Monday, December 26, 2011

I'm Headed to the Dojo and I'm Getting in the Kickboxing Ring!

So, I went to the local mall on Thursday afternoon. Have you ever been to the mall in the afternoon three days before Christmas? It's kinda crazy out there.
I was wandering around attempting to buy a few things for my sweet patootie. She had given me a list of things she wanted but I had passed it on to my mother. So, in the middle of the mall, I found a place to sit and I called her to ask her what she HAD NOT bought off the list. I wish you could have been there...

Me: Hi, Mom. I'm at the mall and I'm trying to finish up my shopping for The Spouse. Do you still have that list I gave you?

Mom: Yes. I'm in my car. Let me call you back when I get stopped.

Me: Okay.

While I'm waiting for her to call back, I'm people watching in the mall. There were lots and lots of interesting folks out that afternoon. At some point, I tuned in to the man behind me who was talking loudly on his cell phone. He kept referring to the person he was talking to as "Killer" and he was saying things like, "Yeah, I'm down with you." "Look, Killer, I know how you roll." Just as I was about to tune out, I heard...

My birthday is coming up in a few months. Yeah...I'll be 35! Mom is taking me to the casino in St. Louis.


When I get my license back, I'm going to the dojo and I'm getting in the kickboxing ring, dude! .............I lost my license for a year......... It's crazy, Killer, I can't drive and I'm not doing anything. I need my license back so I can get to the dojo.

('Cause I'm louder than a bomb...) That's the ring tone I assigned to my Mom.

Me: Hi, Mom.

Mom: Hi. I have the list.

Me: Okay, so what did you not get her on the list? And...she begins reciting all of the things she DID get The Spouse from the list. Mom, wait. And, she continued to recite what she did get TS. Mom...hold on. I just need to know what you DIDN'T get her. And...the recitation continues. Okay, Mom, listen to me... I need to know WHAT YOU DIDN'T GET HER OFF THE LIST!

Mom: Oh....well, why didn't you say so?!

Me: Nevermind, I've got to take this dude behind me to the dojo and get in the kickboxing ring.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tis the Season...or, Whatever, I'm not necessarily a procrastinator when it comes to buying Christmas presents, but this year I had to wait until the last minute to get out and get my gifts.

If you are a regular reader, you know that The Spouse completely and totally controls most aspects of my life. (Most, in this instance, means ALL!)

So, she gave me my allowance late because she wanted to make sure we had the money before I was allowed to go out and buy. You see, she tends to think of me as a "spender". That's completely insane, of course. Just because I like to "purchase" things before checking to see if we can pay cash for it or not does not make me a "spender". Especially, if I can just put it on the credit card!

You should hear our conversations about money...

Spouse: Here's your money for Christmas gifts.

Me: Really? That's it?

Spouse: Yep, that's it. Make due with it.

Me: That's not much and I really wanted to buy you something super nice this year.

Spouse: I have what I need and I don't want you putting anything on the credit card!

Me: Christmas is all about giving and I'd like to give you something really nice this year. You know, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3! I know you've been wanting it and it's around $60. This won't cover it. If I could use the credit card, you could totally have that game and some other things.

Spouse: Ummm...I don't want Call of Duty, I don't play video games and you are full of crap.

Me: That's pretty harsh. Are you sure you don't want Call of Duty? I mean it's pretty awesome and we could totally bond over killing people and saving the world from communism. What more could you want? We'd be like Mr. and Mrs. Smith...Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Remember that movie! You loved it and I think I remember you saying that you would totally like to be able to do cool stuff like that.

Spouse: You're ridiculous. I did watch that with you but the rest of that is crap you made up in your head to justify buying that video game.

Me: I'm not sure I remember it that way...

Spouse: I'm not surprised.

Me: So, Call of Duty is out... what else is there for me to get you? You have everything you could need.

Spouse: I've given you a list.

Me: I gave it to my mother. She's better with gift buying than I am.

Spouse: I'll give you some more ideas: Janet Evanovich's new book, a gift certificate to Sephora, a gift card to Barnes and Noble, some gloves that will let me use my iPhone.

