Sunday, September 30

"It's the not knowing"

Last week I spent some quality time with my folks, at least in a manner of speaking.  The parental units are going through some physical challenges just now, which contribute to some emotional and psychological challenges, which contribute to their own physical challenges.  It's quite an interesting circle on which many physicians and armchair therapists might comment.  But that's not the point.

The point is a comment my mom made: "It's the not knowing."

She's right.  It's the not knowing.  It's the not knowing about just about anything we confront or experience in our lives.  It's not knowing the outcomes.  It's not knowing the response of others.  It's not knowing if what we're hoping will be.  It's not knowing.

And with not knowing comes more tension and, perhaps, more need to try to know and to try to control what we know, how we know it, and when we know it.

One of my mother's many pet phrases just now is "It is what it is."  I've written on that before.  I despise that phrase and the few days with my mother did nothing to help me appreciate it.  Yes, in some cases she has no control and yes, in some instances, the situation is what the situation is.  But we always, always, always have a choice in how we respond to that situation.  The great shoulder shrug of "it is what it is" suggests we have abandoned any hope, any responsibility, any accountability, anything.  It is a phrase of hopelessness.  Now, that's not how she intends it.  Her intent is to help her manage the unmanageable.

We talked a lot about her response to things.  Well, she talked, I listened, and occasionally asked questions.

"It is what it is" dispenses with the fragility of emotion that informs "It's the not knowing."  There is no point in worrying about what one can't know if it just is what it is.  I think that's fatalistic and suspect it's unhealthy on a number of levels.

There are things I cannot and will not know.  There are things I don't care to know.  There are things I wished I knew, things I wished I knew better,  But there are a few things I know and one is that I can decide how to respond to situations.

There are some things she will learn and will not like.  There are some things she may not know for a while.  She can choose how to respond to the not knowing, to the information she doesn't want to hear or doesn't like just as she chooses to respond to the information that is hopeful and encouraging.

I believe in the One who has a plan for my life.  I believe that things happen for a reason, even if they are inscrutable to me.  And my hope rests in a host of experiences, but also the words of encouragement and hope I find in the Bible.

For some, not knowing leads to a bunker mentality; keeping one's head down and trying to minimize exposure.  Rather than view "It's the not knowing" as a phrase of helplessness or of hopelessness, I prefer to turn that on its head.  Not knowing leads to insight, leads to learning, leads to collaboration with others, leads to depending on others, leads to asking and answering hard questions, and sometimes, just sometimes, leads to amazing adventures and experiences.

Wednesday, September 26

A new world order? Listen up!

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, his last speech in front of the world body as president of Iran.  My personal opinion is that his call for a new world order should scare the world.  And it should really smack some sense into our politicians.

And then there is this poll about who lies more: Romney or Obama.  Unbelievable.  This is what we've come to?  Measuring who lies more?

Every year we have the politician who claims he or she will not stoop to negative campaigns.  That lasts about 45 seconds.  Maybe.

In an interview, Ahmadinejad said "God willing, a new order will come and will do away with ... everything that distances us," Ahmadinejad told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday, speaking through a translator. "All of the animosity, all of the lack of sincerity will come to an end. It will institute fairness and justice."

That kind of talk will be very attractive to many people, especially because our political system is rife with animosity, insincerity, and mistrust AND distrust of anyone who does not seem to think like us.  Further, we seem increasingly impatient with and intolerant of other ways of thinking.  Don't agree with Obamacare?  You must be a __________, though "thinking person with a different opinion" is very acceptable here.  We don't seem to be able to disagree any more and we don't seem to be able to have actual debates.

Instead we are like the protestors and so-called extremists who have rioted and killed over the video that apparently mocks the Prophet Mohammad.  (As an aside: imagine if Christians reacted that way every time someone said "Jesus!" or "Jesus Christ!" and didn't use it in prayer?)  Any more we seem to howl and get violent, if not in action then in words, when someone doesn't agree with us.  So the 1st Amendment is okay for some but not for others?  It's suitable only if what the other person says agrees with me?

