A Couple of Bits

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

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