Evaluating the “News”

Open your browser. Turn on your phone. FaceBook. Instagram. TikTok. Twitter. Influencers. Beyond vacation photos and food pics, there is a good chance you’ll slug through posts and reposts passing themselves off as “news.” Posts about Covid. Posts about politics. Posts about climate change.

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While the internet has opened the world to us, it has also burdened us with information overload and that information is often neither accurate nor reliable. Yet the internet, including social media sites, remains where more and more people report getting their “news.” We tap on our phones for a fast overview of the topics of interest.

How many times have you heard someone tell you they “saw it on FaceBook” or “heard it on Twitter?” How many times have you said this yourself?

What could go wrong with that? Plenty. Misinformation. Propaganda. Shaming. Hate speech. It’s all out there. And it’s all pretty easy to find. Usually, it finds you.

Adding to the murky waters of on line sources are the openly partisan news outlets that shamelessly exploit today’s polarized, politicized climate. A large number of programs airing on these stations are not, in fact, news, but rather thinly veiled opinion unsubstantiated by real sources. But popular personalities delivering these opinions call what they share “news,” and viewers seem willing to accept opinion as “news” because it jives with their current political positions. That’s what they tune in to hear. They aren’t looking for what’s true, just what fits their current paradigm.

Some of this willing suspension of disbelief is personal; we believe what works for us. But some of it also evolved from media–radio, TV, and now computer sources. It must be true if it’s on the news or if you read it on the computer. Right?

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When I was a journalism student in the post Watergate era, our reporting had to stand up to intense scrutiny. What we reported required speed, but accuracy and truth were the paramount values we lived by. There were no “sides” to take. Our opinions didn’t matter. There were only facts, facts that had to be corroborated by several reputable sources. Several sources. Reliable. Reputable.

News outlets prided themselves on these values, too. Truth above all else.

That’s less true today. Much less true.

Separating fact from fiction, then has to be part of our work in our classrooms. Students must evaluate what washes over them on line, to determine if what they see and hear has been vetted or if it has just been tossed out there by someone voicing an opinion. Everyone may have an opinion, but opinions are not facts; opinions are not truth.

So what’s a teacher to do?

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It is clear that technology is here to stay. Most of my students freely admit they never read a hard copy of a newspaper. Never. Many admit they have never read an on line copy, either. When asked where they get their “news,” they point to their phones. And honestly, the internet has allowed my students to continue their educations during Covid, giving them access to our library from home. But without direction, finding facts, finding truth is a daunting task. It is far easier to let Google send them to the first source that pops up. It is up to us to provide that direction and demand that students use reputable sources.

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Asking students to require facts–real facts, not bias masquerading as fact–in their academic work is a start. There are reputable internet sources and students should know what to look for when conducting on line research. When we acknowledge and validate opinion, we must remind students that opinion is not synonymous with fact, that sound opinions are built on reality, on truth.

I don’t think it is overstating that our democracy depends on an educated populace willing and able to dig for truth. When, despite facts that clearly say otherwise, more than forty percent of Americans believe that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” critical thinking is more important than ever. Critical thinking is not rejecting what doesn’t fit into your personal beliefs; critical thinking is evaluating sources, demanding accountability and truth.

Free Community College: Could it Work to Ease College Debt?

Massachusetts needs a student loan bill of rights - The Boston Globe

As a parent, I get it. From Pre-K on, we tell our kids to work hard, promising this can get them into a “good” college. In high school, we say, “Go ahead, try for that ‘reach’ school” So they ace AP exams and write some kick ass application essays and BOOM! The acceptance letters start rolling in. In this moment of parental pride and joy, it’s hard to imagine the unimaginable weight of debt that could crush your kids.

However, an entire generation is suffocating. They are lugging loans that may never be resolved, leaving them unable to buy homes or start families. Parents are in this, too. Some have dipped into retirement accounts. Others have taken out second mortgages.

Yes, I know these debts are the result of individual choices. Families shouldn’t bury themselves in loans they cannot afford. Kids should be schooled in financial responsibility.

We were lucky, so lucky. We were able to send our kids where they wanted to go; it’s every parent’s dream.

I also know that with the cost of college escalating beyond the average family’s means, we will eventually end up in an even more pronounced two-tier society. Fewer and fewer students from working class roots will be able to keep up with college costs while those with money will over-populate the name brand dorms and dining halls.

