Archive for October, 2016

A Couple of Bits

October 19, 2016

Well, another portent of the coming winter. The windshield on my van was covered with frost this morning, when I headed out in my sweats to reacquaint myself with my workout regimen put on hold during the recovery from the recent cervical surgery. Being lazy, I discarded the van idea and went to the warm comfort of my CR-V, happily reposing in the insulated garage. And headed to the rehab center.

On the way, another annual sign of the times; occasional glimpses of carcasses of a variety of local mammals —- pronghorn antelope, deer, and elk— hung by their hind legs while the proud hunters “dressed them out” (seems to me that “undress” would be more accurate). It’s a bit creepy to see the baleful stares from the dead eyes, making even me to feel a bit of guilt at removing a beautiful creature from this earth, even though not only do I not hunt, I don’t even own a gun. Some have said my lack of prowess with a golf club provides sufficient danger to anyone happening into my sphere of influence.

A corollary to hunting season is the school district scheduling a “Hunting Day” off from school, important enough to use capital letters in describing it. Children at age 10 may acquire a hunting license for certain small animals, and accompany members of their family as they seek to replenish their larders for the coming year. To some, October 15 is relished almost as much as Christmas; this is not restricted just to our small town but is nearly universal across the state although the date may vary according to whichever hunting area is opening nearby.

Wyoming is noted for having the most guns per capita of any of the states; I’m probably shunned due to not owning any guns, and slightly lowering that “per capita”. In fact, I’m passively anti-gun but accept their importance and downright reverence in certain circles. I’m nervous when I go to breakfast periodically at a local café, one that has the best breakfast menu I’ve ever seen other than a particular five star hotel in Cairo during one of my school evaluations. There’s one patron there, wearing his denim vest with lots of marine patches, a chain wallet, motorcycle boots, and an automatic pistol prominently displayed in his belt. Having had several of this gentleman’s relations as students years ago when I was the Middle School Principal, and knowing some of them were intellectually challenged, I feel justified in being a bit anxious. Wyoming is one of those “open carry” states.

Years ago, in the first few weeks of becoming a principal, one of our sixth grade girls was killed in a gun accident in the home, where her brother was cleaning a pistol. One of my staff had his nephew killed, tossing an automatic onto the bed and having it fire, sending a bullet into his heart.  A few years prior, I had a sawed off shotgun stuck into my stomach when I was heading up an education project in Gary, Indiana; fortunately I came through that okay. But my discomfort around guns is easily understood.

Anyway, it seemed to me that although hunting and the use of guns permeates our local culture, not everyone is a part of that scene. At the same time, all of us will be in situations around guns at one time or another, so what makes sense? As we were in the process of establishing exploratory classes for our middle school kids, I decided to put into the curriculum a REQUIRED class for all fifth graders, one that combined Hunter Safety with other topics such as Winter Survival, Hypothermia, and Fitness concerns. Three of my staff volunteered to become certified; we used free materials from the National Rifle Association back in the days when they emphasized gun safety instead of their current mission of, to many folks unreasonably, protecting all gun ownership. Arrangements were made to use a local indoor shooting range after sufficient classroom work, and at the end of the nine weeks, each student could earn a Hunter Safety card to use toward getting a license. Older students who moved into the school could also join the class and obtain their cards. Those classes continued for the rest of my years as principal in that school, and beyond. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, it is no longer required but is offered as an after school activity. That’s good, except it only addresses the hunter safety aspect and non-hunters don’t get the safety training.

As long as I’m mentioning  education topics, I became concerned several weeks ago when I received a printed note from a fifth grade relative. I could barely make out the letters in his printing; I asked my wife why he was trying to print instead of using some form of cursive. She said it was her understanding that his school, which although a strongly Montessori-based program, no longer teaches cursive. She further stated that she runs across that periodically as she is a Team Leader for AdvanceEd’s school evaluation program and consequently sees a big variety of schools across the country.

Coincidentally, one of the writers whom I enjoy reading recently wrote a small blog decrying the same fact, that many schools no longer recognize that the skill remains important for many activities outside of writing term papers on a word processor program. A decent signature, written responses on student assessments, special quick notes while “on the job”, we still have with us.

As a former Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum Director, and Special Education Director, I decided to go to our local elementary school and see what was being done there. To my relief, they are using a program which I had implemented in the last district in which I worked before retirement; the program “Handwriting Without Tears” was being used by our Occupational Therapist, and he asked to try it out with a group of fourth graders at one of the schools. Up to that time, the teacher had been using another program which had been popular for a time, D’Nealian Writing, but which was a bit more complex than the one he recommended. The small pilot project was so successful that we introduced it into all five elementary schools in the district.

