A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pulling back the curtain a little bit

This week, with holidays around the corner and a full moon rising, many students tested their limits. At the water cooler, a young teacher confided, "I hate kids, I don't know if I can take it anymore!"

My response to lunar forces driving animal spirits to distraction was to schedule conferences and tutoring sessions over the holidays, both as a veiled thread, and a promise. By strategically contacting parents of my most intractable, most at-risk students, particularly those who I felt were under-performing the most, I hoped to gain leverage and earn "street cred" with the rest of the class, who have been dominated by a few, who have been purposefully making it an untenable learning environment. In short, I went rogue!

Today, for about two hours after school, I conferenced with Pablo and his father Salvador in the conference of a tower apartment. I smiled like a Chesire Cat as I gathered all of the materials from the 2nd quarter that Pablo had not turned in, in preparation for our showdown.

I have been telling students that everything they need to be successful in math is in their "playbooks," and that we teach how to run the plays in class. I showed Pablo and his father how to access the online textbook, an expensive, intelligently organized, but vastly underutilized resource developed by Pearson, the author of most state testing materials.

Pablo has been unwilling to learn fraction and decimal operations in class; yet, with a little effort, knowing I had dropped by his partner-in-crime's house and hoping to avoid the same fate, Pablo scored an 80% on a test concerning Modeling Algebraic Equations and Algebra Vocabulary. The concepts tested were equations; expressions; terms; signs for operations, equations, and inequalities; constants, variables, and coefficients. With evidence that the routine 20% and 30% scores reflected more of a refusal than an inability to learn, Salvador and I began to unravel all of Pablo's lies. Pablo has been "playing us," I concluded.

I helped Salvador understand that Pablo has been hiding all of the progress reports I have been sending home, plus his Interim Grades. Pablo had been telling his father that math is easy when his father has asked about homework, then getting on his X-Box.

On Christmas Eve, I will conference with Peter and his mom at their apartment, and will hand Peter's mom his progress report, which Peter had left behind in my room because it has mostly F's, instead of bringing it home. Last week, another Special Education teacher found Peter's Interim on the floor, which had an F from Mr. McDuff, his history teacher. I hand delivered it to his house around the corner. Peter's situation is different: when recently asked what is 3+3, he answered 16. Peter is probably one of those students the system has designated a "slow learner" -- low IQ, but not so low as to be in an a classroom with students who have and Intellectual Disability. Peter lacks "cardinality," i.e., does not automatically count on, but rather generally starts back at zero. Peter knows almost none of his math facts, and has no grasp of fact families.

On Thursday the 26th,  On Thursday the 26th, I will be dropping Kendall's project materials off at his apartment at about 5:30 pm, which he conveniently "forgot" to take with hi. I will help him get started on his project which is worth a large part of his grade. More importantly, I will be helping Kendall with fraction and decimal operations, which, like Pedro, he has flatly refused to learn, despite automaticity with many simple multiplication facts.

Three students, Pablo, Peter, and Kendell, have been wasting much of our class time, so it has been most pleasing to me to personally hand them the work that they have not been doing during class time, and getting their parents to agree to keep them busy learning what they should have learned in class over their vacation.

Here's how I got through to Salvador that we have a major problem with his son Pablo:

December 20, 2013

Hi Salvador,

When I stop by your apartment later today to conference with you and Pablo, I have some positive things to discuss, but I cannot stress enough how critically important it is that Pablo take control of his behavior when he returns from the holiday break. He needs to go forward in 2014 with the right attitude. Pablo’s success on the last test was remarkable because it showed what he can do when he pays attention and makes a minimum of effort. I need more focused behavior from Pablo, less disruptive behavior, less negative language, more learning.

I want Pablo to understand that my reasons for reaching out to him are twofold:
1.       I need to be able to teach
2.       He needs to be able to learn
One of my most important responsibilities is to enforce the Code of Conduct so that everybody can enjoy a classroom environment where teaching and learning can take place. If I were to record everything that Pablo has been doing to disrupt the class environment on a daily basis, it would get ugly. I don’t want to do it.

I prefer a more positive, more patient approach, and am sure that is the approach that my administrators want me to take. What I am saying is that I need to do everything in my power to help Pablo understand that he needs to control his behavior. If between us we can’t get it done ourselves, I will consider it a personal failure. I don’t like to ever fail.

If you and I fail, I will be left with little alternative but to move forward with a complaint about Pablo to Mrs. English. Pablo needs to understand that this is not a joke, this is serious. I am not sure that Pablo understands the seriousness of our situation.

Hopefully, this intervention on behalf of Pablo is successful, Pablo decides to more consistently make decisions that benefit both him and the class, and in 2014 Pablo becomes a success story.


Mr. Kurland

Opening line ...

"Poverty, the sea,
embracer of forlorn fates,
Can't stop a hero!"

I was envisioning the opening line of "the book" that the Hernandez twins have been pestering me to write, about a journey in education based on the Odyssey, as it flashed silently across a movie screen. Toyed with the idea of borrowing some of Steven's character traits and history in constructing the hero -- would be a nice allusion to James Joyce to use Stephen as the name of a hero.

Door to door

Street smart, door to door
Pick yourself up off the floor.
Rise up, move on son.

