Monday, November 28, 2011

Sad Today

            My friend Lucy passed away this morning. Right now, my heart is too full and my brain is too dazed to make sense of the death of a second woman I loved in the span of a few weeks. I’ll be hiding in my bedroom with the covers over my head for the rest of this dreary November day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gloria's Black Friday

            “So did you finish your Christmas shopping yet?”

            “That’s funny, Gloria. I believe the correct question would be ‘Did you start your Christmas shopping yet?’”

            “You didn’t go shopping at midnight last night? What’s the matter with you? That’s when Black Friday started.”

            “Aw, you didn’t go shopping at midnight last night either, did you?” I know Gloria pretty well.

            “No, I didn’t,” she admitted. “But I did get up early….”

            “You always get up early.” If Gloria sleeps past 5 AM, that’s sleeping in for her. “Did you go shopping?”

            “I thought about it,” she answered. “Then I made myself a cup of tea, curled up with Vinnie and my laptop, and finished my Christmas shopping online.”

            “Smart lady. A cup of Earl Grey, a warm cat, and an unlimited number of cyber-shops sound like the perfect Black Friday shopping trip to me.”

            “Just the thought of going to Wal-Mart today gave me a panic attack.” Gloria is a middle school teacher; it takes a lot to give her a panic attack.

            “I hear you. A Wal-Mart customer in California pepper-sprayed another shopper this morning so she could get the last flat screen TV. Nuts, huh?”


            “I’m glad you’re not crazy, Gloria.”

            “I’m glad you’re not crazy, too. At least about shopping,” Gloria chuckled.

            “I love you, too, my friend. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

            “You, too. Happy Black Friday!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Football Made in Heaven

            Mary bent down and touched her toes and then reached for the sky, rocking gently on the balls of her feet. It had been years since she had been able to move even the slightest bit without feeling pain. Dying had been an experience she was glad she didn’t have to repeat, but now that she had left her ailing body behind, life was good again.

            She was alive, no doubt about that. She had expected angels playing harps on clouds, but the reality was different – and much better. Heaven was a place where you could pursue your own interests, meet new people, join up with family and friends who had gone on before, and never have to deal with a body that didn’t work properly. Mary, her quirky sense of humor intact, decided that she might just learn to play the harp now that arthritis wasn’t twisting her knuckles into pretzels. As for clouds, well, she’d almost mastered Formulating Clouds 101 – a totally useless skill, of course, but fun.

            She checked in on Joe every day. She regretted having to leave him behind, but she knew he was going to be OK until they were reunited. He was surrounded by friends and family, and he gratefully accepted the comfort they offered. He kept busy; it was only in those quiet moments late at night that the loneliness and sorrow overwhelmed him.  Mary held him close then, and hoped that he knew she was there.

            This morning, Joe sat at the breakfast table, sipping his second cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. He was as content as he was going to be without her sitting across from him. Mary thought for a moment, and then chuckled. She was determined to make him smile, and she knew just what to do. She opened her hands wide and “thought” a football-shaped cloud into being. Stepping back, she punted the ball right into the back of his head.

            Joe put down his coffee mug and absently reached up a hand to touch his hair. To his surprise, every hair on his head was standing straight up, Don King style. He went to the bathroom mirror, and found himself smiling at how ridiculous he looked.

            Mary laughed and pumped her arms in victory. Life – even if one of you lived in heaven and the other lived on earth – was grand.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grandparents had to trek 5 miles in the snow to get to school? Check out this story!

We’ve all heard those stories about how our parents and our grandparents had to get up at 4 AM, milk the cows, pack baked potatoes into their pockets for lunch, and then trudge 5 miles to school through a foot of snow, uphill in both directions. Of course, I don’t really believe those stories. First of all, there is no snow on the ground for many months of the year unless you’re from an arctic region, which my parents and grandparents definitely weren’t. Second, I do believe that it runs contrary to the laws of physics for a path to be uphill in both directions. (I can also say with confidence that neither of my parents have been closer to a cow than buying a gallon of milk in the grocery store, so that whole cow-milking chore thing is obviously a tall tale.)

