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As a teacher, it is my job to daily assess personalities, societal trends, and the values of our population. In addition, I like to keep track of science and the impact it has on our civilization.
So my blog will address the things that I experience in a school for alternative children in a poverty stricken state deep in the Southwest of our country. I will write about the trends of technology which impact our society and my personal opinions of the positive and negative natures of these trends.
True Blue Men
This is a place and time where I know that my words will be heard and thought about, so the first thing I'd like to address is the modern myth concerning my gender, American males.
Let's get this out of the way right now, I've never cheated on a girl in my life and I never will. Not in high school, not in college, and not in my adult life.
There is a movement afoot in this country that somehow not only is cheating somewhat acceptable, especially in hardship cases, but all men are doing it. Many people assume, and this is supported by the movies, TV, and common mythology, that men are slaves to their sex drives. It's also true that there are enough prominent examples out there (even a president!) to give even the most skeptical person pause.
But nothing could be more false.
Most of the men I know, and I'd venture to bet that most of the decent men in America, no matter their religion or creed, have a core value system. Call it dignity, honor, personal self-worth, or even the "Code of the West", most men do not and will never cheat on a girl.
Written into the souls of these males who call themselves "men" are a few hard, never-to-be-crossed lines:
1. I am responsible for my family.
2. I will never hit a girl.
3. I will not cheat on a girl.
4. I will not compromise my honor or integrity.
The men who follow those rules, and live by them, have a heart that is what I have labeled, "True Blue." This core decency and respect for those we care for is very obvious to any who speak or interact with us. It would come through to you instantly, were you to ever meet one of us on the street.
As a matter of fact, I believe that most men have it, despite what you see on TV.
To us, to suggest that we betray the trust of those that we love and care for is to suggest that we betray our very nature. For one of us to break this bond we have with ourselves is to turn our backs on everything we are.
I'll be honest here: I have encountered situations many, many times in the past where I was tempted to cheat. I'm 6' 1", broad-shouldered, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. People who know me tell me I look like Robert Redford and sound like Johnny Cash.
I've worked occupations that are almost virtual breeding grounds for this behavior too, fighter pilot and rock guitarist, radio DJ and corporate manager.
I'd be a liar if I said that the thought of cheating never crossed my mind, especially in the light of some of the incredibly attractive and intelligent women I've met in a very storied and diverse life.
But I am telling the honest truth when I say that each time that thought stuck me, I found it distasteful and appalling in a place that is at the very core of my being. I knew that to give in to such thoughts, much less the actual act, was not just weak, but abhorrent to my very soul.
Were I to do so, I knew that I would never again be who I am.
My "true blue" heart has helped me through most of my life to avoid this kind of dilemma, but now I have something that makes it even less likely...
I finally found someone I truly love.
My wife and I are so deeply in love that we cannot go anywhere without holding hands. I can't leave for work without kissing her face in her sleep.
Each meeting at a restaurant is treated as a first date by both of us. (We never go in the same car, we meet each other there and flirt with each other as if we are still going steady, then we race each other home, weaving and dodging throught traffic, laughing all the way.
On cold days, I build a roaring fire in the fireplace and we cuddle on the couch and watch old romantic movies on Turner Classic Movie channel, then we play videogames together till long into the night. I sing and play the guitar for her and she paints paintings for me. We take turns cooking for each other.
When the weather turns nice, we swing on the tree swing behind our house. We sit out in the jacuzzi at midnight and listen to oldies as we count the stars, We float down rivers on inner tubers, we see movies together, we go camping, we ride bikes, we swim everday together (but that's geting harder to get her to do because of the horrible scars), we play pool and cards and trivial pursuit and ...a million other things. We are each other's best friend, confidant, and lover.
When she is ill, I am at her side in the hospital every waking moment I am not at work. I take her stuffed animals, (which reminds me, I really need to do something about them, they are taking over the back bedroom!) and read to her. I tape our favorite shows and bring a VCR to her room so that we can watch them together. I hold her hand and watch over her as she sleeps.
