Archive for school

Mar
26

Sugar, Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

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Timberlake Christian School (TCS) in western Virginia buried the lead in their letter to the guardian of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. The last sentence was the most true and the most telling.

“We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained indentity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

No kidding, it’s not the best place for Sunnie’s future education.

Like, I’d pull that child out of there yesterday.

Sunnie is an eight-year-old girl, but by her own admission and her grandmother’s (Sunnie’s legal guardian) own acknowledgement, Sunnie likes a lot of “boy stuff”—such as autographed baseballs and hunting knives, according to CBS-TV affiliate WDBJ.

But Sunnie also digs jewelry and stuffed animals, too.

“It’s fun,” Sunnie says of her varied interests—some of which don’t seem to fit TCS’ characterization of what a little girl should be.

Hence the letter, apparently quoting school policy, sent to Sunnie’s grandmother, Doris Thompson.

The letter began ominously.

“You’re probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment,” the letter started, and nothing good usually follows a sentence such as that in a letter sent home from school.

And, nothing good did.

Sunnie Kahle

Why is it, that supposedly Christian entities—organizations based on ideals that are supposed to espouse and embrace inclusion rather than exclusion—seem to be the least tolerant?

And, from an educational standpoint, what happened to encouraging children to broaden their horizons and open up their worlds a little bit?

So an eight-year-old girl is sometimes confused for being a boy, as Sunnie told WDBJ. Is that the worst thing in the world?

For their part, school administrators told ABC 27 that they have not accused Sunnie of any wrongdoing; they just want the family to follow all guidelines set for students.

Good thing that the TCS folks are educators, because they certainly think we’re all pretty stupid.

“Sunnie realizes she’s a female but she wants to do boy things,” Thompson told WDBJ.

How ironic that TCS is discouraging that, because it seems like a pretty damn good life lesson to me—that girls can do “boy things.”

I mean, heaven forbid Sunnie grows up to be a CEO or a soldier or a fireman or something.

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For eight years, every Saturday, I have pumped out 1,000+ words about pastimes—kids games played by grown-up millionaires. I have mused about the merits of the Lions’ latest draft, the Tigers’ latest free agent signing, the Pistons’ latest implosion, the Red Wings’ latest Stanley Cup.

Not this Saturday.

This Saturday, there won’t be any hand-wringing over the NHL’s (latest) lockout. There won’t be any fussing about another Lions season gone wrong. No analysis about whether the Tigers should have committed $80 million to a pitcher. No unsolicited solutions to all that ails the Pistons.

Who cares?

What does any of that matter, when 20 precious children woke up, went to school, and ended up being carried out of their classrooms in body bags?

For many, sports is a diversion—a way to unplug, for 2-3 hours, the cord that connects us to our troubled lives. We shove our money problems, our marriage troubles, and our job worries to the back burner, so we can yell and scream at the TV and bring our sports teams’ troubles to the fore. Sometimes the logic seems ill, actually.

But it’s not real life, in the strictest definition. The drama is played out on the field, or on the ice, or on the hardwood. At the end there is a winner and there is a loser but none of it really matters.

Even Reggie Jackson, who didn’t meet a spotlight he didn’t like, once tried to put sports in perspective.

“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don’t care,” Reggie said.

Sports is a diversion, but even that is kind of disingenuous to say. The line between sports and real life is being blurred, almost daily. The off-the-court, off-the-field, off-the ice news is capturing a larger slice of the information pie. Sports isn’t, any longer, just about hitting a curve or sacking the quarterback. It’s not just about how to defend the pick-and-roll or getting the puck out of your own zone.

They used to do a lot of killing in sports, but it was all figurative.

Kill the umpire! Kill a penalty. Kill the clock.

Lately, as we’ve seen with recent incidents involving players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, they’re killing people for real.

But on this day we don’t look to sports to divert us. The games go on, but today we are glued to our TV sets, tied to the Internet, frantically searching for answers that may never come, to a one-word question.

Why?

That three-letter word starts so many of our queries.

