Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Teachers’ Category

Oh, how times have changed…and not for the better.

We were told by our parents that we should treat our school teachers exactly as we would treat our parents…with both courtesy and respect. Those of us – yep, I was one of ‘em – were punished accordingly if a note was sent home that we had, in any way, misbehaved in class. The only time my folks didn’t drop the hammer was when the teacher, Miss Lannin, sent a note home saying that I had kissed Gloria Madden. Of course, Miss Lannin didn’t know that I’d been dared by the ‘janitor’ to do it and had received a nickel for my efforts. Mom and Dad had a difficult time trying to bawl me out while holding in their laughter.

Later, in my academic career – fifth grade to be exact – I received a sharp rap across the back of my hand from Miss Shea, a former nun, who was exceptionally skilled in the use of a ruler as a weapon of individual destruction. My crime was in mispronouncing the word frigid – looked like frig-it to me, but evidently, Miss Shea found my interpretation bordering on the edge of indecency. How the hell would a nun know that? Ah, well, I guess we’ll never know.

Later, I sat in Bertha Tenney’s math class in junior high school, and when Billy Bailey decided to act up, Bertha knocked his ass right out of his seat and onto the floor. Billy was tough. How the hell she could have put him flat on the floor is something that still confounds me.

There were several other examples of corporeal punishment that I could relate about my own high school experiences, but I believe you can see where this is going. What happened to me after the Holy Roller incident and to Bill after Bertha took him out with one swift back hand was nothing to what happened to us when our parents learned of our misdeeds. Yet, in spite of all of this, Bill and I grew up, went off to college, achieved a modicum of success…depending on how you define it, and raised children of our own. Were we as tough on them as our parents had been on us? I doubt it, but if a teacher told me that my kid had disturbed a class, I kind of doubt that I would have blamed the teacher.

Today, it would appear, that the teacher is never right, can’t lay a hand on some little puissant who is disturbing her/his class, and can be sued at the drop of a missed call in class. My reaction to this is one of horror. Recently, a teacher with 16 years of experience clapped a piece of candy out of the hand of a 14-year old who had been disrupting her class. She is now being taken to court over this…she left a mark on the poor child’s wrist. She should have left the little punk with a couple of black eyes.

There is a law now that says teachers cannot touch students. Are we afraid that some teacher is going to go “postal” and wring some kid’s neck? I rather doubt it. I won’t reiterate what I did to one of my sophomores in high school, other than to say that two weeks after I’d punished him, the Massachusetts State Police came and took him away on felony charges.

These are different times. Latch-key kids whose lives are programmed from the moment they rise in the morning until their heads hit the pillow at night are given little outlets for some of the hormones that begin raging in their bodies earlier and earlier. The word, “Discipline,” is foreign to them. They aren’t disciplined at home…”You’re grounded; go to your room!” Go to the room with your cell phone, computer, and every other electronic device one can think of; that’s not discipline; that’s peace and quiet. Sparing the rod and spoiling the child has become too much of a mantra for today’s parents and it has carried over into the legislatures which are makings laws that completely handcuff teachers in their efforts to do what they are poorly paid to do…teach children who are eager to learn. If a child is a disturbance in a classroom, he or she should be disciplined to the degree possible and that doesn’t mean giving up a cell phone for 24 hours. Punishment must be meaningful and fitting. Unruly child…refused to listen…created a disturbance in the classroom…was eating candy openly…hey, kid, I’m so sorry that you didn’t know Miss Tenney. Had you lived, you would never have forgotten her.

Years ago, teachers were treated with the honor and respect due them. What happened? Where did all of the respect go? Did teachers change that much? I taught high school for a brief period of time. It was in the same school from which I had graduated. I gained an even greater respect for teachers, now colleagues, in whose classrooms I had been a student. Did teachers, as a whole, become people to be disrespected and not believed? Has television and social media been responsible for the lack of respect shown to these people who, generally, want nothing more than to increase the knowledge and intelligence of those with whom they work day-in-day-out?

Perhaps the parents of captain-candy-eater should be in the dock with the teacher. After all, who raised him to be disrespectful to other adults? I cannot imagine what this child gets away with at home. There is no such thing as “Stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby; stop it Bobby” ad nauseum. There is only one “Stop it Bobby,” and if it is not stopped, Bobby will wonder if anyone got the license plate of the truck that just ran him over.

