Archive for the ‘education’ Category

That Old Retirement Dream

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Second Grade, Southgate School 1962

Contrary to what you might think, my “retirement dream” isn’t about what my retirement will look like.  Been there.  Done that.  For the past seventeen years.

No.  My retirement dream is the actual, recurring dream I have periodically when I’m asleep — now that I am retired.  Not a nightmare, but definitely an anxiety dream.  It always involves me being hired to teach in a classroom in which the regular teacher (for undisclosed reasons) has not shown up.  It’s always a first or second grade with the kids at their desks waiting expectantly for the day to begin.  There are usually no supplies available, no roll book, no clue as to the expected curriculum and, last night, no coffee in the Teacher’s Room.

The dream is very close to the scenario I faced in 1961 when I reported for my first teaching job.  It was about this time of year and I had been contacted on a Saturday morning by the superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District.  A second-grade position was open if I could report to work Monday morning.

Second Grade Puppet Show, Southgate School 1962

He met me at the school that very afternoon.  We visited the classroom which had been stripped bare.  Not a bulletin board decorated.  Not a roll book or a class list.  Nothing to indicate what reading groups there might be or what the kids were studying in Social Studies or Health or… anything.  To compound matters, three stern looking PTA mothers were at the door on Monday morning and sat in the back of the room all day to “observe.”  It was a real-life nightmare.  It wasn’t until the following school year that I learned that my predecessor had had a nervous breakdown due in large part to the Three Furies who apparently had been watching her like a hawk all year.

I arrived at school early on my second day, told (yes, snippy second-day teacher that I was) the principal that I did not want those women or any other visitors in my room during class time.  He argued with me but complied… sort of.  I had to put up with him being in there every day, apparently so he could report to them. I’m happy to say that he was not at the school the following year.  But I was.

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School 1962

In my dream last night, I was passing out paper to each student and instructing them to write their name on one side and draw a self-portrait on the other.  (I’m not sure where I was going with that.)  At one table, a boy said to his neighbor, “That’s not your name!” and looked at me hopefully, like maybe his ‘friend’ would get in trouble.  “You can use any name you want,” I said, “as long as you spell it correctly!”

I don’t know where I was going with that, either!  But, it has possibilities.  I wonder if some kids would behave better or learn more easily if they had a different name.  Do our names set some parameters and expectations?  Who knows.  I can’t even figure out what I’m anxious about if, indeed, that’s what prompted the dream.  Maybe I was just looking forward to my morning coffee.

What day is this again?

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Thought Police Poster

Most literate Americans know that this is day we can hear (or not) the President’s State of the Union address.  But do most of us know that it is also Data Privacy Day?  Yep.  Really.  Since 2008, many nations of the world (including ours) commemorate an international effort held annually since 2008 to create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data and enabling trust.  Yep.  Really.

I was noodling those not-so-disparate bits of information around last night when I came upon my friend Martha Williams’ FaceBook entry.  For those who don’t know her, Martha is a retired teacher and has now embarked on a new career – working with elementary students as a “Science Warrior” according to the Chinook Observer’s article about her last April.  (   Here is what she wrote on FB yesterday:

Wow- I receive frequent updates from a Trump site and was asked to answer questions for information he was to gathering for his state of the union speech. You know me. I answered them in length. After Submitting my comments, I was informed that I was blocked because of certain words I used. I did use Climate and immigrants and making each American great again. SO, my dear FB family- we are not a country that can be heard when we disagree with Papa Prez- not that I thought we could, but this was so personally blatant and yes ?. Does it stop me??? No way, back to work ??


It’s not that what happened to Martha falls precisely under the Data Privacy umbrella.  Or maybe it does.  No matter.  For me, it was an illuminating convergence of circumstances and events.  One more illustration that the times we live in are troubling and that Orwell’s Thought Police are right inside our devices and in the very air we breathe.

