Redeeming America's Armpit

In the early 1990's Buffalo NY earned the title of America's Armpit. Well.....it didn't really earn the title, it just got stuck with it. There must always be something to arouse national ridicule, and for just a few brief years, comedians peppered their routines with Buffalo jokes. For example, the Air up There, a 1994 movie ripoff of the far more clever Cool Runnings, has the main character firing back to some taunter: “Don't tell me about ….(I think the word was 'armpits,' but it might have been 'dung heaps' or something).....I'm from Buffalo.” It must have been the last straw. Civic minded Buffalonians hosted a garden show that year. Green thumb people gussied up their homes with every sort of plant, and invited others to visit. It took 16 years for Mrs Sheepandgoats and I to respond.

But we did respond this year, for the two-day show in late July. Till then, we'd known nothing about it. All we'd known, thanks to Hollywood, was that Buffalo was an armpit and a dung heap. And that, more or less, squared with our own take of the city. Like Pittsburgh, Buffalo was once a center of heavy industry, steel-making and so forth. Unlike Pittsburgh, it never managed to reinvent itself when those industries evaporated. Hard to believe, but at the turn of last century (1900) Buffalo was the third most populous city in the U.S. Those days are long gone.

But each year gardeners have worked to reverse their armpit image, which was never more than pop-silliness anyway. The garden show has become an annual event, each one larger than its predecessor. One day recently, despairing of anything new in our own city, I chanced upon coverage for the Buffalo show in our local paper. We drove over to check it out. It's only an hour's drive west of Rochester, and we lodged overnight so as to take in both days.

Whoa! This is a big deal! 350 gardens this year. It's the largest show of its kind in America! These folks have been busy and we knew nothing of it. Now, Mrs Sheepandgoats loves this kind of thing, and so do I. Gardens are beautiful, people are friendly, and....one might as well say it....there's a certain nosiness about seeing how others are set up. It's a cheap date, or at least it would have been except for the hotel.....wasn't that overpriced? Plus, Mrs Sheepandgoats grumbled about it a little, since it seemed  dated.....aren't we too good to suffer such indignities?  But we found it through Priceline.com, a service that allows you (supposedly) the best price, but not choice of hotel. You have to trust them to choose for you once you specify how many “stars” you want.

Moreover, no sooner had we checked in and gotten comfortable when in waltzed a trio of women! They'd messed up at the main desk and assigned the same room twice! Fortunately, I was still impeccably dressed, as always, but Mrs Sheepandgoats had begun to change. Not to worry, I headed off the intruders at the door.....they were all embarrassed and headed down to the control desk. After a short time, so did I. The proprietress, a friendly matronly woman, apologized profusely, and then, probing sheepishly as to whether or not I was upset (I wasn't....mistakes happen), ventured that: “they were pretty, though.” Were they? I never notice such things, of course. Besides, Mrs Sheepandgoats is also pretty. Still, I complained to my wife afterward that this sort of thing happens to me all the time, and it's a great nuisance. Pretty women somehow find out where I'm staying and throw themselves at me so that I have to bolt the door to get any peace. It's almost as much of a pain as when I'm strolling down the street with my wife, and traffic comes to a screeching halt, folks snapping their necks around to admire her, disregarding entirely the Bible's counsel, cars smashing into one another, and so forth.....let's face it, the woman's a looker.

But how did this start out an article for Better Homes and Gardens, and practically end in Playboy territory? C'mon Sheepandgoats, back on topic!

You'd almost think there would be a lot of married couples in attendance at the show, and there were, but they were not the majority. Largely, it was packs of women with their girlfriends. Men were....what....maybe 30%? Just an impression, maybe there were more, but the wife and I both commented on it. Guys think their manhood threatened should they confess an interest in gardens, apparently; probably they were off bowling.

The 350 garden sites, front, side, and back yards, were clustered, for the most part, in neighborhoods, so that, if you weren't in one of the neighborhoods....if you were an island somewhere all by yourself....you might not get a lot of traffic. But the neighborhoods themselves were well traveled and some, such as the Summer neighborhood, were mobbed. Summer Street ends in a little hook just west of Delaware St. It's homes were built in the mid-1800's as cottages. Lovingly restored cottages, some painted bright bold colors. A few of them seem not even to have street access, but you had to walk in a house or two deep to reach them.

Nearby was 16th Street, a street with a story some residents posted for all to see. The area is quite modest, you might almost say poor, but several years ago residents banded together to form a neighborhood association. Gardening was the common strategy. Not only did they flower their own properties, but they gifted gardens to neighbors not in position to afford or maintain their own. (One home had a sign in front: 'this garden gifted by the so-as-so neighborhood association'....which I thought was a bit tactless, really. I mean, how must that sign make the people inside feel? But perhaps I'm too sensitive. Anyhow, today 94% of the short street is owner-occupied. Go the next street over,  where there are no gardens, and it's as though you've entered another world.

We started our tour at the Seminary headquarters near the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It wasn't the only headquarters....you could start wherever you wanted. Pick up a map, make a voluntary donation to the cause if you like, and off you go. Take the shuttlebus, drive, or walk. Lots of bistros and shops along Elmwood Avenue, for refreshments and change of pace. It's fairly monied around the FLW house, but to me,  the most interesting gardens were in neighborhoods quite modest, some even being reclaimed from urban decay, with  dinosaur-sized homes being nurtured back from near-extinction. Are gardens the means to revive a city? Instilling civic pride and such? Come to Buffalo and you might almost make a case for it.

It was unseasonably warm that Saturday....disgustingly hot, actually, with obscene humidity, the kind every upstate New Yorker knows only too well. We nonetheless trekked on valiantly till the show's 4 PM end.  Quite a few of the residents offered refreshments of sorts.....cold lemonade, perhaps, though in the poorer areas you were more likely to find those who charged for the service. Ah, well....no matter. And....walking up and down Elmwood Avenue, roughly the show's backbone, there were the aforementioned bistros and coffee shops one might duck into to cool off. The weatherman had called for rain all day, but it held off till the end.....when we were just feet from our car, and then in came down in a manner that would impress Noah. It was almost as if angels had held back the rains all day for our benefit. But they didn't, I'm quite sure. Don't they have other things to do?

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At My Age I Shouldn't Have to Prove Anything to Anyone

All Pop wants is to cross the border for a few hours to visit a relative. You wouldn't think that's asking too much. But it is.
 
