For Lynn on Her “Mother’s” Day

My wife, Lynn, is very modest in what she wants in life.  No fancy cars, clothes or jewelry for this girl.  Oh….I’m sure she would like all that stuff but the fact that she married a guy who was not exactly rich prevented her from having to “worry” about all those trappings.

What Lynn does love is a strong sense of family and today, the day before Mother’s Day, I think she got it.

About a month ago, Andrew, our oldest who is married and lives in Baltimore, was here for the Monument Avenue 10k Race.  Andy has kept the Bagby voracious-appetite-curse at bay by running daily and had never done the Monument Avenue.  While here, he spoke with Lynn about coming back down and walking the Susan Komen Race for the Cure with her the day before Mother’s Day.  Catherine, my middle child, who has been working out like crazy lately, also threw in on the adventure and an ensuing lunch was planned.

What Lynn didn’t know was that I also had secretly registered and was going to do it as well.  I’ve been more active lately after a small bout of a recurring illness and am anxious to get back on the bike.  On Thursday, Andrew came down and all three of them went to get their registration packets.  I told Lynn to get mine and she was pleasantly surprise!!

What was ALSO a surprise was Jack, our youngest, had ALSO registered.  The whole family was going to walk the race together.  It’s the together part that meant so much to Lynn.

The Race for the Cure is a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) event that is held every year starting at Brown’s Island to benefit breast cancer.  Lynn is an 11 year breast cancer survivor and has done this event several times.  I’ve written about us both having cancer but what I have is nothing compared to what Lynn had to endure.  Surgery, chemotherapy and medication while I’ve had to just keep an “eye” on things.  Here’s a link to what I wrote about that time in our life

When you arrive at Brown’s Island it’s like a big party.  Music, tents with food vendors and photographers about.  You know who the breast cancer survivors are because they wear a special shirt; this year it was a solid hot pink.  You’ll see people like Lynn who have survived for many years and you’ll see women there with scarves on their heads; the badge of one who undergoes chemotherapy.  Some people wear tickets on their back they say who they are honoring or who they are remembering.  In honor of Tiffany.  In Karen’s memory.  My mom is a 5 year survivor.

I saw one family at the start who had (and I’m guessing here) a 70 year old mother who wore the survivor t shirt and was in one of those huge adult sized running strollers.  What had to be her daughter also had a solid pink shirt as well.  There were probably four or so granddaughters and grandsons running around the older lady taking turns pushing her the 3.1 miles.  I so wanted to take a picture of this family but to do so would have been an intrusion on the sacred.

We had a great time walking around Brown’s Island.  We stopped and took some pictures and even looked for a couple of geocaches.

Once the “race” started it was like a moving party.  So much chatter and laughter.  Sometimes I walked in silence just to listen to the banter between Catherine, Jack and Andy.  Catherine whose heart is so light and cheerful.  Andrew with his deadpan humor and encyclopedic knowledge and Jack who will say something so surgically hilarious that it almost makes me pee my pants.  No one gets to me like Jack.  Honestly I don’t know where he gets it.

The race meanders across the Manchester Bridge, takes a right then meanders to the Lee Bridge which you takes you back across the James River to get back to the starting point near Brown’s Island. You’re never alone during the whole walk.  It’s elbow to elbow most of the time and you’ll bump into each other and say your “sorries” and laugh.  A river of pink crisscrossing the James in defiance of this monster called breast cancer.

We all made it back to the start after seeing several people we knew along the way.  We went to a restaurant called “Bellytimber Tavern near VCU where Catherine, Lynn and I received our degrees; from the college not the Tavern.  We had food and beverages that more than offset the caloric expenditure of the race and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

I haven’t talked to Lynn about it yet.  We all came home and took a nap; another time honored Bagby tradition.  I AM willing to bet this might have been her best Mother’s Day yet.  Yes I know it’s really tomorrow.  She was grinning from ear to ear the whole time.  Let me change that.  She was literally beaming.  The radiant mother of three amazing kids; one an Air Force Linguist, one a Autistic Behavioral Therapist and the other a Technology guru.

