Grammar. It matters.

I read an article today about a chief of police who is resigning his position. Not that earth-shattering a revelation, really, but the letter with which he announced his retirement was quite, um, direct, calling the city council “incompetent,” among other things.

I’ll allow you to read the letter yourself; my point here is not about the content of the letter, but rather how well it was (or, more accurately, wasn’t) written. I don’t pretend to know much about the situation the chief is describing; I live in the same county but not the same city, and I don’t keep up on events there so much. I’m not here commenting on how accurately the chief portrays the political and financial climate in his city, nor on how accurately he describes the qualifications of the city councilpersons. None of that has anything to do with my point.

And that point, finally, is this: When you write for public consumption, whether it’s a press release, a letter to the parents of students in your class, or a VERY public letter of resignation, you should have someone proofread your work BEFORE it’s published.

As I read this letter, I was impressed by the authenticity of the chief’s feelings, and by his candor as he shared them with his audience. However, the awkward sentence structure, the apostrophe in the word “fly’s,” and other stylistic and mechanical errors took away from the impact of the letter. Instead of the “righteously-outraged-public-servant” vibe he was probably going for, I got a “OK-what-exactly-was-he-trying-to-say-and-why-didn’t-he-correct-this-before-he-sent-it” feeling.

The lesson? HOW you say what you’re saying matters just as much as WHAT you’re saying, and sloppy mechanics make you look dumb. Maybe that doesn’t matter much in the comments section of the newspaper, but it ought to matter in the writing of professionals- in any profession.

PS: I realize that a post of this sort invites you to be critical of my own grammar and usage. Please, if I have made errors point them out. While I believe grammar is important, I’m no perfect grammarian myself. If I have erred, mea culpa. I hope only that my errors serve to help you, gentle reader, to improve you own writing.

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It’s Called “Grey,” People!

We are a nation, maybe even a world, of “either-or:”
Coke or Pepsi?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Import or Domestic?
Yankees or Red Sox?
PC or Mac?
Winner or Loser?
Friend or Foe?
Us or Them?
Liberal or Conservative?Support the Troops or Hate America?
Labor or Management?
Reformer or Defender of the Status Quo?
Charter Schools or Traditional Public Schools?
Standardized TestinOverload or No Accountability?
Black or White?
With Me or Against Me?

My Way, or the Highway!

This polarization has become so pervasive in our society that we don’t even debate issues anymore: we just stand up and shout our side’s talking points, as if they automatically counter the other side’s, and refuse to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there’s a middle ground. One need only read the comments section of an article on a news site or watch one of the Sunday morning talking head programs to see this in effect. Why is this?

My theory is that people are either too lazy to perform the critical thinking necessary to synthesize their point of view with an opposing one, or that we have become so territorial and competitive that the recognition of validity of an opposing viewpoint is seen as weakness.

But the reality is that many of these are false dichotomies: it is possible for unionized schools, with tenured teachers, to be fantastic schools; Charters offer programs and choices for parents and students that traditional public schools don’t, but aren’t automatically better than traditional public schools; It’s possible to offer both a rigorous STEM curriculum and physical education, art, and music.

Until the folks on both sides of these issues are willing to stop shouting and start listening, though, no lasting change is going to happen. While one side may have temporary control, as soon as the winds shift and the other side gains the advantage, everything will be undone, whether or not it was working, because it will be the promise of undoing that will sweep the other side into power.

I don’t mean that people should abandon their principles or that we shouldn’t believe passionately in anyt

hing, nor do I mean to imply that there is never a time when compromise is wrong. There are times when one side of an issue/conflict is clearly without merit; why anyone would be a Yankees fan is completely beyond my understanding, for example. But the world around us is not like the world Jonas inhabits in The Giver but instead is a world filled with a rich diversity, and clinging blindly to our own point of view is to ignore that richness.

To everything, there is a season

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.”- Ecclesiastes 3:1-10 (KJV)

I’m not a particularly religious person, but there are moments when certain passages from the Bible seem particularly appropriate. (I hope this is not a case of the Devil quoting Scripture for his own ends!)

Please allow me to explain:

I left my most recent job, voluntarily, in June of this year after posting my resignation in March. The position was not, for a variety of reasons I’ll not go into here, a good “fit” for me, and the stress of going to a job that wasn’t right for me every day was having an impact on my life outside of work. Leaving the job was the best thing for me to do for myself.

