Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Musings

As a school teacher, I have issues with Memorial Day…

Not the holiday itself, mind you, but with the fact that the kids get the day off. In fact, I have issues with most of the holidays students get off of school.

Of course, I don’t mind getting the days off myself (who wouldn’t?), but I wonder how much the students really recognize and/or understand why they get the days off…

Let’s face it: Our kids get a lot of days off and they have no idea why they’re getting the day off. Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day. Most of them are days where the kids go, “Three day weekend!!” Then I ask them, “Why are you getting the day off?”

Silence…sounds of crickets chirping…

Sometimes they know the name of the holiday, but more often than not, they have no idea what the holiday is for. Many of my kids think Memorial Day is for remembering veterans. Close, but no cigar. They know what Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is for, but they usually can’t tell you anything about why he’s important. And they have absolutely NO CLUE what President’s Day is for. And let’s be honest, it’s not just students who have these problems. Anyone out there know what Labor Day is about without googling it? I didn’t think so.

This bothers me. While I’m all for having a day off of work and having a barbeque, I also believe that these days off should mean something more than “Hey! I get to sleep in!” I try to explain to my kids (and students) why they’re getting the day off. It doesn’t always sink in, and I’ll be honest, I don’t always remember to explain, but I make the effort.

The bottom line is this: We have the days off to celebrate a group of people, someone, or something. If we don’t take the time to celebrate and honor, why have the day off in the first place?

And speaking of honoring, please remember those who gave all this weekend…Despite my issues…

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life Lessons from the Yearbook

How many mistakes have you made in your life? I’ll wait while you count…

Just kidding of course. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have that long. Do you think about them a lot? Do they get you down? Let me give you a remedy. Go pull out your old high school yearbook. Go ahead…I dare you…

As you look at it, do you see mistakes you made? People you dated? People you hung out with who convinced you to do something against your beliefs? Teachers who annoyed you?

OK enough!! Let’s move on to something happier…Remember how exciting it was at the end of each year to get your yearbook? How you spent time looking for pictures of yourself and your friends? How you laughed at the memories from that year? How you laughed at the mistakes made by the yearbook staff when they misspelled a word or mis-identified someone?

I remember those days too. But I don’t laugh anymore, because I am just finishing up my first year as a Yearbook Adviser.

It’s been a long year, I’m not gonna lie. I had a staff of 11 for most of the year (one girl moved out before our final deadline, leaving us with ten). They somehow finished putting together a 328 page yearbook. They took most of the pictures and made most of their deadlines. There were some tears, some really late nights, some arguments, a lot of gossip, and (probably) a lot of talking behind my back. But they did it. I don’t know how it all came together, but it’s done…and has begun to be distributed to the student body.

And now…the nervousness sets in…

How many mistakes did we make? (I’ve already found some) Did we leave someone out? Did we put a senior quote with the wrong person’s picture? Did someone make some obscene gesture in a picture that the editors and I missed? Is there something else that may be considered inappropriate in the yearbook? I could drive myself crazy with all these questions. And yet…

Is it worth it? Is there anything I can do about those mistakes now? Not really. So, I just need to let go and let whatever happens, happen. Hopefully, it will all turn out well, but it may not. And, if it doesn’t, I’ll have to do what I told my yearbook staff to do when they were looking through the book for the first time: Shrug and say “Oh well.” We’ll mark those things down as a lesson learned and make a plan to improve on the process for next year.

Hey, wait a minute…all those mistakes I’ve made…

Who knew you could learn life lessons from being the Yearbook Adviser?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Campfires and Politics

Is there a better forum for talking politics than sitting around a campfire?

Friday night, I found myself doing just that. Sitting around that fire were a man whom I respect a lot and two other guys I had just met. Since I teach History at a local high school, the conversation eventually turned to the subjects I teach (World Studies and US History). From there, it was just a short jump to “How should the Constitution be taught?” and then to “How come no one follows the Constitution anymore?”

Phew…How to answer those questions? Is there an easy answer? Let me tackle the first one…

The answer to the first question should be obvious:

As it was written.

Now, we Government teachers like to talk about liberal v. strict interpretations of the Constitution. For example, if the Constitution says (and it does) that Congress has the power to “regulate commerce among the several states”, what exactly does that mean? An argument can be made (and it has…A LOT) that it means Congress can get involved in commerce no matter what the circumstance. But, how do you balance that with the 10th Amendment, which tells us that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution. . . are reserved to the states respectively”?

See the problem here? One side will argue that Congress only has the power to regulate commerce that happens between states and the other side will claim that it means Congress can get involved in any kind of business transaction, since most of them happen between states anyway. How do you explain this to high school students who, according to Hollywood, only care about where their next beer is coming from?

You explain it exactly how I just explained it to you.

See, we all need the ability to be able to see all sides of an issue. Without public discourse and the ability to truly listen to the other side, we lose our own ability to learn and be better informed citizens. So, high school students (and most members of Congress, the White House, and the judicial branch) need a crash course in listening; in putting aside your own biases for a few moments while listening to the other side explain how they came to a different conclusion than you. You never know…you could be (gulp)…wrong…

Now, you may argue that there are certain things in this world that are “truths”…and I would absolutely agree with you. But that doesn’t mean that people who disagree with your own opinion have any less valid of an argument or that they don’t deserve to be listened to. So, this is how I taught the Constitution. I gave the kids the background and we had a number of discussions on how the government was doing (or, in many cases, not doing…), we listened to every viewpoint that they wanted to share, and I let the kids make up their own minds. And I taught a number of future citizens some things about the Constitution and how to listen to others in order to be a better citizen. And I kept my job…

What about the second question? Well, it’s late and I have a number of opinions on that one, too. But right now, I just want to remember the feeling of being in the woods, enjoying the crackling fire, and listening to other people share their opinions respectfully with each other.


Such important words. Even when you’re not around a campfire.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Intro...

Ever have one of those days when you need…oh, I don’t know…

A flash of sanity?

Rough day at work? You need a flash of sanity.
Rough day at school and now you have mountains of homework? Get a flash of sanity.
Rough day at home with the kids? You definitely need a flash of sanity.
Can’t believe the latest stupid thing done by a celebrity? Politician? Boss? Teenager? Spouse?

You need a flash.

And that’s what I hope to bring to you every so often. Let’s face it: A flash of sanity is what most of us in this country need. Whether it’s as a break from the mundane, a break from the chaos that is our lives, or a moment of sanity that we hope envelopes those who were elected in Washington D.C., we all need it. Hopefully, by coming here from time to time, I can help us all with a little bit of sanity.

I’m actually starting this blog as a requirement for a Master’s class I’m taking through the University of New England (shameless plug). I’m not sure what everyone considers to be the “normal” blog, but I think this will come close. I need to do a few things on here for my class, but I will also be updating on my life, my family, politics, sports news, and any other thing that causes me to think:

That person needs a flash of sanity...