Why did a 20-year-old young man kill his mother? Why did he then drive to the school where she reportedly worked, and gun down the principal and a school psychologist?

And, the biggest “Why?” of them all.

Why did this young man, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza, march into a classroom and start shooting grade schoolers?

More whys.

Why did his mother have such powerful weapons registered in her name, to which Lanza had access? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?

After the why come the next big questions, and those all start with “How?”

How will the parents of the dead children cope? How will the parents of the surviving children ever hope to re-instill a sense of security in their kids? How will the town of Newtown, Connecticut, a small burg of about 27,000 people (not unlike the size of Madison Heights, where I live), manage to carry on after the slaughter that occurred in their town?

You want to keep sports in this discussion, in an allegorical way?

Well, here it is.

The country has hit its two-minute warning. But it needs to get the football back from the gun lobbies before it can mount a game-winning rally.

We’re out of timeouts, too.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the wake of the news of the shootings that “today isn’t the day” to talk about gun control. Someone should remind Carney that we have no timeouts remaining.

If the day to talk about gun control isn’t the day in which 20 of our babies are shot dead, sitting at their desks in a kindergarten class, then we’ll never have that talk.

The nightmare in Connecticut has pushed us to the brink. Our backs are against the wall and all that sports rot. The gun violence keeps getting worse, backing us closer to that wall. It wasn’t bad enough after Columbine, apparently. Wasn’t bad enough after a Congresswoman was gunned down at a public appearance.

We edged closer to the wall after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And even closer, after the mall shooting in Oregon, just this week.

Now 20 little boys and girls are dead. If this doesn’t cause us to start kicking, clawing and scratching, trying to fight our way back from the edge of insanity, then the clock will run out and the game will be over.

For decades, the gun people have put all their chips on “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s a rallying cry that lacks common sense and immediately puts blinders on those who utter it.

It’s catchy, I grant you that. It’s also true in the most literal sense. A Glock or an assault rifle won’t, of course, kill someone if no one takes hold of it, aims it, and pulls the trigger. You got me there.

But people with guns kill people. Why doesn’t the gun camp think that’s as catchy?

Get ready for the argument of, “If only someone at the school was armed, then a lot of lives might have been saved.”

The old OK Corral argument. The notion that, like in the movies, a hero will draw his weapon, and pick off the bad guy with one shot, with no possible chance of collateral damage or stray bullets striking and killing others.

You think that’s really how it would go down if everyone walked around with a pistol on their hip? Or is it more likely that more people might choose to go for their weapons to “solve” problems, in a horrific moment of indiscretion?

Is the way to put out a fire, to throw more fire at it?

We’re at the two-minute warning. We have no more timeouts remaining. We need the ball back. The situation is just that dire.

We can’t put off the rally any longer. Twenty babies are dead. If that’s not a game changer, then we’re doomed.

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May
25

Unfathomable? Sadly, No

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For crying out loud, now seven year-olds are hanging themselves.

The suspected reasons? Depression. Bullying.

Neither should apply to a second grader. The latter shouldn’t apply to anyone.

A poor 14-year-old girl in Detroit found her seven year-old brother dangling from his bunk bed. The child had managed to fasten a noose from a belt and hanged himself.

How do seven year-olds even know about hanging, much less how to do it? How does a child of that age pull this horrific act off, physically?

The mental and emotional aspects are just as chilling.

The child was, according to published reports, despondent over his parents splitting up, and there was some bullying going on at school, for good measure.

Enough of each, apparently, to cause the boy to grab a belt, climb onto his bunk bed, and do himself in.

Think back to when you were seven years old. It may be fuzzy but you ought to have memories.

To do so is also an exercise in futility, because most readers of this blog (if I have my demographics right) were likely seven years old in the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s. All decades before the Internet and before bullying became more than a shakedown for lunch money on the way to school.

So it’s an apples and oranges comparison, I know, to recall your life at age seven and the lives of kids today. Maybe not even apples and oranges. Probably apples and liver.

