I Have Watched and Learned

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

My mother used to urge me to watch and learn. She would take me into the bathroom and show me that cleaning the toilet was way more than just swishing the most visible areas with some cleaning solution. She demonstrated how to iron a shirt and make a straight seam with a sewing machine. She showed me how to cook without a recipe. All the while my duty was to only observe what she was doing. There were no written instructions. I simply increased my knowledge by witnessing her at work. Before long I found myself watching and learning everywhere I went. I suppose that it was a good trait to have because I realized along the way that there is much information to be gathered by being a “fly on the wall.”

Since the first of March I have been busily noting the unfolding of events during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most interesting of all have been people’s reactions to the various things that have happened in response to the virus. With the killing of George Floyd in May occurrences and the perceptions of them became curiouser and curiouser. From my birds eye view gathered from the comfort of my home here are my random observations:

  • It was much nicer and more comforting when we were all concerned with one another and working together much as we did in the first couple of weeks of the novel coronavirus coming to our country.
  • Conspiracy theories of all kinds are rapidly attempting to overtake the truth.
  • Along those lines it must be noted that the pandemic is not a hoax and it will not miraculously go away in November once the presidential election has been held.
  • Not all persons participating in the Black Lives Matter marches and protests are rioters, looters and destroyers. In fact, of the millions who have marched across the globe all but a very small percentage are peaceful. Portraying them all as thugs who want to pillage and destroy our country is no substantive foundation.
  • Not all of our police and law enforcement officers are corrupt and racist. In fact most of them are good men and women who strive to protect us with fairness. Portraying all of them as evil is yet another ridiculous idea.
  • Defunding police departments is not a means of ridding ourselves of law enforcement.
  • Information from scientists and medical persons is far more reliable than anything one might hear from politicians, neighbors or some guy who has a thing for conspiracy theories. Being scientific in a time of pandemic is advisable.
  • Wearing masks will not make us sick from carbon dioxide build up. If that were true doctors and nurses would be long dead by now.
  • It is a great American right to have different opinions. It is not more patriotic to be a member of a particular party. True profiles in courage usually rock the status quo causing us to think.
  • Those who note and comment on problems within the systems of the United States do not hate the country. In fact, it may be said that they care so much about the country that they want to help repair the aspects that are broken.
  • History is often far more complex that a single point of view.
  • Those of us who are not Black will never be able to completely understand what the lives of Black Americans are like. To ridicule or ignore them when they attempt to describe the inequities that they experience is insensitive and inhumane.
  • Just because someone does not have Covid-19 and does not know anyone with the virus does not mean that it is not a serious illness. 
  • We take precautions for the safety of everyone. Proclaiming that we have a right to be reckless is the ultimate in selfishness.
  • Many, many people are hurting and this is causing great stresses and anxieties that we should not ignore.
  • It would behoove us to find out who among us needs help whether it be financial, assistance finding employment, or dealing with psychological issues. This is not a time to horde our good fortune while ignoring the hurt of others.
  • We should not even be thinking of repealing the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic. Too many people are relying on this healthcare safety net. They need to know that it will be there for them if they need it.
  • We should find a way to keep people in their homes rather than evicting them. To make people homeless right now is the ultimate in cruelty.
  • This is not a time to threaten dreamers that we will finding a way to stop DACA that is Supreme Court proof and eventually send them back to the places where they were born but may not even remember.
  • No piece of cloth, stone, metal icon, or song should ever be more important than any single human life. 
  • We must address the measures we will need to safely open our schools so that both students and teachers will feel comfortable upon returning. We must also be ready to be flexible in the event that Covid-19 begins a second wave.
  • Beware of anyone who tries to focus on our divisions or who revels in the pain and suffering of certain groups. Watch for trigger words and phrases that constantly lay the blame or poke fun. 
  • Covid-19 is an acronym for coronavirus disease of 2019. It is not the Chinese flu.
  • Covid-19 is not political and we should not try to make it so.
  • We should all make a point of being kind. There is enough uncertainty, privation, and sorrow without turning on one another.
  • If we do not work together again, we may fall together. We will all need to sacrifice and understand that going to the beach or a bar or a ballgame or out to eat or on a trip or to a concert is far less important that saving even one life.
  • We demonstrate how much we care by our behavior and by the expectations we have for our leaders. When they seem to be more interested in themselves than in the people it is our duty to call them out, not model their selfish behavior.
  • Remember above all else God loves every one of us and he wants us to love each other.