These kinds of behaviors and attitudes continue to degrade our sensibilities about ourselves as Americans and certainly don't help our reputation.

So maybe, just maybe, Ahmadinejad's speech will end up slapping some sense into politicians and their cronies who continue to belittle and belabor, who continue to dissemble, who continue to prop up half-truths to win at all costs at the expense of working collaboratively, at the expense of every American.  Probably not.  I'm just not that hopeful any more. . . and find myself yearning for a time when "[a]ll of the animosity, all of the lack of sincerity will come to an end."

Thursday, September 20

The Scandal of a Strike


Chicago Public School teachers went back to work on Wednesday after the first strike in 25 years that was contentious, angry, and, in my opinion, pointless.  And 350,000 students went without school for 7 full days while the Chicago Teachers Union made a point.

In July 2012, the Chicago Tribune published an article about teacher evaluations.  The US DOE was pressuring Illinois to put the new evaluations in place for the 2014-15 school year, starting the roll-out of the evaluation system this fall.  The state has an evaluation program in place and CPS wanted the standards to be higher for CPS teachers.  The CTU wanted the standards to be closer to the US DOE minimum.

(Scott Olson, Getty Images)
Karen Lewis, CTU president, was all smiles and relief when a tentative agreement was reached.  After all, she was in the spotlight. . . alot.  She wrote a scathing editorial published in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, September 14 in response to an article in which Bruce Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist and adviser to Mayor Emmanuel, waded into the fray with some incendiary remarks.  Rauner advocates charter schools and vouchers.  Rauner quotes the remarks of Bob Chanin, general counsel of the National Education Association, saying that Chanin "made it clear at a recent NEA convention when he declared that teachers unions are focused on protecting their massive power '... not because of the merits of our positions, not because we care about children, and not because we have a vision for a great public school for every child. The NEA and its affiliates … have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues every year.'"  Rauner does make the mistake of making a sweeping generalization about the quality of CPS teachers when he reports one instance of a teacher division incorrectly, but the article does not indicate if Rauner used that teacher as an example of greater and more systemic incompetence or if he was just attempting to prove a point with that single example.  If it's the latter, I'd give him a C.

But Ms. Lewis' reply was vituperative.  She accused Rauner of being angry and writing with venom; I thought it was some anger, but mostly sadness and a sense of resignation.  She trashes Rauner and wonders if he'd ever visited a CPS school reporting the inadequacy of facilities and the lack of materials.  Meanwhile, teachers all over the world are doing remarkable teaching with less.  And then she accuses him of some conspiracy, which was even more ludicrous than the rant itself.

At the end of the day, Karen Lewis may think the union "won," but most of the world seems to see this differently.  A CPS parent writes that many recognized the strike was never really about money.  She writes
We parents who want an educational system that can rescue those most at risk, realizing that no contractual agreement will solve those glaring inequalities. Real reform involves shifts in the economy that will take a groundswell of public support, collaboration, research and planning to accomplish. Most parents realize it is not what is happening in Chicago. If CTU continues to position this strike as a referendum on decades' worth of failed public policy while keeping our children out of school, you risk eventually losing my trust and support.
 And that is an important risk; almost as big as risking the education of 350,000 students for not winning much, if anything.  As reported in a Washington Post blog,
All told, teachers won big on school days, got basically nothing on class size or air conditioning, got an ambiguous result relative to the district’s offers on pay and recall policy, and got a big win on evaluations, but not as big as the win they’d have gotten earlier this week. So the teachers definitely got more than they’d have gotten absent a strike, but some of the issues they were loudest on, such as class size, didn’t change at all.
The end result is that the Chicago public schools will base more of evaluations on tests, base more of their layoffs and recalls on evaluations rather than seniority, and have longer school days than before Emanuel took office.