But I ask you to recall age seven in order to start a path to the answer to this question: Where did it go sideways? When did being seven years old become tantamount to being a corporate CEO after Black Friday?

What kind of bullying is going on among seven year-olds that could drive one to kill himself? And how does a child of that age become so mentally broken by his parents’ breakup that he figures his life is over anyway, so might as well accelerate it?

My parents separated when I was 11, got back together twice, then divorced when I was 14. That’s not an ideal age for a boy to lose a father’s influence at home, but there you go. The implications of the divorce on me as a person, I believe, didn’t manifest themselves until well into my adult years.

But at 11 and 14, suicide wasn’t even on the radar for me. There was some shame and embarrassment that my folks weren’t living together, but nothing remotely suicidal.

At half that age, this boy in Detroit hanged himself.

I know I’m asking a lot of questions in this post, but that’s always the bi-product of terrible stories like this—questions, which are plentiful. What’s in short supply are answers.

The 7 year-old hanged himself in this Detroit house
The story being reported says that the boy had been counseled by a pastor and that in addition to the bullying, he was teased constantly for being the only boy in a home with eight girls.

A knee-jerk reaction to suicides which point to bullying is to dismiss the victim as being weak emotionally and/or overreacting to what was being done/said to him.

At least lately, there seems to be more of an accounting of the tormenters. Anti-bullying campaigns have been ratcheted up in recent years. But there’s still the whispered opinion, “It can’t be THAT bad.”

Everyone has a different level of tolerance; that much is true. And, indeed, what might drive Person A bonkers might roll off Person B’s back.

But one thing is certain: if there was no bullying, levels of tolerance wouldn’t matter.

Bullying will never go away completely. But I hope it’s being reduced, thanks to the levels of awareness being raised almost daily.

Bullying, alone, didn’t cause this Detroit youngster to kill himself, according to reports. There is the recent parental split to consider as well.

Yet I have a feeling that the bullying and teasing played more of a role than the breakup.

Was it THAT bad?

Yes—for that little boy.

And if you think his case is an anomaly, consider this.

Of the 36,951 suicides recorded in the U.S. in 2009 by the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 265 involved children ages 5-14.

Two-hundred and sixty-five. That’s five a week, and that was three years ago.

“It’s just a tragedy on so many levels,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday, calling the situation “unfathomable.”

Yes, but clearly one that isn’t as unusual as you might want to think.

Categories : crime, Enotes, school, society
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Mar
27

At the Movies, Old School Style

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Our daughter, a high school senior, gets to watch movies in class on occasion. I can tell you two things: the films are a lot more entertaining than the celluloid we viewed in my day; and yet I kind of pity her, because the whole movie watching thing for her is rather humdrum.

I shall explain.

Anyone over the age of 40 should remember what it was like when there was going to be a movie shown in class that day.

It was a big deal.

Who can forget the rumble of the big cart rolling down the hallway, on which was the seemingly huge film projector, being wheeled into the classroom by the “A/V geek,” who was nothing more than a fellow student who somehow wrangled his way into such a gig.

Then the anticipation of the movie itself, which wasn’t a feature film like the kids in school are privileged to view nowadays. Rather, it was very instructional in nature—like about science or social studies, etc.

Perhaps it was a movie about how we use oxygen in everyday life. Or how they make rubber. Stuff like that.

Regardless, even though we knew we weren’t settling in to watch “True Grit” or “Herbie the Love Bug,” a movie in class meant that the lights would be turned off (a great opportunity to sneak in a nap), and that it was a good way to kill 15-20 minutes.


A still taken from a film we may have viewed in class, circa 1970s

Sometimes there would be a technical difficulty, and the A/V kid would be summoned, or another teacher, and before you knew it, another 10-15 minutes would be taken off the board.

I don’t know how many times we implored the teacher to run the film backwards after it was finished. Sometimes teach would relent, and the room would be filled with guffaws as we saw images of people walking backwards, machines running in reverse and liquid defying gravity and pouring “up.”

The movies, looking back on what I recall of them, were probably produced in the late-1950s, early-1960s, based on the clothing and the cars. Most were in color, though.