Deep down, (and we never talk about it) we both know that our time together will be cut heart-breakingly short. We didn't meet each other until we were in our mid-thirties, something we both lament. But to us, that just means that each hour, each minute, each second is more precious than the most beautiful diamond.
Like a flower that is cut, our days together are numbered, but all the sweeter for it.
So to you who are reading this, the next time someone propounds the fact that all men are sleazes and willing to jump into bed with any girl who asks, think carefully about your decision and ...take a stand against an untrue, unproductive, and malicious myth.
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Let's start with an overview of my job. I teach at the Transition Academy:
The Transition Academy is basically an educational trauma center, an educational "M*A*S*H unit, if you will. I work with kids that are retained in the eighth grade. The students that come to my school are perfectly normal in IQ, they are not learning diabled or behavior disordered. Life just got in the way.
One of the provisions of No Child Left Behind was that parents can no longer override the schools concerning retention in the 8th grade. (They can also only override retention one time in the first 8 years.)
This is a very, very good thing. However you feel about NCLB it is giving power back to teachers that was misguidedly taken away in the "feel good" 60's and 70's.
When I was going to school in Montana, there was always one kid in the 6th grade who was six feet tall and had a moustache. If you asked anyone what was up with him, the answer was "Oh, that's Joe, he got held back."
The deterrent factor of that absolutely cannot be underrated. In those days students would do anything to make sure that they did not get "held back." Everyone knew you were expected to get A's and B's. C's and D's meant you were the dumb kid and you would most likely get teased about it. But no one, would take a chance of getting an "F" because that could rip you from your peer cohort and destroy your life.
The result? Students almost never got retained, education was taken seriousl by both families and students, and America experienced a technological revolution unparalleled in mankind's history. Name something you think is cool. Aviation? Space? Television? Computers? The climate of education in America at that time caused a revolution in those industries.
Then came the Humanists and the Whole Language Proponents. Their philosophy was "Do not allow anything in the classroom that would possibly hurt a student's self esteem."
Although this may seem like a worthy goal, it's completely unrealistic and even dangerous. The result was grade inflation and social promation. Don't hold Joe back! that could damage his self esteem!
Really? Well how damaged will he be when he graduates from high school with no marketable skills and an inability to hold a job and support a family?
Tell all the students they are good kids, even if they are bullying others and destroying the school. It's not their fault, they had tough backgrounds. Do not allow competition in the classroom, that will make the underachievers feel bad about themselves.There, there now, it'll be OK, everyone will get an "A" on this assignment if they try, regardless of the quality.
Really? No competition? No rewards for excellence? No recognition of effort? Everybody is good, I'm OK you're OK? Is that really the way the world works? Absolutely not! Students the leave the school system were in for a big shock when they suddenly found that the entire planet was competetive![/e] An adult in this world has to compete for literally everything! Jobs, housing, mates, and even food!
Parents were given the power to override all decisions that teachers made unilaterally.
Now think about it...that's just a bad idea. I know that most people think that being a teacher is easy and anyone could do it. After all, we all went to school, didn't we? (Although I wouldn't presume to walk up to another professional, such as a welder, and tell them that they were doing their job wrong!)
But the fact is, there is much more to being a good teacher than most people know. What is especially true is that just knowing a lot about something does not mean that you are capable of teaching it to others.
So parents overrode decision after decision. (Which makes about as much sense as telling your doctor you don't want him to set a broken leg.)
The result? You see it today. The Climate of Education in this country deteriorated. A whole generation graduated high school seriously deficient in the actual skills it takes to keep a nation at the forefront of progress. Worse yet, since they couldn't get good jobs and still had to make a living, instead of more schools, we began to have to build more and more prisons!
Thankfully, that is changing today. The process is slow, and seriously flawed. Standardized testing is one problem, what if you have a stomach ache that day? Or your parents were fighting? Or just got divorced? Is it right to stamp a number on a human being and consider them categorized? But that's a topic for another day.
The good news is that the balance of power is swinging back in favor of teachers. Acountibility is the watchword of the day.