Will the Costs of College Cause an Economic Disaster? - The Edvocate

When our own kids were applying to college, their high school counselor invited a consultant to speak to parents. He was frank–some called him harsh–about not encouraging kids to apply to colleges the family couldn’t afford. Review your family finances. Know your limits. Don’t expect an on-campus job to pay for much; it doesn’t work that way anymore. Once the acceptance arrives, it will be that much harder to tell your kids they can’t attend. Loans–parental and student–are not the answer.

It turns out this guy was 20 years ahead of his time.

What’s the answer?

Community College Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

I heard President Biden say the other day that community college could be free. Governor Phil Murphy, of New Jersey, just announced that in his state, community college will be free to those who qualify. Here in New York, starting in 2017, the Excelsior Scholarship has offered free tuition to eligible state residents attending SUNY and CUNY institutions.

After spending three years working in an top notch SUNY community college, I think these plans have possibilities.

The community college where I work is part of our state university system: SUNY. A dedicated, respected faculty maintains high standards. Students study on a real campus in up-to-date facilities with the prospects extended opportunities through partnerships with four year schools and local corporations. They refine communication skills and examine the patterns in history and art. They apply mathematics and try out scientific inquiry. When our students collect their diplomas, they have degrees, training, and experiences for personal and professional growth. Some go on to additional schooling; others enter the workforce. All are different people for their time spent in classrooms here.

Westchester Community College LIBRARY - Home | Facebook

What if community college were free? Could families breath a little easier knowing kids were accumulating transferable credits without accruing a lifetime of debt? Would families be willing to take advantage of community college as a first step in the college experience?

Consider Taking Community College Classes While at a 4-Year School | Community  Colleges | US News

I have seen a lot posts on FB that not every one needs to go to college and I see the point. But I would argue that an educated populace benefits us all. Just because someone plans to become a plumber or carpenter doesn’t mean he/she won’t benefit from an affordable post high school experience. Why shouldn’t an electrician read Vonnegut or find beauty in the Impressionists? In large part because of the astronomical price tag on a college degree, we have come to equate education and dollars. Do we want our kids to earn more? Of course we do. I would argue that in addition to the monetary value of a college degree, there is the added benefit of understanding the world around us and our place in it. An education helps us understand the social contract: our interdependence, our importance and the importance of others.

I am a parent, and I know it can be tough to say no to kids who have worked hard hoping to attending the college of their choice. If community college offers an alternative to a life time of debt, you don’t need a Nobel Prize in Economics to see the potential benefit.

The New Opiate of the People

Karl Marx had it wrong. Religion is not the opiate of the people. Ignorance is.

Motivated ignorance” is ruining our political discourse - Vox

Ignorance is the new drug of choice. It validates fear and stokes anger. An ignorant high is all consuming, luring victims into pits of hatred and danger, creating the illusion of righteousness, daring them to do the unimageable. Ignorance presents an excuse–a way out– when the high goes wrong as it almost always does.

Education is the NARCAN for ignorance. Education should be the answer to what ails us as a nation. Yet somehow, it hasn’t.

The life-long teacher in me sees events through the lens of education. This includes the events of not just the past week or past two months, but the past four years. I am not blind to the political, ethical or economic implications of what the nation has seen. I recognize catastrophe for what it is; I know pathology when I see it. But the classroom is my safe space. I keep wondering where education went wrong, and how we fill the gaps that have allowed the country to get to the point where we almost saw an angry mob commit unthinkable acts.

Like almost every teacher I know, I agonize about our part in this. What happened to the ethos and pathos in lessons about slavery, immigration and genocide? What happened to logic in the exploration of scientific theory? What of the history of our democracy? Clearly far too many Americans are operating under the influence of ignorance. Are we to blame?

It’s not that we think we are that; I know better. Other forces are hawking ignorance, denouncing education as the tool of elitists and elitism. But if ignorance is the problem, shouldn’t education provide the solution?

clipart classroom - Clip Art Library

Schools are supposed to be the universal antidote to ignorance. While they solve for x or conjugate irregular verbs, students are thinking critically, applying acquired skills to new tasks . They should simultaneously understand historic happenings and their places in their own worlds. It’s not self-importance; it’s just our job.

When the dismissal bells ring, students should leave classrooms more able, more confident, more informed than they were when they first took their seats. They should be able to resist ignorance, knowing that what they don’t know can, in fact, hurt them.

How is it then so many Americans are now unable to separate fact from fiction? How is it that so many Americans are now unable to apply patterns of the past to events of the present? How is it that so many Americans are now unwilling to accept proven conclusions of science?

