Thursday, June 28, 2012

Off to Seattle, If I make it. (Part I)

After the frenetic activity of last week, it might be understood that Beloved and I decided to rest and relax. We did not. Instead, we packed ourselves and our three daughters and headed to Seattle, Washington, with fourteen of our closest friends, for a total of 5 adults and 14 teenagers.This was for the annual Free Methodist National Bible Quizzing Finals, which were being held this year at Seattle Pacific University.

As you might imagine, traveling with this many people, especially teenagers is fraught with danger, miss-steps and miscues. For the trip out, we made it with only a few minor bumps.

The two people who are always late came early to the meeting and everyone else was on time as well. We got through the TSA checkpoint with only a minimum of trouble. As I was standing at the conveyor putting all of my precious metal into a plastic tub, I heard a mumble behind me. Throughout the years, ignoring mumbles has served me well, getting me out of many an unwanted task. Then I heard it again, a little bit louder, slightly clearer, but still a very distinct mumble.

I broke my “ignore the mumble” rule and turned to see a bald TSA agent looking at me. I inquired politely, “I am sorry; I didn’t hear you; could you say it again?”

He happily obliged, and repeated himself, but still with that delightful dull squawk of Mumble, just like an adult on a Peanuts TV special. I blinked, trying to process what I had just heard. Thankfully, Middlest, who is fluent in both Latin and Mumble translated for me, “Dad, he wants you to put your glasses on.” This was confusing because my glasses were on my head holding my thick mane of hair back away from my stunningly clear blue eyes. At this point, Mr. Bald TSA person, realized I did not speak mumble and spoke in English, “They have to be on your eyes.”

I am not sure what the problem was with glasses on my head, rather than on my eyes, but I think perhaps he was jealous of my thick mane of hair.

Other than that, the rest of the trip to Seattle was uneventful, except for the one quizzer, who inquired why the plane had stopped, while we were still flying at an altitude of thirty-thousand feet with an air speed of around 500mph. Ignoring the obvious fact that if the plane had stopped at thirty-thousand feet we would be plummeting to our deaths, I quipped, “We had to stop for a train.” This seemed to satisfy her curiosity.

Seattle has one of the fastest growing economies and is one of the best cities in the country to start a career. These facts are inextricably linked to the cities topography. Seattle is built on the mountains that descend into the southern reaches of Puget Sound. Since the landscape is so steep, there are no ground floors in local buildings. The buildings I visited start with the first floor and if I walked around and went in the side of the building I was on the second floor, and when I walked to the back of the building, I was on the third floor.  Being that there are no ground floors, there are also no ground level entry positions in companies. This is, in my estimation, the reason for the fast-paced growth of jobs in Seattle.

Seattle is known as one of the healthiest cities in the States. As I walked the streets I found a large number of people walking, running, and biking. There is apparently a polite way of doing this. I heard a voice behind me call out, “To the left, to the left.” I turned and there was a 100 lb woman barreling down on me with blood-lust in her eyes as she was about to body slam me and knock me into the ground. I quickly jumped to my right in an act of desperate self preservation. Beloved says I exaggerate and perhaps I do; she may only have weighed in at 90 lbs.

Another thing I noted during my walk. On every other street corner there is a gym, or martial arts dojo, or some other place where people can engage in physical fitness activities. This preoccupation is not just due to some weird confluence of as yet undetermined environmental factors; it is rather a case of self-preservation. In the few short days that I have been in Seattle, I have found that it is very difficult to get anywhere without climbing half a mountain. Thus, for Seattlites, exercise is necessary to maintain Olympic conditioning, just to walk around the block.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My busy week in review.

It has been a week packed full of activity in my neck of the woods this week. It started with Sunday, as most weeks generally start with Sunday, that part was routine. However, this particular Sunday was also Father’s day. My wife and children greeted me with warmth and announced that I was to enjoy this day. This was good.

I had to work in the afternoon and my coworkers also gave me warm Father’s day greetings. This, I thought, was good. But then I realized that people were probably not wishing me a happy father’s day because of my being an amazing father, but rather because they are all young and I am not and I probably reminded them of their father.  In light of the fact that I only admit to being twenty-five, this is not good.