It’s time we reinstated two words in the classroom…RESPECT and DISCIPLINE…on both sides of the desk. Teachers have known those two words for years. It’s too bad that today’s children have not been taught their true meaning before they even begin school.

Read Full Post »

It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

Read Full Post »

I have a high school classmate who swears to this day that he threw our principal down a flight of stairs. I’m not saying that it’s impossible; however, I don’t believe he would have graduated with us had he done this deed of which he is so proud. Did our principal deserve to be thrown down a flight of stairs? To the best of my memory, which is, admittedly, not the best source, no, he did not deserve that fate. He was a fair and reasonably just man. On the day a group of us decided to blow off school…and got caught, he didn’t yell or scream; he didn’t give us detentions for the remainder of the year. He told us, as I recall, that such actions could be placed on our permanent records and jeopardize our futures. How, I don’t know, but that is what he said. Overall, he was just another administrator doing whatever it is that administrators do.

There were some teachers who were most deserving of, if not trips down the stairs, perhaps some other form of punishment such as they were wont to mete out whenever the appropriate occasion arose. Their weapons were words…as cruel and damaging as any knife or gun. Often times, they were as harsh and deleterious as the biggest bomb or a fighter’s fist. Fortunately, I was the victim of one of these teachers only once, but once was quite enough. “You should get a full-time job in that grocery store because you’ll never be good for anything else.” It was a counterproductive, pernicious comment and worse because it was said in front of a fellow student and yes, it had been prefaced with “Why can’t you be more like so-and-so (standing beside me).” I don’t believe that I have ever despised anyone more than I did that teacher at that particular moment. The day did come when revenge was taken. It was the day I went back to my old high school as a permanent substitute teacher. As I walked into the teacher’s room, the old harridan confronted me with “What are you doing in here?” What a delight to tell her that I had given up the grocery job for college; had a couple of months before I would head back for my final term, decided to exercise one of my double minors, and that she could now regard me as a colleague. I was having so much fun that I was rather sorry when she stormed out of the lounge. Life can sometimes just be a bitch, can’t it?

I suppose that had I been going to school in this day and age, they merely would have tagged me as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or some other fancy psychological moniker; given me Ritalin, Prozac or some other crazy drug to calm me, and I could live my life in a drug induced la-la land. Thank God, I didn’t have to go through that bullshit. It was bad enough when my youngest was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. However, she also overcame the diagnosis and graduated from college cum laude.

Nor are we alone in having escaped the words of teachers with acid tongues. At one time, a teacher told the parents of Gary Cohn – the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs – that with luck their son might grow up to be a truck driver. Cohn was diagnosed with dyslexia, but before that happened, he had been bounced around to four different schools…and he was still in the sixth grade. He overheard the comment made to his parents. He was not going to allow it to deter him, and obviously it did not.

Cohn’s not alone. Shortly after my youngest was diagnosed, I had the opportunity to meet Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s. Paul was at Babson to be inducted into the college’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs. He was walking around campus with his faculty escort when I bumped into them. We began talking about his problems with high school and college. He graduated last from his 1,200-student high school. He had a tough time at college. However, he had a brilliant mind and found a niche at college where students had very limited access to copying machines. He leased one, set up an office near campus, and charged for duplication. Whamo! Kinko’s was born…named after Paul who bore the nickname because of his kinky red hair. We had a wonderful conversation, and I have never forgotten one thing that he said: “Everyone learns at a different pace.” As a teacher at the high school, college, and continuing education levels, I can certainly attest to the truth of that statement.

The point is that if someone tells you that your child has a learning disability, don’t think he or she is alone. Don’t believe that she or he can’t accomplish great things. Indeed, some of the world’s most famous people have been diagnosed with a learning disability of one kind or another. These include Richard Branson, founder of more than 150 companies bearing the Virgin name, Michael Phelps, world class swimmer, Charles Schwab, founder, chair, and COO of the largest brokerage firm in the United States, Erin Brockovich, Danny Glover, and Whoopi Goldberg. If that’s not an impressive list, I don’t know what the hell is. It’s been a long time since I was told to get a full-time job in a grocery store. Did I make a million bucks? No, when you work in higher education, your rewards are of a different kind, a satisfaction in seeing students with whom you worked go on to do some pretty damned good things. So once more I will say, don’t worry if your child gets a label. Remember, everyone learns at a different pace.

