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Sex and Education

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

S is for Sex

I watch Glee. Yes, I am a big fan – even when the show gets a bit ridiculous. I love the music. I love the dancing. I love the way they don’t shy away from the controversial topics like alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, and sex. Do I think the show is appropriate for all teens to watch? I don’t live with all teens so I am happy to have each family make their own decisions about what is or isn’t appropriate viewing for them.

One of the things I like most about the show is the way it spurs conversation among my own family members. When the writers and producers risk it all to show teen alcohol struggles, teen pregnancy, bullying, and, yes, teen homosexual relationships, I take those scenarios as teachable moments to talk with my family. We have some great conversations where my kids take the lead on asking the questions AND voicing their opinions.

I realize there are organizations which take strong stands on limiting what kids should be exposed to on TV and I appreciate their intentions and their research into the shows. However, I prefer to use this information as a guide then watch the show and draw my own conclusions. Depending on what I’ve heard or read, I may decide to watch it with one of my kids or preview it on my own first. In either case, it is me, as the provider living in the household, deciding what is best for my family.

I regularly advocate for the health and education of my children and encourage others to do the same. What kids view on TV does influence them so it makes sense to advocate for what we believe in there as well. But please, let each of us decide what is best for our families without making those decisions for us.

Colorado and Proposition 103

Friday, November 4th, 2011

It's a tangled web...The grown ups have spoken and I don’t understand them us. How is it that one of the highest educated work forces in the nation is not in support of giving a few cents on the dollar to educate the future work force in our state? I have spent quite a bit of time reviewing the report Toward a More Competitive Colorado and I am disturbed, confused, and otherwise confuddled by it all.

The rankings bring up so many questions in my mind:

  1. How can we continually rank in the top 2 states with a population 25 years and older holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, yet rank between 25 and 35 for our high school graduation rate?
  2. How come our 4th graders rank in the top 10 for reading scores but our 8th graders rank between 20th and 24th?
  3. Could the above numbers be related to our average teacher salary running between 22nd and 27th in the nation?
  4. Or perhaps it’s because we rank in the 10th highest for student/teacher ratios?

As we often say in Judaism, ask 10 rabbis the same question and you’re bound to get at least 11 different answers. I am sure many different things play into these statistics and, quite frankly, all that matters to me is working to solve the problem of inadequate funding and poor results in our current education system.

Do your own research and see what you come up with. Then, see what you can do to help change things! Please, our kids are counting on all of us to just do the right thing.

Unit Quiz on Education

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I think this is sadly telling… My post on the back assward distribution of money TO entertainment and FROM education received comments of agreement, anger, and desire for change but not a single suggestion of what to do about it. If we are only going to complain and not take action, everything will stay the same. We need to realize we can make a difference!

Part 2 of this issue will cover what I have seen in education. I hope to hear others chime in on your experiences. From there, part 3 will move on to suggestions for change.

I’m not going to pretend to be a financial or political expert here. However, I have had children in public school for the past 15 years and I have either volunteered in or been employed by public school districts every single one of those 15 years. I have seen several changes during my time in the system and when I speak about what I have been a part of, I am amazed at how amazed others are by my stories. More importantly, I have also done my research on everything I have been involved with, so I suppose, like it or not, my involvement has made me an expert of sorts in both politics and finance as far as education is involved.

For those of you who have not heard my tales from the trenches nor had the time to research the constant changes in the system, allow me to catch you up a bit.

  • I have always volunteered in my kids’ schools. Some years I could do more than others but I always believed (and still do) that my involvement in my kids’ education was one of the greatest predictors of their success.
  • 13 years after my first child started school, the federal government instituted the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2010. They were officially stating what many parents already knew.
  • I watched an 8th grade boy reduced to tears when his lunch was stolen while he turned his back to put ketchup on his hamburger. I then saw this handled by the school in a very unique way. During lunch, a teacher walks around the cafeteria with a paper grocery bag – if kids have lunch items they don’t want to eat (ie:  unopened milk, pudding, or applesauce, a whole piece of fruit), they can put it into the sack. The teacher then redistributes it to those who would like to eat it. I’m sure this is NOT supported by the district and is never spoken of but what a brilliant approach to the problem of wasted food and hungry students!
  • After subbing in a French class for one day, I was told by a student that he learned more from me in that one day than he had learned all year. The teacher was in the school for 7 years before anything was done about the fact that she was not teaching students.
  • I have had entire classrooms tell me they are stupid and not expected to graduate from high school. All I can think is, who in the hell has the right to put that in the mind of any student?
  • There are lots of teachers and administrators out there doing all the right things without many of the resources they should have.