Me: BORING, BORING, BORING, BORING, BORING.... How could you want those things over Call of Duty?

Spouse: Leave the house. Go, now. You're driving me crazy.

Me: No wonder you're going crazy. All of those boring things would make you crazy. You need some excitement in your life. Call of Duty would give you that excitement!

Spouse: Leave now, or I'm calling your mother!

Me: It's a good thing Santa doesn't visit adults. He'd leave you high and dry, baby!

And, I left the house and headed to the mall. I still think she's making a big mistake, though.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I've been Snark Attacked!

I received the following comment from a blog reader:

Not to be snarky, but it's easy to sit on the outside, after having walked away from a great opportunity to make a difference, and take pot shots. So many of your posts so far have been extremely critical of education and those who are working in the field. But people like you who bail are just as much to blame. As they say, those who can to, those who can't write a blog and cast stones.

You can read my response in the the blog post on Settling for Mediocrity. Because, according to the poster, I'm a quitter, I'm partially responsible for the current state of education and am a stone caster, I feel the need to respond in a broader forum.

Statement 1: Not to be snarky, but it's easy to sit on the outside, after having walked away from a great opportunity to make a difference, and take pot shots.

My response: Starting a comment with the phrase: "Not to be snarky, but..." is an automatic RED FLAG for me. Your intent is clear, though, stated inversely: you intend to be snarky. My radar is up and I'm preparing for the attack. It's the two words "snarky" and "but" that gave you away. Next time, start off by complimenting me. That'll disarm me a bit and I wont be prepared for the attack.

As for the comment about sitting on the outside...that's a false statement. I'm inside schools almost daily. Most of the time I'm in several schools a day. I meet with principals, teachers, counselors, secretaries and others. As I discuss their school's needs, I consistently hear the same lamentations about the state of education. I've yet to meet someone who thinks it is fine as it is. You can call my posts "potshots" but I call them "the ugly truth." I do still make a difference in education. I just do it in a different way now. What is it that you do that makes a difference in the lives of children?

Statement 2: But people like you who bail are just as much to blame. As they say, those who can to, those who can't write a blog and cast stones.

My Response: You call it bailing; I call it saving myself. I have a wife and two children who need me. My previous job was taking away a ton of my family time. It was also negatively impacting my health. I make no apologies and no excuses for the decision I made. If you meant to give me some sense of guilt, you failed. My wife and kids would look at you and say: EPIC FAIL! I would agree with them.

As for your attempt at rewriting the insulting statement: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Again, I would give you the response: EPIC FAIL! In many ways, my new job gives me the ability to "do" more. I would also suggest that you proofread your final snark statement. It lost serious impact with the word "to" instead of "do"...just saying.

Finally, I would say to you... THANK YOU for responding and having an opinion! The purpose of this blog is to get people to think more about education and why we are failing to serve the vast majority of the students. It's time to change the system and to find something that truly prepares these students for the world that awaits them. Mediocrity is not acceptable!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Need $400,000! Stat! (Well, not ME, but some people I know do.)

I had lunch with Becky James-Hatter, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri recently. I consider her a friend and I was so glad to catch up with her. While we only took about an hour or so for lunch, we managed to cover a ton of subjects.

One of the things we talked about was the needs the agency is facing as they continue to strive to serve as many children as possible. Right now, they need to raise around $400,000 in order to help fund one of their most successful and beneficial programs. $400,000 sounds like, and truly is, a significant amount of money. However, when you consider what that $400,000 will do, it seems like such a small amount. In the world of investing, which I profess to know less than nothing about, it seems to me that the return on investment would be considered high.

Becky explained that next year, the government will cut her funding for the AMACHI program. The Amachi program serves the children of parents who are incarcerated. So, Dad is in jail, Mom's working and trying to make ends meet and BBBSEMO, through Amachi, connects a positive adult influence into the life of this child. That positive adult role model could be the difference between that child following in the footsteps of his father or following a different set of footprints. Still, $400,000 is a LOT of money for just one program that may help keep a few kids out of prison later.

So, I did some checking to find out why $400,000 would be so important. Here are a few facts for you to mull over:

1. 2.5 MILLION children in the U.S. have a parent in prison.

