So Are Schools Vital or Not?


Oh, what a funny, funny time to be alive! After more than 6 decades of life, it suddenly seems that everything we thought we knew to be true has morphed into something else.

Up is down, dark is light, medical masks cause disease, scientists are diabolical villains and game show hosts are prophets.

I tell you, it can make a Nonni’s head spin.

Let’s think about public schools, for example.

As the mom of three grown children, I have many fond memories of standing in line at the store to buy pencils, crayons, markers, tissues and hand sanitizer for my kids’ classrooms. I didn’t mind donating to the classes, but I did wonder why our country didn’t value education enough to provide the money for basic supplies.

I was a teacher for about 30 years, too. I’ve lived through many years of budget cuts, layoffs of staff and an inability to update materials. I’ve taught in buildings with no air conditioning, windows that couldn’t be opened and bits of ceiling tile falling on our desks.

I even taught in one building where the sixth grade kids had metal buckets on their desks because hot water was leaking from the ceiling pipes.

A couple of decades ago, I served on my local school committee. In that role, I had the interesting experience of trying to convince government officials that schools were essential places.

Hahaha. That was fun.

The federal government only provides about 10% of the public school budget, but they didn’t want to hear that we needed more support for the many special needs kids in the district. They weren’t convinced when we asked for more staff to support those kids and the teachers struggling to meet their needs. They were busy spending money on new aircraft carriers; they didn’t have time to deal with the problems of little kids.

The state government sounded a little more open. Our committee explained to our governor and state legislature that we hadn’t been able to update our technology in years, and that kids lacked access to the internet. They felt bad, but, gosh, they explained, there’s only so much money to go around. They explained that everyone wanted a piece of the pie, but we couldn’t just come in and ask for a bigger piece.

(Humble brag coming: I told Gov. Mitt Romney that he needed a bigger pie.)

The state clearly didn’t find public education to be much of a priority. They ignored our request for help.

And then there was our local government. To be fair, our town is not wealthy. We are a semi-rural town with very little business to add to our tax base. Our property taxes are pretty high, given the economic status of many of our residents.

But the schools were really struggling while I was on the school committee. We weren’t doing well enough on state tests, we had outdated buildings, old books and too few support staff. We tried to convince the townspeople and the selectboard that we needed more funds.

It didn’t go well.

So you see, I have more than 35 years of experience with public schools. I have had decades to recognize how little respect our country has for them. I’ve spent years hearing, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

I’ve heard that schools are too rigid and that they are too lenient. I’ve heard that teachers are lazy. That the curriculum is “dumbed down” and that classrooms are just “babysitting.” I’ve heard that school push too hard and that they don’t push hard enough.

I’ve had engineers, lawyers, truck drivers and dental assistants tell me what I am doing wrong as a teacher. Everyone around me has always seemed to have the belief that they could handle a public school classroom without cracking a sweat.

So you can imagine how amused I am listening to those same people, from my own friends to Betsy DeVos, as they demand that schools reopen RIGHT ON TIME!!

I just heard a well known Senator lamenting about all of the dangerous things that are happening with schools closed. Did you know that without our teachers being on alert, hordes of kids are being abused at home and nobody knows it? And that kids are suffering from depression and anxiety because they are not able to be in classrooms with their friends and teachers?

I hear government officials at every level saying that public schools keep children safe, and that education is absolutely vital. They are insisting that our kids desperately need the support of the mental health staff and nurses at school. I have heard that without the chance to gather together in one place, children will suffer irretrievable loss.

Wow.

All of a sudden, public school is the bedrock upon which all of society stands. All of a sudden, teachers are the most essential line of defense between civilization and it’s utter collapse.

I agree.

But it strikes me as both laughable and sad that it took devastating global crisis for this country to recognize the crucial nature of public schools.

I’m thinking about the fact that most schools don’t have enough space to keep kids apart. And about the huge number of schools that have crappy ventilation. About the huge number that lack modern, sanitary bathroom facilities.

Where was all this interest when teachers were begging for new buildings?

