Saturday, February 23, 2019

Crumbs

Collaboration versus brinkmanship.
When I walked into my school on the day before I was to join the picket line outside it, I reflected once again on the sad nature of politics. Why, I wondered, aren't the teachers, parents and administration united on this struggle to put funding into our district? Our superintendent assures us all that she believes that teachers need to be paid more, and anyone who has walked the hallways and playgrounds of East Oakland knows that there is plenty of money to be spent on bringing facilities up to twenty-first century standards.
And yet somehow we stand across this gulf of the debate about how those funds should be disseminated and managed. I keep flashing on the bumper sticker from the 1970s  that read, "

It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get All the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber." So while teachers keep leaving our district in waves when they realize that their dreams of being the teacher who watches kids grow up around them while filling their heads with useful knowledge, educators fight over scraps.

From where I am sitting, I can poke and prod at the finances of my district over the past twenty-plus years. At no point was there a discussion that went like this: "You know, I think we may be spending too much on the kids. And those teachers are getting rich, so we really don't have to worry about their salaries." Instead, money has been thrown at programs and consultants in hopes that some magic could be found to break the cycle of underachievement and overspending. 
So here we stand, glaring across the bargaining table, hoping that the scraps that the state and federal budgets will somehow fill the gap between getting by and just getting by. As a nation, we are spending more than fifty-four percent of our money on our military: almost six hundred billion dollars a year. The sliver of that pie that goes to education is seventy billion. Which is why we need a bake sale or two to get us to the next bargaining session. 
Here we are, staring down other educators, arguing over ever smaller pieces of that pie. I am wondering why we aren't working together to figure out how to get the whole thing.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

For Shame

In a world where scandal doesn't seem too hard to find, it seems that there is no end of finger-pointing. He said this about her who was caught doing something he knew was wrong when she was supposed to be correcting the thing that had been abused by the party of the first part. And the chorus of boos rains down while cries for this or that person to resign as a result of the way things were mishandled. If you are reading this in Virginia, please let me know if there is still a government there.
As I have suggested here before, it seems that Democrats have taken those cries, for the most part to heart. Stepping down and out was rising progressive superstar Al Franken, who was caught in the initial wave of #MeToo. Fellow Democrats called for his resignation, and that is what he did. Meanwhile, Roy Moore pressed on with his candidacy for the Alabama senate seat that he campaigned for while accounts of sexual misconduct with minors piled up. Which garnered him an endorsement from the "President." The good news here is that a thumbs-up from the Cheeto in Charge had its somewhat predictable return: Moore lost, and then sued to keep the election results from being certified.
Meanwhile, all the stories of the "President's" sundry misbehavior before he became a candidate for the highest office in our land has largely gone forgotten in favor of the potential capital crimes in which he participated once he stopped being a game show host. 
And Anthony Weiner will be released from jail in May. The former Representative from New York left federal prison after being convicted of having illicit online contact with a fifteen year old girl in 2017. He will now register as a sex offender in his home state. Which may have a limiting factor on his interest in running for elected office anytime soon. Before he was convicted, Weiner polled just five percent in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City. 
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to Congress. About an affair he had with an intern. He was not removed from office. Bill, if you recall, was a Democrat. 
So where is the shame? It would not appear to be a party-based reaction. Unless it's about finger-pointing. That's where we come together as a country. 
Sleep tight, America. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Kicked

"I rounded first, never thought of the worst as I studied the shortstop's position."
If you are familiar with the works of Jimmy Buffett, then you know that what happens shortly after that is our narrator's leg snaps "like the shell of an egg." I am fortunate that this is not precisely what happened to yours truly as I attempted to play kickball with a group of second graders last week. No fractures. All my bones intact. My pride and standing in the community a little shaken, and a great big raspberry on my left knee.
The title of that song by Jimmy Buffett? "Growing Older But Not Up."
For the record, I had given the soccer ball that we were playing with enough of a ride that even after I picked myself up off the ground and limped on around the bases that I still managed to score a home run. It also helped that a number of the kids initially rushed to my aid, diminishing their fielding options by that same number.
Yes, it did occur to me that I could just lay there for a moment and let their concern wash over me. This was one of those humanizing moments that don't come up too often in an elementary school. Just like the way students struggle to comprehend that I have a wife and a son, that I go to movies, that I have played a video game, they don't know precisely how to react when their teacher falls down.
One little girl asked if I needed a band-aid. That's when I lifted up my pants leg to inspect the wound. The asphalt had done its work, and though it wasn't the bloody mess that some of them had anticipated, there was still a little gasp as they huddled around home base, wondering what might happen next. Did this mean there would be no more PE for the day?
It would take more than this scrape to keep Mister Caven down. I made a brief check of the rest of my systems to see if the rest of me was online. Glasses, cell phone, whistle, keys. Roger, ready and raring to go once again. Increasing my legend just a little bit in the eyes of my young charges, but making the next few days a little more challenging as I negotiated the rubbed raw portion of my leg through my routines.
When the third graders came out, I let them kick the ball. I coached. I'm old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Enough

