Tag Archives: high school

National Teacher’s Day: Let’s Actually Start Valuing Our Teachers Again

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is National Teacher’s Day and not a moment too soon. However most people probably don’t know or care that it is. Teachers are not valued highly in our society. They used to be but not anymore. Ask a teacher how they feel about classroom conditions, support from the elected officials on school boards that use their office to attack the institutions that they have been elected to serve. Ask any teacher about the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” on their ability to teach and be able to reach out to students that learn differently from the rote memory exercises needed to pass a standardized test.

Higher education likewise is being gutted the formerly amazing California State University System, and the California Junior College system which I attended is being decimated. Professors have not competitive wages in years, programs are being cut while tuition is increased. I attended San Joaquin Delta College and paid $5 a semester plus books. I averaged $200 a year at Cal State Northridge. Programs were amazing, class sizes good, professors and instructors, excellent. That system and many others are in crisis.

You see teachers, especially those in Public Schools have for the last 30 years or so, ever since Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 passed in California and gutted educational spending the target of right wing pundits, politicians and preachers. They are blamed by some people for almost every ill in the educational system. If teachers complain or take their case to the media they are made the villain. In most States they don’t make a lot of money for all the education, training and certifications that they are required to have to teach.  They have few protections and those that they do have, mainly in the protections that they gained through their participation in organized labor are being stripped away in state after state.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s my dad was in the Navy. It was a turbulent time for our family. Due my dad’s transfers as well as a school boundary change in one district I ended up attending six different elementary schools in three states, three schools in three states in 4th grade alone. During that time our lives were in a constant state of flux and as a grade school student it was my teachers that helped me get through that time. Because of the transfers I didn’t get to have the opportunity to remain in a community long enough to get established until Junior High School. I was always “the new kid in town.” Not that that is bad or that I have any bad memories of that childhood. I found the new places, people and schools to be a grand adventure. In fact when my dad retired from the Navy I was not happy. I wanted him to stay in because I liked the adventure.

I remember every one of my elementary school teachers names, save one in 4th grade where were we not at the school long. There was the strict Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Brandenburg who made sure that she write with my right hand.  To this day my handwriting is illegible but who cares now when I type everything. Then there was my 1st Grade Teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs Christian. She was a sweetheart her husband was an airline pilot and in 1st grade, probably because of my handwriting I was tested for some learning difficulties. I guess that there was nothing wrong because that didn’t last long. In Second Grade I had Mrs Jackson. Then in 3rd grade a new school was opened and I attended Olympic View Elementary School.  My 3rd Grade Teacher was Mrs King.  It was in 3rd grade that I really began my adventure in reading. I devoured every book in the biography and history section that I could find in the Library, especially those dealing with military and political leaders, sports figures (especially baseball players) and military history.

I began 4th Grade at Olympic View but my dad was transferred to a travel intensive assignment in Long Beach California in the fall of 1968. I had my first male teacher at Olympic View, Mr Alguire who I really liked. We moved to Long Beach and it was a difficult move. there were a number of deaths and serious illnesses in the extended family and I attended Robert E Lee Elementary in Long Beach for just a few weeks before my dad had my mom, brother and I go live with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia. We arrived there in early December and I found that I was out of my element. My teacher at Miller Elementary was Mrs Gates. She was very tough and I was hammered with more homework than I had ever seen. I was also the “new kid” and since we had just moved from Long Beach a “city slicker” and was challenged to a fight in my first week. It was a draw. However Mrs Gates was a great teacher and I continued to read, write well but illegibly and learn to speak in front of the class.

When the school year was done we moved back to Long Beach when in a different neighborhood just across the cement lined San Gabriel River from Orange County I attended Hawaiian Gardens Elementary School where I met my friend Chris Brockel who I have managed to stay in contact over the years. That was probably my most fun year in school. I was asked if I wanted to skip 5th grade but I told the principle that I wanted to remain in my 5th Grade Class. My teacher was another gem, Mr Oliver. It was a great school year combined with the fact that my dad was always taking us to California Angeles baseball games.  But dad received orders to the elderly Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock CVA-19 home ported in Alameda California at the end of that school year which made another move necessary and initially thought had ruined my life. heck I had baseball, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary and Sea World. I saw my first professional hockey and basketball games and it was a dream life.

Since it was the early 1970s and the Bay Area was in turmoil and I had a great Aunt in Stockton  we moved to Stockton just down the street from her. In Stockton I attended Grover Cleveland Elementary School and had the woman that I think was my best teacher of elementary school Mrs Dietrich. My dad was underway or deployed most of the time between 1971 and 1974 when he retired. That first year was hard and like my other teachers Mrs Dietrich was a rock of stability who encouraged me to learn and think for myself.

I attended Stockton Junior High and Edison High School and there are were teachers at every grade level who I remember fondly. My French Teacher from 7th-9th Grade was Mrs Milhousen who was very patient with me. My history teacher was Mr Silvaggio who my brother would later teach on the same faculty in his first teaching assignment. I remember my Printing Shop and Wood Shop teachers, back then you had to become familiar with trade skills as well as academics. I learned to play the French Horn in band class which was taught by Mr Hull.

At Edison I still remember great teachers like Gloria Nomura, Mr Riley, Mr Oji, all who taught History or Social Studies, Donovan Cummings my Speech teacher, Coaches Charlie Washington, Vick Berg, Duke Pasquini.  There were others but two of the most important were my Naval Junior ROTC instructors LCDR James Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.  I could go on and on about teacher.

