Friday, September 23, 2016

The Historical Record

I have been holding back. I really don't like getting political on this blog. But this is a strange presidential election. And I want to go on record. I want the historical record clear on where I stood on the 2016 presidential election. I want there to be no doubt. In ten or twenty years, when my son asks me who I voted for, I will not be embarrassed by my vote.

There is no way I could ever in a million years ever vote for Donald Trump.

He is not a real Republican. He is not a true conservative. He is destroying the party of my Dad.

He is a racist, misogynist bigot.

He is a terrible businessman who has declared bankruptcy six times. More of his business ventures have failed than succeeded. He inherited $250 million from his father. He earned nothing on his own. If he had put that inheritance in a simple index fund he would be worth $12 billion today...without lifting a finger. But Forbes has placed his worth at $4 billion. And that is funny money. He's actually in great debt. He can't even pay his campaign staff. He is a horrible con artist of a businessman. He ruins lives. He doesn't pay his bills.

He has been married three times. He is a notorious philanderer and womanizer. All these things are well documented. He even proudly admits to his indiscretions.

His policies are ridiculous. A wall? He's going to make Mexico pay for it? That stupid idea alone should be enough disqualify him from office.

He is a hypocrite. Make America Great Again? Bring jobs back? I actually own two neckties and a dress shirt made with the Donald J. Trump label. The two ties were made in Vietnam. The shirt...China. 

He will soon be under indictment for bribery in Florida for trying to pay off Florida's Attorney General.

Why won't he release his tax returns? Because it will show how little he has given to charity and how little he is actually worth. It will also probably show his business dealings with Putin's Russia. 

He lies and lies. When confronted with his lies he double-downs on his lies. He has no shame. He just doesn't care.

He is the most prominent of the birthers, one of the dumbest conspiracy theories in history.

He became pro-life only a few years ago for political expediency.

I could go on and on and on. Any decent human being, especially those who call themselves Christian, should stand up against such a brazenly racist candidate.

I know you may not like Hillary. I'm not a huge fan either. I don't agree with much of her world view. Honestly, this is not an endorsement of Hillary. But the truth is, she is the most scrutinized woman in the history of the United States. The Republicans have paid the best lawyers and investigators in the world to find dirt on her...and they have found nothing of substance beyond mere conspiracy theories. They even had a special prosecutor who's sole job was to find dirt on the Clintons. Kenneth Starr and his full time staff could not find anything on Hillary, not regarding Whitewater or anything. They had to fall back on the President lying about marital infidelities in the White House.

The private email server scandal is a joke. Colin Powell used a private server. Condeleeza Rice had one. This is a manufactured scandal.

Benghazi? The House Republicans have held six hearings and sent out dozens of investigators to find dirt. And they have found nothing. Nothing! A waste of taxpayer money.

The fact is, after twenty years and millions spent in trying to find skeletons, nothing substantial has been found. She may be shady...but she is no shadier than any other major political figure in Washington. She would not be my first choice. But I'm not going to waste my vote on a third-party candidate like I did with Ralph Nader, who I respect immensely.

The stakes are too high. Hillary may be an imperfect candidate, who is perfect? But she will be competent in the job. She has the respect of world leaders. She has the respect of anyone who has worked closely with her, Republicans and Democrats.

The stakes are too high. Trump is the worst political candidate my generation has ever seen.

I am sickened by how evangelical Christians have rallied to Trump. Listen, as a Christian you may not like Hillary. I get it. But to endorse Trump? Your conscience will have to answer for that.

 I know this post is harsher than most found on my blog. But I will not remain silent during such an important moment. I simply wanted to go on record. We may have to agree to disagree. This post is not meant to sway you or change your mind. This post is about me. It's about me wanting to be clear where I stand. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NASA Mug


An ode to my NASA mug...

NASA mug, oh NASA mug.
You are mug amazing. 
Although made in China,
You represent America. American
hopes and dreams of a future fantastic. 

When I drink of thee I pretend I'm 
an engineer building rocket-ships to
the stars even though I had to take college algebra twice and still use my fingers to count. 