I doubt if Martha spoke of “climate” in the context of distrust, but that is certainly part of the take-away for me.  Climate change is happening in more ways than one.  And woe be unto those of us who speak out about it.  The silencing has begun.  Even here on our tiny sandspit.  Actually, I should say the attempt at silencing has begun.  Whoever blocked Martha’s words obviously hasn’t met her.  I can’t think of a more articulate, vocal, impassioned champion of our most basic rights.  You go, girl!

An Easy Choice… More or Less

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

I wish I could remember who that woman was.  She was ‘of an age’ – gray haired and soft spoken – and must have been a member of the Community Historians group.  We were on a field trip to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Motor Lifeboat School and were following several young uniformed men along the walkway down to the boats.

“Such tight little buns!” she said softly to me.  I don’t remember if I reacted or not.  No doubt, though, that I grinned hugely in agreement.  How could I not?

That little vignette came to mind the other day when I learned that The Oysterville Town Hall Lecture Series has invited us all (and the public, in general) to tour the United States Coast Guard Lifeboat Rescue School as the guest of Senior Instructor Chief Brandon LaVelle.  Those who attended the September 21st lecture at the Oysterville Schoolhouse had the pleasure of meeting Chief LaVelle and hearing about the incredible work of the young men stationed at Cape Disappointment.  Here is a chance to see it all ‘up close and personal.’

Unhappily, I’ll not be in attendance.  It’s going to be Nyel’s coming-home-from-the-hospital day and I’ll have to ‘depend on the kindness of others’ to learn how it went – buns or no buns.  In truth, I’ve been out there a number of times.  It was a favorite field trip for third graders during my teaching years, plus I think I’ve been twice with the Community Historians and maybe with another group, as well.

The tour is on Thursday, November 9th at 10 a.m. at the Coast Guard Station at Cape ‘D’.  Here are the Parking and Entrance instructions:  There is room for 24 cars directly in front of the station gate.  Room for more cars adjacent to Cape D Café.  (Discover Pass Required).  The gate will be opened at 10:00 only.  Sorry but late arrivals will not be admitted.  There is no charge for this event.

Bully for Burger King!

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

From “Bullying Jr.” – Burger King PSA

Nyel and I don’t do fast food.  People don’t usually believe that – not completely.  Especially when I say that we’ve never been to a Pizza Hut or a Taco Bell or a Jack-in-the-Box or a Carl, Jr or… any of the others.  Not in the thirty-five years that we’ve known one another.  Oh… except to a Starbuck’s once or twice.

It’s not just the quality of the food we object to.  We even understand there are some fast food chains that sell fairly healthy foods. Our avoidance has more to do with economic diversity (as in McDonald’s putting small potato farmers out of business) and the obvious problems of low wages to employees and the contribution of the fast food biz to obesity and to a life-style we don’t really want to embrace.

Having said all that, though, I want to give a shout out to Burger King for their current anti-bullying public service announcements – especially their latest one, “Bullying Jr.” which can be seen on YouTube or by cutting and pasting this url:  It is brilliant!

From “Bullying Jr.” – Burger King PSA

I can’t speak to its effectiveness as far as actual bully-ers go, but it gets an A+ from this old teacher for raising awareness in the general public and for reinforcing the need for kids to stand up for one another.  I’m not sure if that PSA (or even their whole series about bullying) is enough to make me change my anti-fast food stance.  But, should circumstances dictate that I had to choose one among the many possible fast food chains, I’d certainly put Burger King at the top of my list.

Taking Note of ‘Take a Knee’

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Take A Knee

Everywhere I look these past few weeks – in the news, on social media, in personal emails – there is buzz about ‘take a knee.’  I understand the controversy but wondered about a couple of the basics:  1) where did the ‘take a knee’ expression come from, anyway, and 2) how did the national anthem get all tied up with the beginning of sports events?