I remember all the times I was told that “now isn’t the right time” to update technology. I was once asking for a new router for our High School and an elderly member of the finance committee scolded me. “I got through school without the internet and I did just fine.”

Where was all the demand for updated technology when we asked for it decades ago?

I’m thinking of the times when our schools didn’t have enough money for more counselors. I’m remembering when we had to cut teaching staff because the funding just wasn’t there to keep us all.

Perhaps if this country had valued public education then as much as it does now, we’d be in better shape to safely reopen. Maybe if we had given our children safe, clean, spacious buildings in which to learn, we could manage a socially distanced teaching model now. Maybe if we had continuously updated access to technology for all schools, we’d be able to move easily into a hybrid education model.

If only we had continued to fund the appropriate support staff, our schools could reopen with the ability to screen kids for all of the trauma caused by the pandemic.

If only.

What a strange time to be alive.

Is This Offensive?


Does it even matter what I think?

It seems more than a little bit odd to me to hear people out there arguing about what is offensive and what isn’t.

It’s especially strange to hear white people, who make up pretty much my entire social circle, arguing about what makes something offensive to black Americans.

Is Aunt Jemima’s image on the syrup bottle “offensive” or is it just a meaningless picture? How about Uncle Ben? Is a statue of General Lee offensive? Or is it a monument to a cultural history?

As is so often true, when I think about the big questions that trouble adults, I turn to my experience as a classroom teacher to guide me.

I’m remember one particular year of teaching fifth grade. My students were a sweet combination of innocent and sassy. As ten year olds, they were still gentle and tender. They liked me, I liked all of them, and we had a good rapport. But as almost-adolescents, they’d begun to test some of my limits. A few kids had tried out “bad words” in the classroom, and we were discussing why some words were offensive.

One of the best parts about teaching kids this age is watching when one or two of them get that glint of mischief in their eyes and try to push the envelope a bit. In this case, a few of the kids wanted to experience the thrill of saying the forbidden words, so they started to ask me, in whispers, which words to avoid.

“Is ‘shit’ a swear?” (Giggle). “Can I say ‘dammit’?” (Giggle)

I realized pretty quickly that it was time for us to regroup and talk. I gathered the kids on the rug in our “meeting area”.

“OK,” I began. “I am not going to give you a list of acceptable and unacceptable words. There are millions of words in the English language and we aren’t going to check each one.”

I looked around the circle at all the eager faces and bright eyes.

NOTE: If you ever want to capture the attention of 25 ten year olds, tell them you’re going to talk about swears.

“A swear is a word that hurts someone. It’s a word that makes someone feel bad, or makes them uncomfortable. Even if it’s a word or a phrase that you don’t mind at all, if it hurst someone else, you don’t say it.”

They were thoughtful for a minute. A hand was raised.

“So is ‘stupid’ a swear?”

I let the kids talk about it. They realized that they knew the answer. If I say, “This stupid shoe won’t stay tied,” then it isn’t offensive. If I call my classmate “stupid”, then it is.”

I’m sure they were a little disappointed that we weren’t going to try out various spellings of the f- word, but my point had been made.

Next I asked the kids to do me a favor. I told them that sometimes we say or do things that offend others and we don’t know it. I told them that I would appreciate it if they’d tell me any time I said or did something that hurt them or offended them.

One sweet, kind little girl raised her hand. I was surprised, because I couldn’t imagine what I might have done to offend her. I asked her to tell me what was wrong.

“Could you please not say “God”? My family goes to church, and my mom says it’s wrong to say “Oh, my God”, but sometimes you say it.”

She was right. I said that phrase a LOT.

But I looked into the deep brown eyes of my trusting student, and I promised her that I would do my absolute best never to say it in front of her again.

“God” was an offensive word to this religious little girl, when I said it in that phrase.

The kids understood the lesson and we never had to revisit the question of what words were offensive.

If your action, your logo, your statue, your language, your clothing hurts someone else, you can’t keep using it.

Thanks, children. As usual, you show us the way.

