Uvalde. One Year Later

On May 21, fifty-three years ago, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young released Neil Young”s, Four Dead in Ohio. College and universities across the country abruptly ended spring semester classes, as a horrified nation gasped at the tragedy at Kent State University. While the National Guard was responsible for the shootings, leaving an additional ten students wounded, it didn’t quell the anger of the young and old alike. But times have definitely changed. Now days it’s a ho-hum event when our greatest asset–our children are slaughtered in their school classrooms. We look the other way–not my kid–not my problem. But as the song lyrics ask: What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?

Please know my stance is far from original, but I agree. We must start showing the truth. Americans must see the devastation of being blown to bits by AR-15’s. Weapons that render a child unrecognizable and only identifiable by kelly green tennis shoes or DNA. If you want sugar-coated, eat a donut!

On Sunday afternoon, CNN aired a documentary on the Ulvade shooting, One Year After Ulvade, in which they aired some body cam video of police vomiting after they burst into the classroom and found nineteen children and two teachers annihilated. Every American needs to view the crime scene aftermath. Every Texas elected politician should be forced to see the graphic pictures of blood and brains and bits and pieces on classroom walls. Without the proverbial shock and awe of reality, the gun lobbies will continue to bankroll our senators, representatives, and governors that guns don’t kill–people do. Really? If my kid hits another with a stick, not only do I discipline my kid, but I take away the stick. If my kid drives recklessly, I take away the car.

AR-15’s were intended as weapons of destruction to kill the enemy. They are known as spray and slay. AR’s have the potential to destroy a herd of stampeding cattle and render their carcasses inedible. So why are they offered for sale to the general public? And why are they offered without appropriate background checks of mental stability? Because Americans don’t see the graphic details of slaughtered children.

Until all of us can see the vivid pictures and listen to the stories of the families of Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Robb Elementary School, we will continue to ignore, dismiss, or turn our heads. Unless…we personally have to admit: Yes, I knew her. No, I can’t run because I saw it.

Is the Tassel Worth the Hassle?

May signals graduation month for most colleges and high schools across the country. And according to a myriad of economic research, those who are educated earn more money and live a more quality lifestyle than those who aren’t. Duh? No brainer, right? But the first and most important step any student must achieve is “the ticket to the dance.” Without a high diploma, many doors are closed, albeit they have no ticket to the dance.

High skilled jobs demand education. America is screaming for carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. America is begging for teachers and health care professionals. America is searching for scientists with creativity to solve world hunger and climate issues. America needs cogent people to create better ways of doing things. America will limp along if problem solvers can’t confound homelessness, border issues, trade, abject violence, mental illness, and nuclear arms threats.

My message to all of the classes of 2023 is simply:

Undeniably, the tassel is worth the hassle. Never stop learning. Be the solution, not the problem. We old folk are counting on you. Yes, you to do great things. Congratulations.

Honor Thy Mother

I just returned from my daily trip to the grocery store, where the air was filled with aromatic flowers, floating helium balloons, and the whirring sound of the chocolate machine coating dozens of extra large strawberries. The greeting card aisle resembled a mosh pit at a popular concert. My experience today paused me to remember the founder of America’s Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis.

In May, 1907, Anna held a memorial service to honor her late mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her mother, Ann had organized women’s groups to advance friendship and health, and Jarvis wanted to establish a holiday to recognized the importance of mothers to their families. Five years later most US states observed Mother’s Day; in 1914, President Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday. In 1948, Jarvis died. She had spent the last years of her life lobbying to abolish the holiday; it’s original intent had become too commercial.

Today, 109 years later, I witnessed first hand Jarvis’s pet peeve. However, as I watched the delight on children’s faces as their fathers or other adults helped them choose the perfect balloon, card, and/or bouquet for Mom, I saw admiration, respect, and love. They wanted to honor their mothers. Even though it cost money, it was a warm, sincere thank you to their biggest cheerleader.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Teacher Appreciation

This week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and across America parent organizations and business organization joined together to honor teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and secretaries for their efforts in public education. While these were very positive and sincere celebrations, nationally there remains strong opposition to public schools.