When you’re a parent you have big doubts about how your children will turn out. You fumble around and try to provide the right guidance and say the right things but the truth is you don’t really know what you’re doing.  Nobody does.  It’s more art than science.  All that being said, with all the degrees and job honors they have garnered, I was most proud of my children today.  Showing up to support an angel in pink.

The End – not really

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The Real Math Behind Standardized Testing (SPOLIER ALERT – this number is involved – 2,500,000,000 )

STANDARDIZED TEST

The other day at 1:00PM,  I didn’t know if I could make it to the end of my shift at work which was over at 1:30PM.  I was hating life.  WAS is the key word here.  Then I looked down at my phone and started reading some of the posts on the Chesterfield Education Associations page of teacher’s presentations to the school board.  Stories of stress, illness and frustration abounded but what was really frustrating to me was the dispassionate manner in which it was all received by the school board.

I then gladly finished my shift and went to have lunch with my sweetheart.  I am a lucky man.

That being said it made me quite sad to hear all the stories my teacher friends tell me about how stressful and crazy it is.  This June will mark my first full complete year of retirement and I STILL feel guilty for retiring.  I feel guilty for leaving my friends behind to fight a fight that seems almost impossible.  May is PRIME Standards of Learning testing time in  Virginia.  You can smell it in the air and see it in the reviewing ad nauseam, sending packets of information home along with hours and hours of “test taking” strategies.

When I was in fifth grade at Apple Grove Elementary, I can remember looking at that darn clock; willing it to move faster so we could go outside and play baseball.  Yes…we played baseball.  We played tackle football.  We drank water out of the tap.  Didn’t take a daily bath in Purell  We threw dodge balls at each others heads and it was ALL less harmful than what we’re doing to kids these days in classroom.  We are robbing them of their childhood and instilling a hatred of learning.  Actually what we’re doing is not technically teaching them to learn at all.

“Test taking strategies” is same thing in my book as “IRS loophole.”  If the IRS implements a new rule for taxes there are accountants who are figuring a way around the law before the ink is even dry.  So rather than learn about the wonders of the world God has given us, we give them strategies and work a rounds when it comes to taking the test.

If you looked at the Standards of Learning ( what the student needs to know) it would be hard to argue against it.  Knowing about World War II or how to multiply three digits or the colors of visible spectrum are all wonderful standards to know or understand.  When you implement a one size fits all test to assess this knowledge AND when you make a person’s job contingent on the results then you corrupt that knowledge into a commodity.

A typical school year last 40 weeks.  At least 2-3 weeks of the year are devoted solely to taking the actually test.  You might think that doesn’t sound so bad because that leaves 37-38 weeks of awesome baking-soda volcanoes, field trips to the zoo, and science fairs.  That’s what you would think, however, what you get is weeks upon weeks of pre-tests, post tests, quarterly tests, benchmark tests, review and pretend Standards of Learning Tests.

At a recent school board meeting,  two teachers I have taught with spoke about just this topic.  I invite you to click on this link and click on the Swagit video button then go down and click on” public comments.”  Amanda and Tiffany do a much better job than I do at explaining what a time AND energy drain testing it.

Teachers are miserable.  Students are miserable and parents are miserable.  So if everyone is miserable then why does this madness continue?  Here’s a possible answer:

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The revenue for the National Football League for the year 2013 by comparison was 9 billion.  $2.5 billion dollars!!  We all want the madness to stop, but I don’t think the test makers want $2.5 billion to go away.  I won’t go into conspiracy theory here but $2.5 billion will probably get you a lot of tote bags and free lunches if you’re the guy in charge of buying tests whether you’re on the State Board of Education, an school district administrator or whatever.   And at what cost?  At the cost of a disenfranchised generation is the answer.  A generation of kids who look to Instagram, Facebook and God-knows-what else to get the love and guidance that they should have gotten from us.

I can think of so many amazing conversations I’ve had with kids over the years at times when I technically should have been teaching them how to “succeed” on the Standardized Tests.  Yet when I get emails, texts or Facebook posts from them these days, not a one of them one mentions all the GREAT test taking strategies I taught them.  I guess what I gave them was more valuable.  Just not 2.5 billion valuable

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An Open Letter to All My Teacher Friends

Disclaimer:  I know said I was retiring my blog but I couldn’t help but write this one after reading the posts on the Chesterfield Education Association Facebook page.