The first one was easy. According to the online Urban Dictionary: Take a knee is an American football term for when the quarterback drops to one knee immediately after receiving the snap, thus automatically ending the play.   A no-brainer expression for football fans, no doubt, and an easy segue from game to pre-game for football players to make.  I might add that this was the first definition for the term listed in the Urban Dictionary but, in the manner of dictionaries everywhere, there are five or six other definitions – several not seemly for a little old lady such as myself to repeat here.

Painting by LTJG James Murray

My second question – not so easy.  Every American school child knows (or did in my day) the story of Francis Scott Key penning the words to a poem, “Defence of Fort M’Henry” in 1814 after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Baltimore Harbor.  Key was inspired by the large Amerian flag, the star-spangled banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the American victory. Later, set to the tune of a popular British song by John Stafford Smith, it became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Not so well known is that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 who ordered that it be played at military and other special occasions.  Two years later, it was played during the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, and afterwards during each game of the series.  Though some believe that this was the first instance of the anthem being played at a baseball game, there is also evidence (according to Wikipedia) that the “Star Spangled Banner” was performed as early as 1897 at opening day ceremonies in Philadelphia and then more regularly in New York City beginning the following year.

It was not until March 3, 1931 that the song officially became our national anthem by a congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.  By that time, the pre-game anthem ‘tradition’ had spread across all sports.  It has been controversial from the beginning – partly because the song is very difficult to sing, but also because of disputes over exactly what the anthem stands for.

Photo by Brett Carlsen

As early as 1954, some team managers ordered the pre-game anthem stopped but quickly had to relent because of the hue and cry.  In the 1960s, an attempt to swap the anthem ‘tradition’ for “God Bless America” met with criticism that our Viet Nam troops were being dishonored.  Toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the tradition began to rankle some athletes who thought it glossed over racial injustices in U.S. society.  And in 2016, there was quite a kerfuffle over  the Department of Defense doling out as much as $6.8 million in taxpayer money to professional sports teams to honor the military at games and events.  Whether or not that was connected with the singing of the national anthem is unclear. As for the singing part – in 1990, Roseanne Barr made herself infamous by botching the singing of the anthem; ditto Christine Aguilar in 2011.

So, there you have it!  In case you wondered…

Required Reading

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Conversations with Pioneer Women by Fred Lockley

If I ruled the world, or preferably just the education part of it, I would set out a social studies curriculum that included the reading of two books by Fred Lockley:  Conversations with Pioneer Women and Conversations with Pioneer Men.  In my world, reading both of those books and in-depth classroom discussions of them would be a pre-requisite for graduation from eighth grade.  And it goes without saying that my requirement would also extend to the teachers of those students.

They say I am hard and bitter said Matilda Jane Sager Delaney.  If some of the people who have life made easy for the had been through what I have, maybe they would feel bitter and vindictive, too.  Nowadays, the child is everything.  When I was young, children had no rights.  They were to be seen, not heard, and to be seen as little as possible.  She goes on to tell about being one of the orphaned survivors of the Whitman Massacre and how she was passed from home to home until, at 15 she married a 31-year-old miner from California.

Conversations with Pioneer Men by Fred Lockley

Matilda’s story is the first of some ninety interviews in Conversations with Pioneer Women, conducted in the 1920s and 1930s with women (then in their 80s and 90s) who had come to the Oregon Territory in the mid-1800s. Most had come over the Oregon Trail.  Lockley (March 19, 1871 – October 15, 1958) was an American journalist best known for his editorial column for the Oregon Journal Oregon Journal, “Impressions and Observations of a Journal Man”, which appeared throughout the Western United States on a nearly daily basis. He was also the author of many books that were largely about his travels and interviews with early settlers in the Willamette Valley. It was said that he interviewed “bullwhackers, muleskinners, pioneers, prospectors, 49ers, Indian fighters, trappers, ex-barkeepers, authors, preachers, poets and near-poets.  His interviews are contained in fifty-seven unpublished notebooks called “The Lockley Files” and the current volumes in print contain interviews culled from them.  If I can’t rule the world of education, maybe I could be reincarnated back in time as Lockley’s assistant.