How in God’s name are we in a place where domestic terrorists proudly proclaim racial supremacy clothed in slogans that mock the atrocities of the Holocaust? High on their ignorance, misled by a constant diet of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, these Americans threatened their own government. The paranoia of this ignorance high has led these terrorists to see themselves as both victims and crusaders. The death toll–five– could have been exponentially higher. We got lucky this time.

And while ignorance consumes its victims, dealers perpetuate the cycle. People who should know better–senators, congressmen, even presidents–offer lies and create conflict as a means to their own ends. The courage required to stand against ignorance is lacking in many who could turn this thing around.

I am not smart enough to solve the ignorance epidemic. There are too many forces that lead people into that dark alley where ignorance lurks, feeding on fear and hatred that education could, should dispel. I do know, however, that those we trust to govern should not be profiting from the misery of ignorance and that those who do, should be exposed .

Best Books of 2019 for Entrepreneurs

The immediate danger has passed, but the threat remains. The best that we, as teachers can do, is to keep sharing with students the information and experiences that make them less susceptible to the lure of ignorance. Knowledge is power. Students must know the truth in order to combat the lies. We will read about Anne Frank and Oskar Schindler and John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer. We will push the validity of science and the messages in history. We will share the shame of slavery and the heroism of freedom fighters. All in the hopes that our students will not be swallowed by ignorance.

525,600 Minutes

A lot can happen in a year. While it’s hard to say no one saw this coming, a spot at the head of the line for a vaccine wasn’t on my holiday wish list in 2019.

525,600 minutes.

December 2019:

Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know about the virus - The Washington Post

Sure, I read the paper and I heard whispers of a new virus. But it seemed far away, “somewhere else.” I wasn’t worried. We’d done this before: SARS, avian flu, Ebola, H1N1. Deadly, tragic, yes, but always “somewhere else.” Even as China scrambled to construct two new hospitals in two weeks, I was pretty confident in my American arrogance that whatever this virus was, it wasn’t coming to a town near me any time soon.

Well, three months later, the virus was here–and likely had been here for some time. The second week of March — a week that gave us a full moon on Friday the 13th–and Covid was our new reality. Broadway: dark. Sports: Canceled. Restaurants: take out or delivery. Store shelves: empty. Schools: remote. Outside hospital emergency rooms in NYC, ambulances lined up at ER entrances like planes waiting to taxi at JKK. At seven each evening, a sequestered populace emerged on fire escapes, balconies and sidewalks banging on pots and pans in honor of front line medical professionals.

Experts who know so much more about these things than I ever will were telling us about social distancing, masks, flattening the curve of infection. We were learning about intubation, PPE, nasal swabs, essential workers.

Map: Track coronavirus infection rates per capita, county-by-county

Pretty soon, people we knew and loved were sick and some were dying. Yet our president announced Covid was a Democratic hoax, a political ploy created to rob him of a second term. Out of fear of offending the stock market, he perpetuated the fairy tale he knew was untrue: that like a miracle, it [Covid] would just disappear. He promoted false cures and further divided an already self-alienated populace and politicized face coverings. He lost interest in Covid after November 3rd, preferring instead to rant and whine about false claims of voter fraud. Meanwhile, the virus was running roughshod from sea to shining sea.

525,600 minutes.

December 2020:

Millions infected world wide. A mutant strain in South Africa and another in England. More than 320,000 Americans dead. Hospitals in El Paso and Iowa overwhelmed. Lines for food in So-Cal stretching for miles. Giant freezers for the dead in Brooklyn. Front line medical professionals nation wide still reporting shortages of everything from protective gear to ICU beds. Casualties in our black and brown communities have exposed inequities that we had been previously a little too willing, too able to hide. The only good news has been the arrival Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which we hope will help us begin to ease the pain of this crisis. An even in this bright spot, we see people whose distrust of science and government will prevent them from sitting for the shot.

Distance Learning Strategies for Educators: Teaching ADHD Students Remotely

Which brings us to the kids. We have all heard that kids are resilient and I believe this is true. But kids who have lost a parent to the virus, kids who have lost a year of instruction, kids who go to bed hungry will fall farther and farther behind their peers. There are legions of kids without the hardware required, without reliable access to the internet required for remote learning. There are parents who are struggling to keep food on the table. What about our special needs kids whose basic needs aren’t being met? How are we going to prevent the learning gap from widening?

When the crisis passes–and with the vaccine, we can see the distant light at the end of this dangerous tunnel–how will we address the needs of these kids to help them bounce back? How do we sustain the promise of the future for the kids we are leaving behind?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I know we must find solutions.

