Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bits & Pieces

1) In the interest of fairness I have shown below recently published details regarding the dismissal of an entire high school faculty in RI. The stated reason for the dismissal was that the teachers' union would not agree to the conditions the superintendent felt necessary to improve a miserably failing school:

"The conditions are adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school, eating lunch with students once a week, submitting to more rigorous evaluations, attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participating in two weeks of training in the summer."

The question now is does this change anything about what I said in the previous piece? My answer is no. Yes, there is another piece to all of this but the measures taken are inappropriately extreme to say the least. What happened to the concept of negotiation? What happened to thoughtful analysis to solve a problem? No evidence here of any of that.

2) By now everyone has heard about the Sea World trainer who was killed by a 30 year old Orca, aka killer whale. Recall the woman who was viciously mauled by her friend's pet chimp. Recall some of the countless stories of people mauled or killed by big cats or bears while working with them. Recall the recent story about the circus elephant who 'went nuts' and killed its trainer. Hello out there! What is it you're not getting about the concept of wild animals? At any given time every single one of them has the capacity to do harm to you. They're wild-remember? When you choose to get into a pool, ring, cage, whatever with a wild animal, the burden of risk is on you-not the animal.

3) Conservative pundits are gasping and sputtering about the 'shallow' efforts of the Obama administration to engage Republican leadership in the health care reform discussion. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. Doesn't it seem that way to you, Mr. President? Let's face it. It doesn't matter what Obama does. There are those who simply will not be a part of any solutions put forth. The hell of it is they're doing a great deal of harm to the country they claim to love. Hypocritical gasbags-all of them!

Thus endth my rant this fine, rainy day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Your Students Flunked? You're Fired!

You can always tell it's Spring. First, the weather is changing; second, it's budget time; and third, state mandated tests are taking place in many schools. Regarding the latter, two interesting pieces recently came to my attention. The first was a news item that the entire faculty and administration of Central Falls High School in RI had been fired. The second was a blog post by a friend of mine (
In the first instance, the entire faculty was fired due to the poor performance of students on standardized tests. In the case of the referenced blog post, the author, somewhat jokingly, refers to her salary being tied to test scores. Maybe after she reads about that RI school system, she'll see that there's no humor in the situation. This is in my view a very alarming event. It raises a number of questions regarding public education. But first, let's be clear about a couple of things. First, every single student who chooses to attend a public school deserves the best quality education available. Second, every single student, along with his/her parents, have the responsibility of being partners in this adventure. This means they will give it their 100% best shot. Without these two situations in place, student success will be elusive-at best.

So now the questions:
Why was the entire faculty fired? Were they ALL incompetent? How did the powers-that-be make that determination? What measures did they use besides one test?
Did the Board of Education take into account other variables in a student's life besides the quality of their instruction? I remember, back in the day, when a principal stated-in writing (and I still have that very evaluation)-that he was giving me a larger then usual number of 'difficult' students because I was supposedly 'good' with them. Invariably those 'difficult' students did poorly on tests. Would it have been fair for me to have been fired?
Is that all schools are about? Test scores? Should educators be focusing on other things?

The implications of all of this are extremely important. I believe strongly that poor teachers should be made better-or dismissed. But there is no question that there are millions of outstanding teachers out there knocking themselves out every single day trying to deliver quality education only to be told time and again by their students that they didn't do their homework or they weren't at school because they didn't have time, or they were on vacation, or they had other things to do, or they just plain didn't feel like it! Where's the shared responsibility? Where are the other partners in this exercise we call education? I'm retired now so I don't have a direct stake in this issue but my grand children are headed into the fray and I have friends in the thick of it, so I'm still interested. Where's it all headed? Finally, on a related note, President Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, applauded the firing of the teachers. Great! Now what?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reflections On A Birthday

