Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm Not The Only One

I live in a small, rural town in eastern Oregon.  I live in the Republican stronghold part of Oregon.  I know a few Democrats, a few out of the closet liberals, and several closeted gays.  In a small town, everyone knows your business...even people you've never laid eyes on.  You don't need six degrees to find a connection to anyone in a small town.  Eastern Oregon is a conservative culture.  It  is easy to acquire a reputation, earned or unearned, truth or fiction, that will haunt you for years.  In a small town this collective knowledge can impact your livelihood.  I have great respect for the individuals in my town that work with PFLAG, or immigration reform, or other controversial issues.

When I was working I was careful about sharing my liberal views.  People knew I was a Democrat and for a long time I had a pro-choice bumper sticker, but once I became a school administrator the bumper sticker came off my car.  I didn't write letters to the editor of the local paper.  My career was hurt by advocating for non- English speaking students at a time when the popular stance was to "send those Mexicans back to Mexico."  The popular opinion was that those Mexicans were syphoning off resources that should go to "our" students.  Then I became the Special Education Director and once again I championed a minority acused of syphoning away resources from "our students."  "Our students" were, of course, the middle class regular education kids. 

I'm sure you've heard people complain about the school system:  how it spends so much money on those kids who don't speak English or on those special needs kids that a regular kid can't get any help. Have you heard them in the beauty shop complaining about how their son, nephew, cousin is a genius but he can't get any specialized instruction because the school spends all its money on those other kids?   Now that I'm retired I can say BULLSHIT! 

Where do people get off believing that their children are more entitled than other children to free public education?

Public education is like running a race.  All the kids are aiming for the same finish line.  Each state has established its own finish line and the hurdles that all kids need to jump to complete the race.  The job of educators is to get kids to the finish line.  Not all kids start the race at the same place.  Some kids leap ahead and some lag behind.  I know it's popular to chant that "All kids can learn" and "All kids can meet high expectations,"  but the truth is that there are some kids who will never learn algebra, hell, some kids will never learn to recognize numbers.  All kids can learn, but not all kids learn the same way or at the same rate.  Just like in a race, we help the participants along the way. We've got education aid centers set up along the race path. Any kid who need the educational equivalent of gatoraide should get it and move along to the finsih line.  Some kids reach the finish line early and we cheer and clap for them at special assemblies that honor the golden children.   But there are other classmates to those students who are struggling to be toilet trained, or to master basic arithmetic facts, or to learn to read.  Those kids run at a slower pace and need help over the hurdles.  Our obligation is to help everyone to the finish line. 

Face it, some kids need more help than others.  Public education isn't about giving the same thing to every kid, its about helping ALL kids reach the state established finish line.  Some kids get more help than others because some kids need more help.

I used to feel like a lone ranger, out of touch with many in my community.  Since I've started to speak my mind and publish it on my blog, I've had surprising responses from friends and acquaintences.  Perhaps the silent majority is really the liberals in eastern Oregon?

So, this week I'm grateful for the insight that blogging has brought me.  I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nana's Arms Are Wide Open

I've written several times about my belief that the Universe provides us with learning experiences. The Universe doesn't give up on us when we don't learn a lesson, but provides additional opportunities to reach enlightenment.

Funny how the universe can provide just what you need...even when you don't realize you are looking for it. Today I heard an old Creed song on the radio in my car. For some reason it stuck with me all day. I think it was a message I needed to hear.

"If I had just one wish
Only one demand
I hope he's not like me
I hope he understands
That he can take this life
And hold it by the hand
And he can greet the world
With arms wide open..."

Isn't that a great way to live your life...with arms wide open.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Crossing the Atlantic

Ile de France

In May of 1955 I made my first and only transatlantic crossing on an ocean liner. I was four years old and I sailed on the Ile de France from England to America with my mother, two year old brother, and my Auntie Pam to join my father and uncle in California.

Although the Second World War had ended in 1945, England still suffered the deprivations of war. One relic I have of my life in England is my ration book.  It is hard to believe that food, especially fruit, was still rationed ten years after the war had ended. My parents wanted a better life and decided to immigrate to the United States. Like many before us, we boarded a ship to sail to America. I remember little of the journey but a vague recollection that the ship smelled of porridge and fresh paint.

Built by the French Line in 1927, the Ile de France was sold for scrap in 1959. But the ship had one last moment of glory. It was used as a floating prop in the 1960 disaster film, The Last Voyage and was partially sunk.

The luxurious ocean cruiser that ended its days by being sunk in a movie became a major character in the story of our immigration voyage told at family gatherings. That was my only cruising experience for over fifty years.

In 2008 I retired from public education. Now when students head back to school in the fall, I take a vacation. This past September my husband and I took a cruise on the Norwegian Line to Alaska. Although I remember little of my first voyage, I imagine it was quite different from a vacation cruise. One story my mother told of our journey was that we weren’t allowed to sit in certain deck chairs because they were reserved for other passengers.

When my mother died I kept an old leather suitcase embossed with her initials. The suitcase has a hang tag from the Ile de France. Although I arrived in the United States by boat, my family’s story isn’t different from other immigrants. We came looking for a better life. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if we remained in England, but it is an impossible question to answer. It is enough to be grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided for me and my family. 

Life is good.
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