Hurry Up Already

Is it just me, or recently has there been a disproportionate number of super elderly, super violent criminals getting caught at the very end of their lives?

The Southern Klu Klux Klanner who murdered an innocent black during the 1950’s or 60’s. And Whitey Bulger, who allegedly killed 21 people, no doubt enjoyed his Santa Monica apartment for decades.

Even more dramatically, four leaders of the Khmer Rouge have just gone on trial, charged with having created a “joint criminal enterprise” that resulted in 1.7 million Cambodians being murdered between 1975-1979, or nearly 25% of the population.

Imagine for a moment if a handful of people supervised the killing of 70,000,000 Americans. The four defendants have been free for 30 years. Their average age is 82. According to the World Bank, the life expectancy of Cambodians is 61.5 years. Their legal team is committed to “vigorous legal wrangling” that is supposed to last for years. Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, died in 1998 before he cold be brought to justice.

I suppose the “authorities” in these cases deserve credit for perseverance, but the gross imbalance of suffering is another crime.

What I’ve Been Watching

Midnight in Paris. A few summers ago, on the way home from co-teaching in Eastern Washington, Mike, an ace co-worker friend and I got into a discussion about nostalgia. I believe it’s a powerful phenomenon that greatly influences people. Mike basically took the opposite position. Saying people succumb to positive selective perception and wrongly assume the past was better than it actually was. In his view, people would be better off if they just embraced the present and resisted nostalgia’s pull. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is Mike’s exact argument. A fun and funny film that raises interesting questions about memory, history, and the relationship between the two.

Win Win. The best high school wrestling movie of all time (are there others?). Great cast and an engaging, authentic story. Laugh out loud funny at times too. Truly excellent. Kyle, the central character is a troubled, thoughtful, hard-nosed, caring sixteen year old who demolishes every adult’s negative preconceived notions of adolescents. Should be required viewing for all high school teachers. The GalPal thought parts of it were “contrived and Hollywoodish” but she’s wrong. Believable throughout. The GalPal and I were the youngest couple at Olympia’s downtown hippy theatre and everyone was taken by Kyle. If more 16 and 66 year olds were friends, it would be a definite win win.

Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert. Far-fetched, whimsical story. I imagine when they pitched the idea to the studio they said, “Audrey Hepburn in Rome” and the suit said, “Great, write the script.” She was beautiful, but freakishly thin. Of course, Costco cheesecake had not been invented.


A few Friday nights ago, David Brooks no doubt scored serious points with NewsHour listeners when he said, “Every second we spend talking about Sarah Palin is a second of our lives we’ll never get back.”

Catchy soundbite, but he was wrong.

We need to talk more about what her parochial, nostalgic, oddly vague and exclusionary worldview means for not just our national politics, but education reform.

Palinism the ideology—a set of conservative political beliefs that rests upon a parochial, nostalgic, vague, exclusionary interpretation of U.S. history—is far more pernicious than her easy to make fun of media personality.

Palinism is a litmus test. If we continue to think of students first and foremost as future workers and consumers, and not citizens, its influence will spread and some of its adherents will win elections. Absent a nuanced sense of our nation’s unblemished history and an appreciation for what a vibrant democracy requires of its citizens, our young people will increasingly opt for glossy, symbolic style at the expense of gritty, grounded substance.

Recently, just for David Brooks and you, I sacrificed 197 seconds of my life watching SarahPac, a brilliant marketing video of Sarah’s bus tour of the U.S. Actually, now I’ve sacrificed over 15 minutes since I’ve watched it five times.

It’s fascinating on several levels. Exercise your citizenship and watch it.

Notice the following:

• In the midst of the hundreds of people that appear in the commercial, there’s one black veteran. Palinism borrows from a recent Modern Family sketch, “White is right.”

• The phrases “restore what’s right,” “restore the good,” and “we need a fundamental restoration” repeat throughout.

• “Founding” and “foundation” also repeat throughout. It’s like a news station repeating the phrase “fair and balanced” over and over. Maybe, if the populace is half asleep, hypnosis works.

• Painfully vague catch phrases are sprinkled throughout including, “be in touch with our nation’s history,” “so we can learn from it,” “move forward,” “all that is good about America,” “effect positive change,” and “America is the exceptional nation.” The classic hallmark of a really bad first year college essay.