2. 60,000 children in Missouri have a parent in prison.

3. BBBSEMO provides a positive role model for 1,140 of those children.

4. According to the article "The Cost of Prison", it costs approximately $16,308 per year to incarcerate a person.

5. "Prison Count 2010" stated that there were 30,792 prisoners in Missouri as of January 1, 2010.

6. The Missouri Department of Corrections lists their FY2011 budget is $660,034,212. That's 660 MILLION, 34 THOUSAND, 212 DOLLARS! (I checked and the math doesn't add up just right because $660,034,212 divided by 30,792 prisoners equals $21,477.10. But, I'll stick with the $16,308 figure from the report.)

Allow me to play around with the math...right now, it takes about $1200 to match one adult to one child. That sounds like a lot of money "just to let two people meet and form a friendship." However, that's not what really happens.

There is a very intensive screening process for both the adult volunteer and the child joining the program. There are match specialists and folks who work to ensure that the match becomes a good one according to very specific indicators. The matches are even color-coded into red, yellow and green.

And, of course, there's the all important matter of match retention. How long does the Big stay in touch with and remain active in the life of a Little? BBBSEMO has the nation's highest quality of matches and longest match retention rate. I hope you are still with me, I'm getting to the big finale!

So, $400,000 could be spent on housing 25.527 prisoners for one year or it could be spent on matching 333 (at $1200.00 per match) kids to caring adults who will work hard to keep them out of the prison system later on. If you look even deeper into this, the return on investment is even greater because the matches typically last for several years.

Now, consider the fact that they are serving 1,140 children of parents who are currently incarcerated. If they only made an impact in the lives of 26 of those kids (that's 2% of the total kids served), they would be saving the state more than the $400,000 they need to keep the program going.

Are you with me on this? Do you see what needs to happen here? Will you help me make it happen?

I'm on a mission. I'm going to ask, beg, plead and do whatever I can to help them raise that $400,000 by next December. I'm going to make a small donation to get the ball rolling. It won't be anything stellar or grand because, like many of you, the economy has affected us. However, my fat butt can give up a few trips to Starbucks in order to make a donation.

Here's what I'm asking you to do:

1. Pray for this organization and the good works they do.

2. Think about making a donation.

3. Go here to DONATE. It's ridiculously simple! You can donate as little or as much as you want! $5, $10, $15, $20, etc. (If anyone wants to give $100,000 or more, I'll clean your home from top to bottom and I'll iron your bedsheets! It's an OCD thing of mine and I will be glad to put it to use for you !) If you donate because of this post, put it in the comment line on the website and ask them to direct it to the Amachi program.

4. Send the link to this blog post to every person you know in Missouri (elsewhere if you want!) and ask them to match your donation!

5. Consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister.

If you absolutely cannot afford to donate please simply say a prayer for them and for the 60,000 kids in Missouri who have a parent in prison. Pass this link along. Ask people you know to donate. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing to help this worthy cause.

Finally, here's a little scriptural motivation for you: Matthew 25:31-46.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Effectively Use Your Windshield Time

My current job allows me the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Some weeks, I put as many as 1200 miles on my truck. That's a lot of windshield time!

In order to make the time pass, I listen to a lot of talk radio along with stations that suit my mood at the time. My boss would rather I spend the 1200 miles per week thinking about how I'm going to make my next sale or increase my business. She's kinda kooky like that. I do spend some time thinking about those things, but 1200 miles of thinking like that might make you go crazy. That may be how she ended up the way she is. Which is INCREDIBLY AWESOME AND SUPER-D-DUPERTY TERRIFIC! (I may be crazy but I ain't stupid!)

Those of you who travel as much as or more than I do will probably relate to this. Otherwise, I'm kinda crazy and may need to increase my medication.

So, as I motor up and down the interstate and state highways and county roads and city streets, I have a lot of random thoughts. I thought I'd share some with you:

1. Why do dolphins have such cute faces? Is it to fool us into a false sense of security? I've heard that they attack people at times. Maybe they plan on taking over the world. I need to start a "Watch the Dolphins" campaign.

