Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Student Becomes the Teacher Again!

Sarah Tantillo is the author of Hit the Drum: An Insider's Account of How the Charter School Idea Became a National Movement.  

I first met Sarah around 1995 when we were both in the Long Beach Island Elementary School. I was a 5th grade teacher, and Sarah was in my student. If you had told me then that by 2021 she would have four books and be one of the nation's top experts on the charter school movement, I wouldn't have doubted you for a moment. On the other hand, if you had told me that in 2021 she would be teaching me things about my wife of almost 55 years that would give me an even greater appreciation for her, I would ask you what you were smoking, but last night she did just that.

During an interview by Michael Scotto, one of her former students, she was asked to share some insights about how a parent can best support their child in school, and she told a story that hit me like a ton of bricks. Watch this six minute segment and I'll explain. 

 

If you ask me whether I prefer vanilla or chocolate, I would simply say, "Chocolate."  If you ask my wife the same question, you will likely hear about the first time she tasted a Hershey bar, the time my son put a bowl of vanilla ice cream on his head, her introduction Neapolitan ice cream, and the plot of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Eventually, I would get the answer I was looking for five  minutes earlier. 

After listening to Sarah, I realize that at the same time she was sitting in my 5th grade classroom, Jill had been that mother in the supermarket for five years with our children. While I was teaching Sarah and the other students at LBI, Jill was laying down the educational foundation for our children in ways that I couldn't begin to match.

So after 55 years of marriage, the next time I ask my wife a simple question, instead of getting impatient when she goes on a verbal safari, I will think of Sarah, the woman in the supermarket, two amazing kids, and I will be thankful and grateful for all she has done.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Chuck Brodsky, Holocaust Awareness, and Schools

Normally, the video would come at the end of my blog post, but don't waste your time reading my words until after you watch how Chuck Brodsky helps students at the Pine School in Florida relate to the Holocaust in a unique and powerful way. 

This all started about two months ago, when I wrote about singer/song writer Chuck Brodsky, his thoughtful and reflective music. I explained how the pandemic was keeping him from touring, but how it offered a unique opportunity for schools and creative teachers to tap into a world class talent to provide a learning opportunity that would not be possible save for the pandemic.

Most of his songs are based on true stories that are windows into the human condition. They are insightful observations of life, how it is lived, and how it should be lived. I knew his songs of the Holocaust could help students connect to history in a way that no text book could ever do. I knew that if I wasn't retired, I would be looking for ways to connect Chuck with my students and give them life lessons and experiences in history, story telling, and writing in ways that could never be done through text books. 

My days in the classroom ended more than a decade ago, but my connections to schools and the like minded teachers I had worked over the years were still at it. After reaching out to Chuck with my thoughts about how his music could inspire students and offered to help connect him with schools and he took me up on my offer.

In the beginning of February, I reached out to my friend Karlheinz Haas, who was the Educational Technology Curriculum Director at Southern Regional, where I was teaching and consulting in the 90's. He's now at the Pine School in Florida where 8th grade teacher, Kim Yaris, conducts an annual Holocaust unit. 

The class had already read Eli Wiesel's "Night", done research, and had a visit from a classmate's father who was a Holocaust survivor. Kim's unit was based in story telling and after some planning it was decided that Chuck would could first conduct a Zoom concert, and perform some of his songs, tell their back stories, and answer questions as a way of leading the students into their culminating projects. Then about two weeks later he again once again met with the class for more in depth interviews about his life, his writing process, and to provide commentary and suggestions on their projects. It was one of the three most significant educational experiences of my 40+ years in education.

I documented the project and here's a 30 minute compilation of the activities. If you would like to connect Chuck before the pandemic begins to ease up and he resumes touring, you can reach him at chuck@chuckbrodsky.com .

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Chuck Brodsky, the Holocaust, Civil Rights, and Songs of Hope and Inspiration

If you are reading this, it is probably because we are Facebook friends and I personally asked you to come here. It's also very likely you are a teacher and we met because of our involvement with the Internet and school change. 

