Friday, August 29, 2008

Could Have Been Better

I really enjoyed watching various parts of the DNC this week. Michelle Obama was dynamite!

Ok… part of it was my new TV.

I recently bought a 47 inch, 1080p, 120hz, gorgeous LCD.

The crowd sweeps, the lights, and the speeches all looked amazing in High Def. I kept looking over to my wife and saying, “Doesn’t it look fantastic?” She would smile politely. She just was not getting in to the tech of this like I was! :)

I have to confess to a little disappointment in Obama’s Speech. The video they showed prior to his speech which chronicled his life journey was amazing. It highlighted all the reasons I am voting for him.

The speech itself? … not so much. I could have done without the McCain digs. Obama had amazing things to say. Why sully it? I know everybody does it, and it will be mirrored at the RNC next week, but when will someone rise above? Perhaps politically it is not the wisest move, but I would have loved to hear Obama proclaim his message without mentioning McCain once.

I remember 8 years ago when the republican hopefuls met at a Florida round table. I believe it was McCain, Forbes, Dole, and the governor of Tennessee (Bush didn’t attend). They were each given a chance to ask their opponents a question and I thought the governor of Tennessee did something very interesting. He gave each of his opponents a heart felt and sincere compliment about one of their views or policies. Then he asked each of them, “Please tell me one thing you like about me.” None of them could do it. Though they started in a quasi compliment, they descended to a critique in the end. They all lost my vote that night and unfortunately the governor of Tennessee did not last much longer.

Go a little bit further back and Pat Robertson did something similar when he ran. Though I am no fan of Robertson, I give him high praise for this comment. In a similar round table discussion, where all the republican potentials were in attendance, the main interviewer kept trying to lead Robertson into saying something negative about his opponents but he would never bite. The interviewer finally confronted him and asked him directly what he disliked about his opponents. Robertson smiled back and said, “I don’t want to talk about the negative regarding them, I want to talk about the positive regarding me.”

Great answer!

Of course neither Robertson nor the governor, whose name I cannot remember, went very far.

So what comes first? The chicken or the egg? Are there candidates who are capable of running a clean race? Or will we simply not allow it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama delivers a superb speech!

My wife and I just got done watching Michelle give an outstanding speech at the DNC. What a great first lady she is going to be!

Here is the prepared text for her speech:

As you might imagine, for Barack, running for President is nothing compared to that first game of basketball with my brother Craig.

I can't tell you how much it means to have Craig and my mom here tonight. Like Craig, I can feel my dad looking down on us, just as I've felt his presence in every grace-filled moment of my life.

At six-foot-six, I've often felt like Craig was looking down on me too...literally. But the truth is, both when we were kids and today, he wasn't looking down on me - he was watching over me.

And he's been there for me every step of the way since that clear February day 19 months ago, when - with little more than our faith in each other and a hunger for change - we joined my husband, Barack Obama, on the improbable journey that's brought us to this moment.

But each of us also comes here tonight by way of our own improbable journey.

I come here tonight as a sister, blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend.

I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president.

I come here as a Mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world - they're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. Their future - and all our children's future - is my stake in this election.

And I come here as a daughter - raised on the South Side of Chicago by a father who was a blue collar city worker, and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me. My mother's love has always been a sustaining force for our family, and one of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion, and her intelligence reflected in my own daughters.

My Dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion, our hero. As he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing - even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.

He and my mom poured everything they had into me and Craig. It was the greatest gift a child can receive: never doubting for a single minute that you're loved, and cherished, and have a place in this world. And thanks to their faith and hard work, we both were able to go on to college. So I know firsthand from their lives - and mine - that the American Dream endures.

And you know, what struck me when I first met Barack was that even though he had this funny name, even though he'd grown up all the way across the continent in Hawaii, his family was so much like mine. He was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did. Like my family, they scrimped and saved so that he could have opportunities they never had themselves. And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children - and all children in this nation - to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

And as our friendship grew, and I learned more about Barack, he introduced me to the work he'd done when he first moved to Chicago after college. Instead of heading to Wall Street, Barack had gone to work in neighborhoods devastated when steel plants shut down, and jobs dried up. And he'd been invited back to speak to people from those neighborhoods about how to rebuild their community.

The people gathered together that day were ordinary folks doing the best they could to build a good life. They were parents living paycheck to paycheck; grandparents trying to get by on a fixed income; men frustrated that they couldn't support their families after their jobs disappeared. Those folks weren't asking for a handout or a shortcut. They were ready to work - they wanted to contribute. They believed - like you and I believe - that America should be a place where you can make it if you try.

Barack stood up that day, and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about "The world as it is" and "The world as it should be." And he said that all too often, we accept the distance between the two, and settle for the world as it is - even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations. But he reminded us that we know what our world should look like. We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. And he urged us to believe in ourselves - to find the strength within ourselves to strive for the world as it should be. And isn't that the great American story?