Jane Gilbert (Tubbs) Apperson

One of my own forebears is mentioned in this second edition (1993) of Conversations with Pioneer Women.  Elvina Apperson Fellows said:  I was one of ten children… My father Beverly Apperson was born in Tennessee.  My mother, Jane Gilbert Tubbs, was born in Virginia… Father died on the way across the plains… We had two wagons, so Mother had the men take the wagon bed of one of then to make a coffin…They dug a grave in the idle of the trail and buried Father and when the grave was filled they corralled the oxen over the grave so the Indians would not find it and dig up the body to get the clothes…We came by way of The Dalles and over the Cascades by the newly opened Barlow road… The oldest child William Poindexter, had died before we started, so when we reach Portland our family consisted of my mother and nine children.  Mother was in her early thirties…In 1851 Mother was pretty hard run to earn enough money for us to live on, so when a man named Julius Thomas, a cook in restaurant, offered to marry me, Mother though I had better take him, so I did.  He was 44 and I was 14…

Beverly and Jane Gilbert Tubbs Apperson were my three times great-grandparents.  My great-great grandmother was Matilda Jane Apperson, Elvina Apperson’s sister.

The Art of Waiting

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Nyel Waits Patiently

There’s a lot being said these days about where our educational system has gone wrong or what we need to do better to prepare our youth for the future.  We read about the need for teaching critical thinking skills and that there should be a requirement for learning how to participate in civil discourse.  I couldn’t agree more.  But, right now, I’m thinking that one of the most important life-long learning necessities is How to Wait Patiently.

When you come right down to it, we probably spend as much of our lives in waiting than in any other single activity.  I’ve read, for instance, that the average person spends 38.5 days in their lifetime brushing their teeth, 101 days driving, and 25 years sleeping,   Granted, these are all activities we might be doing while we are engaged in waiting… but when waiting is the primary focus, how should we do it productively and with grace?  Those are the questions.

Waiting is much on my mind because, when it comes right down to it, being in the hospital – either as a patient or as a loved one – is all about waiting.  Since Nyel’s admission on Monday afternoon, we have been waiting for his system to be purged of an old medication, for a new medication to take hold and, ultimately, for all systems (including the doctor’s schedule) to be a “go” for a cardioversion. Well, actually, we are actually waiting, ultimately, to go home with Nyel in better fettle than before.

Sydney Waits Productively (?)

Current estimates are that the ‘procedure’ should occur around 2:30 this afternoon.  Once accomplished, we will wait to see if it his heart is back in the intended rhythm and then we wait to see if it will stay there until our next hospital procedure on March 15th. The operable (so to speak) word in all of this: wait.

To the best of our ability, we are waiting patiently, if not totally productively.  Nyel has been doing crosswords and watching the news on TV.  I’ve been working on the sequel to my Ghost Stories book (thanks to the possibilities of online research) and trying to keep abreast of emails and FaceBook messages.  We have also seen two of the movies offered on the “in-house TV menu’ – “White House Down” and “Reacher.”  And, of course, we eat (except not Nyel since midnight last night), we sleep, we listen to nurses and doctors, and we try to stay positive.

My only conclusion:  Waiting is hard.  It ought to be at the top of the basic learning list.  You know: ‘W and the Three Rs’.  Or wait (ahem!).  Is that a music group?

And speaking of school reunions…

Monday, February 20th, 2017

The Invitation

I’m not much for school reunions.  I’ve only attended two of my own — my 50th San Rafael High School Reunion in 2003 and my 50th Stanford Reunion four years later.  I loved them both but, truth to tell, the trek to California seems like a huge effort for that walk down memory lane.  An odd thought coming from me, the history buff.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve kept in close touch over the years with classmates from both high school and college and the memory itch is well-scratched.