I have invited you here to meet Chuck Brodsky, who I met about 20 years ago. I'm hoping he can touch and enrich you life and possibly the lives of your students, the way he has mine. I know his songs, stories, and insights into the human condition will touch your hearts and I'm hoping they might fit in your classroom or curriculum.

I hope you will take the time to explore the links here and figure out ways to use his gift to reach the hearts and minds of your students in creative and powerful ways that can't be done with the simple written word alone.

I first met Chuck around the turn of the century shortly after Pandora launched and I set up a folk channel. The first song I heard was, Radio, the story of a football coach, in Anderson, South Carolina, and a kid they called Radio. That prompted me to buy the CD and after listening to it, the possibilities for use in the classroom excited me. One thing led to another. I went to see him perform, spoke with him after the show, and began planning a cross-curricular project for the students in our high school, but I digress. Here's Chuck singing Radio.

We are in the middle of a pandemic (stated Captain Obvious), and teachers are scrambling to create engaging online lessons. Musicians, such as Chuck, who make their living performing live are in much the same boat. To make ends meet, Chuck is doing Facebook and YouTube live concerts, the concerts are free and Chuck asks that you tip as you see fit. He also has all of his songs available to download, and I've been introducing him to educators who can tap into the richness of his songs and stories. 

I'm willing to bet that many, if not most of you will become Chuck Brodsky fans, and I hope you will use his songs in your classes. If you do you can support him in many ways.  Simply paying $1 to download one of his songs from Band Camp https://chuckbrodsky.bandcamp.com  would help, but I'm betting some of you have the wheels turning about a Zoom concert.

You could spend the next week listening to his songs just to figure out which ones might suit your curriculum, but I know you don't have that kind of time.  However, I do, and I know half of his songs by heart. There are at least two dozen songs that would overlap in a number of places and cover topics such as the holocaust, civil rights, values, immigration and more, including the division in our country today.

I've put together a short description of at least two-dozen songs on the topics listed above, along with links to them. If you are interested saving yourself hours of work locating the right songs for you and getting a copy of the list, or have any questions about the education potential, feel free to email me at awolinsky@3dwriting.com

Oh, and by the way, if you are thinking about songs that will excite your class about song writing or poetry, there a few dozen more that would fit the bill.  

If there is a silver lining in this Covid-19 cloud, it is that you have an opportunity to bring a world class talent into your classroom via Zoom at a school budget price. If you're interested in having Chuck work with you students, you can contact him directly at chuck@chuckbrodsky.com

Stay safe! Stay healthy! Stay sane!


Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Christmas Surprise

Here's a huge shout out to my son-in-law, Paul Kerstein, for taking the lead on making this Christmas special for Jill. It was a year and a half in the making. In early 2019, Paul and I were talking about my father-in-law, Jack Saylor, and his service in the submarine service during WWII. I didn't know much. 


Jack died less than three years after we were married. He never talked about his service to his family and of course I never asked him in the short time I knew him. The only story he ever shared with Jill was one of sinking a Japanese transport and what transpired after it sunk. Suffice it to say, they didn't take prisoners on the high seas, and like so many others, the man who left for war was not the man who came home and never would be again.

USS Lapon

All I really knew was the name of the submarine he served on, the information on his service card, and a few other details I could find in the public record. As we talked, Paul mentioned a flag display he had made for his uncle. I had the flag from Jack's casket in the basement and the plan was hatched (no pun intended). We used to fly it regularly when we lived in NJ, but was stained and faded on one side. I had it professionally cleaned, but Paul had to fold it 7 different ways to display it at its best.

Awards can only be secured by a blood relative. It was obvious I couldn't get Jill to sign the documents without letting the cat out of the bag, but my daughter could. That's when Paul took the lead. With Ranyde's access as a relative, Paul was able to dig into military records and found out things neither Jill nor I had any inkling of.  

Jack rose to the rank of Seaman 1st class, and worked in the torpedo room of the USS Lapon in four campaigns from 1942-1945. The Lapon was one of 214 US submarines that sunk 1264 enemy ships. Only 35 sank more than the Lapon.

