Friday, November 28, 2008

A Privilege

"No one has ever become poor by giving." -Anne Frank

I've been seeing them for a few weeks now, the Salvation Army volunteers. Unfailingly polite, they stand outside in fair weather and foul, ringing their handbells, hoping to fill the red kettles that hold shoppers' cash contributions.

My mother, a World War II veteran who served in England and France, said that the Salvation Army was the organization quickest to provide services, supplies, and comfort to soldiers far from home. In fact, the Salvation Army was one of six civilian agencies that collaborated in the creation of the USO (United Service Organizations) in 1941.

Our family always donated serviceable clothing and unwanted furniture to the Salvation Army. My daughter and I browsed their Thrift Shops in search of discarded treasures and vintage accessories.

This holiday season is going to be a difficult one for many families. The Salvation Army, along with other local and national organizations, is trying to help people survive in troubled times.

Please share what you can with the non-profit group of your choice, in the true spirit of the holiday season.

Smile at the bell-ringer, and thank him or her for working in the service of others.

"Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege." -John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

“Frank, a Salvation Army bell-ringer” by ragesoss

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beyond the Wall

"The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers." -FCC CIPA Consumer Factsheet

Parents, educators, the government: all wish to ensure that the world is made as safe as possible for our children.

Computers with internet access have become commonplace in schools and homes. With this increase in opportunity for connectivity has come a parallel increase in concern about the perceived dangers of cyberspace for minors. Legislation requiring the blocking of sites deemed inappropriate through the filtering of school district networks was intended to provide protection for students and peace of mind for their parents.

Unfortunately, this approach hasn't worked well for a number of reasons:
  • no filter can catch every objectionable site, therefore relying on filters generates a false sense of security
  • filters block many valuable resources. For example, a science class researching viruses would find any sites mentioning "sexually transmitted diseases" inaccessible, including sites maintained by the Federal government
  • it is possible to get around filters by using proxy sites. Many students have become adept at circumventing the safeguards put in place to protect them
  • while teachers may request that certain sites be unblocked for classroom use, the process can be frustrating and discourage technology use
But the biggest argument against depending on filters as the primary means of protection is that many students spend time outside of school on computers, unsupervised or inadequately supervised. Without instruction in safe use and good digital citizenship, children and teens leave themselves open to danger, though perhaps not the dangers that many adults fear.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center Fact Sheet

A growing number of people are promoting Internet safety education in an effort to help keep youngsters safe from Internet sex offenders. But some of the information in their lectures, pamphlets, videos, and web sites does not reflect what researchers have learned about the important features of these crimes.

There is a widely quoted statistic (from the 2005 University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety study) that 1 in 7 youth are threatened by "online predators." In fact,

  • These solicitations did not necessarily come from "online predators". They were all unwanted online requests to youth to talk about sex, answer personal questions about sex or do something sexual. But many could have been from other youth. In most cases, youth did not actually know the ages of solicitors. When they believed they knew, they said about half were other youth.
  • These solicitations were not necessarily devious or intended to lure. Most were limited to brief online comments or questions in chatrooms or instant messages. Many were simply rude, vulgar comments...
  • Most recipients did not view the solicitations as serious or threatening. Two-thirds were not frightened or upset by what happened.
  • Almost all youth handled unwanted solicitations easily and effectively. Most reacted by blocking or ignoring solicitors, leaving sites, or telling solicitors to stop.

A more immediate danger, one which is estimated to affect as many as 43% of our students, is cyber bullying. Unlike face-to-face bullying, the online version can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Harassers, emboldened by electronic anonymity, can choose to prolong and extend their activities, drawing in others and leaving the chosen target with no safe haven.

The United States Congress has recently acted to bring CIPA into line with current research regarding student online safety:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) are extremely pleased that on September 30 [2008] Congress passed, as part of S. 1492, an update to the Children's Internet Protection Act which requires schools participating in the E-Rate program to educate students regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites and about cyberbullying. ISTE and CoSN have advocated for this approach for many years and we are pleased that Congress has now ratified our position. Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students.

"Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students."

We need to teach our children how to recognize danger, make good choices, and behave responsibly online. Beyond the wall lies the future.

