Friday, February 29, 2008

Reading Enrichment: Easiest v. Best

I'm slowly getting the information I need to make decisions about the reading enrichment dilemma that I blogged about on Monday. Mrs. K was a little slow on the uptake about best practices and the concept of added value: she seemed to believe that relatedness (i.e., a Curious George coloring sheet, or a word search that included words from the book) equals added enrichment value. My perspective is that those kinds of assignments merely add busy work, which is the last thing either M. Peevie or I need.

At one point we were discussing the "sheets" method of reading enrichment, and poor unsuspecting Mrs. K said, "Well, that's the easiest way to give an assignment and track the work that's being done."

You will not be surprised to hear that I jumped all over that. "Bingo!" I said. "It's the easiest way to make and track assignments. But is it the best way? Does it really help M. Peevie read better, or comprehend better, or add vocabulary, or add to her enjoyment of actual reading?"

My little first grader and I have enough trouble being organized with the regular homework, let alone even more optional assignments that do not add value. I plan to talk to Mrs. Sheets, but if we can't see eye to eye, Mrs. K agreed that I'll be M. Peevie's reading enrichment instructor. She can use the enrichment time to read books that she chooses and track her reading in a journal that she and I will talk about once a week.

Sounds like a plan to me. Thanks, readers, for your comments and emails and links to quotes and studies about how to teach reading. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reading Enrichment for Amateurs

Gentle readers, I need your help. I'm about ready to pop the reading enrichment instructor at M. Peevie's school, because I think she's actually hindering M's advancement rather than helping it. I'm not sure what to do, but I'm pretty sure that smacking the teacher is not the most helpful approach to the problem.

Background: M. Peevie is very bright. She's in first grade at her little private Lutheran school, and she's reading well above the level targeted by the first grade curriculum. So her teacher, Mrs. K, has put her into a special reading enrichment group with a couple of other girls from her class who are also advanced readers.

The reading enrichment instructor, we'll call her Mrs. Sheets, seems to think that reading enrichment consists of reading a story and then completing several assignment sheets related to the story--coloring sheets, word search sheets, and how-to-draw-Curious-George sheets. On a recent day, the only assignment that had any enrichment value was the instruction to write a paragraph telling what you're curious about.

So M. Peevie did all her assignments, including writing a really great paragraph describing what she's curious about; but somehow, she misplaced one of the coloring sheets. When she showed up at enrichment class one coloring sheet short, Mrs. Sheets sent her back to her regular class for being "unprepared."

Now she--and all the other kids in the class who don't want this to happen to them--are all focused on and anxious about whether they have all of their materials in their folder--not on anything remotely related to reading enrichment. And I am ready to pop a blood vessel in my brain.

I'm not a reading expert, or a teacher. I don't have any expertise in this area at all--but it seems intuitively obvious to me that a reading enrichment program should at minimum encourage confidence in and enjoyment of reading, build vocabulary, and encourage writing because of the writing/reading connection.

So, dear readers, and especially those of you who do have expertise in this arena, here is your assignment, should you choose to accept it: Could you send me links to articles, or quotes from experts, articles or books, that describe best practices in reading enrichment? Could you confirm or deny my intuition about reading enrichment that coloring and word search sheets do not add value, but that confidence and self-esteem building are important components?

Please forward this post to your colleagues and others who have expertise. I know it doesn't have the same urgency as an Amber Alert, but there's a window of opportunity here, and I dont want to miss it.

I await your wisdom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Love Going to the Dentist

What? you say, startled, disbelieving. You love going to the dentist?

Yes. I really do.

I not only have a low tolerance for pain, but I also have a microbe-sized tolerance for the fear of pain. And I don't like being lectured at, which used to happen every damn time I approached a DDS.

I'll admit it: I'm not the most dentally fastidious person you'll ever meet. (OK, fine. Fastidious is not an accurate descriptor for any part of my life. Moving on.) I brush once a day, and occasionally, twice. I hardly ever floss. Every time I went to the dentist, I'd get a lecture about how I needed to brush three times a day and floss at least once a day, and I'd hang my head in shame and confess my failure and promise (i.e., lie) that I'd do better.

