Archive for the ‘current events’ Category

Announcing a New Member of the Family: Reg


Reginald, or "Reg," our groundhog.

Reginald, or “Reg,” our groundhog.

by Keith Yancy

Meet Reg.

“Reg” is a groundhog.  Not “just” a groundhog, or any random groundhog.  Reg is the adopted, “Yancy family” groundhog.

“Reg” has been living with us longer than he’s had his name, actually.  For whatever reason, it took my wife, kids and I collectively a year or so to realize that Reg has been living quite contentedly under our backyard deck.  One day I noticed a fat, jiggling rat-like creature running through our yard and making straight for our house.  He ran without breaking stride right under the deck, and after watching our frustrated dog bark at him helplessly for a while, I realized that all the clues of Reg’s living arrangements were right in front of me the whole time.

For instance:

  1. Our dog would constantly check the basement window wells next to our deck, looking for something (I knew not what at the time).  She never, ever let the chance go by without checking these openings, and in retrospect, I now know that Reg uses them as both escape hatches and doors from his house under the deck into our (his) yard.
  2. Once when I was working in the basement, I heard a strange scratching sound over my head.  I looked up and out the window, only to find Reg plastered against the window, right where the deck meets the window well.  Reg’s two large front teeth were in full view, and we peered at each other for a surprisingly long time until Reg ambled off to do whatever it is groundhogs do under people’s decks.  I have to admit, I think Reg looked utterly ridiculous plastered against the glass, and I somehow suspect Reg felt ridiculous too.
  3. My daughter talked once about her “fat squirrel” in the backyard.  We all thought she was talking about an actual squirrel until one day, a fuzzy head peeked above the steps on the deck, and we decided that an animal with a head that large was too big to be a squirrel.  The big fuzzy head looked around, noticed the dog going nuts behind the glass doorwall (he was not scared and definitely not impressed), and eventually disappeared.
Reg likes to poke about in the yard, which he thinks is HIS yard.

Reg likes to poke about in the yard, which he thinks is HIS yard.

It was only after we pieced together all these events and started seeing this groundhog more often that we decided to give him a name.  It didn’t take us long.  I asked my daughters what we should name it, and after a couple of suggestions (I vetoed “Bubbles,” for the record) we decided on Reginald.  Reginald was soon downgraded to “Reggie” and, not long afterward, just “Reg.”  Reg has been making fairly regular appearances around our home ever since. 

Even though I killed thousands of bees, I can’t find it in my heart to try to get rid of Reg.  For one thing, Reg isn’t living IN my house.  For another, he’s never stung me, or chased me around the yard, or shown up in my basement, or master bedroom, or any of the other places that the bees would make their appearance.  I’ve never tried (or had the inclination to try) to vacuum Reg with my Shop-Vac, like I did with the bees.  Reg seems quite content to live under the deck outside, and while I suspect he thinks it’s HIS deck and HIS house, we manage to co-exist pretty nicely together.

Reg, walking around on the deck like he owns the place.

Reg, walking around on the deck like he owns the place.

As a neighbor, I have to confess that I find Reg somehow comforting.  Reg never demands anything from me.  He’s not looking for the next innovative strategy, or reminding me of a deadline, or presenting me with a bill to pay; Reg barely makes any noise or fuss at all.  He wanders about the yard virtually every day, doing his groundhog thing.  Occasionally, he’ll walk around ON my deck, but he’s quiet, and doesn’t do any damage. 

My daughter took this photo of Reg staring at me through my dining room window.

My daughter took this photo of Reg staring at me through my dining room window.

One Saturday a few weeks ago, as I was painting my dining room (part of yet another “never-ending project”), I got a strange feeling and looked out the window.  There was Reg… staring blankly up at me from the deck.  Once again, I found myself face-to-face with this groundhog, with only a single pane of glass and about four feet between us.  And once again, we made eye contact and stared at each other for a surprisingly long time.  This time, Reg had much more dignity than when he was pressed up against my basement window.  It may sound crazy, but this time, Reg seemed almost thoughtful.  We watched each other for several moments, while I whispered to my daughter to get me my phone, trying not to move or otherwise scare Reg away.  It didn’t work.  Reg is notoriously “camera shy,” and by the time my phone (and the camera inside it) got to me, he had dashed off.  I still think we shared a brief moment, though.

Not a great shot, but this is Reg standing on his hind legs.  He looks pretty silly, but appearances matter little to Reg.

Not a great shot, but this is Reg standing on his hind legs. He looks pretty silly, but appearances matter little to Reg.

Anyhow, I find myself looking for Reg, and finding him in the yard is now a source of entertainment for our family.  Reg seems very busy.  He’s always rooting around for food, I suppose, or looking around for predators.  There doesn’t seem to be any real predators anywhere (my dog is the closest thing Reg has to an “enemy,” and she can’t catch him).  Reg has taught my family a lot about groundhogs, as we Google up groundhog facts quite often when we see him.  The literature on groundhogs is not terribly interesting or exhaustive, and we learn a lot more just seeing Reg in action.  Though he looks fat, he moves astonishingly fast, and can get out of Dodge in a big, big hurry when properly motivated.  He’s got some courage, too, as I’ve seen him crossing our street more than once.  Reg will occasionally stand up on his hind legs when the mood strikes him, and while he gives up that “dignified look” I mentioned earlier, stands over a foot tall when he’s on his hind legs, which I find pretty impressive.

So, once again, I find myself living in close proximity to wildlife.  And, as long as Reg stays OUTSIDE my house, I’m waving the flag of truce.  Reg is a rather comforting tenant to have around, and if he eats a flower or two, I’ll overlook it.  I just hope he stays single, and doesn’t start a family… my dog will never be able to relax, and I’ll waste too much time trying to take photos of all the groundhogs.

Until next time… 🙂

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On the eighth day, God made a politician.


Political-Podium

by Keith Yancy

I couldn’t resist.

Watching the recent Ram Truck ad (click this link to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE) and hearing the unmistakable, melodic voice of Paul Harvey inspired me to create my own version of his speech.  I wish Harvey could read it with that wonderful voice and style of his.  Not really sure why, just felt like writing this and having some fun with it.

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a source of frustration — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody willing to take both sides of an issue, argue passionately for and against the same principles, have lunch, take both sides of an issue again, pause for a photo-op, eat dinner then go to a political rally and stay past midnight reminding people of how you enjoy spending evenings with your family — so God made a politician.