If my family had grown up in China, there might have been some truth to those stories about how difficult it was to get to school. In fact, if you’re from the Pili village in northwestern China, it is still a perilous trek to get to school. It takes the 80 students two days of hiking and mountain climbing to reach the school 125 miles away. On the way, they must cross 4 single-plank bridges and a 650 ft chain bridge. Wading through 4 freezing rivers is the “easy part.” Now that’s true dedication to education! I don’t want to hear any more complaining about the school bus ride, kids. You have it easy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Talking With Your Thumbs

            My sister has two deformed thumbs. They were perfectly normal thumbs when she was a baby. As a matter of fact, they were perfectly normal until she managed to save up enough birthday, Christmas, and allowance money to purchase an Atari 2600 in 1980. That’s when her love affair with video games became an obsession and the knuckles of her thumbs locked into video controller position. Yes, she is a victim of the dread disease of the 1980’s – Atari Thumb.

            She played PacMan, Space Invaders, Circus (the one where the clown bounced up and down on a trampoline breaking balloons that floated across the top of the screen), and Asteroids for hours on end. My parents had to drag her whining and complaining body to the dining room table for dinner. They resorted to pulling the TV plug out of the electric socket when it was time for her to go to bed. She was hooked on the new technology and she has the thumbs to prove it.

            You might think that technology has come far beyond the days of thumb-controlled Atari joysticks, and in some ways you’d be right. We have iPhones in our pockets, laptop computers that fit into back packs, and small tablets that have all the computing power we might ever need. (Don’t let the term fool you – there is no paper in a tablet anymore.)

So has Atari Thumb gone the way of the floppy drive, the huge old computers that captured data on magnetic tapes, and, well, the Atari 2600? Hardly. Today’s youth suffer from the next generation of Atari Thumb. Texting thumb affects nearly half of our young people. As a matter of fact, 1 in 20 young people in England will tell you that the pain in their thumbs becomes so severe late in the day that they have to…stop texting! Now that seems like a drastic solution to me. lol

A thousand years from now, archeologists digging up our ancient bones are going to wonder why so many of us had mutant thumbs. Will they be able to figure out that we switched from talking with our voices to talking with our thumbs? I wish them luck.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Test Anxiety to the Max

            Do you suppose the United States isn’t taking high stakes testing seriously enough? Sure, American parents try to make sure their children get enough rest and eat a good breakfast so they are physically prepared for test days. Teachers teach the content to be tested as well as test-taking skills for the entire school year. State tests, graduation tests, nationally-normed tests, college entrance exams and professional certification exams are a big deal because they can determine whether or not a student goes into the next grade, graduates from high school, gets into a good college, or successfully becomes a professional educator, lawyer, or accountant. We seem to add more and more high stakes assessments for our students to pass every year.

           South Korean students take only one test during their school years. This test, taken when students are 18-years-old, is the sole determining factor in whether or not a student will earn a spot at a college. A student’s entire future hinges on the results of this one test. There are no do-overs, no second tries. This is a country that takes its high stakes testing very seriously indeed.

            In South Korea, this year’s test will be administered on Thursday. To prepare, South Korean students have studied for 16 hours a day for the majority of their 18 years. South Korean parents have spent 16 hours a day for their child’s entire 18 years (and possibly even while the child was in utero) praying that their child will pass the test. Only students who get into the best colleges are offered the best jobs. No parent wants his child to be stuck in a low status / low paying job for the rest of his life.

            The rest of South Korean society understands just how important it is for students to do well on this test. To make the ordeal as stress-free as possible, the South Korean stock market will open an hour later than normal to decrease the amount of traffic hindering students from getting to the test centers on time. Police will personally escort students who are running late. No aircraft will land or take off during the oral tests, and all cars and trucks are prohibited from using their horns. Proctors are specially trained, and are not allowed to cough, chew gum, or wear strong perfumes that might distract students. Yes, South Korea takes its testing seriously.

            In some ways, it is nice to see a society so devoted to the education of its youth. I firmly believe that education is the answer to most problems. On the other hand, the stress on the Korean 18-year-old population is overwhelming. Students who don’t get into the best colleges become convinced that the rest of their lives aren’t worth living; the suicide rate when test results are released is high. I have trouble believing that this education system is really what is best for South Korea. It’s definitely not a system that American education should strive to emulate. Do Americans need to take high stakes tests more seriously? I think not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eternal Love? Absolutely.

            I am an unabashed sucker for love stories. A study of the books on my Kindle would reveal that I frequently read light romances. I can occasionally be found watching the Lifetime channel on TV. I also enjoy spending afternoons with my girlfriends watching chick flicks at the theater. I must give credit where credit is due, though, and confess that my husband will cheerfully go to see a chick flick with me. I suspect he just enjoys seeing movies and that it doesn’t really matter to him what he’s seeing, but that doesn’t make his willingness to join me at the theater any less special.