A distant cousin lives in a St Catherine nursing home, just across the Canadian border. We run up to visit her once a year or so – my brother, Pop, and myself. A driver's license and birth certificate has always sufficed for crossing the border. (or rather, for return crossing, back into the U.S.) But, as of last June, only an “enhanced” license will do – that or a passport. With only minor fuss, my brother and I obtained ours, but no such luck for Pop. State (and perhaps Federal) clerks looked askance at his out-of-state birth certificate from the 1920's – it's old and crumbly – you have to handle it as if it were an ancient Bible manuscript. And....is it a certificate or just a 'notice'? And....does it have a raised seal or is it just a flat one? Go get another one, they tell him.
 
But record-keeping in New Jersey wasn't so hot 90 years ago, and the department has changed hands or moved any number of times since. They don't seem able to come up with anything to readily satisfy New York. Yes, for a certain fee and substantial inconvenience, if Pop can dig up some old coot whose been around forever, who knows him from long ago, and who can testify that, yes – Pop is indeed a person, he was born here, he is a citizen, and if you can get that person to testify to that effect before a notary, then the wheels of progress can slowly move ahead once more. But the old coots are dead, or far away and long forgotten. The guys Pop hangs with now, bowling and golfing buddies, for the most part, don't go back that far. They can testify he throws a good strike ball, but not much else.
 
Pop's been on the phone with a series of persons, but he gets frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy he must plow through, and he gives them a piece of his mind. (no doubt ringing alarm bells everywhere) “I've had a driver's license for 70 years,” he grouses. “I fought in the world war. At my age, I shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone.”

'Why don't you take charge yourself, Sheepandgoats?' one might ask. 'Why don't you help him out?' Yeah, well, maybe that will happen. But it's not so easy as it sounds, for Pop is quite competent. He takes pride in being self-sufficient, and doesn't like to be helped....might not accepting help imply he is helpless? Besides, would I do any better? I've had my own struggles with (local) bureaucracy, untangling an ancient web regarding property rights, which also entailed tracking down old coots who could remember how things used to be, parading them to the bank notary public, hiring a lawyer (who opined that submitted documents had only to “weigh enough”) and persuading certain other interested parties that there was nothing more to be done till the gods of real estate had spoken.
 
Moreover, I've had my own border trouble. It happened some months after 911, as Mrs Sheepandgoats and I were driving home from Quebec City. Rounding the final bend on Rt 137, a long long line at the NY-Canadian border came into view - endless cars waiting for customs. 'Rats!' muttered I to my wife, and then 'well, as long as I have to sit here, I'll read the newsmagazine in the car trunk.' But as I opened the trunk I noticed all eyes in the control booths ahead were upon me. 'Sheepandgoats, you idiot!' Now they think I'm hiding drugs – they'll tear the car apart!

So I waited my forty five minutes, and when it came my turn, the first words from the officer's mouth were: “what were you doing in your trunk?” Getting something to read, I said, adding I instantly knew it was a mistake and they'd all be thinking I was hiding drugs. “Drugs, hell!” the fellow snapped back. “One wrong move and you would have been shot!” That's how it was after 911. They were edgy there at the border, cautious, supposing I might emerge from the trunk with a machine gun.

Now, we don't complain, mind you. Well....Pop does a little...it's more evidence that 'the world has gone to hell in a handbasket,' he grumbles. But I know it's all a consequence of terror and the “war on terror.” People die or are maimed all the time through terror, so it's hardly sporting to gripe over a just a bit of inconvenience, even though we live in America, are all spoiled, and have long taken our “rights” for granted. One must keep things in perspective. Still, when Tom Whitepebble was a boy in Niagara Falls, NY, he'd routinely walk across the bridge to Canada and back, after a day of fun at the falls, and nobody asked him anything. Nobody had to see any papers at all.
 
I write this just after police have arrested some fellow who'd hoped to blow up Times-Square with a car bomb. It might have been a much bigger story, complete with dead bodies and burning buildings – T-S is always mobbed with people - had not his crude bomb fizzled. Such events are routine in the world but (so far) relatively rare in the U.S. Who of my generation would ever have imagined it would come to this, that killing civilians indiscriminately would come into vogue, and even strapping on bombs and delighting to die if only you can take out a dozen or two with you. Tell me....you really don't think it's not evidence that “in the last days” people will be “fierce,” and without “natural affection?”  (2 Tim 3:3)  And did the July Watchtower really say that the recent upsurge in graphic movie, TV, game and media violence might be a satanic ploy, stoking people up for fratricidal warfare?

It steadily escalates. In Russia, “two female suicide bombers killed at least 38 people on packed Moscow metro trains on Monday, stirring fears of a broader campaign in Russia's heartland by Islamists from the North Caucasus,” says the March 29th Washington Post. They call these female bombers “black widows,” and they've struck many times, with great loss of life. They've generally lost all their menfolk to war and all their womenfolk have been raped. They're pretty much crazed, without any social net to fall back into, and it's a sinch to recruit them for suicide missions. The Post names a certain Chechen “warlord” who, a decade ago, “pioneered” the use of women to strike civilian targets. And why? Reprisals for the 1940s transportation of Chechens to Central Asia, with enormous loss of life, by dictator Josef Stalin. [70 years ago!] In recent decades, Islamist militants have joined the fray, giving it new import.

Now, horrible as such grievances are, in past decades people weathered equal atrocities without suffering destruction of their natural affection for humankind. It often broke them, it often broke faith in God, it often left them with hatred for the perpetrators, but not for humankind in general. Jews and other emerged from WWII concentration camps, for example, without dedicating their future lives to revenge, or at least revenge against non-involved persons. A century before that, blacks in this country similarly emerged from brutalizing slavery without goals of hatred and vengeance to all. But times are different today. People are surrounded by hate, and when they escape from one hate-filled situation, they simply enter another one. There is no respite. There is no consolation. It ought to be quite clear that this world produces and promises to produce no end of persons like the Chechen black widows, so increasing violence seems absolutely assured, until God brings about an end to the entire system of things, a forerunner to ushering in his own kingdom.

Under such circumstances, one doesn't gripe about inconveniences at the border. It's more or less to be expected.

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Tom Irregardless and Me                No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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The French Version of Geraldo?

