 times. It goes without much analysis why he would refer to himself so often.

I instruct my students to avoid hysterical language; people are more likely to consider your opinions when spoken more judiciously.

Trump, however, washes himself in hyperbole, depicting the world as a “mess” or “disaster” or in “chaos” or “turmoil” where things are “horrible,” “terrible,” “horrendous,” or “catastrophic.”

When discussing people who please him, Trump uses “wonderful,” “tremendous,” “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “incredible,” the types of adjectives children would more often use than a 70-year-old man.

And look at the repetitive wording when talking about his daughter—“Ivanka who is a fabulous person and a fabulous, fabulous woman”—and his wife Melania who feels “very, very strongly, she’s a very, very strong advocate.”

Carnegie Mellon studied the vocabulary of presidents and concluded that Trump’s language is at a fifth-grade level.

“I inherited a mess.  It’s a mess.  At home and abroad, a mess.”

The same could be said of the way Trump talks.

Dr. Justin Frank, a psychoanalyst at George Washington University Medical Center who is writing a book called “Trump on the Couch,” told me that “not reading or not being able to read often has a lasting limiting effect” on one’s vocabulary development.  It’s widely known that Trump watches TV and does not read books—not a promising combination for thinking deeply about issues affecting the nation.

If Trump’s parents visited me at Open House this week, how would I diplomatically broach his shortcomings as an English student?  Most likely do what any politician does and redirect my response to a different subject: have Donald join my journalism class to learn about real news.