Read Full Post »

I really hate to admit this, but I’m not the brightest bulb on Broadway. There are a helluva lot sharper knives in the drawer than I’ll ever hope to be. When it was a choice of college or business curriculum in high school, you don’t have to be a mind reader to know which one I took. If it wasn’t for a good, swift kick in the rear end by my mother, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. And if it hadn’t been for Louise Gagnon kicking me a few times in high school bookkeeping, I wouldn’t have gotten straight A’s in Accounting while the college course kids struggled with it. Had this been calculus or trig, I wouldn’t have lasted a semester. Truth be told, there were no “laudes” for me at graduation; not summa, nor magna, nor even a cum laude. I think they were just happy to see me gone from the student body. So, what do I do? I go right back into the fray and begin working at the university as an assistant registrar. At 22, my ambition to do something useful and intelligent was damn near nonexistent. It was kind of pathetic.

But things changed for me along the way. I discovered things like setting goals – not so high that I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting them, and not so low as to be useless – and I began meeting them. I found a thing called time management, to do lists, and job function analysis worksheets, and they were great. I learned a thing called teamwork and how important it was to be part of entire group that accomplished things of importance. In a nutshell, I grew up, and in doing so, I actually became a bit brighter than I had been.

I believe that’s the way things went for most of us. Perhaps in today’s society, with all of the technology and counseling that is available, young men and women graduate from high school with a better understanding of where they’re headed and what their futures will hold, but I’m not certain that’s necessarily true. At a time when a college education can cost more than $200,000, it’s probably wise to have some idea of how you’re going to reap the rewards of such an investment. If that’s not the case, then something is drastically wrong with the thought process that says, “Spend it anyway.” Oh, sure, there are high school graduates who know exactly what they are going to do with their future and off they go to study nursing, medicine, the law, or accounting. That doesn’t mean that they will become nurses or doctors, lawyers or accountants. It merely means that those fields are what they want when they head off to colleges and universities. Life, however, has a funny way of changing our goals and objectives. The student who is studying nursing finds that he or she faints at the sight of blood; the pre-med students finds that inorganic chemistry is just a step too difficult for them and gets shot down; the law student discovers that passing the bar to practice is not really as simple as they made it sound while in school, and; the accountant who finally passes all parts of the CPA exam gets bored to death and finds that he or she wants something different from life.

Now that I’m an old man, it may be that I have something of a warped perception of what life is really like for the 17-18 year old crowd. The technology to which they have access is incredibly advanced. The amount of knowledge available through the various search engines just boggles my mind…and they can study all of this. They certainly can’t learn it all, but it’s out there, in the ether, right at their fingertips. You want to learn the history of civilization? You can call up 95 million references for that subject alone. You can watch videos on just about anything imaginable. There are 336 million references for how to become a pilot. You choose it; the Internet will provide it. If you’re truly goal-oriented and reasonably intelligent, perhaps you can learn whatever is necessary without even leaving your couch, chair, or Starbucks. Oh, wait, that can be right; you have to be credentialed. That means that you have to have that piece of parchment that says you have a “degree;” that you have sat in classrooms for four or more years and are now credentialed to go out into the world and practice your art, science, business, or whatever.  Not only that, but if you have credentials from the ‘right’ college or university, you will fare even better in the world.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are fields in which those degrees are a necessity. I would not wish to have a surgeon who learned his trade on the Internet operating on me. I would prefer to have a structural engineer who has spent time in both the classroom and the field design the bridge I drive over each and every day, and so forth and so on.

I wish that colleges and universities would teach students to carry on an intelligent conversation with others. I wish that college graduates could string two or three intelligent sentences together without a spelling error or incorrect word usage. I wish they could write legibly. Those things don’t seem to matter much anymore, but I can still wish.