How We Talk to Our Kids


I’ve spent a lot of my adult life with little kids. I was blessed with three kids of my own, and now I am the daycare provider for my two grandchildren.

In between those lucky adventures, I’ve also been a teacher, a speech pathologist and a babysitter for a few extra kids.

I’ve been to dozens of professional development classes, countless meetings about child development and a ton of visits with friends and their kids.

In all that time, I’ve learned a lot.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way we talk to our kids. I’ve been paying attention to what we adults say to our children in everyday interactions.

I’m not impressed, truthfully.

Let me put it this way. Let’s pretend that the words we say to our kids every day were said to us instead.

Pretend that you are about to head off for a day at work. You’ve showered, dressed, eaten breakfast, grabbed your work bag. You embrace your spouse for a kiss goodbye, and hear them say, “Now you be a good person today.”

Huh?

Wouldn’t you think, “Wait a minute! Do you think that I’m NOT a good person?”

What if you were about to head off to a meeting, and you heard your boss say, “Be a good listener. Don’t give the presenter any trouble!”

You would be furious, I have no doubt. But you’d also probably feel pretty damn insecure. You’d ask yourself, “Why does my boss think I’m going to be a bad listener and a troublemaker?”

We do this to our kids all the time.

All. The. Time.

As parents drop kids off at daycare, school, music classes, swim class, they most often kiss the little one and then give a warning. “Be a good boy today!” or “You listen to your teacher!”

When they pick those children up after a day of playing with friends, most parents ask, “Were you a good girl today?”

We do this because we feel like it’s required. We feel like this is the right way to help our children become responsible adults.

But it isn’t.

Instead of giving our children the idea that we suspect them of bad behavior every day, why don’t we give them the message that we trust them and believe in them?

I think of my son-in-law, who brings his two toddlers to me every day. He never tells them to be good. Instead, he kisses them, tells them that he loves them, and says, “Have fun today!”

The message to those kids is this: I know that you’re a wonderful person. I know that you will be as kind and as thoughtful as any toddler. My wish for you is a day of fun and happiness.

It isn’t about obedience. It isn’t asking children to behave well in all settings.

It gives kids a happy, hopeful, self-affirming message.

So how about this, just as a suggestion.

As we drop our little ones off at daycare/preschool/kindergarten, why don’t we say something like this:

“Have a fun day, honey! I’m so proud of what a great listener you are! I can’t wait to hear about how you shared with your friends today!”

The way that we talk to our children shapes their views of themselves. It shapes their belief in our expectations. Our words truly do shape the people that our children will become.

I am reminded of my very last school field trip. I was one of three fifth grade teachers taking our students to Olde Sturbridge Village. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, I stood in the aisle at the front of the bus.

“Boys and girls,” I said, “I hope that you all have a wonderful time today. I wanted to tell you that I am so proud to be your teacher. You are a great group of kids, so kind and so respectful. I’m so lucky to have a class that I know will impress all of the adults here. Go and have fun!”

One of the Mom’s on the trip turned to me with wide eyes, and said, “Wow. Even I want to be good just to make you proud! That was genius!”

But it wasn’t.

It was common sense.

We all want to hear good things about ourselves. We want our spouse to tell us, “Have a great day, honey!” We want our boss to say, “I’m glad you’re the one going to this meeting.”

We believe what people tell us about ourselves, especially when we are only babies, taking our first tentative steps out into the wide world.

Let’s stop warning our kids and telling them that we don’t trust them. Let’s tell them that we trust them to be the wonderful people we know they can be.

Educational Inequality


I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent higher education scandal. You know what I mean. The story that recently broke in the news in which we were shown proof that the rich and famous are able to buy their way into the best universities, whether or not they are prepared, equipped or eligible.

It was a public kick in the face to all of us who have used the regular route to college for our kids. You know: get decent grades, apply with a decent essay, apply for financial aid, hope for the best.

But it wasn’t a surprise to a lot of us to learn that the rich, powerful, famous elite are able to simply write a check in order to be given that which the rest of us have been struggling desperately to achieve.

I was not surprised.