There's a story here. Found a character to play the part of the Cyclops. About Kendall, I'll tell you more.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dog walk reminders of Robert Frost and other worldly pleasures

Winter chill, woods deep
Snow on the ground, trudging feet

Miles to go, tired feet.

Mabel has not been getting much attention from me lately. Second quarter interim reports went out today, which has obligated me to prepare weeks in advance by sending out frequent progress reports in advance of interim grades, and contact most of the parents of the students whom I teach, whether by phone, by email, or at Starbucks. Pulling students for lunch or after school three to four days per week takes a toll on my energy level, which I have attempted to bolster with Marine D3 Supplements.

It's been awhile since I have engaged in the guilty pleasure of blogging about my odyssey in education. The Hernandez twins, Jake and Jack Hernandez, have passed me in the halls every morning, providing daily reminders, "The book, make sure you are writing everything down," reminding me of my rather unoriginal idea I shared with them one day, going off topic, of using Homer's epic quest and characters as a template for writing a series of episodes about learning about teaching. "It's all up here, just need some time at the beach," I typically respond, "This place gives me tons of material on a daily basis."

In second grade, at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, VA, I was removed from one class at my mother's insistence, and placed in Mrs. Brown's class, with the smart kids I would suspect. Likely, I was uncontrollable in an environment where I was being forced to sit at a desk and follow boring arithmetic procedures. Boring repetitive drills! In all likelihood, my first second grade teacher danced the jig after getting rid of me, just like a room full of special education teachers, myself included, practically started cheering when a parent answered her cellphone after she failed to show up at an IEP meeting because she was with the movers. Thank goodness my mother intervened, and thank goodness Mrs. Brown was able to handle me.

Mrs. Brown's room had tables instead of desks. I remember that her room had much more open space than the other teacher's room, and best of all, as a veteran teacher, Mrs. Brown's classroom backed up to the playground. In Mrs. Brown's room, I dictated "The Story of Nature," which contained immortal lines such as, "Some tortoises each fish. All monkeys eat bananas," and "President Lincoln was shot at a theater, then came modern man." My anthology remains one of my most prized possessions. In Mrs. Brown's class, we had to memorize "Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening," which I can still recite from memory to this day. Walking in the woods reminded me of Hemingway and Frost, I chuckled. as Mabel turned back quizzically.

The second quarter has been rough for Eddie, who at the beginning of the quarter showed up one morning at my door before 1st period and pulled up his sleeve to reveal some bruises on his arm. Eddie shared with me how he had had a fight with his mother the night before, and that she had beaten him, so I immediately found the counselor and asked him to share with her what he had just shared with me. That, of course, prompted an automatic call to Child Protective Services. A few weeks later, as I walked to my car at the end of the day, our school resource teacher and the counselor asked me to talk to Eddie, who was pacing in a room, after he may have taken a swing at my friend and fellow teacher, who may have grabbed his wrist first, to prevent him from leaving the room. I often share extra breakfast bars which I pilfer from the cookie jar, unbeknownst to my wife, who might flip if she realized that she has been helping feed my students. Whatever it takes.

Recently, Eddie came to my room to make up work from the beginning of the quarter  -- it dawned on me that the reason Eddie had not been doing the assignments was because he never learned his multiplication and division math facts. Apparently, Eddie had managed to get passing grades in elementary school, despite throwing chairs at successive teachers from 3rd through 5th grades, despite not knowing his math facts. Even the tutors which come from a local high school -- some of the brightest students in the nation -- I am sure did not realize that Eddie was able to do the math without automatic recall of multiplication and division math facts. He was getting by, with a calculator and street smarts -- fooling everybody! After my epiphany, I went through materials for teaching multiplication and division facts from 3rd and 4th grade, and came up with 4 levels of differentiated assignments for teaching multiplication and division in developmentally appropriate ways, complete with pre- and post-tests. While helping Eddie with a problem that involved multiplication with decimals, for a second day in a row at lunch, I showed Eddie Napier's method, partial products, and the traditional U.S. algorithm. Then, I showed him two tricks for remembering the nines. Eddie had an aha! moment when he did the finger trick! I held him a few minutes extra, then went with him back to US History, caught him up with what he missed, whereupon he scored a perfect score on his Early Colonies Quiz!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dog Walk at Pimmit Run at Chain Bridge

With all of the NFL coaches keeling over on the sidelines, e.g., Gary Kubiak, John Fox, etc., my ability to handle the stress of managing a  "winning campaign, i.e., success of students on state testing, has become a concern to me. Just like an NFL coach, I have the same obsessive tendency to not take care of me. I too have a tendency to fall into a pattern of poor dietary habits, sleep deprivation, not keeping up with my exercise routine. I constantly chronic worry about leaks in my procedures, students not motivated to win. Not feeling great physically, need to change.

In The Art of Exceptional Living, Jim Rohn expresses a dictum that I need to remember to follow: "I'll take care of me for you." Dogwalks with Mabel get me out exploring on weekends, sometimes even during the week, although not during the week recently. While walking, I try to do the 4-4 deep breathing exercises recommended by Tony Robbins in Lessons in Mastery (4 seconds breathing in, 4 seconds exhaling). Sometimes deep breathing helps re-energize me, but not today. I need to do a better job of taking care of myself. My brain isn't functioning properly.