The next 525,600 minutes will be crucial.

A Million Little Things

A Million Little Things - Wikipedia

A million little things: The number of unpredictable events a teacher must deal with on any given day.

Anyone who has ever been in a classroom—Pre-K through college—can do this math; yes, that includes an English teacher who famously avoids solving for x.

100+ Free School Clipart for your Education Projects | GraphicMama Blog

I can see some of you are not convinced. “Fake news,” you say.

Humor me.   Please.

Before unloading his backpack, Joey announces his hamster, Boo-Boo, died last night.  

Still wearing his jacket, Jeffery remembers he left all his homework at his dad’s house where he spent the weekend. His dad’s house is two hours north.

At 8:05, Debbie bursts into tears because someone posted a picture of her boyfriend with Susie.

At 8:30, Sandy experiences a nosebleed leaving her desk looking like a crime scene.

By nine, all of David’s writing implements have mysteriously vanished.

9:10: the wire on Joe’s braces breaks and he needs orthodontic wax. David is still searching for something to write with.

It’s now 9:20 and Janey returns from the restroom adjacent to your classroom with the news that there has been a plumbing disaster and water and other ‘stuff’ are seeping into the corridor, rapidly approaching your door.

At ten am, a kindergartener realizes he misses mom.  Then, the quiet kid in the back of the room silently vomits at his desk. Half the class is now crying in sympathy. The remainder of the kids are at your side offering helpful solutions.

Third period: Andy’s trusty pen explodes and instantly, he is covered in blue ink.

Recess: Patty sniffs in tears because her besties are no longer her besties and have joined Sarah’s posse.

Every one a true story. The list goes on…and on…and on…

Teacher appreciation clip art free clipart images 6 | Superhero teacher,  Teacher appreciation week themes, Super teacher

By the end of a good school day, teachers have flexed superhero muscles a million times in a million different ways. OK, so maybe I am prone to hyperbole—a literature teacher’s occupational hazard.  But maybe it’s not a million; it might even be more than a million.  Educators all know that  in addition to content area instruction, teachers are stomping out little fires everywhere. Constantly.

“OK, maybe not fake news, but what’s your point?”

The point is that classrooms are not laboratories where variables are controlled. Kids are not test subjects. The laws of physics don’t apply in a middle school. Stuff happens. All. The. Time. Every. Single. Day. And teachers just deal. They get to their lessons and kids learn to factor, to write argumentative essays, to read primary source documents, to play the violin, to master English as a new language. Teachers model kindness and empathy and remain calm in the face of classroom calamities.

No matter how easy it may appear to someone on the outside, teaching is the equivalent of juggling swords, swallowing fire and explaining what it means “to be or not to be” all at the same time.

Circus Acrobat Stock Illustrations – 4,316 Circus Acrobat Stock  Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Now, toss Corona virus into this brew of unstable elements that skilled teachers mix up 180 days a year and there is potential for a theoretical big bang.  Especially when the powers that be—ahem, no names Betsy DeVos and President Trump—have no idea of what it takes to teach and have made it clear they won’t be shackled by science.  

Covid has shown us that we can control only so much. We can do all the right things–mask up, wash up and keep to ourselves– and we can still get this damned bug. The inverse is also true: we can take chances and tempt fate and stay healthy. It is well and good to require masks and to erect physical barriers, to demand social distancing. Under ideal conditions, these precautions might work. But as any teacher will tell you, there are no ideal conditions in any classroom. It’s school.

In the time of Covid, how does a kindergarten teacher comfort a homesick child or a kid who has a meltdown over a dead pet? What about the students who forget their masks or who lose their masks or whose masks break? What about the biohazards that appear out of nowhere?

Teachers have a right to resent political posturing issued by people who know nothing about the realities of daily classroom living.

A million little things and one very big thing.

Thank You 5 Word Art | Squijoo.com

Thank a teacher today. For a million and one little things they are trying to do.

Reopening Schools: Who Do You Trust?

Trust Love Stock Illustrations – 8,046 Trust Love Stock Illustrations,  Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Trust. Abstract. Hard to define. But you know it when you feel it and you surely know  when it’s lacking. Like you trust your mom, but the spokesman hawking the amazing night vision glasses on TV?  Yeah, him, not so much.