I wasn’t even particularly outraged. I was kind of…..accepting. Head nodding. Yawning a bit.

And this is what I was thinking today.

The educational inequality of the United States starts way, way, way before we are paying our way into our most elite universities.

The educational inequality in the US starts at birth.

It does.

For example:

Today I spent an hour painting with my granddaughter. She is 3 years old. I am wealthy and privileged enough to be able to take care of her and her brother every day while their parents work.

I am also wealthy and privileged enough to be able to buy good watercolors, decent brushes, good paper.

I’m talking about maybe 30 dollars worth of materials, so I want you to understand that I am not rich.

Still.

I was painting with Ellie today. We were mixing colors and chatting and using our special water color paper. Her baby brother was asleep, so this was one hour where the two of us were able to focus on each other.

“I love this special Nonni time,” said my sweet girl. “I love painting with you!”

And I loved it too.

But I was thinking about this fact.

If I was a less lucky grandmother, I might not be able to provide this moment to my girl. If I hadn’t retired from teaching in a good school district, I might not be able to stay at home and watch these two kids.

If my daughter was a single Mom, she wouldn’t be able to provide me with the financial support to watch these kids. If she hadn’t been born white, middle class and ‘neurotypical’, she might not be able to work while her kids are here with me.

I am not special.

I am not particularly talented.

But I am able to buy a lot of good art materials that I can use with my grandchildren. I am able to buy them interesting books. I am able to spend my time at home with them, taking them outside to play in the melting snow. I have enough money to buy seeds and soil so that we can plant flowers together.

What does this all mean?

It means that just by the luck of birth, just by the luck of the draw, my grandchildren will have a bit of a hand up on their peers. They will have been exposed to art and science and books by a grandmother who was a teacher. They will have had access to materials for building, for creating, for art, for reading and writing, that many kids will not have seen.

It means that they already have a bit of step up.

Not because they are smarter, or more artistic, or better or more deserving.

But because we live in a country where we have decided that it is acceptable to allow our richest, most privileged children to walk a special, guarded, golden path. It is because we have come to believe that if one is born into poverty, one deserves to stay there. And that if one is born into wealth, one is entitled to all of the best that life has to offer.

It was a wonderful day for me. It was a lovely chance to connect with my most beloved girl.

But it sure made me think.

Total and Uncontrollable Chaos.


When I was a classroom teacher, in a public school, I was constantly reminded of the fact that our structured educational plans were often interfering with the glorious creative chaos of our children.

Now that I am a “Stay at home Nonni”, watching two or three toddlers (depending on the day), my thoughts have changed. Now I have become even more convinced that if we truly want to foster creative thinking in our kids, we adults need to shut up, back off, and be willing to clean up the mess when it’s all done.

Today was the perfect example of this educational philosophy. Today I was home with 18 month old Johnny, who is completely 100% focused on pushing buttons, opening doors and placing items into various containers.

I was doing my best to corral his curiosity and keep him engaged in socially appropriate activities. Those activities are mostly cleaning (he can use a broom and push the dirt into the dustbin and throw it into the trash) and cooking (he can crack an egg, use a garlic press and add flour to a working mixer.)

Meanwhile, three year old Ellie and four year old Ella were engaged in some kind of pretend play in the living room. This play, whatever it was, involved a great deal of shrieking, a lot of dramatic cries, and a “treasure map”(my tossed out mail) that had to be followed in order to save some vague hero from an even more vague bad guy.

While Johnny and I minced onions and stirred our pot of chili, the girls raced around the house. A bridge of pillows was built. A blanket was tossed over two chairs to create a caste. An old cardboard box became a baby’s special bed. And a bookshelf was emptied to make a hidden cave for a fairy.

I think.

To be honest, I didn’t really follow all of the action. I was busy trying to make a batch of chili while keeping Johnny from getting into the bathroom plumbing.

But when it was all over, and it was time for me to sit the three kids down for lunch, I realized a lot of learning had taken place while I was busy.