This week, I was overheard by an instructional coach from out in the hall telling students to "shut up and listen." She came into my room and observed that I had the class under control, but I was teaching angry because students were not turning in homework, and I was overly focused on students not having enough of a sense of urgency about learning strategies for computing and estimating, poor performance by most students on the end of Quarter 1 Exam, and students who were overly accepting of academic failure.

My instructional coach paused to look at my board then helped me reflect about how the sloppy appearance of the front affected students with special needs. We had a helpful conversation about best practices. She reminded me that I needed to turn my focus back on what I needed to do to help students become engaged in their learning.

Afterwords when I apologized to the class, I told students that I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. I reminded the class about Jim Rohn's formula for failure: "a few errors in judgment repeated every day," and secret of success, "a few simple disciplines practiced every day."

Mabel has come to expect me to drive her to exotic locations. When we leave the house, she generally tugs towards my truck or car. My dogwalks are as much for her sanity as they are for mine.

At the onset of our walk today, we followed a path towards the mouth of Pimmit Run to where it joins the Potomac River. On the right, Palisade cliffs channeled us along a too rocky terrain. We attempted to scale a dirt covered hill on about an 80 degree incline. I was trying to get to the path along the top of the cliffs, because I wanted pictures. About a third of the way up, Mabel gave up, wisely, so I slid on all fours, slowly backwards, and avoided getting us both into a situation that we could not back out of. Sometimes, it makes sense to listen to your dog.

We went the other way. As I walked along the timeworn Native American stream bed, I noticed dappled sunlight filtering through hardwoods. With Mabel, I paused to wonder about who else had pondered about who else had taken a momentary rest on the boulder in the sunlight, and enjoyed the sound of the stream.

Yesterday, Dr. P warned me about not swiping my card to enter the building before 7 am. He told me that the only reason I was able to get in at 6:15 am yesterday was because the alarms had not been reset with the time change. We would not want the police to arrive and point their guns at me, he reminded.

We are at a point in the curriculum where we are teaching explicit strategies for solving word problems involving fractions and decimals. I need to be creative. To do so, I need to find a way to feel better.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A fear of failure

On the way to Joe's baseball game. Riddled with guilt for all his missed baseball games. With grades due and Special Education responsibilities, feeling overwhelmed.

Mabel has been taken care of. I walked her down the Gulf Branch trail to the cliffs overlooking Chain Bridge yesterday, then treated her to Dogma treats and a new toy. Today, I walked her along the County Connector Trail.

Supposedly, I had a 93% pass rate last year. This year, first quarter data indicate that this year will be a cliffhanger.

Recently got my SMART goal approved by Dr. P after an interesting discussion. Dr. P could see that the timid goal I wrote reflected "other people's thinking." He helped me understand that a low goal was like Zig Ziegler's "flea trainer analogy." I changed it to "all of my students will be successful." He said, "you know what to do."

Came up with a creative solution to not providing data to my team on a timely basis: students will do all tests using a computer. All students will be taking their state tests on line anyway. Students can use natural reader, which saves me from having to read to students with 15 different rates of receptivity. Also, students get automatic results once they have submitted for their scores.

My measurable means to the end include vocabulary, behavior, and math facts measurements. Will have to do all grading when I get home. Worried.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A question of priorities

A trillion dollar claim

What I like best about my school is how unapologetic we are about demanding academic success for all of our students, which flows from Dr. P and the culture he has engendered. Any student on our D and F list gets targeted for remediation efforts. Targeted!

After a week having a Gucci clad 6th grader come to my class all week during lunch for remediation of geography content in U.S. History -- 3 - F's on essentially the same quiz -- I decided to try a different approach. On the share drive, I found a simple hands-on sorting / matching activity that matched the regions to their critical attributes: Coastal Plain / Contains excellent harbors, Appalachian Highlands / Contains the oldest mountains, old eroded hills, etc. "If you want to eat with your friends in the lunch," I told her, "just sort these cards 3 times in a row correctly."

"Can you just give me the F?" she replied.

In above referenced Atlantic Monthly Article, which was discussed in the Math Department meeting, there is an unstated claim that not investing sufficiently in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) approaches could cost American workers potentially a trillion dollars over the near future. The opportunity cost of not focusing on STEM approaches came in conflict with a different priority recently after the Middle School Council voted to reintroduce Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) as a way to foster a "culture of reading." The Math Chairman questioned the validity of having students read "graphic novels" and, bless his heart, wanted to suggest a more guided approach, including shared reading and deep level questioning -- Jerry was going to have his Algebra students discuss the Atlantic article -- I chuckled at the prospect of having my students, virtually all below grade level readers, tackle the ideas discussed in the article. Excitedly, I pulled out the high interest, leveled, "considerate text" readers suggested earlier in the week by a renegade English teacher who has taken an interest in me, as she prepares to retire, and wants to pass on the treasures she has collected over a brilliant 30+ year teaching career.