As Seen on TV - Night Sight Polarized HD Night Vision Glasses As Seen On TV  - Walmart.com - Walmart.com


A few of the people working to reopen classrooms might be like your mom; however, more of them present like grinning infomercial talking heads.  The stakes are high: mom would remind you there’s nothing more important than your health. But the fashionable, $19.99 night vision glasses are scientifically approved, and if you act now–right now— you get an additional pair–for free, shipping and handling extra. Hurry, though, supplies are limited.


So, who do you trust?

8 Questions Employers Should Ask About CoronavirusThis country has failed to control the corona virus. That is a statistical fact. In pockets from sea to shining sea, Covid’s wrath is marching on.  It’s harder and harder to dismiss the virus that has claimed 160,000 American lives, especially when one of those lives might be your neighbor, your friend, your brother, your mother.


White House response has been loud and glib. Act Presidents Day Coloring Pages | House colouring pages, Inside the white  house, White house washington dcnow. Liberate the economy.  And how has that been working out?  Supplies are limited.  “It’s going to disappear, ” the president said, “One day, it’s like a miracle–it will disappear.” But wait, there’s moreScientifically tested and approved? Oh, that. Sure. Here are a couple of “doctors” describing the hazards of demon sex and face masks. 

We all know what Mom would say. Free Vintage Mother's Day Images | Retro images, Graphics fairy, Clip art  vintage


Which brings us to the plans to get kids–and teachers– back into classrooms.

No one denies that kids need the structure of school, that they will benefit from daily instruction delivered by the pros. This is a no-brainer. But managing this safely for all concerned demands more than superficial come-ons.

There is a pandemic that, so far, has not disappeared miraculously. Objectively, we have to admit that the corona virus is currently worsening. Hospitals across the so-called Sunbelt have been overwhelmed. States have scaled back plans for gatherings requiring indoor spaces and imposed travel restrictions on one another. There isn’t a lot that this administration has done to address the crisis that inspires trust. Reopening schools will require honesty, hard work, funding, intelligent design and–yup–science. None of these have been hallmarks of the Trump presidency.

Then there’s Betsy DeVos.  Admittedly, no friend of public schools, here she is Secretary   of Education, making possibly the most far reaching decision about schools nationwide. In July, she and the president insisted that all schools reopen fully: five days a week, full time instruction. Liberate the schools.  They discredit the CDC guidelines as “too tough, too expensive.”  They discount science. Despite the fact that kids are dying and are suffering from a life threatening, Covid-related syndrome, they dangle the dangerous misconception that kids can neither contract nor spread Covid. DeVos inaccurately asserted that children are actually  virus “stoppers.”

Free Vintage Mother's Day Images | Retro images, Graphics fairy, Clip art  vintage Hmmm… Mom?

It’s no wonder that families and staff are gun shy about the whole back to school thing. School personnel have died from the virus contracted in their buildings. Children have, too, and they can unwittingly shed virus at home, potentially infecting vulnerable family members. Questions about social distancing, face masks, quarantines have gone unanswered.

It comes down to trust. So far, this administration hasn’t given us much to go on. The rhetoric, the chaotic response to this crisis, the outright dishonesty haven’t inspired confidence. This isn’t an infomercial; lives at stake.  When the powers that be sound more like the voice hawking scientifically approved night vision glasses than like your mom, the choice is pretty clear.





Hey, America, Feelin’ Lucky?

Back to School Items Needed: MissionLink July 7, 2017 | Mission ...  August 1st is the date that my colleagues and I expect “the dreams:” annual nightmares centered on unanticipated observations or classroom tools that morph into neon pool noodles.  Late summer days are getting shorter and engaging ads for backpacks, spiral notebooks and new kicks peal with school bells ringing.   That was then.

 This is now:  Coronavirus: NI schoolchildren to follow 1m social distancing ... Covid-19 occupies us day and night, dominating pre-September angst. 2020  teacher nightmares reflect this new reality: unanticipated PPE failure and hand sanitizer dispensers that morph into pool noodles. For some, strict adherence to new rules will be a matter of life and death. Funding is short and specific plans are shorter still. The prospect of a new school year is fraught with new dangers.

Three years removed from “Labor Day Tuesday,” and I am relieved to be retired, but terrified for my grandchildren and fellow teachers. 

Right now, it feels as if that the safety of my beloved family and friends has been left to luck. They are being offered up as COVID bait in a dangerous gamble overseen by a nasty pit boss whose primary motive is for the house to win at all costs. 

Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR

                                                                                       Feelin’ lucky?