I would have called my father to send him best wishes for being a father, but he is dead. This is bad.

I thought of less blunt ways to say that and none seemed appropriate. Especially inappropriate is the phrase, “I lost my father.” Car keys, phone numbers, and pens are lost, fathers--not so much. It may be socially acceptable to lose your mind, but not a beloved family member. Fathers do not fall in the cracks of the couch to reappear during spring cleaning. Nor do they dissappear under beds until the search for heavy winter blankets begins. I hope my daughters pay close attention to this admonition, losing your dad is bad.

Monday followed Sunday, which soon turned into Tuesday, which, of course led to Wednesday, also known as Graduation Day. This was due to the fact that Eldest graduated from High School Wednesday evening. I was excited that my daughter invited me, apparently the years of embarrassment that she had suffered from her father were forgiven and she allowed me to attend.
Not wanting to embarrass Eldest on such an auspicious occasion, I read the letter her principle sent home outlining appropriate behavior for family members during the graduation ceremony, which was being held at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Gordon Field House. One thing that struck me was the ban on air horns. The letter specifically stated that air horns and other noisemakers would be confiscated by RIT security. The only air horn that I have access to is attached to a bus and I couldn’t figure out how to sneak a bus into the field house so I figured I was safe.

Imagine my horror when I saw an entire horde of young people brazenly carrying in air horns, big banging drum thingies, and all sorts of other noisemakers. I was sure that security was going to swoop down on these rule breakers like a horde of TSA agents on a 3.5-ounce bottle of shampoo.

They were left unmolested and soon the patriarchal figure of those young people stood up with a big stick, which he shook at them. As he shook the stick, they made loud noises with their noisemakers. This continued on for three or four minutes until he finally got tired of shaking his stick and they stopped until the end of the ceremony. At this point the man, having regained his strength, stood up and shook his stick again and his horde made noises.

The next day, Thursday, we had a graduation party for Eldest. I was opposed to this. As much as I love Eldest, I do not see why she deserved a party for sitting in a chair for an hour, standing up, walking across a stage, taking a folder, and shaking a couple of hands. This hardly constituted a reason for celebration and I told Beloved so. She gave me “The Look” and we had the party. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Senior Pranks, the dull and unimaginative.

I wrote last week about the end drawing nigh. By which of course, I meant the end of the school year, not the end of the world. Apparently, however, some High School students interpret the end of the school year as a coming apocalypse and determine that their behavior should be adjusted accordingly. It is as if they are living out the answer to that age old rhetorical question, “What would you do if you knew you only had a few (minutes, hours, days...) left to live?”

The answer to that question for many young people across the country is random acts of vandalism. Spray painting buildings, breaking windows, randomly destroying bathrooms and plumbing fixtures. All of these actions are flippantly cloaked in the definition, “Senior Prank.”

I have read with great interest during the past week what some high school seniors consider a senior prank. I am delighted to inform you that our educational system is a success. For thirteen years youngsters across the nation are herded into classrooms, force-fed information, taught to take tests, and taught to think independently. But, mind you, just think independently; do not act independently. As Eldest recently observed, “You see, High School has tried to make me fit in this 8″ by 8″ box. After a while, my edges were sanded away, everything that people considered “different” was removed, it’s as if a big chunk of me is missing.” (

High schools reward conformity, compliance to norms, and blindly accepting the rules. This, with the exception of rule following, shows in the unimaginative senior pranks making the news. Three local teens were arrested for destroying property in one suburban high school and perhaps the most notable, was the defacing of the School of the Arts with graffiti. In this case almost thirty seniors were arrested for that prank. Even worse, one piece of graffiti was a stick figure. One Facebook friend observed that whoever drew that should not even graduate. This was after all The School for the ARTS.

Entering this horrible state of senior prank affairs are a fine group of seniors from Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School, located just south of Albany, NY. These imaginative seniors plastered the inside of their school with 5000 packs of Post-it-notes. ( used different colors to write words such as “Seniors” and (forgive my french) “poop”! These 29 students, including the valedictorian and salutatorian, were let into the school by janitors, who even assisted the students in the prank.