Anyhow, it was more than popping a DVD into a player. Much more. And much more exciting, frankly.

The movies themselves wouldn’t win any People’s Choice Awards, but the experience might have.

(click here for an example of a 1960s educational film—this one about the Union Pacific Railroad)

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Aug
30

My Senior Moment

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A less scrupulous parent might encourage his daughter to drop out of high school before her senior year. Or a poor one.

I’m about to be the latter, because I’m not the former.

Confused? Sorry.

Our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, or as it’s otherwise known to parents, The Shakedown.

The schools have us senior parents between a rock and a hard place, and don’t think they don’t know it.

My wife registered our daughter this morning for the school year, and being a senior is not only a very special year, it’s also very expensive.

There are the senior photos, of course. Those were taken this summer and while the proofs are absolutely beautiful, the packages begin at over $500.

I graduated high school in 1981, and I remember making a very understated trip to the Olan Mills studio in Livonia in the summer of 1980 with my polyester, three-piece suit and a comb.

We snapped a few head shots and I was probably on my way back home within the hour, at most.

Today, the poses are multiple, there are more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert, and there are so many good proofs you have no idea how you’re going to whittle them down. Hence the large and expensive packages for such undecided parents.

Then there’s the yearbook and the hoodies and sweats and the senior dinner and the all-night party. We also have to pay for the cap and gown, don’t you know. Cha-ching!

The all-night party, by the way, runs $80 a head. I have no idea what the kids get for $80 a head, but it ought to involve the aforementioned Lady Gaga concert! As in, Lady Gaga herself shows up and performs.

By contrast, the senior dinner is only $10 a person. I’d like to know what makes the all-night party eight times more expensive than the senior dinner. Come to think of it, I’d rather not know.

We’ve already purchased must-haves like the class ring and our daughter’s varsity jacket. That was last year. Thank goodness those are out of the way.

Eventually there will be graduation announcements that need to be selected and paid for. My wife made the analogy that having a senior is like having a daughter who is someone’s fiancee. Because the whole thing takes on a wedding planning-like aura.

I know it was 30 years ago, but I don’t recall all this…stuff going on during senior year.

If our daughter reads this, I would remind her that daddy isn’t really complaining. I’m proud and happy for you, sweetie. This truly is a special time.

Just as long as you don’t mind eating Kraft Mac and Cheese three nights a week.

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The following is a guest column from Sterling Heights Stevenson High School sophomore Ryan Wietchy, a young man I got to know a few years ago during a freelance assignment. His columns will appear here periodically. I think he makes a very strong case.

By Ryan Wietchy

Contrary to what many people may believe, not every talented high school athlete will become the next LeBron James-type prodigy. In today’s talent-seeking sports society, many kids are already focusing on their future sports careers as early as middle school, committing to their future college coaches as if everything will come their way without having to work for anything they earn. Go on YouTube to find a five-year-old’s amazing dribbling skills and elementary students already committed to playing football at USC.

What most of these up-and-coming athletes don’t realize is that sports may provide a living for some people, but not most. Society is becoming more focused on whether or not a kid can complete a pass on the football field rather than completing a sentence in the classroom.

The term “student-athlete” often takes a different meaning than it should, often with the “athlete” coming first. For “star” athletes, academics often become a mere hindrance to their athletic career. Showing up to class is just a chore that needs to be done before the actual important part of their day, which is staying after school for practice.

According to the NCAA website, only .03 percent of high school boys basketball players will be drafted into the NBA. And for those planning to be the next Tom Brady, only .08 percent of high school football players will make it to the NFL.

Any person with basic math skills knows that the chances of making it big are as likely as finding a needle in a haystack. Down the line, that leaves a cluster of people who thought they were destined for glory, but now have a frail education with only the question of “What if?” lingering in their heads. Our district’s academic eligibility standards does not help this either. The Utica Community Schools Code of Conduct for Student Athletes states that “a student athlete must meet the Michigan High School Athletic Association minimum requirement of passing four classes at all times.”