These thoughts are in the forefront right now because I’ve recently received information about my 60th college reunion.  Shall I?  Or not?  It’s scheduled for next October 12th to 15th – Homecoming Weekend, and involves a host of events.  Beginning with a “tailgate party” on Thursday evening and continuing Friday with a choice of “40 Classes Without Quizzes taught by top Stanford faculty,” the festivities include mini-reunions with dorm-mates, campus tours and, for the stalwart football fans, the homecoming game: Stanford Cardinal vs. Oregon Ducks.

Alena, Miki, Sydney

Tempting, to be sure.  Meanwhile, I’ll be having a school reunion or two of another sort.  In fact, the first one was on Saturday when Alena Short, Miki Frace, and I met for lunch at the Roo.  It was our first get-together since Alena moved back to the beach from Utah where she has been for the past twenty years or so!  We have vowed to make this reunion a quarterly event.

And, it’s a “school” reunion how?  Let me count the ways!  First of all, I taught Miki’s daughter, Dorothy, and Alena’s daughter and son, Chelsea and Zack, back in the 1990s.  In fact, in the early ‘90s when I had a multigrade first, second, third grade class, both Dorothy and Chelsea were with me for several years.  I can’t honestly remember if they were in the same grade or a year apart.  And to think that those ‘kids’ are now adults.  And Zack with kids of his own!

Ocean Park School: The First Seven Decades, page 131

Secondly, it was a school reunion because all of us are teachers.  I was actually on the interview team that recommended Miki for employment.  I don’t remember much about the interview process except that it was held in my classroom at Ocean Park School and Dorothy, then eighteen months old, crawled around the floor happily exploring what would soon become a big part of her world.

Alena didn’t get her teaching credential until she went back to Utah but, of course, I’d like to think that I had some part in encouraging her to do so.  Never in my wildest dreams (maybe not in hers, either) did I think that someday she would be back here teaching in the Ocean Beach School District!  I’m only sorry that we missed being working colleagues.  As it is, my retirement in 2001 might have been right around the time she began her first teaching job.

It was a grand reunion.  Non-stop talking and catching up with families, careers, and future plans.  First and foremost:  we plan to get together again soon to continue the conversation!

Listening to Indigenous Voices

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

The Program

Yesterday at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, I felt the Mantle of White Guilt settle more firmly about my shoulders as we listened to the “story-driven discussions that elevate indigenous voices in our understanding of the Columbia River system.”  I went to the Confluence Story Gathering with eager anticipation; I left with a heavy heart.

The misunderstanding was mine.  I thought we would hear the stories from long ago – the stories of Coyote and Blue-jay who appear throughout the traditional Chinook legends and who show up, perhaps slightly differently, in the stories of other Northwest Coast tribes.  I thought we would learn about some of the taboos and traditions that are being re-emphasized and re-taught within the tribes of our area.  I thought we would come away knowing something about the story-telling traditions of our indigenous neighbors and about the revival of Chinook Wa-Wa or jargon.

My mistake.  Those things were barely referred to.  The emphasis was on what has been lost – in the landscape (Celilo Falls, Pillar Rock) and in far more important ways (property rights; recognition of existence.)  With each ‘story’ my mantle of guilt thickened and weighted me down.  We did this – our people.  Our ancestors.  The pioneers, the settlers, the colonists.  We were guilty.  We still are.

Postcard of Pillar Rock circa 1910

The speakers included: Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation; David Lewis, member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; and Oregon Poet Laureate Elizabeth Wood, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.  The three of them formed a panel who discussed a series of filmed presentations by a number of native elders and tradition keepers.  Of all of them, only Tony Johnson alluded to any of the subjects I had hoped to learn more about.

He spoke of his wife ‘not even thinking’ of wearing a necklace when she was pregnant.  He spoke of coyote peeking through a crack in the rocks – just a hint at a wonderful story I’ve heard him tell before.  But just a hint.  And it was Tony who told about Pillar Rock, the boy who once stood 75 to 100 feet above the water (depending on the tide) before being flattened for installation of a navigation marker (Marker 17) and a light.  But they were only allusions to a whole body of cultural knowledge that I had expected to learn more about.

Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation

I had hoped to come away with a glimpse of indigenous culture as seen through traditional stories.   Instead, I left feeling thankful that I’ve attended talks and taken a class or two from Tony Johnson in the past.  He’s the only one, so far, who has helped me understand his heritage from his own point of view.  From my perspective, that’s the only way to lift the paralyzing weight of this White Guilt we feel so that we can embrace a future of better understanding.

Yesterday what I left with, instead, were echoes of same-old, oft-repeated stories of cruelty, greed, betrayal, and denial that ‘we’ have perpetrated and perpetuated.  But what are the cultural traditions that are so revered and are slowly being brought back?  Those were the stories I went to hear.  I was sorely disappointed.

Horrified or Hopeful?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I can’t say I was surprised.  Not at the Senate’s tie vote, not at Pence’s toadying, tie-breaking affirmative, not even that Betsy DeVos, the most unqualified of the unqualified, is now our Education Secretary.  For a long time our education system has been broken.  Now it is shattered, perhaps beyond repair.

But what did we think?  How many of the children and grandchildren of those Senators – or even the Senators, themselves – went to public schools? (A 2003 survey showed that 46% of U.S. senators send or have sent at least one of their children to a private institution. That contrasts with the rest of the country, where only 10% of families send kids to private schools.) So, how much do they know of public education beyond the occasional TV special about an inner-city high school that is “turning itself around” ala the Hokey Pokey?

I began teaching in 1961 – twenty years after I had started Kindergarten at Edison School in Alameda, California.  Back in 1941, the educational system as our parents and grandparents had known it was already beginning to break down.  Class sizes burgeoned.  Male principals (and most of them were) went off to war.  Dads went, too, and moms got jobs.  After the war we tried to put ourselves back together… but it was never quite the same.  Not in the schools, anyway.

In 1965 we were blessed with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. We saw the beginning of the Head Start Program and we had the first glimmer that schools were stepping up to do what families had been doing for centuries. Not ‘instead of’ the education part.  In addition to.

Before long we began to lower student-adult ratios in our classrooms – not with additional teachers and smaller class sizes, mind you.  (I had 32 students in my class every year for the first sixteen years I taught.)  With added personnel.  We hired classroom aides and added psychologists, speech therapists, nurses, and occupational therapists to the mix.  In some schools, even doctors and dentists were added to the adult-student ratio.  Teachers had scheduling logistics and personnel oversight added to their duties. Access to the entire class reduced to a minimum so individualized instruction became the watchwords.

If families couldn’t manage the basics, schools were told to step up.  After school programs, breakfast in addition to the hot lunch program, head checks for lice infestations, drug abuse programs, increasing time for physical education.  Less time for academics but, lest we be accused of neglecting the three r’s, we began testing as much as we were teaching.  Something had to give so… the curriculum began to be dumbed down.  And no one bothered much about the states that were teaching their own brands of history and science.

In 2001, along came the No Child Left Behind Act.  (Really?)  I retired that year.  But I didn’t stop watching and waiting for America to wake up.  When were we going to stop insisting that college was for every kid?  What happened to trade schools where honest-to-goodness skills could be taught and students could be prepared for real world jobs?  Why were kids told “good job” every time they burped? Yes,  the “system” is broken for sure and, for whatever reason, it has gotten worse, not better.

Now we Betsy DeVos.  She’s not part of the system and, not only that, she hasn’t a clue.  As horrified as I am, the thought creeps in that maybe, as an outsider, she can fix our ailing educational system.  I admit to a teeny tiny glimmer of hope… but, if I were a betting woman, I’d say there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell.  She hasn’t the skills, the knowledge or the experience. And I don’t think throwing money at the problem will help.  Which part of ‘great again’ is this, anyway?