I learned that the kids had figured out that one size had to be smaller than the other if something would fit into something else. They had worked out a truly creative way to merge the stories of two royal sisters (Frozen) with the story of a magical pony (My Little Pony). They didn’t just travel on parallel tracks; they managed to mix the two stories into an entirely new adventure.

While creating all of this magic, the three and four year old girls had managed to cooperate, negotiate, take turns and share their ideas.

All on their own.

This isn’t magic, although I have to admit that seemed like it to me.

It was simply the power of the young, unfettered human mind when it is left alone to do what nature has always intended.

Kids are magic. Kids are our problem solvers.

Kids are everything that we always wish we could be.

This aging educator is learning that the less I try to teach, the more these children learn.

But don’t just believe me. Look at these videos produced by people who are far more educated than me.

The Best Kindergarten You Will Ever See.

We Are Born Creative Geniuses

Thanks to my wonderful niece, Erin Eberle, for these links, for getting me to think about this topic, and for sharing her wonderful little ones with us.

They hadn’t met before, but they figured out a way to have two Elsa’s in the same room.

Try To Remember….


….the kind of September….

When I was a teacher. Try to remember the late August days that used to bring me anxiety, excitement, joy, a sense of purpose, lost sleep and far too many credit card charges at Michael’s Crafts.

I do remember.

I remember what it felt like to watch those precious days of summer begin to fade. I remember the excitement of facing a new school year.

I remember seeing my class list, and recognizing some of the names. I remember knowing some of the siblings of “my” kids. Knowing some of their parents. Recognizing the faces and thinking, “how can she be in fifth grade already?”

I miss those days. I miss them.

I miss the little heart flutters that used to come with printing out the tags to go in each hallway cubby. I miss the pleasure of opening up new boxes of clean, pure notebooks.  I miss throwing out the old broken crayons and replacing them with new, whole, optimistic replacements.

I miss the new books. The clean desks and shiny new pens.

I miss it.

I miss the long walks that I used to take in the week before school started, memorizing my list of students in alphabetical order. Walking, and reciting, and walking some more. “Adams, Bates, Cohen, Chevaliar, Dulakis…..”

I miss the first day of school, when I would look each child in the eye and tell them how nervous I was about meeting them. I’d tell them about waking up at night, worrying that they might not like me. I would laugh as I told them about picking out my first day of school outfit, and changing my mind five times before the first day.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the joy of taking a group of disparate souls and helping them to form a cohesive classroom unit.

Mostly I miss those completely unexpected moments when all 25 of us would break out in laughter.  I miss the hugs. I miss the snacks. The history lessons, the incredibly touching and surprising written words. I miss the smiles, the frowns, the pushing back against my “authority”.

I was a good teacher. I loved being with my students every day.

I wish that I hadn’t been pushed out of my classroom by an insecure and over controlling administrator.

I wish that this was that week when my stomach would fill with butterflies and my heart would skip some of its beats. I with that I was in my classroom, placing name tags on desks and getting ready to know and love and laugh with a whole new group of inspiring young people.

I remember what it felt like to come to the end of August knowing that you were about to enter a demanding and fulfilling September.

I remember.

And I’m sad.

I wish that I was one of those lucky teachers spending this week opening boxes of brand new markers.

I miss it.

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My old self……

Remembering “My” Kids


I went into my daughter’s classroom for a visit last week. She teaches a loop, so she has her students for two years. Now it’s June of her second year with these lovely sixth graders, and everyone is tired, emotional, and ready to move on. I brought Kate’s kids in to the classroom to say goodbye.

Naturally, just stepping into the school building where I taught for more than two decades had me nostalgic.

All the way home that afternoon, I thought about “my” kids from over the years. Here are a few of the stories that have been on my mind.

The Bombs Below

One year I had a boy in my class who had spent about half of his ten years of life in his native Pakistan. His family had moved back and forth from the U.S. to Pakistan a couple of times, and were intending to return again. My student went through the year with one foot here and one over there.