Ahhh, I made it. Another year. My 67th to be exact. Sorry. No pearls of wisdom. No sage advice. No astute observations from an old man. Just relief and gratitude that I'm able to sit here and type this. So it's off to start another day-and another year. My Tuesday routine is pretty much the same as every other Tuesday: get the paper, pour myself a cup of coffee, check in on FB and the news, get coffee for wife, exercise, go to volunteer gig, babysit grandson, kick back for a while, do my other exercise routine, etc, etc, and finally go to bed thankful for the day. Boring to some but I wouldn't change a thing. Let's hope that from a year from now I'll be able to copy and paste this!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Say NO to Driving & Hand-Held Cell Phones

The local paper recently had an article written by the editor that lamented the wide-spread use of cell phones by drivers. The Editor pointed out that first, it's a blatant violation of state law and, more important, it has been shown to contribute to numerous accidents. He goes on to point out the lack of apparent interest by local law enforcement and calls for a crack down on drivers like the one shown here who continue to flout the law. He further asks all drivers to recognize the danger of this activity and stop using their hand-held cell phones. As if anyone is going to heed his plea! I have an idea that I guarantee will work. Jack up the fines for cell phone use while driving. Right now, most motorists get off with a warning. They get off completely if they can show a receipt within a given period of time for a wireless setup. I say forget the warnings. Fine every motorist who's in violation of this law at least $1000. Further, if it can be shown that using a cell phone for either talking or texting contributed to an accident, make the fine a minimum of $10,000 or loss of license. There are two ways to get people to change their behavior-loss of money or loss of freedoms. Pleading with them is ridiculous. Get tough or repeal the law.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

World Olympics for Grandparents

Here it is. What people my age have been waiting for. Olympic events we can actually do! Good luck and may you all win but remember, even if you don’t win a medal, you’re a grandparent so you’re automatically winners to your grandchildren.

Best Spoiler

Athlete will be required to lavish all manner of goodies, i.e. snacks, late nights, behaviors not otherwise accepted, on grandchild. The most blatant wins the gold.

Best Boo Boo Fixer

Athlete will perform basic first aid on a variety of real or imagined ailments ranging from bumps and bruises to full blown projectile vomiting with good humor and bringing about an instant cure. Neither puke, blood, diarrhea nor snot will detract the athlete from his/her appointed task.

Most Durable

Athlete will subject him/her self to a variety of physical tasks such as allowing grand child to jump on his/her stomach from back of couch, endlessly pushing child on swing, allowing child to ride him/her horse style, etc.


Athlete will perform a number of utterly ridiculous tasks such as jumping around like an ape, laughing funny, making faces, etc. The grandparent who makes his/her grandchild laugh so hard they wet themselves wins the gold.

Best Actor

The athlete will be required to assume a number of different roles with a variety of identities. For example a grand father might be required to act the part of a 3 year old child named Keila and almost instantly have to change into a naughty school boy of undetermined age named Aiden.

Best Story Reader

The athlete will read the same story at least 100 times without a single variation. The person who can do this with the same level of interest each time wins the gold.

Best Game Player

The athlete will be required to play a number of games, never once following the actual rules except those imposed by the child. The child will always win. This task could also be used for the ‘Spoiling Event’.

Best Boogie-Man Chaser

The athlete who comes up with the most imaginative means of convincing without a doubt that there is no boogie man in the closet wins the gold.

Best Good Sport

The athlete will allow him/her self to be humiliated or play a role that is of the utmost embarrassment, i.e. if it’s a grandfather, he will allow the child to dress him up as a girl, put lipstick, hair curlers, eye makeup, mascara, etc. on him.

Lightest Sleeper

This is a timed test. The grandparent who wakes up the fastest when the child does just about anything wins gold.

A Night At the Olympics

For me last night's events were by far the most interesting yet in these 2010 Olympics. I watched the short track races, speed skating, down hill skiing and the men's snow boarding. The USA took the gold for three of those four. Tonight Apollo Ohno goes for gold in the short track speed skating event. That should be good too. It's always good to see someone overcome injury and adversity to achieve something. Lindsay Vonn's accomplishment was amazing. The course was unbelievably difficult with several skiers wiping out but she was extremely determined-and skilled-and got it done. The gold is of course best but one should not overlook the silver and bronze medal winners. After all, those three people standing there at the medals award ceremony are the very best in the entire world. No small achievement. The olympics are one of the few times when the nations of the world can come together in open, friendly competition. Winners and losers alike are still able to walk away until another day. Too bad the world can't find a way to replace war with these kinds of events.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Enough Already!