This is not to say that leaving didn’t create some (considerable!) turmoil of its own, but overall it has improved my quality of life and brought my family closer together. The improvements in my personal relationships far outweigh the other issues this decision has precipitated.

Now, despite the improvements in my life and in my own general outlook towards life, being unemployed presents some very real difficulties of its own; namely, how do I contribute to the support of my family without a source of income? I’ve spent the last 6 months attempting to solve this problem, searching for a new job in education.

Since June, I’ve applied for in the area of 60 positions, from classroom teacher to dean of students to assistant principal to principal to coordinator to director, and even a couple non-school jobs. I’ve interviewed for about 8 of these positions, and have received, to date, exactly zero offers of employment. I haven’t even been offered an interview for a teaching job; I suspect it’s because I am too expensive to hire, with 90 post-bachelors units and 14 years of experience.

Given this, it seems that the universe is trying to tell me something: the season of my time in education may have passed.

I’ve been working in this field for a long time, and i have invested a great deal of time, energy, emotion, and money into my career (those 2 masters degrees weren’t free, ya know!); however, if I can’t get a position in the field right now, I am obligated by my responsibilities to my family to find one in another field.

I don’t know what field that is, or what it is I’m going to wind up doing, but I have to do SOMETHING.

I’m not abandoning education altogether- it’s too much a part of who I am to do that. I’ll continue to read about teaching and learning, interact with educators on Twitter, and (I hope) continue to blog about education and life in general. But, and this is very hard for me to say, I don’t think I’ll be an educator, at least professionally, for a while. I have to focus my energies in a direction that will help me to provide for the needs of my family.

Perhaps the seasons will turn again soon. For now, though, “[There is] A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”

The time has come for me to cast away a profession I love and a field for which I am passionate, and to get something different.

A rerun

I’m not one generally to recycle blog posts, but I wanted to publish this one again for 2 reasons: First, I think it’s timely. After all, it is December! Second, I’ve read a Facebook post and a blog post about this issue in the last couple of days, which made me think it was time to dust this off. Enjoy!

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!’” — Dave Barry

(Thanks to @Mamacita for the quote!)

Does it really matter what we call it when people just aren’t as quick to be an A-hole to other people?

People like to argue. I know, it surprises you.
They’ll argue about whether it’s cold when it’s 60 degrees out (at least here in California, they will). They’ll argue about politics. They’ll argue about which is the better pet, a dog or a cat. They’ll argue about which football team deserves to, but won’t make, the playoffs. They’ll argue about just about anything.

Like whether we should say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”

Both sides have a point: Saying “Merry Christmas” presupposes a belief in Christianity, which, in our pluaralistic, multicultural, melting-pot-type society is not a given. Saying “Happy Holidays!” discounts the influence the Judeo-Christian tradition has had on the culture of the United States and secularizes what many see as a religious holiday. Saying “Back at ‘cha!” just doesn’t seem to acknowledge the significance of the season itself.

So, why are we so focused on this?

The one thing I think many of us can agree on is that, at this time of year in particular, people try to set aside their A-hole-istic tendencies and be nicer to one another. Well, maybe not so much in the parking lot of the mall or at the counter of the Honeybaked Hams store, but, by and large, we do try to be less of an A-hole to other people during the late-November-mid-December season.

And, can any of us say this is a bad thing, no matter our motivation? Does it really matter if I, in the course of being less of an A-hole to you, say, “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” Do you, on the receiving end of my less-A-hole-like attitude, really care what words come out of my mouth as I hold a door open for you while you carry $1500 worth of junk to your car? I think not.

What you really care about is the fact that I didn’t just let the door close in your face because I was already through it. What you really care about is the fact that I waved you into the parking space we were both trying to get, even though I was there first. What you really care about is the fact that I didn’t shove ahead of you in line at the JC Penny’s while you were holding your fussy 2-year-old and trying to buy gifts for your friends and family.

The words don’t show holiday spirit. The actions do.

So go ahead and say, “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” or “Feliz Navidad!” or “Joyous Kwaanza!” or “Happy Chanukah!” or “Peaceful Winter Solstice!” or “Enjoy your days off!” Whatever you want to call it is fine with me.

Just be less of an A-hole for a few weeks, and I’m happy.

Welcome to my Silo!

Loyalist newspaper cartoon

Once upon a time in America, newspapers were plentiful. Large cities had several publisher producing papers on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis. Folks had ample choice as to where they got their news. Men would gather in  pubs, tea houses, and coffee shops to discuss and debate the issues of the day. No, they didn’t always agree, but people were informed about the day’s events and based their opinions on that information.

