We’re here! We’re just busy!

Amigo asked me if I’d blogged about his barbershop chorus’ spring show yet, and I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t blogged in two weeks – ages, in the blogging world!

The barbershop chorus outdid themselves – again. The talents of a creative script writer, two knowledgeable and talented directors, and a big bunch of guys who love to sing – what could go wrong? Not much, really. They sang well, Amigo picked up the choreography (despite his visual impairment), and all the costumes were fun. They dressed as iconic musicians; Amigo was Garth Brooks. Jeans, a Wrangler shirt, and a black cowboy hat, and he looked the part.

The chorus sang well, the guest quartet was amazing, and hey, did I mention I sold two ads for the program? Next year, I know exactly who to contact and how far ahead to get in touch. This chorus is such an amazing group of people, I’m willing to give them all the support I can.

Meanwhile, back at the O.K. Chorale, it’s “Spring” in Wisconsin. Uh-huh. We’re in the midst of a record-breaking spring blizzard. As the wind blows outside, and we’re relaxing inside, I’m grateful for many things.

I’m grateful that Chuck’s back is feeling better. He threw it out doing taxes. Yes, taxes. Two weeks ago! He felt strong enough to snowblow the driveway, and I’m grateful for that. I shoveled some of the spots that are hard to get to with the beast of a snowblower we own, and then we sat down for a few minutes to rest.

I’m grateful that we made it to and from Best Buy without incident. I’m grateful for the sense of humor of the pickup truck driver, or at least whoever made the snowman in the truck bed. I was grateful earlier this week that we had an old microwave in the basement that pulled us through for a few days after the one in the kitchen quit.

I’m grateful to the neighborhood meat market for being open and for giving customers a 10% discount if we mentioned seeing their Facebook post. Heck, yeah, I saw the post! We stocked up on goodies and more.

I’m grateful we have firewood and a fireplace. If this heavy snow knocks out the power, we may need to venture outside and get more wood. No matter what, though, we’ll be warm.

 

Comprehension, Understanding, and What the President Doesn’t Get

It feels like I see headlines every day that say, “Trump Doesn’t Understand (fill in the blank)!” Recent articles in that category included “Trump doesn’t understand the Post Office” and “Trump doesn’t understand community colleges,”

Teachers know that understanding is actually rather low on the scale of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Using the updated taxonomy from the bottom up, Understanding is second on the list, after Knowledge/Remembering. Essentially, remembering a fact or concept  is the most basic skill, and understanding that fact or concept is next. Moving higher on the scale and increasing in complexity are these stages: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Regular readers will know that I’ve referred to Awareness as the lowest form of knowledge. Awareness doesn’t even register on Bloom’s Taxonomy; it’s not even equal to Remembering. Autism Awareness? Breast Cancer Awareness? Get with it, people, we should be far beyond simple awareness of major issues.

Awareness might be where Trump falls with his lack of knowledge of the US Postal Service and his lack of understanding of community colleges. He knows they exist – Awareness – but he doesn’t remember much about them, much less understand how either organization functions.

El Presidente shows his ignorance, er, lack of knowledge or understanding of basic concepts, all too often. Communications through Twitter, statements released through his press secretary, and off the cuff comments all demonstrate his incompetence.

What I can’t understand is this: how did the United States elect this ignorant fool to the highest office in the land? And why do we allow him to make the nation look foolish?

The Polls Have Closed; Now What?

Big news earlier this week in Wisconsin! Progressive voters spread the word, and statewide results show it. Despite the governor’s efforts to dumb down the electorate, Wisconsinites elected a progressive judge to the state supreme court and turned down a referendum that would have eliminated the elected State Treasurer’s office in favor of a political appointee.

Now what?

That’s a personal question, too. In the past, I’ve been actively involved in local, state, and national progressive politics. In 2016, election results broke my heart. Now the massive mid-term election is approaching, and I’m not sure how deeply I want to get involved. After watching 2016 results slide down the toilet, I seriously wonder how effective our strategies are – or at least how ineffective our strategies were – and what the party activists have in mind for change.