Then the hygienist would start in with the scraping and the buzzing and the swearing about the placque build-up, like she's personally offended or something. I hate the scraping; it's not comfortable. In fact, it's dang uncomfortable. My hands would grip the armrests with white-knuckle anxiety, and I'd moan at the slightest hint that there would be a tiny bit of discomfort at some point in the near future.

I'm sure they loved me.

And the x-rays--they make me literally hoo-rawrk. Somebody gets near my back teeth with a hunk of white plastic, and my hyper-sensitive gag reflex kicks in full-swing. Getting a full set of x-rays was majorly traumatic for everyone involved.

And all this drama was even before the dentist pulls out any actual dental tools of torture! If x-rays and cleanings give me fits of blubbering dread, then you can imagine what happens when the DDS actually tries to stick a needle in my tender gums, or approaches me with that horrific instrument of television torture, the d-r-i-l-l! (Hey. I watched Alias. It did not help with my dentist anxiety.)

So I hated the going to the dentist because not only would I gag at the x-rays and death-grip during the cleaning, but any level of discomfort or pain would send me screaming into the waiting room. It was not good for business, or for my personal sanity.

And then I found a dentist with a magic no-more-fear-and-anxiety machine, and the willingness to use it. It's called nitrous oxide, and it has transformed my dental life.

One time the assistant had just finished up my x-rays and cleaned up the hurl, and she said, mistakenly, "OK, the hard part's over."

"Not for me," I said. "I hate cleanings. I fear them. My hands are numb from gripping the armrests after a cleaning. Hate, hate, hate."

"Really?" she said. And then she uttered the magic words that transformed my dental experiences forevermore. "Have you ever considered trying nitrous?"

I had no idea that you could get nitrous oxide just for cleanings. But for the biggest babies among us--and I proudly include myself in that sensitive crowd--nitrous is the savior of my dental health.

So now, I make my dentist appointments, and I even keep them. I even secretly look forward to them. I love nitrous so much that it's really, really good that it's a controlled substance. I'd like to have a cannister in my home, but then my children would be eating mustard for dinner and wearing shorts to school in the winter, and not only on gym days.

I love nitrous so much that I don't even mind that that the mask they use to administer it leaves my face looking like it has a nasty skin condition for several hours, until the collagen kicks in and the indentations smooth out.

I don't mind the scraping, or the buzzing, or the drilling. If I feel a little discomfort, I say, "Glurg," and they immediately adjust the nitrous, or the novocaine, or the crack, or whatever it is that they're injecting into my face, and I'm totally cool with it. There's no fear, no anxiety, no white-knuckle indentations on the armrests. It's all, like, excellent, man.

In case you live on the north side of Chicago, and you want to hook up with my dentist, her name is Dr. Tundi (rhymes with Cindy) Frank. She's located at 4200 West Peterson Avenue, and her phone number is (773) 481-1940.

Just as an aside--because apparently Dr. Frank does not have her own web site--this link will take you a hilarious page from a weird site called, which sounds like it was written in English, translated into Korean, then from Korean into Arabic, from Arabic into Chinese, and then back into English. It says, "Badly with the tooth?"

Yes, definitely call Dr. Frank if you're badly with the tooth. She'll take care of you. And if you have more than a tiny bit of anxiety, like I do, ask her to hook you up with the N.O. I am telling you, it's like having three glasses of Malbec in a row, with no teeth staining. You can even drive yourself home afterward.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Limp-Wristed Handshakes: HATE.

Today I experienced the dreaded "limp-wristed handshake." You know what I'm talking about--when a grown-up who should know better reaches out to shake your hand, and before you know it, you're engaged in that lamest-of-all-handshakes, that flaccid excuse for a metacarpal contract, the limp-wristed handshake.

Do you hate it as much as I do? Do you do your best to anticipate it, to make a mid-air approach adjustment in order to mitigate the limpness? You can see it coming: the telltale obtuse-angled wrist, thumb standing like a misleading sentry of strength. You know there is no real way to mitigate it; that the shake-initiator has all the power. Why is that? It makes no sense; it's completely counter-intuitive.

I feel cheated by a limp-wristed handshake. Expecting a firm, reassuring, human connection that communicates with energy and warmth, "Yes! I'm glad you're in the world!", instead I get an unconvincing, half-assed "Ummm. Yes, I see you have a hand. Whatever."