Another thing that has changed from “my day” is the concept of ‘family.’ According to the Pew Research Center, “Less than half (46%) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. This is a marked change from 1960, when 73% of children fit this description, and 1980, when 61% did, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of recently-released American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census data.” Before going any further, I should tell you about Pew. “The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research does not take policy positions.” While my involvement with Pew has been very limited, I have always respected the research that they have published.

Today, according to Pew Research, more children are living in a household where one or both of the parents are remarried. There may be step children concerned. It would be interesting to learn how or if the Cinderella syndrome takes place in these cases. “One of the largest shifts in family structure is this: 34% of children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single.”

From some of this, you can see that mine was more of a “Beaver Cleaver” family unit as opposed to today’s traditional non-traditional family group. What have these changes meant? If my own family is any indication, not going to college is just not an option. Learning must be done in an environment that is formal as opposed to self-teaching, and it must provide “credentials” with which young graduates can make their way in the 21st Century market place. As the late, great Maurice Chevalier would have sang, “Oh, I’m so glad I’m not young anymore!”

 

Read Full Post »

The Class of 1946 of Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts cannot write their names. Wow, there’s a broad statement for you. However, it’s also a true statement. Brookline was a test study for a project by the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. They taught children to print. Don’t get me wrong; they could print as fast as some of the rest of us could write…but they could not write. How do I know this? I worked with a member of that Brookline Class who told me the story. He never forgave the Brookline school department or Harvard.

Why is this important? It demonstrates the stupidity and naiveté of some communities when it comes to what is taught in our public schools…or what isn’t taught, as the case may be. I have not forgiven my own school system for allowing me to be placed in a curriculum that did not take advantage of the skills that I wasn’t even aware I had when I entered high school. Where were the ‘guidance’ counselors who were supposed to work with students? My memory, believe it or not, is still reasonably solid, yet I cannot remember the name of one single guidance counselor in my high school…I can tell you the name of every teacher in the school and even the number of their classroom, but not a guidance person. I mention this because it appears to me that times have really changed…and not necessarily for the better.

Today, teachers teach to tests and bullshit, no matter how minor, is not tolerated. Today, students are subject to search and seizure, suspension and expulsion at the drop of a hat. I saw where a student in Tennessee was going to be sent to an alternative because a search of his car turned up an old knife of his father’s. Wait a minute; who was searching his car and why? A kindergartner was suspended for pointing a finger gun at another student; what is with that? You slap the kid upside the head; tell him or her it’s wrong and get on with your day. If the parents come in to complain, tell them to “fuck off and let me do my job.”

Some wise old fool came up with the term, ‘zero tolerance,’ and everyone said, “Oooh, what a great term; let’s see how we can use it as a control tool.” Here’s one definition:  “Zero tolerance is a type of policy, which implies that certain actions will completely not be accepted under any circumstances. It is generally applied in reference to policies that make clear exactly which actions are not allowed.” It is a “type” of policy which “implies,” and then it establishes what won’t be tolerated. To my mind, it’s a type of policy that puts too much power into the hands of too many different personalities, and that, my friends, is a bad, bad thing to do.

A police chief friend of mine had a zero tolerance policy instated in his town that said underage drinking would not be tolerated…anywhere…any time. He enforced it. I think we have all read of what can happen when people under the legal age get drunk and get behind the wheel of a car; usually someone dies. The unfortunate part is that too rarely is it the drunken teenager. Everything went along swimmingly until the chief and his men arrested the “wrong” underage drinkers. “Oh, my child will lose her athletic scholarship to X College next year.” Oh, my child will be thrown out of the honor society.” “Hey, I’m a cop; you can’t arrest my kid.” The excuses were many and myriad, but guess what? He didn’t care; he enforced a law that had been passed in his town, and when he did, the baloney went right into the Westinghouse [a polite way of saying, [“The shit hit the fan”}. In other words, zero tolerance is fine until it affects ‘those’ people who aren’t supposed to be affected.