It's the story of men and women gathered in churches and union halls, in town squares and high school gyms - people who stood up and marched and risked everything they had - refusing to settle, determined to mold our future into the shape of our ideals.

It is because of their will and determination that this week, we celebrate two anniversaries: the 88th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and the 45th anniversary of that hot summer day when Dr. King lifted our sights and our hearts with his dream for our nation.

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history - knowing that my piece of the American Dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I've met all across this country:

People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift - without disappointment, without regret - that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they're working for.

The military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table. The servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it.

The young people across America serving our communities - teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day.

People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters - and sons - can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.

People like Joe Biden, who's never forgotten where he came from, and never stopped fighting for folks who work long hours and face long odds and need someone on their side again.

All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do - that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope.

That is why I love this country.

And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us - no matter what our age or background or walk of life - each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.

It's a belief Barack shares - a belief at the heart of his life's work.

It's what he did all those years ago, on the streets of Chicago, setting up job training to get people back to work and afterschool programs to keep kids safe - working block by block to help people lift up their families.

It's what he did in the Illinois Senate, moving people from welfare to jobs, passing tax cuts for hard working families, and making sure women get equal pay for equal work.

It's what he's done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades, but with good jobs and benefits and health care - including mental health care.

That's why he's running - to end the war in Iraq responsibly, to build an economy that lifts every family, to make health care available for every American, and to make sure every child in this nation gets a world class education all the way from preschool to college. That's what Barack Obama will do as President of the United States of America.

He'll achieve these goals the same way he always has - by bringing us together and reminding us how much we share and how alike we really are. You see, Barack doesn't care where you're from, or what your background is, or what party - if any - you belong to. That's not how he sees the world. He knows that thread that connects us - our belief in America's promise, our commitment to our children's future - is strong enough to hold us together as one nation even when we disagree.

It was strong enough to bring hope to those neighborhoods in Chicago.

It was strong enough to bring hope to the mother he met worried about her child in Iraq; hope to the man who's unemployed, but can't afford gas to find a job; hope to the student working nights to pay for her sister's health care, sleeping just a few hours a day.

And it was strong enough to bring hope to people who came out on a cold Iowa night and became the first voices in this chorus for change that's been echoed by millions of Americans from every corner of this nation.

Millions of Americans who know that Barack understands their dreams; that Barack will fight for people like them; and that Barack will finally bring the change we need.

And in the end, after all that's happened these past 19 months, the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago. He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands, determined to give her everything he'd struggled so hard for himself, determined to give her what he never had: the affirming embrace of a father's love.

And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own. And one day, they - and your sons and daughters - will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They'll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country - where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House - we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.

So tonight, in honor of my father's memory and my daughters' future - out of gratitude to those whose triumphs we mark this week, and those whose everyday sacrifices have brought us to this moment - let us devote ourselves to finishing their work; let us work together to fulfill their hopes; and let us stand together to elect Barack Obama President of the United States of America.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Just Doesn't Matter (Part Deux)

I got a fair amount of response in my email box regarding the IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER article; mostly from friends concerned that I was getting burnt out in teaching. No worries. I love the kids, teaching, and school environment. My frustration stems from what I often hear being communicated from districts, politicians, and the public regarding a teacher's role in a student's outcome. So I thought I would try to elaborate on my view.

In the example I gave of Bill Murray trying to encourage his camp teams, he tried to jokingly point out to them that they were really only there to meet girls. Since the only way to get girls attention was to have money, how they played in the camp Olympics had no bearing on the desired outcome.

Schools spend an inordinate amount of time and money on things that only fractionally impact a student's academic outcome. In the meantime, one of the largest indicators of student success or failure is sidelined into obscurity.

Before I go on with my argument, let me state that I am aware that there are statistical outliers. There are students who work hard and yet never seem to pass anything, and there are students who put in little effort and coast easily through everything. I am not talking about them. I am referring to the statistical majority.

Imagine two students of equal aptitude begin violin lessons at the same time. One practices nightly and works with her teacher to improve. The other never practices outside of class and puts in minimal effort with the teacher. At the end of the year, the skill level of the first is almost triple that of the second. Now take that out over 6 years. By that time, though they are the same age, they are no longer peers in the playing of violin.

Ask anyone on the street what the major reason for the disparity is, and not a soul would state that it was the curriculum used, or the pacing, or the delivery style of the teacher. The clear difference is that one student worked hard... and the other did not. This is not judgment, it is observation.

If a child has spent many years putting in a fraction of the effort of his or her peers, that child WILL be markedly behind. Again, this is observation not judgment. If a student is determined to proceed on a minimalist path, it matters little whether my approach is direct or investigative, small or large group, many hours or few, theatrical or drab. For the majority of students, they get out of school what they and their parents put into it. No more no less.

However, in much school policy, in the rhetoric of many politicians, and in the view of much of the public; that reality has no bearing and is completely ignored. That which I believe to be the prime mover is not addressed. Parents and children are not hearing the message that their future is in their hands. In only one political speech this season have I heard a candidate challenge parents to be parents and read to their young children - a small candle amidst the torrent of blame assigned to teachers and schools whose hands and tongues are tied.

