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Don’t give up

Now that I’ve spent a substantial portion of my life interacting and communicating within cyberspace, one might reasonably assume that I understand and find a way to live with spam. The more I think about that assumption, the less patient I become with the tyranny of spam.

The simple solution is to consider it an inherent evil of Internet space – something we need to ignore and overcome. But I am not happy with that methodology. To me, it’s the same as tacitly accommodating child abuse or crime in the schools. Before you want to accuse me of dramatizing the evils of spam, I want to suggest that it has more importance than clogging your inbox or junk folder.

Because we don’t know exactly how it’s perpetrated or operates (at least I don’t), it may well have greater significance than we want to acknowledge. Ultimately, I wonder how safe my information becomes if companies have free will in generating emails that I don’t want to see. Here’s the example I have to offer.

For the past few weeks, I have used one of those dandy tools called “security and privacy” from my email provider. Methodically I have blocked all sites from one specific spam source and so far, I am at fifty plus sites, all from the same basic address, with various dot coms. Many of these dot coms are ridiculous non-words, evidently created to enable them to send the spam.

Yes, I understand that my efforts may be a substantial waste of time, but I feel that I have an opportunity to make a statement (or perhaps a whisper) about not wanting to be inundated with junk. This is not to suggest that I have given up on championing causes that are much more significant and have greater chances of success. But I can only wonder what would happen to the garbage we receive if many took decisive actions to remove it.

Can we and should we spend time on cleaning up our inboxes or junk folders? You may want to suggest that to do so is restraint of trade – the companies that dispense this form of filth have as much right to do so as our laws allow. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we worked cooperatively to remove porn, trash sites and garbage from the web. Shalom.

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On being average

No-one I have ever known or known about has aspired to the status of average. From the time that we are very young, we work for grades that are great, employment reviews that are exceptional and scores of all types that are excellent or superior.

Yesterday I was driving to an appointment and heard a holiday song from a well-known vocalist and did my best to accompany her with the best pitch and vibrato that I had available. For as long as I can remember, I have sought an extraordinary and beautiful voice.  As a part of that goal, I have been members of three choral ensembles, rarely performing solos.

It occurred to me that in my desire to make the greatest vocal contribution, the melodic and memorable vocal quality that I’ve sought is not my best role. My greatly respected and loved choral director of blessed memory often cautioned, “Surrender to the ensemble,” a directive with which I have always complied. Somehow I am certain that he was conscious of my desire to give my best toward creating memorable music.

Consequently, I realize that having the best and finest voice is not as important to my choral ensemble as my reliable, consistent and (yes) average voice. As I blend, I am as crucial to the sounds produced as the soloists who are better equipped and trained to excel.

This is a lesson for life. Doing the best possible job in a factory, health care setting or classroom is an absolutely perfect role. Does this mean that by doing so we are aspiring to mediocrity? By no means – it simply suggests that our best gifts are the ones that are reliable without recognition. Shalom.

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Room for improvement

Every time I think I have identified a successful method for creating a sense of cooperation in the classroom, I discover a new one. Occasionally, it’s better. Sometimes, it’s simply different.

Very often, I establish eye contact and either cross my eyes or blink repeatedly. Most students will smile or giggle and want to do the right thing for me.

Sometimes I will walk up to a student hard at work and ask to see what he or she is doing. Most likely, he or she is flattered by the attention and is eager to share. Other times, I ask for assistance and receive offers from most of the class. They become participants rather than problems.

Clearly, we have much to learn as adults. Maybe our government or civic organizations can be run more efficiently with more humor and less name-calling. We might receive greater cooperation from those in whom we take an interest. And it’s a good possibility that increasing the values of others creates a winning outcome for all those who are involved. Shalom.

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In those we trust

How many of us enter an airplane, observe the standard safety protocols and begin to realize that we have absolutely no influence over our immediate destinies? At least one of us has recently pondered this reality.

You could probably make a case for a similar lack of control when getting in a car and entering a highway. Railroad travel initially seems the safest although we have also witnessed a number of serious rail accidents.

Why has this occurred to me? At 32,000 feet and experiencing some typical Rocky Mountain turbulence, I realize that I have tacitly deposited a huge amount of trust in the airline, 737, and crew of airline professionals who direct my progress through the clouds.