Text messages went back and forth over the months, mostly me answering questions, doing progress checks, and discussing the best display case and how to get it. The about a year went by waiting for the government to come through with the items you see on display.  The last items arrived about a week before Christmas!

 

The display includes the Lapon patch, his stripes, and all the pins, ribbons and medals for which he qualified. The sub you see in the display box is a 1/350 EXACT replica of the Lapon, painstakingly and lovingly crafted by Paul. 

When Paul sent me the last text with the picture of the final product, I told him Jill always said he was the best son-in-law in the world, but after this it would be the galaxy.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Truth, Lies, Rumors, and Rumbles

The sacrifices and hardships endured by those who choose to serve are something most of us will never understand, but all of us should honor and cherish them. In keeping with my pledge to give thoughtful posts, I'll refrain from editorializing and offer this post in the hope it will help someone in some small way.

Today, on Facebook, Mess Wright said,  "My dad was a Vietnam vet who had some issues as a result. I got to grow up dealing with that. One brother served in combat in Kosovo and is totally traumatized from that. Another brother killed himself in his driveway after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump calling dead vets losers is not surprising but it’s just one more way he beats up decent people who have served the USA in ways his accidental presidency never has and never will. I’ll never understand those of you who still support him, and I never will. I want you all out of my life for now and forever." 

----------------------------------------------------

Her story, like many others, brought to mind my Uncle Harold. He was a WWII vet, but didn't speak about it much. One day, when I was about 12, I asked him what he did in the Army.  I didn't go into detail, but he told me of being stationed in Germany and of an anonymous poem pinned on the barracks bulletin board and the impact it made on him.

I sat transfixed as he recited it. It made such an impression on me, I asked him to write it down, and I memorized it that same day. Over the past 60+ years, the more I learned about the war, the more I realized, how much that poem said about his time overseas.  I have shared it with others hundreds of times and recited it in my mind thousands of times, but one time will live forever in my memory.

Back in the mid-90s, our teachers and administrators were in a battle with a board of education who ran the school district much like the country is current administration is running the country.  They had two agendas, neither of which had students in mind. In their efforts to implement them, the district suffered considerably. One was to get rid of the superintendent and the other was to cut spending as much as they could.  They started on the later as soon as they had the majority.  Sometime later, the superintendent resigned for the good of the district.  

The new superintendent, while not a puppet, was powerless to fight their decisions. Lies, backroom deals, cronyism, bullying, firings, transfers, and control of local media were their tools. If a teacher or administrator opposed them, they were called to task, fired, or transferred. After a year or more of this, I decided to use the internet to get the truth out, because I felt it was a tool that could make a difference. I created Truth, Lies, Rumors, and Rumbles.

Over a 6 month period, my battle became public as newspapers began getting wind of it a teacher taking on the board on the web. The battle was no longer local as my website won a Point 5% award in the education category and the Electronic Freedom Foundation offered legal help. I thanked the EFF and told them I would let them know if I needed any.  

I had a habit of fighting city hall, and as they say, this wasn't my first rodeo. More importantly, I had the advice of one of the top attorneys in the country, who just happened to be my first cousin. Before I began, I contacted him, told him I was going to take on the board, and knew they would come after my job at some point.  He told me exactly what to do and as things turned out, his advice was golden. 
   
When they eventually did come after me, it was a surprise attack. It happened one night at a televised board meeting. The meeting was almost over.  They had just come out of a non-public session. After getting up to make a comment, they attacked me. I couldn't believe what they were doing, because it violated state law, our contract, and more, which you will soon see. As it was happening, I couldn't believe it, but then as looked at the table and realized the board attorney who was a regular fixture at EVERY meeting, wasn't there to stop them as he had in other instances when they were getting ready to cross a line. I later found out as they came out of non-public, the board president told him he could go home, because there was only 5 minutes left in the meeting.  As it turned out, those 5 minutes were arguably the most important 5 minutes in the meeting. It became the next episode of As the Board Churns.