A student entering the sixth grade who, because of years of neglect, operates at a third grade level has only one option - work their ASS off. There is no substitution. Nothing but a COMMITMENT to catch up is going to change anything.

I heard a fellow teacher say this week "If a child doesn't know, they haven't been taught." Nonsense! Notice that the first assumption is that the child is a complete victim of fate, that the child (and the parents) had NOTHING to do with it. I was one of those students! I was taught! I just wasn't paying attention! I had many, many teachers who I now know were doing a fine job. The problem was ME. When ME got his act together and made the decision to do well, ME did just fine!

I see a handful of students turn the corner each year. The light goes on and they start paying the price. It is hard and seemingly slow work, but progress is made. It will take them a few years to catch up, but if they keep it up they will make it! The question is: How do we move them all to that place? We will never figure it out if we keep chasing red herrings!

I think the solution is to look honestly at this situation. What is going on sociologically, physiologically, and psychologically in our society compared with other nations who, at least on the surface, do not seem to have these issues? All of our public, state, and national rhetoric is focused on what the schools are doing, while little is mentioned about what families and students need to do. We ignore that primary variable at our peril.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McLaren Endorses Obama

There has been a fair amount of critique of Brian McLaren for appearing in this video endorsing Obama. Though I actually agree with some of the concerns, I don't recall hearing too much resistance to that behavior when Christianity spent the past three or four decades stitching itself to the Republican party.

I was in my late teens to early twenties before I realized that there were Christians who were Democrats. It took a while to sink in. As my political views became more moderate, I was wary at first of voicing my opinions in the decidedly Christian circles in which I traveled. Anything but the Republican/Conservative mantra would get you mocked or shunned. In many (most?) Christian circles today there is not a lot of grace given to those with differing political views. You simply aren't allowed to think any differently.

So I think the message of this video is actually, in many ways, about more than Obama. This is a message to the world that not every Christian is a right-wing Republican. It is a message to many Christians that they can give voice to things they have been thinking about (but had felt bullied into silence). It is a challenge to all Christians to listen to the many voices that are speaking on the landscape, and not just coast to the voting booth to do as they have always done.

One article I read felt that this video was a low-blow aimed at McCain concerning his colorful marriage history. Fair enough. However, I think the bigger jab is to the Religious Right which has used "family values" as a club against opponents .... yet seems to quickly dismiss the importance of it when it does not suit their political positoning. I think the video shows that stark contrast.

So.... I am a Christian of 25 years and I support Obama. However, you will not find me mocking McCain on these pages. I am embarrassed by the Christian bloggers who use their blogs to mock Obama. You can do better.

Monday, August 18, 2008


This quote by Bill Murray in Meatballs will be spinning through my head all week:

"But it doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter... [chanting]... And even if we win... if we win... HA!... even if we win. Even if we play so far over our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days... even if God in heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field... Even if every man, woman, and child held hands together and prayed for us to win it just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money. It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose. It Just Doesn't Matter!! It just doesn't matter!! [chanting continues]"

I am going to have to resist the urge to get the crowd chanting this at the various teacher meetings I will need to attend prior to school starting on the 26th. I have attended these meetings for 18 years.

It just doesn't matter.

We will talk about the benefits of extending the school day or the school year.

But it just doesn't matter.

We will argue whether to use direct instruction or a more investigative approach.

But it just doesn't matter.

We will get this year's new program in Math, Reading, Science, etc...

It just doesn't matter.

We will attend many training sessions telling us how to use data to drive our instruction.

It just doesn't matter.

We will use more technology in the classroom than ever before.

But it just doesn't matter.

We will diversify, scaffold, shelter, differentiate, and accommodate for every student.

It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.

None of that will matter because many, many students have figured out that regardless of how little they do, no matter how disrespectful they are, no matter what trouble they cause ... there will be no consequence. They will still have their video games, phones, and TVs waiting for them at home and they will move to the next grade at the end of the year. Those students will destroy the learning experience of the shrinking number of students who want to succeed academically.

Against that, all of the meetings concerning style and materials is just noise.

It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.
[Chanting fades]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I Love My Neighbors!

My family and I moved from Michigan to Utah 4 years ago. We live in a suburb of Salt Lake City that has a pool, a clubhouse, and about 200+ homes. I sit on the HOA board, which can be a pain at times, but it keeps me plugged in to the neighborhood.

About half of our neighborhood are members of the LDS church. Last week their Bishop (lay pastor) went home to be with Jesus. It is a sad time for the family, church, and neighborhood; yet I have been blessed to see the outpouring of love and support that has occurred. It again reminds me how blessed my family is to live here.

Bishop Williams was a blessing to me and my family even though we are not LDS. He was always welcoming and easy to talk to. He and I both shared an affinity for TV and movies, so our conversations often went there. He brought life to our neighborhood.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Williams and their church family.
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