I can almost--almost!--understand this handshake from a woman. I assume when a woman shakes my hand like she has fragile bone syndrome of the wrist, that she was just never taught that a firm handshake communicates honesty and genuine good will. Sometimes I'll even let her in on the firm handshake code.

But--and I know this is not totally fair--when a man can't even summon the strength, initiative, and determination to put his hand out there like he means it, and greet me with an unambiguous, robust handshake with a firm wrist and sincere eye-contact, then I'm automatically annoyed.

Talk to me, people. Is this blog completely off-base? Is a handshake, after all, just a handshake? Or does it communicate way more about a person than he or she may even realize?

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Sociopath Next Door

My peeps and I were sitting around talking about life's latest challenges, and one of us, ZZ., was distressed about a family problem. Her brother-in-law, Oscar, she said, had cheated most of her siblings and/or their spouses out of large sums of money. Whenever he was around, things of value disappeared.

One time, ZZ, her husband, Oscar and her sister were walking around downtown, shopping and hanging out. At some point, Mr. ZZ noticed that Oscar was wearing a completely different shirt than when they started out.

"Hey Oscar," Mr. ZZ said, "Where'd you get that shirt?" There was disingenuous hemming and some vague hawing, but no real answer. Apparently, Oscar had gone into a store, tried on a shirt, and walked out without paying for it.

Another time, Oscar's six-year-old child was discovered to have stolen the valuable jewelry of several people at a family gathering. Six years old. Six-year-olds do not steal wedding rings and watches and valuable jewelry unless someone is teaching them to do so. When the missing items were discovered in her possession, ZZ was disturbed when there were no consequences, no conversations, no apologies forthcoming. Her suspicion was that her sibling was headed in that direction with their child, but was shut down by her husband.

This guy has no conscience, and he even has no qualms about using his own child to get what he wants. It's creepy; it gives me the chills; and Martha Stout claims in The Sociopath Next Door that one out of every 25 people you meet is a sociopath like Oscar. The defining characteristic of a sociopath is that he has no conscience: he can do whatever he wants without feeling remorse.

The Sociopath Next Door is an interesting, well-documented look at sociopathology and the history of the human conscience. It's somewhat repetitious, which got annoying to me--Stout frequently references the 1/25 ratio, or the 4 percent rate of occurrence of sociopathology.

But other than that minor tic, the book held my interest, and I appreciated the balance the author struck between academic scholarship and popular or layman's language. I was intrigued by the discussion of the origin of conscience and the science of sociopathology: where does conscience come from? Why is it more influential in some people, and less so in others? Why does it even fluctuate in influence even within ourselves?

And of course, the ubiquitious sociological question, is sociopathology more influenced by nature (i.e., genetics), or by nurture? The research seems to indicate that heredity and environment share responsibility almost equally. The absence of conscience has not so far been linked to early abuse; and in fact, Stout suggests, "there is some evidence that sociopaths are influenced less by their early experience than are nonsociopaths."

The brain science shows that normal brains respond differently to emotional words (like love, hate, cozy, pain) differently than they respond to neutral words (like table, chair, fifteen)--but not so with sociopathic brains. Apparently, the sociopath's brain demonstrates an altered processing of emotional stimuli, except for primitive affective responses to immediate pain or pleasure.

The subject of desensitizing the conscience of soldiers in order to make them more effective killers was particularly chilling; and I renewed my vow to do everything within my power to direct my children away from military or law enforcement careers. (Not that I don't respect the people willing to make those sacrifices; I totally do. But I do not want that life, and especially that internal life, for my children.)

Stout could have done a better job at delineating the different types or specialities of sociopaths. She describes the covetous sociopath, who takes what he wants, and when he can't take what he wants from another person (intelligence, success, reputation), he hurts, damages or lessens them in some way. Apparently sociopaths can also be motivated by the desire to dominate or control, or even by inertia or laziness.

The author suggests that "the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people appeal to our sympathy." We are defenseless when we pity, she says, and "our emotional vulnerability when we pity is used against us by those who have no conscience." Other common characteristics of sociopaths include superficial charm; lying; risk-taking behaviors; shallow emotional affect; the need to control, win or dominate; and the refusal to take responsibility for behaviors or choices.