It was at that point I decided to get the state teacher association's legal department involved. Our first and only meeting was held on the morning of the next board meeting. After I filled the attorney in on what had transpired over the past 5 months, he asked if I had any documentation. I could hear it in his tone and see it in his body language, he had heard it before.  I knew he wasn't expecting the three ring binder filled with about 250 pages of notes, letters, newspaper clipping, and more.  His eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas.

As we continued, I asked what our next step should be, because the next board meeting was that night (Tuesday). He told me I had two choices.
1) I could sit in the audience and say nothing, and if they took any action against me, he would file in federal court by Thursday for violating my civil rights.  2) I could go in front of the board and say whatever I like, and if they took any action against me, he would file in federal court by Thursday for violating my civil rights.  I opted for number 2.

That night, as I stepped up to the podium, I saw the board attorney say something to the president. I began about a 10 minute speech that refuted everything they said during their attack on me, and then gave them a bit of their own medicine.  If looks could kill, I would have been struck dead on the spot. At one point, the VP was getting ready to say something when the attorney to put his hand his shoulder and just nodded his head, no  . It was obvious the attorney had updated them on how badly they had screwed up in the 5 minutes he was not at the previous meeting, because they never said a word.  I really don't remember what I said in the speech, or how I made the transition to the poem, but I can still see their faces every time I recite it.

I have hoped. I have planned. I have striven.
To the will I have added the deed;
All that is in me I've given
In the hope that I would succeed.

I have dared and reached only disaster,
I have battled and broken my lance;
I am struck by a pitiless master
That the weak and the timid call Chance.

I am old. I am bent. I've been cheated
Of all that youth urged me to win;
But name me not with the defeated,
For tomorrow, again I begin.

Prologue:
Shortly after that, I reached out to LM_NET, the Internet's largest mailing list of librarians, to try to find out who wrote the poem. They came through in flying colors.  The poem was titled, Unsubdued, and was written by S.E. Kiser. The version above, is how my uncle remembered it. The S.E. Kiser version had only a few words different, but the changes provide a powerful picture in to the mind of the GI who posted it on the bulletin board, but that's another discussion.

Things came to a head with the board as we approached the April elections. Three of the members' terms were expiring.  Two of them had decided not to run, but the president was up for re-election. On TLR&R, I said that on the day after the election, if the president was re-elected, I would take that as a message from the public, and would resign my teaching position. In his campaign literature, the board president said he was elected to the board by one of the largest margins in township history, and trusted that the voters would return him to the board.  When the results came in he was defeated by one of the largest margins ever.

The truth is a powerful thing!

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Stroke of Luck

On Tuesday, 8/25 @ 2:15, Jill was scheduled to have a lumbar ablation.  It was the second in a series of shots to deal with back pain. The first was two weeks ago.

At about 12:00 she was getting nauseous and had a migraine, neither of which were alarming, because  she gets migraines and she wasn't allowed to eat 8 hours prior to the procedure and nothing to drink for 4 hours prior. Because she doesn't get up until between 9 and 10 and her last food was about 5 pm the previous day. All she had in her was a cup of coffee. So we attributed the nauseousness to that not sitting well. 

As time got closer to the procedure she began to get the dry heaves.  At this point it was about 12:20 and I wanted to call the doctor and let him know.  She wouldn't let me call.  By 1:15 she was not improving. I took her temperature and blood pressure.  There was no fever, but her blood pressure was 212/113. I over rode her objection and called.

On the call I mentioned the migraine and nausea, but neglected to mention the blood pressure. The nurse spoke to the Dr. and said, they could give her something for the nausea and to give her a little juice or something to get a bit of sugar in her. She has a sip or two of water and a sip of Coke which did nothing to settle the stomach. 

At 1:35 we headed out the office.  During the ride she got worse, continued with dry heaves, and became disoriented. There were a few times she said things and got words wrong. I think the word that was in her mind came out of her mouth as something entirely different.

