from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why should school be One Size Fits All? 

My diary today will be on an educational subject. I am writing in response to an op ed in today’s Boston Globe. The piece is written by David Crane, who is a co-founder and teacher of the Josiah Quincy School, which is a “pilot” upper school in the Boston Public School System. I will use some of the words from his piece, which argues against a one-size-fits-all approach as a rationale for presenting my own point of view, which will agree with the thrust of his argument, but take it somewhat further.

If you wish to read his entire piece, which I cannot present here for copyright reasons, I invite you to read it in the Globe. It is entitled One-size-fits-all doesn’t suit our students.

Quincy begins his piece by talking about the “pride and excitement” he experienced while attending high school graduations at his son’s school and at the school where he taught. Most of these students are immediately heading off for additional education at college and universities. But he then wonders about those who do not graduate from high school and neither attend nor eventually graduate from post-secondary educational institutions. He quotes a study of the Chicago schools done by the University of Chicago that in urban schools some 90% of students fall into that category. Let me quote several paragraphs which present the situation:
According to this study, 46 percent of inner-city ninth graders will not graduate from high school. A third of those who do graduate have a D average. Only 18 percent of those ninth graders will eventually attend either a two-year or four-year degree program; only a third of those, 6.5 percent, will graduate with an associate's or bachelor's degree. For every 100 African-American males who enter ninth grade, only 2.5 will graduate from an institution of higher learning. These numbers become starker when we consider that, according to the study, 79 percent of inner-city high school students report they want to go to college.

Why are we subjecting these students to a one-size-fits-all, college-or-bust ethos and college prep curriculum when so few of our inner-city students either want what we are offering or want it badly enough to put in more than a minimal effort? In doing so, we create a culture in which dropping out is a norm, and we insure that the lion's share of our students leave high school with an indelible sense of failure.

Crane wants to change the goal of our education from being one exclusively of college prep to a broader definition of being a contributing member of society, able to earn a living and support a family. He asks
Suppose instead of a college prep curriculum that so many public urban high school students abhor, we gave all our students the skills in the areas they showed interest in, whether in automotive technology,, carpentry, computers, electricity, electronics, HVAC/plumbing, or medicine, to name a few, together with training essential to turning those skills into a business? What if we, unlike the for-profit technical schools that currently offer those programs, enabled our students to gain those skills for free? What if we helped our kids find hands-on internships and occupations in their chosen fields with as much fervor as we try to find them colleges?

He suggests that were we willing to do so, we might find that those students who drop out or put in minimal effort could find meaning in the work they do in school and thus have the possibility of leaving school with usable skills learned in real-life applications, and even possibility the offer of employment. He argues that we would rid ourselves of the
culture of failure that dominates our urban secondary schools and that is so damaging to teenagers' psyches.

And nothing would prevent a student with an understanding of electronics, as opposed to European history, from applying to and graduating from college.

Crane recognizes that we need to change our attitude about school for this to happen, that vocational type education is only for “dummies.” He recognizes that there are those capable of academic work who are bored by “the theoretical emphasis in college prep programs” who might be more focused had they opportunity to participate in real world applications of what they are learning.

While there is a bit more specifically relevant to the Boston schools in Crane's piece, I want to stop here and make my own remarks. And then I will of course invite your response, to what I quote from Crane, to what I offer of my own, or anything remotely related that you would wish to contribute to the discussion.

I want to start with the last part of what I have described, the idea of real-world application. I would suggest that this should be a far more important element even in most of our academic, college-prep programs. Many students who are headed for the most prestigious post-secondary institutions find much of what they study in high school boring and/or irrelevant. They are gifted enough, or sufficiently disciplined, that they are able to “successfully” complete such courses, but the lack of real-world applicability often means that as soon as the final tests are done the students effectively take a memory dump- they purge their minds of all that “useless” information. In a sense this is a logical response to our even increasing and distorted emphasis on high stakes testing -- the hidden curriculum which the students quickly absorb is that the real-world purpose of their instruction is narrowed to how well they do on the tests, and thus once they have completed the test further retention of the information and skill does not have a high priority. We educators may attempt to address this as many in our school do -- the state tests and the AP tests both occur in May, leaving several weeks during which we can direct the students in activities that are more individually focused and have a higher degree of real-world application. We call these “projects” in which students demonstrate how they can use what they have learned. For some students it becomes the most memorable part of the entire course. For those who do not do well on tests in isolation, it also affords them an attempt to sufficiently demonstrate mastery that they are able to persuade some teachers (including me) that the grades they have earned should reflect this demonstrated mastery.

Crane is focused on retaining those who are not on academic tracks. If public education is to be a public good -- as I think it should -- then it should be shaped in a way where our approach is not forcing students to fit into one model that is efficient in terms of delivering instruction and measure the effectiveness of that instruction, but rather is efficient from the standpoint of the student in that it does not present artificial barriers to that student learning all s/he can about the skill or intellectual domain.

Our current ESEA legislation is known as “No Child Left Behind.” The premise of that bill is that we need to have our public schools not abandon children. To that effect we have required disaggregation of test scores in the hope perhaps that shame or fear of economic and other consequences will lead schools and teachers to address the learning needs of all of our students. But our concept of leaving behind is limited by the instruments we use to determine if children are being left by the wayside. Further, because we have imposed this regimen on top of previous “reforms” of the past several decades of ever increasing “rigor” in the course of studies we demand students undertake we have in many cases created a double bind for those students we claim we wish to ensure are not being left behind. First, we impose on them a course of studies that may not necessarily be appropriate for the current level of knowledge and skill they have, or for their developmental status, or that invokes their interest. Then we punish both them and their teachers for the fact that they do not “succeed” by doing well on tests that are a narrow measurement of an ever narrowed curriculum.