It's not unusual for the developmentally disabled to have issues of self-esteem. And it's not hard to see why. If your closest associates - in the vast majority of cases, your only associates - are people who have to be paid to see you, you don't think you might have some self-esteem issues?

But Doug has no issues of self-esteem. He is one of the few who has benefited from heavy family involvement. At the restaurant, he barks (more or less literally) directions to staff as they pass by - this or that dish is empty, and he holds it up to make his point. Doug is non-verbal. If you don't know him, you won't understand a thing he says. If you do know him, you still won't understand a thing he says but, combined with gestures, you can usually catch the drift. Doug's very social. He thrusts out a hand to men as they pass, inviting a handshake. From women he wants hugs; he holds out both arms.

After the meal, we drive over to the Fairport commons area - Liftbridge Park - to hang out a bit. We're in luck. Lots is happening - a classic car show and a live band. I wheel Doug near the band, an all-girl group called It's My Party, who perform songs from the early 60's, and perform them very well. They have matching outfits, just like in the 60's, synchronized gestures, and ... um...some campy 60's dialog between songs. The drummer is their producer, and their website says they have performed for 20 years. How can that be, since the singers themselves are yet high-schoolers? Ah, the producer has been around that long, and maybe some of the backup musicians, of which there are 8 or 9 - are some of them high-schoolers, too? The girl singers have been replaced once or twice.

Many in the audience are older folk - revisiting their youth, one suspects - and after the show, a woman remarks on the lankiest singer's long limbs. "Yeah, it's hard to get clothes," the performer replies. Actually, I thought she said it's hard to get close. That would fit too, for the trio accentuate their songs with 60's cheerleading gestures, arms flailing like windmills.

Doug is captivated by all this. You want to leave? I ask after a few songs. Slight but emphatic shake of the head no. You want to stay? Slight but emphatic shake of the head yes. You want one of their CDs? Yes. So we wait in the lineup, which really isn't wheelchair accessible, and they sign his copy with hugs and kisses - xxooxxoo. Of course, Doug solicits actual hugs and gets them from the girl or two closest to him. Backing out, he keeps it up and gets several more hugs from other girls....you know...girls in the audience, girl friends of the singers, and so forth!

Back at the home I write up a report - they like to keep track of social progress and "if it's not documented, it didn't happen." I tell about all the hugs and conclude with the question "how does he do that?" I mean, it's not as if anyone offered to hug me.

These are my people: the developmentally disabled - to use the current jargon. Working at the group home was probably the most enjoyable job I've ever had, and I resisted any attempts to rise in the ranks because each step up meant more bureaucracy and less contact with residents. I still keep up with them. This outing with Doug was on my own time.

All this explains why I'm not in a hurry to pick any quarrel with Sabrine Bonnaire, one of France's premiere actresses. We're on the same team. True, I'm not familiar with her acting career, but then I'm not French, am I? Who would ever have thought that a film would be made about a group home, and if it was, who would ever have thought it would be any good? But such is Ms. Bonnaire's first stab at film directing. The film is Her Name is Sabine. It's a documentary set in a group home. Sabine is Sabrine's sister.  Sigh....I hope it's not a sign of how invisible these people are that even the reviewer has screwed up the title: it is not the cheery My Name is Sabine, as he states. It is the more provocative Her Name is Sabine, implying that most people would see her as a subject, a patient, a resident, a disabled person, a ....but she has a name.

Sabrine Bonnaire makes sure people know her name. She's pulled photos and home movies out of a seemingly bottomless reservoir to show her sister growing up - a vibrant, talented (she plays classical piano), pleasantly quirky girl - once inseparable from the 18 month older Sabrine. But she suffers from autism. It's effects grow more pronounced through the years. Her parents pull her out of school and hire tutors. Still, she deteriorates. An admittance to the hospital's psych ward is a total disaster - the screen goes black while Sabrine narrates the details.

Sabine is now in a group home, just like where Doug is. The French actress used her fame to jump-start funding, and the house exists largely because of her. She's since met with French President Nocolas Sarkozy and Minister for Work and Social Affairs Xavier Bertrand to argue for the disabled. Is Sandrine Bonnaire the French version of Geraldo Rivera? Like him, she's done much to advocate for this most vulnerable population, and I can't do anything but cheer her for that.

Now....the point upon which I would contend with Ms. Bonnaire is a small point. It's hardly the focus of her story. Barely worth mentioning. On the other hand, I will mention it AND I will make a big deal over it. It steams me. In the midst of the film review linked to above is inserted Sabrine's observation about their Jehovah's Witnesses upbringing (who would have guessed?), as if it somehow explains Sabine's troubles:

Sandrine and Sabine grew up in a large, working-class family on the outskirts of Paris. Their mother was a Jehovah's Witness whose strict adherence to the sect's rules on birth control explains the number of children: 11 in total, of which Sandrine, now 41, is the sixth, Sabine the seventh. Growing up in a Jehovah's Witness home was "quite heavy", says Sandrine. "First of all, it was very boring. You don't do birthdays and Christmas when everyone else does them. You can have them, but three or four days after the date, so you feel apart from your friends."

I tell you, I won't put up with it. I'll bet you anything that this girl was fully embraced in the local congregation and circuit, where the atmosphere is warm and accepting, and where children are taught to be kind and compassionate to those less fortunate, rather than "bullying" and "mocking" (yes, even during birthdays and Christmas), as they were in the grade school Sabine had to be pulled from. It's not Jehovah's Witnesses who screwed up the title of her film. The JW mother ought to be a hero in this story, not a token religious nut. She nurtured her daughter as a child and adult as, one by one, other siblings departed for lives of their own. How is it that Sabine plays classical piano without, at the very least, mother's support? Mom dutifully followed doctor's advice and admitted Sabine into the local hospital, where they put her in locked isolation and straightjacket, administered drugs by the truckload, denied toilet facilities, and ultimately forbade family visitation - these were medical experts, mind you - and finally returned the woman to her mother in far worse shape than they found her. Does it occur to anyone that the mother's faith helped her carry on when everyone else failed her daughter? As stated at the outset, family involvement with the developmentally disabled is, at least in the U.S, rare.