Most criminals are not sociopaths, and most sociopaths do not get caught or punished for their anti-social behaviors. So how do we protect ourselves from these ice people? Stout suggests some rules, including the following:
  • trust your instincts
  • question authority
  • don't trust flattery
  • reserve pity for the innocent
  • don't lie for them or protect them
  • stay away from them.

The Sociopath Next Door is creepy, but worth reading, because you will encounter these people, and it will help you, if you're tempted to question your own goodness or sanity, to protect your psyche, and to protect your friends and family also.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gas Man Scam: Update

Apparently Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan agrees with me about the deceptive tactics of U.S. Energy Savings Corp. She filed a lawsuit against them last week days ago alleging deceptive sales practices and false promises. You go, Lisa.

The day before Madigan filed the suit, Pam Zekman reported that 700 people had filed complaints with the Citizens Utility Board against the company. The Better Business Bureau reported that complaints against U.S. Energy Savings were up 125 percent from 2006 to 2007.

This company even targeted Chicago-area nuns with their questionable business practices.

I will say that the salesperson who came to my door was respectful, and she did not use high-pressure tactics to get me to sign a contract. When I said I wasn't ready to sign, she immediately voided the contract she had prepared for my signature, and gave me a copy, along with a phone number to call if I had more questions.

But the essence of her sales pitch was that I would be savings money on future gas price increases--which, essentially, was false, since the starting price locked in by the contract was already significantly higher than our current per-therm price, our average per-therm price over the past year, and every monthly per-therm price we'd ever had to date.

I know some of you out there feel like you got a good deal from U.S. Energy Savings Corp.--and perhaps you did. But I think the company's tactics prey on our feelings of insecurity about gas prices rising exorbitantly, and we feel the pressure to sign on the dotted line a little too quickly, without the due diligence that we'd normally pursue before committing ourselves to a long-term contract.

Once again, this blog offers you a word of caution: caveat emptor--let the buyer beware when the gas man (or woman) with a deal too good to be true knocks on your door. As it almost always is, too good to be true = not true.

UPDATE: I revisited my historical price per therm, one year later, in this post.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Funny Valentine

So my Valentine calls me today, uh huh, and he goes, "Hey, baby, I'm going to lay my cards on the table. Are we doing the Valentine thing today? Because, you know, we don't always do anything for Valentine's day, and I got nothing. I'm just wondering, honey: Do I need to skip my run today and make a trip up to Godiva?"

And you know what, girlfriends? I am totally down with that conversation. This man gives so much to me that I do not need a cheesy Hallmark sentiment on a $4 card to know how much he loves me. I do love chocolate--but Mr. P doesn't wait for a special occasion to buy me some. Just last week he came back from the drugstore with one of those gigantic one-pound Hershey bars, which, BTW, is no more.

We were talking at the dinner table last night, and Mr. Peevie mentioned a wine that we had tasted recently. "I didn't like it very much," he said. "I wouldn't buy it again."

"But what if mom really liked it?" C. Peevie asked.

"Then I'd buy it, of course," Mr. P. replied without hesitation.

It's just a little thing, that conversation, but I made sure my kids paid attention to what a sweet, thoughtful, husband their daddy is. I want my boys to grow up to be that kind of husband--the kind that brings the love in small, everyday gestures as well as in the non-negotiable ways, like fidelity, and kindness, and respect. And I want my daughter to know what a great, supportive husband looks like, so that some day she'll choose wisely.

Let me tell you about some of those big and little kindnesses that make Mr. Peevie my Valentine whether he brings me a mushy card or not:
  • Every morning when he gets up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work, he resets the alarm for me.
  • He knows my love language is presents, and he takes many opportunities--even for no occasion--to speak that language to me.
  • He is the best apologizer in the world--not, as he says, because he has so much practice, but because he understands the importance of taking responsibility for your actions, and he genuinely cares about my (high-maintenance) feelings.
  • When I have messed up, he forgives me often, quickly, and without looking back.
  • He tells me how much he appreciates what I do--my cooking, my parenting, my (ahem) work around the house.
  • He tells me specifically what he loves about me.
  • He is a great dad to our kids: engaged, loving, homework-helping, bedtime-story-reading.
  • He still, after 23.75 years, laughs at my jokes.