Then came the directive: "Reader Choice is a key element of SSR," so after consulting with my team, I put the books away. Not a battle I am prepared to fight. Bring on the graphic novels.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A good night"s sleep

Yesterday, as I was walking Mabel along a stretch of the Cross County Connector trail near my house, meditating on how I can apply the audio inputs from How to create a mind: The secret of human thought revealed, by Ray Kurzweil,
mom called and the conversation turned to my health. Jim Rohn, In the art of exceptional living, stated the moral obligation to positively address heath factors, "I'll take care of me for you," which helps keep me mindful of how I am or am not taking care of my body.

I learned long ago, from painful experience, the relationship between sleep deprivation and poor performance in a classroom, as well as a correlation between elevated blood pressure and diabetes. My full-throttle approach of teaching through lunch and working with students 2-3 days a week after school, can take a serious toll on my body. That approach also leads to snarky criticism from colleagues and administrators. When I run my machine so hard that I begin falling asleep five feet from the front floor, with Mabel licking my face, or falling asleep on the couch curled up next to Mabel, and don't discipline myself to go to bed and put on my darth vader machine, my cognitive capacity begins to flatline. All Saturday, I was a walking zombie. None of the items on my list got done. Mom reminded me to use the bipap, so last night I took half an ambien, put on the mask, and got a solid 8 hours of sleep, and now I feel terrific.

There's a time to sleep and a time to roll. Let's roll!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Simple Food

During my family's recent visit to San Francisco for my grandma Masako's 100th birthday, my sister Dawn, her husband Rowland, my boy Joe, and I drove down to Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist trap, in search of tickets for the Alcatraz tour. After watching a seagull swallow a plastic tartar sauce packet whole, thoroughly disgusted by the filth, we made our way back towards the shop with the big yellow sign advertising Alcatraz tickets, where we met Dan, who along with the car with the giant pink mustache across its grill, which got right on my a-- on the steepest hill in San Francisco -- I almost drifted back into the car with the pink mustache -- became one of two villains on our trip. Dan read us information on a Hop On Hop Off brochure describing a package deal, which included Alcatraz Tickets, a night tour, and 2 days worth of rides on the Hop On Hop Off. Classic bait and switch! Not that I really cared, since all I really cared about was the Alcatraz tour since Joe's heart was set on it, but Dan misrepresented what he was offering, which upset my sister Dawn for days. There was no night tour. The two day pass was not included, we got a 1-day pass. Joe and I did, however, get our Alcatraz tickets. More importantly, we discovered an unexpected treasure immediately after our encounter with Dan, a man my sister Dawn considered a total shyster.

As we were leaving Dan's ticket scalping shop, we bumped into his supplier, Gianni, who was wearing an Oakland Raider's jersey. We struck up a conversation. Gianni reminisced about how much he had loved Al Davis. We asked Gianni where me might find a good place to eat. Gianni handed us a business card of his friend, the executive chef of Pinocchio's, and advised that we head away from Fisherman's Wharf, and walk about 10 blocks towards North Beach. Gianni said that Pinocchio's was within walking distance, and to tell them that Gianni had sent us. It was more like a 15 block walk. There, we were greeted by a person who must have been the owner. He said, "Welcome to Pinocchio's, where the food is good, but the service is lousy." He sat down at our table and had a Peroni with us. We asked for his recommendation. He replied simply, "pasta." As he made his rounds, he serenaded his guests with Opera. His regulars joined in.

Normally, I am the first to finish. That night, I finished last. I savored every morsel, smelled deeply for every hint of every ingredient, noticed every texture as it rubbed against my tongue. The portions were not large, but they were perfect. Pinocchio's thus became my standard for simple, authentic Italian food. The owner seconded my observation that authentic Italian food is simple, with each ingredient allowed it's own unique voice.

Tonight, I searched and found an excuse to drive my new used 2012 Ford Focus, which I bought earlier in the day from Khalid over at Enterprise Rental Cars in Woodbridge. My little schnauzer Mabel rode shotgun on my drive up the street to the 24 Hour CVS in King's Park. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a new Italian restaurant, Giardino's had opened up in the same location as an Italian restaurant which about a year ago had spiraled into oblivion through mismanagement and lousy food -- the last three pizza's we bought there were badly burned -- and the restaurant food was worse, but the staff was friendly. After the third burnt pizza, Joe never let us buy pizza from there again. After I discovered an unpleasant surprise in my food one night when we went there for dinner, we were done.

I noticed that Giardino is affiliated with Paradiso, one of my favorite restaurants. I went to the original Franconia Road location when it first opened up in 1991, and dropped in recently when I had to go to DMV to renew my license. I overheard a couple comment that the menu looks the same, but that they would give the pizza a try. I went in, hoping to try a slice, simply curious. I was introduced to Tony and his wife, who own Paradiso. Tony and his wife told me that they had just opened up last Tuesday. I mentioned to Tony and his wife what the couple had said about the menu being about the same, but shared with Tony how excited I was about the affiliation with Paradiso, and was certain that the quality would be great. Tony and his wife shared with me how the grease had been about an inch thick, and how he had hired professionals to steam clean the place. Tony's wife handed me a VIP discount card, offering 10% off. They offered me a drink, but as sleep deprived as I was, I declined.

