Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Parenting By Paranoia?

For the "the world is changing" file:

I could make this a much better story if I gave you the details, but I have a policy of protecting my sons' privacy. I'll tell a story or here about them, if it is either flattering or neutral, but I generally don't get into anything too personal. I respect them and I have respected them since the day they were born. I have a feeling (or at least a fervent hope) that this respect will be sensed and returned as they get older...

Anyway, I will let this post suffer in quality by not giving you the details, for that reason. Let it suffice to say that one of my sons is in a position in which he is being teased. (No big alarm, here -- it happens; I'm not going to call in the SWAT teams, as is the policy, now, in American schools.) I gave him advice. I pointed out that I think what he sees as his friends having fun with him is actually them setting him up for ridicule. You'd agree, I think, but we will have to leave it at that.

Despite the low alarm nature of this, last night it was mentioned that one of his friends is video taping. It's nothing criminal. It's just something silly. But you know how cruel kids are, without video-taped evidence of goofiness.

Will someone help me with this? Here I go again feeling sorry that I brought kids into this world. How do you explain to kids the dangers of social media and of the attached lack of privacy? Worse, how do you convince them it is a problem in a world in which they are growing up? -- in which (at least, to me) nightmarish surveillance is the norm?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Found: The Ugly American

I'll make the statement, first: I was in class yesterday with a guy who just plain disgusted me.

Now, we of the Sesame Street era and we of the Judeo-Christian backdrop have been taught not to judge others. (A lesson I think we have taken a bit too far -- which has been transmuted into: "Never give an opinion about someone else;" or, "never say when you think someone has done something wrong." But that is for another piece.) Those of us of this sort of background might react to my statement, above, as a horrible thing to say.

But, notice, that I did not say that the guy was a disgusting person. He just plain disgusted me. I had a visceral reaction to him: "Yuk."

He didn't stink. He wasn't unsightly. His actions, attitude and manner simply disgusted me, from the beginning to the end of a four-hour class.

He sat behind me and to the left. At a glance, I saw that he was a few years older than I -- maybe in his mid-fifties. He was a guy who was changing to the teaching profession from something else (I can only assume this decision was entirely driven by his desire to coach sports, because that is all he referenced, all through the class, decked, as he was, literally, from head-to-toe in Adidas wear.)

Friday, February 22, 2013


I think I just figured out
why I am so offended by people
who show no reverence for, at least,
the idea of God
(or for the belief others hold in God).

It's because, even if I didn't believe,
I would still feel compelled to bow down
before a universe that is totally superior to
and infinitely more complex than I am.

Belief in (and reverence for) something bigger than us,
whatever that thing may be, is,
as far as I am concerned,
the only thing that keeps us humans
from being total wastes of mass.

People without reverence are like,
I don't know...
A poem with nothing poetic in it.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brick and Mortar

I don't carry guilt much. I tend to own up to a misdeed or a mistake, apologize (when it's called for) and move on, keeping the memory as a guard against a repeated screw-up but releasing the potentially paralyzing burden of "feeling bad."

But the other day, after what can only be described as a surreal encounter with someone who I believe encapsulates all of the worst trends in modern parental thinking (and whose type I see more and more in my professional and personal life), I found myself sitting in my favorite reading chair, not reading. I was thinking and my thinking was grim and this grim thinking lead to a real and a deep feeling of guilt -- a throat-squeezing guilt; a teary-eyed kind of guilt.

The guilt I felt was not over a mistake I can correct. This guilt is one I will simply have to carry until I die. It is guilt over a deed for which I can't really repent. And, God forgive me, no matter how guilty I feel for it, I would never want to change it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Future of Love

For some reason, on the way home from the Escape from Planet Earth movie (fun, not great), my family got on the topic of how long the Earth might have left to exist. My older son posited "maybe a few billion years."

"Long enough for us, anyway," I said.

"Yeah," said my son. "But what about our ancestors?" (He meant descendants.)

This got me thinking, though. Does anyone really care about his descendants?

From Fritz Lang's Metropolis
Outside of our grandchildren or maybe our great-grandchildren, how connected can we feel to the generations of our families to come? How much can we truly care for them?

The science fiction part of me looks at it this way: Parental and grand-parental love is automatic, as far as I can see. Most people agree on this, I think. For me and most of the parents I know, the birth of my children was like the throwing on of a switch: instant love. My parents and other grandparents I know have said that it was the same for them upon meeting the grandbabies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bad Love: A Valentine's Day Massacre

Alright. Yeah. Yeah. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna trash Valentine's Day. I can't help it. It drives me crazy, so I'm going to drop the box of chocolates in the mud and grind it squishingly down with the boot heel of cynicism.

I did hear guy say "Happy Singles Awareness Day," today, which I like -- but that is neither here nor there. Valentine's Day is lame. Not only is it lame, but it is a microcosm of lots of things that are wrong with the typical American perspective on life.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud. Call me a Cupid-killer. Call me Broxton Von Fleederdoingenstein. (If you want.) I'm not backing down from this.

And, no, this is not just a ploy to release me from the responsibility of getting chocolates and roses for my wife. So sheddep.