No one could ever ask for a better Valentine. I adore you, Mr. P.

Cinching the Belt: Update

Remember when I blogged about our grocery budget, and how I was taking steps to shop and cook frugally? I was feeling a tiny bit proud of myself for being so creative and flexible, and for learning new ways to save money and yet put delicious and nutritious meals in front of my family.

Well. Our total grocery bill for the month of January was $750. Yes, we were 25 percent over our budget. I practically fell off my chair when that number came out of Mr. Peevie's mouth.

What does this mean? Is the budget unrealistic? Or do I just need to try harder? Or both?

My single friend Zzilda, who shops at boutique food stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, told me that she spends close to $500 a month on groceries just for one person! Of course, at those stores you can easily spend $50 just on cheese and crackers.

What do you spend on groceries for your family? Do you try to shop frugally, or do you just go for convenience? Do you shop at different stores to save money? Do you use coupons? (I'm not patient or organized enough to use coupons, but if you can show me a simple, not-too-time-consuming way to do it, I'd consider it.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Book Review: Danny Gospel

Danny Gospel is a confused, well-meaning young man narrating his own confused, disjointed, but well-meaning tale in David Athey's debut novel of the same name.

Danny wants a normal, happy life, but "normal" is relative, and happiness is elusive. He's lost pretty much everyone he has loved, and he's losing himself. He wakes up one morning to see a mysterious, lovely woman in his bedroom, who kisses him and then disappears. Danny immediately embarks on a quest to find this angel, convinced she's real and that she holds the key to his dream of a normal, happy life.

This book has ADHD: it can't sit still and it can't stay focused. Danny's tangled narrative takes us through his memories: traveling across Iowa singing old tyme gospel hymns and spirituals; rescuing his sister from an online predator; and assorted family tragedies. The story covers Danny Gospel's present-tense adventures as well, searching for an old family friend across frozen cornfields and bumpy back roads; running from the law and hanging out with a band of strange, musical, unemployed partyers (sp?); and attending the bizarre wedding of his estranged brother.

This book has Asperger's Syndrome, too: It doesn't handle transitions very well, it is characterized by repetitive behaviors and odd obsessions, and the characters have difficulty with non-verbal skills. Emotions don't track very well with these characters; you don't really know why they're feeling what they're feeling.

Danny Gospel lost me in narrative transitions several times in each chapter. The narrative lurched backward and forward in time so often and in such unpredictable and disjointed ways that my brain felt like it was bouncing over winter-pot-holey Chicago streets in a truck in desperate need of new shocks.

I found the novel to be repetitive and odd, kind of like what Rain Man would look like if he were a book. Danny repeatedly prays for a normal, happy life, but instead he keeps encountering herds of runaway pigs, "perfectly lovely" but mysterious women in white, and confusing conflicts, car troubles, and hints of mail fraud. Gospel music winds through the story discordantly, like orange yarn in a white silk shawl.

(Danny is a spiritual guy who devours the writings of the desert fathers. But you'd never catch a desert father whining about not having a normal, happy life.)

The characters have difficulty with non-verbal skills--meaning, they're not fully fleshed out and well-developed enough to have non-verbal depth. They have dialogue, and some even have a little back-story--but most, including the eponymous Danny, are flat and somewhat surreal. Even when the author tries to flesh them out, you don't feel their pain or understand why they do what they do or say what they say, and sometimes, why they're even in the story.

The Atom Smasher, for example, shows up in the first chapter. We learn what he looks like, where he lives (Chicago), what he does for a living, what kind of car he drives; he and Danny have a surreal conversation about atoms and fireflies. This character disappears for most of the rest of the book, and then inexplicably reappears in Iowa eight chapters later, with no explanation for how or why he's there.

Even Rachel, Danny's fiance, has no depth. We know that he misses her and believes against all evidence in their soul-mate connection--but we don't really know what connects them, or what Rachel is like. Is she silly? Is she smart? Does she sing? Why did she come to Iowa from New York?

In the end of the story, we learn something completely unexpected that Danny did--but it seems to have almost no emotional connection to the rest of the story. It reads like it's supposed to be a big reveal of one of the suspenseful themes in the book--but it evokes a "Hmm. OK" rather than an "Ahhh!" or a "Wow!"

