There are many virtues that comprise a good person. Some of these are: love of others, generosity, humility, tolerance, honesty, trustworthiness, patience, and my favorite, responsibility. All these seem to have a common thread in the complex fabric that makes us who we are. It seems that it would be hard to practice any one of these virtues without practicing all of them. Consider the rungs of a ladder. With missing rungs the ladder becomes a very dangerous tool. We humans, as seen by of most religions, have a responsibility to treat our fellow-man in an honest, trustworthy, loving, generous, humble, patient, caring and tolerant manner. Based on the contents of the evening news and newspapers, it appears that there are some of us who are not very religious.
As a teacher it was my responsibility to teach responsibility. The Funk and Wagnalls’ dictionary defines responsibility as:

1. The state of being responsible or accountable.

2. That for which one is answerable; a duty or trust.

3. Ability to meet obligations or act without superior authority or guidance.
It seems to me that the primary responsibility of a student is to learn to function in and understand the world around him. This includes being accountable for one’s actions. I think that we do not adequately teach our students to be accountable. I cannot count the number of students I have known who were passed from grade to grade without having mastered several subjects. Not only have we taught these students that they need not be responsible for their failure to perform, but just as important, we have shown other students that being accountable is not that important.
One of the biggest complaints voiced by teachers is about discipline. Stop at any table where teachers are talking and the discussion will inevitably turn to discipline. The inability of the schools to discipline students mirrors society’s ineptness at dealing with the individuals who are unable to abide by its laws. In the classroom, teachers are reduced to making threats, repeated warnings that are documented with forms and calling parents to inform them that their child is not following school rules (which often turns into blaming the teacher for the child’s behavior) and generally toothless discipline. The teacher is no longer able to help a child see the consequences of his behavior because most of the time there are none.

Ability to meet obligations or act without superior authority or guidance is an interesting concept. I would have to say that this idea is no longer practiced in this country. In no way are we encouraged to make a decision without consulting a higher authority who then consults an even higher authority and on and on to oblivion. In the classroom this is seen through the endless paper-work teacher do to discipline a child. Of course there are the multiple warnings, and the parent’s notifications, parent phone calls to the answering machine and the conferences, all leading to an administrator making a decision about the child’s inability to behave in class, and I might add, he has probably not personally witnessed. Meanwhile, time has passed, class has been disrupted, teacher time wasted and education pushed to the side. If the teacher is responsible for the education of the 25 or so students, then let the teacher do the job! Give the teacher control of the room! No child has the right to interfere with another child’s education and no child has the right to keep a teacher from doing the job he was hired and trained to do.

There is one more article to follow on this subject in which I will offer my humble solution for fixing education in our country.  Stay tuned!

Capon Bridge students bike trek 1995-C&O Canal

This is a story I wrote for the Hampshire review a long time ago. I thought it would be fitting as a pro log to my article on responsibility coming soon. I do believe that self-esteem and responsibility are closely related. If you know any of the students who took this trip in 1995, please let them know that I have posted it.

It was a typical spring morning in Cumberland Maryland. A slight breeze was blowing through the hair of 23 (unaware of what was coming) anxious bikers and two eager teachers as they made last-minute preparations for the three-day trek ahead of them. Charlie Streisel was busy checking each bike and adjusting seats, brakes and anything else that needed attention. Steve Bailes was busy pumping tires up to the proper pressure and making arrangements for leaving. At 9:00 am everything and every body seemed ready for takeoff. Charlie gathered everyone together for one more session on safety, trail courtesy, water consumption and the need to take their time so that their bodies would last the entire trip. The time had come to begin the longest self-powered trip any of our trekers had ever attempted. Cheerfully they headed down the trail laughing and in good spirits as Charlie chanted as if possessed, slow down, you will be sorry, slow down, you will be sorry…The campers paid little attention to the warnings, the trail was flat, the weather was great. How could they possible get tired? Miles began to pass under the wheels of the excited bikers and enthusiasm eroded like the banks of the never-ending canal we were following. After three hours and 27 miles we reached Paw Paw, the half-way point for the first day. We enjoyed a lunch put together by the motorized support crew consisting of Brenda Pyles, Mady Alkire, Sue Streisel and Terry Bailes. Many bikers expressed concern that they had only come half-way to their first day’s destination. Charlie assured them that they were doing fine and the pain they were experiencing from the close relationship with their bike seats would soon fade away. (Of course he was lying. What else could he do?) After another five hours of steady riding we reached our first nights lodging in Hancock, Maryland, took our showers and prepared to gorge ourselves at the local Pizza Hut. After seven Big-Foot pizzas and gallons of drinks we lifted ourselves from our seats and waddled back to the hotel in preparation for another day on the canal.
The morning came too fast, breakfast passed quickly and it was time to reunite our bottoms with our friend, the bicycle seat. The day passed quickly for some and not so quickly for others and after 8 hours of glorious riding and complaining we pulled into Harpers Ferry and bedded down in a very interesting place called a youth hostel. There we met many different people and ate lots of spaghetti and pancakes in preparation for our last leg of the journey. Again, morning came too quickly and we were on the trail. The last day of the trip was a short 50 miles, nothing compared to the 60 miles we traveled each previous day, but nature had a few surprises ready for us.
That evening it had rained hard and the canal was very muddy. After a short time we all appeared to wearing a uniform of the same color, sort-of-a brown color resembling mud.
As the day passed the river widened and became more spectacular as we approached Great Falls. A sense of urgency seemed to spread through the group as they sensed the end of their journey. Several thousand mud holes later we rolled into Great Falls Virginia, the end of our trek.
Somehow these young adults seemed different from three days ago, they seemed stronger, there was a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing they had biked 170 miles in three days. It is important to realize the real reason this kind of experience is important to our young people. It gives them courage to face the many trials and tribulations life has to offer. It helps them learn to believe in themselves and just as important…to have fun! As Charlie Streisel was heard saying, you can’t but self-esteem at the supermarket.