In the early fall of that fifth grade year, we all went on a three day trip to the mountains. The trip included environmental studies and team building. It was hard work for this old teacher, but it was fun! One of the best parts was a hike up to a small mountain peak near the camp. We would all scramble through the woods for an hour or so until we came out to the summit, where the students would gather and gaze down at the camp, far below. Part of our tradition was to call out a greeting from the summit to the camp below. The kids below would hear us and call back.

That particular year, there was some construction going on at the camp. From the summit, we could hear distant hammers and faint booms as piles of wood were unloaded from trucks.

I stood with my Pakistani student, asking him if he could hear the kids calling up from below. He frowned behind his large glasses, squinting at the lake in the distance. “Listen carefully,” I told him. “We’ll yell and the kids on the athletic field will yell back.”

The kids gathered around me, giggling and clearing their throats.  “How, How!” we yelled. We waited, and then it came, “How, How!” from below. I turned to my student with a smile. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head.

“All I can hear is those bombs down there.”

That’s what it’s like to leave a war zone. This poor kid heard distant hammering and simply assumed that bombs were going off.

He didn’t even react.

What grade am I in?

Many years ago, before I became a classroom teacher, I was the speech/language specialist in our school. I worked with kids who had communication disorders due to learning disabilities, hearing impairment, intellectual impairments and other challenges.

One year I was asked to evaluate a student who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil. The boy was tall, gangly armed in the way of pre-adolescent boys. He had a huge grin and sparkling brown eyes. Everything made him laugh.

His English was poor, but growing rapidly. He had a quick wit and warm charm that made him instantly popular with his classmates and teachers. He had very few academic skills, which was why I was doing my assessment. We weren’t sure if this young man had an underlying learning disorder that had held back his ability to read in his native Portuguese. We needed to find the best way to help catch up.

Although this student was old enough to be enrolled in our fifth grade, he had been placed in the fourth grade to give him time to catch up.

When I began my language assessment with a casual conversation, I learned why he was struggling so much.

“What grade were you in when you were in Brazil?”

“What grade? I don’t know. How do I know what grade I am in?”

“Honey, how many years of school did you do?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” I remember that he shrugged and grinned, looking up from beneath the brim of his cap. “I would go when there was a teacher. Sometimes I would go but there would be no teacher, so we just played or went home.”

I found out later, through an interpreter at a meeting with his Mom, that this boy had never completed a single year of school. There was no set curriculum, no continuity of lessons from year to year. Most troubling of all, teachers would come and go all year, often missing weeks of teaching time without replacements.

“This is why we left our country,” the Mom explained. “We wanted him to go to school.”

That handsome, charismatic, bright little guy was at our school for only a year. After that, we lost track of him as his family struggled to find a place to settle safely.

I think about him often.

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In honor of every single child who needs safety, education, and love.

What The Kids Are Learning


I used to be a teacher. I used to spend a lot of time ruminating about what my kids were learning. I used to evaluate my lessons in order to carefully measure the exact idea that was being taught, and how well each child had mastered that concept.

I know, after thirty or so years of teaching kids, and after raising three of my own, that kids learn a LOT from what they observe. They don’t always grasp the fine points of the various graphs and pictures in their text books, but they do learn from what they see and hear.

So I’m wondering.

I’m wondering what our 8-16 year olds are learning in the age of Donald Trump. What are they taking away from the ongoing drama that keeps unfolding on our TV’s, in our social media, on the front pages of our newspapers? What have they figured out about successful behavior from the actions and reactions of their parents and other adults?

I have a few guesses, based on my decades of assessing children’s learning. See what you think, and let me know if you agree.

1. Lying is a powerful tool

Even though I’m sure that every kid in the country has gotten into trouble at least once for lying, they must be learning that if you lie often enough, your lie will be accepted.

I’m sure that our kids are watching as their President makes claims that are OBVIOUSLY lies. He claimed that thousands of Muslims were out on the streets of New York cheering when the towers came down on 9/11. There is no proof, no evidence, no pictures, no reports, no corroborating reporters. But Trump repeated the lie so many times that you can find people on Twitter now who repeat it as fact.