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About this time of year, as I'm shopping at Wal-Mart, I usually over hear conversations like this:
Woman 1: "There's more gang violence this year."
Woman 2: "yeah, I wish those teachers would get off their butts and teach these kids some manners!"
Woman 1: "Most of those teachers are just socialists and commies. They just want to brainwash the kids, not strainten them out."
Woman 2: "Yeah, I always say that they need to teach religion in school! That would straighten those hoodlums out! Put the fear of God in 'em!!"
Hold it right there...I understand their frustration with gang violence (heck, I had a bullet put into my mailbox last year for expelling a gangster!) but they are so far off the beam that they don't even realize what they are saying now.
OK. Let's look at their argument for a second. What religion should we teach? Buddhism? Hinduism? Islam? Oh, of course! â€œIn God We Trust!â€ Itâ€™s got to be Christianity! the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian after all. (Although I do know a very nice Hindu family, aren't they an important part of our little country?)
Fine, which version of Christianity should we teach? Lutheran? Presbyterian? Baptist? Methodist? Catholic? (It is the oldest after all) Are Mormons Christian? (They sure think they are!) Are you starting to get my point?
No matter what the schools did, they'd never please everybody.
Perhaps theyâ€™re worried that Christian values and morals arenâ€™t being taught to young people. They shouldnâ€™t worry another second. Every American teacher I've ever met has modeled and practiced nothing but the best of Christian virtues: honesty, integrity, respect, and dignity. "lead by example, " is the best policy and teachers practice it every single day without fail.
But who will teach religion if not the schools, you ask? Simple. The family and the Church. Who better to teach these things than the people that care the most about the children, their parents. Where better to learn than the Church?
The Pilgrims came to America because they didn't like their religion being controlled and dictated by the state. George Washington didn't like it. Thomas Jefferson didn't like it. Trust me, you won't like it either.
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Well the word is out this week that music with sex-laden lyrics have a positive correlation to teen pregnancy and sexual promiscuity. Who would have guessed it?
This is the very thing that was absolutely apparent and completely common sense to our grandparents, but takes a survey and scientific analysis to be proven to us.
So now that this has been proven, how about we spend a few hundred thousand dollars and research the effect of violent music on younger people? What do you think we'll find?
Again, it should be common sense, "garbage in, garbage out," as my mother used to say. What she was referring to was the fact that what you read, watch, and listen to does have an effect on you subconscious and your day to day decision making processes. It is a part of you, for better or worse.
I used to argue this every day with her, especially the corollary, "The clothes make the man," and her favorite, "You'll go deaf if you listen to that stereo so loud."
Well, I am approaching 50 years old, as I dressed up in my Piere Cardin suit the other day to meet with a principal of another high school, I realized that my wife was shouting something at me from the kitchen but I couldn't make it out. That's when it hit me...you were right Mom...and you didn't even need scientific evidence.
So today I'd like to say a little about violent music and videogames. Now, before you flame me, you'd better realize that I am a gamer. I've played almost every game on every system since the Atari 2600 came out. I know videogames.
I know music too, I play guitar, I have an extensive music collection, and have even (shortly) played in a band before. So when I say that there must be a line that we as a society should not cross, I know what I'm talking about.
My favorite "band to blame" is the hard core band Insane Clown Posse. Is it a coincidence that the last four female students that became pregnant while in school were rabid fans of ICP? Not according to that study! Nor is it a coincidence that by far the number of disciplinary referrals and violent incidents I've seen in my educational career involved fans of this band. A typical ICP song carries the traditional, "I don't care about anyone" theme that goes back as far as Black Sabbath. That doesn't bother me.
What does bother me though is that this band incites violence towards innocent bystanders. ICP lyrics exhort teens to "stab the mailman," jump on the old guy's head until he's dead,' and a host of other explicit acts that go so far over the top that they are almost comical.
Videogames like "GTA: San Andreas" encourage teens to beat up hookers, kill pedestrians, and shoot police officers.
To me...that crosses the line.