What education is supposed to do and not supposed to do Part two

In my first article I discussed issues that prevent the modern classroom from functioning properly. Now, I want to delve into what we expect from the classroom teacher. In a word… everything! Today’s teachers ( the school systems) are responsible for all aspects of a child’s development. We start children out younger because the average American family is working too hard making a living rather than raising their children. We transport children to and from school, provide breakfast and lunch to most children. Almost any service you can think of can be obtained through the school system. If your child need counseling, a hearing test or eye test, fluoride for teeth, home tutoring, various kinds of psychological testing, just ask the school system. Decades ago all of these and many more were the sole responsibility of the parents. In fact, schools even teach children how to catch and throw a ball, a duty that was a parental responsibility. Teachers often function in loco parentis, which means they have the powers and responsibilities of the parent.
Public education over the last 50 years has attempted to fill a void left by a society obsessed with material belongings. Very few households can afford having one of the parents to stay home to take care of the children. The average home has two working adults just to survive. Due to time constraints, this leaves the typical family struggling to meet the emotional needs of their children. Our cultural began to see the effect of industrialization on the family and began to give ever-increasing duties and responsibilities to the school system. That is how we reached the place we are today.
Here lies the problem we face as a society. The family is struggling and losing its foothold in this materialistic revolution. We must decide which direction we want to go. Do we continue to allow the schools to assume additional family duties to ensure that our children have basic life skills or do we somehow revitalize the family? I think it is pretty obvious that the school is not up to raising children.
So here lies the quandary. Do we continue bailing out the sinking boat or do we let the boat sink and start over? Public education is in serious trouble! Many high school students can neither read at grade level or perform basic math skills. Surveys have suggested that generation X lacks basic math skills, reading, writing, geography, and a rudimentary understanding of our own Constitution. I have met people from foreign countries who are more knowledgeable about our political system than our own young people.
The following is what I think public education should do:
It should teach students responsibility, something not easily
done. (My next article will be about teaching responsibility.)
It needs to verify, beyond a doubt, that they can
read, write and do arithmetic.
It needs to teach how to acquire information.
If we were able to do these few things, our educational system would be very successful by anyone’s measurements. Right now I would give the school system an F in teaching responsibility and a D in the three Rs and a C in efficiently acquiring information. (I give this one a better grade due to the computer revolution)
Stay tuned for my third article on responsibility.

I found a few cute cartoons you may enjoy.