When holding thee I feel like a controller at Mission Control 
or a specialist at the Jet Propulsion Lab. For just an instant. 

For then my green tea is finished and 
I am teaching history again. But NASA 
mug, for just a moment...a brief shining moment, I was among the exploding stars and nebulae. 

Thank you NASA mug. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Acolytes


Yesterday the Little Man served as an acolyte in church for the first time. 

I love the tradition of acolytes in the Methodist Church. I wasn't aware of the tradition, growing up as I did in a less liturgical tradition. 

Two candles are lit by kids at the beginning of the service to represent the presence of Christ in the service. There are two lights to remind that Jesus was both God and man. 

At the end of the service the acolyte recaptures the light with their candlelighter and then follows the pastor out of the sanctuary to represent the light of Christ going out into the world where believers are called to serve. 

Symbols are powerful. I feel an added poignancy to the service with the entrance and exit of the acolytes. I feel a sense of the spiritual mystery of Christ's divinity and as a Christian mystic this tradition appeals to me greatly. 

Jackson did a great job on very short notice! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

New Cans


Last week I finally ponied up for some nice headphones. I wanted a nice high-end pair but I didn't want to go too crazy on price. The same cans kept popping up in all the tech and audiophile sites...the 
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. MSRP is around $200 but Amazon had them for less than $150. For years I had read that suckers by Beats, audiophiles buy the AT's. The Audio-Technicas had a reputation for much better sound quality than Beats but for a lot lower price. Beats, all the sites repeated, sold based on hype and marketing. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x were the phones you found in studios used by professionals. 

So after casually browsing reviews for a couple of years and seeing the AT's mentioned time and time again I decided to take the plunge. And I was nervous. I know there are $600 sets out there but $150 is still a good-sized investment for me. 

But my gosh, they deliver. They are the real deal. UPS had them on my porch last Saturday. I carefully opened them. I first decided to listen to Blue Train by John Coltrane on my current pair of $75 Sonys which I had been using for several years. Then I plugged in the Audio-Technicas. 

WOW.

I mean WOW. 

The hype was real. The bass is powerful but not dominating. I heard riffs I had never heard before in a song I've heard a million times. These headphones are designed to play the music as intended by the artist. They don't add unnecessary mixing. Nothing is obscured by mix-happy sound engineers. You get the music as it was meant to be heard. Or as close as possible. 

I always thought my Sony noise cancellation headphones were decent. They are dozens times better than ear buds. But they sounded hollow and cheap in comparison to the AT's. I couldn't believe the difference. With the AT's I felt as if I was standing in the middle of Coltrane's quintet as they were playing. 

So I tried out different genres and styles. I listened to Beethoven and Radiohead. I gave Weezer and the Beatles a spin. I listened to Thievery Corporation and M Ward. I switched between my old Sonys and the AT's and was continuously astounded by the brilliance of the sound in my new Audio-Technicas. 

It was almost like hearing music for the first time. I am not exaggerating. Well, maybe a tiny bit. But they are unbelievably great. 

The new ATH-M50x's feature three detachable cords (two straight and one curly) of varying lengths. I don't plan on using these a whole lot on the go. They are big but comfortable. I will mostly use them at home and maybe for long trips on a plane or car. For everyday trips to Walmart or wherever I will still use my measly Apple earbuds. They also come with an adapter to plug into your home system and a nice leather bag. 

So I don't care whether or not the new iPhones have headphones jacks or not. These new headphones will make the phone adapter worth it. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Book of Common Prayer


Another excellent resource that I have adopted in my daily prayer and meditations is The Book of Common Prayer App which is now available on iTunes. 

The app, adapted from Shane Claiborne's book, leads readers through a series of concise liturgies to aid in daily prayer and contemplation. 

Here is the product description on iTunes...