Blame cannot be placed on the schools, the parents or the government. We have all gotten into this mess and it will take ALL of us to get out.

Entertainment, not so entertaining…

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard the buzz by now. The Simpsons may be cancelled! Yes, another family on the brink of financial disaster. It appears a 45% cut on an eight million dollar salary for about 6 months of work is going to break them. So sad to see another family that was living paycheck to paycheck on the verge of homelessness. If only they had planned ahead and set aside just a fraction of that $8,000,000 each season.

Ridiculous, isn’t it. I mean when you look at it that way. Who do these people think they are, fighting over $4,000,000 when real life families are struggling to keep their homes? Even those families who are employed at degreed professions barely make enough to live secure lives and send their kids to college.

I just got back from taking my dogs on a long walk. I was thinking about this ludicrous “news report” as I walked and took in my surroundings. I wandered past an enormous home and realized it was the one owned by a Nuggets player – I don’t know if he is current or former and I really don’t care – not a basketball fan. I can’t imagine why his family needs all that space but I don’t blame him for buying it. In fact, given the opportunity, I would like to thank him for doing so. You see his big, beautiful home helps pay for one of the best school districts in the region. It also contributes a great deal to the paths I am able to enjoy, the doggie clean up stations, the park benches, and the employment of several private landscaping companies in the neighborhood.

So what is it that makes me angry about that house? The anger about this house is the same anger I feel about the entertainment industry’s money. It’s because I am a parent who, like many parents, wants to give my children every opportunity in life to succeed and be happy. And when I see billions of dollars supporting entertainment while the government cuts funding to the schools, teachers, and community organizations which educated, guided and supported the people who built the corporations-, I get mad.

I was recently told by an educator that I am not the kind of person who just complains about things. I am the kind of person who looks for ways to help solve problems. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can fix the huge mess our country is in all by myself. I do have a couple of ideas to think about though: one local, one much, much, much bigger. Of course, what I am about to say next may be 100% percent wrong. Since I am saying it on the internet, I am sure lots of people will let me know if I am even 0.001% wrong. And, since this post is too long already, I want to hear some of your ideas before I go public with mine!

Give it some thought, see what you come up with and let me know. Over the next few days we can all add our ideas to the pot. Who knows, maybe we’ll hit on an idea or two that is picked up by enough people to actually make a change.

My Year as a Sub

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Pardon the soap box, but this is a topic I am passionate about. The education system is a mess. Much like our economy, we got into this mess together and it will take all of us to clean it up.

I have been an active volunteer in our school district ever since my youngest entered kindergarten 14 years ago, and after 15 years and 3 children, I will finally be done with elementary school next year! My volunteer participation has run the gamut. I’ve been a PTA member, a volunteer coordinator, a class room helper (and pain in the ass too, I’m sure). I’ve served on SAAC at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I’ve served on numerous district committees. I’ve been a guest author in my son’s class, I helped out in my daughter’s high school biology class on dissection day and I have choreographed songs in my other daughter’s high school show choir. So last summer, I figured, “Why not sub? Can’t be much harder than everything I’ve already got myself into. And, I’ll get paid for it. Besides, it would be good for me to see all of this from the inside.”

Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad! I did get paid (sort of) and it was definitely good for me to see things from the inside. As for the difficulty level… I loved all the new challenges and doing something different every time. I even loved working with the “students that will give you trouble.” The difficulty was deciding to either accept the mediocrity I was confronted with, or make a conscious decision to expect more. Of course, I opted for the latter.

