Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Sound and Sights of Music Education

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(The adorable children pictured above were my third grade classmates, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away)

I recently came across a story about a music teacher in Florida.  It seems this particular teacher had reached her limit with her third grade charges not singing on key or perhaps they did not appreciate her efforts to add a little culture to their lives.  While there are many different ways to cope with stress and frustration, sometimes the key to success, or at least to keeping one’s job, is learning which responses are acceptable and which will land one in a lot of hot water.  In this case the response fell into the later category as her coping mechanism was to toss one of her shoes at one of her students.

Rather predictably, in today’s internet connected world, it did not take parents long to turn to social media seeking this teacher’s head.  The uproar led to the Interim Principal responding to parents with an email stating: “We are well aware of the incident that took place last week involving our music teacher… I want to inform you she is no longer a member of our faculty.”  Notice the response was from the Interim Principal because only a month earlier the Principal abruptly left. The story did not elaborate on the departure of the former principal nor did it mention if he or she had been known to throw things at students.

Not surprisingly, the teacher in question declined comment and school leaders declined to give details about what happened in the classroom or what caused the alleged shoe-throwing incident, but it was confirmed that no students were injured.  A story like this might led one to wonder what has become of education in this country.

However what really caused me to pay attention to this story is that it brought back a memory from my elementary school days.  I don’t recall exactly when this occurred but my guess is around third or fourth grade and it was, coincidentally, in music class.  It was a typical elementary school music class where we were singing the same few songs over again and again.  Songs that were pounded into our little brains for so long that after all these years I still remember the  words and the melody even though I have not heard these songs for decades.  Songs like “Born Free,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Windy.”

Perhaps the attention of the class was waning from singing these songs for months on end in preparation for some distant PTA meeting where we would perform for our parents.  On the day of this incident, the class had been proceeding as usual when one student made a remark or loudly whispered a word that one was not allowed to say in school.  I do not recall what the word was, but I knew that it was bad.  Today that word would probably not even raise an eyebrow from anyone and might even be included in the lyrics of the song being taught.  But this was a different time and that word, whatever it was, really struck a nerve with the teacher whose name I will not mention.  If I recall correctly, said Music Teacher almost literally flew across the room to where the offending student was seated.  She very excitedly explained to him that the word he used was not acceptable in school and then something happened that has been seared in my memory from that day.  She began to violently shake him as she proclaimed in a very loud voice, “I AM NOT A VIOLENT PERSON, BUT YOU BRING OUT THE VIOLENCE IN ME!”

I suppose it was fortunate for her that was way back then instead of today.  Then it probably scared all of us into not uttering any word, good or bad, for the rest of the week.  If this happened today, there would probably be cell phone video of it on the evening news and parents would be demanding her head just as they did to the teacher in Florida.

I am not saying that education does not need to be improved today.  I am not saying that education was perfect back then.  I guess what I am saying is that, then as now, a bunch of third graders, no matter how cute they might appear, have the capacity to bring out the violence in non-violent people and push any teacher to his or her limit which might just leave the class waiting for the other shoe to drop or fly as the case may be.

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An Old Sweater

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This has been a long cold, winter.  So, recently I was rummaging through the hope chest in search of a sweater.  I reached down toward the bottom and pulled out an old favorite.  There is a sense of comfort with an old sweater, it goes beyond the warmth of the material;  there is a familiarity, a sense of assurance that comes from a sweater that has been with you through both good and bad times.

I put the sweater on, glanced in the mirror and it occurred to me that this was not an old sweater in the sense that it has been around a few years.  No, this was a very old sweater in the sense that its best days were behind it and it had been decades since it was in style.  It had been in style once, unfortunately, that was when “The Cosby Show” was in its prime.  I’ve come across pictures of me wearing this sweater where I am surrounded by three small, happy boys.  The youngest of those small boys is now twenty-one years old.

It seems like clothes as much as anything make me feel old.  Some clothes make me feel old because I have had them long enough to wear them out, ties for example.  It never occurred to me that I could actually wear a tie out until one day I noticed the lining starting to show through the worn out threads on the edges of the tie.   Other clothes make me feel old because I see pictures of me from the past and the clothes I am wearing just look silly.  Bell bottoms, elephant legs and ironed on decal T-shirts fall into this category.

Old clothes can make me feel old and it is just not fair.   This old black sweater still fits, mostly and it still looks like it did when it was new, mostly.  On the other hand since the day this sweater was in style, my wrinkles have furrowed a bit, my hair has grayed a bit and my waist has thickened a bit.   As a final test, I asked my wife her opinion of this sweater.  She looked at me and said, “Looks a bit old and tired.”  I asked, “Me or the sweater?”  She said, “Uh-huh.”

I am not sure what I can do about looking old and tired, but looks like my favorite sweater is the latest candidate for the big spring garage sale.

Conversation Hearts

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Valentine’s Day is almost upon us.  Do you know what the best selling holiday
candy is?  If you said chocolate, you are wrong!  Necco - the same people who 
brought us thin, quarter-sized chalky wafers - produces about 100,000 pounds of
those little conversation Sweethearts, more than enough for everyone in the world to have one.  But who wants only one?  Enjoy a handful because a serving is 25 
hearts totaling about 100 calories devoid of any nutritional value. 