And what is this about the "sect's rules on birth control?" Nobody among Jehovah's Witnesses has any hang-ups about birth control, unless you mean the abortion-inducing IUD kind, which yes, we do reject. But contraceptives? Condoms? No one has any issue with them. So if the mother did have strong views in this regard, it didn't come from the "sect." And the holidays? Well, yes, I suppose. But surely it's a matter of perspective. There were Jewish kids when I was going to school and they sat out every Christmas and Easter. It wasn't that big of a deal. There were compensating attributes within their own faith. No one carried on about how they were deprived. Look, if there's a party going on, of course a child will want to be part of it, same as all will want to subsist on ice cream and candy. But as adults, you hopefully come to realize what's important and what's not. Christmas, to take the most prominent example, does not fall on Christ's birthday. Jesus never said anything about celebrating his birth anyway, and most customs associated with it are from non if not anti-Christian sources.

In fact, is it just Sabrine Bonnaire or is it all of France? For perhaps two decades, France has leveled a 60% tax on financial contributions made to Jehovah's Witnesses, a repressive measure unheard of in any free country, and a plain attempt to stamp out the group. The policy's been under appeal from the outset and will likely be decided in the European High Court. Look, I know that much of Europe is intensely secular, and probably France most of all. I suspect it stems from World Wars I and II, bloodbaths that found fertile soil in the very continent where churches held most sway. If churches can't prevent such mass slaughters, what good are they? But how ironic that the only Christian group with the guts to unilaterally stand up to Hitler is the one most harassed in post-war France!

Still, the movie is great. It's a shame so few Americans know of it, just as they know nothing of Maigret. French critics dubbed it "the most beautiful film Cannes has given us this year". Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I, though not of that august body, fully concur.

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Few Odd Fellows But Plenty of Weirdos

Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I blew into Ithaca just as the whole city was about to “stand up for peace.” Of course, we didn’t know they were going to do that. We’d just come down to catch the tail end of the three day music festival. But we hadn’t been in town more than half an hour before some counterculture type person urged us to get to Stewart Park where, at 3 PM, folks would congeal into a giant peace sign. They planned to photograph it from the air and submit it to the Guinness World Record organization. Instead, we risked being seen as warmongers and stayed in the Village Court section, where a cajun band called Bayou Road Krewewas playing.

For a quick mini-excursion, you can’t go wrong traipsing down to Ithaca. My wife and I do it a lot. Just 90 miles southeast of our Rochester home, Ithaca is a college town. SUNY (State University of New York) at Ithaca perches high on the hill to the south and Cornell University straddles the eastern one. The city proper is crammed on a shelf at the foot of Cayuga Lake, but it doesn’t really fit, so it flows up into the surrounding hills, climbing as if ivy. Up there, the streets…commendably gridlike on the shelf…throw off all restraint and writhe here, there, and every confusing where. Descending one of those hills on a snowy day is no job for an atheist.

Four or five creeks cascade from the heights into Cayuga Lake. “Ithaca is Gorges” say t-shirts and bumper stickers. It’s true. Gorges cut deep into the earth right through the heart of the city - two of them pass through Cornell itself. Students bustle on campus above while, two hundred feet down, others hike the gorge as if in a different world. Within ten miles of the city can be found over one hundred waterfalls…I’ve heard some say as high as 150 (Mrs Sheepandgoats and myself strive to find them all).….and some of them are truly spectacular. The local earth museum highlights the fossils and sedimentary layers thus exposed. Try visiting sometime, as I have, with Tom Pearlsandswine. Hear him muttering throughout about the “wiles of Satan,” and challenging museum staff at every exhibit. You’ll want to bury your own head in that sediment.

So alluring is Ithaca that some graduate from the colleges and stay put. They obtain four year or six year degrees, then they hole up in some commune on the hills growing organic food. Or work at the local bookstore. Or start an earth-friendly “green” business. According to this webmaster, Ithaca’s been called "One of America's Most Enlightened Communities" and one of "The Top 10 Places to Drop Out of Society." Perhaps the two titles aren’t as mutually exclusive as they at first appear.

An eclectic bunch….some of them. Generally quite pleasant, though you can’t be one who clucks his tongue at unusual characters. Opening day parade for the music festival consisted of “an automotive ballet composed of a procession of Volvos in synchronized driving formation. A group of burly He-Men toting chainsaws as if they were trombones…..A distinct absence of Odd Fellows, but no shortage of weirdos,” according to the Ithaca Journal. I’m told by the local congregation that these folks tend not to be real receptive to the Bible’s message, perceiving it as a ploy to restrict their freedom. I once worked with a young woman whose divorced father turned up years later as a nudist in Ithaca. So I’m not so sure I want to run down to Stewart Park and make a giant peace sign with them. Besides, what would Winged Migration Man (WMM) say? Were any of his old buddies among those who called the peace sign the "footprint of the American chicken?"

WMM is the retired fellow who spent 24 years on a nuclear submarine (see comment section) keeping the world safe, he maintains, by deterring Soviet attack. It sounds plausible enough to me. And if he plays the “Neville Chamberlain” card, I will absolutely acquiesce to him. Mr. Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister…there were several like him… who “stood for peace” just prior to WWII. He reached agreement after agreement with the tyrannical Nazis, each of which was broken, yet each time he was lauded to the heavens as a great peacemaker. But history judges him harshly. Had he and his peers stood up to Hitler early on, tens of millions might not have died. Unfortunately, hawks tend to see Hitler everywhere, and are ever ready to strike. Many say the current President is like that. Only in hindsight do we know which concerns were appropriate and which were overrated.

Besides, an aerial peace sign strikes me as a frivolous gesture…..appropriate for a music festival, okay - but for a serious political statement? What if it had rained that day instead of the picture perfect weather that was really had? Would even half of the participants have shown up? You must understand that I come from a people (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that have stood for peace when it cost them their freedom and, in some cases, their lives. Over 10,000 Witnesses were incarcerated in Nazi Germany for their neutral stand during the 1930‘s and 1940‘s. In the United States, 4300 were jailed for refusing military service. To this day, our draft-age people in certain countries are routinely incarcerated for their peaceful stand. So having seen people really stand for peace, I don't read too much into a human peace sign on a sunny day of leisure.

About 6000 people assembledfor the big sign. It will be a record if Guinness accepts it, since they’ve not yet kept track of peace signs. An organizer enthused that "we're not going to trash any weapons because of this, but if everybody has the same idea in their mind, that they are coming together in peace and unity, then there's a community started." Um….yeah….I guess....whatever that means.