Absent a critical nuanced understanding of U.S. history, government, and foreign policy, the videos sophisticated mix of traditional American symbols, music, and vague repetitive narrative would probably work wonders on large percentages of today’s secondary school students.

An older woman near the end gushes about Palin’s “courage and strength” and concludes, “she has it all.”

If we continue to preach the math and science gospel and mindlessly apply business principles to schooling, our youth might conclude the next Sarah Palin and the one after her have it all.

In which case Palin’s videographers might just win the battle of ideas.


I’m neither introverted nor extroverted. I’m somethingotherverted. Someone on the outside looking in would probably label me introverted.

I prefer solitude to crowds. Give me a quiet dock on a still lake over a Disneyland pass any day of the week. On a Friday night, I’ll pass on the concert in the park for popcorn, the NewsHour, and something interesting to read. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The stories motherdear could tell about my dad’s propensity for quiet nights at home.

Long story short, I lack social energy. But the ironic thing is, when cajoled to attend the concert in the park, I almost always enjoy myself. And often I see people I know and rally, asking questions, catching up, making people chuckle. If you were to eavesdrop on me at the concert in the park, you might even conclude I’m extroverted. That’s why the conventional sociability continuum doesn’t quite cut it.

Some of my close friends are surprised when I half-jokingly describe myself as anti-social because my socialness is most evident in small groups. I greatly prefer dinner parties with a few close friends to large fiestas where I don’t know many people. At fiesta gigante the GalPal, a conventional extrovert, will walk right up to you and introduce herself. Especially if you look like you might not know anyone else. In contrast, when I’m looking at you I’m thinking, “What a sadsack.” That’s okay though because once she ditches me, you’ll be thinking the same thing about me. Kharma.

My somethingothervertedness is evident in my professional life too. I’m guilty of keeping a very low profile in the office and on campus, but I’m alive in the classroom, enjoying my interactions with students very much.

I’m fortunate the GalPal sometimes nudges me out of my self-imposed solitude. She used to try to drag me to events which often caused me to be even more resistant. She’s become more understanding, meaning more sensitive and subtle.

Then again, our 25th anniversary is around the corner. A quarter-century should be long enough to figure out our extrovertedness and somethingothervertedness.

What are you?

I Promise

If elected President to give up golf for the length of my term(s). Presidents deserve and need downtime, but symbolism matters, and playing golf is about as bad as it gets. At least for Democratic Presidents. People want leaders that are more like them, than different. Just practice your putting stroke and invite Boehner over to watch the US Open on television.

If elected to Congress to keep my privates private.

If elected Governor of New Jersey, to drive, not helicopter, to my children’s events.

If elected to Congress, not to advocate for abstinence education and then have an affair with one of my staffers.

If given a Nobel Prize and Oscar for my work publicizing the threat of global warming, to keep my monthly electricity bill under $1,200/month.

If running for the Republican nomination for President, not to call for a crackdown on illegal immigration and then use undocumented Guatemalans to tend to my lawn and tennis court.

If elected to Congress, as hard as it may be, to refrain from tickle fights with my male staffers.

If elected to Congress, to refrain from emailing photos of my shirtless self to any women I might meet on Craigslist.

Until then, however, I can’t promise any of those things.

Sentence to Ponder

Since its founding, Father’s Day has always been the beta holiday—created as an analog to Mother’s Day, and never celebrated with as much fanfare, attention, or money.

From Annie Lowery in In 2011, Lowery reports, consumers planned on spending $106.49 on Father’s Day gifts and $140.73 on Mother’s day gifts.

That’s just wrong. Where’s the rage for parent equity?

Sunday will mark my eighteenth Father’s Day. Eighteen times $35 equals $630.

Dear daughters, a $736 ($106 + $630) gift is all it will take to close the parent gap.

Let’s Fix or Stop Requiring Senior Culminating Projects

A steadily increasing number of American high schools are requiring students to complete independent culminating projects during their senior year. One student commits to private singing instruction and sings a solo at a culminating recital, another learns to train dogs, another how to Irish Dance. In theory, they’re supposed to prevent advanced senioritis.

In practice though, they typically don’t. Most students view them as just another hoop to jump through.

The problems are three-fold.