I want to emphasize several things. First, I am not insisting on overall tracking which will permanently remove some students from all academic focus. I would hope that as we explore how to change our system of education we could recognize that there will be students who will be a mix - that is, they have some ability to handle pure academic work in some domains but not in others. These can include students from upper middle class background who are not currently ready nor interested in a pure college-prep program, and can also include those from less privileged backgrounds who may be quite skillful in one or more academic domain but are also confronted with the need to be able to immediately support themselves and/or economically contribute to the family during and upon graduation from high school. If we do not address this economic reality often the only choice will be to go into the military - I think our students are entitled to a broader range of choices than this.

Further, I believe our current approach is forcing us to determine winners and loser while our children are still adolescents. Crane is in part trying to address this mentality. But he also warns us that pure academic preparation may not empower our students for an affirmative future. I want to give you his final brief paragraph, but then somewhat disagree with it.
Let's create a culture of achievement for our students, letting go of artificial notions of success and achievement. Perhaps someday college grads will look with envy at Boston's high school graduates who have achieved successful careers that enable them to raise and support families, while those grads, armed with degrees, wonder what they are going to do with the rest of their lives.

I don’t know if Crane realizes how these words can be taken. His words remind me of the criticism I often heard of those who chose to be liberally educated, majoring in philosophy or English or History or - my case - music. How does a BA in any of these fields, people would argue, equip one to earn a living? My response would be that one liberally educated has learned one discipline to a fairly high degree, has through distribution requirements been exposed to multiple disciplines, and as a result has learned how to learn, how to organize, and how to recognize what one does not know and how to address that.

I also want to apply the basic idea of not imposing one approach of education on all of our students far more broadly than Crane addresses in his op ed. In fairness, the space which he was afforded does not give him such a luxury as I have electronically. I return to this basic principle - for me the purpose of education is to empower the individual student. In order to do that, I have to start where the student is, and I will as an educator be most effective if I use the interests that student has. I also know - as we probably all do - that learning is far more effective when we have the opportunity to attempt to apply what we are learning in situations that have some real-world meaning to us. I would argue that were we willing to take such an approach, we would find a real efficiency from the standpoint of the student: it would take far less time for most students to develop competency in the particular domains. I mean this on an overall basis. Even for very gifted students there may be some domains for which they need more time, but I would argue that for less “gifted” students there would also be cases where they might grasp - and apply - particular ideas and skills in far less time than that to which we currently subject them in semester or yearlong 45 minute classes.

I also think we would be far better off as a society were all of our students exposed to a broader range of disciplines. Here as one trained as a musician I think we impoverish our children if we do not care out the time to allow them to explore music, art, poetry, dance and other arts. I also think we impoverish them if they do not learn something about practical skills such as cooking, carpentry, electricity, plumbing, sewing. I would argue that we can combine these practical skills with “academic” work quite successfully at the elementary level - after all, cooking involves chemistry, carpentry involves math and physics, and similar connections can be made with the arts. And by exposing our children to a broader range of domains at the same time as we are helping them to develop the basic academic skills we will accomplish two goals. First, it is far easier to get reluctant readers or math-phobes to learn to use those skills when they are being applied to something that interests them, and once the basic skills are learned we increase the probability of academic success of all kinds. Also, even though a student may easily learn the skills and domains of what we normally consider an academic course of study, that does not mean that their life work will necessarily be defined by such a traditional academic path - I know far too many unhappy lawyers and more than a few unhappy doctors and businessmen who finally recognize in their forties or even later that their real joy is cooking, or carpentry, or something else, and that if they let themselves they can have a very good life following their passions. I think immediately of one man I know who left his successful veterinary practice and apprenticed himself in the kitchen of a fantastic restaurant, picking up on what had been his passion as an adolescent. He now makes more as a top chef than he did as a vet. I also think of a college classmate who got a doctorate in philosophy and taught the subject at a highly prestigious university but left that life to go build houses, a career change that has led to his becoming a highly remunerated owner of a company that builds luxury houses.

I believe that our approach to education is that it should be a right that is not limited to K-12, and that it should encourage people to explore how they can best be contributory members of our society. I do not in the two examples I just cited mean to imply that the measure of someone’s success should be their income: were that the case I would be considered a failure, since my current salary as a teacher in nominal dollars only now matches my 1994 salary as a supervisory systems analyst working for local government, and that salary was far less than I could have made working for a governmental consulting company. Likewise I do not think our measure of educational success should be limited to the GPA students achieve or the number of letters (BA MA, MD, JD, PhD) they can put after their names.

I want all of my students to succeed, but I cannot define for them what the word success should mean. Nor should we as a society narrow the possibilities by the way we offer public education.

I do not believe that only one model of schooling can meet the needs of our students, and if it does not meet their needs, ultimately it will not meet the needs of society at large, Further, I would apply the idea of varying how we do education to a greater individualization of instruction within the school. I cannot fully explore that idea in this already too long piece. I know that I want to be known and appreciated as the absolutely unique individual I am. As a teacher I want to similarly empower my students. Because of that, I struggle to find a way to reach and teach each one as the unique individual s/he is.

So I conclude with the following --- I do not believe that it is morally acceptable to have an educational system that denies that individuality in interests, in abilities. It is not morally acceptable to take young children and adolescents and forced them to fit into a model of learning that is not effective for them. They should be the subjects of our instructional efforts, not the objects. Insofar as we fail to recognize the absolute uniqueness of each individual, we are abandoning one of the underlying principles that enables us to maintain a democratic republic, which provides an opportunity for people to achieve beyond the circumstances of their birth. To me that is not acceptable. It is why I teach. it is also why I participate in discussions such as this.

Thank you for reading. I await your responses.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A teacher’s life - the summer 

Far too often people think teachers have it easy. After all, we get two months off in the summer, right? Well, we get two months when we do not have students in our classroom, but we are rarely completely off. So I thought I would make some comments about this teacher and his summer.

For the record - I am offering this as the perspective and experience of one teacher, and make no claims that my experience can be generalized, although certainly parts of it can.