Our kids are learning how to lie. Do it often. Repeat as needed. Act completely convinced of the righteousness of your lie. Repeat again. Never back down.

Bam. Your lie has won the day.

2. Bullies Win

Donald Trump appears to have won the most important and powerful job in the country by being what every elementary kid would recognize as a bully. Our children have learned that its a good idea to call people ugly names. “Crooked Hillary”, “Little Marco”, “Slippery James Comey”.

Every kid at recess must be thinking about the social stature he can earn by making fun of “Fat Georgie” or “Jimmy the Fag.”

They must be wondering why their teachers pressure them to accept their disabled peers. I mean, Trump was applauded for publicly mocking a physically disabled reporter. Why should they be kind to that weird autistic kid in their math class?

Teachers and parents can’t really compete with the image of the most powerful man in the country and his powerful bullying attacks.

3. Blame everyone else

What can I say?

Donald Trump is happy to blame his spokespeople for repeating his bullshit. He is delighted to blame nonexistent voter fraud for his loss of the popular vote. He blames the “fake media” for pointing out his many lies, distortions and screw-ups.

The lesson for our children surely must be that best way to avoid the consequences of bad behavior isn’t to behave well. It’s to do whatever the hell you want, and then point the finger at someone else.

Awesome.

4. Take NO responsibility for any error. Ever.

Trump and his team have absolutely mastered the skill of looking right into the camera and saying, “I forgot.”

“Did you or any of your staff ever meet with any Russians, anywhere, at any time?”

“No, no, again we say, no!!!!”

And then when it is proven that your campaign manager, your top advisor, your own damn SON, actually met with a whole boatload of Russians on a whole boatload of different dates, you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Gosh. We forgot.”

Never mind the fact that if you guys actually are so addled and mentally deficient that you DID you forget, then you aren’t in any shape to be running the country.

Never mind that you are clearly demonstrating dementia.

You have taught our kids how to respond if we ask them, “Did you eat that chocolate cake I left on the counter for my office party?” Our kids will just give the big eyes and say. “Nope.”

When we point out the frosting smeared across their faces, they will just shrug their tiny shoulders and say, “I forgot.”

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“I didn’t throw that toy in the toilet. It was that stupid kid. Or, if I did it, I just don’t remember.”

None of this is funny, although I’m trying my best to make you laugh.

None of this is normal.

We will be working hard for the next decade, at least, to undo the damage done by this lying, self absorbed, irresponsible blowhard and those who follow his lead.

This is awful.

 

 

 

If I Carried a Gun


Books

I keep thinking about the idea of teachers carrying guns.

When the Newtown massacre happened, I was teaching fifth grade. Immediately after the horror of that day, the NRA and dozens of political leaders tossed out the idea of “arming teachers.”

Even now, five years after this stupidity was mentioned as an answer to school shootings, the idea continues to be thrown about.

There are so very many practical reasons why this is a completely idiotic idea, including impossibility of safely keeping a loaded gun in a room full of kids.

But one issue hasn’t been raised yet, and it is the biggest problem as far as I’m concerned.

It is the moral question of killing, even in defense of others.

What would happen to the spirit, the soul, the conscience of a teacher who successfully shot and killed another human being? How have so many come to believe that all there is to killing is pulling the trigger?

I was a pretty typical American public school teacher. I’m a mother, a wife, a grandmother. I loved my job because I loved being with children. I loved laughing with them, exciting their interests, forming relationships with each of them.

I have spent a lot of time imagining myself in an active shooter situation.

I try to imagine myself with a gun in my hand, knowing that my 24 students are cowering against the wall. Knowing that outside our door there is someone trying to kill us.

I imagine the door bursting open as I raise the gun, pulling the trigger, hitting the target.

I imagine the face of the young man in front of me exploding in a shower of blood and bone. I can hear the screams of the kids behind me as he collapses. I imagine watching him die in front of me.

What then?

What if he turned out to be a student I knew? Maybe one of the many struggling kids I had taught myself some years before? What if he was a former student at our school?

What if I knew his family?

