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.

 

 

How do you explain the Paris attacks to a youngter?

When my 12-year-old son asked me why the French flag appeared on Google last Friday, I knew I had to muster the best of my parenting skills to carefully answer his question.

This led me to thinking: With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, just how much awareness should children have of what is going on in the world?

Ginny Goodwin, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and the director of Burbank’s Family Service Agency, advises that parents consider a child’s age and maturity when discussing these events.

“Withholding information needs to be considered [including] limiting television viewing and protecting them from images” especially for youngsters, Goodwin said.

For more social media savvy teens, parents should “answer questions and help them process their fears and concerns.”

“Children need to feel secure, that adults have some control [and that] our country is working hard to protect all of us,” added Goodwin.

Parents need to understand that their children may pick up on their own fears so it’s important not to share such anxieties within “earshot of children.”

I remember on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, my wife and I made sure not to watch television until we dropped off our two-year-old at his daycare center. When I picked him up that afternoon, I was aghast that the teacher and aides were talking about the planes hitting into the buildings right in front of the kids.   I told the center’s director about the inappropriateness of doing that.

LMFT Samantha Bookman of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills agrees that “it is imperative [parents] be highly vigilant about what adult conversations are happening within earshot of kids and not show their anxiety in front of them.”

“They are always listening, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention,” Bookman said.

Additionally, since “children and teens have an under-developed pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain behind the forehead which calm fears,” explained Bookman, absorbing “scary information can be overwhelming and debilitating.”

The fears that exist today about unexpected horror that could happen in a flash harken back to what earlier generations must have felt during the Cold War with the potentiality of a nuclear holocaust hanging in the air.

Even today’s lockdown drills are reminiscent of the Duck and Cover drills school children practiced in the event of a nuclear attack during the 1950s and 1960s.

It makes one wonder when was the last time an American generation did not have the sense that the world could end or at least turn upside down in a moment.

I asked history professor Christopher Endy of Cal State Los Angeles this question.

“The 1920s and 1930s were the last decades when Americans felt free from fear of widespread catastrophic attack,” said Endy. When relations with the Soviets “soured in the late 1940s . . . Americans’ fears increased dramatically.” And have remained so ever since.

While we can’t control what course of action governments undertake to combat the threat of terrorism, experts say that the average citizen’s best action is to go on with normal activities while being vigilant.

“There is risk in our lives every day . . . but we forget about it so that we can live our lives happily,” said Bookman. “And guess what? We are almost always just fine.”

 

 

Teachers Need to be involved in Decision-Making

In the game of education, there are many players: students, parents, teachers, administrators, district officials, state and federal politicians.   Too often, the group that has the most contact with the students, the teachers, is not part of policy decision-making.

For example, sometime beginning in the late spring, the Glendale Unified School District went ahead with a major endeavor, signing a five-year contract worth $3.4 million with Massachusetts-based Curriculum Associates to use their i-Ready diagnostic testing program, evaluating each kindergartner through 12 grader three times a year.

What was quite startling about all this was how few of the major stakeholders were in the loop, including some administrators.

Glendale Teachers Association President Phyllis Miller said that GTA was not part of any discussions about this program as well.

Just as the Common Core standards seemingly came out of nowhere, so too has i-Ready that no one knows with certainty will benefit students.

The difference between the rollout of Common Core and i-Ready was that GUSD carefully involved teachers in introducing the new standards over a three-year period; the systematic testing came like a “Bam!” a la celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.   In the past, the district has piloted new programs before committing to them.   Not this time.

Product Marketing Director for Curriculum Associates Susan Arcuri claims that there have been positive results in Glendale.   It’s a mystery how she came to that conclusion considering testing has just begun.

Miller said that many teachers who have used i-Ready say that the test itself is taking much longer than what was expected.

Where I work, the reading test is currently being administered, taking two class periods to complete. If that holds true for the math test, that would translate to a loss of 12 hours of direct instruction in arguably the most important subject classes.

And don’t forget the time it takes school administrators to organize the computer labs and monitor the testing, time better spent elsewhere.

It’s understandable the district wants to do something to help students perform well on the new Common Core based assessments.   The idea of providing teachers with individualized data to help shape future lesson planning sounds ideal.   The problem is that it is not practical.

Any teacher watching an i-Ready presentation espousing its benefits could inform upper management of this.   How are teachers going to find the time needed to analyze the data and then to modify lessons to meet the needs of each student? If a teacher were at the decision-making table, these legitimately difficult questions would have arisen.

One would have to make quite a convincing argument that spreadsheets of colored graphs is preferable to lessons taught by a qualified teacher.

Often overlooked is the analysis already occurring in the classroom on a daily basis facilitated by the expert in that field, the teacher.   Teachers don’t need third party testing results to understand that a student has difficulty understanding a Shakespearean passage.   They discover it through their lessons and assessments.

I have had the privilege of having thousands of students spend time in my classroom. I’d like to make an impact.   But the effect I could have on a child gets further diminished with each hour of standardized testing.

Teachers are very possessive of the time they have with their students so there needs to be a strong reason to justify taking that time away.