The bottom line with Danny Gospel is that there are too many characters, too many events, and not enough cohesion to make the novel work. There might be a really great story underneath the layers of unnecessary detail and extraneous characters. But all I got out of it was a couple of extra forehead wrinkles.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Toast: To Jesus

My friend VoD has a nine-year-old son, Samwise. Samwise took communion at church for the first time last week, and he had a unique, convivial perspective on the holy sacrament.

The ushers delivered the bread-slash-cracker and the wine-slash-juice to the congregants, and the pastor recited the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper: "This is my body, which was broken for you. Eat ye all of it. This is my blood which was shed for you. Drink ye all of it."

Samwise leaned toward his mom, ready to observe his first-ever communion.

"To Jesus," he said, "Cheers."

He clinked his tiny communion cup against hers, and tipped the juice into his mouth.

I expect this to catch on, and soon congregations across America will be toasting Jesus when they take communion.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Give Process a Chance

We had a public hearing tonight about the recommendation of the Chicago Public School Superintent Arne Duncan to relocate Edison Regional Gifted Center into a facility that will be shared with another (middle) school. The gym was packed with Edison blue, and also with neighborhood residents, many of whom favor the move so that the building can be used as a neighborhood school.

Edison parents spoke with eloquence and passion about why this proposal is bad news. Some came prepared with reams of documentation and research about gifted education in stand-alone programs. Some spoke with tears, some with sarcasm, some with anger--but everyone behaved (for the most part) with civility and respect.

(There was a tiny shouting match when one Edison speaker suggested that perhaps the neighborhood kids should be bused to Albany Park; and the neighborhood speaker who claimed that Edison parents accused neighborhood residents of being racist was vociferously contradicted.)

Some local residents were unhappy and walked out of the meeting because after an hour and a half, none of them had been called on. Sign-up for speaking started at 4 p.m., and they took the speakers in the order in which they signed up. I signed up at about 4:35, and I didn't get to have my say until 2 1/2 hours into the meeting.

I argued, of course, for a fair and inclusive decision-making process. Here's my speech:

Abraham Lincoln was arguing with a political opponent. "How many legs does a cow have?" he asked his adversary.

"Four, of course," came the disgusted reply.

"That's right," agreed Lincoln. "Now suppose you call the cow's tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?

"Why, five, of course," was the confident reply.

"Now, that's where you're wrong," said Lincoln. "Calling a cow's tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

Calling this last minute forum a “process” does not make it a process. Calling something fair when it’s not does not make it so. Saying that a decision is for the good of the children does not make it good for the children.

Giving something the right spin and making it sound good does not make it right and good. What makes it right and good, especially when honest and fair-minded people disagree, is the process that you used to arrive at the decision.

In government, in management, in human relationships—pretty much in all of life, fair process is the bridge that turns war into peace, mutiny into morale, and personal conflict into reconciliation.

Husbands and wives—at least those in healthy relationships--rely on process to make their marriages work. Successful businesses rely on inclusive, transparent processes to motivate their employees and remain profitable. Freedom-loving governments—and their governmental bodies like public school systems—are established based on the principles of fair process.

In this battleground over our little school, it does not matter if you are in favor of the move to Albany Park or opposed to it. Frankly, I myself am a tiny bit ambivalent—I can see both positive and negative points about it.

But what I am NOT ambivalent about is the process that got us to this point where unelected administrators get to make decisions about the future of my child’s education in the absence of a fair and open process.

I am NOT ambivalent—and in fact, I’m livid—about the comments of Peter Cunningham who was quoted as a spokesman for CPS in a recent article in the Reader. He said we are getting off the issue by focusing on what he calls “parental notification.” He said, “Are you pissed off how we rolled it out? Fine. But to make a big issue out of who knew what when is silly. The real issue is whether this is right for the kids.”

This is wrong on so many levels it makes me want to drink gin straight out of the bottle. What Peter Cunningham refers to as “parental notification” and what he means when he says “how we rolled it out” is PROCESS. He is saying that process is silly; that process does not matter.

He sounds very noble when he says that the real issue is whether “this is right for the kids.”