This is way too lenient as many players barely scrape by getting D’s and F’s and still are able to play. The UCS Board of Education needs to change their policy to something that will put academics as the forefront of their priorities and make the standards more rigorous.

Not all student-athletes don’t care about their grades. Many of them put in long hours of hard work both on the field and in the classroom. But there are a handful of athletes that are brain-washed, growing up thinking that they will make it big, when in fact, they may not get as far as their dreams. There has to be something to fall back on if their careers don’t pan out or they get injured.

The whole point of sports is to provide an outlet after school that teaches teamwork, responsibility and dedication. It should not be the only thing that matters throughout someone’s high school experience. Because when the glory fades and the Friday night lights dim, a points-per-game average, not a grade-point average, will be the only thing they have left to their name.


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Aug
03

A Gym Brat

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I apologize to Mr. Flynn. It’s been a long time coming.

I was a ringleader of sorts, who made Mr. Flynn’s life more difficult than it needed to be. But I just wanted to win so badly.

Mr. Flynn was my gym teacher in grade school—we called it “elementary school” then, and the folks before us called it “grammar school”—and again, I’m sorry, sir.

I was the Billy Martin and Earl Weaver of my day, traits not endearing to an 11-year-old boy. And Mr. Flynn was the unflappable but exasperated umpire.

Never was my competitive spirit higher than as an adolescent. Baseball, touch football, Monopoly, Uncle Wiggly, you name it—I wanted to win. Very badly.

My own mother ejected me from a game of table hockey, though she likely doesn’t remember it, nor would choose to believe that about her only kid.

But it’s true. She and I were playing—I’m around nine or ten years old—and she scores a goal on me and I lifted the game off its hind legs and let it drop with a clank. Actually, she ejected herself—leaving me alone to stew about my actions.

“This is for the birds,” I remember her saying.

I just hated to lose. I guess I was also like Ty Cobb in that regard. And if you thought a mini Earl Weaver was ghastly…

So in gym class, Mr. Flynn would preside over all sorts of games—both indoor and outdoor.

Volleyball. Kickball. Floor hockey. And so on.


Me, on the left, and Mr. Flynn, or may as well be


The choosing of the teams was very scientific.

We’d line up around the perimeter of the gym and Mr. Flynn would say, “OK…ones and twos!!”

The first person would say “ONE!”, the second would say “TWO!!”

Very scientific, like I said.

So it was the ones versus the twos. Sometimes Mr. Flynn would get creative and we’d count to four. Then, he’d announce the teams as we all waited with baited breath.

“OK…THREES….versus…..TWOS!!!”

And the threes and twos would race onto the gym floor to partake in the game du jour.

Some of the more sly folks—no names mentioned—would try to be twos AND ones, or some combination that allowed them to play all the time.

Regardless of the team I was on, I was the leader—in whining.

It got to be an inside joke.

A “controversial” play would occur—and for fifth and sixth graders you can imagine what that might have been—and there I’d be, in Mr. Flynn’s face.

No joke—I’d race from wherever I was and plead my case as the teacher gave me a bemused look and a smirk.

The other kids would groan and roll their eyes. OK, I didn’t see their eyes rolling but I sure as s**t heard the groans.

Sometimes I’d hear, “Eno!”, my name drawn out in exasperated fashion by one of the other students—on occasion even a girl.

“No way” was one of my pet phrases.

Mr. Flynn would call a shot a goal that was suspect, in floor hockey for example.

“No way!”

Then I’d be upon him.

At first it was me and some other whiners, but then they tired of the act and it was left to me to plead the case, solo.

I like to think I kept Mr. Flynn and the proceedings honest, but I was likely just ruining things for everyone else.

So, sorry, everyone else. You deserve an apology, too.

I heard that Mr. Flynn, in the summer months, was a bet-taker at DRC, the old horse racing course at Middlebelt and I-96.

No doubt he had to settle some disputes while in that role, too.

What, you disagree?

No way!!

Categories : Enotes, school, society
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