Confirmed cases are now on the rise in 40 of the 50 states.  Florida saw a record number of new Covid infections in 24 hours. Doctors reporting from Houston describe hospitals reaching the tipping point. In virus hot spots, lines for tests stretch for miles and people wait a week or more for results.    Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR

                                                                                Still feelin’ lucky?


It's going to disappear': Trump's changing tone on coronavirus ...  Yet, the president dismisses science and mocks one of the nation’s most respected infectious disease specialists.  The president demanded–on Twitter, of course– that the CDC lower the standards for school safety because what was asked was “very tough and very expensive.”   Guess he is feelin’ lucky, huh?

The Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, insists that kids return to classrooms, but offers What Betsy DeVos wishes she said at her confirmation hearing - Axios  no firm plans because she said, “You can’t plan for something that hasn’t happened yet.”  She asserts reopening schools is a simple matter of hygiene. Simple hygiene?  Good luck with that.


Sorry, but there is nothing simple about returning to classrooms.  Nor should it be left to luck. There is too much we don’t know about this virus. In NY, for instance, we saw a cluster of kids– who tested positive for Covid– experience life threatening inflammatory system responses. Do we willingly expose kids to this possibility when we know next to nothing about it?

And what about the adults? Should teachers be expected to risk their own lives? Before you say that this is an overstatement, look at the stats.  More than 140,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid since March, including school employees from NYC to rural Arizona.  Should districts reserve beds and ventilators for school staff because their luck might run out?

Covid-19 | New Scientist And this doesn’t even address the families who live in multi-generational households. Will the virus hitch a ride on those new backpacks and notebooks? Hope Grandma is feelin’ lucky.


There are so many questions we just can’t answer. School safety requires more than luck. It demands meticulous planning and jackpot level funding. Federal response so far gives us neither planning nor funding.

The question we have to all ask ourselves is this: are we feelin’ lucky?  Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR



To Class of 2020

June 2001 - Roman Catholic Saints Calendar  Back in 2001, my students invited me to give the commencement address at the high school where I then worked. Finding the right words wasn’t easy, but in the end, my advice was pretty generic: take risks, be the best version of yourself, find ways to make the world a better place.  

In June of ’01,  9/11 was still more than two months away, the US wasn’t engaged in a two-front war in the Middle East, no one forecast the Great Recession. And a pandemic? What’s that?

Class of 2020 Graduation Cap Pin | PinMart  For the Class of 2020, though, there will be no processions, no group hugs, few of the rites of  closure associated with commencement. They will be moving the tassels on their mortarboards in the same isolation in which they finished spring instruction.

Many of our community college students are among those accepting diplomas in cyber space. Their plans vary. For some, the next stop was to have been the workplace. Others had secured transfer spots at four year colleges around the country. And now?  They are all in this vacuum of uncertainty.

What advice can we offer them?  Poets&Quants | The Coronavirus Commencements: MBAs Celebrate In ...

  1. Though you are accepting your credentials in quarantine, you are not alone. The people in your lives who have supported you are still here, proud of what you have accomplished. Let them share this milestone. Send photos. Video chat.  Accept congratulations and encouragement.
  2. A pandemic is new, but commencement is always an event of contradictions: an ending that is called a beginning. You are simultaneously thrilled and terrified, exhilarated and exhausted, confident and cautious. Understand that your experience–amplified in 2020– is at once singular and collective. Embrace your emotions as the fuel you need to take your next steps.
  3.  Anticipated access may be blocked right now, but new entrances are opening every day. Find your own way into your future. That will look different for each of you and will require effort and thought, but look at what you have already achieved; with work and creativity, you can do this.
  4.  And remember, the world needs you right now. No pressure, but you and your classmates represent hope. In what you have learned about your chosen field, about the past and present, about yourselves, see optimism, see potential, see solutions. We see those things and have high expectations for you.
  5.  Finally, trite as it all sounds, define your success in human terms, by the people you love who love you back. Be the best version of yourselves. Fear no mistake. Resolve to do one thing each day to improve the world you inhabit.


Class of 2020: What We Lost in the Abrupt End to College | TimeTo the Class of 2020, you will have stories to tell. You will face obstacles and opportunities no other class has seen. But you got this. Do what you have to do and do it well.






Lessons for the White House from Middle School

NOTE: It’s been some time since I went full-on political in this blog, but current events have put us all in harm’s way, changing daily life, maybe forever. We now routinely face life or death situations.  More than 72,000 Americans have succumbed to a torturous death by Corona virus. 72,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends. 72,000 lives.  Small businesses are closed, some with no prospect for survival. With job loss, people have also lost access to employment dependent health insurance. In the Michigan statehouse, armed protesters demand an end to the state shutdown. Hungry families line up at food banks across the country. Front line workers put themselves at risk to save lives. 