First, students quickly pick up on the fact that faculty and staff view them as “add-ons”. Meaning usually there’s too few intermediary deadlines and too little adult investment in guiding students.

Second, too many students are unaccustomed to working independently and so they throw something together in the final week. Faculty are pressured to pass students whether the projects meet the stated criteria or not. Otherwise they don’t graduate, causing lots of different headaches.

Third, even nicely done projects don’t contribute to, or inform, the students’ classroom-based learning. How on earth can we expect faculty to integrate them into their classes when most of them aren’t even aware of what the majority of seniors are doing.

Faculty should agree not to “half-ass” it anymore. Each school’s faculty should have an honest discussion about the quality of recently completed projects and their value to the curriculum writ large. Then cast an up or down vote on investing more time and energy into better guiding students, holding them accountable for more rigorous work, and truly integrating them into the curriculum.

More specifically, faculty need to decide whether they’re up to 1) guiding students in selecting personally meaningful and intellectually challenging projects by providing examples, contacts, and feedback on proposals; 2) saying no to projects that are not intellectually challenging; and 3) instituting intermediary deadlines and implementing legit consequences for missing them.

Ultimately, senior culminating projects are a litmus test of sorts. Are our K-11 efforts producing increasingly independent learners? Right now, I’m inclined to answer no. Most seniors need more guidance in the form of help on proposals and truly rigorous expectations. Faculty need to decide whether they want to invest their finite time and energy in revamping flawed senior culminating project requirements.

I see lots of untapped potential in the requirement, but open and honest faculty “no” votes would be preferable to uneven mediocrity and continued fence-sitting.

Mount St Helen’s Climb

Last Sunday. Six other riders. I was the youngest, average age, 56-57. Seems like in my circle of friends, 60 is the new 40. 74 miles, 6,500+’ of elevation. Twenty two relentless miles at 6-7%, followed by a screaming 7-8 mile descent, followed by the final 7-8 mile climb to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. It’s a bit harder enjoying the screaming descent (max 42 mph) when you know you’ll be climbing up the other side of the road in relatively short order.

Jamie and I separated from the other five halfway up. Then it was mano y mano. At the beginning of the final ascent, at mile 30, he gapped me. I sat 5-15 seconds back until the final half mile when I overtook him for the mountain top stage victory. Max heart rate. Time to the top, 2:38. Time down, 1:50. Average speed, 16+.

I enjoy going “mod-hard” over medium to medium-long distances. When climbing for miles or running long distances for time I enjoy the challenge of getting into a sustainable rhythm and then sitting right on the edge for an hour, two, or three.

I celebrated the ascent by carefully crafting and then eating a nearly life-size mint chocolate chip replica of the volcano.

Small Group Cooperative Learning

Too many teachers throw students into small groups and expect meaningful learning to ensue.

They don’t discuss or teach small group interpersonal skills. They may not think through how best to group students of different interests and abilities. They may not clearly communicate or model their expectations. And they may not check to see that the students truly understand what to do before telling them to begin working.

So instead of getting right to work, students end up talking about what they think they’re supposed to do. And because the expectations and steps aren’t posted anywhere, the teach frantically runs from group to group answering clarifying questions. One or two of the students do the bulk of the group work while the others passively coast.

Then the teach doesn’t make time to challenge students to reflect on and identify what they did and didn’t do well within their small groups. Too many teachers wrongly assume that small group cooperative learning skills are intuitive; consequently, they don’t have to teach them. As a result, most groups are dysfunctional, the sum rarely if ever equals more than the individual parts, and students develop negative associations with small group cooperative learning.

They end up carrying around invisible backpacks filled with negative group experiences. “Not group work again.” Often in high schools, it’s easy to detect a pervading sense of small group doom and gloom which teachers often mistakenly chalk up to “laziness” or “immaturity”.

Teachers aren’t alone. Coaches sometimes refer to team chemistry, but rarely if ever teach how to be a good teammate. Again, they assume the requisite interpersonal skills—listening, encouraging, and problem solving for example are built-in, even though there’s ample evidence they’re not. Orchestra conductors, youth pastors, drama teachers, employers, and parents often fail to teach young people how to prepare for and contribute more positively to their inside and outside of school small groups.

To the detriment of meaningful learning, we focus on work products at the expense of work processes.