I need somebody who won’t shy away from promoting family values yet brave enough to sleep with his own staff members; somebody to protest loudly, cave meekly, talk endlessly while saying nothing, proclaim your individuality while never breaking ranks with his or her political party, then tell news reporters you’re too busy to grant an interview or answer tough questions — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody willing to fight day and night for the middle class, and watch it wither because of unemployment and higher taxes, then dry her eyes and vote for tax breaks for the rich.  I need someone who can ignore a multi-trillion-dollar growing deficit, let bankers cheat people out of their homes and savings, kiss strangers babies and hug their children while voting to cut spending for their education, refuse to take a position on difficult issues while introducing symbolic and unnecessary legislation to appear patriotic — so God made a politician.

God had to have someone public enough to accept donations from taxpayers, charities and companies, yet private enough to spend those donations to pay for his mistresses, vacations and hobbies — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody shameless enough to call political opponents names, yet outraged and indignant when those same opponents respond in kind.  Who will smile and nod with those who agree with him the same way he does with those who do not.  It had to be somebody who would dodge and demure and not give direct answers; somebody to talk, balk, gawk, and walk in parades and shake hands and give high-fives and pat backs and nod wisely and make bold proclamations and sincere apologies and self-righteous denials all in a 30-minute span of time, and do it day after day until their 8-week recess starts.  Somebody who can rally the base and generate voter turnout with the soft, strong bonds of empty promises and finger-pointing; who would laugh and then sigh, and reply with smiling eyes when her daughter says she wants to spend her life doing what Mom does… so God made a politician.

Whatever you do, this was intended to be a joke — it’s not meant to be partisan, nor does it reflect my true opinion of politicians (though it’s not that far off).  Perhaps it leans a bit left, but I’m well aware that Democrats and Republicans are far more alike than they are different.

Until next time… 🙂

Closed, but not forgotten: faith lives and shines in Detroit


Detroit Lutheran West, my high school.

by Keith Yancy

I recently had a very eye-opening experience.  I went back to high school.

In my case, that would be Detroit Lutheran West High School, home of the Leopards.   My high school was one of many high schools in Detroit, a smaller high school that, like most others, had its highs and lows.  To an outsider, Lutheran West was just another high school; but of course, a kid’s high school is always his or her own, a place of memories (good and bad) and usually a place that has a marked impact on their lives.   Lutheran West did that for me.

But, like so many other high schools in Detroit, Lutheran West didn’t survive.

My high school closed years ago.  Another school moved in for a few years, but the forces of decay and population flight were still present, and it eventually closed too.  Like so many Detroit institutions, the problems of our area were just too large to overcome.  Nowadays, the occasional reunion and a devoted Facebook page keep the memories of my high school alive, with former graduates sharing news, renewing friendships, and trading memories.

It was that Facebook page and the pictures on it that made me decide to take a drive over to school to see it once more.  I confess, I’ve been a poor alumni.  I hadn’t physically been there for at least 20 years (class of 1985), even though it’s only a 20-minute drive from my home.  Only when I saw that the property had been sold to a land developer did I decide to visit, and on this occasion, I had my 10-year-old daughter Clara with me.

Even before I got there, I knew things had changed.  Dramatically.

Just for fun, I intentionally went out of my way to re-create the route I took to school each morning.  And while the street signs bore the same names, the trip was strange and unfamiliar; office buildings (some vacant) had replaced empty fields, old buildings were replaced by new ones; too often, those old buildings were either replaced by empty, weed-wild lots or simply boarded up.  I couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty about how long it had been since I had driven through the area.

All these strange feelings steadily increased as I got closer to where my old school was, and when I saw the familiar railroad tracks across Greenfield Road, I braced myself for what lay beyond.  (I remembered how I — and a lot of other kids — used the “got caught by the train” excuse on more than one occasion to explain why I was tardy for first hour.)  I bumped over the tracks, slowed down my car, and pulled into the parking lot of the school I had attended all those years ago.

It was a sad sight to see.

I stopped my car, and stared so long at the building and grounds that my daughter finally piped up from the backseat, “What is this place, Dad?”  I took a deep breath, exhaled, and finally said, “This was where I went to school, sweetie.”  She paused, gave it some thought, and finally said, “That’s sad.” 

We didn’t say another word while we were there. 

The front driveway. When I went to school there, the tall fence on the left didn’t exist.

Tall fences stood where once was an open parking lot.  Tall grass and weeds were everywhere.  Everything from the concrete driveway to the building was crumbling.  The forlorn school sign, still standing in front of the property, said “Faith lives and shines in Detroit.”  A playscape, added after my school closed, sat silent in a sea of overgrown grass. 

A front view, complete with abandoned playscape (added later). The gymnasium is in the background, with athletic fields behind it.

Time, neglect and scavengers had definitely taken their toll on the building.  Metal fascias had been torn off, doors boarded up, windows broken, awnings sagging.  Fences leaned back and forth.  Broken glass and peeling paint seemed to be everywhere.  The sports fields in back — where we played our games, cheered our teams, and held our phys ed classes — were now silent and empty, overgrown and abandoned.  The windows that remained gave glimpses of what I once knew as our school cafeteria, the band room, classrooms, principal’s office.  All empty, all silent.

The gym locker room entrance, located in the dark hallway toward the right of the photo. Scavengers have torn some of the metalwork off of the outside of the building here, perhaps because this area isn’t visible from the street.

Now, I’m a realistic enough person to know that my school wasn’t perfect.  We had plenty of problems, like all schools do, and while I had many good memories of high school, I have some that aren’t very pleasant, either.  I was neither popular, nor athletic, nor a scholar.  (In fact, I was Napoleon Dynamite before Napoleon Dynamite even existed.)  We had the same cliques, issues and dynamics every high school does.

But Lutheran West taught me a lot of valuable lessons, too.

Lutheran West was the place where I learned that white kids and black kids are, well… kids.  We made friends with each other, could tease each other, laugh with each other, play sports together, occasionally fight with each other, and make up again.  It was a place where I saw teachers and administrators who were characters, but who genuinely cared about the kids they taught, even if that meant running extra laps or getting sent to the back of the lunch line.  It was a place where I learned that a good education could be gained even if we didn’t have all the money and “stuff” that bigger schools had.

The baseball field. The field itself is virtually unrecognizable, except for the backstop. Like the other fields, the players helped care for the field after every practice by picking up stones out of the dirt.

And Lutheran West was, in my opinion, unique.  Instead of today’s fixation with the color black, our school colors were maroon and white — still my favorite color combination.  No one else we played had those colors.  And I don’t ever recall, even a single time, where we played another sports team called the “Leopards.”  That was us, and us only.  We knew we didn’t have as many resources as some other schools, and while we didn’t all have matching uniforms on the JV baseball team (there weren’t enough, so a few of us had older-looking versions), we loved — LOVED — when we beat the “rich kids” from the prep high school with their fancy uniforms and palatial baseball diamond.  We had our rivalries with — who else? — Lutheran East, which eventually closed also.