Sounds good, right?

Well, this scenario is true, but only to a point. See, those competing newspapers? they had axes to grind on particular issues, and their reporting tended to be biased in favor of their points of view. People subscribed to the papers that shared their viewpoints and which told them the news the way they wanted to hear it.

This tradition continued through the Civil War and into the late 1800s, until the “Yellow Journalism” period in the late 1890s drove some to call for higher standards on the part of journalists. These people wanted the news in a form Joe Friday could appreciate- Just the facts, Ma’am- and for 100 years or so this was the expectation of those who read newspapers. While the editorial pages were the place for opinions, slant, and spin, the rest of the paper should be “just the facts.” As television news supplanted print as the primary source of news, we continued to expect that the journalists in front of the cameras held the same standard of journalistic integrity as their print colleagues should.

Then along came the Internet, and shortly thereafter the blogging explosion (revolution?). Now, anyone could be a journalist! Just go out, find the truth, and report it for all the world to see!  A great step forward in our quest to ensure responsibility and accountability on the part of our public figures.

But, in my opinion, we’re experienced a shift in our journalistic expectations as a result of this revolution, one that is having a Balkanizing effect on politics, education, and nearly every other issue under debate in this country. The media companies running the networks and publishing the (few remaining) newspapers and news magazines don’t really care about “journalistic integrity.” Some of their staff do, sure, but not the companies. They care about profits. Profits are driven by advertising, and only programs with viewers, papers with readers, and websites with unique visitors will produce advertising revenues, so they will do what they can to get viewers, readers, and site visits, and today that means giving you the news the way you want to hear it.

From the 1970s to the 1990s and into the early 2000s, we’ve seen a decline in the number of traditional print media outlets- with a shift towards digital combined with economic difficulties, papers have combined, failed, and clods, but without a net negative impact on the total number of news source options, and- naturally, I suppose- we become more selective in the outlets we turn to for information. Too many of us though (and I, too, am guilty of this more often than I care to admit) are choosing to stick with news sources that provide us with news the way we want to hear it. Why should I believe the Liberal Media when Fox tells me what I want to hear? Why should I listen to Glenn Beck and his colleagues when Keith Olbermann makes me nod in agreement? I don’t want to be challenged, made to think that maybe, just maybe the other side of the issue could actually have a good point; I want to be outraged. I want to feel threatened, and I want to be told that the way if feel about things is right, damnit!

It’s not just politics, either. Those of us in education, while we tell our students that they should listen to all sides of the story before forming their opinions, have Twitter feeds and RSS readers filled with folds who agree with us. Oh, we may have one or two we point to as Yin to our Yang, but I suspect that, overall, your conversations take place in the silo.

It’s not easy to listen to (or read the writing of) someone telling you you’re wrong- even if they’re not speaking directly to you- but it’s critical that we do so. We won’t be able to create meaningful, lasting change in ANY area if we aren’t willing to dialogue. We can stay safe in our silos, railing against the unfairness of it all, or we can accept the fact that we aren’t always right.

A favorite movie of mine is 1776, a musical version of the story of the Second Continental Congress as they debate the Declaration of Independence. In one scene, a delegate from Rhode Island comes into the room (after a visit to the privy) to find he’s the deciding vote in whether the issue will even be discussed by the Congress. He says: “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”

Take the risk. Open the doors to the silo.

Veterans’ Day

Today is Veterans’ Day, an opportunity for Americans to give thanks to those who have served in the armed forces. Like Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” Our very existence as a nation is owed to those willing to serve and sacrifice for us.

I am not a veteran, although I thought for a long time in my late teens and early 20s that I would make a career of military service. My family isn’t one where such service is a tradition- my maternal grandfather was a naval officer during WWII, and my father was in the Army in the early 1960s, but neither spoke fondly of their time in the service. Nonetheless, I was convinced as a kid that I would be in the Navy, and after Top Gun came out, well, obviously naval aviation was the way to go!