Tony explained to me that unlike the chains, Giardino's makes the dough from scratch, every day, and that the cheese is authentic high quality mozzerela which they shave from blocks. After I related to Tony my experience with Pinocchio's, he agreed that simple is best, and said that he prefers a simple cheese pizza, so I ordered a 12" pizza, hoping to reconnect my boy Joe to authentic wood fired pizza. Delicious! Joe loved it! Tomorrow, we will order a pizza for dinner. For years, I've felt we've needed an authentic Italian restaurant close to home. Thanks to Tony and his wife, we finally have one.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More Dog Walks: Dyke Marsh

I will probably "catch a little _ _ll" for this post, since I revealed to Mom this morning that Interim grades are due, along two IEP Teacher Narratives, the need to complete my IEP software certification, not to mention the typical instructional preparation side of things, but I will make this a quick post. Tick, tick, tick ...

Part of the way my particular ADD mind works is that I tend to filter all experience through a set of cognitive lenses which cloaks everything I do in a layer of excitement or fun. I tend to avoid doing the boring things like sitting at my desk and taking care of professional paperwork obligations unless I have something fun or exciting to look forward, or I feel the breath of some catastrophic threat breathing down my neck. Thus, I habitually look at things as fun and exciting or catastrophic, which is the only way I seem to be able to marshal my powers of focused attention. Ergo, danger is fun! Posting, thus, moved to the top of my list ahead all of my staggering professional responsibilities. Can't do the boring stuff until I've walked along the razor line.

My canine "daughter" Mabel views things through a similar set of cognitive lenses, which is probably why we get along so well. Lately, Mabel has been able to cleverly exploit my feelings of guilt for working so many hours by persuading me to take her in my "Twuck" in search of better parks. She loves hanging her head out the window.

Today, Mabel helped me discover two hidden gems that have been sitting side by side, right in my own back yard. Instead of being satisfied with our normal Saturday morning 1.5 mile walk around the neighborhood through Accotinck Park, during which we often meet up with other dogs she looks forward to sniffing, such as Bandit the Basset Hound, she tugged me toward my old Chevy truck. I often try to drive to different parks, so Mabel and I have been getting bored with simply going around to normal park entrances. Today, I got on the Beltway heading toward the Wilson Bridge and the GW Parkway, in the general direction of Mt. Vernon. The Belle Haven Marina looked like a good place to pull over.

Little did I know, the Belle Haven Marina sits next door to one of the premier Bass fishing places in the area, Dyke Marsh. Mabel tugged me over to a rental hut. A man was getting help from the dockmaster, loading his bass boat on to his trailer. I inquired about about the kayaks, and in the course of conversation he mentioned  how great the bass fishing is. I responded enthusiastically, this would be a great place for a weekend family few hour get away, during which, I could reconnect with Joe, Mabel's "bruddah." The life of a teacher and the life of a student athlete pull us in different directions, but there's always vacations.

As I was walking over to Dyke Marsh, my phone rang. Dad called to inquire about the naming convention for programs of study, curricula, objectives, units, and activities. With the recent republication of a lost Fulton Sheen book, and the encouragement of Guy Stevenson, dad is preparing for a possible meeting in Los Angeles, CA with a person who is responsible for the curricula for all of the Catholic schools in the USA. Dad is hoping to find someone to develop justice-based curricula for high school and college students consistent with principles of social and economic justice, which he considers a moral omission that is plaguing public education. My input was to steer him in the direction of the idea of "engaging learners" by developing activities where students were responding to real life projects such as "build a model justice-based city from the ground up," or "invent a groundbreaking new technology" using principles of economic and social justice.

I reminded dad of my brief association with Dr. Larry Kohlberg, who in the 1980's was using "moral dilemmas" to teach school governance in developmentally appropriate ways. After a CESJ annual conference, Larry invited me to attend his Conference on School Climate and Governance at Harvard University, where I practiced using Larry's tool, Moral Dilemmas, along with educational leaders from inner city schools, who were implementing many of Larry's student adjudication procedures.

As I was walking through Dyke Marsh, cellphone in hand, which must have annoyed all of the birdwatchers, I discussed the need for any curriculum designer to be able to generate assessment data, to show that the curriculum was having measurable results, and the need to develop visuals for the central dichotomy he hopes to insert into all humanities curricula, "own or be owned." My suggestion to dad was that, if he wanted "own or be owned" to be inserted into every curriculum, someone needed to develop an icon as recognizable as the icon for Coke.

Tick, tick, tick ...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Presidential Letter Commemorating Masako's 100th Birthday Party

The launch of my classroom earlier this month has taken nearly every ounce of my time and energy, which is why I have not posted this month. As my office mate Paul exclaimed earlier this week, "most people have no idea how much time, money, and energy goes into teaching."

Yesterday I was given a nice excuse to post a short update that involves little effort on my part, and little risk of raising concerns that I'm going ADD, i.e., putting my job at risk by not focusing on writing lesson plans, not completing my certification training so that I can create online IEP's, and otherwise not holding the wolves at bay. Certain family members worry that my blogging is a dangerous thing, given the high levels of risk involved in being a Special Education Teacher, and all of the scrutiny which comes with the territory, but I have developed an uncanny ability to filter my words, so that I can say what I want while maintaining an edge. Grandma's commemorative Presidential letter provides a useful cover for my living a little on the edge.