And also for the record, I see much of what I do during the summers as related to what I teach (Government), and acknowledge that some might not view all of what I list as relevant to my teaching. I think it is, so I will describe it.

Regular readers know that even before the school year was out I flew to Las Vegas for the 4 days of Yearlykos. Remember, I teach about government and politics, and this event - while certainly also a community gathering - was about both. And I had proposed the idea of a session on education and been charged with putting it together. Certainly that relates to my teaching, both because I am an educator and because it is a critical public policy matter that is addressed at all levels of government, local, state and national (and gee, my non-AP classes just so happened to be titled Local, State and National Government!).

I returned early that Monday morning for my last two days of school - without students - to pack up my room, deciding what I needed to take with me to have access during the summer (more than you might imagine). This overlapped with the last two days of the Virginia Senate primary in which I as a supporter of Jim Webb had an active role. Since part of what I attempt to impart to my students is the importance of being an actively involved citizen, this, too is related to my teaching.

During the rest of that week I took about half of the time off. That is, the reading I did bore little relationship to my teaching. But I was still organizing materials, going through things I had set aside to consider how or if to use them in my instruction. I also was preparing for this past Monday, when one of my AP parents had invited me to come talk to their city council work session about open government and reaching out to the community. I was asked because of my role as a teacher, and as such was expected to be prepared. For the 20 minutes I spent talking with them I spent about 6 hours in preparation - reading their city charter, exchanging ideas with the council member who had invited me, examining things from experts on Maryland Government.

Also last week I was getting organized for where I am now. For the next four weeks, starting this evening, I am participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar for teachers. The subject of our seminar is the Separation of Church and State, always a timely issue and one which I of course address in my teaching. There will 15 teachers, and our instructor is James Harris, head of the Philosophy department at William & Mary. I head reading to do, organizing to do, materials to purchase, etc. This will be an intense, graduate level seminar. Admission to these is quite competitive. And when I return I will have only 3 weeks until my school year begins again, with preseason soccer on August 15.

It is normal that during the summer I am educating myself so that I can better educate my students. Some years it is systematic reading. One year during a 4 week period I read and digested 25 books. I may be scouting out possible places for field trips, or rounding up possible guest speakers. One year I went to THREE workshops, ranging in length from 2 days to one week, all of which required competitive admission.

I last had a real vacation of more than a week without being involved with school in the summer of 2000. Far too often there is not enough time during the school year to be able to reflect on what has been happening, or to think about different ways of approaching the same material, or adding or removing material to make the course more relevant and meaningful for the students. All of that gets done during breaks -- but during winter and spring breaks often we are buried under correcting papers and tests, and in the winter doing recommendations for college applications if we have not yet been able to complete them.

Any major updating of the webpage I use to support my instruction must be done during the summer. It is the only point in the year (unless we are closed for a week because of snow, which did happen once) where I can find the uninterrupted period of time necessary for doing so. I am hoping to be able to squeeze that in during the final week before soccer practice, because my webpage is old, clunky and not particularly appealing.

Oh, and during the summers is when I have to catch up on dental appointments, on fixing things around the house that simply have to be postponed during the course of long days and weeks while school is in session.

I am fortunate. There are many teachers who during the summer must take on additional employment in order to pay their bills. My wife is a GS-13, I get paid on a Masters + 60 credits schedule that is adequate, and having achieved my National Board Certification (some of the work for which was done the summer of 2004) I get an additional $5,000 this school year and $4,000 for each of the next 9, by which time I will be approaching my 70th birthday. I do not have to take on extra employment. I won’t be working in a store or a restaurant when students or parents come in as often happens to some of my contemporaries around the country.

This summer I will have one additional task. Shortly our AP scores will arrive. As soon as my seminar is over i will have to sit down and analyze the results. This year was the first time I taught AP. We did a debrief after the test (legal not on the next day but anytime after that) and most of my students felt fairly well prepared. But until I see the scores I won’t know. And then I will need to use whatever information is available to QUICKLY start make adjustments in how I will do the course this year -- I cannot simply do the same things again. I already know some things I have to change simply because they were not effective.

There are down times during the summer. My wife and I will see more movies, takes some drives in the country, go out to eat, get together more often with friends and family. During the summer my average workweek is only about 40 hours, not the 70-80 it is during the school year.

But I don’t have my summer “off.” Just thought you might like to know.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Conversation with Peter Goldmark WA-05 

Yesterday, Friday June 23, I participated in what was supposed to be a bloggers conference call with Peter Goldmark, the Democratic candidate for the 5th Congressional District in Washington, who is my college classmate (Haverford ‘67). McCranium, a well-known Washington State blogger, was not able to join us, so for about an hour Peter and I had an extensive conversation on his campaign, on issues. This diary is to present that conversation in detail.

Because of the diary I posted yesterday, people probably want to know Peter’s position on the flag amendment. Until we spoke he had no even thought about it. Because we made arrangements for this call before I wrote that diary, I would have posted it even had he immediately announced that he supported the amendment. He plans to think about the issue and get back to me, and told me he respects the fact that my position is based on principle, even should he disagree with me.

Now to the conversation.

For those who don’t know Peter has a Ph. D in Molecular Biology from Cal Berkeley, did a post-bac in Neurobiology at Harvard, then returned to his family ranch where he has been ever since. He constructed a small but quality laboratory on his ranch and through his career has continued to do research and periodically to publish. He also has extensive public service, having served 8 years as an elected member of his local school board, 10 years on the Washington State Univ. Board, and as Director of Agriculture appointed by former Governor Mike Lowrey. He also served on a variety of state boards dealing with agriculture, environment and biodiversity. He will shortly have a fundraiser at which both Lowrey and Rep. Jay Inslee, a long time personal friend and someone Peter has long supported, will appear on his behalf.

FUNDRAISING - Peter has raised about 170,000 so far, and hopes to hit 200,000 by the end of the 6/30 reporting period. He has several “huge” fundraisers set for next month, and still is hopeful he can reach his original target of raising $1 million for the campaign.

