welcome fall by RLCFor me, autumn is like the sigh after a long day; a time to release all the hectic busyness and settle down in peace.

Summer is flashy and gregarious; she likes to dazzle—the brighter the better (and I think she has power issues). I get grumpy in summer, it’s too hot. Can’t open the windows, can’t play outside, too hot to cook… In summer you’ll hear me say things like, “Oh joy, another flippin’ sunny day.” I become a sloth.

Autumn is more introspective; she takes in the world around her. By herself, or with a few close friends, she enjoys long hikes, crafting, cooking, or settling down with a good book and a cup of tea. That’s more my style! In autumn, I can tackle big projects. Open the windows! Pull out the paint and varnish! Turn on the stove; we’re making a big pot of soup! Inspiration dances in autumn–I go from no ambition, to not enough time.

Are you in your autumn groove? Tell me your three best enjoyed fall pastimes. Tea and a book? Collecting fallen leaves? Baking pies? Share your seasonal joy and spread some smiles!

Originally posted on Lifting the Curtain:

It’s reported that about 20% of the American population is functionally illiterate*; that means that approximately 1 in 5 people over the age of 15 are unable to complete a series of tasks necessary to function in today’s society. They read below 5th grade level and may not be able to follow a basic recipe. These are everyday, intelligent people that just have a few gaps in their education—and chances are you know one. In fact, there may actually be someone in your family struggling right now!

As Americans, we like to think that our public educational system fully prepares each individual to not only function but thrive out in “the real world.” As parents, we send our children to school assuming they are learning everything they need to know. As long as they pass their classes, we feel we don’t need worry. Sadly, this is not always the case…

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By the time I got to high school I was pretty disgusted with the quality of education I was receiving–which included five years of Algebra (even though I consistently received “A”s) and a teacher who took roll call with a cheerleader in his lap. By the end of tenth grade I knew I couldn’t face another two years of this ridiculousness. Luckily the state offered a “proficiency exam” which I passed, allowing me to go on to junior college instead of into my junior year of high school. That was in the late 70s to early 80s, I was hoping that in all this time things had improved—sadly, they haven’t.

Today I’d like to introduce you to D.A. Russell, author of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education. Kirkus Reviews calls the book, “An impassioned look at the shortcomings of public education, from the perspective of an inner-city high school teacher.” In it, Russell exposes the systemic failures in today’s educational system and offers a solution geared to put the focus back onto the best interests of the children. Anyone who cares about a child should educate themselves about what is really happening in our schools. (You may win your own copy of Lifting the Curtain by entering the giveaway!)

 
Q. What do you love most about teaching?

Russell: There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child that has given up on him or herself finally discover that they are smart. We have a system that has absolutely eliminated self-motivation in a large minority of our children. Extreme pressure on schools to pass children has done far worse than just generate unneeded IEPs or result in so many cheating scandals on standardized testing. (The Washington Post confirmed cheating scandals in thirty-seven states, and was convinced that there were far more actual incidents than were ever discovered.) The real failure of the system was dumbed-down teaching to make sure everyone passed.

Yet these children really want to pass and have pride in what they accomplish!

My most treasured note from a student, one of many like it expressing pride in learning, came from a Special Ed student who was convinced she was a loser. “I did good (sic) in math this year because you pushed me and told me I could do it. I went from a 57 to a 96 in a matter of three months. Thank you for everything and showing me I am smart and can do math and do it correctly.”

I still remember the day Kayla got her first A on a test. She started crying right in front of the entire class, and asked me if she could call her mom (cell phones were not permitted to be used in school). I let her call, and watched the joy on her face as she smiled through all the tears to say “…Mom, I just got an ‘A’ in math.” That was a Friday afternoon. I went home and was on cloud nine for the whole weekend. One Kayla in a teacher’s life cancels out a whole lot of tough times. I framed that letter on my wall at home – it encourages me every time I glance at it.

 
Q: While writing Lifting the Curtain, you surveyed both students and teachers regarding the state of education. What surprised you most about the students’ responses?

Russell: I was really taken aback by how much our children want to have better and more challenging teaching. In the student survey, the most common comment in the “what is best… or what is worst… or what needs change” section of the questionnaire was from students angry about not learning enough! Some of the responses were amazing to hear:

My teachers think I’m incapable of doing work because I’m in standard. I want a challenge.