When I started college, I joined the Navy ROTC unit at San Diego State, but my early college years were not exactly shining examples of academic achievement and I lasted only one year at SDSU. I went to community college for 18 months and rebuilt my GPA, then transferred to a school without an ROTC unit. “No problem!” I thought. “I’ll go to Officer Candidate School instead.” After I graduated I took the test for OCS, and while I passed my scores were not quite high enough to really be competitive, so I decided I could enlist and try for OCS from the ranks. By this time, though, I was looking towards the Coast Guard instead of the Navy. I took the ASVAB and scored well enough that I had my choice of MOS, even had the enlistment papers in my hand, but came to the conclusion that, at 25, I’d passed the age where the military was right for me.

I don’t regret reconsidering military service, but do occasionally wonder what my life would have been like if I’d served. My brush with the service has left me with an increased respect for those who did choose to serve and a great appreciation for what they do, particularly in our post-9/11 world. While I don’t always agree that what our civilian leadership sends our sons and daughters to do counts as “protecting America’s freedoms,” I always appreciate that those sons and daughters go into harm’s way because they believe that America is worth fighting for.

They’re right: America is worth fighting for, whether we do it in uniform overseas or here, in polling places, schools, and office buildings. Let’s honor those who serve and those who have lost their lives in service to our country. To quote Lincoln again,

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Thank you, veterans, for your service.

A conversation with an ed leader

I had an awesome experience on Twitter Saturday evening, which has convinced me further of the value of social media as a means of building relationships and developing as a professional.
Below is the interaction I had with Diane Ravitch, noted education historian, author, and former Assistant Secretary of Education under Presidents G.H. Bush and Clinton. (I’ve edited it for flow, combining my extended-length tweets into a single comment, but have not changed any of the content. A link to the original conversation is here.)
I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised that she responded and star-struck that she spent the time to interact with me. (Well, to be honest, she was engaging in several conversations at the same time.) I couldn’t help but think, if I had walked up to her at some conference or seen her in a coffee shop (unlikely as I live on the opposite coast), would she have been as willing to engage in the conversation? Would I have been as wiling to approach her? Was it this medium that made possible the interaction?
Honestly, while the conversation was exciting for me (she is an education celebrity, after all!) we really didn’t resolve anything. She did a fine politician’s job of talking around my questions, but at least she was willing to engage in the conversation. (You’ll notice, in the middle I invited former DC Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to jump in as well. While I didn’t expect she would, I have hopes that this could be the catalyst for an interaction between the two main “sides” in the education reform debates.)

  • WiscPrincipal: @DianeRavitch Too many leaders want to measure education effectiveness like they measure the Dow average.
  • Me: @WiscPrincipal @DianeRavitch Because #s are easy, whether or not they are accurate. Can compare one set of #s to another and claim results.
  • DianeRavitch: But the numbers don’t mean much. Teaching to test, gaming the system, narrowing curriculum.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I agree. We’re operating schools in a culture that’s used to comparing everything- final scores, top salaries. People want a value they understand, can comp to others, know their tax money is buying the best “product” posble. We need another measure.
  • DianeRavitch: Who are the winners? Those with most money, highest scores? They raced to the top. What about the rest of us? Are they better?
  • Me: @DianeRavitch That’s the problem- media, general public, DOE are trying to measure schools w/ numbers that don’t measure what we REALLY do. We need to find a simple, understandable metric for evaluating schools that is accurate and keeps us accountable.
  • irasocol: @Me @DianeRavitch do you imagine this “simple metric” exists? Just asking
  • @irasocol @DianeRavitch Not sure, but I hope so. Otherwise, we’ll be assigned numbers that don’t tell the real story.
  • Me: @m_rhee Would love to hear your voice in this conversation, too. Do a Twitter search for @DianeRavitch and see what’s being said.
  • DianeRavitch: what an idea!
  • DianeRavitch: There is no simple metric for evaluating schools because they have many purposes and each human being is unique. Simple is wrong. By the nature of measurements, they compel you to do what they want, not what you should do.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I get that. But the problem is, the public wants a measure, and will accept a poor one in absence of an accurate one. How do we meet that demand and stay true to our core purpose of doing what is best for kids?
  • DianeRavitch: I’ve tried to explain that our measures are dumbing schools down and are misleading. Bad measures worse than none at all.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch Again, I agree. But the demand isn’t going to go away anytime soon. How do we balance? A good measure the public will accept?
  • DianeRavitch: Honestly, I don’t know, I only know that measures we now use are hurting kids, undermining education, destroying creativity.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I don’t know either, but think it should be a priority. When we complain and don’t offer solution, makes us look like whiners.
  • DianeRavitch: When policy driving teachers off a cliff, you have to say this is wrong. People pushing bad ideas have no uncertainty.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch The divisiveness in ed policy is reflective of that in nation at large. Saying “Don’t measure us b/c it’s bad!” no matter how correct doesn’t serve our purpose. Need to find a way to bridge the gap, meet in the middle.
  • DianeRavitch: Thanks for the great chat tonight! See you again another night.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch Enjoyed it, thanks!