There's nothing worse (well, almost nothing!) than getting up, turning on GMA or The Today Show and seeing this sour puss on the screen. Gas Bag Number 1 is back-spewing his hostility and venom all over the air waves and newspapers. This time he's sparring with Joe Biden who in my view showed remarkable restraint. If I were Biden, here's what I would have said to this bum:
"Look, it's time you crawled back in your hole and stayed there. You of all people have one hell of a nerve criticizing Obama's administration. You, Junior and Karl Rove presided over the most destructive, damaging administration in the history of this country. I can't begin to list all the ways you hurt this country. It's too long. Suffice it to say we're going to be a long time setting things right so go back to Wyoming or where ever the hell it is you're from, crawl into a prairie dog hole and disappear. Let the rest of us get on with the work at hand."

I would have added one more thing: "Message to the media (with of course the exception of Faux News)-Stop giving this guy a forum for his crap. We're sick of it. There are other things going on!"

I don't see why Joe Biden didn't say all this in so many words. What's the problem? Lord knows he's capable of saying pretty much anything.

Thus endth my rant for the day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday to Two Great Men

On this date in 1809 these two men were born: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. No one questions Lincoln's greatness (with the possible exception of one or two Civil War hold-overs). He served as president during one of this nation's most tragic periods. But the other is still struggling for credibility among many people. There is still a significant number of people who do not accept the fact of evolution. Forget the fossil record, new research with DNA and the logic of Natural Selection. It doesn't matter. There are school districts that either forbid the teaching of evolution or at the very least require equal instruction in 'intelligent design'-an euphemism for Creationism.
No matter. I am absolutely convinced that science will eventually prevail over ignorance. In my lifetime? Doubtfully! Happy birthday, men.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shopping the Easy Way (Sometimes)

I buy a lot of stuff from the internet. It's fast, convenient and delivered to your door. And all that bull about people stealing your credit card information is, well, bull. You stand more of a risk handing your credit card to a real person at a restaurant or store or where ever. And even if you have to return something, it's fairly easy if it's from a reputable place like where you get return shipping labels and there's no question you're going to get a refund. So ninety-nine percent of the time it's a great way to do things if you don't have to actually see or test a product. It's that one percent of the time when things go wrong that it's a royal pain in the rump. For example just recently I purchased a piece of software from a company I had never heard of. The product was highly recommended by Macworld Magazine and I've found them to be reasonably reliable. I checked out the product on Amazon and it was a tad cheaper but what caught my eye were the horrible reviews by previous buyers. It wasn't the product that was the problem. It was customer service. People complained of a poorly designed website and unresponsive customer support. But I figured as long as there wasn't a glaring error of some kind, I could figure it out. So I bought it. When I went on line, they give you the choice of downloading it so you can have it immediately or get a CD. I opted for the download. Everything went OK until I got an email giving me a link to click on that provided a key component to the rest of the software. Well, guess what? It didn't work. So I attempted to contact customer service. No luck. About an hour later I was totally out of gas. Not a single one of their links to contact support worked. But I did have their address so now I'm typing a letter the old fashioned way and mailing that. That will be several days getting to Utah and probably ignored. Then I emailed Macworld and told them what happened and that they screwed up. Then I had to contact VISA and let them know that the charge may be contested. And on and on it goes. So here I am with no feedback from the company and a partially functioning piece of software. These are the times when I kick myself for buying a download rather than a CD. That will be the last time I do that. I'll keep trying to contact the company but I'm not optimistic. Another lesson learned the hard way but then aren't they all?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Problem Solving Using the Two-Year-Old Method