The work they give us is stupid is (sic) like they don’t want to challenge us to do something bigger.

The lack of work that is given. Personally I rather (sic) be challenged than given a free pass.

When I followed up with students on this issue, I tried to see what made the difference for them. In almost every case it was a teacher who set expectations far above what the child had ever experienced before, and then that teacher was passionate about working to help the child earn good results. One of the most intriguing (and absolutely spot-on) studies of what makes a great teacher found only two common factors — a passion to teach, and a knack for engaging children.

The only dumb ones (children) are the ones we teach to be dumb. A free ride through high school is not an act of love or kindness!

 

Q: What happened to all the policies that were supposed to improve our educational system like No Child Left Behind?

Russell: I suspect that had I the opportunity to personally know the individuals who authored many of the federal and state education programs of the past 20 years, I would truly admire and respect those who came up with such a wonderful concept as “No Child Left Behind.” That phrase, in four short words, encapsulates everything I believe about teaching. I enthusiastically supported NCLB when it was launched. Even with 20/20 hindsight, based upon what I envisioned then I would still be an enthusiastic supporter of the NCLB concept.

But it turns out that I was wrong. Horribly wrong. The two most destructive unintended consequences were not allowing failure by children, and holding teachers totally accountable for many factors that are totally out of their control.

First of all, we have taken away from children the possibility of failure – mandating their “success” to the point where a rapidly increasing majority of students know they do not have to try in order to graduate from high school. The “system” now forces teachers to find a way to pass them regardless of effort – phony do-overs and extra credit, dumbed-down teaching, “adjusted” grades, and even outright cheating scandals on standardized tests – or the teacher is held accountable for the failure.

Second, the ages-old education partnership of teacher, student, and parents has been eroded to the point where teachers are often held solely responsible for the performance of a student, while the student and a minority of parents often take no co-responsibility. Teachers are expected to motivate and parent today’s children, despite the growing minority of parents who demonstrate no effective interest in their child’s education. Two disturbing results from the student and teacher surveys graphically make this point. First, both students and teachers felt one quarter of all students in urban high schools do not care what grade they get as long as they pass. Second, a third of all parents were seen as not caring how well the child did as long as they passed and graduated.

The unintended results of all these programs are undeniable – a decade of degrading readiness for college: Only 43 percent of test-takers in 2013 met the SAT’s definition of being prepared for college, a statistic that has remained stagnant since 2009.
Policies are only one piece to the puzzle on declining education. To read more about what’s happening in today’s schools please visit the website at http://liftingthecurtain.com/.

Are you ready to see what else is behind the curtain?Enter to win a copy of Lifting the Curtain, The disgrace we call urban high school education. Giveaway is being held on the book’s Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/owx4mz6

About the Author:
D.A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools used as an example in Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent.

Russell has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in his view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world.

Connect with the author at:

Website: http://liftingthecurtain.com/

Blog: http://liftingthecurtainoneducation.wordpress.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LiftingTheCurtainOnEducation

 
Lifting the CurtainTitle: Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lifting-Curtain-disgrace-school-education/dp/0615939171/

You may not think of toads and frogs as desert dwellers but we actually have quite a few! One of them came for visit the other day, taking up temporary residence in our fountain. I wish I could upload the QuickTime video I shot but this blog will only allow the picture. Still…he’s a cutie! He really seemed to enjoy swimming under the falling water :)

visiting toad by rlc

To read more about desert dwelling frogs and toads visit the Arizona Game and Fish page.

 

Our society is fixated on heroes, mostly fictional. These characters provide us with role models of bravery, fortitude, and selfless service. Once in awhile a real hero catches our attention; I’d like to share with you the stories of two. In respect to their privacy I will simply call them the Postal Carrier and the Mathematician—both friends of mine.

The postal carrier was just that, a postal worker. For many years he lived alone in a small house, but his extended family, and his passion, was the theatre. Most evenings and weekends we could hear the hum of his power saw as he built sets for the next play. His artistic talent didn’t end with the sets though; he also acted, directed, and wrote several plays. Eventual he married…and then he became sick.

The postal carrier was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) which affects the motor neurons. Soon, he could no longer work nor could he continue to build sets. He is now in a wheelchair with no use of his arms or legs, and his wife has told me it is just a matter of time. Many of us would just give into depression, but not this guy—he wrote another play!