POLLING - no data yet, because the campaign is still deciding when and where to poll.

Peter is determined to run as a local person running for a local district. he is looking to advance the interests of Eastern Washington, and is far less concerned with what party chiefs in Washington might think. He intends to make an issue of the absence of the incumbent (first termer Cathy McMorris) delivering any substantial help to the district. His campaign has of course already begun examination of her record, including especially her voting record and the contributions she has received from Pacs. She has some connections to some of the Republican scandals, but he does not know how large a role they will play in the campaign.

There were four key issues that Goldmark raised, and each was discussed especially in terms of how they affect the district and the state. These were energy, health, education an jobs.,

ENERGY - in a rural area such as the 5th CD the cost of fuels is key - to farmers to run their equipment, and simply in getting around. Peter is for a multi-pronged approach. He wants to seek greater efficiency, which can be addressed in part by raising CAFE standards. he wants to go forward on all alternative fuels, viewing achieving energy independence as a national security issue. He would explore fully ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar. he had just attended a filed day near Pullman Washington which was talking about the cutting edge of agriculturally derived energy sources. In biomass, for example,l just within Washington State, using blogs and discarded products could account for 1/2 of the electric demand even achieving only a 25% retrieval rate using current technology - here I note what one can imagine with improved technology.

The state os Washington is seeing the development of 5 ethanol or biodiesel, plants, four of which are being funded by the state, and one, using palm oil, not funded by the state. He is not as interested in that because it be on the coast and hence would not benefit his district. His approach is to seek to place plants where they could use locally grown biological fuels, locally processed, with minimal transportation - this cuts way back on the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

We discussed issues of efficiency. Remember that Peter is a scientist by training. He noted that the efficiency of corn-based ethanol is marginal, producing only about 30-40% more output of energy than the inputs required. He discussed the different kinds of biodiesel. he noted that palm oil has a cloud point of around 62 degrees, which creates problems for its use in colder areas, which is true during the winter for much of his district. Mustard oil has a much lower cloud point, and has the advantage of being locally grown and recycled. Using canola as an example, he said that a good winter canola crop could yield two tons per acre which would equal 300 gallons of biodiesel, and he set the ratio of energy input to output is logarithmic. He thinks ethanol will increase its output ratio as the technology improves, but while it is a necessary bridge technology it is probably not a long term solution.

We next turned to a discussion of health, which is a major issue in the district, where a lot of people are interested in some form of national coverage. Peter suspects we won’t get there for a while, and does not know if the path will be state by state, following examples such as Mass., or it will be gradual expansion of medicare and medicaid. He believes the government will have to get involved both as a provider and as a means of providing stability. He thinks medicare Part D has not been a very good solution, but it is what we have right now. The seniors in his district are NOT happy and would very much like to open up negotiation of drug prices. peter believes that should be one of the benefits of a government overseen or controlled plan, negotiating the lowest possible prices. he believes that if Democrats get control of Congress they should do an in-depth investigation of how the pharmaceutical companies are profiting from the current set up. He believes it would really open people’;s eyes and create the necessary political pressure to make a real difference.

Veteran’s health care is a real issue in the district. The VA is attempting to shut its hospital in Walla-Walla, when the next nearest facility is more than 130 miles away. The facility has been allowed to decay, and parts have already been shut. The veterans are feeling left without any recourse. I got Peter’s next words exactly, because I thought they so addressed the issue:
This country has to take care of those people who have sacrificed their life and their health for their country. We made a commitment to them. We need to followup in spades on our commitment to those people.”

EDUCATION is the basis of success today and tomorrow. We have to provide for a better education both K-12 and through our public universities. Given his roles on the local school board and at Washington State he has seen this issue up close. He knows that there are issue of motivation of students that need to be addressed. He is totally opposed to unfunded mandates. At my suggestion he is going to explore the impact of the federal government failing to achieve the promised 40% funding of special ed upon the the school districts he would serve. He also raised the issue of cutbacks in the impact funds the federal government provides in lieu of taxes. A number of school jurisdictions have huge amounts of federal land within their boundaries, and the reduction of such funds has had a severe impact upon their ability to maintain their educational performance.

He noted that the 4-year universities, especially the land grant institution such as Washington State, have suffered in multiple ways. The increase in interest paid on student loans makes it harder for students to achieve their educational goals and the cutbacks of the funding under the Morrill Land Grant Act has led to reductions in programs and research. As a scientist and a systematic farmer Peter personally knows how important this is because research is fundamental to future success economically and otherwise. he views this as a real issue of maintaining competitiveness internationally.

JOBS - Goldmark hopes work on energy will help create jobs in the rural areas. He just visited one town and said it was like being in the last picture show. There was one cafe open and everything else was boarded up. He is not content to see rural communities dry up. He believes local processing of energy crops will create jobs. he also believes there is potential in medical and related work and user the River Point Campus health and medical center in Spokane as an example. He thinks some jobs can be created with an increase in high speed internet, and cited one rural site that has a center for dental records that serves a wider area. It won’t be a panacea but increasing high speed internet access especially helps access to educational materials for rural schools while providing some spinoff for private industry.

THE IRAQ WAR - is on everyone’s mind. We need to hold Iraqi government responsible, hold their feet to their fire. He’s not a believer in a date certain for withdrawal of US troops, but believes that pressure has to be put on the government and on Iraqi security forces to step up, and if necessary, to start some level of withdrawal in the near future to put pressure on them. He does not think we should have a long-term presence in iraq, and is concerned that the administration has gone ahead building multiple what appear to be permanent basis with no debate in the Congress about it.

Peter said that the political part of campaign will get underway in July. Both candidates have been staying in camp, raising money, doing some research. He has been building his staff, visiting the district, raising some money, and getting organized. He feels comfortable about the campaign.