Religion was, of course, important.  One of the best experiences I had in high school was being required to read the ENTIRE Bible as part of the curriculum.  I’m amazed, even now, at how many Christians haven’t done that.  We studied — with respect — other religions, too, and we had chapel for the entire school every Wednesday morning, no matter what.  Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this gift was the greatest gift Lutheran West gave to me, and I remain grateful for it every day.

The entrance by the school principal’s office, now boarded shut. If my memory is correct, many of the older class pictures were located just inside on the walls. Several windows were broken in this part of the building, and even from outside, it was evident that the interior damage was extensive.

All those memories came back to me in a flood as I slowly drove around the school.  My daughter and I sat in my car for a long while, staring at the building and listening to the cars driving past.  The entire place seemed utterly forgotten and invisible; it was as if the surrounding neighborhood didn’t even see the school (or us) there at all.  Before I finally pulled out of the driveway to go home, I found myself looking one last time at the school sign out front.

The school sign. This sign used to have the Lutheran West logo on it, before Detroit Urban school moved in after West closed. Eventually, Detroit Urban was forced to close also. The old city school bus depot still exists in the background. Greenfield Road is just to the left of this picture.

“Faith lives and shines in Detroit.”

Whoever put that message on the sign was right. 

The building is empty, the people long gone.  Soon, I suspect, the building will be gone as well.  But the true purpose of Lutheran West lives on, its mission accomplished.  Graduates of all ages — and colors — are productive citizens, in all sorts of professions (many students went on to become teachers and pastors themselves).  Some stayed local, like me, while others moved to Florida, or Texas, or California, or other far away places.  And while it’s sad knowing that my high school is gone, I feel better knowing that the lessons I learned there live on in many other people’s lives as well.

“You can’t go home again.”  Yes, perhaps that’s true.  But maybe you can take home with you.  For those of us from Detroit Lutheran West High School, that’s what we have left: our memories, our friendships, our faith.  And those gifts are greater than any brick and mortar building could ever be.  Faith does live and shine in Detroit, and beyond. 

And no matter where I go, or how old I grow… I’ll always consider myself a Leopard.

Until next time… 🙂

Decent People, All Around Us


by Keith Yancy

Maybe you are like me. 

Maybe you find that reading the news — with its inexhaustible supply of crime reports, dire predictions, scandals, and hollow “newz” about celebrities — to be relentlessly depressing.  Maybe you have issues with difficult people at work, at home, or elsewhere.  Maybe you haven’t seen close friends, or even close family, in much, much too long. 

Maybe the combination of all these factors makes you feel increasingly, inevitably more isolated, despite the frenetic busy-ness of everyday life and technology designed to keep us connected.

And maybe it takes just one small incident to shake you out of that thinking, to remind you that despite all the negative “noise” which can threaten us, there’s still good, decent people all around us.  People who, with simple acts of kindness, or a smile, or just a thoughtful gesture, tap our proverbial shoulders and show us that there are still plenty of good people in the world.

I’ve witnessed several such examples over the past few weeks.  Strangers who didn’t think of themselves first, who helped me for no real reason or reward, who went beyond a job description to “do the right thing,” when there was nothing extra to be gained by doing so.  Consider some recent personal experiences: 

The Guys Who Stopped to Help.  One night not long ago, I blew out a tire and stopped to change it.  Even though I stopped under a street light, it was still dark, still hard to see, and I drive a pretty large vehicle.  While many people drove past, two complete strangers — for no reason at all — stopped to make sure I didn’t need any help.  One even stayed and used the headlights on his vehicle to give me enough light to change the tire more easily. 

As we talked, he told me about his family (they were out of town), we talked about our jobs, and a local celebrity who lived nearby.  Despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend, and he probably had way more interesting things to do, he stayed until I finished putting the spare tire on, and — once we both laughed about how dirty my hands were — we fist-bumped a parting thanks.  He had no ulterior motive, there was nothing “in it” for him, he just wanted to help.  And he did.

The Plymouth Township Little Caesars Guy.  Ever try to get two cheese pizzas at 10:00AM?  That’s what my wife was trying to do for my daughter’s last day of school pizza party.  Problem is, there aren’t any pizza places typically open that early in the day. 

Nevertheless, my wife called the night before, and asked if they were open that early.  The employee, once he told her they weren’t, asked what she needed: in this case, two cheese pizzas (apparently, 9-year-olds aren’t strong for toppings).  After a brief pause, the guy told my wife that, even though the store wasn’t open, if she stopped by at 10AM, he’d have the pizzas ready for her.  No additional charges, no ostentatious windage about opening early, just someone going out of his way to help someone get pizzas to a school party.  And because he did, we will be customers at the Little Caesar’s on the corner of Sheldon and Plymouth Road for the foreseeable future.

The Plymouth Home Depot team.  Yes, I know, they’re trained to provide good customer service.  But it’s one thing to go through the motions, and quite another to come across as genuine.  I’m there quite often (as my house is constantly falling apart), and I can’t recall a single visit where someone didn’t greet me, ask me if I needed anything, and offer assistance when I asked.

In fact, it’s gone beyond simply acting friendly.  I’ve discussed plumbing problems with their plumbing expert, who saved me a lot of time and money with his advice.  I’ve discussed painting needs with their paint consultants, who helped me avoid mistakes.  In fact, whenever I’ve had a home improvement problem, I’ve always found someone on staff who was able to help me, even when it meant spending less at their store.  They don’t have to go the extra mile, but they do… and I appreciate it.

The “bee guy.”  Yes, I have a honeybee infestation in my house — a large hive.  Tom, who works for Pest Masters in Livonia, came out to get rid of them.  Not only did he answer my endless supply of questions with patience and insight, but he took the time to teach me a few things about honeybees (all of which were disconcerting, considering they are living in the walls of my house). 

But perhaps the thing about Tom I remember most is what he DIDN’T say about a competitive pest control company we had used previously.  Once he heard we had used them, he went out of his way to explain why a) they were a very good company, and b) their lack of success wasn’t a reflection on the company, just the severity of my infestation.  He could have easily taken a cheap shot at a competitor, but didn’t.  He took the time to explain everything, told me about his own beekeeping challenges, and offered a referral for the inevitable drywall repairs that will result from removing the bees and their hive.

I know none of these people personally.  And yes, a more jaundiced eye might see, in the case of the business examples, employees simply demonstrating “customer service.”  But I don’t think so.  I see examples of customer service every day, in which people follow the script of acting friendly and helpful while their attitude, body language and overall demeanor scream “leave me alone.”  Authenticity can be seen by going beyond the job description: going int0 work early (to make a pizza!), showing patience and kindness when no one’s watching, demonstrating integrity when it may even run counter to your own business interests. 