Mom called at about 8:30 on Thursday night, but I had already gone to sleep. I had several alarms set in intervals to go off starting at about 1 am, so that I could complete my 3 emergency sub plans, and fill out all required paperwork to go in my substitute folder, and thus meet a Friday deadline. Dr. P runs a tight ship, and I did not want to fall afoul of his staff. On Wednesday night, as Joe was getting ready to go to sleep at 2am, my alarms were going off to wake me up so that I could have my sub plans ready for my sub on Thursday. Poor Karen! I was giving all praise and thanks when I awoke at the appointed hour. Joe still had not completed a few high level questions about the Declaration of Independence, including connections between John Locke, questions about why Jefferson switched from Life, Liberty, and Property to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness, so I quickly fed him the correct answers so that he could get to his Spanish. Karen was imploring Joe to please get to sleep!

While on a lunch break yesterday, I called mom back, which seemed to reassure her that I was holding up professionally, which was likely the real reason she was calling -- to check up on me. Already, I have had three mini observations, and I have been fortunate to have had reasonably good lesson plans in place each time. Nobody has complained about me yet, but my assessment data has been, frankly, somewhat concerning. It bothers me that my students are a minimum of 1 week behind the pace of the rest of the 6th grade.

While talking to my mom on Friday, who called to let me know about over 200 residents in grandma's assisted living apartment complex showed up to the birthday party held for Masako at her apartment earlier this week, I remembered that I had never received the scanned file of the letter that was presented to my grandma Masako in August at the Green Hills Country Club in San Bruno, California. My mom turned to my sister, who immediately sent the file. Thanks Dawn!

This morning was the first time I have been in the gym all month. After stepping on the scale yesterday morning, and much to my chagrin, I had gained weight, despite my recent purchase of a Nutribullet. I thought the twice daily Nutriblasts would provide immediate results, but even though my dietary habits have improved dramatically thanks to the Nutribullet -- Love it! -- still, in order to continue to be a high energy teacher, which is how I teach best, I need to restart my workout routine. My interval training on the OctaineFitness Lateral trainer this morning raised my average heart rate to 142 beats per minute for 55 minutes. Not bad! Plus, I took Mabel on two long "walky walkies."

Although I straitened out my work space, thus preserving a little of my remaining sanity, unfortunately, no work got done! Back to business!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Poor concentration: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life

Poor concentration: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life

One of the "best practices" setup tasks on my getting ready for Tuesday list in preparation for the first day of school involves listing "books" that I am reading. A non-conformist, rather than simply listing hardcopy or ebooks, I view this requirement from school administration as an opportunity to communicate my core belief to incoming 6th graders that the purpose of literacy, or mathematics for that matter, is to enable people to participate in a conversation that spans from the beginning or recorded history to today. Reading, or doing mathematics for that matter, in my view, is not a one way street with knowledge coming down from a mountaintop, with the reader merely a passive consumer of information. Rather, I have long viewed reading as a 2-way communication process in which the reader becomes, ideally, an equal participant, fully capable of responding, and in fact, having a duty to respond or not respond to what an author has been communicated. The decision to respond or not respond and to what degree should be fully conscious decisions on the part of the reader, through a filtering process.

Having been exposed to the benefits of adaptive technology through my training as a special educator, I no longer totally mentally segregate reading, or the consumption of information paper or ebooks, from audiobooks to which I can listen repeatedly on my Smart Phone. As I plan my response to this request from administration, I envision using Mind Mapping software and including book covers on my "What I am reading" poster, along with brief attractive blurbs intended to draw out a response from students, and hopefully attract students to want to become readers.

One of the categories I plan to include on my poster under an email icon will be items that my dad sends me that have found his desktop via his global network. The link between poverty and education is something that every educator in a high poverty school deals with on a daily basis. Ironically, as was the case when I got my first teaching opportunity in 2007, high poverty schools is often where opportunities open up for the teachers least equipped to dealing with cognitive problems associated with poverty, not least of which, include speech and language delays, which I suspect are rooted in the lack of daily talk between young working mothers and their infants, too often single mothers themselves just struggling to survive. The cumulative affect known as the "Matthew Effect," i.e., the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, is a root cause of the performance gap we find on state level testing, as well as nationally, and is well-documented.

But now is not the time. I need to take care of me so that I can take care of others. Time to hit the gym for the first time since last Sunday. I shut down my classroom at 10pm last night, after not being able to sleep and waking up at 1am to prepare for Day 1 and arriving at 8am for training on setting up my gradebook. I had no competition for the copier at 7pm and copied all the curriculum materials as well as classroom management documents provided to me by my awesome team! Truly, in different schools, I have not thrived professionally, whereas in Dr.P's school, my 6th grade Administrator, my Special Education Chair, they seem to get me. To the gym I go, then to dinner to celebrate finally getting a job.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Free Interactive Body Maps -- If this doesn't wow students, I don't know what will!

Link to Interactive Body Map

tracy. rose
3D Models of The Human Body: Interactive Online Tool 
08/22/2013 04:38 PM 


Healthline.com recently launched a free interactive "Human Body Maps" tool your readers may be interested in. You can find it at: http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps

It would be much appreciated if you could include this tool on http://guest.portaportal.com/dkurland2006 and / or share with friends and followers. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you in advance.