Actually, there is one circumstance in which I gladly would have taken part. If I could have driven down with a busload of my friendsfrom the home. It would have been a win-win for all. My friends would have had a ball…..they’d each have gotten a peace sticker. Since about half are in wheelchairs, they'd take up more space when seen from above, a plus for the organizers. Civilians could easily be drafted to wheel them around, especially in Ithaca. And if Carolyn decided to indulge in her favorite ranch dressing and milk beverage, or if Jackie ate her peace sticker, no one would bat an eyelash. They’d chalk it all up to our beautiful diversity.

………………………………...............

Wolfgang Kusserow, a 20 year old German executed by the Nazis for refusing to go to war, made this answer to the military tribunal:

“I was brought up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to God’s Word contained in the Holy Scriptures. The greatest and most holy law he gave mankind is: ‘You shall love your God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.’ Other commandments read: ‘You must not kill.’ Did our Creator have all this written down for the trees?”

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

A Willowbrook Legacy

When my nephew was small, the family lived far away, so I didn’t see him very often. Every time I did see him, therefore, I had to get reacquainted. Young children are shy and it does you no good to cozy up during a short visit; on the next visit you’ll have to start again from scratch.

So there I was trying to warm up to the child, showing interest in his activities, doing goofy things and so forth, and the look on his face plainly said “get this creep away from me!” Obviously a new tack was needed.

“Mitchell,” I ventured, “let me tell you about my friends.”

The boy looked like he might put up with it.

"I have one friend named Carolyn who likes to make herself a cold drink when she gets home from work. Do you like cold drinks? ……My friend goes to the refrigerator and pours a glass half-full with milk. Do you know what she pours for the other half?” The boy looked up.

“Ranch salad dressing! Does that sound like a drink you would like?” The lad looked wondrous, as if I was from Mars, and shook his head emphatically. I had his attention.

Carolyn loved ranch dressing and would have drunk it all day if we had let her. We didn’t, of course. She’d make raids to the kitchen and grab the two ingredients. Sometimes she’d get so far as to emerge one jug in each hand, but we’d always intercept and send her off, to howls of protest.

“I also have a friend named Jackie,” I said. “Do you know what she eats?" The boy shook his head. “Anything,” I answered. “Even if it’s on the floor. Even if it’s not food. She’ll grab it quick and put it in her mouth.” The boy looked at me as if I was from Venus.

She’d also eat paper clips and screws and tacks, so you had to follow her around and watch her very closely. If she spied some….say, dryer lint….she‘d lunge….it was unbelievable how strong she was at such times, so you were wise to clear the area beforehand. It’s a condition known as Pica….who would have thought there’d be a name for it?
She’d also talk non-stop, but only about a dozen phrases said again and again and again. You couldn’t help but like her, and you couldn’t help but regard her as a mischievous child, same as Carolyn. Always active, she used to wander around the house constantly, and staff would have to follow her, lest she ingest carpet, knickknacks, paper, what-have-you, like a giant vacuum cleaner. But she fell ill and spent several months in a coma. (something she ate?) In the hospital, I’m told, they didn’t move her too often and the weight of the bedcovering pressed down on her feet till she could no longer straighen them. Discipline meted out to lots of people, of course, but it didn't do her any good, did it? Thereafter in a wheelchair, she'd talk constantly of going to work and would almost shake her chair apart in excitement when the van showed up. “Go to work,“ she’d repeat, banging fists together up and down, like hammer on anvil……the sign language gesture for “work.“ At work, they told me, she’d speak of nothing but going home.

Then there was Christopher. Christopher couldn’t walk either, or talk, but if you set him on the floor he could hop about and cover surprising ground. I got in the habit of reading stories to Christopher, shamelessly overacting the characters when I saw how much he liked it. He’d rock back and forth and positively howl with delight. You could also give commentary on the TV, as over-the-top sportscaster, for instance, and get the same enthused result. Other times, in the early morning we'd roll out onto the deck and listen to the birds.

The second part of Christopher’s life has been much more pleasant than the first, thanks to the Willowbrook Decree. As a kid, Christopher was placed at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. Places like this were once hailed as panacea for the developmentally disabled. Not only would they live in happy bucolic surroundings and get plenty of care geared to their needs, but they would be far away. But in 1972, Geraldo Rivera snuck into the school with hidden camera and detailed shocking conditions: children packed in like cattle, cowering naked and filthy. Feces on the walls. Urine all over. Frequent and violent deaths. The place was, as Robert Kennedy had declared a few years before, “not fit for even animals to live in.” Geraldo’s on-air reporting (which earned him a Peabody Award) jarred consciences. Investigators investigated, hearings were heard, speeches were spoken, and groundbreaking legislation was legislated. All 5000+ residents were dispersed and relocated in small communities. They also received and are still receiving  life-long oversight to ensure personal wellbeing.
The present trend to place individuals with developmental disabilities in community residences, the birth and spread of day programs and special education in New York, then in other states, then in other countries, can all be traced, at least in part, to the Willowbrook hearings. So Christopher, former member of the Willowbrook class, is a hero, a pioneer of sorts, though I doubt he is aware of it.

My nephew enjoyed hearing about my friends and we became chums again. And in calling them friends, I really don’t misspeak. They became friends. I might pull up a chair in Doug‘s room, for instance, and watch some TV with him. This was a challenge, since it was his set, he had the remote, and he’d flip through channels as if spinning a roulette wheel. Still, considering what‘s on these days, it was probably just as well.

Sometimes when I assisted these folks in their daily routines, I would imagine seeing then again in the new system, with sound body and mind. But for dumb luck, life might easily have turned out differently, with them assisting me. In many ways, working in the disabled home was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had. And it changed my overall conduct. Now, if I am invited to a party or someplace, I will put my hands in my pockets, murmur some niceties to whomever I must, and then go search for some mentally retarded persons to hang out with.

………………………………...................................

All names have been changed of course, even that of the nephew. Only my own, Sheepandgoats, is rendered accurately.

update available here.

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Screening With the Barenaked Ladies

If you don’t instill values into your kids, it’s not true that they will grow up free and beautiful and unencumbered, selecting their own values from the rich cornucopia of ideas....and thus escaping your stupid prejudices. No, all it means is that someone else will instill values into them. Moreover that someone else is not likely to have your kids interests at heart, at least, not to the extent you do. Heaven help you if that someone else is the entertainment media. That medium even pushes the percentages of Sturgeon's law, which informs that "90% of everything is crap."