            Chris and I were married in 1983. That means we’ve been married…um…28 years. We both come from a long line of people who have been married, well, forever. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past June. Chris’s parents are devoted to each other in their 53rd year together. They were role models who showed us how marriage was supposed to work, which does not mean that they never argued or had rough times. They showed us how to work through problems, and not to lose sight of the fact that, no matter what, we love each other.

As a result, I firmly believe that happily-ever-after isn’t just the ending to a fairytale. Perhaps that’s why the recent discovery of a couple of old skeletons in Italy touched my heart. The long-dead pair has held hands since they were buried some 1500 years ago. They were also positioned so that they could continue to gaze into each other’s eyes throughout eternity.
That’s the ultimate in happy endings. I could ask for nothing more.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

For Mary

He looked down at her tired and wasted body.  But he saw the fifteen year old girl he fell in love with on that playground so many years ago.  He saw the 21 year old bride walking down the aisle toward him.  He saw the 26 year old mother of three smiling as he came in the door from night school.  He saw so many more images from over the years.  He saw beauty, and grace, and sweetness, and love.

The man leaned over and kissed her. "If this beauty is a hint of the beauty of God, then this is a God I can love.  If your goodness is a hint of the goodness of God, this is a God I can love.  If our love is a hint of God's love for us, this is a God I can love.  Mary, you show me what God must be like, and I love you for it.  Be still and go with God now."

She took one last breath and was gone.  And he cried a little, not for her death but for the wonder of the life she had given him -- a 53 year love affair that never ended.

And he would keep her in his heart until it was his time to go, and the love affair would go on forever.  He smiled at the thought.

Written by Joe Scullion
Joe and Mary Scullion with grandson PJ in 1986
November 9, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Greek Lunch in Monroe, GA? Just Say No!

Eighteen of us had lunch together at a small Greek restaurant in Monroe, GA, on Saturday. Now Monroe, GA, isn’t the dusty rural farming village you might expect; it’s an hour or so northeast of Atlanta and about a half hour northwest of Athens, the home of the University of Georgia. We have internet access, and we have a brand new WalMart that just opened down the street in that old cow pasture. We don’t drive our tractors on I85 and we do own clothes that aren’t made of denim. Monroe, GA, is modern and happenin’.

No one can say that the restaurant hadn’t been warned ahead of time. Marla had made reservations a couple of weeks in advance, then had called to confirm on Thursday, AND she had reconfirmed Saturday morning. What happened wasn’t her fault, and none of us blame her. Really.
We asked for separate checks. Our waitress was a bit flustered by that, bless her heart. All I can say is that my sorority sisters – all of us are teachers – tip really well, so we don’t feel too badly about asking for separate checks.

            Whether it was the uproar about the separate checks or something else that went wrong, I don’t know, but it was an hour and a half before the food started to trickle out of the kitchen one plate at a time. It’s possible that a neighboring farm was responsible for providing chicken and gyro meat from animals that had still been alive when we ordered. It’s plausible to assume that the chef had to milk the goats before he could make feta cheese. I’m pretty sure the salads traveled to us by rowboat directly from Greece.

            The first plate arrived, and we assured Betsy that we wouldn’t be offended if she ate before our food arrived; she had ordered fish, and everyone knows that fish gets nasty when it gets cold. We watched Betsy eat. She was almost done when Linda’s plate came to the table. Linda felt uncomfortable eating in front of us, but we convinced her to eat anyway. She was only about half finished when the next plate arrived.
Now while the food service lingered well into the second hour, ladies who were pre- and post- lunch had been refilling their glasses from the pitchers of water and sweet tea on the table. The result was inevitable. There was a steady stream of ladies waiting in line for the restroom. No problem, right? Wrong. The restaurant ran out of toilet tissue. There was not a single roll of tissue in a closet, under a sink, or in a back room. There was no toilet paper anywhere in the building.

There were urgent whispers around our table. Every single woman routed through her purse in search of tissues. Packs of Kleenex were passed from hand to hand. Crisis was narrowly averted.

Finally, everyone had been served except Violet. She had had the nerve to order a hamburger, and the kitchen had run out of buns. It was obviously her fault for ordering American food in a Greek restaurant. Her plate, when it showed up long after everyone else was finished, contained a burned beef patty and a few fries. The waitress plopped a bottle of ketchup in front of her and walked away to put her feet up. It had been a rough day for her.