I have known Peter for over 40 years. Like most of our class, he was far brighter than the average person, something he has demonstrated during his career since leaving Haverford. He already has a remarkable command of issues, and if it is anything scientific can talk with a specificity that would blow most Members of the House away. I know little about his opponent, but I very much doubt she would want to have a serious debate televised across the district, because Peter can be quite formidable.

Spokane is the major population center, and the location of his campaign office. Other places of significance are Walla-Walla and Pullman, the latter the location of Washington State, one of several significant institutions of higher learning (along with Gonzaga and Eastern Washington) in the district. From a previous discussion with his campaign manager, Jeremiah Levine, I know the campaign intends to make serious effort to get students to register to vote in this district rather than in their homes.

Absent polling data it can be hard to read a race. The Democrat last time had plenty of money but got little traction in the race. Bush’s approval rating in the state has been as low as net negative 33% and as high as only net negative 7%. However the district has more in common in many ways with neighboring Idaho than it does with the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area which provides so much of the margin for statewide Democratic candidates, and idaho is one of the few states in which Bush has been able to maintain an unbroken positive net approval. Thus it is somewhat risky to apply statewide approval - or lack thereof- as a means of interpreting the possibilities of this race.

From all evidence Peter Goldmark is doing everything right. He has strong ties with the state Democratic party, an ability to raise sufficient money (in a district without high costs for television), he has strong roots in the community, some prior name recognition, has done his homework on the issues, and - perhaps of interest here - has done serious outreach to the local blogging community in state, which as a result is quite supportive. He is being endorsed by the local DFA people. He got in the race so late that his name does not appear on most of the lists we now see where candidates are competing for blessings and money from other organizations, whether it is the pacs of Mark Warner, Russ Feingold, or anything else.

The campaign website has improved greatly in the past few weeks, but still needs a lot of work, including more detailed information on issues. I expect to see that resolved in the next month.

And I expect that this will be a race which while not currently on the radar may well rise to the point where people outside the district will pay attention. It is one that can be doable, Can be. Those are the operable words. We will have to watch. But if you are close enough to lend a hand, it is a place where your efforts might well make a difference.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I draw a line in the sand. Will you stand with me? 

Yesterday I wrote a diary entitled I am tired, but not that tired in which I expressed my resolution not to support those who would support the Flag Amendment. I wrote in part

Congressmen, Senators, and candidates -- if you support the Flag Amendment you will forfeit my vote and my support -- and should it become a part of our Supreme Law of the Land, my rejection of you will be permanent. State legislators, I will hold you to the same account. Our Constitution should rarely be amended, and then the most important reason should be the expansion of liberty and its protection, as we saw in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th,, 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th Amendments and in the 21st repealing the one time we did otherwise in the 18th. No one should be voting to change our Constitution to restrict liberty and freedom. The very thought is an abomination in the Biblical sense of that word.

Now I ask your help.

I am firm on my position. I am however but one voice, that of a 60 year old teacher of no particular importance. I have but one vote, and very little money to spend on political endeavors. By myself I will have little impact.

I believe it is now time for those of us who care about this nation to insist that those who would represent us listen to our voices on how deeply we care for our Constitutional rights. I believe the vote on the flag amendment provides such an opportunity.

I would like see to see a blogswarm. I would like to see those who have their own blogs post on this issue, and as we did with Gonzales, have someone (with greater html skills than I possess) accumulate a linked list of all those posts.

I want to see a commitment that we will not only stand for no further rollbacks of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, we also demand the restoration of our rights to what they were supposed to be.

I will gladly support those politicians who recognize that if we do not maintain our Constitution in all of its fullness, then the terrorists have won and destroyed our liberty, our democracy.

We are supposed to be a government of laws and not of men. In 1776 we turned to rebellion because of the tyranny of a king. I do not propose that we either voluntarily or by acquiescence return to a time where our rights and liberties are subject to to the whims of political leaders.

Lest any reader think the confrontation I request is not important, I want to you think seriously of the consequences. The proposed amendment would be the first constitutional limitation of the First Amendment rights which are so basic to our system. That amendment begins with our religious liberties because the Founders understood how religion could be used to suppress liberty, because they knew the recent history not only of England and the Continent, but also of the early settlement of this nation. The other four freedoms of the First Amendment are essential guarantees that we need in order to fully function as “we the people” - the true sovereigns of this nation. Restrict our political rights and we will cease to live in a democratic republic.

We have had attempts at forced conformity before, but they were legislative. And because the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land Justice Robert Jackson could write in his brilliant opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette 319 US 624 (1943) the following as the Court banned mandatory participation in Pledge of Allegiance Ceremonies:
National unity as an end which officials may foster by persuasion and example is not in question. The problem is whether under our Constitution compulsion as here employed is a permissible means for its achievement.

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon but at other times and places the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.

To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.

Please note the words that I have bolded. This proposed amendment would undermine the very basis of this decision. It would also open the door to further undermining of the basic liberties that have since 1791 distinguished us from just about every other nation on the face of the earth. And were it to be ratified, it would almost certainly lead to further attempts to undermine our basic liberties.

To any politician who is worried that the voters might not understand the importance, I say “lead!”. You have taken an oath (or in the case of Rush Holt I suppose an affirmation) to support the Constitution, and in the case of the President to the best of his/her ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. I fail to see how you can fulfill that oath by abandoning the basic constitutional principles you swore or affirmed to uphold. Far too many have acquiesced in the attempted gutting of these basic liberties in the name of security. I see nothing in the Constitution that carves out such an exception. You need to stand on your oaths and affirmations - and those of you who seek to be our political leaders should be aware of the oaths and affirmations to which you must assent in order to assume the office for which you seek our votes and support.

Far too many of our citizens do not understand the importance of the defense of minority and even obnoxious points of views and actions. Our system in designed to protect against the tyranny of any majority, temporary or permanent, political or religious, by race or gender.

When they signed the Declaration which put themselves in opposition to King, Parliament and country, those gentlemen in 1776 made a commitment. It is worth remembering that they assented to the following:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honour.