You have to shield the kids somehow. You can‘t quite do what the entertainment industry tells you to do….watch this or that show with your child and then discuss its values or lack thereof. This is just their ploy to double the audience. Maybe it was true in your household that adults had equal leisure time with the kids. It sure wasn’t true in ours. And what limited parent-child time I had…..I sure wasn’t going to blow it all playing “bad cop.”

TV tickets might work. They did fairly well for us. You allot the kids so many TV tickets per week. Using them as they see fit, they would be able to watch 2 hours or so per week of commercial TV. (Public TV was unlimited. And we didn’t have cable….why torture them with unlimited channels they can’t watch?) I remember my son, at 6 or 7, telling someone how much he enjoyed TV….you learn so much. He actually thought that was its purpose. True, we found out years later that the kids had cheated around the edges a little….they’d found a way to counterfeit the tickets or whatever, but even so, it’s a policy I’d repeat in a heartbeat were I to come along with a second crop of kids, which Mrs. Sheepandgoats does not plan to give me.

Or you might just flat-out do away with the television. That sounds a little drastic, but here and there you run across families that have done just that. True, it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it’s really not that great of a baby…it poops an awful lot and you can well survive without it. As a single person, I actually went through long periods without a television and to this day there are long running popular TV series deemed indispensable of which I’ve never seen a single episode. Ironically, I found not having a TV was a good way to acquire one. People would come visit and notice the gaping hole in your living room. They’d feel uncomfortable, even a bit sorry for you, as if they’d found you naked, or with empty cupboards. The next thing you knew, they’d buy a new TV themselves and give you the old one! I can’t tell you how many TVs I got in that way. I think I only bought one. The method still works. A pal just bought one of those new half acre TVs and gave me his old 25 inch one, a decided upgrade over our storebought 19 incher.

The JW organization tries to help with tips for screening, not so much TV shows, but music. We all know that kids have unquenchable thirst for music, and the music industry fully conforms to Sturgeon’s law, and then some. So the Watchtower chimes in with tips as to how to look at a CD jacket, or what to make of a group’s name…..is it suggestive or even obscene? This way you can screen out the music that is inappropriate.

Such advise works after a fashion, but it tends to filter out almost everything. The Righteous Brothers might sneak through, but most other groups will be tossed out on their ear. The kids are not going to want to exist on just Kingdom songs. Mine sure didn’t, anyway. Even worse, the system can admit stuff that really is offensive…..some uncouth slob, for example, who goes just by his birth name and has a CD jacket featuring  trees or bunnies (rabbits)….you know, things God made. Nothing obvious to tip you off! Still, I followed the system for a time. I mean, it’s very imperfect, just like the movie rating system, but it probably is better than nothing, or at least it’s a starting point.

A group called the Barenaked Ladies rolled into town. They were giving a concert somewhere and my kids wanted to go. I consulted my system and it flashed red alert. Barenaked Ladies? What kind of a name is that? Surely these guys were up to no good. I mean, it’s not very modest a name. You can’t have bare naked ladies running all over the place. If bare naked ladies showed up at the Kingdom Hall, you’d tell them to cover up. I thundered my verdict throughout the house: “No kid of mine is going to any Barenaked Ladies concert!”

Alas, it pretty well spelled the death of my system. It turns out that The Barenaked Ladies is just a good-times band….a fun, mostly  innocuous, wittier and weightier version of the Beach Boys or the Monkeys. Circuit overseers hum their music, for crying out loud…..songs like “If I Had a Million Dollars.” And who cannot spot the joke behind "I Love You Intermittantly," a song whose arrangements and vocals suggests eternal love, or undying love, but whose words say the exact opposite? It’s hard not to like these guys. And you can always just call them BNL, as newspapers often do, though doubtless for brevity’s sake, not modesty.

After that debacle, I changed tactics. I went with my boy to a couple of concerts at the Water Street Music Hall. He was thrilled to have the judgmental old man along. That’s how I came to hear Weezer, who I liked well enough allowing for generational differences……wait a minute….what are they “wheezing” from?…..it better not be marijuana smoke……but there was no sign of it. All they were was loud. At the lineup to get in, everyone held their hand out to get stamped, so I did too. “You don’t need a stamp” the bouncer waved me by, a little disrespectfully, I thought. (The stamp was to verify you were drinking age) “Aren’t there any grownups here?” I retorted. Yeah, the boy was real happy to have me along. But, as stated, the group really wasn’t that bad and I wasn’t displeased I’d come.

I went to another concert later to see some other group whose name I have forgotten. These guys were a little less wholesome. I mean, they didn’t smash guitars or burn bras or anything, but their presence wasn’t quite as agreeable as the other group had been. After that, we both weaned off of concerts for awhile

Years later, when the kids were grown and gone, did I throw in the towel by going myself to the Bob Dylan concert?                           

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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A Key Old Person and Joe Jennette

Thanks to Ken Burns, old people are hot today. No longer are they geezers who drone on and on and on about the good old days and you'd kinda wish they'd just shut up already since they don't even know what an iPod is. No longer are they the crotchety codgers who grouse about how (per the New Yorker) for the price of a lousy postage stamp today, they used to be able to buy a whole damn Cadillac.

They once were all this and more but Ken Burns changed that with his WWII documentary The War, which recently aired on PBS. Spanning 15+ hours, he told the story of the epic war through interviews with the real live participants, not the bullet-headed generals or the egg-headed historians. Today those participants are pretty old and, for the most part, still ordinary Joes. But they held center stage for those 15 hours. The long buried memories they brought to life were absolutely riveting. Turns out the good old days weren't so good for several very bad years. Like….was it Eisenhower who told how after Normandy, you could walk hundreds of yards and step on nothing but rotting human flesh?

When Mr. Burns’ documentary recorded victory over Germany and then Japan, I knew the story was over. But I also knew there would be some epilogues, some “wrapping up” by the old people. And, dog tired though I was (did I not have to get up early next morning to report to the Institute?) I figured I owed it to these old folks to hear them out. You couldn’t help but connect with these people.