His newest play focuses greed and what lengths people will go to for money. Will they lie? Will they risk their lives, or kill their friends? I find it fascinating that as this man faces his own passing his thoughts are on the morals of society. What may be his last message to us is to face the greed in our own hearts.

My mathematician friend has also placed his attention on the world around him instead of himself. With stage four cancer there is a small chance he can be cured—he has always been healthy so that is in his favor. So, armed with a chemo drip system and a computer he is working to improve children’s education.

The mathematician is a teacher, and his passion is children. You see, his childhood was less than ideal, in fact, it was a nightmare. Consequently, any policies or people that stand in the way of a child and his/her potential really get his goat. His goal is to reveal the bureaucratic nonsense hindering our children’s education and improve the system so each child has the opportunity to excel. For this man it’s just business as usual—he’s even kept his spunky sense of humor!

A hero isn’t someone who can do super-human feats; it’s a person who can remain “human” in times of intense struggle. Heroes challenge us to live each day the best we can right up until the end. To not give up when our days or lives don’t go as planned, but to meet that disappointment and ask ourselves, “What can I still contribute, what beauty can I still experience, what passion continues to stir inside me?” I guess that’s they mean meant by, “Live each day as if it was your last.”

How will you live you life today? Do you have something wonderful to share with the world that you’ve been holding back? Is there a hero in your life you would like to acknowledge? Just sharing a few of my own ponderings…please share yours. ♥

Baby DoveI’m sure we all have stories about curious children who wander away and sometimes get a bit lost; it happens to creatures of all kinds. Today it was this baby dove’s turn to learn a scary lesson.

I noticed him just outside my office window. At the time, he was chasing after a lizard even larger than himself. (I missed a great photo op as baby dove pecked the lizard on the chin.)

Like most of us who mean well, I dragged the ladder outside to search for the nest—thinking I might put him back. All I found was a sad remnant of a nest in the rain gutter; there was an un-hatched egg still there. Although concerned for the baby, I decided the best thing to do was wait and watch.

Baby Dove 2As the morning went on I noticed the mom was taking good care of Baby Dove. She fed him at regular intervals and let him hide underneath her feathers. About two hours later I happen to catch site of Baby standing up and looking towards the roof. He spread his wings, bent his little legs, and flew up to that old remnant in the rain gutter!

We all have lessons to from life: the right way to build a home, when not to wander away from the nest, the importance of helping others, and when it’s best to root from the sidelines and let them learn to stretch their wings.

GeographyofLoss_cover-349My first experience with the heartfelt writing style of Patti Digh was when I came across her book Life is a Verb, a book challenging the audience to live intentionally. The message sank in, and I made some changes in my life. I also took notice of the beautiful artwork submitted by readers; the book felt like “community” to me. Since then Patti has written several books, the most recent being The Geography of Loss. This time our challenge is to face the many painful experiences of life, explore the markings they’ve left on us, and fully embrace our life. Like most self-help books, this one offers exercises to help move the reader through various emotional states. This book is different though, artwork and topography lead us through this emotional territory.

Each chapter begins with a story or personal essay, followed by three prompts: a journal prompt, a map or image exercise, and a meditation. I appreciate the user-friendliness of this format; being written is such a way that you can choose which order to read the chapters and which exercises feel right for you. The journal prompts and map exercises fit together to bring you deeper into the emotional memory. Personally, I think this is brilliant. Therapists often use art exercises in their work with abused children and other trauma patients. They say that imagery is our first language–the “language of the soul”. Working with imagery bypasses our logical mind, helping to access the deeper areas.

Many of us carry fears or resentments centered on loss—an injury, betrayal, divorce, or loss of a loved one. In some situations we’ve judged ourselves; in others we have trouble forgiving. Often we carry this pain like a wall, hoping it will protect us from further injury—the wall is the injury. It is only by courageously, and fully, exploring our grief that we can be free to embrace and love our life.

If you’ve been carrying Loss or Grief, I encourage you to pick of a copy of The Geography of Loss—available at Amazon or your local bookstore. On a personal note, my artwork is on page 18!

HeartTracks by RLC

HeartTracks by RLC. Image published in The Geography of Loss by Patti Digh

Connect with Patti Digh at http://www.37days.com/home

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