It is almost 230 years since men like Hancock, Franklin, Carroll, Gwinnett, Paca, Jefferson, Rush, John and Samuel Adams, Sherman, Gerry, Rodney, Stockton, Hopkinson, and the many more made that commitment. The Constitution was ratified in 1788, the Bill of Rights in 1791, and the 14th Amendment in 1868. In all of our history the only restriction on our rights added to the Constitution was the 18th Amendment in 1919, and we had the good sense to repeal it in 1933.

We have struggled throughout our history to balance liberty and order, freedom and security. Courts and legislatures have wrestled with how the mighty words of the Constitution and its amendments should be interpreted and implemented in statute and opinion. At times the judgments have been flawed, and required further corrective action. All of this has taken place within the framework of a stable Constitution. Since 1791 we have ratified a total of 17 Amendments in 215 years, of which we have 15 in effect (given that the 21st is a nullification of the 18th). We should change the structure of our Constitution only when absolutely necessary, and the primary reason should always lead in the direction of protecting us against tyranny (as one can argue the 22nd Amendment was intended to do) and in ensuring and increasing our liberty.

July 4th again approaches. So it is worth remembering a key part of the document we honor with our celebrations that day. As a teacher of government I recognize that it is not a governing document the way the Constitution is. But it states clearly our understanding of the nature of government in general. Please note what I have bolded:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I have drawn a line in the sand. I am taking a stand on behalf of our Constitution, and thereby on behalf of our democratic republic. I cannot in good faith or honesty give any support to anyone unwilling to stand up for the Constitution. I recognize that there will be many who will read these words who will think that the position I take is too extreme, that I am being rash in making this demand at this time, that perhaps there will not be 67 votes for the atrocity of an amendment that so upsets me, or that even if it comes out of the Congress we can use it as an issue to fight in the states. I cannot agree.

For me this issue is too basic. I would never burn a flag, except in accordance with the flag code to destroy a soiled or torn flag. I would not deface one. I acknowledge that it is an important symbol for many, but I will also not recite the Pledge nor participate in the Pledge ceremony. I give allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and affirm to the best of my ability my commitment to preserve, protect and defend it. I am not the President, but as his sovereign (for I am one of “we the people”) I must be equally bound to its preservation.

I have a power of expression and a freedom to use that power to try to convince others. I know not how effective I will be. I also know that I have a responsibility to use whatever freedom and power I have to defend to the maximum the freedom of others, or else my freedom is meaningless. I do not accept the limitation of expression whether it is political, religious, artistic or even simply juvenile. Without freedom of expression there is no possibility of change. Without the possibility of change we would still have slavery because the speech of abolitionists would have been restricted, women would still not vote or own property in their own names, Jews and other non-Christians would still not be able to hold public office in Maryland. There are still too many who are denied the plenitude of individual rights, and not all the rights we should be guaranteed have their protections clearly delineated in the Constitution and its Amendments.

I will agree to amending the Constitution to guarantee a right to vote, not merely to say that it cannot be denied because of race, age, by poll tax, by gender. I will certainly support an amendment which clearly affirms a right of privacy which would make clear that the actions of the NSA and other government agencies that have violated our individual privacy without oversight or control are not acceptable in a constitutional democracy,

But if I remain silent while demagogues seek political advantage in perverting the principles of our constitution, then I become complicit in that silence, and that I cannot do.

I will conclude with words from a man whom in many ways I do not admire -- as one of Jewish background I cannot be fond of Martin Luther. And yet in each man there is, as George Fox points out, that of God. I find appropriate for this diary to end with the famous words of Luther:
Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders!
The translation is simple: Here I stand and I can do no other.

I hope I do not stand alone, but if I must, I will.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I'm tired, but not that tired 

Today I was reading through some of my old diaries, as I periodically do. It is one way of reminding me of some of the things I thought were important, and often as I reread the comments I realize that there are other thoughts I would like to explore. But even as the school year is now completely over, we are in a lull post-primary in our Virginia Senate race and I do not begin my NEH seminar until I arrive at William & Mary on Sunday afternoon, I have found that I was not motivated to write. I have discovered how tired I am.

But it is not that I am out of energy, for I can find time to watch soccer, read important books, follow the diaries of others, even occasionally comment.

When I say I am tired, I am addressing something far more fundamental - the realization that all that I do may ultimately may not make a difference. But that is also why I am not that tired. Let me explain.

We seem to be fighting the same battles over and over. And too many of the Democratic officerholders do not seem to have learned that taking the DLC position of not confronting on things like the war and moral values is the path to the destruction not only of any future for the Democratic party, but of our democracy as well.

We again face votes on Constitutional Amendments designed for only the second time in our history (Prohibition being the first) to limit individual freedom. We have anti-gay marriage and we have flag-burning. The former will probably fail, and we actually have some hope that the state-wide attempt in Virginia may also fail. But there is real concern that the flag amendment will pass the Senate for the first time, which it would not be able to do without Democratic votes.

What is interesting is that those who have risked life and limb on behalf of this country often opposed the flag amendment. A number of years ago the most eloquent voice in opposition was Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, then a United States Senator. He is still eloquent on this subject, as he demonstrated with an op ed in the Washington Post entitled Our Flag and Our Freedom published on June 15. I want to offer three paragraphs from that piece, discussing the ceremony of giving a flag to the survivors of those killed in military service.
It is as if the flag becomes the fallen. In the hands of a widow or mother it is much more than a symbol of the nation. At that moment the American flag is a sacred object that holds the sweet memory of a life given to a higher cause. Or so it seems to me each time I am witness to these hallowed events.

To others the ceremony may mean something entirely different. I recall vividly one such situation: A mother of a friend who was killed in Vietnam recoiled when the flag was offered to her. She would not take it. In her heart the American flag had become a symbol of dishonor, treachery and betrayal. At the time, and perhaps to her dying day, she wanted nothing to do with it.