Dear Teacher Friends,

I have read with horror and dismay the trials you are all going though this year and for the past several years.

Many of you have mentioned colleagues who are thinking of resigning or who have resigned. I fall into the latter category.

Last Spring, after teaching elementary for 8 years in Henrico and 11 years in Chesterfield, I decided to retire at age 56. After a long discussion with my wife, who retired from teaching after 30 years, we decided that it was not healthy for me to continue. So I finished the school year and sadly walked away from a job I loved.

I loved teaching because it wasn’t a job. It was a calling. A calling to change lives in a meaningful way by instilling a love for your fellow man, a love of learning and a love of reading. Why? Why did I walk away from the only job among many jobs I have had in my life (machinist, engineering estimator, corporate trainer, sales) that I loved? I walked away because the recurring word in all those reasons was no longer an option in our current climate: love.

Nowhere in the Standards of Learning, all the initiatives, the Common Core or all the VDOE is the word “love” mentioned in a meaningful way. Even in Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” the word “love” is used many times over the linchpin word “evolution.”

So while much speculation has swirled about why I left, I left simply because the love had been micromanaged out of my day.

While I don’t mean to ostracize any non-Christian friends, there is a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:2 that may be appropriate.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

With kind regards,

Will Bagby teacher-retired

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Farewell and Happy New Year

This will be the last blog I write.  It’s been a fun ride these past four years or so and I really enjoyed sharing my feelings with all of you.

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I wrote my posts as a kind of therapy to help sort out the madness that went on in my head.  As time went by, I started to write more about social issues and including how they effected my job as a teacher and as a human.

lynn at the Ashland Coffee and Tea Co.

I’ve written about my dad, my wife, my kids, biking, teaching, cancer, anniversaries and growing up.

Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist teacher, once told the story of a 56 year old friend that had cancer of the brain.  The surgeons gave him a choice.  He could not have surgery and have six months to live or he could have the surgery but the chances were VERY high that cutting the tumor out would take away his ability to speak.  The man stated, “I’ve said all I’ve needed to say so I’ll have the surgery.”  I’m also 56 and I’ve said all I’ve needed to say.

I didn’t really think anyone would read it.  Mostly friends and family have read the blog and made such kind comments and for that I am truly grateful.

Despite a degree in English, I often asked Lynn to edit the posts and I would like to publicly thank her for that.

After I retired in June, I found it harder to come up with topics to blog about and I guess that’s to be expected.  I’ve sat on the idea of stopping the blog for the last few weeks thinking I would change my mind, but in the end I always knew it was time.

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I didn’t write to change the world or showcase my pitiful writing skills.  I wrote just to express what I thought was in everyone’s head.  The old saying, “If you could name; you can claim it” applied to this blog.   I was trying to claim it.

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Now that the New Year is upon us, I wish you all a Happy New Year and much happiness.  I will continue to enjoy my semi-retirement.  I am slowing getting back on the bike and losing the pounds, reading more books, doing more genealogy research, sleeping later, geocaching more and enjoying my part time job and new friends.  I have a wife who loves me, kids who are amazing adults, a brother who is inspirational, a dog that drives me crazy and many friends.  When I sat down to think about retiring and looked at my budget, I did not list these aforementioned things as assets.  Turns out I am very wealthy.

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What It Is is What It Was

For our anniversary, I gave us both a kind of unique present – a DNA kit.  Lynn’s dad has been an amateur genealogist for years; digging around into the history of his family (Jones’ and McCoy’s from North Carolina) and Lynn’s mom’s family (the DesAutels–French Canadians).  He can only get so far then he hits road blocks.

On my mom’s side – the Sharpe’s – I did some research and can only get back as far as the Civil War.  I really hadn’t done that much research on them until recently and it’s a work in progress.