When one of the janitors became nervous and called the students early the next morning, they returned to the school and cleaned it up.

I say KUDOS! to the RCSHS seniors for being both imaginative and responsible with their senior prank. The adults of the school were not happy that their students stepped out of the box, and they therefore suspended the 29 seniors.  Superintendent Elisabeth Smith is quoted as saying, “As adults in this learning community, we are not willing to sacrifice the health and safety of our students...” Yes folks, apparently all you have seen in horror movies is true. Schools are havens of evil beings after 7 p.m. Smith continued to say, “we will not tolerate the the loss of valuable planning or instructional time.” I, for one, am not fooled by that. We all know that the last week or two of school is completely bereft of an instruction or planning. Besides, these young citizens cleaned up the notes themselves, simply at the request of one nervous janitor. Congratulations adults of the learning community for once again crushing the imagination and precociousness of our young men and women.

Of course, the students are left with no recourse to pursue. It is, after all, their last few weeks of school. I wonder, however, what would happen if they boycotted some event the “Adults” in the learning community had planned. Perhaps some event where teachers, administrators, parents gather together to parade their handiwork before a large gathered assembly of other adults. Something so grand that tickets have to be rationed out to insure that the crowd is not too large.  An event where each student is dressed just like the one on either side of him or her. Where, when their name is called, they walk across a stage and receive an empty token of their years in the educational mill, while adults clap for the fine job they have done in chiseling these people to be so successful and being so alike and docile.

What if there were no valedictorian or salutatorian speech? What if 29 of their number were absent? What then?

Friday, June 8, 2012

The end is near! Curious?

The end is near. No, not the end of the world, but the end of the school year, and what a year it has been.  Eldest is graduating this month and this past year has been a busy one for her. She decided to skip lunch periods in favor of filling her schedule with classes. Of the eight classes she took, seven were Advanced Placement (AP). She capped off a week filled with AP tests with my sister’s wedding, where she was the pianist, and her last piano recital of her High School career, where she played a concert version of chopsticks that had major classical themes woven throughout. The piece was fun, yet technically challenging. She also is involved in a Bible Quizzing program through church that is quite competitive ( This past weekend was the final tournament for the local area, and at the end of the month is the National tournament at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, WA.

I say all this, not only to brag, but also to point out that my daughter has elected to take on this heavy load. My wife and I did not force her to take this heavy load. She wanted to. We thought she was taking on too much and counseled her against it, but she did it anyway, because she was curious and wanted to learn.

The actions of my daughter illustrate that people are naturally curious; they want to explore and to learn and to grow. This natural desire to learn is evidenced in everything from the two year old who constantly asks, “Why?” to the popularity of the Google search engine. Google did not become the default search engine for so many people because of slick marketing and sweepstake contests. Google has grown because it met the basic need of curious people everywhere to answer the questions, who, what, where, when, why and how.

A few weeks ago Littlest came home from school a grumpy. She, along with thousands of other 8th grade students across New York State, were in the midst of taking standardized tests. The same test with the infamous talking pineapple, which challenges a hare to a race, loses, and gets eaten by the other animals. These tests are administered to gauge how well teachers are teaching. Consequently, teachers spend valuable classroom time teaching students to take the test.

Littlest summed it up this way, “School is so boring. All we do is prepare to take tests. Like who is going to hire me to take tests? That is just what I want to be when I grow up, a professional test taker. And what is up with the talking pineapple? I mean the story was funny, but it was dumb!”

The Sudbury Model of Education is the exact polar opposite of the way we assume education should be done ( It supports young people's curiousity by allowng their own interests and thirst for knowledge to guide the learning process. 

Exploring, asking questions, and solving problems are how we learn and grow. Standardized mandatory tests did not inspire Edison to invent the light bulb, the Wright brothers to invent the airplane, Chester Carlson to invent the copier, or the French to invent the french fry.

Perhaps someday the pineapples who mandate layer upon layer of bureaucratic testing for children will realize they have lost the race and promptly be eaten by an angry horde of 8th graders.

Until then, congratulations to all who are finishing up another year of education, and to those who are celebrating graduation and moving on to something new. Stay curious my friend, stay curious.

The end.