No, this is a question of (yet again) the individual versus society; it is a reaction to the constant pressure society puts on all of us to "fit in" -- to become part of the groupthinking hordes of brainwashed toe-draggers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Someone's Child: The Heart of Education

In American education, we do a lot of talking about scores and percentiles and norms. We do a lot of averaging. We standardize and we cluck our tongues when students don't meet a standard. When they don't stack up to other kids, we sometimes "classify" them. Some of this serves a purpose. Much of this is beneficial in helping kids to reach their potential.

But most of the time I look around me and I fall out of the "we" that does all of this. I feel miles from the faculty room talk about "these kids." These kids -- as if they are machine-stamped, consistently flawed duplicates of one another.

One can crunch numbers. One can make "data-driven decisions" about academics. One must. But analysis and policy and curriculum are not the heart of education.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why I'm Wrong About Mostly Everything

My perspective has been all wrong. As one gets older, other people don't lose sight of what is proper and right. What really happens is that, as you get older, you become wrong about what is proper and right. If everyone else thinks things should be a certain way, you are not the lone keeper of truth -- you are a rebel thinker; you are incorrect in your assumptions. If "perception is reality," and you perceive things differently than everyone else does, you are out of touch with reality, especially when it comes to social issues.

A young -- and highly respected -- former student responded to my recent (satirical) "The Emperor Decrees" post about sports. His contention is that that showboating and arrogance in professional athletics, today, is just part of the game. He also believes that a player's behavior off of the field is irrelevant. I disagree, on both counts. It's why I have stopped watching certain sports.

Anecdotal evidence tells me that my former student's contemporaries mostly feel the same way as he does; therefore, I am wrong. Period.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone slightly older than myself. I mentioned that I recently saw a statement that maintains that the average Londoner is captured on surveillance cameras hundreds of times a day. Shaking my head, sorrowfully, I also mentioned the intended use of drone surveillance machines by police departments. Expecting to hear "Good God. Orwell was right," instead, I heard, "Well, it's necessary with terrorism these days."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Is That a Fact?

The internet can really be a horrible place. The worst thing about it may not be the lasciviousness, but the constant purveying of bad and unsupported information.

I can't count the number of times I have seen people post pictures of the supposed time-machine settings from Back to the Future with the caption "Today is the day Marty McFly went to, in the movie!" Well, it ain't and it won't be for another three years.

For your info, the date was October 21, 2015. Cripes. How much of a hurry are we in to feel old? (You can check me -- I looked it up on Snopes, whose writer cites an article in The Chicago Tribune, that verifies.)

What really got me thinking about this, though, is a Twitter account I decided to follow. It is called "Injustice Facts." I, too, spent some time reading horrible "facts" about injustices around the world and shaking my head in sympathy. Then, after seeing a "fact" that claims that 43% of women who move to Hollywood to get into movies wind up in pornography, it occurred to me: they never seem to offer documentation for their claims.

43%? It makes a solid impact on the reader, but can this possibly be right?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Shark on a Leash

I'm losing weight. Again.

I've never been really obese, but I have often ventured in and out of the land of Flabbesia. I've done the up-and-down thing.

Losing weight? No problem. This time, I dropped ten pounds in three weeks. Nothing new. This advantage has been a bit of a disadvantage to me: "Well, I can drop the weight any time," I say, as I dive into a gallon of ice cream. Literally. Dive in. And chew my way out.

As far as appearance, when I gain weight, people start asking me if I have been lifting weights. I short, I am cursed/blessed with proportional weight-gain. I can carry it off -- to an extent.

"You're not fat," people say, kindly. But I know the numbers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Question of Intimacy

There are still people out there, you know, who think boys and girls ought to be separated during the educational process. I am not one of them, to be clear. But I do sometimes wonder if we are taking things too far in some cases. We need to be careful not to confuse equality with sameness.

Now, we are even integrating sports. Early on, in baseball, for instance -- or in soccer, even -- I see no problem with this. And, to be fair, we do separate them when the stakes get higher. You simply do not want a 200 pound boy flying toward a 110 pound girl on a kick-off return. It's just not safe.

Today, though, I sat and watched a Saturday karate class at my sons' school. Girls and boys are mixed into the classes. This all seems okay to me when it comes to practicing kicks and punches on the bags or when working on Tang Soo Do forms; but, during this particular class the kids were asked to partner-up and work on take-downs.

Should girls and boys be practicing jiu-jitsu (which is more of a wrestling form) together?

Friday, February 1, 2013


I'm teaching my creative writing class to write fiction, now. This quarter, they start writing a novel. I know it is a novel that most of them will never finish, but the least I can do is to give them a push in the right direction.

As part of my plan, I am showing them two movies. They have read novels, but, for my purposes, the movies I have picked (Dances With Wolves and To Kill A Mockingbird) are effective in having them explore novel-style story structure.

Scout and Atticus
Today, we started talking about To Kill A Mockingbird, which they have all read at some point or another (way too early, as per the ridiculous and ubiquitous assumption that it is a book that kids are intellectually ready for simply because kids are the main characters), and I had an epiphany.

I stopped the lesson. I paused the film after Atticus hugs Scout good night. I told the girls that I wasn't talking to them for the moment. They laughed. I addressed the guys.