2. If I had to define my work as a shape, what shape would it be? I haven't settled this one yet. I'm thinking along the lines of a rhombus, though.

3. Why is it that the black sheep has to give up his wool while all the white sheep get to keep theirs? He has three bags full and has to give one to "the master," one to "the dame" and one to "the little boy who lives down the lane." How come the white sheep aren't giving anything up? I'm smelling some nasty racism here. It's troubling!

4. Why does Illinois have 2-3 state employees manning a rest area when the state is almost bankrupt? I love their rest areas. They are beautiful and very clean but does it really take 2-3 people to maintain each one? Missouri rest areas seldom have one person in them. (They are also pretty nasty.)

5. Has anyone ever figured out how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

6. Do Muslim people say WWAD, or do Buddhists say WWBD, like Christians say WWJD?

7. Has Starbucks secretly mixed something in their coffee to make people addicted? I'm thinking so. I find it hard to enter a town with one and not stop by.

8. Why isn't every gas station along a major interstate or highway equipped with pay-at-the-pump pumps? Really, in this era, shouldn't that be a requirement for operating a gas station along an interstate or major highway?

9. Do my children REALLY miss me or do they just lead me along when I call because they see me as elderly and frail and in need of some positive reinforcement?

There, I'll stop with nine. Most people would go to 10 but I'm fighting my OCD tendencies this week and I'm stopping with 9. I also think a lot about my OCD tendencies when I'm driving. That statement doesn't really count as number ten because I didn't put the number in front of it. See, I'm beating this OCD thing already!

I hope this post has given you a glimpse into my life as a road warrior. I'm off to start another week of selling in Missouri and Illinois. I'll be thinking about you and a host of other things as I make my way up and down the road!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Settling for Mediocrity

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The following is my opinion. You don't have to agree with me. You should think for yourself, do some research, ask some questions and form your own opinion. You should also know that I'm speaking in broad generalities and about the majority of schools in America. It is also important to note that I'm not singling out public schools. I'm referencing what I believe to be the current state of education today.

No Child Left Behind is a great slogan. Who can argue with it? It's a noble idea and it resonates with all of us. NCLB became law on January 8, 2002. After 10 years, students are still being left behind. Why is that?

It seems to me that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in revitalizing and revolutionizing the educational system in the United States is to begin by accepting the fact that the focus in most schools is two-fold:

1. Maintain or advance the average student.
2. Remediate and advance the poor student to a status of average and keep him/her there.
I know some of you will immediately start talking about gifted education and will assume that I've left it out of the mix by accident. I haven't. Quite simply put, the state of education for the gifted child is nothing short of abysmal.

Let's take a brief look at the purpose of education today. If you read most school mission statements, vision statements, values statements, goals, objectives, action plans, etc. you will predominately see rhetorical statements about making students "life-long learners" or about educating each child to his/her potential, or about ensuring each student receives an education that will prepare him/her for "the global workplace."

I want you to look at your local school's mission, vision, values, improvement plans and other documents. Most are available online. If they are not, you should be asking your school why they aren't. Most of what you will read will fall into one of the broader generalizations I listed above.

Now, ask yourself this question, "Is that what I want for my child?" Or, ask this, "Is that adequate?" Or, how about asking this one, "What, exactly, does that mean and what, exactly, does that look like at the central office, in the main office of each building, in each classroom, and elsewhere throughout the district?"

Next, go find some teachers in that district and ask them, "What is the district's Mission Statement? Vision Statement? Values Statement?" I'm willing to bet you your favorite drink at your favorite coffeehouse that no one you ask can answer that without looking it up. If you find someone who does know it, ask them this, "How does that relate to what you do as a teacher or administrator? How are you fulfilling that mission, vision, values, etc.?"

In a reformed educational system, I believe the Mission, Vision and Values of every school system ought to be stated similar to this:
Mission: The mission of this school system is to teach to each child as though he or she has a
genius I.Q.

Vision: In this school system, we recognize that all children, indeed all adults, have different strengths and weaknesses. In this school, each child is taught according to his/her strengths first and weaknesses second. We will focus on what that child does well and we will push him/her to excel in those areas. We will work on areas of weakness so that the student has a grasp of the key concepts and ideas so that an area of weakness cannot become an impediment to an area of strength.

