Category Archives: Education

The miseducation of Megyn Kelly

EA35741F-D438-4A06-BCD2-191A164884E8Last spring I ran a half marathon in NYC, kind of a bucket list item if I were to have such a thing. I originally registered for the race because a childhood friend brought it to my attention and it sounded fun. Anything to go to NYC, you know?

It wasn’t the cheapest half I’ve ever run, but I was ok with the entry fee because it was an all women race and I think there may have been some charity component to it. Until I saw that Megyn Kelly was the media sponsor for the event, that is. Then, in all honesty, I considered bailing because, yes, she bothers me that much.

195CD914-570A-4548-A772-0D5CFDE6FBE8Why? Because anyone willing to sit down with, provide a forum to, and pose for photos with, a man who denies that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ever occurred, is despicable, in my opinion. I’m not going to even mention his name because I find him so reprehensible, but I’m sure you know about whom I’m speaking. I have some understanding about journalism and the fact that media professionals don’t necessarily endorse the beliefs of those they interview, but, this guy has deeply offended and caused pain to families who lost their children in a horrific way. He doesn’t get a pass, nor does she, in my book.

Yesterday, I hosted a Halloween related event in my library and I was a bit dismayed by the some of the behavior I observed. We had set out some snacks for the kids, like you do, but failed to stand guard at the table where the huge box of goldfish crackers, Oreo cookies, clementines and candy corn were being offered. Without direct adult supervision, the middle school kids were shockingly selfish about helping themselves to as much as they wanted to have without consideration of the fact that the kids behind them might end up with nothing. I was kind of appalled. I wanted and expected better.

Reflecting on it last night, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the pattern of actions of Ms. Kelly, beginning with that controversial interview referenced above, and those of the children yesterday afternoon. There’s a sense of entitlement and lack of consideration for anyone but themselves that, quite honestly, repulses me on some level.  This failure to demonstrate empathy for parents who have lost their children, and, on a much smaller scale, those who may not enjoy the same treats we have due to our own greediness, distresses me.

What do we expect from our children? What should we expect from personalities who want to be in our homes via social and more traditional media? I want and expect better. How about you?

 

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When Pollyanna met Polly

The summer after I moved into the house I currently live in, my neighbor, knowing that I would be seeking a position as a school librarian, offered to introduce me to someone who might be able to help. He offered to take me for a ride to go meet a woman who purportedly had some influence with the school district. Her name was Polly Noonan. I had no idea who she was, but my ignorance made her no less interesting on the afternoon she and I met.

I had lived in Albany for about 7 years or so, but my local history knowledge was pretty weak. I had learned a little bit about politics, mostly while serving politicians and lobbyists at either PD. Ladd’s or the original Yono’s, and what I learned took away more than a little of my idealism. I became acquainted with  who the major players were locally at the time – Jim Coyne, Tom Whalen, Jerry Jennings as an upstart and the Breslin and McEneny clans, but I had real no depth. Corning was just a tower to me. And cheap plates, of course.

On a sunny day, George and I climbed into his Ford sedan and drove over to Polly’s house. I’m sure it was arranged in advance with a phone call, but I wasn’t privy to that. We just drove up and Polly met us and welcomed us into her home. Twenty plus years later, what I most remember is an exchange we eventually had prompted by a painting on her wall.

The painting, an oil as I recall, was of a beautiful Siberian husky dog. Being a dog person and not really understanding how this dynamo of an old woman with a gravely voice was going to land me a job, I asked if it were her dog. She squawked back at me with “yes,” and then continued to say that Jack had given her the dog as a puppy. Jack Kennedy, that is. The puppy had come from a litter that had originated with a dog that had been given to President Kennedy directly from Khrushchev. Yes, that Khrushchev.

I’m certain my eyes were wide, as she matter of factly related her deceased dog’s lineage. This woman who lived in a simple house remarkably close to the thruway, (and as I’ve come to learn, near Corning Hill in Glenmont), deserved a deeper look.

Since that day I’ve told this story a dozen times, maybe even to you. It’s one of my favorite memories connected to my former neighbor, who I continue to miss years after his passing. Reflecting on it, I think it may have been the exact moment that I first began looking at Albany as being an interesting place with lively history, rather than merely a location for a good quality life at an affordable price.

I didn’t receive a job in the Albany school district, but since that day, I have gotten quite an education about my adopted beloved city. I now know stories about Albany and I find it to be a fascinating little city. Thanks, Polly.

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Albany XXX

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Amsterdam

What’s up with that title, right? Is it porn? Extra large? Nope…Roman numerals – thirty, as in thirty years since I first moved to Albany.

In August of 1988 I was 21. I moved here knowing not a single person, other than Mary Panza who I was lucky enough to meet when her roommate tried to seduce me find me an apartment in his role as a real estate agent. The summer of ‘88 was hot, so damn hot. There was a heat wave that was unrelenting. I traveled to England and the Netherlands in July that year and I loved every day of dreary, damp weather we experienced abroad.

