November 27, 2013

Oh, Arne...I Think You Shoulda Stuck To Ballin'

Let me be the first to go on record as saying this teaching gig wasn't where I thought I'd find myself at almost 40.  A lawyer or architect, perhaps, but not this thankless (except by my hormonal, twitchy fan club of 12 year-olds) and underpaid profession.  And, yet, here I am...

So it goes with Arne Duncan.  He's the Secretary of Ed dude for the WHOLE country.  All of us.  As in, from sea to shining sea...or inner-city project to the foothills of Appalachia.  He is numero uno in the food chain. (um, in case you haven't guessed, I am not numero uno.  I am, like, numero 145 quadzillion.  I am a minion.)

I'm betting Arne wishes he could take this back, but maybe not.  Maybe he is so amazed by the man he sees in the mirror he is totally okay with what he said.  What he said was, "All of a sudden, their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."  I believe he said he was 'fascinated' by their response.  He was talking about white suburban moms.  I think I'm one of those, but I could be poor, rural Appalachian trash. Either way, I'm going to pretend it was me because it might as well be.

Short little history on the man running our nation's educational system...He was raised in Hyde Park in Chicago.  You might recognize that because it also happens to be where the President is from, too. Hyde Park is racially diverse and is pretty much all liberal.  

Growing up he attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.  It's pretty fancy. Check it out here. He was graduated from Harvard with a degree in sociology.  I am pretty damn sure that is why he was fascinated by those white suburban moms.  Sociology is the study of human behavior, after all.  

So, what does a man with a Harvard degree in Sociology do after graduation? Well, if you're Arne, you head to Australia to play basketball.  While ballin', he also worked with troubled children as a social worker.  Not a teacher...a social worker. (Props to my social worker friends, but I don't do what you do and you don't do what I do.)

After returning to the States, he began working with the Ariel Education Initiative.  Conveniently, a childhood friend was the person who appointed him to this position.  The initiative is the offshoot of an investment firm.  His job was to mentor struggling youth.  It wasn't too successful, though, and the school closed.  Never fear, though, because he reopened it as a charter school.  Charter schools receive public money,  but have more freedom in what/how they teach.  

After a short time, he was chosen as CEO as the Chicago Public Schools. From what I've read, his ran the system like a business.  Which is fine...if you're making grills or radiator caps.  He closed neighborhood schools, displaced staff, and opened up charter schools.  He was, truly, the CEO...not a director or a superintendent, but a market-brained CEO.  Again, if you're the CEO of a company, go rock that life.  Show me the money, Arne.  Kids don't work that way, though.

Why am I telling all this?  I don't hate Arne, but I have serious problems with the people steering the education of my kids.  I am beyond lucky because my school system is amazing and our director 'gets' it.  Others aren't so lucky.

Food for thought...Einstein's brain weighed less, was wider, and had different grooving than the average human brain.  Why do we expect that not to be true of kids today?  All kids are not alike...You don't stamp them out at the factory. 

Bottom line is you, Arne, have not taught in a classroom.  You married a PE teacher from Australia.  Your mom ran an after-school program, and your dad was a professor.  I'm not real sure how that qualifies you to be the Secretary of Education, but I suppose someone thought it was a good idea....So was the Edsel.

I can get on-board with the criticism of grade inflation.  There are plenty of teachers feeling pressured to "support" grades with fluff material just so Johnny's dad won't come barreling into the school asking for a job/head on a platter.  Go back and look at your own middle school grade card...according to mine, I wasn't the brightest bulb on the strand.  Next time your kid doesn't bring home straight A's, think on that.  Your kids' grades aren't your claim to fame despite what your stupid bumper sticker says. Quit living vicariously.

And I will proudly say I had no clue what to do when it came to college.  Kids need to be better prepared, but college should not be a given.  It should be, by God, an institution of thinking.  It should be hard.  Hello?  It's college! It's where you go to learn about the stuff you want to learn about, not what someone like Arne thinks you should learn.  

I'm going out on a limb here, but I think this has become a huge pissing contest between us  and the world. "Oh, yeah, you have this many college graduates?  Well, we're gonna have more!"  For the love of God, quit using developing brains to make yourself feel better.

So, that said...I hope you figure it out, Arne.  For the sake of the nation's children...for the sake of those kids I birthed over the past 13 years....and for your own sake.  Screwing up a whole generation of kids would be quite the burden to bear.

P.S. On a sidenote, I don't think CC is the devil.  Matter of fact, I can see benefits.  It's not creating a legion of little baby socialists.  However, the same way I can't fit into my best friend's size 4 jeans, one education can't fit all kids.  Diversity is more than the color of skin.

November 25, 2013

The Wife I Am

Most of ya'll probably know I am married man who just happens to be a police officer.  The fact that he married me is almost as shocking as him being a police officer. I would've never seen that when we were in high school!  A while ago I asked him if it would be okay if I wrote about his profession, and he said it was.  This is less about him, though, and more about what it's like for the rest of us.