Years ago, I was asked to write an emergency plan for the institution at which I was working. We had some problems, and no one really knew how they should be handled. Therefore, together with the head of the campus police department, a plan was developed. The very first paragraph contained words to the effect that no emergency plan could ever hope to anticipate all potential emergencies. It can’t be done and/or if it could, the damned thing would be so voluminous that no one would ever read it. Immediately, critics jumped on the fact that the plan was too general. The critics were the same people who would stick their collective heads in the sand and pretend that everything was right with the world…while the bombs were falling all around them. Eventually, the plan was passed. Within two weeks of its passing it had to be put into effect. A couple of years later, I learned that a teacher at Harvard told his graduate students, “If you want to learn how to properly address an emergency situation, look how they did it at {our school}.”  Would we have handled a different emergency in a different manner? Yes, we would have, but the principles would have been the same.

It is possible to have a zero tolerance policy without being intolerant. Automatic sentencing for a violation of a zero tolerance policy is idiotic unless you know the circumstances of the violation. Certainly, if someone brings a loaded weapon to any school, that cannot be tolerated, but what’s the punishment? Has this person been in trouble before? Certainly, the weapon is immediately confiscated, but what’s the why? Had they, in fact, been planning to kill? Zero is an awfully big word. What if the weapon was unloaded; the student had spoken to the school security officer, his teacher, and the principal, and was doing a presentation that involved a demonstration using an unloaded weapon? Certainly, the circumstances are exaggerated but how does this fall under ‘zero?

Schools are different places from when I attended. The students are brighter, more worldly and sophisticated. They have smart phones and texting; they have so many entries into an information age that is fascinating and endless. Those who want to learn want to be challenged, not taught for some bloody test. Those who don’t want to learn but prefer to disrupt, get them into a situation where their disruptive traits can be put to work…like cleaning bathrooms in a police station. If schools suspend or expel students for violating a zero tolerance policy, examine the policy at the same time the punishment is being examined.

From day one at school, every child is aware that the world is one big, frightening place. They have no clue regarding where they fit. We tell them to study hard and they’ll do well; that’s bullshit. We tell them to go to college and they’ll succeed; that, too, is bullshit. We provide so much false hope for so many of these kids that when their hopes and wishes don’t come true, whether it’s in the first grade or in the workaday world or anywhere in between; when they see the world for what it is, they want to blame someone and they rebel. It can happen at any time along life’s continuum. We often forget that, but as we’ve seen all too often, sometimes we’re too late…or others just don’t want to listen. Maybe the world is just spinning too rapidly for some people.

Read Full Post »

What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

Read Full Post »

“I would like nothing better than to see you die …..”

“However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show mercy.”

Dennis Shepard spoke those words in a Wyoming courtroom several years ago. He spoke them to one of the killers of his 21-year old son; a killer who, joined by his fellow bully, had beaten and tortured Matthew Shepard, tied him to a fence and left him to die, naked, in the freezing cold.

What kinds of people do this? How deep is their hatred of someone with an alternative lifestyle that they believe killing them…and not just killing, but torturing them to death…is the only answer? Is it possible that they believe they are doing something good to prevent the rest of the world from being exposed to those who don’t think as they do? Can they consider themselves ‘good guy’ vigilantes? I rather doubt it. My personal belief is that they are cowards. They are afraid of anything that is new; that is the opposite of what they were taught at home. That’s right, taught at home. Hatred is taught; it is learned behavior. They certainly don’t teach it at school. “Queers must be killed” is not part of the first grade writing curriculum, nor is it found in Dick and Jane. Therefore, where else do we learn?

The concept of aggressive and bullying behavior begins in the first two years of a child’s life. It seems awfully young, doesn’t it? However, it’s true; if there is an environment that fosters violence, the child absorbs it. The next three or four years are spent refining it, so that by the time, the child is off to school, it is acceptable to take what you want and to kick the crap out of those who don’t wish to give up what you want. Bullies don’t have to be big; they just have to want what another child has and be willing to take it. Once they learn they can do such a thing, they will do it until they are stopped.

While we normally think of “the school bully,” there is some evidence to show that those who were either bullied or were bullies in their youth are more likely to be involved in domestic violence situations when they reach adulthood. One research report concludes that, without intervention, bullies identified by age eight are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by the age of 24 and five times more likely than non-bullies to end up with serious criminal records by the age of 30.

If you are as concerned as I have been about the problem of bullying in this country, continue on; if not, stop reading and go back to what you were doing.