Warm Regards,


Twitter: @healthline.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/healthlinenetworks
Flattering! Will certainly add! I wonder if there is a widget that will allow people to access from the sidebar on my blog???

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Grandma's Revenge

"Perhaps more than any authority on human behavior, [Victor] Frankl's knowledge is first-hand and springs from objective evaluations of destitute humans living with the daily probability of death. These experiences enabled him to make a sharp departure from the theories of Sigmund Freud. For example, Freud taught that if humans were deprived of food, their behavior would become more and more uniform as they resorted to their level of their basic "animal like instincts. But Frankl states, 'In the concentration camps we witnessed to the contrary: we saw how, faced with the identical situation, one man degenerated while another attained virtual saintliness.'" - Dr. Denis Waitley, " The Psychology of Winning
Attending the celebration of my Obachan's 100th birthday party in San Francisco was a life shaping event for me, my son Joseph, and everybody who attended. The last time I was in San Francisco was 20 years ago at my Obachan's 80th birthday party in 1993, just before I met my wife Karen, just before our family learned that my father had colon cancer, that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and he was given just 5 years to live. I remember her being presented with 80 cranes, a symbol of long life.

In preparation for my opportunity to speak, 20 years ago, I first learned of the stormy ride my mom took with my obachan took on a boat from the Tsuchitani homestead on the island of Iwaishima, in Yamaguchi Ken, to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, in search of work, a few months after my mom's family first arrived in Japan on a military transport ship, and her fears as a 12-year old that the boat might sink. I had studied difficulties my mom had overcome, but unfamiliar with the term gaman, and how it has defined my Obachan's life, I harbored considerable anger about everything my otosan had lost, which I wrote about in Rising Son in the West, the seed of what I hoped would become a book, but which I abandoned at age 19, while a student in Dorothy Brown's class on 20th century American history, fearing my anger about the unfairness of it all would consume me, and decided to research what I considered more positive things that my dad had been doing.

I first learned about gaman when I visited The Art of Gaman, an exhibit at the Renwick, a few years ago. I learned more about gaman earlier this. summer, thanks to Jan Morrill's Red Kimono, which dramatizes the concept through the eyes of a small girl and her teen age brother, who find themselves in internment camps, and a young African American, who finds himself in jail, after he is caught up in a tsunami of hatred of Japanese Americans, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Joe and I had been in conflict all summer. At 15, Joe had a hard time understanding the depths of my hatred toward the X-box Live game, Halo, and the  hours upon hours I felt he was wasting on what I considered a brain deadening game, totally disconnected from real goals, that might get him somewhere in life. Joe's experience has been only with me struggling professionally and economically, ever since I left Allied Plywood in February 2002, when he was 4 years old, without much of a plan. Determined to go well beyond my comfort zone, I had no idea about the levels of discomfort I would experience, such as when I tried to read James and the Giant Peach to my first class of 3rd graders, a class with the vast majority of the class 2nd language learners, and got zero response. Welcome to teaching!

Until Joe traveled with me, my sister Dawn, and her husband Rowland, and stayed in a beautiful house in Daly City, and delivered a message to all the attendees at my Obachan's 100th birthday party, Joe had difficulty understanding why I had always been so brutally honest, and held him to such a high standard. He had become resistant, partly because he knew how much his resistance to taking care of his business by finishing Lord of the Flies, lifting weights in preparation for tryouts, and practicing his hitting frustrated me. In the Lord of the Flies, Golding chillingly dramatizes Freud's erroneous view that people revert to a primal baseline, when separated from society. Knowing what I know, I wanted for Joe to begin to develop a little more depth. Being exposed to 4 generations of family and hearing the stories, I noticed a difference in Joe's self-motivation, which as a parent and teacher, is truly the gold standard.

20 years ago

In 1993, I was working in the credit department at Allied Plywood, a 100% employee owned company, and had come to expect $16,000 year-end annual bonuses. I had recently helped save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Virginia Sales Tax audit, working under the direction of Larry Richards. Larry and I politely challenged every finding of the auditor, customer by customer. Ultimately, Larry and I turned a handsome profit for our company on the sales tax audit, after our contention that all of our write-offs should be credited back to the auditor's spreadsheet using the same formula the state was using to penalize us, was upheld.

Working an ingenious plan to increase our annual sales to from $50 million to $100 million overnight, Bob Shaw had established Atlantic Forest Products under the shadowy AWood umbrella.We were secretly brokering railcars and truckloads to all of our much larger competitors including Lowes and every other lumber yard in the area, which caused our credit lines to balloon, our banker to call every day to complain, and a spike in profitability which was fueling our expansion into Atlanta and Charlotte. Bob's clever ruse was only discovered when Mike P, an ex-Georgia Pacific salesman, sent a fax to Fairfax Lumber, which caused quite a ripple. The fax machine had been moved to Baltimore from our main branch in Alexandria. The header still read, "Allied Plywood." When called into the offices of Fairfax Lumber for an explanation, Mike P quickly came up with the story that he had bought the fax from one of his customers.