As we assume safe passage, I find that I prefer to trust the pilots of this plane than take them for granted. They will never know of my trust or faith in their skills. But I will.

Change the venue and it begins to make more sense. Most school days, a flock of parents entrust their children to the school and to me. This trust is beyond a sacred one – my unspoken promise is to deliver the best support and guidance to each child that I encounter.

Likewise, we trust our health professionals, auto mechanics, bookkeepers, financial planners and attorneys. Very often, we do so without any of these people providing any evidence of qualification.

All of this trust has a positive, fulfilling effect on me. Our civilization is advanced by millions of trust negotiations large and small that occur without notice. It is only when these negotiations are violated or unfulfilled that we witness chaos and dissension. Shalom.

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Beating the system

A fact that always intrigues me is that children as young as kindergarten age know how to beat the system. As a responsible educator, I can’t help but wonder how this happened.

Here’s how it works: Tell a group of elementary school students that they can use their Chromebooks, provided that they use them for educational purposes. Two or three will launch math or spelling venues. And surprisingly, I have never been asked to define “educational.”

Within two minutes, the majority of the class is racing cars around a track. As I survey the consequences, the excuses for running to the wrong site are brilliant.

I’m learning how to drive.

Mrs. X (regular teacher) lets us do this.

I didn’t get here alone – another classmate logged me in.

An explanation similar to “Kids will be kids” won’t suffice. To say that they are corrupted by older siblings is also inaccurate. Many students are only children or older siblings. Maybe this is an ancient tradition that makes play more fun than schoolwork. The problem with that theory is that it’s simplistic.

With the incredible graphics and systems that have been developed for schools, much of it is engaging and entertaining. Somehow, I’m thinking that games and education to kids are mutually exclusive.

Again, I’m wondering if I am an academic antique. Fast forward to eighth grade and I’m convinced that my antiquity is imaginary, and the reality of new demographics is verifiable.

Students are disrespectful, loud and irreverent. They curse at each other and at me. They refuse to put away cell phones, say “no” when asked to read aloud and move around the classroom at will.

One student described me as “terrible” because I had allegedly stared at him until he put away his prohibited cell phone. That will teach me for enforcing school and district rules.

In both classes, prevailing rules, standards and traditional values are defeated. My hope is that enough teachers will positively impact the kindergarteners to prevent them from becoming eighth graders similar to those experienced. Shalom.

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Climbing to the top

Another trip through the magnificent Rocky Mountains provided a new inspiration and provocative thought process. Many people attempt to climb to the top of a peak such as this one and I must wonder what about the everyday world equivalent to conquering the summit of a mountain.

Does reaching the top of one’s career equate to success? How about attaining vast financial success? Perhaps reaching the top varies from person to person in the same way that happiness depends on individual goals or hopes.

For me, reaching this spot on the mountain would represent a beginning rather than an end. This standpoint would enable assisting others to reach their destinations rather than simply languishing in the feeling of victory. But there are numerous alternatives.

One is to write a guide for achieving the desired destination. Did it require more than persistence and recovery from setbacks? Is it a solitary journey or can it effectively include others? And does one accomplishment motivate us to seek others?

From what I’ve seen, those who climb 14ers or other peaks continue to seek the thrill of arriving at the top by climbing more and more mountains. While I don’t participate in that activity, I do seek new challenges to understand and approach. And so, as always, I offer a suggestion to my readers.

Don’t allow your successful journeys to prevent you from assisting others in completing theirs. When you earn two dollars, give one of them to someone who may not have your resources and talent to earn for himself. Once you’ve arrived at a position of success, take a moment to look around you at the view. You may have arrived through hard work and determination but there’s a good possibility that you have others to thank for your victory. Shalom.


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Lessons learned

It’s a given that we learn from our children, whether we are educators or not. They teach us color-blindness while interacting with other kids. They teach us loyalty – to family, teachers and fellow students. And they teach us curiosity about every entity that surrounds them.

This inquisitive nature never fails to motivate and inspire me. It permeates every aspect of the day.

What are we doing next?

When are you coming back?

Why can’t you be here every day?