One bit of Food for Thought: One of the little bits of information that will be in my proposed “Middle School Primer” project was derived through my association with the late Dr. Al Arth, who at that time was one of the national leaders in Middle School Research while heading the Middle School Teacher Training Program at the University of Wyoming. He noted that in that era, kids were taught some form of cursive in elementary school, usually up through the fifth grade, and then nothing more. He said that kids handwriting generally was “as good as it gets” as they reached that grade. At the same time, Epsteins’ Brain Growth Research coupled with Piaget’s Theory of Child Development pointed to a series of growth spurts and plateaus at various ages; one such spurt begins for most kids around age 10 or 11, when their hands begin to enlarge along with the rest of their body. The stereotypical clumsiness of the Middle School kid is directly related to that sudden growth spurt, including some loss of fine motor control with the hands. As in handwriting. Yet we stopped teaching handwriting beyond fifth grade. And now, some schools don’t address it at all.

Well, now I can turn my attention to other, maybe more important pursuits. As I write this, I’ve ignored tonight’s debate; instead, I’ve been watching the Chicago Cubs apparently sticking it to the Dodgers. I have mixed feelings about this; as I’ve mentioned before, I told my various doctors that I wanted them to keep me alive until the Cubs win a World Series, given their history I assumed that I was perhaps asking for immortality. Now I’m getting nervous, how much time do I have left? Maybe I should have said “at least until”. And as is common, I am a Cubs fan!

Tomorrow I get a $4200 dental implant, certainly the high point of a somewhat unexciting week, so far. But Friday I’m planning to play my first game of golf in several months, as the surgeon said I can resume my normal activities. We’ll see how my resumption of the morning workouts affects my performance.

Always Be Happy       To Our Youth


October 3, 2016


Well, it’s almost four weeks since those five cervical vertebrae were freed from their arthritic prison, and with each passing day the rest of me is getting less confined to bed and house, able to even drive short distances to the grocery store, doctors’ offices, and the bungee cord jumping-off place. So far, however, I’ve chosen to skip the latter.

It was only slightly comforting when last week, as I met with the physician’s assistant and complained about the severe pain, she told me “Well, this is our most painful surgery.” I guess that if I need another, different surgery in the future, it won’t hurt as much.

Anyway, I hired a gal to come to the house one or two times a day, to prepare meals, clean, and assist as much as needed. And within our small community, there’s a program called Community Health Services which, funded by Medicare, provides a wealth of support for persons who are homebound. During the two weeks following my wife’s return to North Carolina, my hired hand and the health program were fantastic. I received scheduled visits from physical and occupational therapists, a certified nursing assistant, and the coordinating supervising nurse. After a week or so, it was evident that I no longer needed that team of professionals, being able to dress and shower myself adequately, so I signed off on those services and retained Melissa, my helper, for a couple of hours or so during the week.

As the pain has lessened I can stay upright for gradually increasing amounts of time, now about 10 minutes, without severe discomfort. There’s usually little or no pain when lying down, so sleeping has not been an issue. I’m told that the pain derives from the significant stress put on the neck and shoulder muscles during the surgery, and they take weeks to return to their former level of comfort.

Aside from the pain, the other issues were side effects from the opiate meds, and the loss of 20 lbs of weight. Inactivity for several weeks had its toll on this former Cathedral of Health; I’ve even considered becoming a vampire so that I can’t see my emaciated figure in the bathroom mirror. It’s almost as if there’s no muscle left anywhere in my chest, arms, and toothpick legs. I’m starting a high protein and complex carb diet to see if I can get that weight back but it may be difficult as I’m not to do any exercising for several more weeks of healing. I’m not supposed to reach out for things with both arms, or bend to pick things up from low levels; that puts stress on the healing muscles. It was recommended that I get one of those “grabbers”, a tool which has proved useful during my confinement.

At least I can now sit fairly comfortably at my desktop computer, and once again share my thoughts with any unsuspecting victims. Which brings me to my next narrative, what one does when virtually bedridden.

Along with learning that I don’t like pain, I found that although I had long suspected that there was nothing on cable TV that would justify my monthly $125 outlay other than news, weather, sports, and an occasional TCM movie, this was verified to also include all the stuff on daytime television. I decided that there is almost nothing that can be considered a “real news” broadcast other than the evening half hour network news at dinner time. All the rest are a parade of opinion pundits, engaging in hours of shallow speculation and prognostication. And even during those sessions, the discussions are usually extremely slanted toward one viewpoint or another. They seem to revel in personalities, as each of the channels have the same people again and again, saying the same things again and again. And I can’t stand some of them; Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, and Al Sharpton are among the most obnoxious people on TV; Hannity and O’Reilly are merely mean-spirited rabble-rousers and liars. Thank goodness for Rachel.