Did you ever read the listed ingredients for these little gems? Sweethearts are
made from: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Gelatin, Modified Food Starch, Natural & Artificial Flavors, Gum Arabic, Xanthan Gum, FD&C Colors. Natural & Artificial
flavors??? What flavor??  Can someone honestly tell me there are different 
flavors? Am I supposed to believe that the various colors are different flavors?

Of course we don’t buy these for the flavors anyway; we buy them for all the
brief little sayings on them.  It is kind of like they were an early forerunner
of Twitter.  You may not have noticed, but they actually do make changes to the
sayings, phasing some out and adding new ones.  Some of the sayings that have beenretired over the years include “DIG ME,” “HOT CHA,” “SAUCY BOY,” “GIRL POWER,” “OHYOU KID,” “GROOVY,” “COOL DUDE,” “MY, SUCH EYES,”  “FAX ME,” “HEP CAT,” “1-800 CUPID,” “YEAH RIGHT,” “OH BOY,” “YOU ROCK,” and “LET'S READ.”  Let’s Read??

Some of the newer sayings include “UR HOT,” “TEXT ME,” “LOML” [that's: Love of My Life], “#LOVE,” "MELT MY HEART," "IN A FOG," "CHILL OUT," and "CLOUD NINE." 

As a public service, I will offer some suggestions for our friends at Necco to
consider in the future.  While these suggestions might make the “conversation”
more interesting, I will not hold my breath waiting for any of these to appear in the future: “SELFIE,” “OMAHA,” “TWERK,” “YRU STILL HERE,” “GO AWAY,” “1000X NO,” 
“GIVE UP,” “NOT NOW,” “NOT EVER”,” “HAPPY HAPPY,” “HASHTAG,” “WIN WIN,”
“FISCAL CLIFF,” “POLAR VORTEX,” “SEQUESTER,” “BUG OFF,” “CREEP,” “IT’S OVER,” “DO MY DISHES,” “SUB PRIME,”NO HOPE,” “LIKED MY PLAN,” “TAX DODGER,” AND “1040.”
 

A Winter to Talk About

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It has been said that everyone talks about the weather but that no one can do anything about it and that certainly seems to be the case this year.  There is no doubt that this winter there has been plenty of weather to talk about and it looks like the coming week will bring even more fodder for discussion.

There is one element of this seemingly endless winter that many people are missing which I call a “generational winter.”  At least once every generation, we need a winter that will provide stories that will be told to future generations of children and grandchildren.

For me, the winter for stories was the winter of ’76-’77, my senior year of high school.  That winter in Dayton, Ohio over a thirty-day period from January 10 through February 8, the AVERAGE temperature was 10.6 degrees and the low point was a temperature of -21 and I do not recall anyone talking about what the wind chill was that winter.  I understand that “cold” is a relative term, but any way you look at it, -21 is cold!!  That was the winter that just some fifty miles south in Cincinnati, the Ohio River froze enough that people walked or drove on the ice to the not so sunny Kentucky shore.  

I know we missed some school that year, but I am pretty certain it was on days that there was a lot of snow, not just because of the cold temperatures.  In those days, the snorkel parkas were in vogue, so I would pull my snorkel out a foot in front of my face and as long as I was not facing the wind it was not too bad.  I remember getting in my car one night when the upholstery cracked when I sat down because the seats were brittle from the cold, the power steering was frozen up and the speedometer looked like a metronome gone wild.

It seems like these days, they close school whenever there is a dusting of snow or a chilly temperature.  It leads one to wonder if today’s kids are not as tough as we were.  I think it has to do with fashion and sense.  As I said, back in my day, when winter came around we pulled out the winter clothes and packed up the summer stuff.  Maybe if kids today did not wear shorts and soccer sandals year round, they could survive out at the bus stop for a few minutes when the thermometer approaches zero.

As cold as the winter of ’76 – ’77 was, many would tell you that the winter of ’77 – ’78 was even worse.  That was when southern Ohio had the only certifiable blizzard of my lifetime when in late January three storms dropped over three feet of snow.  The only story I have of that blizzard is getting pictures from family and friends in the mail (the picture above is one my Mom set me of our house).  For not only did I have enough sense to dress warmly in January of 1977, I had enough sense to apply to a college located in delightful DeLand, Florida (Go Stetson Hatters) where not a flake of snow was seen in 1978.  However that winter as I made my way across campus early one slightly chilly morning my roommate who was from south Florida paused as we chatted and exclaimed rather excitedly, “Look!  I can see my breath!  I’ve never seen my breath before!”  I guess “cold” really is a relative term.

So, take heart, winter will eventually loosen its grasp on us (baseball pitchers and catchers report for spring training in less than two weeks), the temperature will rise and the days will grow longer.  But you will be left with stories to tell.  However, the drama of these is waning too.  Our parents told us about walking uphill both ways to a school that had no heat.  I can tell stories about going to high school in cold temperatures with the heat set low due to the oil embargo/energy crises.  I guess today’s high school students will tell their kids about the times it was so cold that school was canceled and they had to put on long pants while they played video games all day.

Bundle up! It’s cold out there.