Would I be expected to walk back into my classroom a day or a week later, ignoring the newly laid flooring where his brains and blood had damaged the carpet? Would I be expected to focus on my math lessons and recess and homework corrections?

What would I feel as I looked into the eyes of my young students? Students who had come to trust me? What would I be expected to say to them?

I would never be able to look at myself the same way. I’d never feel clean or whole again.

Oh, I know, the press would call me a hero, the survivors would cheer me, there would be articles in the paper and on and on.

But I would have been changed from a teacher to a killer. The very essence of my self would be smashed and reshaped into something unrecognizable to me or those who love me.

There may be times when it is reasonable to kill another human being outside of wartime. I don’t know.

But I do know that is deeply wrong for people to casually toss out the idea of “arming” civilians so that we can protect ourselves from each other.

It is morally wrong to lightly suggest that those who have not chosen to be members of the police or military could simply shoot to kill and then go back to teaching phonics.

I think we need to step back, away from the growing pile of weapons in front of us, and take a deep breath. We need to ask ourselves if we really believe that killing is anything other than a life changing, painful, horrific event for the killer.

Life is not a video game. None of us is Rambo. Causing the violent, ugly, bloody death of another human is not a joke. It’s not a part of life in civilized societies.

Where are our morals? What happened to our souls?

 

 

A Letter To the Parkland Teens


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Dear young activists,

First of all, I am so sorry. I don’t know how to address you. To this 62 year old grandmother, you are children. But I see your strength and courage in the face of tragedy, and I know that you are already grown. To this retired teacher, you are students. But as I watch you lead this lost country toward a better future, I know that you are our teachers.

So I will not call you “children” or “students”. I will go with “young activists,” as I send you this letter.

Dear young activists,

My heart is broken for you. You should NEVER have had to cower in fear in your classrooms. You should never have had to text “goodbye” to your families. You should never have had to bury your friends.  I grieve for you and with you. I wish that my tears could wash away this terror and this pain.

But my dear young powerful Americans,

I thank you. I have been fighting for sensible gun control in this country for so many years. I took my then teen aged daughter to the Million Mom March back in 2000. In those early, innocent days, we were fighting to limit access to handguns.  No one had even imagined semi-automatic rifles.

Can you even imagine?

My dear young survivors,

I want to hug you. I want to take care of you. I am old enough be your grandma. Please remember that even as you call upon all of that incredible youthful energy and rage and fire, you are still only human. Take care of yourself.

I can’t make you a nice plate of pasta, as I constantly wish I could, but I can offer you these few words of advice, taken from my many years of activist work:

  1. Trust yourselves. Stick together. When outside forces seek to weaken you by comparing you to each other or singling one of you out, stay strong, stay true, stay together. You will never find better friends or allies than those who stand with you now.
  2. Keep to your message. The media and the public will try to move you onto other topics, other problems, other issues. Be true to your cause.
  3. Take care of yourselves!! Sleep. Rest. Eat good food. Eat delicious but bad-for-you food. Laugh. Cry. Watch some mindless TV. Recharge. I know too well that we all operate like rechargeable batteries. Don’t let yourselves be drained.
  4. Don’t listen to anyone other than each other. Take every bit of adult advice, suggestion and guidance with a big old grain of salt, including this one. YOU know who you are, and what you need to do.
  5. Let us help you as we can. Let us send you money, but don’t listen when we tell you how to spend it. Let us drive you to your interview, but don’t let us give you a script.

My dear young activists,

I’m sorry that you find yourselves where you are.  I’m so happy to find you in the place where we most need you. You have a very rare and unique opportunity to change the world for the better. And that puts all of you in a very vulnerable place.

I wish you all success and strength and power. I wish you peace, and healing and an end to your sorrow. I wish you a safe place to learn and to grow.

And when the limelight fades, I wish you lives of ordinary beauty and everyday joy. I wish you moments of reflection when you can look back and think, “I made the world better.”

We will march with you on March 24th. We will continue this long, long fight for sanity and safety. 

Love and thanks,

One inspired Nonni