            Remember what I said earlier about Monroe, GA, being modern and happenin’? It’s so not true. Eat somewhere else.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Boys and their Dragons


            “Yes, PJ?”

            “Were any of our ancestors eaten by dragons?”

            “Hmm. That’s a hard one. I don’t think so.”

            “I can’t think of any either. I don’t think I know anyone who’s been eaten by a dragon.”

            “Disappointing, huh?”

            My son looked up from his Lord of the Rings book. “Really disappointing. Do you suppose dragons died out because they didn’t eat enough people?”

            “I would guess that dragons were hunted by so many handsome knights protecting fair maidens that they eventually became extinct.”

            “Yuck! Knights fought dragons to protect…you know…girls? That’s just dumb.” At ten, he couldn’t imagine a situation in which he’d want to protect…you know…a girl.

            “Of course it's dumb, son. Girls can fight their own dragons.”

            He sighed heavily, a beleaguered son forced to reason with his unreasonable mother. “I don’t think so.”

            “Why not?”

            “They just can’t, that’s why.”

            “If you say so.”

            He got up and beat a path to the living room door. “I bet moms weren’t so annoying back when there were dragons,” he muttered.

            “Did you say something?”

            He stuck his head back through the doorway. “No.”

            “OK. I think dragons are cool, too, so if you want to talk about them more, I’m here for you.”

            “Um…thanks. Will Dad be home soon?”

            “Yes. He’s probably on his way home now.”

            PJ sighed in relief and took his book out onto the front steps to wait for his dad. It seems there are times in a boy’s life when only his father will do.

FaceBook can be a marvelous source of inspiration!
PLEASE put this on your status if you know someone or are related to someone who has been eaten by dragons. Dragons are nearly unstoppable, and in case you didn't know, they can breathe fire. 93% of people won't copy and paste this, because they have already been eaten by dragons. 6% of people are sitting in the shower, armed with fire extinguishers. The remaining 1% are awesome, and will re-post this. Will you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

High Stakes Testing Makes Students Insane

            American public school teachers often complain that their students don’t study for tests, don’t do their homework, and don’t read anything at all. I can say from first-hand experience that my students are guilty of committing these educational transgressions. As a matter of fact, I can tell you that my own sons frequently fail to put in the out-of-school time that their teachers would like to see. The only person in my classroom who learned anything from homework was me; I learned that it was less frustrating for all of us if I simply stopped assigning it. Such is the state of American education these days.
On the other side of the world, the South Korean educational system has students taking one extremely high-stakes test that determines whether or not they’ll be accepted at a college. Grades, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and volunteering time at a local food bank don’t count. A student’s entire future depends on the results of that one rote-memorization test.

But that educational decision has students in South Korea falling victim to “educational masochism.” That’s a euphemism for “going insane studying.” The government has decided that making its young people crazy is actually counter-productive. Their economy needs a boost from innovative ideas and creative problem solving, but the education system stomps student creativity into dust. "One-size-fits-all, government-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only onto the college-entrance examination are not acceptable," President Lee Myung-bak vowed at his inauguration in 2008.

Good tutors are raking in millions of dollars a year doing after-school-hours tutoring. However, one of the educational reforms that has recently been put into place is to make it illegal for tutoring centers to be open later than 10PM. Government officials in Seoul make nightly raids on tutoring centers that operate after that time. The message to students? Stop studying and go home to bed!

South Korea views the American education system as its goal. They want their children to learn to problem-solve the way American students learn. American teachers use open-ended questions, projects, and performance assessments to teach everything from chemistry to literature analysis. It is only recently that high-stakes testing has placed an increased value on rote-memorization tasks in the classroom.  The United States would like to have the test results that the South Koreans achieve; the South Koreans would like to have the problem-solving skills that American students attain.

Perhaps the problems with both educational systems lie in the nature of high-stakes testing. Both countries need to decrease the importance of rote-memorization testing and increase the importance of learning problem-solving skills. Tests are useful for assessing a student’s mastery and for helping teachers plan lessons to cover gaps in student knowledge. They are not useful when they are the sole factor in decisions to move students to the next grade level or to offer students a spot in a college.

American politicians and educators need to take note of the South Korean point of view. Do we want our students to memorize “stuff” so they can pass a test, or do we want them to be global innovators and problem-solvers? The South Koreans have chosen the latter. What are we going to do?