It’s little instances like these that confirm for me that there are many, many good people still in this world, even if they’re not covered in the news.  They’re all around us, if we choose to look for them.  Recognizing that fact reminds me that doing things for others, whether it’s helping change a tire, offering a kind word, or helping someone just for the sake of doing so makes the world that much better and brighter.

And maybe others will feel that way too.

Until next time… 🙂

My Latest Traffic Jam Experience


 

by Keith Yancy

An hour and 40 minutes.

Not long ago, on an average, not particularly interesting weekday morning, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to get to work.  Traffic jams going to work are worse than the ones going home — at least after work, you can relax when you get home (eventually).  But traffic jams heading to the office are like running 10 miles to get to the starting line of a marathon: you’re already stressed, annoyed, and late by the time you get to work, and then you wind up being annoyed, late and stressed on top of that throughout the day.

The trip began both good and bad, for the same reason: it was a bright, sunny morning.  So, while it might be nice and pleasant to drive in the sunshine, veteran rush-hour drivers know that this is often worse than rain — if you’re driving east.  Which I do, every morning.  And, as usual, I’ve misplaced my sunglasses, which means I’m squinting for the first 15 minutes of my drive.

That morning, a lot of other drivers seem to have forgotten their sunglasses, because everyone seemed to be squinting and driving at least 15 miles per hour below the speed limit.  What’s worse, my eyes (for reasons I don’t quite understand) water profusely when I squint,  which means I was constantly wiping tears off my face as I crawled through traffic.  While this might be embarrassing anywhere else, I didn’t get too worked up about this, as I’ve seen enough make-up appliers, nose and teeth pickers, and singing, dancing and flailing other drivers to not have much inhibitions about the tears streaming down my face.

Finally, I got to the point in my drive where I travel north… after waiting at a light for a good 7 minutes.  This is because the line of cars is so long, I got to watch it cycle between green, yellow and red at least 5 times before I going through it.  This experience was brought to us, in part, by one confused/distracted driver who somehow forgot to go when the light turned green (despite the horns of people behind him), making all of us wait until — as the light turned from yellow to red — he woke from his stupor and stomped on his accelerator to get through the light.  Hey, thanks for that!

I’d hoped that I could make up time going north, but in just 30 seconds, I realize that I’m doomed.  Northbound traffic was WORSE than it was going eastbound, with a sea of cars and brake lights in front of me.  Despite the fact that no one is moving, a cop sat in his patrol car, radar gun to his eye, checking for speeders.  Speeders?  Not a single car across four lanes was going faster than 5 miles per hour, but Mr. Policeman refused to see what everyone else already knew — no one was going anywhere.  After a while, I suspected he stayed there checking for speeders because he was too embarrassed to put down his radar gun and admit he looked ridiculous.

The reason we were all going five miles an hour becomes obvious after another 10 minutes — the streetlights at a still far-off intersection weren’t working.  While Mr. Cop back there was checking bumper-to-bumper traffic for speeders, there wasn’t a cop in sight at this intersection, nor at the next two intersections, which didn’t have working traffic signals either.  It’s complete chaos, as no one bothered to take turns, and people edged into traffic further and further until they eventually bully their way through the intersection.

As I tried to inch my way through all that mess, I had plenty of time to observe the scenery.  Lots of empty storefronts, run down buildings, and a woman who was walking down the street VERY SLOWLY, wearing a hunter’s orange sweat suit.  As I wondered why anyone would intentionally wear a hunter’s orange sweat suit, she turned her head and spat toward the road.  Judging by the volume and consistency of what she spits out, she apparently has a very bad cold.  She uses her sleeve to clean up her face.  Nice.

By this point, I was past the 50-minute mark of my drive, and I was considering calling ahead to warn my co-workers of my lateness when another pedestrian caught my attention.  It’s a young African-American guy, maybe 20, dressed neatly but casually.  He was, with great accuracy and enthusiasm, goose-stepping down the sidewalk, arm raised as if he were performing a Nazi salute to the standing traffic.  It occurred to me that  I’d never seen an African-American performing any sort of Nazi impersonation before.  Despite the fact that he seemed very serious — he even looked angry — he followed up his goose-step march by doing not one but two cartwheels before standing straight and motionless, facing traffic.

A few minutes after I left Mr. Goose Step behind, and over an hour and 10 minutes into my drive, I noticed the radio playing a steady stream of “male enhancement” ads.  I listen to two of them before I turn it off, and the only reason I do is because both ads rattle off a laundry list of symptoms: Are you losing your muscle mass?  Do you have belly fat?  Feeling tired?  Losing your hair?  Not EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO BE in the bedroom?  YOU COULD HAVE LOW TESTOSTERONE!!!  They promised that, if I take their product, I’ll re-discover what it’s like to be a man again.  Sort of tempting.

I spent the last half hour with the radio off, considering what the effects of testosterone supplements would be for me.  All of those things sounded pretty good, but I got an image of me sprouting hair everywhere on my body and flying into a rage whenever I’m stuck in traffic, and I decided that some of the “symptoms” they want to cure are just part of middle age.

I finally get to work, where I was forced to park a good quarter-mile from the building because all the closer parking spots are taken.  (That gave me something to grumble about during the walk in.)  I tried sneaking into the office, but I was quickly spotted by some co-workers, several of whom promptly and very sarcastically thanked me for showing up.  I’m also informed (much to their enjoyment) that the two meetings I missed because of the traffic have been re-scheduled at the end of the day.  Sigh.

Anyhow, while I’ve been in a lot of traffic jams in my lifetime (including rush hour in New York, Mexico City and Los Angeles), this latest one was unique.  If nothing else, I’ll make sure to bring my sunglasses.

Until next time… 🙂

Academic Freedom 2, Censorship 0; On to the Second Round.


by Keith Yancy

One day after the second of two challenged books was successfully restored to the curriculum makes me feel like an underdog prize fighter who just won the first round of a boxing match.  It’s a good feeling, but one tempered by the knowledge that our opponent underestimated us, and is now realizing that this is going to take more strength and effort than they expected.  The bell will soon ring, and potentially many more rounds await.

But, as the Bible notes so eloquently, there’s a time for everything, and the time for feeling good about this victory is now. 