Common Prayer helps today’s diverse church pray together across traditions and denominations. With an ear to the particulars of how various liturgical traditions pray, and using an advisory team of liturgy experts, the authors have created a tapestry of prayer that celebrates the best of each tradition. The book also includes a unique songbook composed of music and classic lyrics to over fifty songs from various traditions, including African spirituals, traditional hymns, Mennonite gathering songs, and Taize chants. Tools for prayer are scattered throughout to aid those who are unfamiliar with liturgy and to deepen the prayer life of those who are familiar with liturgical prayer. Ultimately, Common Prayer makes liturgy dance, taking the best of the old and bringing new life to it with a fresh fingerprint for the contemporary renewal of the church. Churches and individuals who desire a deeper prayer life and those familiar with Shane Claiborne and New Monasticism will enjoy the tools offered in this book as a fresh take on liturgy.

I have found the app a peaceful respite throughout the day. I recommend it highly. 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Week


First week done! Only 35 more to go! I better get busy, not much time left!

They do go by fast. This first week highlights the fact that we must embrace the chaos this year. Heavy rains during the week soaked our kids as they made their way from the main building to the cafeteria and gym. That's a pool outside my room. Construction has made everything a mess. But we are embracing the chaos!

My kids are great. I have 34 of them in my 5th Period on-level World History class. But we are embracing the chaos. 

It will be an exciting year. In a couple of years, when normalcy has returned and we're all in the humdrum of the routine in a new building, we'll look back fondly at these days of insanity. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blessing of the Backpacks


Today our church, Heath First United Methodist, celebrated The Blessings of the Backpacks. Tomorrow school begins. I'm excited. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ready


I'm ready. Classes start Monday. My eighteenth year, sixteen in this classroom. But this is the last semester in the old Temple of Doom. Construction timetables have us moving to new shinier digs in January. If I look to my right, out the window, here's the view...


Kind of a mess right now with all the surprising August rains. That used to be my parking space. I will be sad to say goodbye to the old place. Sixteen years I've been in that room, more than most of the houses I've lived in my life. I'll probably be in an upstairs room. I won't have carpet, I will lose 80 square feet and I'll be a bit out of the main traffic patterns. However, a new place will provide a nice fresh start.

I'm also completely revising all three of my courses this year. I needed to innovate. Maybe I'm being a bit too ambitious. But I needed to get out of my rut. Last year was rough, losing my Dad in the first week of school. I lost motivation. I just wanted to get through the day. This year, I'm fired up. I'm ready to go. It's going to be crazy. It's going to be chaotic. It's going to be great. 



Friday, August 12, 2016

Mindfulness


As you can see, I haven't blogged in over three months. Those months just happen to coincide with summer vacation. We were pretty busy, as usual, this summer. Traveled to Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma. Kept pretty busy in Texas. Now I'm back in preparations for school to start. I'm getting ready to get back into the routine. Things are about to get hectic. School, writing a thesis, little league...the usual.

One of the most important parts of my daily routine is time for contemplation and meditation. I've discovered if I can dedicate just ten to fifteen minutes a day to mediation and prayer my life improves remarkably. My blood pressure goes down. The ways I handle stress are much healthier. Problems do not loom so large. My outlook becomes much more positive. And I grow closer to God.

My practice is pretty quick and simple. I have an app on my phone called the Centering Prayer App. It's a highly customizable app that helps guide you through a series of steps to still your mind. Currently I have mine set to the following steps...

A recitation of Psalms 46:10 - Be still and know that I am God. I take a deep breath and recite this prayer three times. The last time I begin dropping off parts of the prayer...

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know
Be still
Be

Then the app chimes and leads me into four minutes of quiet reflection. The timer can be set to whatever duration you wish. I've increased it from three to four minutes and hope to expand to five minutes soon. During those quiet minutes I recite the Jesus Prayer slowly and quietly to myself over and over again.

Dear Jesus, have mercy on me...a sinner.

I repeat that prayer quieting my mind and focusing my busy thoughts on to Christ.

The chime rings and gives me the verse Romans 12:12 which I read out loud...

Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.

I take a deep breath and open up a second app called Sacred Space. Sacred Space leads you through a series of six short prayers and meditations curated by Jesuit Monks in Ireland. These prayers mirror the Ignatian prayer exercises created by St. Ignatius Loyola centuries ago. They follow the pattern of...