In the midst of this deadly mess, federal response has been chaotic, ineffective, juvenile. The Senate Majority Leader tossed a lit match into the dry brush of  partisan politics when he called this a blue state vs. red state issue. The president has let us down: he disregards science, manipulates public sentiment for personal self aggrandizement, makes impulsive,inaccurate statements, refuses to take responsibility. 

There’s a lot to be learned from a middle school project.

When I was still teaching middle school, our 8th grade English capstone project was an autobiography. Through a series of structured assignments, students wrote their own life stories as they worked their way through excerpts from the autobiographies of people from all walks of life: Malala Yousefsai, Tim Russert, Sandra Cisneros, Sonia Sotomayor, James McBride, Christopher Reeve, Barak Obama. It was a chance for kids to see their own lives parallel to the lives of those who have changed the world in some way. More than this, it was a chance for kids to see these game changers as kids themselves. The excerpts I chose for our readings centered on childhood and adolescence.  The project culminated in an evening gallery style presentation where students shared their work with their families, friends, and faculty.

An overwhelming student favorite in this unit involved reading Chapter 2 of Colin Powell’s book It Worked for Me and his 13 Rules of Leadership. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State describes his early life as the son of  hard working Jamaican immigrants. His 13 Rules offers life lessons for success and satisfaction.

After reading Secretary Powell’s suggestions for positive leadership, kids came up with their own rules:

Resist the urge to distract others. This was hard for me. I like making my friends laugh by doing dumb things. It doesn’t usually go that well, though. This means don’t create a fuss to make yourself a star. You might get a few minutes of fame, but in the end, it doesn’t get you very far. This has worked for me because in the beginning of the school year, I was making way too many jokes. I fell out of my chair in English class. I piled up the weights on the scale in science. People started getting sick of me and my jokes, especially the teachers, and my grades were going down. So once I stopped distracting people, I spent more time working in class. The teachers noticed and told my parents I was trying harder. Now I am on the high honor roll and ready for high school.”

Be honest. Telling the truth is very important.  Besides, people almost always find out when you lie. It’s not that easy to talk your way out of a lie. I found this out the hard way alright. One day I wanted to go to the mall with my friends but my mom wouldn’t let me. I was begging. I promised to do anything she wanted me to  but she still said no. So I told her I was going to someone’s house and her mom drove us to the mall. The second lie I told was that my mom knew where I was going. It was pretty easy to pull all that off because people still trusted me then.  Of course, my mom found out. I kept trying to make excuses by lying even more, but that only made things so much worse. Finally, I told the truth. I still was punished, but I learned a lesson. It wasn’t worth it. Plus, it took a long time before my mom believed anything I ever said.  After you lie, you aren’t trusted anymore and that feels terrible. Be honest.”

Read the directions. This sounds silly, but it’s good advice. In fourth grade, our teacher gave us this test and I can’t remember the whole thing, but it was a list of ten directions that told you to read through all ten instructions before doing anything else. Naturally, no one read all ten steps. Everyone just started rushing through the worksheet like it was some kind of race. The first nine were activities like write your name on the back of the page and then draw a heart around it or write a sentence using three spelling words. Number 10 said to do none of the activities, just wait for everyone to finish. To this day, I still remember that test and I always read the directions.”

It isn’t always about you.  I didn’t make this one up. My Grandma told me this from when I was just a little kid. I used to complain about a lot of things. Too much homework. My sister was annoying. I wanted my own phone.  Then Grandma told me to count how many times a day I was using the words “I” or “me” or “my.” She explained that there are just some times that it didn’t have to be about me. She said I was important but I wasn’t the only person in the world who mattered. This has worked for me because people appreciate it when you put them first and it helps you get along with others. Furthermore, you want to know that people will do this for you when you really need it. Finally, when everyone sees the big picture, life is just easier and better.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is my number one rule for life. Mrs. McDougal and Mrs. Smith are always there for me when I need help. But it wasn’t always easy to ask for help. Sometimes I felt like everyone else knew things I didn’t know. It seemed like I was the only one who didn’t get it. No one likes feeling stupid.  So I didn’t ask and I tried to fake it all the time. Let me tell you, that is hard work! You don’t learn anything when you keep trying to pretend you know everything. The thing is, no one knows everything.”