The Bagby side of my family is much easier to research because most of it has been done by a couple of people already.  There’s even a website dedicated to it; Bagby.org.  The basic research is pretty solid for the most part and it traces us all the way back to a James Bagby who came to Jamestown around 1628 or so.  James’ country of origin is hotly debated among Bagby researchers.  Many cling to the belief that great-to-th -power of 10-grandpa-James, was from Scotland.  This opinion has no documentation to support it and the author of the Bagby.org website does a great job of pointing that out.

Also pointed out is the fact that there is a town of Bagby in Yorkshire, England.  Here is an excerpt from the website in regards to the village and how it may have gotten its name:

By John C. Downing (deceased, this was his last column)

Bagbey/Bagby

The surnames Bagbey and Bagby are English place names acquired from once having lived at a place in the North Riding of Yorkshire, spelled Baghebi in the 1066 Domesday Book, Baggaby around 1160, Baggebi in 1280 and now Bagby. The meaning is “Baggi’s By” Baggi was an Old Norse personal name of uncertain meaning and it is found compounded with other words among the Danish settlements in England. – from Bagby.org

I also did some reading from a couple of books about the history of Louisa County;  which is where I grew up.  The Bagby’s settled there in the early 1700’s.  We were ministers, doctors, farmers and anything else you can imagine.

Lynn and I like watching shows where they trace people’s genealogy back as far as they can like Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots.  As you can expect both of the shows are heavily sponsored by Ancestry.com and they heavily promote their DNA service to help you find the origin of your family.  So since I am a consumer and an American, I purchased a couple of kits for Lynn and me for our anniversary,  They came a few weeks ago and we immediately sent samples of our best saliva and waited,  The literature said that it would 6-8 weeks so I tabled my excitement and tried to forget about.

Christmas morning while I waited for everyone to awaken and Lynn was preparing breakfast, I opened up my email and lo and behold there was an email from the Ancestry.com with the heading “Your Results Are In.”  Merry Christmas to ME AND Lynn!!!

I opened them up and they were a bit surprising.  Here they are mu results (Lynn’s results were interesting as well):

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We’re 46% from western Europe which is France, Germany and southern Denmark.  That keeps the Denmark theory alive.  Next is 19% from Ireland which also makes sense to me because Louisa County (my county of origin) was heavily populated by the Scots and Irish. After Ireland is Great Britain with 17%, which also makes sense.

I don’t quite know what to make of it all but at its core it does all make sense.  It doesn’t really point to where ground zero was for the Sharpe’s or the Bagby’s but that’s okay.  I fully expected it to land me squarely in Great Britain for the most part so the France-Germany-Denmark connection was a bit surprising.

Well that probably wraps up my amateur genealogy research for awhile. I’m going to take a breather and maybe start back on the Sharpe side to see if I can get any further,   It was fun and interesting and was made so much easier with technology and the help of others

Does this change how I feel about myself as a person?  Not really.  I’m still how I grew up and the sum of my experiences.  Will, son of Walter who grew up in Bumpass.  Husband of Lynn-Father of Andrew, Catherine and Jack,  Machinist-Millwright-Project Estimator-Trainer-Teacher. Friend.

Happy New Year!!

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Living with It ALL

It’s a bit of a cheat to say this was my favorite Christmas gift.  I actually received it on December 23rd, 1977.  It was 7PM in the evening and it was given to me by Father Fred at Saint Bridget’s Church here in Richmond.   It was my marriage to Lynn.

lynnmeseaWhile I’ve written much about our marriage, I don’t know if my words can express my feelings.  Nicole Krauss’ words in the picture above are a good start.

Having a whirlwind romance, beautiful kids, a nice home and Hallmark Christmases does not make for a perfect marriage.  A perfect marriage to me has all of those things but it also has sickness, poverty, and strife.  A perfect marriage, to me, has a balance of good and bad.  However calling the hard times “bad” may be a bit of a misnomer.  In Buddhism, all of life is suffering and it is how we dwell and accept the suffering that determines our happiness.  So you accept those times with an open heart and dwell in them with gratitude.  You endure the cancer, the children, the financial hard times, a bike accident, loss of a profession, aging parents, dying parents and you endure it all together.