We took a few punches (several below the belt), but we landed more than we took.  What started as a small group of outraged parents quickly grew into a significant group of activists, well over 200 strong, who — without political backing or money — made their presence known and felt in the community.   The group that was created, Supporters of Academic Integrity in Plymouth-Canton, is as diverse as the thousands of kids who attend our schools: young and old, white and blue collar, liberal and conservative, people of all religions, colors and creeds.  A group united as citizens with a common cause — to preserve the academic integrity of our schools and school curricula, without the influence of political forces and agendas.  Notably, a group led by intelligent, motivated and talented people who have the courage of their convictions and the resolve to fight for them.

As the first round transpired, we learned from our opponent, who clearly knows their way around the boxing ring.  They had a Facebook page, so we created one.  They had several web sites, so we created one — a better one, in my opinion (http://supportacademicintegrity.com/).  They rallied supporters to board meetings, so we came too.  When they started leaning on politicians and writing local newspapers, we responded, then started taking the fight to them by writing our own.  When we noticed that they strategically placed themselves in view of the public access cameras at one meeting, the next meeting found our supporters sitting in many of those same seats.

But we also brought some fighting techniques that our opponents didn’t.  Better arguments, for sure.  We swatted away weak jabs like Lexile scoring, alarmist charges of pornography, and silly leaps of logic like connecting literature to inappropriate dancing and rumors of teenage sex in bathrooms.  While our supporters brought in political cronies, out-of-towners and even a local pastor to “defend our children,” we brought in parents, academic leaders (who knew that there WAS a process in place for reviewing literature), current students, and successful, articulate former students who actually read the books to defend our position.  In exchange after exchange, we landed shots while our opponents swung wildly, bobbing and weaving from point to point in search of a knockout punch that never came.

And, hopefully, we trained better before the fight.  It’s a lot easier to fight for books and academic freedom when you a) have read the books (!), b) have a student, former student, or future student in the class, c) respect and value the excellent teachers in our district, and d) value your rights as a parent enough to fight back.  For too long — much, much too long, I suspect — our opponents have assumed they were simply fighting another indifferent, uninspired “tomato can,” one whom they could knock out before their opponent could even come out of the corner or raise their gloves.  And yes, they even landed the first two or three punches in this fight, but we didn’t fall down, our knees didn’t buckle, and our will didn’t crumble.  We fought back.

Unfortunately, we even had to battle a “referee” — our local school board and our interim superintendent — who seemed stupefied by the fact that they actually had a fight on their hands this time.  When our opponent successfully convinced the interim superintendent to remove Waterland, he seemed stunned that we objected.  When they distributed hate literature against school policy at board meetings, the board seemed oblivious to their own policies, and shockingly indifferent to just how offensive the materials were (it took another incident of hate literature distribution before they finally took action).  They collectively broke the law by limiting public comment, and were compelled to issue a public apology and a “make up session” to address the error.  Our interim superintendent (and yes, I refuse to drop the “interim” from his title) displayed either profound naiveté or his true opinions when he allowed himself to be set up by a local conservative talk show pundit on the radio.  And when the ref finally woke up and started to do their jobs, it took almost two months before one of them — Barry Simescu — had enough courage to stand up publicly and support the teachers involved.  I can’t decide if that collective failure is pathetic or outright shameful.

Unfortunately, however, this fight doesn’t look like a one-rounder. 

Our opponent isn’t used to losing a round, much less actually trading punches with an opponent.  While they’ve made many claims over the past two months, the only one that I am willing to believe at face value is their claim that “they aren’t going away.”  I believe you.  And so does everyone else.

On a personal level, I’ve gained a few battle scars too.  I’m marked by a deep, abiding mistrust in local politics and politicians, many of whom have no crisis of conscience when obfuscating facts, spreading baseless accusations, or assuming the collective ignorance of the people they represent.  I’ve been bruised by the fact that I can no longer blithely assume that local decisions — whether they be about schools or anything else — are always done in the best interests of the majority of citizens.  And I’ve had my eyes opened by the fact that one politically minded parent can shamelessly relegate local high school kids, and an entire school district, to a bargaining chip in their quest for political power. 

I’ll be watching carefully in the rounds to come.  Watching to see if our interim superintendent will allow himself to be as easily manipulated in the future by the political forces that bray the loudest.  Watching to see if any actual evidence is EVER offered up to support the claims of sex in the bathrooms and hallways in our local high schools, and watching to see if our local state representative, Kurt Heise, will retract his statements made in a voter breakfast yesterday regarding these local “legends.”

I’ll also take stock of the effects of this first round have had on me, too.  I’ve been called many, many things in my life, but for the first time (and to my considerable amusement), I have been called a “bleeding heart liberal.”  After years — decades, actually — of masquerading as a milquetoast conservative, I’m suddenly finding myself on the other side of the always-moving line between liberalism and conservatism.  I will continue to support (and greatly admire) the leaders of the Supporters of Academic Integrity in Plymouth-Canton, whose generous gifts of time and talents have so greatly eclipsed my own.  And I’ve developed a renewed appreciation for those among us who enjoy policy and procedural debates ( a vital asset in such matters as these), for which I have neither the aptitude nor the patience. 

Round 1 is over.  But I’m sure there will be more rounds to come.  And the only way to ultimately win this fight is through perseverance, vigilance and watchfulness; as Calvin Coolidge once observed, “determination and perseverance alone are omnipotent.”  I don’t believe this fight will be won or lost by knockout, but with a rapidly growing group of motivated citizens, I love our chances.  In the meantime, be wary of those who would “protect” you from ideas, differences, or who defer to an idealized past.  Be skeptical of those who sell alternatives without full disclosure, without research, without results.  And be on guard for those who propose to “fight for you” without actually asking you for your approval to do so.

Bring on the next round, if you must.  We’re in it to win it.

Until next time… 🙂

What I Learned About “Common Sense” at the Local School Board Meeting


by Keith Yancy

NOTE: I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me for an update on the book ban efforts in my daughter’s local high school.  One book (Beloved) has been re-instated, the other (Waterland) is “in review.”  In the interim, there have been a lot of school board meetings, editorials, radio interviews, etc.  Here’s my most recent observations.

After spending the first 44 years of my life having never attended a local school board meeting, I’ve now attended two.  And let me tell you something – they’re more interesting than you might expect.  At least, they are in my town.

Why?

Well, if you’ve read any of my blogs lately, you know about the whole “book ban issue” (as some call it) vs. the “process and parental rights issue” (as others call it).  I’ve learned quite a bit at these two meetings, especially the last one, which was held solely to hear citizen complaints about the whole affair.  After I attended this latest meeting, I intentionally didn’t want to write about it until I had let a day or two pass, to make sure I was writing with reason and logic, rather than emotion and anger.

Well, that time is up.  Over the past few days, a few observations gradually came into focus.