When we were all younger and less wise, police officers were those people to be avoided.  They gave you tickets for speeding and took you "downtown" when you got caught rolling people's homes in the middle of the night.  (Not that I did that, but my favorite "associates" might have...)  They were intimidating and you avoided them like the plague.  Some people still think of them this way:  Scary, mean, not to be trusted.

I wonder what it is like to be married to someone who works 9-5 Monday through Friday...what it's like to have every weekend it would be to eat dinner as a family each night.  I wonder if life would be different if we had to share a bathroom each morning before beginning our days...or got into bed together to wind down and talk about how the day had gone.

There are many nights he is late getting in, or at least later than I expect.  He usually won't leave until all his shift is in and accounted for, so there's never a "usual" time.  It might be he needs to talk to the shift coming on, or maybe there's paperwork. Whatever it may be, there is usually little time to call me. Not because he doesn't care, but because his responsibility lies elsewhere at that moment.

Whenever this happens, which can be often, I find myself going through my usual thought process:  If he's in trouble, which grandparents do I call if I have to go to the hospital?  What if they're not home?  How fast can I get there?  Can the kids stay in the waiting room?  What if I have to decide if they should go in?  What if he doesn't come home?  Can I raise these kids alone?  Surely God wouldn't ever do this, right?  This is my depressing,  yet necessary, train of thought.

He misses soccer games and school programs.  He has to go out at odd hours sometimes and I'm not sure when he'll be home.  I do a lot of our parenting alone when he is at work.  It's difficult at best to swing between being a one-parent home and a two-parent home.  Add in three kids, and I am waaayyy out-numbered.  

You get used to doing it by yourself and all of a sudden there's another parent in the mix. Shifting between the two is challenging.  It's harder still to get back into the groove of being a couple when you literally haven't seen each other in five days other than a quick good-bye in the hallway.  

Being married to him means I'm not as innocent and trusting as I used to be. I've always been a chicken, but now I'm a paranoid chicken.  Everyone is a potential carjacker/murderer/rapist.  When the house creaks, it's obviously Jack the Ripper coming through the door.  It couldn't be, oh, the house just creaking or anything, ya know, logical.

In short, the person I am has been directly shaped by the person he is and the job he lives.  It colors our family's lives and our friendships.  It has woven itself into everything about us.  It's a different life, but it's mine.

November 10, 2013

Well-behaved Women and all that...Rewriting History

There's the old internet favorite quote about well-behaved women seldom making history.  Apparently you gotta break the rules to rewrite the history books.  I would bet that women who are not well-behaved as adults were probably not all that well-behaved as children....that's my assumption, of course.  Maybe they were perfect angels and life somehow altered them in a way that changed their perfect demeanor.  Who knows?  Maybe they were just born to raise hell...

My youngest was christened with the nickname Hurricane because this is generally how she tears through life.  The last 20 words I've uttered, after making sure my mother was going to trim my Crepe Myrtles so that I didn't butcher them, have been (in no particular order) "Stop!"  "1-2-don't make me say 3!" "Get away from the spider-infested playhouse!" "Go wrestle with your dad!!!"  If you followed me around with a recorder, this is my daily mantra. Some people have om; I have "So help me God!"

I know people judge me when they see her sometimes-well-maybe-alot of questionable behavior.  Truly, I feel bad because they think she is a heathen and undisciplined.  Some of it is pity for myself, but more so for her. She is a hard child to parent because to try to reign her in would only cause her to fight more.

I admit I have added to it.  When people have asked how she is, I respond, "If she'd been first, she'd been last."  However, that is possibly the truth. This girl is a work-out 24-7.  There is no downtime for her, which means no downtime for us.  As much as I delight in her, there are days when I wish for a kid who would go play quietly with some dolls or trucks or crayons or something...just something.  


She is so golden and pure and good.  There is a light within her that is unlike anything I have ever encountered.  She is fearless and full of wisdom.  She is a teller of the truth, even when it wounds those who need to hear it.

Recently she was holding up the bathroom line at preschool.  Her teacher was concerned she was taking a bit too long to take care of business, so she gently opened the door to check on her.  There she was, drawers at her ankles on the pot with her chubby four-year-old hands clasped in prayer.  The teacher, who knows and loves her, gently asked who she was praying for, she responded her grandpa needed some extra prayers that day.  The teacher let her finish her business (both toiletry and prayers) and she moved on with her life for the day.  

She can tell you where President Andrew Johnson is buried and much about his life.  She knows that the leaves are turning colors and falling because the chlorophyll is leaving them.  And, yes, she uses the word chlorophyll.  She understands how echos work.  She is amazing.

I know that raising her will be a challenge.   She is going to test every boundary we and society set for her. She will test her teachers and try their patience.  But she is going to be a freaking mind-blowing adult.  I believe she will embrace every hurdle life hands her. She will stomp through life willing everyone to live as fiercely as she does.  And I think they will.  

"And though she be but little, she is fierce."  Right on, Shakespeare...right on.