That continued in college and seminary. I am indebted to the wonderful, gifted and dedicated men and women that were my teachers.  My mom was a teacher’s aid when life settled down in Stockton when dad left the Navy and retired from the school district. Likewise my brother Jeff is a teacher and in administration at an alternative school in the district, his wife is an elementary school teacher.  I now have a BA and three graduate degrees. I am indebted to my teachers and cannot forget them. Teaching is hard. I have taught a couple of undergraduate level Western Civilization classes and the amount of work is enormous.

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Right Wing Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that beat up public school teachers at every opportunity. School Board members who seem to be more interested in political careers than education and those that hack away at programs that cater to the whole person I am disgusted. When I went to school those things that made me what I am today, the library, the gym classes, athletic programs, the foreign languages, art, music, speech, and things like shop were required. They helped give me an appreciation for the world and for people in general. They helped make me a more rounded person. From what I see now those kind of programs are being decimated and our kids will be poorer for it. This is not the fault of the teachers. They work with the crap being forced on them by politicians in Congress, statehouses and on school boards with ever shrinking resources and always increasing requirements.

We need to actually care about our teachers and educational systems. Policy and budget priorities set by politicians coupled with parents that are either bullies or absentee are the reason our schools are in trouble.

I hate to lecture but teachers matter. Education policy matters. Educational funding matters. If we want to be competitive in the world we need to make education a priority again and start giving teachers some measure of respect and stop using them as a straw man to divert attention from the real causes of our educational crisis.

Today is National Teacher’s Day. Admittedly it is after hours but take some time in the next few days to thank a teacher.  If you don’t have kids, go back and thank one of your own.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under economics and financial policy, laws and legislation, Political Commentary

Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under Political Commentary

The Unassuming Miscreant: How Padre Steve got his Driver’s License

Who would think that the Young man in the Aviator Sunglasses could be so devious? 

Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me.  In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”This is just the first installment of my high school follies so look for more in the future.

I was a quiet and unassuming high school delinquent back in the 1970s and I love the classic 80’s comedy Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.  When I watch it I always reminisce about the good and not so good times that I enjoyed and did not enjoy in high school.  When I watch the movie I am reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds which included weaseling my way through or out of classes, escaping school to get my driver’s license by playing dead and cutting Geometry class so often by hiding in the library that the library staff thought it was my assigned class.

You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam which was not the place one hung out if one was in the real “in crowd.” I sacrificed my love of baseball to appear cool by playing on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well. I was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy.  I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus while I was a complete goof off or no show in some classes I was a show off in other classes that I was good at which gave people the illusion that I was a really good student.  I was in those classes but image is everything and my High School GPA was just a bit above 3.0.

Now most people never suspected me of anything devious except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school.  Little brothers and sisters have that ability.

I found that by masquerading as a serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were.  The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image.  It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.  I looked the part of the serious student thus that was what most people assumed that I was.

All of us at Edison High School had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training.  I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport.   During the class we got to see two of the best “scare the shit out of you” films of all time.  They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here:http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/

These are some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them.  When Mrs. Davenport left the room a couple of us played these films backwards on the 16mm projector, which led to images of dead people’s heads reappearing on their shoulders.  If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence due to the close up depictions of dead bodies.  I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty cool in kind of a retro-creepy way.

Once we got through that class which took place in the fall we started the actual driver’s education portion in the spring. The idea was that when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass written and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.  This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair and a growling who seemed out of place in the school but who was a great teacher.   He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless.  The Driver’s Education classes were limited to 3 students and included classroom instruction, a bunch of time behind the wheels of a simulator followed by supervised driving.   Our class had an orange Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat.   This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV.  I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.

When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV.  This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976.  That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM because I needed her to take me to the DMV. She assumed like everyone else that I had permission to do the things that I said that I needed to do.  However I was flying by the seat of my pants and was about to embark on a gamble that if discovered would get me in trouble with the school and even worse at home. I was going to fake being deathly ill.

In my second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick. I told the teacher that I felt feverish and that I might throw up.  Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover and prerequisite when feigning illness.  The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse.  I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers.  The corridor was empty except for staff policing the hallways for the miscreants hoping to cut class or escape for the day. They saw me but saw my pass to the nurse and assumed that I was deathly ill.

The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness.  She was no dummy, had been a school nurse forever and didn’t take any shit but she was a most genial person.  I entered the office doing my best to look like I had the plague or other life threatening malady and prayed that I could pull off my escape with the unwitting permission of the Stockton Unified School Disctrict.  I told the nurse my story but she was not convinced.  However since I was still sweaty and flushed and she took my temperature.  I prayed that I would actually have one….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1, not too high but still febrile.  How I pulled that off the temperature I don’t know to this day because I didn’t expect to have it taken.

The nurse then looked at me and said “Young Man, you do have a mild fever, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?”  I nodded meekly and replied that I thought that I was going to throw up, careful not to look her in the eye because I wanted to look really sick.  She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water.  She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune; she had given me exactly what I needed to pull off my stunt.  I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door.  I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet.  I did this again and again for about 5 minutes.  When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office.  By that time she was already on the phone with my mom.  “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM.  She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way saying that “I hoped that I did too,” thanked her and walked slowly to the main entrance of the school on South center Street.

About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school, she was very concerned and asked “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.”  She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.”  Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed and disgusted her.

We went to the DMV where I passed the written and the driving test and posed for my first driver’s license picture.  I was street legal and had brazenly pulled off a stunt which not only got me my driver’s license but got me out of school early on a Friday.

I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Just for fun, purely humorous, School stories