As soon as we got into the office I asked the nurse to have the doctor check her out right away, because I was concerned something else was wrong. While there were no physical/classical signs of stroke, that was my concern. The doctor suggested taking her to the ER, which I did.

The doctor called ahead and when I arrived at the ER, they were waiting and took us right back into a room where the neurologist was already waiting via video conference. While the nurses were attaching wires, probes, and cannulas, The doctor began questioning her; name, age, where she was, and other similar question. They showed her pictures of common objects to identify.  Most objects were recognized, but others like a glove and a key, she wasn't able to name. There was a scene with a few people in it and she wasn't able to describe what was happening in the scene.

Thankfully, the CT scan didn't show any bleeding.  That ruled out bleeding stroke.  It could still be a TIA or an Ischemic Stroke.  Once the tests were done, the doctor said what was happening could possibly be a result of the migraine, but knowing Jill and her her history, I told the doctor I knew more than likely, the migraine and disorientation was the result of a TIA or Stroke.

Since we got to the ER within 3 hours of the event, Jill could be given clot busting medication. He explained the treatment and the associated risks. They administered the drugs and you could almost see the confusion leaving her mind.  

They moved her to the ICU for 24-48 hours to watch for any change or adverse affects of the treatment. By the time she was settled into ICU, it was 6:30 and past visiting hours. I headed home.  We spoke on the phone later and there were no signs of any speech or memory problems, except there is no memory of the vomiting, dry heaves, the trip to the first Dr. and the time in the emergency room.

They only allow one visitor a day for 2 hours. So we spoke on the phone a few times during the day and I visited during the late afternoon. She was in good spirits and was her old self.  She made sure I brought her makeup kit something to wear besides the hospital gown. She wanted a shower and she wanted to go home, but that was not to be.  Her blood pressure was still too high and they had more monitoring to do, including an MRI that would be performed the next day. 

That brings us to Thursday. The MRI was scheduled for the morning, but I visited from 12-2 and she still didn't have it, but they decided she was captive for another day, because her blood pressure is still too high. It's bounce around the 188/90 level.  They put her on a cardiac diet and are trying to bring it down.  It's 5:00 now and I just got off the phone with her and still no MRI.  I suspect they may hold off until tomorrow morning.

It is now 3:00 PM on Friday and Jill is home.  They took the MRI this morning and it was clear. We are home and she is in good spirits with no apparent impairment.  She has a follow up with her primary care physician next week and a neurologist in about 3 weeks.

Fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, she was very lucky. As I wrote, she was on the way to another doctor when things really started going south. What is lucky is that the appointment we were going to had been changed twice. If it had been the original time, she would have had the stroke either during or right after the procedure. If it had been the second date, she would have had the stroke the day after the ablation. As turned out, it was a stroke of luck.

 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Teaching About Fake News

Since 1995, I've been saying the most critical thing we should be teaching students, is information literacy. Specifically, the ability to locate, evaluate, and use online information for problem solving. It has been 25 years of banging my head against a wall, while shouting into the wind, while swimming upstream, with one hand tied behind my back.  Yet, I keep trying, because it is the key to understanding how to handle Fake News.

I've written tens of thousand of words on the subject, most of them have probably been on Facebook.  While looking back on some of my work, I came across the Internet Library, a series of 7 books for middle school libraries back in 1998.

The problem with writing so much is you forget half of the things you wrote. It wasn't until I dug out the volume on Locating and Evaluating Information on the Internet, that I realized I had written about misinformation and the 1996 presidential campaign! Except for a half dozen links that have broken over the past two decades, everything I wrote then could have just as well been written yesterday!

If you are a teacher or parent struggling with how to teach your kids about the whole "Fake News" problem, I would like to introduce you to Web, my computer sidekick. Here, he's helping me tell a story that actually took place during the 1996 presidential election. If you click on the link below, you can download three chapters from the book and use it with your kids or your class.


Note: The books are out of print, but I retain the copyright and am making some content available for free. You can probably find some on Amazon or other sites, but I do not profit from those sales. Use should be for education. No modification or commercial use, please.