When I go to the grocery store or to booster club fundraisers, people tell me how pleased they are with their elementary, middle, or high school, but school board meetings are filled with rancor, hate, and down right trash-talking. I’m so weary of listening to those who know teachers are grooming students. Grooming students to what end? To make them both creative and critical thinkers, to make them tolerant, kind human beings who can cooperate and collaborate with each other civilly? And when I confront this opposition, I ask: how do you know? How do you know your children are being groomed, reading porn, or learning about institutional racism? Unfortunately, not one of them has shown me proof–other than the proverbial answer, “I heard it.”

As a former professor of The History of American Education, public schools cyclically have been blamed for societal ills. For example, in 1956 when Sputnik soared into the heavens, it was the schools’ fault the Russians beat America. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education declared public schools were failing the US economy. Hmm. No one, no legislature, no executive leadership wants to solve the hard issues of socio-economic problems when it’s easier to blame the public schools. Don’t believe me? Look at the national agenda today. The schools are at the forefront. All of societal ills are blamed on reading books Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee.

Teaching is the MOST important profession in the world! For without a teacher, there can be no scientist, no physician, no carpenter, no auto mechanic. Think about that! And take time to thank a teacher.

Interpreter, Please

My eldest daughter insisted we grill carne asada and pollo asade for dinner. Obviously, that necessitated a trip to the carniceria (meat market.) However, I reluctant to go alone. “You have to go with me, Cate.”


“What if they ask me a question in Spanish? I won’t know how to respond. If I say si, I may end up with 5 lbs. of meat instead of two. Come with me.”

Of course, it was not without attitude, she went with me. As I patiently awaited my turn, Cate wandered around the store selecting salsa, guacamole, and tortillas. The butcher finally addressed me, “What may I get you?” Ah, he spoke English. But I was wary, so I enunciated slowly, “One pound Carne Ahsadah.” He glared at me, like I was nuts.

Cate, who had witnessed my encounter, laughed and whispered, “Cool it, Mom. You’re embarrassing the guy.” Needless to say, I now go to the market solo.

Like many of us over fifty, I really need a translator when it comes to tech talk and current slang. I don’t care about DOS, LOS, baud, byte, CPU, or port. I can’t interpret set-up instructions to I Watches, nor IPads. And since I’ve left the education arena, the new vernacular stymies me. “Meh” and “FOMO” are meaningless. Thank god, for The Urban Dictionary because I know I truly do suffer from FOMO–fear of missing out!

But my excursion yesterday uncovered my newest weakness. Lord, I thought I was fairly intelligent, but I found myself yesterday rudderless. My extremely ill neighbor was in need of help, and so I ventured into a dispensary. I felt like I was in the Great Wilderness. Unaware of the protocol, I walked right in and stood in line–only to be yanked out of line by an armed guard, who asked for my driver’s license. Once I’d been entered into their data base and pre-qualified for a senior discount, I wended my way to the salesgirl, who bought me a variety of edibles. Then she started talking about CBD and THC, number of grams, and other things of which I was totally clueless. Too many choices, too much information. My head spun. Finally, I reached my point of frustration and told the girl, “Just sell me what I need.”

Then came the ultimate insult when I took out my credit card to pay the bill. “We only take cash.”

Cash? I scrounged through my wallet. I counted and recounted my wad of dollar bills. Fortunately, I had just enough to complete my purchases. However, if I have to make this journey again, I’m taking an expert to translate. Not to forget, a whole lot of cash.

The Absurdity of High Stakes Testing

All of we humans make mistakes. We have great days, good days, and some days that are variations of not so good. We preach the mantra that all children are different; they have individual strengths and weaknesses. They have a variety of learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.They learn at different speeds–just like some toddlers learn to walk before others. Given these proven facts, how can we expect every child to score in an acceptable range on ONE test for ALL children. Absurd.