For those of you who have never had the experience of teaching in a public school, allow me to enlighten you to a few things you don’t read in the papers! 1) In some of the elementary schools, the kids get breakfast in the classroom. It is a wonderful and necessary thing to provide but it takes up a good chunk of time when you are trying to get the day started. 2) In a middle school, I approached an 8th grader who was trying to hold back his tears in the lunch room because while he was putting ketchup on his burger, someone stole the rest of his lunch. This was no little guy being picked on either – he was football player size. While I was shocked to hear what had happened, I was very impressed with how it was handled by the school. During lunch, they have a teacher circulate the lunch room with a paper shopping bag. Any unopened food on a tray that a student does not intend to eat can be placed in the bag for redistribution to someone else. My poor 8th grader had 1 pudding and 1 milk taken and ended up with 2 puddings and 1 milk! 3) There really are teachers in our schools who give every kid an A regardless of ability or effort. These same teachers expect nothing from their students, do not have any respect in the classroom, and have set many kids up to believe they are not capable of learning. 4) There really are teachers who consistently go above and beyond everything they are paid to do because they honestly want to make a difference in the life of a student. These teachers are hard to find because they do it out of a true passion for their work and don’t look for or expect any recognition for their accomplishments.

After subbing in a very few number of classrooms, the first thing I figured out was this – just like the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, I can tell you all I really need to know about a classroom is in the style of the lesson plans left for me. It never failed, a teacher who felt it necessary to leave me an entire page about classroom discipline, bribery and trouble makers meant I would have a hell of a time getting any respect in the classroom and I would be hard pressed to actually have the opportunity to teach at all. However, when I was left with brief notes about the classroom in general and details about the subject matter to be covered, I looked forward to learning with a new group of students.

Now to get back to my conscious decision. Sadly, one thing I noticed in all classes, across all grade levels, regardless of notes left for me, is that we seem to expect less than we should of students. I couldn’t believe how many times I heard, “I can’t do this. I’m stupid.” Or how many teachers left me notes about specific kids not keeping up or letting me know not to worry if I didn’t get through everything because the class just can’t do it.  The most heartbreaking and inspiring day, though, was the day that began with a boy telling me I should just yell at him and send him to the office now because that’s what always happens. I told him we would just wait and see how things went. At the end of the class period, not only was he still there, but he had actually participated in the work for the day. When I pointed out to him the simple fact he was still there, his face lit up and he said, “Yeah, I did it.” I guess my decision to expect more comes from the fact that I know most kids can do it if others believe in them and assist them.

We cannot have the luxury of blaming the students, the parents, the teachers or the administrators. We all need to step up and do anything and everything we possibly can to encourage success for all children – the challenged, the gifted, the average – every single one of them deserves the opportunity to succeed and the belief they can.

I know classrooms are often over crowded with a huge variety of learners, and teachers can’t possibly be expected to reach them all. However, I would hope we don’t just throw up our arms and say, “It can’t be done.” I was in there doing it every chance I got.

A New Book In The Works

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

We are working on a new book! Right now we are developing our strategy for researching and collecting data. We’ll be sharing more about all of that soon. In the meantime, we would love to play a little word association game with you. Whether you are a parent, a teacher or both, please tell us the first thing that comes into your head when we say:

Parent/Teacher Conference

We may wish to include a comment or two in our book and if that is the case, we’ll send you an email with a Consent To Publish.

To quote my grandmother: “What has gotten into these people?”

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Last week my son’s elementary school principal sent home a note to all of the parents informing us the president’s speech to children will be shown in a couple of days. The note stated it was being sent home in response to several parental inquiries regarding the showing of President Obama’s speech to school children in Arlington. It included information for parents who may wish to request an “Opt Out” for their child. The note shared that an alternate activity would be offered to those children who would not be watching the president’s speech. I heard my grandmother’s voice in my head, “What has gotten into these people?”

Indeed. Something is seriously amiss.