One of the good things that has happened recently was reconnecting with a high school chum, one with whom I had lost contact after graduation. It was therefore very surprising to learn that not only has he been successful, but that among his many credits is a Pulitzer Prize recognizing his excellence as a TV and media critic. Howard Rosenberg has written several books and many articles, and even at our ripe old age is still teaching journalistic ethics at UCLA. And among his publications is a book, No Time To Think, which he co-authored with Howard Feldman and which attacks the shallowness of the 24-hour cable news cycle. I quickly Kindled it (a new verb?) and found that it almost exactly aligns with many of the thoughts I’ve had about what Vance Packard referred to as “The Vast Wasteland” back in the 60’s. Not only have things not changed, they’ve become more sophisticated and worse.

The present Presidential “campaigns” are particularly troubling, for numerous reasons. One such reason is that when one wants to see news, we get unending video clips of either of the two candidates or their surrogates spouting off about their opponent, or we get daily reviews of the “most recent polls” as if they have any real meaning.

I would much rather see each of the political parties establish platforms of what they are going to represent if they achieve the Presidency and congressional successes, and let us vote according to which platform makes the most sense to us. Then, let the party select the person whom they feel is best suited to implement that platform, and get away from this clash of personalities. Issues would become the basis for the elections, not this disgusting circus we’re confronted with almost daily, for months.

To me, the most significant things which have occurred lately began with Colin Kaepernick’s  protest during the National Anthem. I understand that many of our fellow citizens seem to think that The Flag is some sort of Holy Grail, and therefore we should automatically “have pride in it and everything it stands for”. But I think that is a misguided perception, although one which I also had until spending time in the Peace Corps in the early 60’s in West Africa. My opinions changed, and I realized that opinions are only an individual’s interpretation of the meaning of facts as they are filtered through a person’s background of experience and knowledge, they are not the facts themselves.

This was brought home to me when I , along with one of my Peace Corps colleagues, had a private meeting with Harry Truman at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. In our conversation, he asked me, “Well, what did you learn over there in Africa?” I responded, “I got a different viewpoint of America, and saw some things which are wrong here”. His reply was characteristic of Harry, “You’re in a helluva shape if you think there’s anything wrong with this country!” I couldn’t let that pass, and said, “I don’t want to argue with you, Mr. President, it’s not the country but it’s some of the people in it.” Again, it’s our difference in backgrounds. I had been challenged by many young Africans to explain how people like Bull Connor could attack African-Americans with police dogs, during peaceful protest demonstrations; how widespread bigotry was rampant in a country allegedly established on a principle of human equality, and other uncomfortable questions. That’s when I began to question that “automatic pride” concept, and I arrived at something quite a bit different—–rather than say “I’m proud to be an American” I began to think, “I’m lucky to be an American, and proud that my country is the only one that has within its folds the mechanisms available to bring about change in order to meet the standards set forth by the Founding Fathers”. I’m certainly not proud of bigotry, major poverty in supposedly the richest country on the planet, and many other ills which we have yet to resolve.

And later, when I was working alongside some of the Black Panthers in the Gary, Indiana inner city, I began to understand that there is a very short journey from despair to desperation as I saw how “trapped” in the poverty cycle were many of the children in my Model Cities School Project. Occasional visits from persons who had “escaped” did little more than raise hopes without offering solutions; NBA players and The Jackson Five were only rare instances of successfully breaking those chains. We had one student shot accidently having brought a small handgun with him to school, and it fired when in a minibus on a local field trip; two of my staff and I were confronted by two drunken teens with guns, outside the school building one afternoon. I’ll never forget the fear when one of them shoved a sawed-off shotgun in my stomach. One of my Panther board members, with whom I had become a friend, told me how he was “arming for the revolution”.  One of our seventh grade boys had a wide selection of watches and jewelry pinned inside his long overcoat, offering them for sale along with pimping for his two sisters.       Despair.

So you see, this is where I’m at (I know, never end your sentence with a preposition). But I’m looking toward some better future, not only in my current health situation but toward the health of our country. I hope that the controversies initiated by a football player become something “writ large” and lead us into productive discussions and decisions to create that “more perfect union”. Remembering of course that most decisions are based on opinions, and at this point there is not sufficient unanimity of opinions for us to achieve that union.

The missing ingredient is Empathy, simply and most meaningfully expressed in the ancient caution, “Judge not thy brother until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”.

And then I will be proud.

Always Be Happy           To Our Youth