I was watching an interview with the actor Mark Ruffalo and the interviewer asked him how he has dealt with the murder of his well-known Hollywood-hair stylist brother a few years ago.  He said something very profound.  He said, “You don’t get over it.  You just learn to live alongside it.”

If you’re lucky, which I am, you have someone special to “live alongside it” with you. This December 23rd my favorite gift and I will mark our 37th wedding anniversary.  And while it is true we have “live(d) alongside” our share of the “bad” times, it is also true that we have had more than our share of the good times.  I’m grateful for them both; the good and bad because I lived them with Lynn in the Grace of our Lord.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

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Living with It ALL

It’s a bit of a cheat to say this was my favorite Christmas gift.  I actually received it on December 23rd, 1977.  It was 7PM in the evening and it was given to me by Father Fred at Saint Bridget’s Church here in Richmond.   It was my marriage to Lynn.

lynnmeseaWhile I’ve written much about our marriage, I don’t know if my words can express my feelings.  Nicole Krauss’ words in the picture above are a good start.

Having a whirlwind romance, beautiful kids, a nice home and Hallmark Christmases does not make for a perfect marriage.  A perfect marriage to me has all of those things but it also has sickness, poverty, and strife.  A perfect marriage, to me, has a balance of good and bad.  However calling the hard times “bad” may be a bit of a misnomer.  In Buddhism, all of life is suffering and it is how we dwell and accept the suffering that determines our happiness.  So you accept those times with an open heart and dwell in them with gratitude.  You endure the cancer, the children, the financial hard times, a bike accident, loss of a profession, aging parents, dying parents and you endure it all together.

I was watching an interview with the actor Mark Ruffalo and the interviewer asked him how he has dealt with the murder of his well-known Hollywood-hair stylist brother a few years ago.  He said something very profound.  He said, “You don’t get over it.  You just learn to live alongside it.”

If you’re lucky, which I am, you have someone special to “live alongside it” with you. This December 23rd my favorite gift and I will mark our 37th wedding anniversary.  And while it is true we have “live(d) alongside” our share of the “bad” times, it is also true that we have had more than our share of the good times.  I’m grateful for them both; the good and bad because I lived them with Lynn in the Grace of our Lord.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

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My Not So Secret Affair

Once a week, for the last year and a half or so, I sneak away from Mrs. Bagby early in the morning to meet a younger woman.  We meet at our favorite Starbuck’s on Forest Hill.  We ARE an unlikely pair.  She grew up near and attended St. Catherine’s School then went on to the University of Virginia. She lived what could be called a comfortable lifestyle with her lawyer dad and mom.  I grew up in a less comfortable upbringing in Louisa County and went to VCU for a semester and dropping, finishing my degrees later in life. My dad was a sixth grade- educated logger for a local sawmill (see the “I Miss My Dad” blog post for how much I loved my dad).

She’s at least 20 years my junior, attractive, tall and lithe.  I have what you might call an interesting face and am built like a refrigerator.

We are quite the most unlikely of close friends, and I’m sure our “trysts” get more than a few quizzical stares when we sip our lattes at the coffee shop.  Yet there is common ground and a reason for our weekly coffees.  Two in fact.

One is we taught (until I retired) at the same school for most of the eight years I was there.  She taught kindergarten, and I taught fifth.  I didn’t really talk to her that much at first.  The difference in lifestyles and ages seemed too vast.  She was the Fan, and I was the West End and never the twain would meet until….

Until she came down with a brain tumor about five years ago.  A brain tumor that surgery and radiation could not completely erase.  Still I prayed for her health and spoke to her from time to time about it.  She looked like she had tons of support and would be O.K. with a cautious lifestyle and observation.

The second link in our common chain would become that word –  “observation.”   It was two years ago almost to this day that I was told I also had cancer- prostate cancer.  It was two years ago that I was given the option of just observing the cancer and making sure it also did not change (which it has not – at all).  Believe me when I say I am VERY lucky.

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So it was this beautiful young spirit that sought me out for solace and sympathy.  Not sympathy from me to her, but from her to me.  You see she didn’t see the difference in our ages or upbringing as a barrier to our friendship.  She just saw someone who was in need of support, and thus began our weekly coffees where we actually talk little of our conditions and more about everything else.  You know……like friends do.