Aurora. Not in Colorado this time. They have had their share of trouble like this. Instead this Aurora is in Illinois. I recognize this place as a place where AllSteel office furniture is spawned. Five days a week for about four years, I saw that address on multiple cartons and crates as I opened them, emptied them, and eventually recycled them. I didn't work for AllSteel. I worked for a third party installer servicing the Denver metro area. Not far from Aurora, Colorado. It could be that I went with a crew to put in some chairs or some desks in this suburb of the Mile High City. Aurora meets Aurora.
I was also amused to find, mostly by coincidence, that Wayne's World was located in Aurora, Illinois. Wayne's World was a very popular series of skits on Saturday Night Live starring the very popular Mike Myers. Driving around town in an AMC Pacer, singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody, these cartoonish teenagers weren't installing furniture, they were making their way to the big time after being discovered on community access Channel 10. There was a lot of air guitar, but no gunfire.
That image of Aurora, Illinois ended this past Friday when the city joined the ever-expanding list of cities that have experienced a mass shooting. A factory employee who was on his way to being fired chose instead to kill five of his co-workers. With a gun a previously convicted felon such as himself should not own. Then he was either killed by officers who arrived on the scene or he killed himself. Six dead, an additional factory worker injured along with five responding officers in the gunfire.
So ends the amusing anecdotes and coincidences.
If there was an eerie link to the factory, like that it manufactured steel office furniture, then this story would take some sort of personal turn. Nope. The factory that was shot up manufactures water distribution products. And no connection to TV funnyman Mike Myers. No Bohemian Rhapsody. No laughs. Just another senseless waste of human life at the end of a gun.
The connection? Maybe that this all happened the day after the one year anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Florida. Teenagers were killed there. Like the character played by Mike Myers in Wayne's World. Or maybe it's just another in a series. We humans long for connections and try to make sense of the way chaos interferes with our well-planned lives.
Enough is enough.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fire And Rain

Twelve years ago, I was the father of a nine year old. I had just passed the thirteen year mark of wedded bliss. As a nation, we had yet to experience the Obama years, and were enduring Dick "Dick" Cheney's Monster Truck Rally of an administration. Robert Downey Jr. had yet to make a splash as Iron Man and Nelly Frutado was still a thing. 
Seems like forever?
Well, if you take that decade and change and flop it over the top into the future, that would tell you how much time we have left before climate change becomes irreversible. Allowing the maximum temperature increase one and a half degrees Celsius will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. 
I know. Look out the window at all that rain and snow. I wish we could have some of that Global Warming right now. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Tiny brains that do not understand the difference between climate and weather should keep their babble to themselves. For twelve years. Until we can stem the tides that come with rising sea levels and polar ice caps melting, keep your pointed heads under your tin foil hats and leave the science to scientists.
In twelve years, I hope to be meeting my grandchildren. At this point, I hope that I won't have to apologize to them for their ticking time bomb of a planet, left to them by people who didn't want to listen and who instead felt that global warming was a punchline to be used whenever the thermometer dropped below forty degrees Fahrenheit. Severe weather events, such as the hurricane to which our "President" responded by tossing paper towels into a crowd, are becoming more frequent. Droughts, floods, tornadoes: these are all part of our future. And worse. 
In twelve years, I would like to take my grandchildren to Colorado. To visit. Not to escape rising sea levels. In twelve years, I would like to look back at this warning as just that, and not a prediction of what is to become of our big blue marble. While there are those who scoff at the idea of "giving up our cars and our jet airplanes," there are plenty of us willing to make sacrifices to keep our planet inhabitable for a few more generations. If that means we'll be listening to Nelly Furtado's new album on communal stereos, maybe that's the sacrifice we'll all have to make. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Just Click Your Heels