Phone calls! I saw Facebook posts congratulating volunteers who made calls to Get Out the Vote. Meanwhile, I avoided the phone all day, every day, for several days before the polls opened – and even all day election day. Why are we still phone banking when so many people like me are refusing to pick up?

Signs! Most of our signs around town were for local races. The school board candidates with the most signs also earned the most votes, so I’ve got to say that was good. As long as the voters displaying signs promise to vote, I’m all in with campaign signs. Sh: Don’t tell, but I still have my Obama sign from 2012. I think the rabbit ate 2008, but I have my memories and my pins. 

I still follow the local party on Facebook, and I get emails from several campaigns. Email! That’s another tactic in the category of phone banks. I don’t even read them anymore, unless the email is from a friend or at the least from someone I actually know. One tactic used in sending campaign emails is this: use a different account and sender name each time. For example, George Pro for Governor might send his own emails, and Mary Jane for George Pro, Henny Penny for George Pro, and Chicken Little for George Pro will all send emails saying, “The sky is falling unless you donate! Donate now!” making it nearly impossible to unsubscribe to a particular campaign’s email.

Seriously, what next? Until my locals change their tactics, I won’t be joining them. I fear they’ll wait too long, do too little and do it too late, and the November elections will fall flat. This election is important enough that the folks in charge need to change, and need to change now.

Major, Minor – Oh, the Humanities!

It’s one notch in the larger troubles in Wisconsin, and again, it’s complicated. I can boil it down to a Governor who doesn’t value education, K-12 or university level. We can deconstruct the issue into its basic ingredients: budget cuts, high cost of tuition, student loan debt, emphasis on STEM careers, and more.

University of Wisconsin campuses are facing hard times. In fact, the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a small yet vibrant campus, has announced that they will be eliminating 13 majors at their school.

A major is a specialty, a concentration or focus in one curricular area. A student might major in history, for example, or world languages, English, science, art, or music. Many of these areas need to be specific. A science major might emphasize biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science – the list goes on and on. Depending on the school, a major might take up half to two thirds of a college student’s course load. When all is said and done, when that student puts on the mortarboard cap with tassel, he or she will have earned a degree, most likely a bachelor’s degree, in their major.

Back to the major issue at UW-Stevens Point. English, history, philosophy, political science, Spanish, and sociology are a few of the subjects that will no longer be available as majors at UWSP. Marketing, business, and other “practical” majors will remain.

Somehow, the Powers That Be at Stevens Point still plan to train teachers in English, history, and the rest. A secondary teacher used to need a major in their area of specialty. A math major would earn a major in math, and along the way gather enough educational courses (ed psych, ed sociology, to name a couple) to qualify to student teach for a term. I’m not sure how they plan to educate the next generation of educators without majors in the humanities.

Forbes calls it “Inhumanity.”  I fear it’s something else. Along with governor “Who needs a degree, anyway?” and his attack on the state’s public school system, it seems like he and his cohorts are bent on creating a lesser-educated public. Voters with less knowledge are, after all, less apt to think critically and ask hard questions.

The sour taste coming out of our budget-starved smaller campuses might be only the beginning in what seems to be the Dumbing Down of Wisconsinites.

Inhumanity, indeed.

Don’t give me a gun.

This is the only Glock I want in my school.

Glockenspiel, a.k.a. Bells

We watched the #MarchForOurLives walk through the downtown of my fair city. I didn’t have my camera ready, so I’ll have to improvise. Great signs included:

Teachers need to be paid, not armed

Books, not bullets

My right to bear children who will not be shot! 

Guns have more rights than my uterus does! 

We also saw two ACLU observers with bright vests and walkie talkies. I wondered if they anticipated trouble? One was near the middle of the crowd, the other closer to the end.