But old people remember lots of things, not just war. Today, the hottest of all old people may be our family’s own Violet, profiled in Violet in the Old Folks Home.Of all living persons, she has the most vivid family memories of the boxer Joe Jennette. This, it turns out, is a critical asset since a TV sports network is making a documentary tribute to Joe. And it’s about time. Long ago, Joe used to routinely fight Jack Johnson, the first black World Heavyweight Title holder, and there’s plenty of people who think he would have captured the title himself had Jack given him a shot. But Jack didn’t. Why should he have? Winning the title himself, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by fighting black challengers. Wouldn’t he, at best, get bruised up to no purpose? But having broken into the white boxer’s domain, all he had to do was stay there. He could pound white boy after white boy to his heart’s content. He dominated his years in the ring.

All this, of course, was too bad for Joe. It consigned him to the footnotes of fighting. But now TV sports wants to do their tribute. They’re poking around for people to interview and came across the white family Joe married into (my family) through this blog!They even thought they might interview me, Tom Sheepandgoats, but it turns out I don’t really know anything. I’m merely the chronicler. Yes, I saw Joe a few times when I was little, he probably carried me around some on his shoulders, but I really don’t remember. No, better to put the TV people in touch with our family historian, a cousin. But they will really hit pay dirt if they can talk to Violet, Joe’s niece through marriage. It might be good for Violet, too. Old people love to think their memories are valued. Has she yet had her 15 minutes of fame?

Alas, her health has taken a turn for the worse since my post about her. The clock is ticking toward midnight. Pop’s visits are more frequent. Will her memories of Joe be sharp as ever? Will she imagine Joe is still around? (That might be good for an interviewer) Or will she tell them that it’s simply none of their business? That’s unlikely, but you never know, especially if they descend upon her all full of themselves because they're on TV. Violet was always a down-to-earth person

Joe and Adie would drive out in his fine car, a rare sensation, on his way to visit Adie's sister and family in the boondocks. We had one of those country families where everyone gathers around the huge kitchen table for hours on end, trading stories and gossip. By all accounts, Joe cut a fine figure. The neighbor kids were impressed. Who was the rich person with the chauffer? they wanted to know. “That’s no chauffer….that’s my uncle!” Pop replied.

Decades later my own sixth grade daughter searched for an African-American person to write about for Black History Month. She trotted out all the regulars: Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas, and so forth. All perfectly fine candidates. Nothing wrong with any of them. But none were family. So I told her the story of her great great uncle Joe, passing the torch of his memory to another generation. Did she not earn an "A" with her report? Would I not gladly embarass her and put it online if I still had it?

From time to time people hit on that post about Joe. The TV writer, for one. But also a couple of young women who are descendants of Joe’s black family, through his brother. This is all welcome. We’ll now be able to link both sides of the family. I wasn’t able to trace his family when I wrote the post. They used to be in Connecticut, I heard. But googling the name, there were more Jennettes and Jeanettes (a misspelling that stuck...even the Jersey City street named in his honor is misspelled Jeanette!) in Connecticut than you could shake a stick at, so I gave up.

We never knew much about Joe’s family. Maybe Violet will remember it all, if they reach her in time. I used to think it was on account of racial tensions. But the old guy (another one!) I work with every morning says, no, all families used to be like that. You seldom kept close to both sides of a family. You’d identify with one or the other. Travel wasn’t so easy as it is now, telephone not so reliable or cheap (people had party lines back then...the neighbors would sometimes listen in), email not so existent, and so you tended to lose touch with one or the other side.

But now, at long last, we can glue it together! We'll do Joe proud.

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The Death and Rebirth of the Placebo

For just a brief moment, there was no placebo; there was no such thing. Just for a day. Placebo had its 15 minutes of antifame. And then the day passed, placebos resurfaced, and they've ruled ever since, just as before.

That day was May 24, 2001, and the front page read Survey Finds Placebo Effect Imaginary. From the Associated Press:

"One of the most strongly held beliefs in medicine, that dummy pills or other sham treatments greatly help many patients, has been called into question by Danish researchers who found little or no "placebo effect" in dozens of studies."

Those Danes had looked at study after study after study in which the experimental new drug was compared to the look-alike dummy pill, the placebo. If the new drug was any good, test results beat that of the placebo. But where researchers bothered to include a third group receiving neither drug nor placebo, the Danes found that that group fared about the same as the placebo group. In other words, people sometimes get better all by themselves! They sometimes do, in fact, just about as often as those who received the placebo.

I spoke to a few people involved in pharmaceuticals. They hadn't read the paper and hadn't heard of the survey and didn't believe me. A few days later, I googled "placebo." Conventional wisdom ruled once again. My article was buried many pages back. It took forever to find it. (But you can find it here.) Nobody ever touched the subject again.

I suspect placebo is a notion too good and too lucrative to let die. After all, when you're testing your new drug for efficacy and you can't wait to urge people to ask their doctors if it's right for them, you want it to seem like it has teeth. If it's so much better than the placebo and the placebo is so much better than nothing.....well, you've got some powerful stuff. But if the gap between nothing and placebo collapses, then your drug is not so effective as you thought. Better to keep that gap intact: broad shoulders for all new meds to stand on!

The fact is big pharma pushes a lot of drugs on us. We (in the USA) spent $2.7 billion on prescription drugs in 1960. By 2002 it was $162 billion. There were 600 prescription drugs to choose from in 1960. By 2002 it was 9000. Plus 4000 over-the-counter. Are we that much sicker that we need all those meds? Or conversely, are we that much healthier now that we have them?

And where did this term "meds" come from anyway? They're medicines, dammit! Isn't "meds" a sneaky con attempt to make them seem warm and fuzzy, friendly-like?...every day you take your meds just like you take your tea, or chocolate.

 

That's why when Pop goes to the doctor and the doctor "puts him on" this or that drug, Pop tells him to forget it. Either that or because he's a stubborn cuss. But it's hard to tell someone 85 who's in perfect health that he'd be so much better if he'd just be gobble down more pills. It's a standing joke with us. I meet him in the doctors office, after his yearly physical. (it took forever to get him to agree to those, and he only did so for insurance reasons) "What do ya think, Pop?" I ask, "Want me to get a wheelbarrow for all your pills?" "HA!" he says, "that'll be the day! No pills!"