  • I was generally impressed with the civility and behavior of everyone in attendance.  The air was definitely charged, as people with very, very different (and strong) opinions were together in a very small room.  But, other than one man acting like a seventh-grader whispering and snickering nearby, people generally behaved themselves.  That was good to see.
  • Both sides had some very good speakers, and both sides argued persuasively.  There was a balance between the “pro-book” and “anti-book” people, and typically, the order of those who spoke alternated between the two points of view.  And – lest you mistake me for an ideologue – I was impressed with several speakers from each side.  Consider:
    1. An elderly gentleman (and a veteran) who was articulate and concerned about the decline in morality found in today’s schools, and his belief that these books play a role in that decline. 
    2. Numerous students and former students, who argued with intelligence and eloquence about the positive impact these literary works had in their lives and education.
    3. A pastor of a local church, who expressed his concern about the books’ content in the hands of 16-17 year olds.
    4. A former head of the English department at the high school, who confirmed not only that there WAS a process in place for vetting these books, but that the teachers were highly qualified to teach them.
    5. The son of a local political “insider,” who – after his mother made a complete fool of herself reading “naughty passages” from the books in a previous board meeting – spoke with civility, and offered an appeal for everyone to find common ground.  Ironically, the son seemed far more mature and authentic than his mother, and showed some courage addressing the audience.
    6. Finally, and – in my opinion, the most powerful speaker of all – a young African-American woman, who explained just how powerful and important Beloved was to her and her understanding of slavery.  Everyone, on both sides, was absolutely silent as she spoke, and she showed as much grace, conviction, and quiet strength as I have ever personally witnessed.  I am not easily moved… but I was after she spoke.
  • Most disturbingly, what I learned is that I’ve apparently never understood what “common sense” meant.  The phrase was used by the same parent who began this entire affair, whom I won’t name here, as he addressed the board.  It struck me that he so consciously said it, with emphasis, to describe his actions.  His obvious and repeated use of this phrase stuck in my mind, and I found myself reflecting on what “common sense” means to him. 
    So, I decided to review the organization and web site he’s affiliated with, www.pccscommonsense.com, to better understand “common sense.”  Below is an “infographic” I created, using this website’s EXACT words as they were presented on 1/31/2012, as well as a few corrections:

  • After hearing this person use the term “common sense” at the meeting, and reviewing the web site he claims to be affiliated with, I can only conclude that I’ve misunderstood what the term means.  Apparently, according to this web site and the “group” responsible for it, “common sense” means the following:
    1. That, rather than being accountable for your decisions, it’s okay to make a choice, provide consent, then change your mind — and then demand that everyone else do the same. 
    2. That providing notice of “mature content,” in writing, well in advance of the class starting, isn’t really “full disclosure.” 
    3. That it’s okay to claim that there are no “options,” when there were alternative texts provided and alternative classes available. 
    4. That, by reading only a few sexually oriented lines from 250+ page book, you can accurately judge the entire book’s literary value… and take it away from 94 other students without their input or consent.
    5. That it’s perfectly acceptable to replace one banned book with another book that’s been on many “book ban” lists for years.
    6. That you can try to convince people that using Lexile scores to judge literary works is somehow more logical than judging great architecture by the weight of the building.  
    7. That, when your Lexile scoring argument fails, you can simply “bully your way to success” by rallying a local political party to try to convince others when your “arguments” failed to do so.
    8. That you can break school policy and rules by distributing propaganda on school property while, at the same time, demanding that everyone “follow the rules.”
    9. That reading an entire work of literature, in a college-prep classroom environment, with a professional educator, is no different from shouting a few “dirty” sentences, out of context, from that same book, on television — where any young child could hear it.  AND justifying doing so by claiming that it’s all due to your “concern for children.”
    10. That it’s perfectly fine to circumvent “process” and ignore the rights of other parents all while re-naming your attempt to ban books as a “process and parents’ rights issue.”
    11. That it’s okay to make vague, unsubstantiated claims of “dirty dancing” and “sex in the bathrooms” without having to prove of any of them.
    12. That, despite any causal evidence, it’s okay to link literary works with “dirty dancing.”
    13. That, when people don’t agree with your point of view, it’s alright to assume they just “aren’t aware.”
    14. That disrupting a class for AP Literature students is somehow “protecting” them, despite doing so without the permission or approval of other parents involved.
    15. That it’s more dangerous to read two paragraphs about sexual exploration than it is to watch the graphic violence and hear the profanity in a movie like Saving Private Ryan (which is shown in another high school class).
    16. That there’s no inconsistency in demanding an open, public process while privately submitting a — yes, here it is — “common sense solution” to the school board. 
    17. That the desire to remove books from the curriculum will begin and end with just two books, or just sexually oriented material, or just a literature class.
    18. And, the most disturbing definition of all… that it’s entirely acceptable to define and decide for other people in this country what their moral standards should be. 

I could go on, but I’m exhausted just thinking about all the new local meanings of “common sense” floating around town these days.  What’s clear, throughout this whole silly affair, is that the real values of this “Common Sense” organization can be summarized very simply: Feel completely comfortable defining and determining “morality” for other people, whether they ask you to do so or not.  Call in local political groups when you can’t produce a compelling or lucid argument.  And use a meaningless, feel-good term such as “common sense” as a repetitive, empty slogan to mask a larger agenda.

______________________

At home, after the school board meeting concluded, my high-school daughter brought me a permission slip from her school to sign.  I looked it over, reviewed the contents, asked a few questions (it was for an economics class), and prepared to sign my name.  At that exact moment, it struck me… would my signature – my consent – be respected in this class?  Or would my daughter’s education be again disrupted by local political forces that use our school system as a platform for public exposure?  Would my rights, and the rights of my daughter, be equal to others this time?  Or would they be tossed aside like last semester, held hostage by people who feel qualified to tell me what’s “acceptable” for my own child?

I would write the school board again, but since they never bothered to even acknowledge my previous letter, I’ve become skeptical that anyone’s really listening.  I hope that, if these political games actually succeed, the school board — and everyone else at the schools — like and accept all the “common sense” choices and selections that will be made for them in the future.  Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s this: they won’t stop with just two books.

Until next time… 😐

An Open Letter Against Book Bans in Plymouth


by Keith Yancy

I had considered not publishing this until tomorrow, but I’ve discovered that people can voice their opinions on banning books in a college-level AP class in Plymouth at suggestions@pccs.net, and since the board doesn’t meet until tomorrow, it allows people to voice their objections to censorship.  Remember, this is a college-level class.  You can certainly refer to my recent posts regarding this issue to hear arguments I have regarding this issue.  I’ve included my last letter to the school administration below, and may (time and schedule permitting) attend a school board meeting tomorrow.

Below is the letter I sent this morning.