Many, many drivers waved and honked. We weren’t the only watchers, either; there were many like us who came to cheer and clap and support those who participated. I was proud to see such a turnout for a progressive cause in my small, conservative city.

#NeverAgain  #MarchforourLives

 

#Walkup? Not Walkout?

It’s complicated. Remember when I said that? I thought I explained it. The simple solutions have not and will not solve a complex problem.

Should teachers and parents teach students to be nice to people, not to bully or harass others? Yes, yes, and yes.

Should adults, teens, and children reach out to make friends? Yes, yes, and absolutely.

Should a student who is socially awkward, disliked, and perhaps emotionally disabled suddenly find himself surrounded by “friends”? No, no, and no.

Kids, whether children or teens, know true interactions from false. They know when someone’s being sincere and when someone is just condescending. They recognize the patronizing metaphorical pat on the head. They can sense when a teacher pushes kids to approach them, pretending the interaction is spontaneous.

Kids, and most adults, too, for that matter, have a built-in BS detector. “Sit by that kid at lunch and he won’t become the next school shooter.” Um, no. No. Not effective.

I saw a social skills activity taking place at a middle school that actually made sense. Each student received 17 sticky notes – one for each death at Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. On each sticky note, they were instructed to write something positive. A compliment, perhaps, or a kind word. They were assigned to place the sticky notes on the lockers of seventeen different students in the building.

On the positive side: Not a locker was untouched. Every single student received at least one positive affirmation sticky note. I presume the lockers were labeled, and students knew where to find their friends’ and acquaintances’ lockers.

On the negative side: These were anonymous affirmations. The recipients didn’t know who wrote them, why they wrote them, or if they really meant what they said.

And there’s the rub. Writing 17 sticky notes is symbolic and can be part of the healing process. But if the intention is to prevent someone from becoming violent, to reach out and touch someone before it’s too late, this activity won’t do it. If the sticky note affirmations are for the writers, then yes, it’s an effective social skills lesson. If the aim is to build up the angry loner, well, sorry folks, this kind of act is meaningless.

Damn, I wish I were wrong.

Kitchen Planning, sequel.

Have I mentioned that we’re remodeling the kitchen at the O.K. Chorale? It’s all consuming, and we haven’t even started demo. We’re still planning. Details, details, details!

Chuck and I made a trip to Lowe’s – again. We have wandered the aisles in search of wisdom in cabinet design, color (paint or stain?), handles and knobs, under-cabinet lighting, and more. I didn’t know that so many decisions were involved.

Add to the sheer number of decisions the fact that Chuck and I work opposite shifts. We communicate a lot by text message and email, but any true conversation and discussion have to happen on a weekend. This is dragging out the process longer and longer.

We’re close, though. We’re close to calling the designer and telling her, “We’re ready! Here are the details! Let’s make an order!” And then the real work begins.

Due to the age of our house (built 1890), every single element has to be custom. We’ll place the order, and then we’ll wait for the cabinets to be built. Meanwhile, we have a long to-do list to prepare for this project.

  • Empty the cupboards, upper and lower
  • Store the contents of the cupboards somewhere – anywhere.
  • Set up a temporary “kitchen” in another room.
  • Set up coffeemaker in another room.
  • Invest in disposable dishes OR make a plan for washing dishes without a sink.
  • Empty the refrigerator and freezer to prepare for moving this appliance.
  • Make room for computer desk and bookshelf currently in dining room
  • Find temporary storage for dining room table and chairs
  • Cancel cleaning service until project is done
  • Remind selves that we will enjoy the new kitchen for many years before selling even comes on the radar, at which time the lovely kitchen will be a major advantage.

Meanwhile, life as we know it continues.

Violence is Here, too

When Sandy Hook School was attacked, 20 children slaughtered, 6 staff members murdered along with them, I wanted to huddle inside my own house. My little bubble was okay, no matter how awful the scene was in Newtown, Connecticut.