There's this place in Monroe called Playtime Village. It's basically a big open space with a bunch of toys and a slide and climbing equipment in one section and a gym full of mats in another. I like to take my two year old grand son there. He loves it too but as you might expect for a two year old, he gets a tad possessive of some of the toys. You can hear adults all over the place counseling their little ones that they have to share. The kids of course don't want to hear it. They have no interest in sharing. They want the toy they want and they want it immediately and it doesn't matter who's got it. I had to work through several somewhat awkward situations with Cole when on occasion someone else has his cherished car (see picture). He's already figured out what I'm going to say so he's devised a strategy for getting his way in spite of me. For example today a little girl had 'his' car. He looked at me and yelled 'MINE'. I of course said, 'no, you have to share. Wait until she's done'. He gave me that two-year-old look that freely translated means 'Screw you. I can handle this myself.' It seems the little girl had put a doll in the storage area behind the seat of the car. Cole took the doll, ran across the open space and dropped it on the floor. Then he ran back to the car and stood there just watching. Well, of course, the little girl got up to retrieve her doll and went Cole into the car and on his merry way. I looked around to see what her mother was going to do and not seeing anyone paying any attention I laughed. Cole had this smirk on his face like he's thinking, "Geez, Grandpa. Haven't you learned anything in almost 67 years?" The little girl got a car of her own so there wasn't really any harm done. In the meantime Cole, completely on his own, developed a strategy for solving a problem. I wonder how it's going to work the next time he tries it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let's Have A Party. Bring Your Own Tea.

It looks as though this tea party thing is beginning to take on a life of its own. At first, I thought it was just a bunch of Republicans still pissed off because Obama won but with the recent Tea Party Convention people are actually getting organized (a situation yet to be accomplished by the democrats). But there’s a problem-a very ugly problem. Note the words of the kick off speaker, Former Rep. Tom Tancredo attempting to explain Obama’s election: "We do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.” Hmmmm….how should one interpret that? What does he mean by ‘people’? I think we all know. This is indeed a nasty little aspect of the tea party movement that we can do without and I hope that’s not their agenda. Gas bag Sarah Palin has been a strong supporter of the movement and is in fact going to be a keynote speaker (Saturday night). Palin has appeared at several tea parties (it’s interesting to note she neglects to point out she’s being paid handsomely for being there but, hey, she’s a good republican after all so what do you expect? We’re talking about money here, folks. It’s a no-brainer.) I’m interested in knowing if she’s going to follow up on Tancredo’s remarks. I hope she doesn’t. There’s enough acrimony and hostility in American politics & culture now. The last thing this country needs are jerks like Tancredo muddying up the waters. It will be interesting to watch this group to see where it goes and what direction it takes. Are they going to form their own party? Are they going to force the republican party to take on an even more conservative platform? If so, that will be their undoing. The fact is that while the majority of the American people are very unhappy now, they are solidly middle-of-the-road. Most people don’t like extremes. What many politicians-democrat and republican-don’t get is that it’s ALL of Washington that’s the problem. Not just a particular party or person. This is very much a work in progress.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

Well, it's budget time in dear, old Newtown. Here's a partial list of the things the Board of Education is considering for elimination or at the very least pay-as-you-go.
At the Middle School (Grades 7 & 8):
Dance team
Drama Club
Interact Club (I don't know what it means either)
Photography Club
Year Book
Pinata Club (I'm not kidding!)

Intermediate Level (Grades 5 & 6):
Dance Team
Drama Club
Interact Club
Literary Magazine
Kick Ball
Ski Club
Art Club
Knitting Club (honest)
"B" Cool Club
Yoga Club

The costs involved in all of these is the stipend that goes to the faculty adviser, the cost of keeping the school open & the cost of after-school transportation (yes, for some of these a bus is provided to get kids home).

The reason why I'm pointing this out is because we have two diametrically opposed forces at work in this town. Force number one: taxes must NOT go up. Force number two: Do not under any circumstances cancel my child's program. Cut classroom teachers, eliminate a math or science program, fire an assistant principal, anything, but keep your hands off my child's program. His/her self esteem is at stake and that simply won't do.