A Grand Experiment

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We are almost at the end of June which means that we have to begin thinking about sending the children back to school in six to eight weeks. I often used July to plan lessons for the coming academic year. I am a freak when it comes to preparing ahead of time. I have never been able to do anything at the last minute. When I look at the possibilities of chaos in the coming school year I feel for teachers everywhere. Never has there been so much uncertainty about what will happen once children return to the classrooms.

The governor of Texas has declared with great confidence that all schools will reopen and that masks and other forms of protection from the virus will be optional. The reaction from the public has been mixed with many insisting it’s time to get back to normal and others worrying about the dangers of turning classrooms into germ farms. I have heard of parents investigating home schooling for at least the next year and teachers resigning or retiring because of health issues. We are wading into unknown waters and the fear is that those waters may be infested with sharks.

I teach eight home schooled students and we have not yet decided whether I will resume in person lessons or continue teaching them remotely. I am not as self assured as our governor is. I am still in the mode of wanting to wait to see what happens in the coming weeks. I can’t afford to bring illness into my home so I am a bit more circumspect.

Knowing what to do is a major dilemma for so many people. I agree that the best case scenario is for the nation’s students to return to a sense of normalcy but there is still a little voice whispering concerns to me. My forty plus years of teaching taught me that classrooms are like petri dishes for growing germs. I’ve seen more than my share of outbreaks of disease that closed down campuses. My hope is that this does not happen when we attempt to get back to the books.

The planning in many school districts appears to be far too nebulous for my taste. I’m of the mind that every teacher and parent needs a clear outline of Plans A through Z that will take into account any eventualities. All the shareholders need to know exactly what to expect when they return. How many students will be in each classroom? Will masks be a requirement? How will the school day change from the norm. Everyone must be told what will happen if there is an outbreak of the virus in a particular classroom or if the virus runs rampant through an entire campus. There should be plans for doing a better job with remote learning if that becomes a necessity again. Just using canned programs did not appear to be particularly effective so there should already be discussions about to how teachers might make those lessons more meaningful to their students?

There should already be concrete learning alternatives for those students with illnesses that might make them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Parents need to know what to expect if they choose to keep their children home. Teachers who have compromised immune systems should be provided with opportunities to become remote instructors for the children who need to avoid classrooms. There needs to be consideration for all individuals, not just a statement that if they can’t handle things they should just stay home.

July should be dedicated to using the creativity and talents of teachers to help in the design of each possible scenario. Schools need to be willing to try new ways of providing instruction that focus on the health and safety of all parties and provide the needed materials to institute each idea as needed.

I know of parents who are trying to find masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes for their children to take to school. Each campus should be well supplied with such items and even have a larger than usual janitorial force to maintain bathrooms and general cleanliness throughout the school day. I have so often see restrooms without soap. This is something that should not ever happen and its occurrence must be reduced with a firm plan for continually monitoring the building throughout the school day.

So many schools have eliminated nurses from their faculty. I can think of no better time to bring them back onto every campus. Schools will need their expertise in attempting to insure that the virus does not overwhelm the efforts to provide education. They can also vanguard the daily monitoring for signs of potential illness and help to determine when and if there are particular dangers.

I know that many school districts are working diligently to be prepared. I hope that they are willing to allow teachers, parents and even students to both ask questions and provide input. I would also request that the governor please quit changing his mind about how things should work. His latest remarks undid a great deal of work that had already been done. If you are going to make the teachers and students return at least allow them to create the plans that work best. This is going to be a grand experiment and our halls of education need to be ready for anything. 

