Posts Tagged ‘rants’

Reflecting On My President – MLK Day 2017

January 16, 2017
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A new arrival at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008

As I watch 60 Minutes and their interviews with President Obama I realize how I admire his thoughtful tone and quick wit. I’m going to miss him. He is the president of my children’s adulthood and I have found him to be both pragmatic and diplomatic. I admit I am at a loss for the vitriol thrown at him. I wish he had done more, but I still am proud of what he did accomplish against the constant tide of false accusations and roadblocks. What accomplishments I hear my naysayer friends demand. I can explain.

Let me set the stage leading up to this man’s presidency – not the two wars and the crashing economy – I want to get more personal. My family had been denied health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions when I changed jobs and our family planning decisions were altered because of the religious affiliation of my wife’s workplace – their conditions for insurance. My previous employer was being taken over by a corporation from Singapore and was being shut down. We had grown at a time of housing loans granted at 120% of a property’s value so customers were installing very profitable for us home entertainment systems based on the idea their home value would always go up, but that bubble had burst. I was losing my job and my 401k was in the toilet.

For me then it is easy to find this administration’s success – My 401k is back better than ever, I am employed in a new career after going to school using the extended benefits for retraining and gaining experience under the Obama stimulus package. My children were able to be insured under our family plan until age 26 under the ACA, and now, if we need to change jobs, we still get coverage. No longer are career choices being held hostage to a workplace whose insurance covered us before those “pre-existing” conditions show up. My children are able to follow their own paths – my son works for a biotech company and my daughter is in nursing school – free of that burdan. I couldn’t be prouder.

But my admiration for the Obamas goes deeper than that. My nephew, Kelley, worked on his campaign and, later, worked in the White House Office of Correspondence. Through him I heard the stories of the First Family, sitting Sasha and Malia, helping with the White House Easter egg roll. One of the most amazing things he showed me was where he worked – not in the White House proper, but in rented office space a few blocks away.

Into this space poured millions (literally) of pieces of mail that had to be read, sorted, and catalogued. Some letters had serious concerns about healthcare or the economy, others, less serious, like second graders learning how to address an envelope and a letter to the president in one lesson. All received the same treatment coming in, but a few were selected each week to move on to the desk of the president. Those letters were chosen to give an overall sense of what was motivating people to write, be it good or bad, and a few picked because they had problems the President could solve. Mr. Obama would hand write replies to these regular Americans who took time to write to their president.

Through my nephew I was able to visit the White House a couple of times (and even got smooched by Bo!) and toured the West Wing. On display in the halls was student artwork and photographs of various events across the country. They were changed often to remind those occupying the offices in that wing who they really worked for.

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Kelley was able to get my wife and I on the lawn for a Marine One take-off. He told me I needed a suit coat and tie as a guest of a White House staffer. We raced around DC that morning trying to find a place open to buy the requisite outfit and when we arrived we were ushered onto the lawn and lined up. Then, from around the side, came forty or fifty folks in tee shirts and shorts randomly selected from the tourists taking pictures of the White House. They were lined up in front of us. Kelley told me that we had to stand behind the tourists because the staff were all instructed to be sure they never used their positions to advantage themselves above the people they were there to serve.

This all happened during a time when I visited D.C. often. The school I worked for sponsored an 8th grade trip to Washington and my son was living there, working for companies that contracted to the State and Defense departments. When I was chaperoning the school trips Kelley would come to meet our middle school group on the blocked street behind the White House. He would bring an auto-pen signed picture of the First Couple for the school and answer questions for the kids. He did this on his own time. I would introduce him to my students with great pride explaining that here was a kid only a few years older than they were (from my perspective), from a family not much different than theirs, who was now working in the most powerful office in the world. The kids were more intrigued with his two cell phones (one a White House issue Blackberry and the other a personal iPhone) and stack of ID badges.

When Kelley left to take a job with the EPA he was granted an exit interview with his boss. Kelley arranged for his mom and dad to be there while the President of the United States shook his hand and thanked him for his service there in the Oval Office. Mr. Obama took time to chat with everyone and made sure pictures were taken (you can’t bring your own camera). My brother said he almost cried. You can almost see that in the picture.

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And that’s the thing with this president – it really isn’t ever about him – it’s about the office. Mr Obama came to up to be at the graduation of Worcester Voc and to bring attention to a school program he felt was exemplary. He didn’t just make his speech and have his photograph taken, he stayed, passed out diplomas and shook the hand or hugged every graduate of that very large class with as much enthusiasm for the last as the first. He made it their graduation.

And that is his accomplishment. He kept the Office of the President accessible to all the people. As other world leaders were vying for his attention many everyday concerns were brought to him  and he found a way to answer both. He was often harshly criticized and sometimes deservedly so, but he always listened. Reading the hurtful, ignorant, racist remarks directed at him, his wife and his family in comment sections of newspapers and social media and his not using the nuclear option makes him a far better person than me. Today, I know Mr Obama’s presidency was not about the color of his skin, but about the content of his character. He stayed above the ugliness beneath him for the dignity of the office and, for that, he will always be my president.

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“The Times They Aren’t A Changing…”

May 19, 2012

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“Get out your homework and pass it across.” This is how class often starts here in middle school.

Remember middle school? What did you think of?  Something embarrassing?

No matter what you hear I can assure you nothing has really changed – Kids are still awkwardly finding their place, experimenting with fashion and make-up, whispering (or worse) about those who don’t meet some slippery slope standard. But today something different did happen.

It wasn’t that a certain student actually did his homework (a cherished moment for me), but it was how he did his homework.

The assignment: Define “Enlightenment” then write 3-5 sentences on what you think this may mean in history. It was a Friday assignment meant to prompt everyone into thinking about a new unit (The Age of Enlightenment). It was intended to be a no stress/low stress assignment (look up a word, give an opinion) introducing a key idea and to give the kids a chance to formulate a concept.

I got the usual dictionary definitions – some properly cited, most not – and some very short paragraphs (2-3 sentences at most), but I was eager to see the work done by the certain student, to relish in this rare sight.

It was neat, about a half a page with a proper heading – name, grade and period. Good start; now time to read. Some kids treated the assignment as two separate items to complete, first define then opine; others choose a more flowing narrative, incorporating the definition within a minuscule paragraph. This student took the later form. Wow, he is really working at this. I read his answer – not bad, not bad at all. Look – he even included a citation!

Siri – He cited Siri, the digital assistant on his iPhone. I laughed. This is awesome. I witnessed perhaps one of the first uses of a new use of a technology in middle school. I could just picture it – “Siri, tell me about the Enlightenment…” Then busily writing down the answer.

Giggling at his ingenuity I shared this moment with his other teachers at lunch. “You know that certain student who never does his homework? – I got some from him today!”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah – And it was neat, properly formatted and he included a citation. Wanna know the best part? He cited Siri! How cool is that?”

Silence

Silent enough that I think I could actually hear the eyes roll. “That’s another thing we have to add to the list. No Siri.”

-sigh- I want to celebrate my student’s ingenuity and my fellow teachers want to ban it. I’m thrilled that a student with a number of issues and on an IEP has found a way to engage with my class, they want to only accept work that was done on the terms they dictate.  My moment of triumph was somehow their Waterloo.

What is the difference in print, electronic and on-line dictionaries? Whether you read it or it is spoken to you? Is this that important, that they use the “proper” accepted dictionary? (Like none of you use Wikipedia either 😉 ). Isn’t the goal to engage the student so that they can begin to map new knowledge? Shouldn’t we use and embrace the tools that they inevitably will use?

Today nothing new happened in middle school. I take it back. The mean girls never left and I’m embarrassed.