I’ve learned so much from her.  She lives her life to the fullest and enjoys her students, her friends and her family.  She’s active in the Massey Alliance (a cancer charity here in Richmond) and loves to run, ski and go out with friends.

What was a curse became the tinder (no… not THAT Tinder) for a growing friendship that, if God is willing, will last for many years.

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Freakanomics and No Child Left Behind

In the book Freakanomics Steven Levitt posits that the recent decrease over the past few years in the rate of violent crime can directly be attributed to the landmark Supreme Court decision on abortion in 1973.  Levitt states that since abortion became possible the number of unwanted pregnancies (and thus children) dramatically decreased.   Since these “unwanted” children did not grow up in an atmosphere where they could not thrive they did not enter the violent crime pipeline. Simply put less unwanted/unloved children equals less violent people in society according to Levitt.  This was all expressed in his book Freakanomics and does not reflect my values or views on the subject necessarily.  I prefer to keep that private.

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In 2001 Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  In its simplest iteration NCLB requires individual states to create standardized tests that show student improvement and an adherence to a common core of knowledge.  This was  particularly promoted in those schools with children who don’t have the luxury of parents living at or above the poverty line.  These schools with a preponderance of these economically disadvantaged children are labeled Title I schools, and they receive enhanced funding from from the federal government.

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On the surface one might expect this to be a really great policy for students and teachers.  Truth be known is that it actually was a good policy in the beginning. The state of Virginia took the already established (1992) Standards of Learning Tests that were given in grades 3 thru 12 and increased the rigor (a popular educationese buzzword).  The federal government then increased the pass rates, and the failure to meet these pass rates may have resulted in funds being yanked from the state and school divisions.

Here’s where it went horribly wrong.  As scores started to dip, administrators and school district bureaucrats started to buy into policy after policy and strategy after strategy in a knee jerk reaction to increasing scores.  As these layers of technology initiatives, new math strategies, and reading strategies came into play so did teacher accountability.  This increased the requirement for report after report to be generated and in some cases duplicated and triplicated by the teacher.  This perfect storm on increasing standards and teacher accountability has resulted in what may be the lowest case of teacher morale in the history of teaching in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Less time was being spent on the basics of math, reading and science and more time was give to test taking skills and strategies.  More importantly less time was being spent on social interactions and teaching values to a segment that so desperately needs this at this time in our history.  The micromanagement of the teaching process had begun.

Last year was my last year of teaching, and I hated what we were doing.  I taught fifth grade.  In other blogs I have posted, I wrote about how reading saved my life, and it was not hyperbole.  Last year I didn’t teach reading.  We were told to have the students read short passages, teach them minute, little strategies about how to think about what they were reading (what was the author trying to do here or what do we call this or that).  We hardly ever were given the chance to read a   BOOK!!!  We did, but we did so at the peril of some administrator or bureaucrat catching us doing it.  We had to give them sample Standards of Learning Tests periodically along with the Direct Reading Assessments three times a year to gauge their progress.  To prepare them for the reading SOL we spent untold hours on state websites taking sample tests and using our “strategies” to decipher what the heck they were asking us.  Good bye Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Matilda and Hoot.

That’s just one subject – reading

So how does this relate to Roe versus Wade and abortion? When your school day is filled with test preparation, strategies, reports and meetings; guess what it isn’t filled with?  Reading a great book?  Listening to a student who is having trouble at home?  Teaching values?  Wiping away tears or sharing laughs?  That’s right….all those things go away and what you are left with is a classroom full of confused, unloved children AND a teacher who is looking for a way out.

The child that was a result of an unwanted pregnancy might grow up to become a felon because of his environment according to Steven Levitt and Freakanomics.   What will the child that grew up in a classroom in Virginia grow up to become?  Both children come from a lack of love and caring, so is it a big leap to posit the same?

Roe versus Wade was passed in 1973, so the decrease in violent crime started to dip as the lack of those violent offenders turning 16 and up started to decrease around 1990.  No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, so a child who was kindergarten in then would be 16 or 17 today.  It will be interesting to see what kind of adult comes from this system.  I’m not quite sure they will be violent offenders, but I AM sure they will be a whole lot less kinder, and that is scarier to me.