A Time for Changes, Not Slogans

Critical Thinking

When I was a teacher there always seemed to be at least one person on campus who was not particularly good at doing the job. Sometimes the individual was just lazy, always sitting behind the desk giving the students work to do with very little instruction. Sometimes the person was dispensing erroneous information. The worst of the bad teachers were the ones who were abusive toward the students. It was a well known fact that firing a teacher was almost impossible unless they had stolen money or done something sexual with either another teacher or a child.

It was frustrating to have those kind of people in our midst because they made the same amount of money as the rest of us while also making our profession look very bad. Some of them would last long enough to even earn a pension for the remainder of their lives. There was a hushed practice among principals known as “passing the trash.” They would agree to take someone who was not doing well in another school in exchange for sending away one of their own problem teachers. As a result the troubles continued year after year with nobody able to find a way to clean house. The contracts and unions protected even the teachers who should not have been in the schools.

The same type of system plagued the Catholic Church until very recently. Priests who were discovered to be pedophiles were sent away for counseling and many eventually found their way back into other parishes where they sometimes continued their foul behavior. They were protected and passed from one place to another, usually without any retribution.

Most organizations in at will employment states are able to fire employee who do not meet particular standards. Sadly our police departments exist with systems much like education and the Catholic churches of old. The unions operate more to protect officers than to guide them. Often times when a cop behaves in egregious ways there is a note in his or her file but little is done to remove that person permanently from the force. These bad actors defile the good name of the majority of law enforcement officers who work hard to serve and protect the public. Much of the problematic policing that we see is a result of covering up behaviors that should be grounds for expulsion from the service. Often departments simply pass their trash to other municipalities, creating ticking time bombs in their midst.

We are so divided in this country today that there seems to be a schism that requires us to either be all in for the blue or all in for the Black citizens who are protesting the all too frequent abuse that they receive at the hands of trigger happy police officers. Instead it would benefit everyone, including the truly decent men and women who police our streets to rid themselves of those who degrade the badge. All police officers and their supporters, which include me by the way, should want to create a system of transparency that provides a means of eliminating any cop who is racist or too quick to use force. Just as I was embarrassed by teachers who were subpar, so should all good lawmakers and citizens be ready to clean house.

The most wonderful thing we might do for our police officers is to demonstrate that the bad cops will not be tolerated. We must demand that substandard cops will not be allowed to diminish the dedication and hard work of the many. I worry when I hear blanket statements of support without consideration that there are systemic problems that require needed changes. I get irritated when someone suggests that I am somehow against all police officers if I point out solutions that may help the profession.

It is interesting that the United Kingdom only had three victims of police shootings last year and Germany only had seven. The police in those countries do not carry guns. When fire power is needed they call special forces that are armed. It would behoove us to find out how they manage to make this work. 

There are a number of solutions being offered and many parties with great interest in what may eventually become law. I would like to think that just this once our elected officials will work together and not at odds. Frankly their failure to think of the country first and their own elections last has created a divisive and unproductive environment for years. How can they expect any of us to trust them when they get along about as well as children in a schoolyard with no adult supervision.

These are very serious times. We have to have a willingness to be honest with one another. Showing uncritical allegiance to any group will only result in a standoff. I want the juvenile sound bites  to stop and real critical thinking to begin. Our country does not need cheerleaders with slogans, it needs honest assessment and thought. That means a willingness to question, examine, debate, challenge and evaluate with honesty and a place at the table for all stakeholders. 

Cries of Five Hundred Years

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There is a certain type of conversation that is incredibly difficult to endure. We almost all encounter them in our lifetimes. Mine came from my mother, my husband, my children, my bosses, my students. They were presented in moments of frustration, but always with the idea of helping me to understand something about which I was seemingly oblivious. They required a willingness on my part to suspend preconceived notions and judgements and simply listen with an intent to learn. Since they sometimes involved a critique of my actions or beliefs they were humbling and often tempted me to defend myself. All of them ultimately improved my relationship with the person who was in a way giving me the magnificent gift of honesty and an opportunity to change.