But Peter Cunningham and Arne Duncan and the rest of the bureaucrats at CPS are really and truly missing the boat on this one, because guess what? It’s my child and your child that they are making unilateral decisions about, and it is not silly or unimportant to care about the process and the rationale and the politics that goes into those decisions.

In fact, it’s my job as a parent. And when you suggest that we’re doing this because we’re ‘pissed off’ and that we’re not focusing on whether this is right for the kids, you are walking on very thin ice, my friend. You do not even want to go down that road.

Yes, this is about what is right for the kids. And how do we determine what is right for the kids? You got it. Process.

Process matters when adults disagree and need to reach consensus. Process matters—and tea gets dumped into harbors—when governments try to impose taxation without representation.
And process matters when one tiny school in one large and bureaucratic public school system gets shuffled around like a tune on an I-pod.

So here’s what I recommend: Stop this bulldozer of a plan to move Edison. Instead, set up a process that includes all the stakeholders—Edison parents, north side residents, Albany Park residents, CPS—and gives everyone a chance to have their say, ask--and get answers to--their questions, and solve problems together. Build in enough time so that parents have choices about where their child will attend school. Make sure that everyone feels heard and no one is marginalized in the decision-making process.

At the end, we probably still won’t all agree. That’s OK. But ultimately, you’ll have more understanding, more consensus, more and better ideas. Whatever the final outcome looks like, it will be fair, because the process will have been fair. And then the decision-makers can legitimately say that they’ve done what is best for the children.

Give Process a Chance.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Yes We Can

I loved this video. You can say it's all fluff and no actual stuff, no meat, no substance.

But words are powerful, and emotions are powerful, and this little video is powerful. It uses only the words of Barack Obama in his New Hampshire speech.

I dare you to watch it and not be moved--even if you're not voting for him, or don't like his stance on abortion, or whatever.

I get goosebumps every time.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and many of you have the chance to go to the polls and vote in the primaries of the presidential election. I should have done this before now, but it's not too late for me to tell you why I'm voting for Barack Obama. Here it is:

1. I believe he is the most likely candidate to bring a swift end to the costly war in Iraq--or at least, to our participation in it. The civil war (are they even calling it that yet?) will probably go on for years, but our presence there is not making things better. It's only getting Americans killed and turning our foreign policy into target practice for the rest of the free world.

Mr. Peevie said to me yesterday that this single issue is becoming a litmus test for a presidential candidate. It seems likely that McCain will get the Republican nod, and he seems committed to the surge and a long-term commitment of troops to the region.

2. He has creative, aggressive, and bold ideas for dealing with this country's most urgent and far-reaching domestic concern: energy. We use oil, gas, and electricity often without even thinking about it--but we need to be paying attention, and not only when we're complaining about how expensive gas is. (Maybe it's good that gas is $45 per gallon because we will finally begin to be willing to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels!)

Look at John McCain's web site. He doesn't even mention energy, gas, alternative sources of energy, fuel--nothing. Also, nothing about poverty, helping low-income working families, or education, either.

3. Obama is better equipped than anyone else in this race to understand and respond to national and international issues in an open-minded, fair, and politically sensitive way. We as a nation will gradually shed the image of a bossy, narrow-minded, jingoistic bully, and we will regain the admiration and respect of other nations who look to the United States to set the standard for human rights and self-determination.

4. Obama is believable when he talks about changing the way politics works. I'm not saying that I naively believe that the system won't change him, or that he'll be able to do everything he says he wants to do. But Obama makes a strong case for making bi-partisanship, process, and fairness realities in our political environment. Reading his book The Audacity of Hope actually put a glimmer of hope for our political future in my cynical soul!

To my Republican friends (you know who you are!), I am respectfully urging you to become a crossover voter, like lifelong Republican Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower. She described Obama as "a man who can salve our national wounds and both inspire and pursue genuine bipartisan cooperation. Just as important, Obama can assure the world and Americans that this great nation's impulses are still free, open, fair and broad-minded."

To my Democratic or undecided friends, I am respectfully urging you to make a choice for change: change in the direction of the war in Iraq, change in our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels, change in politics-as-usual (including the influence of special interest groups), and change in the grumpy, mildly depressed political mood of our country. (You feel it, too, right?)

This hope for change, this anti-depressant in the form of a candidate, is Barack Obama. Vote tomorrow!