Core Beliefs:
  • Every student learns from successes and failures. Students will be allowed to fail at tasks so that they may try again and learn from mistakes. Making mistakes is essential to learning.
  • Teachers will present essential information to students, but their primary role will be to guide each student as they embrace and hone their strengths and reduce their weaknesses
  • Grade configurations are meaningless. We don't use them.
  • Parents are the primary educator in their child's life and are expected to embrace that role and become active participants in their child's education.
  • We will not give your child gratuitous and meaningless praise and accolades. Only excellence and exceptional achievements will be recognized and honored.
  • Mediocrity is not acceptable. Everyone is capable of excellence.
  • Truly gifted students will be given the most rigorous education possible. They will be pushed to their limits and more will be expected from them.
  • Moral values and good character are essential attributes for all people. Administrators, teachers and students will be held to the highest standards.
  • Like Physicians, we will do no harm.
In a nutshell, that's how I think schools ought to operate. Forget race, forget gender, forget socioeconomic status, forget the idea that getting everyone to average is the ideal state. The ideal state is excellence, regardless of race, gender, economics and even learning disabilities.

Right now, our schools are focused on churning out the future checkout people at WalMart, KMart, Target, etc. In most classrooms, teachers "teach to the middle" because it's safe. We need teachers teaching to the highest performers. The "middle" kids will love it because they will know they are being challenged and they will learn from the higher I Q kids. The low end kids and kids with true learning disabilities will learn more as well. They will be pushed to higher levels of understanding.

We swell with pride when we hear that a local high school has two National Merit Scholars. Two students and we get all warm and tingly and talk about how great our schools are. What about the 400 additional students who didn't make that list? Does that make us warm and tingly feeling? I'm willing to bet that there were more than two students in that class who were capable of being National Merit Scholars but didn't hit the mark because they sat in classes where "teaching to the middle" was the norm. In my opinion, that's doing great harm. Mediocrity begets mediocrity and it destroys excellence!

Let's take a look at the abysmal graduation rate in many schools. Does that give you a warm and tingly feeling, too? It makes my stomach hurt.

"The primary reason nearly half of the young adults gave for dropping out was that classes were uninteresting. Another major factor was that the students spent time with people who were uninterested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by students with high GPAs and those who were motivated to work hard.

In general, feeling unmotivated or uninspired to work hard was a significant factor in the drop outs’ discontent with school. In focus groups, the young adults said school was boring, they didn’t learn anything, and school was irrelevant. However, many of these respondents said they would have liked to have been inspired. Further, while a majority said their school’s graduation requirements were difficult, 66 percent said they would have worked harder if more, including higher academic standards and more studying and homework, had been demanded of them to earn a diploma."(Source: Center for Exceptional Children)

Does anyone else see the bigger picture here? I know, from firsthand experience, that we are not going to convince 100% of our students to graduate. Some are simply lazy or come from homes where education is seen as unimportant, or they suffer from a mental illness, drug addiction, etc. I know those kids are out there. But, what if 50% of the kids who dropped out in the last schol year were the respondents in the survey above and they don't suffer from any of the conditions I listed.

It's reported that up to 7,000 students drop out of school Every Day. You read that correctly. That's one student very 26 seconds. If that is accurate, and it should be since it comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, that's around 1.3MILLION students dropping out every year. If 50% of those students drop out because of the reasons listed by the CEC study, isn't that reason enough to completely rethink and transform education?

Don't we owe it to those 650,000 students who were disengaged, unmotivated and uninspired? Remember, too, that these students who dropped out did so because a parent or guardian let them. I'm sure there were a large number of students who didn't drop out but wanted to. They skated through with grades just above failing. Is that a quality education? Is that who you want working with, for or by you?

My point is this, the American educational system has decided to accept mediocrity. Instead, it should be striving for excellence. There is plenty of fault and blame to spread around. It doesn't matter who we blame, what matters is fixing the problem.

Go back and review your school's Mission, Vision and Values statements. Do they promote mediocrity or excellence? What are you going to do about it?