If our First Amendment is altered to permit laws to be passed prohibiting flag desecration, would we like to see our police powers used to arrest an angry mother who burns a flag? Or a brother in arms whose disillusionment leads him to defile this symbol of the nation? I hope the answer is no. I hope we are strong enough to tolerate such rare and wrenching moments. I hope our desire for calm and quiet does not make it a crime for any to demonstrate in such a fashion. In truth, if I know anything about the spirit of our compatriots, some Americans might even choose to burn their flag in protest of such a law.

Kerrey of course is right, and yet a Senator who is NOT running for reelection and thus has complete freedom on this issue, Mark Dayton, may actually provide the 67th vote necessary to send the amendment to the states.

First, as a political matter, this will mean the issue will immediately be used to attack the patriotism of any Democrat at the state level who opposes ratification. Second, as a legislative matter it will distract from addressing the real needs facing this country. Finally, if ratification is successful, we can expect to see a series of additional amendments intended to suppress those voices that are not as ”popular.” We can probably beat back an attempt to declare this nation a Christian nation, but what if it is phrased as Judeo-Christian? If the administration does not effectively achieve an official secrets act through its pleadings to the courts we will see legislation designed to eliminate the ability of the press to report on the misdeeds of the administration.

I am tired because we cannot cease for one minute, lest we irrevocably lose the ground for which our Founders fought and sometimes died, constitutionally protected individual rights, opposition to tyranny in any format, suppression of unpopular views or opposition to the government.

I am about to embark on something that should be a honor, an opportunity to study in depth an important issue. I have been awarded the opportunity to study at an National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at William and Mary, for 4 weeks beginning with our signing in on Sunday afternoon. We will be studying the separation of church and state. It is an issue about which I have been passionate, not merely because I am of Jewish background and am now a Quaker. It is an important part of our history, one which has involved much struggle over the several centuries of our democracy, with many not understanding either the history behind its development nor under how great a threat it currently is. We have a Justice, Clarence Thomas, who has made clear that he does not believe that the establishment clause should apply to the states through the doctrine of incorporation. While in one of the more important recent cases, Santa Fe ISD, the vote was 6-3 with the late Chief Justice being one of the votes in the minority, it is not clear how the two newest Justices might vote on such an issue, which means that were Justice Kennedy to change his mind (as he has on other issues) basic First Amendment protections could be limited.

I am tired because I cannot fight every battle i see before us. I am tired because Democratic office-holders who should know better far too often cave on important issues such as these. I am tired because I do not see the major figures of the Democratic party speaking out forcefully on these issues as they should. What is wrong with defending a maximal interpretation of the Bill of Rights, whether it is the establishment clause, the free exercise clause, the Freedom of the Press, the 4th Amendment protections against search and seizure? How can anyone justify an executive claim that it is above the law, that it can interpret laws any way it wants, that it can prevent any judicial oversight on the grounds of its inherent powers of commander in chief? Why are not thoughtful people of all political parties shouting aloud that this is a betrayal of our heritage, our history, our very form of government?

I draw few lines in the sand. I drew one that many did on confirmation of Gonzales as Attorney General. I will never give money or vote or support to anyone who voted affirmatively, unless and until s/he acknowledges publicly that the vote to confirm was a mistake, a serious error in judgment, and since we had clear evidence of what he would be like, even that might be insufficient.

I now, as tired as I am, draw the same line with respect to the Flag Amendment. Congressmen, Senators, and candidates -- if you support the Flag Amendment you will forfeit my vote and my support -- and should it become a part of our Supreme Law of the Land, my rejection of you will be permanent. State legislators, I will hold you to the same account. Our Constitution should rarely be amended, and then the most important reason should be the expansion of liberty and its protection, as we saw in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th,, 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th Amendments and in the 21st repealing the one time we did otherwise in the 18th. No one should be voting to change our Constitution to restrict liberty and freedom. The very thought is an abomination in the Biblical sense of that word.

I am tired, but I will contact my Senators and my Congressman on this point. I will measure my support of candidates - both in money and in expertise - on this point. I will use whatever power of words I have to persuade others in the hope that they will act similarly, and will inform those politicians with which they have contact of their intent to use this as a marker.

I will accept disagreement on the occupation of Iraq (for it is not a war at this point, or many more Americans would be dying). I will tolerate divergent views on taxes (although I think the position of the Republicans is fiscally irresponsible, which is all that should matter). But I cannot and will not acquiesce in the gutting of the Constitution.

I may be tired. I am not that tired. I know my actions and words may all be for nought, but I will not go gently into the night without taking on this challenge. For this battle I will always find the time and the energy. Will others join me?

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Tuesday May 30 our seniors graduated. I am writing this belatedly because I was very sick then and am still sick, taking my first sick day off from school in four years. But I would not have missed graduation, the chance to share with these wonderful young people. And I want to share with you who read my musing what it means to me as their teacher, coach, mentor, musical director and sometimes even friend.

In Prince George’s County, all the graduations are held in large public venues, in our case the Comcast Center at University of Maryland. Each year we graduate something around 700 students. In a number of cases the student will be thirst in her family to graduate from high school - this is especially true of some of our immigrant children, especially those from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, or some of those dislocated from Central America and parts of Africa. Thus on graduating student can mean as many as a dozen people watching the ceremonies.

We begin to arrive at 4 PM, for a ceremony that begins at 5:30. As is usual, my job is to help line up students. I have the second row of girls. My 14 students each has a cumulative GPA of at least 4.0 (we give weighted grades for Ap courses). Several are my former students, others I know from musical theater. All of my mine are present by the time we begin to depart from the gym at 5:15 -- we have some students who do not arrive until well after the ceremonies have begun, and we will add them to the rear of the seated students. Each student carries a card with her name on it, and how it is to be pronounced.

As they depart the gym we are checking them for gum (many have forgotten), taking cell phones and purses and flowers (they are not to carry anything), and giving tassels to those who have lost theirs. My work is now done and I can go upstairs to watch.