So there you have it. It's kind of like the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) mentality. Yes, we need that cell tower-but not here. Guaranteed as budget deliberations heat up and the Board of Education edges closer and closer to making the logical and best decisions, the special interest groups will start crawling out of the woodwork, screaming their brains out. It's still early but it will happen. And does it sound familiar? (hint: State of CT and halls of Congress). More on this later as developments unfold.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Suppose You Had $3.8 trillion? Would You Give Me Some?

Three point eight trillion dollars. Just think about that for a minute. I'm a former math teacher and about the only time I used to use numbers like that was when I was trying to show kids how astronomers & other scientists use math, i.e. light-years, scientific notation, etc. But in terms of money, to me it means practically nothing. For example look at the list of items on the right that I Photoshopped together. They're a Gulf Stream IV jet plane, your own private island in the Bahamas, a Rolls Royce Phantom, a luxury yacht and finally an estate in upscale Palm Beach, FL. All of those things together are a cool $77 million plus. A lot of money, isn't it? Yet with $3.8 trillion you could buy all of those things for-get this-almost 50,000 people. That's almost as many friends as I have on Facebook!! In terms of the whole nation, let's say there are about 300 million people in the country. That includes illegals too. If we were to be assessed enough money per person to cover the Federal budget, it would cost every single man, woman and child slightly over $12,000. I could go on and on but you get the idea. I don't care if you're republican, democrat, libertarian, communist, fascist, anarchist or a druid-what ever you are, it's a LOT of money. I wonder where it's all going. I'm not getting my hopes up that it's going to find it's way to where it's needed most. I know I'll be benefiting from some of it because I'm on Medicare but don't blame me & other retired folks for ALL of it. I thought the massive economic stimulus package passed early in Obama's presidency was going to result in valuable 'shovel ready' projects going on all over fixing our bridges, highways, tunnels, and other crumbling infrastructure. What happened? Nothing-at least not here in Connecticut. The roads in my town still stink. I've been trying for over 20 years to get the town to fix my road. Nothing. I don't get it. Help me out here. I guess I'll have to do some research and get a copy of the budget to see. I'll let you know what it says after I've read it. Let's see, in a couple of weeks I'll be 67 so you should be hearing from me on about my 90th birthday!

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Did You Learn Today?

I don't know what you learned today but I learned a lot-as I always do when I spend the day with my two grand daughters. This morning the 3 year old made it clear that on several occasions I wasn't 'behaving' so she was going to 'tell on me'. The most notable mistake being that I insisted she take a nap. In order to avoid an unpleasant situation, I suggested she read stories to her stuffed animals. Fortunately, she bought that and as her sister and I listened, she told her various little friends stories until it was finally very quiet in her room. That was about 1 p.m. She was still sleeping when I left at 3:30.
I spend the afternoon with Brooke, age 6. We spend pretty much the whole time playing make-believe games. For example, one of the games is when she pretends she's a literacy teacher helping kids who 'don't learn very fast' (her words). She was teaching me (Keila) and her two other students, Adrianna and Adam, reading skills. This went on for a while with her actually reading stories to us from one of her books. Clearly, she isn't like us! The other game we played involved problem solving. She was a person who helped kids resolve conflict situations. She was either the principal or a guidance counselor. I'm not sure but the scenario was that I was a student who was having a problem on the bus with a little boy named Adam. It seems Adam wanted to be my friend but when I said no, he hit me. Her advice was to talk to Adam and 'be patient' with him. Furthermore, I should say I would be his friend but I shouldn't do anything that I knew to be wrong. She then went on to talk to Adam about his behavior. Six years old. When I was six, I was playing cowboys and Indians. But then I wasn't the brightest bulb in the closet if you know what I mean. We ended the day together with a word game. Mondays are great days. But so are Tuesdays and Thursdays because that's when I get to see their cousins!