That first trip to Europe changed my life. It opened so many doors and windows and made me a traveler in a way I had never imagined. I had met a guy on the ferry on my way back to London and was acutely aware that he was great, but that the timing was not. We did, however, make some lovely memories and everyone should know the excitement of a long distance romance. When a man flys into jfk, hops into a rental car and drives to Albany to spend 2 days with you…well, you feel kind of special. I hope you know that feeling.

Albany charmed me from my very first visit when I found my way to Lark St.and enjoyed a fancy brunch at The Beverwyck. Once I got a handle on the size of the city (it’s always felt small to me, initially a disappointment but ultimately an asset), and began connecting faces and names, history and legend, I settled in with interest and made a life here.

Albany has witnessed my greatest joys. I got married here, right in Washington Park on a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. I own a house and pay taxes in the city and appreciate the privilege of both of those being possible because of the education (and degrees) I received from SUNYA. My children were born here and are students in the city school district and, while the education they receive may not be as immediately impressive as the high test scores and college acceptance rates of the suburbs, I do know my sons have learned a lot about getting along with people who don’t necessarily look or think like they do. Lessons in life count too.

I started running, an activity I never could have imagined I’d love, while a student at UAlbany and have run thousands of miles around this city.  I’ve learned to write and take photos and have been lucky to share some of my passions with an interested audience.  The opportunities here have been limited only by my own level of competence.  It’s been so cool, really.

Albany, though, has also been the setting for some of my saddest days. There are places around this town that are absolutely haunted for me – spots that I do my best to avoid because of the personal ghosts. The news, both domestic and international, that I’ve witnessed while living in Albany, has left an imprint as well. Princess Diana dying, the towers falling, the children murdered in whatever most recent school shooting…I can tell you exactly where I was for each of those breaking stories. I’ve shed a lot of tears in this town. Believe it.

After 30 years, I love Albany more than ever. The happiness I’ve known in this city that receives credit for how easy it is to get to places “to which you really want to go,” has far outweighed the heartaches I’ve experienced. I’m not sure what the future holds, (once I hit my 30 years teaching, who knows?), but these three decades have been the most productive, challenging and exciting times of my life and I wouldn’t have wanted to live them anywhere else.

Thanks, Albany xx

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Lessons learned

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If you’re lucky to live long enough, life comes with all sorts of lessons. Some are pretty simple, you know, like treat people the way you want to be treated or you get more bees with honey, but other lessons require more experience and perspective. I’ve recently been schooled by the universe and have learned some new lessons that I’m going to share with you in the hopes that you can avoid having your own similar personal education. Tuition free.

  • Trust yourself even when the people you trusted prove you wrong.
  • If a situation isn’t improving, that means something.
  • When two people both want the same thing (together), the efforts exerted to make that work feel much less laborious than when two people are not working to be together.
  • Trying is admirable, but martyrdom isn’t a good look on anyone.
  • Letting go can be: a. Harder than hanging on
    b. Super easy with lots of tequila
    c. A lengthy process
    d. All of the above
  • One day the sun will shine so brightly that your eyes will struggle with all that is revealed.
  • Laughter comes back. You may unexpectedly find yourself humming.
  • You’ll start to forget why it meant so much and begin remembering how much more you wanted.
  • And you will realize that your hands are finally empty and it feels like a gain, and not a loss.

Class dismissed.  It’s going to be an epic summer.

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Listen

Some people find it odd that “my” library is at the end of the wing where the music department has some of their classrooms. When the air conditioning is on we close the doors, but for much of the year sounds from the band room make their way to my desk and I love it. Wednesday afternoons the jazz band plays and it’s my favorite day of the week to listen. Our teachers are so good at what they do – exposing students to music, cultivating their talents, inspiring their efforts. It truly never ceases to amaze me.

This time of year, our students are working hard to prepare for various concerts and performances and the song selections include graduation favorites such as Pomp and Circumstance, a tune that never fails to make me feel nostalgic. Hearing this song is an audible reminder that the school year is almost over, that it’s time to mark both an ending and a beginning, and it is music to my ears.

The clear delineation of the calendar is one the greatest perks of teaching for me. I’m the kind of person who appreciates a new academic year, a new semester, a new quarter, a new week and a new day because each of these milestones comes with an opportunity to start anew. I’ve always loved flipping a calendar to an entirely new month of days and a brand new notebook never failed to inspire me to attempt to do my best work. There’s always a fresh beginning for which to look forward, something different coming our way.

In the past couple of days two people whom I’ve admired and been inspired by, found themselves unable to survive the thought of another day of living. They were in a place so dark and so sad that they couldn’t see that the next day, or even the very next moment, provided another chance to start again.

As we get ready to witness the commencement of another class of students and send them off to their next life chapter, I worry that we’re creating a culture where music and books aren’t thought to belong together, but success, depression and suicide are. What are we teaching these kids? When do they get to connect – with one another and not the WiFi network? We have dozens of devices designed to facilitate conversation but no one’s really communicating.

We need to slow it down and start listening better. This is a health crisis and we can do better. Listen.

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