Research experts remind us that tests must be both reliable and valid. Reliability and validity can not be determined in one or two years. It’s a long, arduous study over time. For example, if a third grader takes the Arizona State test, he must continue to take the same progressive version of that test through 12th grade to prove/disprove academic growth over time. However, the glitch occurs if midway through a child’s schooling the test is changed from one manufacturer to another. Due to this change the scores can not be compared or be said to be both reliable and valid. Absurd to suggest otherwise.

Finally, test questions can have more than one right answer, depending on one’s perspective and/or experience. For example, what is the shortest month of the year? While most of us would immediately say February, to some the answer is May. The question is far too vague to have one correct answer. Imagine three pictures: a plant growing in a pot, a cactus abloom in the desert, and a head of cabbage. The question is: which one takes the least water? Now, some would argue a cactus, while students from a farming background would easily know it was the head of cabbage. Which one is the right answer? Absurd.

High stakes testing should be merely one indicator of a child’s progress. By no means should it be the only indicator–absurd.

Know When to Fold Them

In 1978, Kenny Rogers released The Gambler, a song written two years earlier and recorded by several artists, including Johnny Cash. But it’s the Rogers rendition that’s been stuck in my brain this week. Early one morning, I awoke in one of those slightly dreamy states and thought about my age. Most of the time, I suppress thoughts of how old I am, but the more my knees creak and arthritis cramps my fingers, I know it’s age. Oh, and if I look in the mirror, I’ve no recognition of the face staring back!

One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is I need to learn when to hold and when to fold. I quickly found certain decisions were easier than others. I retired from the school board, I began accepting senior discounts at the grocery store. Prior to that, I had considered discounts as a form of stealing from young families and giving it to those who had adequate financial stability.

Then came my realization about ladders. Trying to change the burned out light bulbs on my 12′ ceiling fixtures became far too much of a stretch to reach. Next, I noticed my incompetency at cleaning my casa: I’d miss dusting part of the coffee table, the mirrors would have random water spots, and the windows were streaked. I attributed my shortcomings to needing new glasses. But my final insult, was the swimming pool, which I had religiously mastered its chemistry years ago. Mustard alga appeared in abundance, the pool cleaner failed to travel around, and the filter baskets were clogged with debris from the enormous amount of bad weather in the last two months. So three weeks ago, I undertook the task of pool maintenance. Everything was going “swimmingly,” until….

I flopped into the 45-degree water. That was it! Time to make some changes around here! And with that, I hired a pool service, cleaning crew, and a handyman. (I had already hired a landscaper after a previous incident when the weed whacker tossed a stone into my right leg.)

I suspect my next stop on this journey called aging is eventually hiring a cook, laundress, and caregiver. The trick is learning when to fold. A surgeon friend of mine counseled, “Sue, I hope I know when to retire–one surgery before I should have.”

“You’re so right, Dr. B. I, too, hope I know when.”

The Renaissance Broad

The war on public education continues. This week it was the statue of David at the center of controversy and the story of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. I am forever grateful I went to public schools where the teachers taught me to be a culturally literate human. Do these ranters understand the significance of the Renaissance and Michelangelo’s interpretation of the slayer of Goliath? Depicted as defense of civil liberties embodied in Florence, which was threatened on all sides by more powerful states, David’s eyes were turned toward Rome with threatening glare in defiance. It took Michelangelo 4 years to create the 17-foot marble statue that unveiled in 1504. Now, 519 years later, some have decided it is inappropriate.

In the mid-1980’s E.D. Hirsch coined the term cultural literacy. “To be culturally literate is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world.” He was quick to note it was not limited to the arts, but to all information, “extending over the major domains of human activity from sports to science.” Further, Hirsch was adamant cultural literacy could break the cycle of the poor an illiterate. His views culminated in creation of the Core Knowledge program utilized in many urban, rural, and suburban schools across the country. Due to its insistence on mastery of common understandings about history, geography, language arts, and science, students in Core Knowledge programs tended to outscore the rest on college entrance exams. The statue of David and Ruby Bridges are part of that curriculum, as well as the slave trade, the assassination of Lincoln, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

To dictate to an entire generation what they can read and learn is dangerous, for they are doomed to not only make the mistakes of the past, but will be automatons, robots, who will be unable to see solutions to issues as they arise. Creative thought and critical thinking will go by the wayside.