When I was giving bullying workshops, I used to break the audience into teams and give them a case study on which to work…here’s yours:

The following case contains language that might not be considered appropriate for all readers. The author makes no apology for this, and in an attempt to make this case as realistic as possible, the language will remain. Bullying is a worldwide problem. It has been defined as “repeated systematic attacks perpetrated by groups or individuals.” Anyone who has ever been the victim might not be so charitable with his or her definition.

Nathan Barnes was nothing special; just a good-looking 14-year old boy of somewhat above average intelligence. His home life was great, with a loving mother and dad…almost too loving, Nathan might have told you. He never, ever wanted them to know anything negative, and he’d go to great lengths to ensure that they weren’t aware of his little “secret.” He liked riding his bike to school everyday, feeling the wind on his face and seeing the beauty all around him. He enjoyed science and math; was fairly good in English and the social sciences, but absolutely couldn’t stand physical education. Nathan wasn’t strong physically, had little interest in organized athletics or games in which physical domination was the key to success. He felt that his mind was his weapon. Unfortunately, at 14, others didn’t quite see it that way. You see, Nathan Barnes was the victim of bullies.

It had always been easy for bigger kids, tougher kids, kids looking to “make a name,” to do it by abusing Nathan Barnes. Pushing him around, taunting him with names, playing practical jokes on him, and even taking his personal possessions became sport for the bullies. Nathan wouldn’t tell. Nathan was “chicken.” Nathan was a wimp, a nerd, a whatever-the-popular-derogatory-term-du-jour happened to be for that school year. Nathan was terrified. Although he liked them, Nathan had trouble in his relationship with the opposite sex. Girls found that going out with “the Barnes kid” was an invitation to be the center of controversy at some Mall encounter when the bullies might find them together. Nathan either wouldn’t or couldn’t defend himself so how could a girl expect him to defend her? As a consequence, several of the girls his age also took up the taunting.

Near the end of his 13th year, Nathan happened on what he hoped was a cure; he developed stomachaches. They kept him home from school on days that he had physical education or, when that began to become obvious, he developed them shortly before gym and would go to see the school nurse, Miss Caruso, asking to be excused. She was pretty good about it, too, usually, not always but usually, buying his psychosomatic illness.

This time, it hadn’t worked. Miss Caruso wasn’t buying. “Nathan, this is the fifth time this month you’ve been in here. You say that your parents want you to go to the doctor,” she added, “but you haven’t. I ask you to bring a note from your parents, telling me what’s going on, and you don’t. I’m sorry, Nathan, you will go to gym today.”

And he had gone. He’d gone and gotten tortured, first by Coach Ryan, not only the head football coach, but the physical education instructor as well. “Don’t know what we’re gonna do with you, Barnes,” he’d said. “Even my 10-year old daughter can climb ropes better ‘n you.” Ryan’s pet, football captain, Billy Johnson, had picked right up on it. “Yeah, c’mon wimp; up the ropes; what a freakin’ girl you are…c’mon needledick.” The humiliation was bad enough, but after gym, when Johnson was telling others who hadn’t been there…well, that was that. Mary Arnold and the other cheerleaders had been merciless in their harassment. It hurt; it really hurt. He’d show them. He’d show them all. They’d be sorry.

They found Nathan two days later…in the old cabin in the woods…about two miles from the school. His book bag was on the three-legged table in the corner. The chair he had stood on was kicked off to one side. He’d left his bike in the corner, near the hot water heater. Although his hands were untied, it appeared that he made no attempt to free himself when the rope tightened. Nathan Barnes was 14 years old. Nathan Barnes had been driven to kill himself by bullies.

The Parents

Nick and Katherine Barnes couldn’t say why Nathan had killed himself. They thought they knew their son. They knew him to be a “great kid,” with a happy home life. “His room was always picked up. I never had to say a word about it to him,” Katherine told the doctor. “He was just a joy to be around.” Katherine went on to add that Nathan had been a good student…but that she had noticed lately that he didn’t seem to have much interest in school. “He seemed to be getting a lot of stomach aches that would keep him home from school,” she said, “but I thought maybe he was just eating…oh, I don’t know what I thought.”