Love one another. There isn’t that much to say about this. It kind of speaks for itself. No matter what someone wears or what kind of music he likes, he is still a person. Love him just because he is a human being. You don’t have to love all the things he does, either. But you might.  If we can all just love one another, we can be better at all the different things we have to do. Give a person a chance and you could be surprised at how things turn out. It could be hard at times. But it is so worth it.”

Good advice for middle school, good advice for the White House as well. As for the rest of us, we have a choice to make come November. When 8th graders demonstrate more maturity than the current president, it is time to make a change. 



What A Pandemic Has Exposed About America

Tragedy and challenge can bring out the best in us.Caring for Those Who Provide Care: Frontline Workers Receive, Need ...

The evening news is full of images of front line heroes as they continue to fight the good fight.  Health care workers, first responders, truck drivers, delivery workers, grocery clerks, teachers all show up daily. These are the folks that have healed us, kept us fed, found ways to engage our kids.

Church Food Pantry Clip Art - Bing images | Food drive, Canned ...And there are those who continue to serve their communities, filling needs as these needs crop up: hunger, unemployment, loneliness, fear. Grassroots activists are a lifeline for so many.

In these people–during the worst of times– we see the best of humanity. They inspire us to be better than we are; their courage shows us what we could/should do.


The flip side of tragedy–the ugly underbelly– is also there for the viewing.


Individual villains

Scammers prey on us, price gouging goods suddenly essential to health. Too-good-to-be-true internet offers threaten our most vulnerable.  There will always be people among us willing to take unfair advantage of adversity, happy enough to use grief and fear for personal gain.

However, COVID-19 has exposed systemic flaws that extend beyond self-serving opportunists, societal inequities that, in better times, remain under wraps.

Feeding the nation

Weaknesses in our food chain that emerged even before COVID are suddenly more pronounced. Recalls of tainted beef and romaine were signals of deeper concerns with our food supply. Widespread infection in meat processing plants across the nation prove that our reliance on industrialized food production is misplaced. Trump tried to insist that these plants remain open despite the dangers to their workers’ health.  Today, supermarket meat department shelves are empty and fast food restaurants cannot fill orders for burgers in many of their locations.  Diary farmers in central New York have had to dump huge quantities of milk even as families in other locations are having trouble putting food on their tables.


Cost of Subsidised Wind & Solar Puts Power Out of Reach for ...Statistics clearly show that the pandemic is hitting under-served communities hardest. No one should be surprised; poverty makes everything that is bad worse. The poorest among us are most at risk for illness, abuse, unchecked addiction, illiteracy.  Population density in public housing makes residents more vulnerable COVID. Poverty means limited access to nutritious grocery options, healthcare, transportation, education, employment.  In 1961, in his inaugural address, JFK told the world “Never before has man had such a great capacity to control his own environment, to end hunger, poverty, and disease, to banish illiteracy and human misery.” Guess we haven’t used that superpower yet.

Health Insurance

As the pandemic puts people out of work, more are losing their health care, exposing the problems with insurance tied to employment. What happens if you–or your child–breaks a leg, has appendicitis, or needs mental health care and you are no longer insured because you are no longer employed? The pandemic is making us rethink options like Medicare for All, concepts that just a few months ago may have seemed too extreme for  a moderate voting bloc. No American should have to forego medical care for lack of insurance. We owe each other that much.

Hate and Exclusion

Fear is normal during a pandemic. Racism shouldn't be | Crosscut

And then there is the quiet shame of our culture: the racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism and ultra-nationalism that have existed in the shadows of our famous documents and monuments. We are seeing a rise in hate crimes. Public demonstrations where protesters arrive armed with weapons of war have become part of our national fabric and these protesters are spouting angry rhetoric of hate, rhetoric that has, sadly, been condoned by the president. Crimes against minorities and alternate lifestyle groups are on the rise. Are the promises of equality and respect just talking points or are we willing to put our money where our mouths are to promote these ideals?

What will we do?  Personal Action Plan Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

These are but a few of the glaring societal and cultural nasties the pandemic uncovered. At some point, the acute emergencies associated with the pandemic will ease. At that point, we, as a society, as a nation, we face some serious decisions. The pandemic forces each of us to confront these flaws.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his daily COVID briefing this morning, said that this country is not blue, not red, but rather red, white and blue. Will we leave fellow Americans behind? When the immediate threat of this virus ebbs, will we have the same strength of character, the same courage that our everyday heroes are currently daring us to emulate? Will we emerge from this catastrophe stronger than we were at the start? Will we rediscover our humanity?