The Presence of God
Freedom in God
Consciousness
The Word
Conversation
Conclusion

You can also find Sacred Space online at sacredspace.ie

I wrap up my time of contemplation with a daily text from the director of Seedbed. Seedbed is a publishing company associated with Asbury Theological Seminary. Seedbed is a Methodist movement seeking to bring people closer to Christ. Their doctrine is Wesleyian. You can subscribe to a short daily devotional from Seedbed's director J.D. Walt that is emailed to your inbox. The devotional is short, meditative and closes with introspective questions. I find these short devos challenging and thoughtful.

That's my process. It usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes. But those ten minutes make a huge difference in my day. I function better. My mind is clearer. My purpose in life reinforced. And most importantly I feel a deeper connection with my Savior.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Empty Classrooms


Public education faces many challenges. But one challenge that I don't hear mentioned much in the media or by parents is actually one of the most concerning. I'm speaking of the number of absences accrued by students due to extra-curricular activities and special "school related" activities.

I have students who miss up to six weeks of the school year due to "school related" events. I thought this problem might be unique to my school, but I have discovered, after conversing with teacher friends of mine who teach all over the United States, that it is a problem in high schools everywhere. I'm not talking about absences due to illness or personal issues. I'm talking about absences due to activities run by the schools themselves. 

And the problem has only gotten worse in recent years. Who's at fault? Who's to blame? I'd have to say teachers and administrators. Many teachers and administrators have created a climate where it is perfectly acceptable to pull students from another teacher's class any time they want. Today, for example, I have seven sophomores who are missing the final day of review before tomorrow's AP World History Exam so they can attend a Rangers game. That's right, they're not missing for an educational reason, they are missing for a baseball game.

I wish I could say this is atypical, but it happens all year long and at schools all over the nation. Class time is simply not respected. Many of these teachers pulling kids out are the same ones who say that teaching is a profession that is not respected enough by society. I find this completely hypocritical. They show utter contempt for what happens in my classroom by assuming the student can just "make-up" the missed work. They completely negate the importance of the teacher led instruction. Why, as a teacher, do I even bother crafting lesson plans if the student can just "make it up" later? I might as well just photo-copy a bunch of worksheets for the entire year and just let the students work on their own pace. Why do I even bother showing up?

Some of this, I believe, is due to the rise of online education. Online education can be beneficial in certain situations and in small doses. But now, we have entire degrees, undergraduate and post-graduate, that can be attained completely online. I've seen much of the coursework of online courses and they are often a joke. They completely discount the importance of face to face interaction with an expert. They rule out the importance of dialogue and conversation with other learners in a shared setting. As a result, we've created a situation where teachers are just an appendage, a highly paid baby-sitter. Just post the work and let the students get to it.

So we have Band, Tennis, Golf, Ag, "Academic" Competitions, and a host of other activities taking our kids out of the classroom at will. We have NHS, Special Olympics, Blood Drives, and Field Trips taking our kids out on a weekly basis. Many of these are noble pursuits and worthwhile. But they've been allowed to get out of control. Many events that can be done after school or on weekends have been allowed to fall during school days. These outside events should be integrated into the school calendar in a measured and reasonable way.

It is extremely demoralizing to teachers who actually try to do their job. The problem is endemic and has become a cultural norm. When 50 percent of my advanced placement students have missed over three weeks of instruction due to school related activities, then we have serious problems in our educational system. When you walk into your classroom and find it half empty on a regular basis it becomes really hard to remain motivated to put your all into the instruction. I continue to do so for the students who do show up. But it is a beating when so many are gone and then you have to put in extra time to help those kids make up their work since they were absent.

This is not the kids fault. This falls on the offending teachers. This falls on principals and administrators. This also falls on parents who allow it to happen and never question why their student has missed 24 days of class due to school events. It's not a trivial complaint. It is a problem that goes to the root of our understanding of the value of classroom education. Sure, education is evolving and much is learned outside of the classroom. However, there has to be balance. Right now, the balance is extremely out of whack, not just in Texas...but all over the United States.