Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beating the Reaper 

Like so many others I was saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Randy Pausch. Some months ago I watched the video shown below and was taken aback by Randy’s courage, humility, and passion for life. He was diagnosed with a very aggressive pancreatic cancer and told he had 3-6 months to live. That ended up being almost twelve months and he made good use of that time. He delivered the lecture below which has been viewed by millions, turned it into a bestselling book that provides funds for his family, and inspired a great many people with his manner and his message.

In facing death Randy focused on a life well lived. He talks about achieving his childhood dreams, of finding love in his wife, and in the good that comes in enabling the dreams of others. I watched the video for the first time late one night, mesmerized by Randy’s passion for life and his love of teaching. Life dealt the man a rough hand and he responded by embracing the time that remained and celebrating what he had accomplished. The man didn’t want to die any more than anyone else. He would have given anything to have been around to raise his three kids into adulthood, to continue his love affair with his wife, to continue his work in computer science.

Its not that Randy says things that most of us don’t know. We know it is important to follow your dreams. We know it is important to love your family. We know that how you interact with others and how you treat them is the true measure of a man or woman. We know that helping others achieve their dreams is a high calling. It is that Randy encapsulates these believes into a lecture with such conviction and that he does so with death hanging over his head. He isn’t complaining that life isn’t fair…it isn’t. He isn’t asking, “why me?”, even though none of us could blame him if he did.

If you haven’t seen Randy’s “last lecture”, watch it below.

I can’t help but think that as his kids grow up they will occasionally refer back to this video and view it as a treasure. Their dad isn’t here, but he left them a pretty damned good road map on how to live.

This lecture was followed by television and magazine interviews and Randy became something of a celebrity. A couple of months ago he gave the speech below at Carnegie Mellon’s graduation. It is much shorter and you can see a physical difference as the disease has begun to take its toll. Watch the whole thing. It is worth your time.

The humor is still there and so is the passion.

“You don’t beat the Grim Reaper by living longer. You beat him by living well. Its what you do from the time you are born to when he arrives that counts.”

Dr. Randy Pausch, a teacher to the very end. Thank you for the inspiration. Why is it that I see you pumping out one-handed push ups at the pearly gates?


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Midweek Meandering 

It is midweek of the last week of my vacation. Can you believe it? I can’t.

I took Aubree and her friend to see “Mamma Mia”. They really enjoyed the first part of the film but at one point she turned to me and asked, “Dad, do they HAVE to sing every five minutes?” “Well, it is a musical you know” “That doesn’t mean they have to sing ALL the time!”

For some reason it reminded me of the very short lived “Cop Rock”. Anyone remember that one?

She was also somewhat befuddled when I told her that the song “Dancing Queen” was 30 years old. We argued it about until I came home and showed it to her on You Tube.

I’ll admit it…I like some of ABBA’s music. I always thought “The Winner Takes It All” was such a sad song. Of course...I'm such a sap.

Patrick of course wants equal time and wants me to take him to see “The Dark Knight”. I don’t think that one is a musical.

I made shrimp and scallop ceviche for Terri tonight. She seemed to like it. She was disappointed the last time we went to a local Mexican restaurant and they were out of it.

I’m not a great cook but I can generally follow a recipe.

I read with interest this article about a book coming out by a New York Times reporter dealing with his past. He goes back and interviews people he hurt, his lawyers, therapists, ex-girlfriends, etc. and explains how he got from there to here. It sounds like a particularly painful exercise. I don’t think I would want to do those interviews, to excavate my past like that, and I didn’t do most of the things he details in his book.

It reminded me a little of Mamma Mia, silly as that may seem. How do you come to grips with your past?

I’m back to work on Monday. We have a school year to get ready for!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

So Sue Me! 

Ahhh. Another weekend spent in pursuit of higher knowledge. I have spent the past few days in an education law class in long discussions about student free speech and the establishment and exercise of religion in public schools. I’ve had most of this stuff several times before, but there are always new cases out there that have to be digested.

We live in a litigious society and schools are often at the center of that litigation. I am always aware that as an agent of the state everything I do in the workplace is an official act. If I mess it up a lawsuit could follow. It pays to be very aware of what is going on in the legal system out there. I would really rather finish my career without my name being attached to one of those cases for someone else to study some day.

I deal with a lot of controversial topics in my daily grind. Drugs. Student searches. Teacher rights. Student rights. Evaluations. Suspensions. Violent episodes. Religion. Student organizations. Homosexuality. Bullying and harassment. All of these situations require me to make a judgment, often a quick one. I am not a lawyer but I have to be aware of the law. This is really what I am paid to do….exercise my best judgment in a charged environment dealing with emotional issues. In doing so I often make someone mad. I am sure my name has been taken in vain quite a few times just in the past year. I certainly don’t want to get sued or have my employer sued over my actions.

Sometimes this requires a little humility, the ability to admit you might have been wrong, might have miscalculated, need to make an adjustment in your original thinking. You also can’t operate in paralysis in fear of legal action either. I really do my best to operate in a fair and ethical manner and believe that if you do that you will be in the right most of the time. I’m not always right but I try to be!

I had a student tell me once, “I’m gonna sue you!”. I don’t even remember what it was about. I leaned back, smiled, and said, “ok, you can do that. You go hire an attorney and have your attorney call my attorney. In the meantime we have to finish dealing with this situation!” When I saw him a month or so later I asked, “whatever happened to that lawsuit you were going to file?” “Oh Mr. S., I decided not to sue my favorite principal!”

Nice job kid.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Home Sweet Home! 

I’m back from five days in Nashville!

Where to begin?

Working in public education has few perks, but one of them is the occasional chance to travel and stay in places you probably couldn’t afford on your own. The Gaylord Convention Center is a beautiful facility with huge lush courtyards.