What was exciting for me about this conversation was not what we were able to accomplish, but the fact that it took place at all. With a tool like Twitter, or Facebook, or Plurk, or whatever, the common in-the-trenches folk are able to interact with those making and influencing policy. And while someone like Ravitch or Rhee may be using Twitter to push their own agenda, at least it gives the rest of us a public forum in which to participate.

So, what do you think?

Put me in, Coach!

The big news out of the NFL this past weekend is the Minnesota Vikings‘ release of wide receiver Randy Moss, a player they had obtained from the New England Patriots only a few weeks before. Moss hadn’t been particularly effective during his last game with the Vikings (coincidentally against the Patriots) and had been vocal in his criticisms of the Vikings’ coaching staff, so he clearly hadn’t endeared himself to the team’s leadership. His performance on Sunday was just the straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

Making personnel changes in light of disappointing performance is nothing new in football, or in any other major sport, from Pop Warner to the pros. The current coach of USC, Lane Kiffin, is an example of this; one of the youngest head coaches in the NFL, Kiffin was fired by the Oakland Raiders in the middle of (yet another) disappointing season. He was then hired to head the University of Tennessee‘s program, but after his first year he was then recruited to be head coach for the storied USC program after Pete Carroll left to coach the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s far too early to see if the Vikings have made the right choice in releasing Moss, but whether we see improvement with the team or not, how can we be certain that Moss was the variable that was holding them back? Maybe quarterback Brett Farve’s critics are right and he’s past his prime. Or, maybe he’s too focused on the league’s investigation into his not-so-gentlemanly conduct with a female employee of another team. Maybe coach Childress has failed to adjust to changing conditions in the league. Maybe the team hasn’t recruited the right players over the last few years and is lacking talent. Maybe it’s a matter of personalities clashing on and off the field. How do we know which of these, or the hundreds of other, variables is the one keeping the Vikings from getting the results they want.

Maybe the Vikings should let Childress go- after all, blame for a team’s failure is usually placed at the feet of the head coach, right? But, if the coach is the cause of the failure, why do they so often land in other positions, and why do they have success there?

Let’s go back to the Raiders and Lane Kiffin- He was fired 4 games into his second season with the team (they were 4-12 his first year), and they finished the season with a 5-11 record. In 2006 under coach Art Shell, they had a record of 2-14, so under Tiffin had doubled the number of wins from the previous year. Since Tom Cable took over the team, they have finished 5-11 (the same record they had in Kiffin’s interrupted season) and begun this season at 4-4. (Source: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/rai/)

So, if the head coach is responsible for how well or poorly the team does, why do the Raiders continue to be, well, disappointing? They’ve had 5 head coaches in the last 9 seasons, and haven’t had more than 5 wins in a season since 2002 (they finished 11-5).

And, what does this all have to do with schools? Has this suddenly become a football blog?

No. There are things I do well, and sports analysis is not one of them. But I have been thinking recently about the similarities in the approach the owners of football teams and those looking to reform schools take, particularly when it comes to replacing teachers and administrators at under performing schools. After all, it makes sense, right? If a player isn’t performing, trade him. If a coach is losing, fire him. So, if a teacher isn’t getting their kids to score the way we want them on the state test, they should go, right? Same with the principal.

Yes, I know the metaphor breaks down if you take if far enough, but then all metaphors do eventually. After all, pro sports teams have vast resources and can be highly selective of who plays for them. Schools- at least traditional public schools- have limited resources and can’t exactly be selective about the kids who show up to “play” for them.

Teachers and administrators, while doubtless very significant when it comes to student performance, are only part of the equation. Kids come to school from homes where parents are incarcerated, where drugs are abused, where gangs are a constant threat, who have parents who are just plain supportive or absent, and public school take them. Kids have learning disabilities, behavior problems, emotional turmoil, and public schools take them.

I’m not making excuses for schools- we need to find ways to help these kids be successful so they can escape from this cycle, but is the best way to do that to remove the teachers and administrators who have worked towards that goal for years, and replace them with a fresh-from-TFA candidate or former business person?