____________________

 

January 16, 2012

Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Interim Superintendent, PCCS

John Barrett, Board President, PCCS

Adrienne Davis, Board Member

Mark Horvath, Board Member

Michael Maloney, Board Member

Judy Mardigan, Board Member

Sheila Paton, Board Member

Barry Simescu, Board Member

An Open Letter to the Interim Superintendent and the Plymouth-Canton School Board

Dear Dr. Hughes:

My name is Keith Yancy.  I am the father of Meredith Yancy, an AP Literature student at Salem High School.  I am writing this letter to you and the Plymouth School Board to express my disappointment with recent changes – and proposed changes – to the AP English curriculum. 

Let me be very clear: I, like many other parents, am outraged about what has taken place, and am incensed that a one group of parents has affected the choices of all AP Literature students. 

But first, let me share with you some facts.  I am a husband and father of three daughters.  I do not promote or endorse pornography.  I do not believe college-level reading material should be forced upon students.  But I do believe in providing college-level reading material in an AP-level Literature course.  I believe that it’s better to prepare my child to recognize, understand and learn from challenging ideas rather than prevent her from seeing them.  Most importantly, I believe my daughter’s rights (and the rights of other students) have not been adequately considered.

The parents in question (and “P-CAP,” the organization to which they belong) state, “This is not a book de-selection issue.  This is a parent’s rights issue and flawed process issue.”  That statement, however, is clearly incorrect.  The efforts of this group have resulted in a de facto “book de-selection” (read: ban) already, and threaten to result in another book’s removal.  Furthermore, had the true intent of these parents been about defending a process, then a review of the material in question should have occurred prior to the book’s removal, or (preferably) in an open forum prior to the start of the school year.  To remove a book from the curriculum due to a parent’s complaint amounts to correcting one procedural error with another.

This parent group has also asserted the following on their web site: “We believe, as Dr. Hughes does, that if the majority of the residents of the community were aware of the contents of these books, they would object to them.”   Dr. Hughes, I am a parent.  I am aware of the contents of these books.  And – like many, many other parents – I do not object to them, but encourage their study.  These books are not focused on sexuality, do not satisfy the legal definition of pornography, and are considered outstanding works of literature by recognized authorities.  Perhaps most importantly, I do not need other parents or a dubious organization like “P-CAP” to project their opinions and choices on my child’s curriculum – or presume that I am somehow not “aware.”

Additionally, whispers among the parents suggest that, if this group does not succeed, they will “read selected passages aloud” to the school board to alert them to the “dangers” of the books in question.  I am not frightened of such a possibility, and you shouldn’t be either.  It’s obvious to any discerning person that selecting only the salacious passages from any book ignores the larger context of the book in question, and cannot be adequate evidence for drawing an informed conclusion about a book’s value or legitimacy. 

I won’t belabor other legitimate objections, such as the requirements of the AP Literature test, the fact that such parents had ample opportunity to review the syllabus prior to the start of the academic year, or that parents in favor of the books were not allowed to directly rebut this group’s emotional and illogical arguments at a recent committee meeting.  Each of these objections has merit, but perhaps none is as important as the basic question that now rests before you:

Are all of you truly ready and willing to ban these books?

I do not envy you, Dr. Hughes, because you and the school board have a significant choice before you.  If you retain these books in the curriculum, then sensationalized attacks from those who choose only salacious passages from literature (e.g., “P-CAP”) could create a media firestorm, and perhaps even legal action from those claiming these books to be pornographic.  Of course, if you choose to ban these books, you’ll face an even greater media firestorm from those who support intellectual freedom, and potential legal action from those who would defend the First Amendment.

Dr. Hughes, I implore you and the members of the Plymouth School Board to recognize that your choice should be clear: these books should remain in the curriculum.  If a parent demands an alternative text for their child, provide one, and let that option be presented prior to the beginning of the school year.  To give in to the demands of a select few to impose their moral standards on the majority, however, is unequivocally wrong.  As a person who has earned a doctorate degree, Dr. Hughes, you know as well as anyone the value of intellectual freedom, and the inherent risk of selective attempts to limit that freedom, because you must recognize that such limits can quickly escalate to other books, other subjects, and beyond.

I remain cautiously optimistic that the school administration, including yourself and the Plymouth School Board, will recognize these recent events as what they truly are: a sad, tired refrain of the failed arguments of limited thinking.  Banning books has always been negatively viewed by the American public, and history shows that such efforts usually (and rightfully) fail.  Even now, the public at large is rallying to defend intellectual freedom and voice its opposition to censorship.  For instance: 

  • Unflattering articles regarding this misguided local effort to ban books (again, masked as “upholding process”) has already been published on the mlive.com news web site, as well as the New York Post.  
  • Another article discussing the PCCS situation, under the subtitle of “Censorship,” was published in Media Bistro – a popular on-line, media-oriented web site.
  • An individual has publicly offered to provide Waterland or Beloved free of charge to any PCCS student who requests a copy. 
  • Former students, academics, and citizens from around the country are joining local parents like me and my wife, expressing outrage and opposition to the removal of these books from the curriculum.  Many of these people are preparing their own letters for your review.
  • Citizens from around the country are already alleging that the effort to ban Beloved is racially motivated.  (I encourage you to review Toni Morrison’s public Facebook page and web site for corroboration.)
  • Parents opposed to censorship are already preparing to speak publicly via radio and other broadcast media.

In other words, the opportunity to keep this issue “local” is gone, and the attempt to restrict access of the books is failing.  Thanks to the power of social media, the motivated parents of PCCS students, and the predictable outrage American citizens always express at the thought of banning books, individuals who wish to impose their beliefs on all students – not just their own children – will find it impossible to work in the shadows or hide behind closed-door, bureaucratic “process meetings” any longer.  If these voices of censorship succeed, negative coverage of Plymouth’s school system, and its curriculum, will be persistent, widespread and prominent.  Such negative coverage could only be seen as a detriment for our students, your administration, our school board’s leadership, and our community as a whole.

It would be a very sad day to see Plymouth added to the dark list of communities that banned books of literature.  Take a stand for your students, your faculty, your community and your integrity, and reject yet another shrill and hollow attempt to ban controversial works of literature.  The citizens of Plymouth – and people across the country – are watching.

Respectfully,

Keith Yancy

_______________

We shall see.

Until next time… : |

9/11


by Keith Yancy

The day is here again.

On this day, 10 years after the surreal tragedy of 9/11, I will take time to remember.

I will remember how, in our sadness and horror, we saw humanity at its best — after we saw it at it’s worst.

I will remember the thousands that died, some heroically, some anonymously, all tragically.