I remember in 1981 my mother was a delegate to the White House Conference On Aging. She brought me along with her and while she was spending her day caucusing and attending sessions, I was checking out the museums on the mall and coming back in time to meet her in the hotel ballroom for lunch and dinner. One afternoon I showed up for lunch and there was an airport-style metal detector set up outside of the door to the ballroom. I sauntered through it and made my way into the ballroom for lunch totally oblivious to the man in the suit chasing me and yelling, “Miss! You can’t go in there!” We didn’t have the Secret Service routinely running around New Haven. I wasn’t used to this sort of thing. So when I realized some big guy was running after me, I got scared and put my tush down in the first open chair I could find. It happened to be the table chock full of delegates from Ohio.

When the Secret Service caught up to me at the table, I was instructed, “Young lady, you will have to leave. The president will be speaking to the delegates and the delegates only. No guests. I am going to have to escort you out of the ballroom right now.” Next thing I knew, I hear voices of dissent saying things like, “You are going to deny a child the opportunity of hearing her president speak?” and “Sir, what you are doing is un-American. All Americans have the right to hear their president address his citizens.” and finally, “You stay right there dear, don’t move. This man isn’t taking you anywhere without a fight!” Seeing that he was outnumbered, the agent made a hasty retreat. Advantage goes to the octogenarians from Ohio!

Was Reagan the candidate my family supported during the election? Oh hell no. However he took the oath of office and became our nation’s president. When my mother saw me sitting with my new Mid-Western friends at lunch, she did not haul me out of the room telling me, Devra, we did not vote for this man, so you won’t be hearing him. Here’s 5 dollars, go get yourself a Happy Meal.” She waved to me and pointed to where she would be sitting so I could find her later.

And there I sat, listening to a president I did not agree with politically yet understood that because he took that oath of office to be OUR president,the Office of the President should be respected. I was taught by my parents to do that regardless of any political affliliation I might have personally. It wasn’t all about me, it was all about protocol. But it was the last line of President Reagan’s speech which explained why the Ohio delegates went up against the Secret Service to secure my seat at the speech.

“We have much to offer, a great deal to offer. Let our children and our children’s children one day say of us, the world that they live in is better because we were here before them.”

My Ohio defenders were making sure I got my history lesson; The actions of those who came before me impact me now. Those who will come after me will be impacted by what I do at this present time.

Pithy lesson for a 14 year old but I still remember it over two decades later and at the risk of sounding like I am writing a middle school essay about the experience, I do believe that experience impacted me as a person as well as a parent. (Although this realization came much later).In 1981 I was merely a rebellious teen who, in my mind, was making fun of the president’s shellacked hair and was blown away that a group of “old folks” were even more badass than I was.

So why on earth an “opt out” now for children to hear the president speak? What lesson does it teach our children? If we don’t agree with a person we pretend that person doesn’t exist. How disrespectful. This is the President of the United States of America. Why do we give the Sally Foster fundraising presentation more respect than the POTUS? I haven’t been sent home an “opt out” for that craptastic waste of time held during school hours.

I suppose it could be argued parental involvement in education means parents should be able to preview the president’s speech before it is shown to our children. Okay, but are parents reviewing every textbook and lesson plan the teacher is presenting to our children? Are we requiring invited guests for a school-wide assembly meet with concerned parents prior to performing or presenting to the student body? How about we don’t let our kids check out school library books before we read the volumes ourselves? Do you have time for any of that? What if it were required of parents that we do all of that for every child we sent to school? Ridiculous, right?

Sadly we are living in a society where ridiculous currently rules. Kanye West at the VMA’s? Ridiculous. Serena Williams at the US Open? Ridiculous. Joe Wilson on the Congressional floor? Ridiculous.

Again I hear my grandmother’s voice asking, “What’s gotten into these people?” We all know that question is meant as a rhetorical way to bring attention to a problem someone sees but may not be able to do anything about personally. />
How about we change what we hear just a little? Ask a question in our own mind so the answer holds us personally accountable for our decisions and our actions? After all, parents are the primary role models for our children. It’s important we be able to identify if we are in fact being ridiculous. Surely there is a question we can propose as a candidate to keep our own choices in check.

I nominate,“What’s gotten into me?” Got another you want to nominate? I’ll be happy to listen to whatever you have to say…regardless of whether I agree with it or not.