Maybe this approach seems common-sense. But while it’s so wide-spread, and in so many different professions, what evidence do we have that it’s actually the best approach? Ask the Raiders.

We’re not failing…

“Schools are failing!”

“Kids are being short-changed!”

“Something must be done!”

“Accountability for teachers! Charter schools! Vouchers!”

You’ve heard it all before, a million times. Public schools are simply not doing what it is they are supposed to do. Change needs to happen. Now. Yesterday.

I had this thought today: No, schools are not failing.

Failure would mean that schools are not doing what they were designed to do, were not accomplishing the goals that had been set for them. But, we are doing that.

The problem is, schools are doing what they were designed to do a century ago- producing workers for an agricultural/industrial economy, one with minimal consumer technology, one with global communications measured in days or weeks rather than seconds, one with racial segregation as a matter of law, one with gender roles defined by generations of habit rather than individual ability. One that, in short, isn’t this world.

And try as they might, schools have been unable to adapt to the new world effectively. Well, unable to do so effectively as measured by standardized test scores and comparisons to other nations’ standardized test scores. Why?

Because we, as a nation, can’t agree on what we want schools to do. Sure, we all say, “Get them ready for the jobs of tomorrow!” What jobs are those, exactly? “Prepare them for the technology they’ll use in the future!” Do you know what technology that is? Because, if you do, I’d like to know so I can invest in the right companies today. Provide them with self esteem and a sense of responsibility! Give them basic skills! Offer after school care, dental, vision, and hearing screening! Teach them reproductive responsibility! Get them ready for college! Differentiate for their individual learning styles! And above all, raise those test scores!

Oh, and do it on the cheap, because we don’t want to pay for it.

The only solution, as I see it, is to close all schools down for 3-6 months, reconfigure classrooms, re-equip them, and give teachers, administrators, counselors, school psychologists, instructional assistants, even custodians and food service workers intensive training. But- and this is even more far-fetched than closing every school in the country for 3 months- we need a common, universal vision for what our schools ought to do. We need to be working towards the same goal, one for this century. We shouldn’t be preparing students to work in factories, because those are all moving overseas.

I don’t know what that vision is; there are far smarter, more experienced, more important folks than me who bear that responsibility. But I’m certain that we won’t every really figure this out unless we’re willing to make some commitments to change and some hard choices.

The Battle of the Bulge

photo taken from myvisiontest.com

Yeah. This is me.

Well, not technically me, because this picture is not of my abdomen, but I can identify with it.

Girth.

Belly.

Chubby.

Pudge.

A food-fueled love machine.

Call it what you will, we all know what it really is.

Fat. Fatty, fat, fatty.

I didn’t used to be like this.

Actually, that’s not true completely true.

The year I turned 35, I was anticipating the birth of my second son. I was over 200lbs, and felt old. I had a 3-year-old and didn’t feel like I could keep up with him, activity-wise. I’d start to sweat if I pushed my son on the swings for 5 minutes. This was not the way I wanted to live, so I went to my local gym and talked to a trainer. I started working out with him, eating better, and losing weight.

By the time my second son was a year old, I’d dropped nearly 50 lbs and begun training for marathons. Eventually I completed 2 full marathons, several half marathons, and countless 5- and 10-K races. I was never an age-group contender, but was happy in my middle-0f-the-pack finishes. No matter where I finished, I was proud of my accomplishments. I looked at myself as a runner. As an athlete.

Fast forward a few years- stress from the job, the ravages of age and gravity have reduced my once-impressive physique to that of a stereotypical middle-aged man. (I can’t help but think of the Mike Myers skits on SNL). I find myself once again north of 200, eating poorly and spending too much time sitting on my rear end.

But that ends now.

It’s not easy to start working out again, but then again, very little worth doing is easy. It’s tough to have to walk before you’ve finished jogging a slow mile when you used to be able to run 10 miles without a break. It’s tough to find yourself gasping for breath after 5 minutes of activity when, not long ago, you could work out for an hour easily.

Tough, but it has to happen.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination.

It’s been a little over a week, and I can feel my endurance returning. I’m more careful about what I eat, and feel better in general. The tricky part will be maintaining this progress once I return to work (that’s another issue entirely!), but I’m confident I can.

Besides, I owe it to myself and my family.

(Cross-posted at http://twitterexercisemotivationteam.blogspot.com/2010/08/battle-of-bulge.html)