How long until lunch?

What can I do to help you?

How old are you?

How old are your kids and what are their names?

Before now, I hadn’t spent much time pondering the source of this curiosity. Saying, “It’s just the way kids are” is tantamount to saying, “Crime happens – it’s simply reality.”

Part of the explanation can be traced to the idea that knowledge is power. Kids are told when to go to bed, when to get up, when and what to eat and an endless number of other directions that are leveled at them each day. Having discretion over information is its own type of privilege.

While many students indulge in mimicking the behavior of others, many urgently seek uniqueness. When I teach the human skeleton, I earnestly hope that one child remembers the patella or mandible. Maybe he or she will be curious enough to take the word home and use it to do more investigation or try it on someone else.

Using the native curiosity of children is a challenge as well as an advantage. If I can direct enthusiasm, a desire to impact the world and respect toward self-improvement, I am fulfilled. Shalom.


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Hope for California

Many millions of Americans are watching the horrible destruction effected by wildfires in California. With few exceptions, we are helpless but emotional about the many thousands of acres that are being consumed by the fires and the tragic loss of homes and businesses.

We are unable to watch without imagining a similar tragedy impacting our families and people who mean a great deal to us. With that reality, we fervently hope for rain, a reduction in the gale winds and a miraculous end to the indescribable loss.

California, we share your pain and wish for a rapid and successful resolution. Please be confident that we look forward to identifying methods with which we can come to your aid and lessen your grief. Whether our strategies include wishes, prayers or simply a spiritual message, we want only the best for all of those who are impacted.

In the interim, on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, a monumental day in American history, please be strengthened by the support of your country and the encouragement from many more than you will ever know to meet or thank.  We send you our love and courage. Shalom

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Golden rules

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on them personally.  Abraham Lincoln

This is one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes, primarily because of its relevance to so many subjects. While I’m aware that we haven’t experienced slavery in the way that Lincoln’s contemporaries did, his words continue to be important.

Very few days go by where I don’t refer to the golden rule, either in the classroom or life in general. This statement is a modification of that truth.

Here’s how it works. Replace “slavery” with a similar word, “subjugation.” If you believe that it’s okay to subjugate or mistreat others, imagine being in the state of being conquered or mastered. Too many classrooms I’ve seen reflect this tone and students become terrified of their teachers. Whenever I see this, I always wonder how much learning actually occurs.

Now try the word “insult” and you reach the same conclusion. While it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter a website or political party that espouses, “Insult whenever possible,” you can easily identify public figures or everyday people who attempt to elevate themselves by criticizing others. Can it really be that these folks are immune to criticism?

Finally, replace slavery with “lawlessness” or “criminal behavior.” If we demonstrate less respect for laws or the rights of others, we would benefit from seeing ourselves as disrespected.

Once again, the golden rule prevails. Maybe the broadening of definition of slavery makes more sense. Each time we compromise the basic rights of others, we participate in a modern form of slavery.

Too many have died for our freedom for us to be cavalier about the rights of others. Can it be that common sense is no longer common? Shalom.

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One little lie

A student approaches me in the hallway, stopping abruptly. He says, “Hi! You’re my favorite substitute! Do you remember me?”

Here’s the lie: “Of course. I remember my students, especially the terrific ones like you.”

“Are you my teacher today, I hope?”

“No, but I wish I were.”

On one level, I do preserve memories of all my students, good, challenging or otherwise. Some have left much better memories than others, to be sure. But the reason for my little lie is simple. People large and small want to be recognized and remembered, especially if they have warm feelings for you. While I would have had to guess his name, he probably wouldn’t have cared.

Telling the truth is one of those essential habits that I frequently discuss. But ironically, doing so often requires small untruths.

It’s an awesome drawing. You obviously have talent as an artist.

The story is great. Maybe you should think about being a writer.

The other kids in class really admire and respect you.

Having you here makes a huge difference.

No matter how many ways I look at it, no harm is done. Maybe these are potential writers, architects or graphic designers. Whether they are or not, they know that someone somewhere believed in them.

Most of us will benefit from someone enhancing us, especially if it’s one of our favorite teachers. How grateful I am for that designation. Shalom.