I will remember the families forever scarred by the fanaticism of misguided and deluded conspirators.

I will remember the bravery and selflessness of all the heroes in New York, then the heroes in America, then the heroes of those around the world who did so much to try to help and save lives.

I will remember the solemn pride of watching a nation come together, setting aside their differences, to show the world that we are a unified, albeit imperfect, nation.

I will remember all the men and women who have sacrificed their safety, their health, and even their lives to protect us since that day.

I will remember the people and nations around the world who supported America during and after the tragedy, and continue to support our nation today.

I will remember how fortunate Americans are — despite that day — to live in a nation where we can stand together when tragedy strikes, setting aside differences in religion, race, and ideology to face our enemies.

I will remember that fanaticism knows no limits, and can twist any religion to suit its purposes.

I will remember that, when others have a different ethnic background or tradition, such differences do not automatically make them an enemy or un-American. 

I will remember, without needing to listen to cockpit recordings, video replays, or dramatized re-enactments of that day… a day that has seared its imprint forever in my memory.

I will remember that such tragic events can happen at any time, without warning, without cause… and that such events succeed only when they create blind hatred and prejudice.

I will remember how that day changed our lives, our nation, and our world.  Instantly and irrevocably.

I will remember, because I cannot — and will not — forget.

Until next time… 😦

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Notes From the High School Underground


by Keith Yancy

Ah, September.  Labor Day, cooler weather, and the fascination of Parent Orientation Night at my daughter’s high school.

It sure feels strange to be the parent in this situation, to be honest.  Somewhere in my brain, I’m still not quite resigned to the fact that the tables have turned, and I’m no longer the student.  Here’s a few observations from my recent “parent” experience…

  • That high school is HUGE.  Actually, it’s three high schools, located on a single campus… which makes it feel larger than the university I attended.  Just getting to Parent Orientation was like coming late to a rock concert — I had to park on the dirt surrounding the soccer field, at perhaps the farthest possible point away from the building.  Cars parked EVERYWHERE.  Guess that’s the price you pay for getting there late.
  • I passed a note to my wife at high school!  For the first time, I could actually send my wife a note (okay, text) telling her what classroom at which we could meet.  (We did not attend the same high school.)  Seemed kind of neat, though I don’t think she ever got the message.  Felt for a brief second like a high school date.
  • I felt really, really out of place.  Those other parents (and there were a lot of parents there) all seemed much older than us.  Really.  I felt younger than everybody else.  Unfortunately, this feeling steadily faded as I realized that I didn’t look any younger than most of those other parents.  Coming straight from work (and wearing a suit and tie) didn’t help, either. 
  • I want to take my daughter’s English class.  The classroom was nice.  Teacher was enthusiastic, articulate and engaging.  Course requirements (it’s an AP English class) were challenging but interesting.  THIS is the kind of class that was not appreciated by 16-year old Keith, but 44-year-old Keith is now absolutely rarin’ to go!  Even the assignments and term papers sound cool.  It’s hard to believe people feel obligated to take this class. 
  • Some parents can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.  Call me elitist, but I felt a vague sense of depression when, after discussing the value of analytical thinking, consideration of deeper philosophical questions and the power of literature as a window to one’s self-knowledge, the only question asked of the English teacher was “How long do the kids have to complete the term paper?”.  Sigh.  Kind of like getting handed a diamond ring and asking, “is this box water-resistant?”.
  • I want to take Graphic Arts class too.  Seriously.  This class isn’t even a class — it’s fun.  Working with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign… I would love this class.  In fairness, my daughter is pretty excited about this class too.  They’re even going to upgrade to CS5.5… which leads me to my next point.
  • Bigger may not be better, but it sure seems to imply “better equipped.”  I now have the fulfillment of knowing where some of my tax dollars are going — this place is like a palace.  40+ Macintosh computers in Graphic Arts class.  Couches in the classrooms (for humanities classes, at least).  A campus larger than some colleges.  Pools… three gymnasiums… a radio station (?!?!)… a cafeteria that has more choices than a shopping mall food court… this place seems to have everything.  I loved my high school, but I have to admit, I might have loved it even more if we had some of this stuff.
  • I will privately admit that my daughter has it sort of hard.  One of her classes (Graphic Arts, in fact) seems to be about 4 miles and two buildings away from her other classes, and takes a LONG walk (at a pretty fast pace) to get there and back.  Challenging on September 8… an epic journey on December 8.  Even worse on January 8.  Guess I better cut her a bit of slack on the “be tough” speech.
  • I’m still intimidated by foreign language class.  In this case, my daughter’s “Spanish II” class.  Nice teacher — very nice, in fact — but sitting through her orientation session brought back all the old memories of my two-year (failed) attempt to learn French.  And that was after two years of failing to learn Latin, which should have helped in French class but didn’t.  That’s four collective years, my friends, of sitting in a class with only a very, very vague idea of what the hell was going on.  (Hmm… wonder if some of our elected officials in Congress feel the same way….)  My attempt to learn a foreign language ended exactly one day after the announcement that French class would in fact be taught in French instead of English.  But that’s another blog post for another time.
  • All things considered, I think my daughter’s pretty lucky.  She has some really good classes, and she’ll have access to facilities, equipment and software that a lot of kids don’t get.  And the teachers, at least the ones I had a chance to meet, seemed genuinely committed to — and enthusiastic about — helping their students to learn and grow.  (Incidentally, I also think that anyone who believes that teaching is somehow “easy” should actually spend some time with a real professional teacher before they complain about how “easy” they have it.  Again, another blog post for another time.)
  • Getting in was tough… getting out was way, way worse.  Remember the comment about parking in Ohio to get to this thing?  Well, when you let approx. 9,000 people out of Parent Orientation Night at precisely the same time, better be prepared to wait awhile.  For those of you who think the 9,000 number is an exaggeration, I beg to differ — there is approx. 7,000 students, and a lot of parents showed up… many as couples.  And when everyone is trying to leave at once, it’s like LEAVING a rock concert, complete with people getting cut off, not letting each other in, cars mysteriously facing the wrong way, people stuck in the grass, etc., etc.  It took me 45 minutes to travel the 1.2 miles from my daughter’s high school home.  43 of those minutes were spent in the parking lot, and for about 39 of those minutes, my car never moved. 
  • BUT… there’s always a silver lining.  The only saving grace for the long wait to leave was getting angry (but very funny)texts from my brother, who was having a historically awful night of bowling.  Somehow, the sting of sitting motionless in traffic for 40 or so minutes was greatly reduced by the knowledge that, not far away, my brother was bowling a 357 series. 

Ah, September.  You always seem to arrive too soon, but you’re always interesting.

Until next time… 🙂

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