It has always irked me that Dorothy could have gone home at any time during her stay in Oz. While travelling the somewhat treacherous path known as the Yellow Brick Road, any concerned Munchkin or Good Witch could have mentioned the deal about the Ruby Slippers to her and she could have been on her way. Magically. With her little dog. Without having been captured by winged monkeys or tormented by any of the strangers and trees she met along the way. But apparently it is important to teach young girls from Kansas a lesson by making her run the Technicolor gauntlet run not by a Wizard, but in his own words "a very bad man."
All of which begins to sum up my reactions to our "President" deciding to go ahead and declare a state of emergency in order to get his "wall" built. After months and months of holding the nation's collective feet to the fire and promising all kinds of different ways to make his multi-billion dollar boondoggle happen, he has landed on this new convoluted deal after having exhausted any sort of legislative deal with an increasingly less than cooperative Congress.
I wonder if Darth Vader would have caved in a similar fashion if denied funding for his Death Star. "You underestimate the power of and Executive Order."
"The President" has pushed the shiny red button labeled "National Emergency." This gives him what he believes is supreme executive power in times of crisis, not unlike Dean Wormer of Faber College. Which may or may not be true, but this means that he really didn't need to shut down the entire government for a month and leave nearly a million federal employees without a paycheck. While Congress did agree to write a check for nearly two billion dollars of new fencing and other security enhancements, there is still not enough money to seal us off completely from the outside world like the Dome that Stephen King once imagined. And Mexico has not made their offer to keep our foolishness from contaminating their airspace, so it looks like we have a good old fashioned Idjit Standoff.
Which means another flurry of lawsuits and counter lawsuits and plenty more legal and political machinations costing billions more dollars than the original ridiculous price tag of constructing a monument to one man's ego that truly defines the man himself: A permanent divider.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

People I Know

As I stood in the library, looking around the room as strike preparations were being discussed, I took note of the faces. None of them were in the room the last time strike preparations were being discussed. Not that it has been forever and an age since strike preparations were being discussed. In the decades that I have spent in Oakland as a teacher, I have rarely worked with a valid and ratified contract. Those of us who teach here have worked on extensions and promises based on never fully settling the last one before the new one comes due. Perhaps as a result of this instability, the Oakland Unified School District has a problem with teacher retention.
I recognize this each time I attend one of those district wide trainings or gatherings of educators. It used to be easy to look into the crowd and catch the eye of colleagues from credential programs or substitute gigs that have become permanent placements. Now, as a veteran, I find that those encounters are fewer and farther between. My twenty-plus years of experience tend to elicit "wows" or murmurs of curiosity. At my school site I am in a league with our esteemed cafeteria supervisor for longevity. By an interesting coincidence, I count among our staff one of the people I knew in my credentialing program as a contemporary. I have him by a few years since I have been at the same site this whole time. He served elsewhere before landing his current slot just down the stairs from me.
So I can say that in our case, Oakland retains teachers. The gentleman who works down the hall from my credential buddy has been with our school for fifteen years. And from there, the tenure drops off considerably.
It's a hard job, that's for sure, and most civilians won't argue that the pay is not great. Making the slow uphill climb to a comfortable wage takes patience and sacrifice. A lot of fresh faces come through our doors and leave before they make it to that plateau. A single income in the Bay Area won't buy you a house. Not if that income is a school teacher's salary. So you can live in that studio apartment and save your nickels and dimes and work an extra job while the dysfunctional funding of the district forces you to purchase supplies for your students - or you can set out in search for greener pastures.
Money is green, get it ?
I wish that I could state categorically that this looming strike is all about the kids and we're doing it for the students and the truth is this: If we don't keep well-trained, committed teachers on the job, the students suffer regardless of class size and school closures. I don't want to look around our library again in a year at a new bunch of faces that are surprised to learn that "being good with kids" isn't enough. Knowing that your experience and enthusiasm is valued and will continue to be rewarded is what makes this engine run. I am striking to keep that room filled with people I know.