Most people, overawed by our age's slobbering idolization of science and the doctor's high-priest membership of that discipline, obediently swallow anything they're told to. Not Pop. "Your blood pressures too high," the doctor says, reading his machine. "I want you to take these beta-blockers." "What I'll do," Pop says, "is buy one of those machines myself and see if I can get the blood pressure down with diet and exercise. If I can't, then I'll think about your beta-blockers." He's been able to do exactly that, aided with an immediate drop in blood pressure that comes just from not being in the doctor's office, where we're all at our hypochondriac worst.

Yeah, the old boy thinks that if you steer clear of drugs then one day you'll die in your sleep or drop in your tracks. And isn't that what we all want? A graceful exit when we go. But if you gobble down every pill someone pushes at you, you'll waste away slowly sans dignity in a nursing home. Who's to say he's wrong?

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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John T Gatto and Growth without Educators

When did we lose teachers and gain educators? Isn't that new word pretentious? Doesn't it imply that we'd all have empty heads without them?

It's just just the opposite. It's hard to prevent children from learning. Witness their ability to pick up a language. Without any instruction at all, they absorb whatever language is spoken in the home. If two languages are spoken, they absorb two. If three languages are spoken, they absorb three. We read a lot to our children when they were infants and toddlers. Classics like Go Dogs Go! and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. They picked it right up and were both reading before kindergarten. Beyond pointing to the words we read, we never showed them how. 

If learning is so natural why do so many kids not do it? It's not because we have too few educators. It may be because we have too many.

John Taylor Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989 and 1990 and 1991. In 1991, he was named New York State Teacher of the Year. But then he turned on his fellow educators! Yes, he agreed, he was a good teacher. But it was only because he bucked, at every turn, the stifling strait jacket of the school system. The district where he worked twice suspended his license for insubordination. He was too innovative, and the bureaucracy too inflexible to accommodate. In 1991, he quit. Writing to the Wall Street Journal, he declared that he could no longer "hurt kids to make a living."

But might he have waited for "school reform?" He observed: "Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard....School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." [italics mine]

Visit Mr. Gatto's websiteand you'll see he's working on a Ken Burns style documentary about the education industry, The Fourth Purpose. "The time for pussy-foot measures with the forced schooling institution is long past," he says. "....What justice cries out for to break this logjam is shock treatment." It promises to be good.

In the right environment, flowers will grow all by themselves. It's a natural process. They don't need professional "sprouters" to measure and critique every move. Our homeschooled son never went to school, save for a brief stint in the 6th grade. He went through a phase in which he would read for hours on end. Huge tomes, mostly history. My wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats, had some allies in the school system and she went running to the local principal. "I don't know what to do," she pleaded. "He won't do any of his workbooks. He just sits and reads all day!" "He reads? said the principal incredulously. "Don't do anything!" Yet had he been in that principal's school he would not have been allowed to read. They would have made him do those workbooks. Thus a naturally enjoyable experience (learning) would be made hateful.

Our boy entered 6th grade mid-year. It was time to give it a try. Rochester City has an odd system of school assignment. You are usually but not necessarily assigned to your neighborhood school. But since our boy went suddenly, he had no say whatsoever and was assigned to a gritty school with a cross-city bus ride. Never being in school before, how would he fit in? we wondered. Would he be a nerd? Would he be beat up and picked on? Somewhat to our surprise, he had no difficulty whatsoever, turning the "socialization" myth on its head. At the end of the year, he had a choice to continue in school or to homeschool again. He chose to homeschool. "I had no time to read when I was in school," he said.

During that 6th grade year, his teacher declared pi was 3.14. My son, because of things covered before, knew that 3.14 was a rounded number, and the actual decimal value stretched on forever. He stated such, and the teacher was upset to be contradicted!

Every parent likes to think their kids are naturally bright. We do too. Yet we fear that their brightness may not have been allowed to flourish without homeschooling.

The next time the boy saw a classroom was age 16, at the local community college. They gave him placement tests since they weren't sure how to regard homeschoolers. Consequently, he was assigned remedial math (remedial from a college point of view. In other words, he was age-appropriate) Yet his reading comprehension, they informed us, was "off the charts" They were slow to believe that he had not already had college courses. Interestingly, he never regarded himself as abnormally bright. "I had no idea there were so many stupid people," he said afterwards.

Not everyone will be in position to do as we were able to. Nor was it the answer in every way. I don't mean to suggest that you can't attend public schools and thrive. You can. They hold some advantages over homeschooling. But they're not very flexible. You have to skirt around many shoals.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me                  No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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Leaving the Kids Behind

When "No Child Left Behind" became law a few years back, politicians were ecstatic. Finally, no child would be left behind! They had been left behind before, as many as 61%last year in the City School District. (in spite of the law) Incidentally, that assumes that the 39% who did graduate were well equipped academically, an assumption not everyone would be willing to grant. But, who knows, perhaps before No Child Left Behind, it was only 29%. How could anyone not be excited?

Nobody wanted to be left behind on the "not left behind" craze. Thus, the local bus company declared that no passenger would be left behind! Everyone was enthused. On day one of the new program, almost all passengers were there right on time at the first bus stop. But a few didn't show up. These ones would have been cheated before, but with the new policy, they would not be left behind! The bus driver waited and waited and waited and waited. Still they did not show. Not a problem - this had been anticipated! Each bus had some rousting personnel on board, and those rousters went right to the laggards' homes and rounded them up! Finally, everybody was on board. The bus reached downtown with no passenger left behind! Of course, they all missed their appointments.

My uncle was a hell raiser as a kid. Back in the 1940's, long ago. Constant complaints from his teachers. Finally, his dad said: If the boy won’t behave, pull him out of school. He was “left behind!"

I knew in the first week it was a mistake, he told me later. In time, he got his act together, and lived out the remainder of his years a productive person.

Guys my age cannot help thinking that, years ago, jettisoning the hell raisers, or at least segregating them, might have averted today's educational catastrophe. We try to get over it, we really do, but there's that nagging suspicion that we've all been sold down the river by educators, who proudly strut the deck of a sinking ship, blaming everyone but themselves for letting the ship fall into disrepair. Yes, we try to get over it, but.....isn't it possible, if you'd long ago let students "fall behind," that 6 percent would have, and that half of those, like my uncle, would later realize their mistake and catch up? Then you'd have 3% permanently "left behind." That is a sobering thought.

But it sure beats the 60 percent effectively left behind today, either through not graduating or through graduating with dumbed-down curriculum that caters to the most disruptive and dysfunctional kid.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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