I realize how fortunate I was to have a well-rounded, rigorous education. I saw David’s statue and read Catcher in the Rye, Moll Flanders, and To Kill o Mockingbird, and survived. I’ve seen the Broadway plays, such as The Full Monty, Hair, Cabaret, and Hairspray and survived. I learned about evolution and the Big Bang Theory and survived. But the most poignant quote I memorized was by Thomas Jefferson: For nation to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.

Things I’ll NEVER Understand

Certainly, in our complex world, there are a myriad of things I don’t understand: war, hatred, and astrophysics to name a few. I could rage on about 100’s of issues, but my angst would only send me to an earlier grave than the one I’ve been digging. So, I shall share my top four.

First, is math. From the time I was a child I struggled with arithmetic. Adding columns of numbers drove me mad. Then followed multiplication and division. When I advanced to algebra and geometry that was the end! Really, the alphabet replaced numbers? And to this day, I’ve never got a grocery receipt with x squared, minus 2 b on it. Nor do I care about parallelograms, nor the circumference of a circle. I’ve never even balanced my checkbook. Why should i? I have checks; therefore, I must have money.

Secondly, even though I was an English major and read and write a lot, I don’t understand written instructions for any high-tech, electronic device. I swear those instructions are written in a foreign language and loosely translated into English. It would help if there was a picture of part A that’s to be attached to part E. But no, I’m left to guess. When my frustration peaks, I must resort to calling one of my tech savvy kids to tell me what to do. Once they bought me an Apple watch for my birthday; I couldn’t make it work. I had to wait until we were together at Christmas to use it.

Thirdly, QAnon conspiracy theorists. How can any rational person who graduated from high school believe their absurdity? One pundit explained it as Scientology for hillbillies. Still, my mother was born in the South; she was a Tennessee hillbilly, but I never heard her say Elvis was alive nor Democrats eat babies.

But the thing that mystifies me the most is the dramatic change in the Republican Party. When I think of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and even the Bushes, I think of equality and equity. Modern day Republicans have morphed into Joe McCarthys; their platform focuses on banning books, rewriting history books, and closing down drag shows. Hello? America has far more important and critical issues than any one of those. Let’s talk about climate change, homeless folks, hunger, infrastructure, and labor shortages. Let’s talk about healthcare and prescription drug costs, and high interest rates. Let’s talk about transportation and international relations.

True, there are many things I’ll never understand. I try not to dwell on my shortcomings that frustrate me. But that’s easier said than done.

The Academy: Update

Last summer when I began to write The Academy, I was writing fiction. Certainly, many of the characters were modeled after my personal experiences. (One can’t have a 50-year career in public education and not be affected by students. staff, and parents.) Of course, I took great liberty with poetic license to enhance and speculate about each of the players. But since my book published my fictitious story continues to play out in reality.

What an eerie feeling for me, as I follow a court case in a western state court on monetary kickbacks to school administrators and their families. Further, now the FBI is investigating the role of overseas threats of violence to American public schools, colleges, and universities. This ongoing investigation has identified 250 colleges, 100 high schools, and several junior high schools since early June falsely threatening explosive devices or an imminent school shooting. Corroboration of a product of my imagination is most overwhelming!

Please know, my intent had nothing to do with money. Yes, The Academy is available on Amazon, and yes, I get $1.00 and some change royalty, but my intent was solely to advance the conversation about outsiders creating chaos through random mass massacres in the US and the issue of gun control. I’m not prodding you to read my book, but ask yourself one question: In Uvalde, Texas last May, an 18-year-old high school, unemployed dropout entered Robb Elementary School and executed 19 children and 2 teachers. The shooter, Salvador Ramos, was driving a brand new $70,000 truck, wore $5,000 in tactical gear, and carried over $5,000 worth of artillery and ammunition. Where did he get the money?