It had to be huge to handle the 7500 people that attended the convention. We spent several days attending sessions on everything from literacy to small learning communities to gender differences in learning. Most of the presentations were good to excellent with one or two clunkers thrown in. There were several things discussed that I would like to write about more later.

One interesting little factoid: If the current linear decline of men enrolling in college continues at the same rate, the last man will enroll in college in 2067.

I enjoyed the hotel where I played a lot with the mattress to find my “sleep number”. I had never slept on one of these mattresses. I think my sleep number is about a “50”. Not too hard. Not too soft. Just right for me! One of my friends proclaimed her number was an “80”. I suggested she might be just as well off just sleeping on a piece of plywood!

I had a wonderful evening with the lovely Peach. Meeting blog friends is always fun! She showed me her town, took me to a cool brew pub, and took me out to a nice dinner in a beautiful patio setting, good wine, good food, and good conversation. She was a beautiful, intelligent, and conversational dinner date! Hopefully I can return the favor some day.

My traveling companions were a lot of fun. We enjoyed our evenings, laughing and talking, and ingesting our share of…err….libations! It is always interesting to get to know people outside of the work environment, seeing sides of someone you don’t see at work.

We did go to the Grand Old Opry. I am not a big country music fan, but the Opry is part of Americana and something I have never done. I did enjoy some of the acts, especially Hal Ketchum and Lone Star.

As with much of the traveling I have done, I had a great time but was glad to get home to Terri and the kids. I missed all of them!!

There’s no place like home…even if I can’t adjust my bed to my sleep number.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Celebrating Independence 

For the past few days I have been watching the H.B.O. miniseries “John Adams”. I had tried to watch it when it first premiered, but was unable to. With DVDs in hand I settled down to check it out. I am a history teacher, so I knew the people and the events that were referenced. Still, it is something different to see historical events re-enacted and to get a feel for the people involved, their motivations, and their human frailties. History was made by imperfect people then just as it is today.

It seemed an appropriate thing to do with Independence Day coming up. I have always been fascinated with the Declaration of Independence, the revolutionary theories behind it, what it meant to the birth of a new nation. Adams was right there in the room, debating independence, negotiating with the other delegates, carving out a place in the world for his new country, pledging his “life, his fortune, and his sacred honor”.

I am proud to be an American, consider myself immensely patriotic, and have a deep love for the nation I grew up in, a nation that has given me so many opportunities. I love this country and its ideals, even those we don’t live up to. Much as I love my family with all of their faults, I love this country with all of its own. We have 364 other days to work on making the union a more perfect one. On this day we celebrate the revolution that made such debates possible.

Patriotism is a much debated concept and sometimes a confused one. It doesn’t mean sitting quietly by when your country does something you disagree with. One of the foundational principles of America is the right to be disagreeable, to dissent from the prevailing popular opinion, to try and make this nation a better place, and to attempt to persuade others to join you. We don’t sit quietly by when a family member or friend is going down the wrong path and neither should we do so when our nation does so.

Patriotism is not defined by being a “liberal” or a “conservative”, whatever those labels mean in this day and time. Adams and Jefferson were political opponents with diametrically opposed views on what America should be, but both were patriots. Presidents and congressmen come and go. You like some of them and others not so much. Some do great things, some do harm, and others don’t do much of anything. This is our democracy, imperfect as it might be.

We will elect a new president in a few short months. I may or may not agree with the choice, but whoever it is will take office peacefully, and not at the point of a rifle or bayonet. I will support the new president when I can, oppose him when I must, all in what I believe is in the interest of this country I cherish. To me, that is being patriotic.

When the fireworks are exploding in the sky this Independence Day I will think of people like Adams and Jefferson who risked much to give birth to a dream. I will think of the ordinary people who toiled in its fields and factories to make it a reality. I will think of those born in bondage who lived to see their children free. I will think of the reformers who strived and keep striving to see the dream come to full fruition. I will think of the soldier who gave his life in defense of it all. I will think of my own kids who will some day have the responsibility to help carry it forward.

Most of us are ordinary people who will never hold high office, never declare war, never negotiate treaties, never have the power to spend billions of dollars belong to our fellow citizens. We carry it forward in our own small ways, in our own families and in our own communities. That is the essence of the American dream….living as free people and doing our best to make a difference.

I am a free man, free to speak my mind, free to believe what my education and experiences have taught me, free to live and love, free to make what I will of my life. These are my “unalienable rights” the founders of this nation referred to.

I still get shivers down my spine when I recite these words from memory:

“We hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.”

Those words gave birth to the dream of a better world. The dream still lives on in all of us who want to make our country a better place.

Happy Birthday America!


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Midweek Meandering 

It is midweek and all is well!

Next week I leave for my trip to Nashville while Aubree will be at church camp during the same time period. I’m sure both of us will have a good time.

The last time I went to Nashville was also with a group of teachers. We struck up a conversation with a limo driver at the airport. I think he took a fancy to one of the women in our group, because he volunteered to show us the town for free for several nights and ferry us back to the airport as well. We all tipped him nicely but the limo service was free.

I was the only man on that trip with seven women. They all had to share 2-3 to a room while I had a beautiful suite all to myself! They didn’t think that was fair.

Terri has the cleanest cell phone around now. Unfortunately, washing your cell phone doesn’t do much for its functionality. Our cell phone insurance apparently doesn’t cover “liquid damage”.

I know gas prices are soaring but this is ridiculous!

We purchased some fishing gear and will probably go in the next few days. Patrick is very excited at the idea of going fishing. However, he is not excited at all about the prospect of using live bait. “Way too gross dad!”

So how is YOUR week going?


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