The people on the platform are a mix. We have the valedictorian and salutatorian, the class officers, administrators from our schools, the new schools CEO (equals superintendent), our speaker (who is an alumnus), and various political figures. The chair of the County Council is on stage because he son - whom I have both coached and taught) - is graduating. Most of these figures do not address the audience, but a representative of the Board of Education does speak (for far too long), and the CEO speaks (quite appropriately). We hear at various times from the different class officers, which is quite meaningful to me. The president was my student, I also taught her older sister, and for the past two years at her request I have refereed the student-faculty basketball game. The vice-president I taught and also had on my mock trial team, and she did one of the most memorable final projects I have ever received. She wants to make a difference in society and her goal is eventually to become a policewoman -- she is a brilliant student, and as one who believes in service I will not argue with her. The valedictorian was in the same class as the vice-president. At his request I did NOT show the video he made as his final project when he was a freshman, even though it is quite good.

In the past we have had some notables address our graduations. In the years since I arrived we have had the #2 at the CIA, the head of NOAA, nationally known sportscasting figure James Brown, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Last year we had a notable alumnus, Kenny Lattimore, who has received grammy nominations. This time we had another alumnus, who now writes for a local magazine. He was interesting because he was only a 2.6 GPA student when he was here, which put him in the bottom half of his class. But he had begun to develop a passion for writing. And he talked about following your passions and your dreams in a way that connected with many of the students, particularly because he had not been one of the top students in his class.

All of this is for me preliminary. If this were all would look forward to, I would have gone home to bed after the students departed the gym where we lined up. They now proceeded up onto the stage to receive their diplomas. Two teachers alternated reading the names, at a rate of about 13 students / minute. The students we go across the stage, receive a diploma casing and a handshake from the principal as the image of this was projected on the big overhead screen. A photograph was simultaneously taken. They would shake other hands on stage. The students did not go up and down steps, but we had had a ramp built for one student. Kelly is almost totally immobilized in a wheel chair. She can not dress herself, nor feed herself. Yet she has taken regularly classes, participated in choir, and this year we found a way to include her in the musical. Seeing her drive her wheelchair up the ramp and across the stage was something I did not want to miss.

The real importance for me is right after graduation. The students come out the back of the Comcast center to receive an envelope with their actual diplomas, and various certificates (for music, ROTC, athletics, and the like). And as I do each year, I stood just beyond to greet as many as I could. Some would come running over to hug me, some might not see me until I stuck out one hand for a shake or both arms for a hug. And the memories came flooding back. For most of these students I had taught them as freshmen, and it was amazing to she how much they had grown in 4 years, emotionally and intellectually as well a physically. But there were other stories as well.

Two young men I taught this year, both recent immigrants from Africa, came up together, thanking me for helping them get through the welter of information about US government. Both insisted on hugging me as they thanked me. Another young man whom I had once thrown off of JV soccer because of his behavior, and with whom there had been some conflict at the start of musical theater until he decided maybe I knew what i was doing came over to give me a great big bearhug.

I saw one young lady who got pregnant last summer. She stayed in class until the week before delivery, and came back one week after giving birth. I taught her last year, and could see that the experience of the unexpected pregnancy had in her case had a positive effect - she was determined to do all she could to be a good mother and a good role model for her child. She had grown up and gotten serious about her school work for the first time.

There were students who had been spectacular athletes or won various academic prizes (a graduating class of less than 700 won over 23 million in scholarships). There were students who were just plain terrific people, the kind of kid you delight in experiencing, regardless of their academic gifts.

And then there was L____ . I want to protect her privacy. She was a special case. As a freshman L____ began to tank academically in late January. I pulled her aside to ask what was going on and she told me that she had become suicidal, that she felt no one would listen to her. I am required by law to notify the counseling staff in such a situation, and told her of this. She said she had been to her counselor, I could tell him, and it wouldn’t make any difference, because she couldn’t talk to him or the psychologists to whom she had been sent. She asked if she could talk to me, just to have one person she trusted. I told her I would have to inform her parents and her counselor that we were doing this (and we would do it only by email, not by phone), and she was amenable. Even with the clearance from family and counseling, had anything gone wrong I knew I could lose my teaching certificate. But a student had cried out for help, and turned to me, and I could not say no. For the next two months we exchanged many emails, sometimes tow or three a day, sometimes nothing for a week. By early May she had her feet back on the ground and was beginning to turn her academic around. But her total performance was so bad in 3rd quarter that she was expelled from our science and tech program and was being sent back to her home high school. Her counselor and I both intervened, because we knew that absent the supportive environment she had experienced in her period of trouble she might regress, and we were able to get her readmitted to science and tech by mid-September. She graduated with a cumulative GPA of around 3.4, but the important thing was that she was able to finish with us. She rarely had to turn to me in her final 3 years -- usually when I saw her she would flash a blinding smile.

So perhaps you can understand that when L___ came over to me to hug me, both of us had tears. It was an important completion for both of us.

As teachers we challenge, we provoke, we demand, we cajole, we console, we admonish, and occasionally we instruct. The we hold our breaths and hope that the effects we have had are positive. At graduation all things now seem worthwhile, we can quietly rejoice that our young people are ready to move on without us. Many will write or email us while they are in college or the military. Many come back and visit when home from their post-secondary endeavors. But this day marks a change in our relationships, because although we may be asked for further recommendations, we no longer have a responsibility for the student in the way we did when they were in our care. We begin to move in the direction of a friendship, if that is what the now-former student desires. If not, we can be satisfied that we helped them to get this far, and let them go.

I am home sick today, and per the doctor will also be home again tomorrow. Perhaps I should not have gone to graduation on Tuesday - but as ill as I felt, perhaps you can understand why it was important for me to do so.

Think back on your own high school graduation. And if there is a teacher who really meant something to you that you never did properly thank, perhaps this musing might prompt you to make a call or drop a note. As a teacher, I am always delighted to hear from former students, and would expect your former teachers would be delighted to hear from you.

Have a great day.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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