"Beyond the wall" by Guiseppe Bognanni

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Through a Forest Wilderness

"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."
- John Muir

On a drizzly November morning, my daughter, daughter-in-law, and I joined a few other hardy souls (and two dogs) on a hike along some of the trails in Moreau Lake State Park.

It was quiet in the forest; the only wildlife we observed was a tiny chickadee and an obviously annoyed flying squirrel whose rest we must have disturbed. Dave, our knowledgeable young guide, pointed out the surprisingly abundant plant life tucked in among the autumn leaves.

Eagles, osprey, beaver, deer and other inhabitants of the area were not visible. The well-trained dogs accompanying our group were quiet, with no gray squirrels to tempt them into disobedience.

The fungi Dave displayed to us were lovely, incredibly varied in size, shape and color.

A carefully hidden geocache provided a bit of man-made whimsy, its artful case carved from a beaver-gnawed branch.

Our two-hour hike extended into three hours, but no one objected. It was a wonderfully calming and peaceful interlude in our busy lives.

My complete photoset is available here.
Read my daughter-in-law's more extensive account here

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World" -Henry David Thoreau

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today, My Job Was to Listen

“Adolescents sometimes say...'My friends listen to me, but my parents only hear me talk.' Often they are right. Familiarity breeds inattention.”
-Laurence Steinberg, U.S. professor of psychology

Dr. Steinberg's words might equally be applied to teachers. We hear our students' voices, but do we ever stop to consider what they are saying?

Today, my job was to listen.

Our Current Events class is made up of teens in grades 9-12. Since the juniors were taking a test today, I gave the remaining 7 students time to finish up assignments, discuss upcoming projects, and just socialize.

One boy started complaining that he wished he were part of our in-house GED program rather than taking regular classes. A few of his friends jumped in to tell him that the course is a lot of work, the exam is difficult, and he'd be crazy not to just stick out school for a few more years. They discussed it for a while, and I believe - I hope - they convinced him to stay put and try to make it work.

None of these young men have been particularly successful academically. They are they same group who shared their anger about a NHS speech that seemed (in their eyes) to disparage them.

Today they used their leadership qualities to help a friend who's in danger of making a bad decision. It was a teachable moment, but I was not the teacher, my students were.

It was one of the best days I've had all year.

"One who cares is one who listens." -Richard Clarke

"listen to me..." by keela84

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanks and Praise, For our Days: Veterans Day

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 19 September 2004

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. -John McCrae


Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh. -Author Unknown

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

"Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing." -Archibald Macleish

Yesterday, our Middle and High School students indicated their choice for the next president of the United States. Although the votes won't count in national election tallies, these young citizens have spent a lot of time discussing the candidates and examining the issues that will affect their futures.

Today, Election Day, spontaneous conversations took place in study halls and corridors, as the students expressed their opinions to classmates and teachers. One young man told me that he liked Sarah Palin's position on the environment; another said he felt that the country needed a change, so he supported Obama.

Even the elementary students knew that something important was happening. Most of the little ones knew the names of the presidential candidates, some were planning to go into the voting booths with their parents.

The results of the upper level voting were: Obama 136, McCain 96. But the real winners were the students, who learned valuable lessons about the democratic process.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Saturday, November 1, 2008


"There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else. I don't care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause." -George M. Adams

Rather than respond to individual comments about Success, I've decided to offer my opinion in a separate posting.

Some of you have defended the National Honor Society and my district's decision to recognize new inductees in a high school assembly. Others question the venue but not the underlying concept of rewarding academic achievement. My students did a fair job of presenting both sides of the argument when expressing their feelings on the matter in our Current Events class.

How do I feel about the NHS?

  • Nominees are evaluated on character and leadership as well as grades.
  • National Honor Society members perform a number of school and community service activities.
  • Inductees gain personal satisfaction from public acknowledgement.
  • Scholarship is emphasized and praised.

  • Teachers who review the applications for membership may not know enough about students' personal lives to judge them fairly in all categories.
  • Grades measure only a particular type of success in school.
  • The Society is exclusionary by nature.
  • The assembly was more divisive than inspiring.

This last point is the crux of the matter for me. The assembly speakers could have praised new NHS members as academic leaders, then gone on to challenge the rest of the student body to discover their own potential for leadership.

Making good grades the sole criteria for success means that some students feel they have already been labeled as failures. And this might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have." -Zig Ziglar

"DSC_0498.jpeg" by alessandra