With Nick, it was pretty much the same. “Oh, sure, there were times when I had to tell him that the lawn was getting kinda long, but you know, the kid would jump right on it.” He was great that way.” School? Yeah, yeah, I guess he liked school. I mean, he wasn’t into sports the way I was – you know, three years all-state cornerback – but hey, we all do our own thing.”

The Classmates

 At school, Nathan’s “friends” told an entirely different story. “What a fuckin’ wimp,” Billy Johnson, the football co-captain said. “The kid was always wimpin’ outta gym ‘n stuff. If it was somethin’ physical, Barnes didn’t want it. We took to calling him ‘needledick’ because he’d never go in the shower. Some of the guys liked, you know, liked to shove him around a bit. We thought he could take it, ya know?”

Mary Arnold’s story was not much different. “He really didn’t know how to behave around girls, like, ya know,” she said. “I mean, he couldn’t really make a conversation…and, well, he just wasn’t with it, ya know.” Other classmates disagreed. Paula Anderson said, “I liked Nathan. He was kinda quiet, but he was really nice, considerate. We went to The Mall together a few times and just hung out. We weren’t goin’ together, ya know, but I kinda liked him. This really sucks.”

“Nathan wasn’t a wimp,” Tommy Baron told us. “Anyone who said that doesn’t – I mean, didn’t – know Nathan. I’ll bet it was one of the jocks told you that. They think they’re such studs. They tried that shit with me til I got one of ‘em alone. They never did anything to me again. Nathan wouldn’t be like that, though. Nathan didn’t want to hurt anybody; he just wanted to be left alone or be your friend. They couldn’t understand that.”

Nathan Barnes, “boy wimp,” wasn’t “with it,” “really nice,” “just wanted to be left alone.”  The tormenting of his classmates, perhaps not measuring up to his father, and too intimidated or terrified to ever mention his concerns to anyone…Nathan Barnes took what he considered the path of least resistance. He ended his life.

The Faculty

“Nathan was a good kid, intelligent, hard working,” Louise Gagnon, his science teacher said, echoing the statements of most members of the faculty. “Oh sure, he was a bit less outgoing than some of his classmates, but I thought that a lot of that had to do with his maturity level. We see a lot of that in kids. Then, when they turn 15 or 16, they’re completely different.”

School nurse, Nancy Caruso, told a different story: “Nathan was coming in a lot lately, asking to be dismissed from any physical education activities. He always presented with symptoms that were pretty vague and yet, not the type of thing you wanted to ignore. I asked if he had spoken to his doctor and he said he was going to get around to it.” Becoming somewhat more emotional, Caruso went on. “Dammit, I should have seen this. I should have dug deeper.”

The Follow-Up

Although he appears, in this brief synopsis, to be capable of talking about his son’s death openly and candidly, it should be noted that two years later, Nathan’s father selected the same method of suicide, leaving a note in which he blamed himself for the death of his son.

The Assignment

You are a concerned community leader. You might be a member of the school committee, a police executive, or even a parent with a little clout. You wish to make certain that bullying in your community is eradicated.  You can’t do it alone. This is a team effort. Assume that you have sought and received a one-year grant of $15,000 to examine the problem in your community and to develop a plan to combat it. Here are some questions you are being asked to answer in detail.

 

  • At the very onset of this case, you were given one definition of bullying. How might you modify that definition?

 

  • List the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral signs you might notice related to a bullying victim? To a bully?

 

  • Develop a budget for the allocation of the one-year grant of $15,000. Once that grant is spent, what are your alternatives for future funding?

 

  • Questions concerning the team:
  1. Who belongs on your team?
  2. Why have you selected these team members?
  3. Identify the skills required of your team.
  4. How will the team be drawn together?
  5. How often will the team meet?
  6. How will team members communicate with one another regarding issues that affect the entire team?
  7. Will you serve as team leader or will you appoint another party? On what factors do you base your decision?

 

  • Justify the composition of your team by the skills required to create a workable      anti-bullying plan.

 

  • What are the elements contained in your anti-bullying plan?

 

  • Present an outline of the overall anti-bullying plan that your team will be implementing.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »