Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Luxury of Knowing

We could hardly have known it at the time.  Known that there might be a way that we, as teachers, could keep track of how some of our students were doing long after they exited our classrooms for the last time.  Of course, there are some teachers who couldn't care less.  Just a few, in my view.  But for most of us, we care about the people our former charges are becoming.

When I retired from full-time teaching I knew very little about Facebook.  Other than it involved being "friends" with one's peers, it was mostly used by college students and had just begun to infiltrate the universe of high schoolers.  That was only 10 years ago.  Since stumbling on to my own account on Facebook, mostly to sign an Amnesty International petition, I've been able to have contact with a few hundred students from about 25 years ago to the present.  I rarely ask them to friend me, as a sign of respect for their privacy.  But if they find me and request "friendship" I will oblige.  It's been worth every second.  I have a chance now to see them as mature adults, parents, teachers, and thoughtful, decent human beings...for the most part.  That's priceless.  It gives me the luxury of perspective so that when I'm with a group of educators today, especially beginning teachers, I can allay their fears about what really matters.
Even though I get into a classroom now and then in my work with student-teachers and first year teachers, I sometimes doubt how long I could last today if I returned to full-time teaching.  That's because so many things are tied t the computer.  From audio visual materials to attendance taking and record keeping, it's all done on the keyboard.  Lots of advancements but something is lost even amid all the gains.  Kids today will never know the sound of a movie projector or a record player.  Even the technology with cassette tape recorders is hugely outdated.
I did a lot of oral history type projects with my students; how does one go about that today.  I guess digital tape recorders are the preferred method, but again, it's a matter of re-tooling everything and everyone.  Still, it's worth it.
Now and then I hear from a former student out of the blue.  Their stories and emotions are touching.  They make me incredibly aware of all the kinds of learning that can take place in a classroom. They remember much of what I remember, but add insights and often, things I could never know.  Most gratifying are those who apologize for not being as motivated or not contributing their best efforts at the time.  Still, they acknowledge what was available for them at the time and feel so strongly about how they have changed that they are compelled to contact me.  It's humbling, yet fascinating.
All teachers remember their first class.  Mine was in the early 1970s and if they are on Facebook I don't know.  They knew me as a student-teacher who was in his 20s at the time and who was finding his way.  I recall some of their names, so I could do a bit of research.  There are advantages and disadvantages in doing that.  The students who were last in my classes know me as a journeyman.  Someone who taught their siblings, and in a few cases, their parents.  They are computer savvy and seem to easily find me.  Facebook has become a sort of Zen Coan.  I'm still figuring out what it all means and could mean.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Like A Rolling Stone

When I heard the news, I gasped.  Breathtaking.  Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I fact checked lest I had been tricked by the artifice of the internet.  There it was in the New York Times.
I let it

By the end of the day I brought myself back to my high school graduation weekend.  The Saturday night following my speech at graduation, in February of 1965 I went to a party with and for my classmates.  The Beatles were hot and hotter that month.  But a specific memory came to me of standing in a circle talking about music with my friends.  I was defending a particular singer, an unusual performer I'd recently learned about through my best friend.  Bob Dylan...the guy who wrote some of the Peter Paul and Mary songs and the guy with the very folkie sound who recorded my favorite song of the previous year, "The Times are Changin.'"  On Thursday nights when I put  out the trash cans for the next morning's pick up, I'd time my chore to begin at a few minutes before 7 pm.  That way I could stick the tiny earphone of my transistor radio tuned to KFWB and hear the countdown to the top ten songs in England.  Dylan was always near the top.  That's when and where i first heard,
                              Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, 
                              And don't criticize what you don't understand,
                              Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
                              Your old road is rapidly fadin'
                              Get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
                              For the times they are a changin'

This was some lyric for an 18 year old about to end 12 years of public schooling and finally be treated as an adult by the society he was beginning to question.
So here I am a few weeks later at this party and I'd heard some more from Bobby Zimmerman...aka Dylan.  The local stations were all playing "Like a Rolling Stone" and it had a bit of a different sound.  Sure Dylan wailed.  He hardly had a melodic voice.  He was no Elvis and John Paul George and Ringo had many more fans at that point in time.  But my God, this guy was saying something!  That's what I began to stress in the conversation at that party.  I was convincing very few.  But when someone asked me where all this excitement was coming from, I gathered up all the arrogance and insight I could summon and declared, "Bob Dylan is the greatest poet of the 20th century."  I wasn't messing around, I went for the whole century.  Apparently a few folks in Sweden and around the globe see my point. I may be the only one of those kids from that party that remembers that group conversation.  I may have convinced no one.  But one thing is certain.  I did follow the career of this troubadour turned rock star very carefully.  He got me through college and a battle with the Selective Service System.  His anti-war songs remain among the best.  As his mystique grew , so did his audience and subject matter.  Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash and ultimately with some of the Beatles themselves.  He continued to impress and frustrate his fans and followers.  We went away, he came back.  He endured while always keeping his mind and his talent relevant.  He even got old.  In the end he left his mark.  The word that many have placed next to the news of his Nobel laureate award is immortal.  Hope so.  We need him now more than ever.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Color of Alienation

I haven't felt that feeling in years...decades really.  That notion converted into a sinking awareness that the train is off the tracks, that those in the control room are so misguided that we are all in danger.  That feeling that mirrors the far side of what most believe to be accurate but is, in fact, a mirage.  A mirage with bad intentions.
I felt it during the height of the Vietnam War.  When your personal freedoms are impacted based on age and gender, there is no way around it. The law comes calling.   As the evidence mounted of ill-informed decisions and a government that valued duplicity over the lives of it's youngest men...the feeling grew.  Simply stated, it's an "I gotta get out of here moment."  When you realize that there is no unity of thought, that there are people that are "face down in the Kool-Aid" and broadcasting lies and misinformation and it's all tangled up in life and death consequences, it gives rise to a specific emotion. It's alienation as a vivid color.  An ugly color. Alienation as a headache.  A deadening pain that persists. A kind of frustration that is equal part anger and oddly, the serenity of knowing you know the truth. You know what needs to be done. So it is with our current situation.  An enormous harness of twisted emotion and knotted reason has settles on the election of our next President.  We have two candidates that inspire disgust even within their own parties.  Only one seems mentally healthy.

This must be, it occurred to me recently, what it was like to have a sociopath in charge in Nazi Germany.  Trump is so off the wall that every time he opens his mouth we're treated to a first for a person who would be President.  He represents the worst of our lesser selves.  He's arrogant, unstable, defensive to the Nth degree and lusting for power.  If you turn off the sound to his presentations, just look at the body language, he's Hitlerian.  We know from past experience that sociopaths can and do assume the roles of leadership. They are often surrounded by blind people who never see was seems so obvious to others.  Those folks have their own agendas too.
The shift this week is that now he seems to be planning for the aftermath.  He likes to use the term "rigged." As if it's all been decided. His excuses and babbling are so transparent that it's easy to see how some are beginning to fear the climate of election night or the days that will follow.  We're in for it.  He's given us that gift.  The one we don't want...thought we had made that clear. He's sliced large chunks of the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-intellectualism that lives beneath the surface of our shattering dome.  Served them up on a gaudy table for the confused to consume. We don't need to be told to be very afraid, because we are.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fly Fishing in the Bottom of the Ninth

Yesterday was the day.  The clear October day, before the rain and snow set in and the transition to winter cannot be denied.  It was my chance.  Last chance to get one more day of fly fishing in on one of my favorite Mt. Hood lakes.
These lakes fish best from 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. so the thought of being home to catch the Division series game between the Giants and the Cubs was also foremost in my mind.  I put my eggs in a 4 hour basket.  If I rise at 6:30, I can make coffee, drive for a couple of hours, get all geared up (inflate float tube, change into waders, assemble fly rod, tie on fly, and get down to the lakeside) and fish until 1:30 or 2:00 without getting in rush hour traffic on the drive home.  A few fish, some spectacular weather, and then a victory by the Giants to extend the series to a final game wasn't too much to expect. Right?
It didn't hardly go that way.

Things happened.  I did catch a couple of trout.  But they were on the small side and one ended up being foul hooked.  He was a jumper, and somewhere during his aerial display he must have slipped the hook and got it caught on his side.  After I carefully removed the hook, I left him in my net in the water a few minutes to revive and then released him back to the lake.  Or so I thought.
My last hour was filled with rising wind and the realization this fishing year was rapidly coming to a close.  I tied on a new fly I'd been curious about and sure enough got a take within minutes.  A formidable bend in the fly rod and then nothing.  The fish either broke me off or my knot failed.  That's how the season ended.  Disappointing to be sure but even more so when I found that my second fish was still in the net.  Literally and figuratively.  He somehow managed to slip back in after appearing to have gone back home.  They can do that because fish don't go backward.   They only go forward and if you release them from the net, they won't back out. My net is attached to a D ring and rests behind me, out of view. It's best to pick a fish up and place them back into the water again. I didn't do that, because it's also good advice not to handle fish.  Either way, another loss.  I would have left him for the resident osprey to feed her family, but by the time I noticed, I was all the way back to my truck.  Anyway, it's not a good idea for a catch and release guy to leave a dead fish on the lake.  So I buried my victim in the woods.  I could have eaten him, but I wasn't in the mood for that given the spirit of the day.  Somehow I managed to lose my line clipper too.
Things went a little better for the Giants, who managed to be leading by 3 going into the 9th inning.  Then, their bullpen failed, just like my knot and everything fell apart thereafter.  The baseball season and the fly fishing season both ended by sundown.  Just knowing there is a next year is enough to warm me this winter.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

From All Sides

A Tropical Storm that the Governor of Florida says "will kill you" plods toward the East Coast
     Some have "hurricane complacency" and want to ride it out
          The election is 35 days away and we must endure what passes for a debate
               we must ride it out
                    when a horse in a race has given his best, but it isn't enough for that day, the jockey
                          must ride him out: keep trying or at least make it look that way

The season is changing by degree(s) daily: we smell rain, breathe in spores with colder air and
     calculate the consequences of turning on the heat too soon
          By the end of the month, we'll feel some relief when Halloween reminds us to wear another
               layer.  The price of gasoline climbs, competing with traffic fatalities.  It's increasingly
                    dangerous to cross a street and night-stalker clowns await all who walk alone.
                              We're Getting It From All Sides Now

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nation We Are Becoming

I sometimes wonder why would anyone run for President of the United States.  But then I realize the nature of the "political animal," as Aristotle so perfectly labeled us.  The power is seductive for those attracted to same.  The desire to sit at the top of the heap, call the shots, and perhaps most significant, to realize you have a place in history, must be all to much for those of us with enormous egos to be assuaged.  Occasionally, we'll see a genuinely selfless person throw his/her hat into the ring, but for most who give it a try, they all have that common denominator.
In this current campaign, we've seen some new lows.  Decorum be damned, most of the political discussions that pass for serious commentary quickly disintegrate into alley fights with people talking over each other smiling a smarmy smile until some kind of order is restored.  What I've seen on the networks lately, I wouldn't let stand in a classroom discussion.  Some role models we're getting these days.

I've been thinking, too, about what the real qualifications of the job might be.  Given life in America in 2016, seems to me that a whole new set of criteria are necessary.
Lets start with Empathy:This new President is going to have to deal with gun violence, and be the bearer of bad news to families as well as the nation.  Since we've taken our place as "The Gun Country," it's not unrealistic to think that our new leader is going to have a fair share of mass shootings to deal with.
Emotional Strength: Given the state and frequency of terrorism and the degree of paranoia currently present, our President is going to need to be level-headed under pressure.  There will be emergencies both human and natural (nature) aplenty in the next 4 years.
Intelligence:  A captain at the helm better know the lessons of history as well as the latest information about technology, geo-politics, climate change, and cultural sensitivity.  Speaking a few languages wouldn't hurt either.  I would add another characteristic here.  Who do these candidates surround themselves with?  What kind of people do they take for the finest minds out there?  Who will be in their sphere of influence.
Vulnerability and Humanity:  This quality would make some folks I know cringe, but I want to advance it anyway.  A President that the majority of the people can respect is crucial.  Being vulnerable and showing human qualities can do just that, in my view.  Our populace is so polarized now that it just might be too late for any kind of lasting unity, but someone in the White House that earns and commands respect by virtue of just being a human being with human frailties and sensibilities would be refreshingly welcome.
Come November 8, we'll see just what we get.  And...if there is any truth to the notion that the people we elect are the people we deserve, we'll learn a bit about the nation we are and are becoming.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Forever Elvis

I dropped Elvis in the slot
      His signature guarding my mortgage payment
on a journey to Southern California.
The stamp said Forever, like the inside of the Community Market resting for eternity in my brain.
As a 10 -year old, I purchased "Jailhouse Rock" for 69 cents. The 45s were in a bin near the cash register.
At 69 I hope to have 10 years in my home.
Elvis is forever