Now, I know what you are going to say: "No one in their right mind would take this stuff seriously, it's just music." And sure, I'll even admit that I watched uncounted hours of the "Bugs Bunny / Road Runner" show and never once dropped an anvil on anyone's head. But try to tell that to the group of ten year olds that stomped another child to death on the playground in Norway because they saw it on "Power Rangers."
When I'm listening to Frank Sinatra and driving down main street, I am mellow, driving the speed limit, and letting others pass and change lanes. But put in my "Rammstein" CD and I begin to change. I swear at other drivers. I speed up. I cut people off and get frustrated. I weave from lane to lane. In short... I turn in Mr. Hyde.
Some may argue that this a "freedom of speech" issue. I'm not buying that. Your rights end where mine begin. You don't have the freedom to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Why? Because my right not to get trampled to death overturns your right to free speech. This is similar. Your right to listen to violent hate music is superceded by my right to make is home safely in traffic with you.
I'm not suggesting that we begin to censor and ban all violent music. ( Heck, even the National Anthem is a song about a battle.) but I am saying that we as a society do ourselves a disservice to let violence and hate go unchecked and unlimited.
We must draw a line somewhere so that the "better angels of our nature" will have a chance. A fighting chance!
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I have this funny thing.... itâ€™s called a conscience. It bugs me sometimes, usually right before or after I do something wrong. Apparently, some other people are lacking this particular personality trait and I find this appalling.
I don't think I was born with it, as I seem to remember doing some rather heinous things as a boy, chopping Mom's counter tops with a butcher knife to see the pretty pattern and relieve my boredom, electrocuting grasshoppers, and other such childish games.
I also seem to remember that I gradually acquired a conscience by suffering consequences for my actions, imposed by two older people I lived with, who called themselves, "My Parents."
My conscience can cost me sometimes...sometimes real money. Here's an example.
I was walking one day in my apartment complex in Phoenix. I was on my way to the pool, which was just a few yards from my door. I didn't wear shoes that day, since the pool was so close and the sidewalks led literally right to it.
I wasn't paying too much attention to where I was stepping, so I didn't see the rusted piece of metal, part of an expansion joint between two slabs of concrete, which was sticking up like a razor blade in my path.
As I swung my foot across it, it slashed the bottom of my foot open from toes to heel, all the way down to the bone. I gasped in surprise and amazement, and staggered, limped, hopped back to my apartment. If you've never felt the bones of your foot touching concrete, be happy, it isn't pleasant.
I sat in the bathtub, trying to tape the huge wound shut. I was having trouble; since I had lost so much blood that I was a little "tipsy.â€ I called a friend of mine to come over and help me. When he arrived, he turned pale as a ghost at the sight of the bathroom. It probably looked like a psychopath had been slaughtering pigs in it. Blood was everywhere, on the walls, the floor, and the tub had very little white left.
I told him, "Dude, I cut myself, I need you to stitch it up, 'cause I can't see what I'm doing!" He took one look, gasped, and said, "You gotta be kidding! I can see the bone. Dude! You gotta go to the hospital for this one!" I replied, "I can't, I don't have any money right now, and my car is busted." (He didn't have a car either.) Then he had an idea, "Hey! I'll go get the landlord, they are probably insured for this kind of thing!" I tried to stop him, thinking it was futile, in my experience; landlords never helped people, only took their money and got mad at them when they painted their skateboards in the apartment.
The landlord returned, took one look at the wound, (and by this time I was feeling pretty "happy") and told my friend, "Don't worry, we have insurance, Iâ€™ll drive him to the hospital.)
I thought the hospital would be a good thing, but I forgot something. There are as many nerves in your foot as in your hands, more maybe. The doctors tried everything they could think of to deaden the foot, Lydocaine, Zylocaine, Mytocaine, they even tried spraying Novocaine right into the wound itself. But every time they would ask, "Can you feel that?" My agonized answer was "Yeeessssssssss!" Finally they just gave up torturing me and set to stitching it up.
The wound healed beautifully! Since the slash was razor sharp, the edges were clean and there was barely a scar there within a month.