That fragile circle around my world didn’t stay whole, though. My bubble, the bubble that includes my students, was breached.

A man shot and killed three on a walking trail near my town in May of 2015 – just three years ago. A fourth person was wounded, but made it to safety. The shooter turned the gun on himself, and he died on the way to the hospital.

The next day, I learned that the 10 year old girl killed on the trail was a close friend of one of my students. Ten years old! With a close friend lost to gun violence! My bubble, like theirs, exploded.

About a year later, in a small Wisconsin town, a young man approached the high school prom and shot two students as they exited the dance. The two prom-goers survived; the shooter was shot by a police liaison officer and died on the scene.

Days later, I spent time listening to one of my students and her mother, both of whom knew the shooter well. The girl schooled online through my school, so she wasn’t in classes with the young people involved, but it’s a small town. Everyone knew him, everyone knew his mother. By extension, as a teacher, I was part of their bubble.

It’s the concentric circle theory, like dropping a pebble in water, but it’s a gunshot, not a pebble, spreading its impact. I hate the idea that someday it will be commonplace, not unique, to have a bubble burst by a shooting. I haven’t experienced a shooting, thank God, but I’ve been close enough to people who have.

Unfortunately, I feel all too far away from those who could make change and stop mass shootings from becoming everyday, all too common events. Those in Congress, in the Senate, and in the White House need to pass meaningful legislation, and pass it now.

Remember When – This Shooting Happened

When Sandy Hook School was attacked, 20 children slaughtered, 6 staff members murdered along with them, I wanted to stay home. I wanted to hold onto my own children, even though they were no longer children.

I had promised to attend a piano recital, though. One of my students was playing, and I didn’t want to let her down. What to do?

I took a deep breath and went to the recital, and I’m glad I did. By leaving the house, I could tell myself that life was normal and all was well – even if it wasn’t, might never be all well in the world. My little bubble was okay, no matter how awful the scene was in Newtown, Connecticut.

My colleague was substitute teaching in a first grade class that day. She will forever remember looking into those children’s faces and realizing that those who died were just like them.

We teachers view school shootings like that. It could have been my school. Those children were just like my students. The teachers did everything right, followed all the safety procedures. And still, they died. They died violently, in a tragedy that made no sense.

My message today is this: The Sandy Hook tragedy made no sense then, and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School’s tragedy makes no sense now. The inaction of our elected officials made no sense then, and makes no sense now.

In conclusion? There will be no conclusion until Congress takes action and bans weapons and ammunition that have only one purpose: to kill.

Gardening in Winter

I ordered seeds. I brought a bucket of potting soil in the house. Next: start the tomatoes and peppers. Oh, the herbs, too. I kind of let those dry out and die from neglect.

Tomatoes, and perhaps the peppers, too, will grow in containers this year. I have a few already. Then when we discovered a new-to-us store full of collectibles and vintage goodies, I found three more pots big enough for tomatoes. Yay!

Last year was a rough year for tomatoes. I bought a lot of tomatoes and peppers from the farmers markets. The cause might have been weather, cold temperatures at all the wrong times, lack of rain when we needed it, too much rain when we didn’t, you know the drill. Tomatoes, however, can drain the soil of its nutrients. I wondered if I’d planted tomatoes and peppers just one summer too many, and the soil just had nothing to give. My solution is this: tomatoes in containers for a year. They’ll have fresher soil in the pots, and the garden soil can replenish itself with the help of organic material (compost! Yeah!) and some interim “crops” like beans and peas.

It’s still winter, though. March came in like a confused animal, neither lion nor lamb, so I have no idea how the rest of the time from now until spring might unfold. New England is getting hit with another nor’easter, as the Weather Channel says. Closer to home, Minnesota might see a major snowstorm soon. Here? Who knows?

In Audrey Hepburn’s words, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Planning that garden and starting seeds in winter – now that’s faith.