How To Fix Public Education – Part One

First and most important, not all public schools systems need to be fixed. Granted, most do, but not all. Even in our own state of West Virginia there is a wide disparity in the quality of education based on the socioeconomic level of the area. The most difficult decision I had to make when writing this article was deciding where to begin. There are so many areas that need to be discussed that this was a difficult decision. I finally decided to begin where all the action takes place-the classroom. This is where the proverbial tire meets the road. This is where the transmission of learning takes place. If the system fails at this level, nothing else matters. Let’s begin.
Teachers have one of the most important and difficult jobs there is. Not only are they responsible for educating a very diverse group of students with their many needs, they must do it with minimal supplies and support. In the past, the classroom was the teacher’s castle. They created and enforced the rules in their room. No decision made by a teacher was challenged or second-guessed by an administrator. The teacher decided if an infraction required more severe punishment and had immense latitude in deciding what needed to be learned and generally stayed within the bounds of the 3 R’s. Apparently this very simple system worked fairly well due to the simple fact that our country emerged as the most powerful country and dominated the rest of the world in technology and production techniques.
In contrast, our modern system is about as alien to its roots as a system can be. First, the classroom is no longer a teacher’s castle and is generally riddled with a multitude of restrictions, guidelines and disruptions. Teachers are required to do benchmark testing every two weeks, project testing via the computer, writing tests and end of the year tests. With additional programs such as Positive Behavior Support or PBS, (teachers have another idea of what this means), assemblies, disciplinary disruptions, announcements and “pullouts” for clubs, pictures, fairs, to name a few; non-instructional time could easily approach 40%.
Second, all decisions are questioned by a higher power. I believe this to be the most detrimental change to the modern classroom. This means that if a student is disrupting ones classroom, discipline becomes a very involved inevitably and time-consuming problem. Removal of a student from class is equivalent to an act from God and more important; it is not the teacher’s decision. The old adage that one apple can ruin the barrel is true in a classroom of 25 students. One disruptive student can bring a classroom to its knees.
Thirdly, teachers are inundated with a blizzard of tasks. A modern elementary teacher may have to write lesson plans on any given day for 10 to 12 different subjects; depending on the principal, these could be rather detailed. Tack this on to grading papers, going to meetings, bus and lunch duty and little-to-no planning time during the day and you have a recipe for burnout. Due to the fact the educator spent a large amount of money to become a teacher and has financial responsibilities that require a regular paycheck it is a difficult decision to change careers. This in turn creates teachers who are no longer enjoying their career and decreases their effectiveness as a teacher.
Fourth and final is our obsession with testing. I believe this is a result of the fact that we do not trust the teachers to teach our students; therefore, we test students over and over to collect large amounts of data that have little to no effect on public education. Most states have learned to design their tests to show the results they want to convey.
Recently, I was having a conversation with my doctor. He feels that the problem with health care is the tremendous expense of needless testing done by the medical profession to protect themselves from malpractice suits. At first glance this may seem unrelated, but with a little thinking I came to this idea: the same reason doctors test patients to the extreme is one and the same as educational testing: a lack of trust in the professional who was trained and hired to perform a task. I think this is profound and may be transferred to almost every profession that deals with people.
This is the reason we have so much trouble in any area that deals with people. Because we are fearful of lawsuits, we create large, ambiguous bureaucracies in many different forms to protect ourselves from litigation. This also creates many levels of checks and balances to monitor the professional who we hired because of the training they received! Many times the monitoring is done by people not trained in that particular area!
This is my first article dealing with education. I plan to write several more over the next couple of months. I hope you send this link to any teachers you know and welcome as much feedback as possible. A country’s present and future is embedded in the way they educate their children. Next time I will talk about what education is and is not.

The 16th day

16 days of watching TV, using the computer, napping and reading with 12 days to go.  Yesterday Sue took me to the wellness center to do an upper body workout.  I worked on my arms and shoulders for almost an hour using small weights and lots of reps.  I woke up today and my elbows are so sore it was difficult to eat breakfast.  So now I have one working leg and no working arms…My fingers still work so I can type and use the remote control.  Life just can’t get any better.  By the way 19 days till spring!

So close but so far…

Thar SHE blows

Have you ever wondered why so many things in the world are referred to in the feminine? Of course, I have. It does not matter if it is a spark plug, an engine, a zillion ton oil tanker; it is female. When the astronauts talk about their shuttle, they occasionally refer to it as a female. Up until about 20 years ago all major storms were give female names. Apparently some women complained enough to get that changed. Even women tend to refer to these inanimate objects as females. One never hears a woman refer to a car in the male gender. Imagine women saying, “He’s a heck of a machine.” Or “Thar HE blows!” That really sounds wrong. Even on-coming disasters or explosions are referred to as female. When oil-drillers are about to hit oil they say, SHE”S gonna blow!” In fact, it seems that the more potential for destruction, the more likely that it will be referred to as a female. I think this idea is worthy of further thought.
I believe language, or the development of it, is a window to deeper things that go on in the brain. With this in mind, one can begin to look at the way we use words to attempt to figure out what is going on behind the eyes. As always, I refer to my ancient buddies, cave people. Notice that I did not say cave man so as to not infect the thought process.
Let’s place the genetic cards on the table. When making these broad general statements, I do realize that there are exceptions to everything. I am adding this so as to avoid large muscular women who run fast who may find me and lay my body to waste. Men usually have bigger and stronger muscles. We generally can run faster. Statistically we are taller. As a rule we tend to be more prone to raw violence.
Women, on the other hand (speaking generally) are more even-keeled and to the untrained eye, more passive and better at picking colors that match. The color thing may be because they were the gatherers and needed a keen eye to find certain roots and herbs. In order to survive women had to learn to assert themselves in more passive non-aggressive ways. Maybe this is where the idea of passive-aggressive comes from.
So, back to the issue, why do we refer to things as feminine? Most men who have been married for a while will generally accept the idea that women are more in control than any man wants to accept. Now that women wear pants, it is hard to determine who is wearing the proverbial pants in the family. In fact, I think most successful marriages survive because they have reached some middle ground on who is in charge; as compared to the past when men assumed they were in control and spent much of their time defending their turf against passive-aggressive females who were looking for a piece of the action. In conclusion, men refer to things that can not be controlled as females because deep in their psyche they know they only imagine they are in control. In reality they are often not in control.