My mother often engaged in such soul searching with me. She was never afraid to provide me with a truthful assessment of my behavior. Even though I often was initially  angry with her, upon some sincere meditation I almost always realized that she had helped me to become a better person with her appraisals. Indeed, I might have been a mediocre teacher and wife and mother without her unfiltered sagacity at important junctures in my life.

I have always considered myself to be a peacemaker. I despise conflict of any kind. My life has had enough uproar without my purposely seeking to shake things up. Still, there have been moments when I realized that my silence would fly in the face of the ethics by which I measure the morality of my life. I know that I cannot look away from hurt or pain simply because I want to keep a measure of calm in my world.

I am reminded of two incidents that had a profound effect on who I try to be. The first occurred when I was eight years old shortly after my father had died. My family had moved to a new home and we were just getting to know all of the neighbors. One evening we were alerted that the man two doors down had shot and killed his wife. The police were on their way as we all stood on the sidewalk waiting to see what would happen next. We could hear the children in that home crying in terror but nobody moved to help them. From out of nowhere came Kathleen Bush, a tiny woman with nerves of steel. She marched straight to the house, banged on the door, and ordered the killer to release the children. She threatened to break down the door if necessary. Within minutes the little ones came outside one by one. Without saying anything to the rest of us Kathleen took the babies to the safety of her home.

Years later a man was beating his wife in an apartment in the same courtyard as mine. She was screaming for help and her children were standing in the window crying. Once again someone had called the police and the rest of us stood around nervously hearing and watching what was happening. A woman left the gaggle of onlookers, bounded up the stairs and banged on the front door demanding that the children be allowed to leave. She was unafraid even as the man began to threaten her. She kicked the door and made threats of her own until the children were safely in her arms.

Those two women taught me the importance and power of someone who is unwilling to just be a bystander when a wrong is being done. They never even thought of their own safety and risked being hurt to save those children. I have the highest respect for them to this very day.

I have almost always taught minority children. In my last school I encountered a group of Black students who schooled me on the difficulties facing them on a daily basis. I had rather naively believed that with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the election of Barack Obama that the problems of the past had mostly evaporated. After all, I have Black neighbors and I worked on equal footing with Black educators. I wondered how things could possible be so bad.

It was then they my students opened up with great honesty. They expressed feelings and ideas that made me feel uncomfortable but I decided to listen without prejudice. I did not attempt to change their opinions or explain mine. I just heard what they were saying, knowing that they were not trying to hurt me, but rather to help me understand. It was one of those very difficult conversations that felt quite uncomfortable. In the end I began to realize that in spite of my efforts to be a good and loving person I had missed the extent to which Black in America are still being abused by much of society. The students gave me a great gift. They showed me a truth of which I had been ignorant. Suddenly I saw the realities of what they had told me with eyes no longer blinded by my own experiences. 

The best explanation of the Black Lives Matter movement that I have heard relates it to disease. Right now we are engaged in a battle with the Covid 19 virus. Our emphasis on it does not mean that we do not care about cancer or heart disease or any other illness. It just means that right now it is the source of our biggest health concern. So too, saying that Black lives matter does not mean that Black people are somehow more important than all people but that our Black citizens daily grabble with fears most of us never experience. Even when they are innocently running for exercise they may be in grave danger of being suspected of having criminal intent and lose their lives. It is a concern that few of us have and in our complacency we have too long stood waiting for someone else to come to their  rescue

That is why I am so adamant in my support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests and marches may not be perfect because they have at times been infiltrated with bad actors who have changed our focus with their destruction. That is not what should be most important to us. The emphasis should be on the reason for why Black Lives must matter to us all. Literally millions of Black people from around the world are crying out for all of us to understand their plight. They are screaming to be saved. Through a long line of history they have cried out with in pain for more than five hundred years. Why are so many of us still refusing to listen?