Then one day.... a man came up to me at the gas station I was managing at the time. I'll never forget the day. I was standing in the cool morning sunlight, washing down the tarmac, when he walked up, rumpled blue business suit and all. He said, "Do you know where I might find Jon St. Ives?"
To have a little fun with him, as I was wont to do when I was younger, I replied in my best English, " I am the person to whom you refer." His face took on a surprised look, followed quickly by a dejected expression. I instantly understood the situation. He was a legal man. He had been hoping I was an unintelligent, easily duped, blue-collar worker.
He recovered quickly, but the cat was already out of the bag. "Mr. Ives, I'm from the insurance company that insures your apartment complex, I've come to discuss the compensation for your accident. Do you have time right now?"
I despise beating around the Bush, especially with people I perceive to have only their own interests at heart and not mine. So I replied, "Let's cut to the chase, shall we? How much money are you offering?" He replied, "What do you think your pain and suffering was worth?" (They must teach these guys never to give an offer first, sheesh!)
I studied his face. He was sweating profusely, getting more and more worried by the second. Apparently, he had figured out by now that he was dealing with a keen intellect, despite the dirty gas station rags that camouflaged it. I said, "The pain was incredible, and it's possible that I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life." That was a complete lie, the foot felt as good as new already. But to tease him a little, since I saw his brow furrow with even more worry, I said, "I don't think I will require anything as exorbitant as a million dollars. One hundred thousand dollars will most likely cover everything."
I had been joking, of course, but I saw something then that shocked and amazed me...He was actually relieved! I knew in an instant that I could have actually asked for and received a million dollars, perhaps even more.
Then it happened...my damn conscience. It started speaking to me. Screaming actually. My foot was fine; to take that kind of money would be a crime, it said. You'll never be able to look yourself in the mirror, it said, Theif! It cried, until I wanted to hold my hands to my ears.
With a bit of wistfulness, I looked the man squarely in the eye. He was already saying something about, "That would be fine with his organization, and would I please just sign this statement, guaranteeing me the money, but forbidding me from trying to get any more later?"
Then I heard my own voice speak; it seemed without my volition, "Mister, I'm not being serious. My foot's fine, it's healed completely, and in my family, we don't take money that we don't earn and don't deserve. My medical bills amount to $2000 dollars, and I'd like an extra $1000 for my pain so I can fix my car and still have enough to throw a party for my friends. That's it."
I don't think I've ever seen another human being as incredulous as the Insurance Man. Then or now. His jaw hung open and slack with amazement. He stammered, "Ya, ya, you mean that you don't want $100,000 dollars? You only want $3000?"
"Yes, that's what I want. Just enough to take care of the bills. No more than is fair." He hurriedly filled out the forms, as if he was afraid I might suddenly change my mind, or someone might come along and talk some sense into me. I signed them then and there. He handed me a check for the exact amount I had requested and then turned to leave.
Before he left, though, as he walked away, I saw one more thing. He turned towards me, with a thoughtful look, and took one last glance at me in my dirty gas station rags, as I stood there in the morning light, hands on hips. A slow smile spread across his face and something else, a look of respect. As if he had never imagined he would find someone like me, but had after all.
He gave me a slow, respectful little bow and then walked slowly away.
I've thought a lot about that day since then.... How would my life have changed had I taken the money? What if I had asked for the whole million? I sure would have gotten it, but how would I have felt. I feel now, more and surer as I grow older, that I dodged a bullet that day. That, by being true to myself, I somehow passed a test.
I thing's for sure. When I shave in the morning, I can look myself right in the eye...and smile.
So what do you think about people who file frivolous lawsuits, for example the woman who tried to defraud Wendy's, the burglar who sued the homeowner or the man who sued Winnebago because cruise control didn't keep him on the highway?
We've lost a lot of things to this kind of mentality. Long-chained swings on the playground, merry-go-rounds, diving boards in hotel pools, jungle gyms...and much more. There was a time when people realized that life was inherently risky, and personal responsibility was the rule of the day. Can we get that back again? Or is it gone forever?