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“And You and I…”

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A year ago, I was sitting in my classroom with one of my favorite students listening to music before the bell rang and the rest of the students entered the temporarily peaceful space.   Her mother was/is the guidance counselor at the school so she came in early with her mom. A couple of days of the week she would  help me around the classroom and the other days she would help her fourth grade teacher who she loved even more than me.  We would listen to music while we worked and talked.   She was introducing me to some new artists and I was sharing some of my “old” artists and it became a sort of ritual for us.  She would help with paperwork; I would update the gradebook or lesson plan and we would enjoy each others music and company.  We’d share life and make each other laugh.  This particular morning I turned to her and told her that I often thought that if I had to choose between losing my sight or my hearing that I might have to choose my sight because I love music SO much.  Her expressive hazel eyes got wide with excitement and she said she had had that same exact thought.

I DO love music!!!  Music has served as a type of timeline for my life.  A small piece of music will hurl me into a memory that might have vanished over the next few years if the subtle notes had not brought it back to life.  Hymns, country music, rock, classical….I love it all.

So was the case when I heard the song “And You and I” form the album Close to the Edge by Yes play by accident when I pushed the wrong button on my iPad.  It was 1974 I was 17 years old when “John” introduced me to the group.  I hated it but I loved John.  We both went to the same small Christian school.  We were as different as different could be.  I was from a relatively poor family living in the eastern part of the county and his family was wealthy and lived in the western end of the county.  My dad cut the trees; his dad owned the lumber processing mill.  He introduced me to more than Yes.  It was John who took me to the beach for the first time.  I lived 2 hours from the Atlantic Ocean but had never been.  It was John who showed me how to hunt crows with a record player.  He gave me my first Heineken and we went to his family’s farm and drank beers and shot skeet.  He had a zest for life and a personality that was engaging and made him a favorite of the ladies and envy of the guys.  He had so many of the same qualities as my dad that in retrospect it might have been the reason I was drawn to him (click here for the blog about my dad).

As I sat in my office working my part time job, I let the whole album play in the background.  I thought of John and how much I missed him.  How much we all missed him.  He passed away a few years ago.  Too soon.  I had reconnected to him through Facebook but never messaged or talked to him personally.  Just another “friend” on each others so-called friend list.  I listened to the whole album that shift.  “Close to the Edge” was the only music on my playlist for the entire six hour shift.  It played in the background – sent to my bluetooth speaker from my iPhone – wireless notes – wireless friendships.  I missed John;  his spirit and what he stood for.  I don’t regret too many things in my life but I regret not re-connecting with him in a more meaningful way.  He truly lived his life close to the edge.  I’m not ashamed to say that few times during that shift when I allowed John and the music to meld into my consciousness, I teared up.

Today I spent most of the day looking over our expenses, cutting back, changing my email address, entering a new debit card number into accounts and trying to make our life simpler.  Lynn was working one of her required 28 teaching days for her county pension.  So I once again cued up “Close to the Edge” and started to slash unnecessary expenses and clear out emails, and paperwork.  I thought of John and said a prayer.  I asked God to give me a zest for life and the love of friends and simple things that he had.

To that end, when Lynn came home and I proudly showed her all the money and time I was saving us, I also told her I was thinking of getting rid of my Facebook account.  She gave me the look and said, “I don’t think you really want to do that.  You have too many friends that you want to keep in touch with.”  I do but I was irritated with myself for not using it in a meaningful way like I should have with John.  It felt superficial and not very-John-like.  Lynn smiled at me and went to take a well-deserved shower.  I sat pondering what to do and that’s when the lyric from “And You and I”

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning.
And you and I reach over the sun for the river.
And you and I climb, clearer, towards the movement.
And you and I called over valleys of endless seas.

Maybe I shouldn’t get rid of my Facebook account.  There are many lessons out there for me to learn and they should be done with great friends.  And you and I.

PS–  Click on the album cover at the top of the blog for a live version of the song “And You and I”  I’m a geezer so it might not be your cup of tea.

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