What’s In a Word?

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I often spend a great deal of time attempting to find the exact word that I need to convey a particular message. Given how many times people have misunderstood my intent I suspect that I not quite as proficient at selecting the appropriate phrases as I would like to be. The written word is static and subject to a thousand different interpretations so it helps if ideas are described in as simple and and understandable form as possible.

I’ve been writing a great deal about the Back Lives Matter movement because I truly believe that we are in a moment of living history. The protests are far greater than the sum of their parts and if things go well there will be significant changes that may help to move the dial of justice closer to equity. Because change is wrought with many concerns not everyone is on board with what is happening which makes it more imperative than ever for there to be clear goals that clearly outline what might be done. Unfortunately the nebulous catch phrase “defund the police” is being bandied about and causing a great deal of confusion even among those of us who agree that we must face problems of race squarely in the face and make important changes.

To be honest when I began hearing of defunding police forces it sounded way too extreme. Usually when something sounds hyperbolic I find that I have probably misinterpreted it’s true intent so I set to work finding out as much about the defunding movement as possible. While nothing about the concept is set in stone it appears to revolve around the idea of taking some of the duties that now belong to police officers and shifting them to persons and agencies better trained to handle them. It is a way of allowing our police officers to handle crime and still have time for more community involvement. The hope is that police will be able to become known and beloved members of the fabric of society. Doing this means taking a number of current duties off of their plates. For example, police are often called to assist with mentally ill citizens and these incidents sometimes escalate into violence. Instead it would make more sense to send people trained and certified to work with mentally ill persons. They would be better equipped to calm persons who are in a state of distress.

I began thinking about the potential of such changes by considering how teaching has evolved from the one room school houses of old to the modern day classroom. At one time a teacher was all things to all people. Eventually auxiliary professionals began to provide teachers with the ability to concentrate their efforts on teaching subject matter. Schools began to hire librarians, counselors, technology specialists, social workers, coaches, music teachers, nurses and so on instead of leaving all of those duties to a single individual. Today’s teachers continuously receive specialized training and certifications. The educational experience has had to adapt to ever changing challenges and so too should the policing efforts of our cities and towns.

Nobody expects us to exist without the men and women in blue who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Instead, as I comprehend it, the idea is to create a more highly trained and specialized force that is not buried under the weight of more and more duties that might very easily become the purview of other specialists. I would think that this might actually make the life of the men and women in blue a great deal less stressful. I can only imagine how exhausting the present demand must be, making it little wonder that some officers reach a boiling point that leads to trouble in an emotionally charged situation.

As things changed for teachers in the classroom some ideas were not so good but most made life far easier and helped to lower the stress levels considerably. I see nothing wrong with beginning a concerted effort to find the best law enforcement practices and use them to create greater equity for both our police officers and the citizens that they serve. There are already locales that have had great success with restructuring and we should be studying them.

There is nothing radical about continuous improvement. A few years back when Ford Motor Company was on the verge of bankruptcy and was producing inferior automobiles experts descended on the plants and recommend sweeping changes that revolutionized the way the cars would be made. The approach was a last effort to save the dying manufacturing plants and they resulted in happier workers and customers. Ford now consistently produces some of the most reliable cars and trucks in the industry. The company’s willingness to take a hard look at problems and try new methods to repair the damage of years of clinging to the status quo has now become a business model that is studied in graduate schools.

Our world is constantly changing and the organizations that take the time to adapt and be flexible not only survive but grow and prosper. The so called defunding concept may not be the best way to repair our criminal justice system but we should not be too quick to toss out the entire idea. I sense that there is something quite interesting doubt the methodology. Perhaps with a better moniker and a bit of retooling it can lead to a modern police force that becomes an integral part of every community.