20 years ago, I was living in a townhouse on Buttercup Ct., which I owned in partnership with my brother, my uncle Isamu, and his friend Soon. We rented out two rooms in the upstairs. My room in the downstairs had a fireplace with a blower unit. I was proud of my solid mahogany mantle, and how, with the help of my buddy Steve we had hidden its anchors, rated at over 2,000 lbs. per anchor, as well as the counter top with a bullnose a carpenter on disability from Smoot had installed over my custom built bookcase, all cut from the same 12/4 mahogany board, originally about 20" wide and 20' long, which I had pulled myself when working for Austin Hardwoods. My 5.0 Mustang felt rumbled home every night, music blasting. My ESOP retirement account seemed like a certainty.

Two Weeks Ago

20 years later, I was preparing to board flight 77 on Virgin Atlantic, a non-stop flight from Dulles to San Francisco, where I would continue to nag my son Joseph to finish Lord of the Flies, which he has had all summer to read, and still needs to annotate for his honor's English class. On the flight, I challenged Joe that I would be finished with the audiobook version, read by William Golding, before the plane touched down.

The last time I had been on a plane was on my honeymoon to Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica (December, 1995). Going through TSA for the first time, I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle. Had my dad not asked beforehand whether I had read the instructions for carry on luggage on Virgin America's website, I would have been totally unaware of the 3-1-1 rule, the need to pack any loose carry-on luggage in plastic bags for easy screening, and the advantage of packing gels and liquids in my checked luggage.

Joe's childhood has been largely defined by 9-11, which was largely why I was so appreciative of the airline industry's remarkably efficient response to 9-11, considering the CNN news reports about a series of drone attacks to disrupt terrorist cells in Yemen, and a terrorism alert, which flashed on Virgin's inflight media screens, along with news about Washington's first preseason football game, as I flipped through channels. This was Joe's first flight. Flying Virgin America, Joe knew we were in good hands. When we descended in total fog for a blind landing, I thanked God that we had such a professional pilot, and felt really smart about our decision to fly Virgin America.

In preparation for my opportunity to speak at my Obachan's 100th birthday, about a month ago, my mom had filled in additional details, as I sought to compare impressions of post-war Japan described in Donald Richie's Japan Journals with her recollections of what it was like to arrive in Japan after departing from Tule Lake. I brought with me a map of Japan, so that I could use it as a prop, and publicly ask my Obachan, in front of all the attendees, to help me fill in details about where and when she went in Japan, hoping to to get her to open up to me, so that I could visit Japan within the next 10 years, and write more richly about her experiences. Never did get much of an opportunity to speak with her! Being present seemed good enough.

Anger at age 19

At age 19, racism became personal.

Joe's generation does not understand the depths of racism, the evils of Social Darwinism, and the power of bad ideas. Ultimately, Grandma got her revenge. She was able to feel the love of 3 generations at Green Hills Country Club in San Bruno. Indeed, "revenge is sweet," and "revenge is a dish that is best served cold."

A thousand cranes


Tomorrow, I will take a cash advance from Discover to pay back the remaining $12,000 that I had rolled into an IRA, but had withdrawn so that I could continue to pay my share of the bills, so that I can avoid yet another 30% tax penalty. Resigned to the probability that I would not be able to afford the trip, I had told everybody in my family for months that, since I had no job, I probably wouldd not attend. Thanks to Dr. P, I was willing to take a major leap of faith, with the implicit promise that I would have a job waiting for me when I got back home. Time to get serious about becoming a more professional teacher!

Added Suspense

"Having a healthy and mature attitude about the past can make a major difference in anyone's life. One of the best ways to approach the past is to use it as a school, not as a weapon. We must not beat ourselves to death with past mistakes, faults, failures, and losses." - Jim Rohn, The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle.
 I have long suspected that some sort of Human Resources (HR) flag was preventing me from getting teaching opportunities whenever I submitted an application. Immediately after grad school, I spent 2 hours with the Director of the Lab School, only to get beaten down by another person when invited to the second interview. Last summer, I was confronted by an openly hostile administrator who demanded to see my prior evaluations from my first year of teaching. Frankly, I was not at all impressed the school she was representing and rationalized that I would not have been a good fit there. Good riddance!

Dr. P sort of confirmed my suspicion when I met with him Monday, thinking I was going there to sign a contract, only to be confronted with questions about what had happened in my first two teaching engagements (2007-2008, and 2008-2009). Having not signed a contract, feeling in my gut something might happen, I had dressed in suit and tie, put on my game face, and took time to review my interview prep notes before arriving.

After we exchanged pleasantries, Monday morning at 9:00 am, Dr. P told me that he was upset because he felt that I had not been totally upfront with him about my struggles as a new teacher. I looked him in the eye and calmly tried to reassure him that I had made no effort to hide anything. I explained to him how I had used these experiences to make me a better teacher, which is exactly what I had written in my revised cover letter. My explanation was congruent with what Dr. P had discussed with the principal with whom I worked as a 3rd grade teacher, and the assistant principal with whom I worked as a 4th grade teacher. Verbally, Dr. P agreed to submit a recommendation to HR for a 1 year contract, instead of the 3 year contract he was originally planning to offer me. He agreed to chalk up my perceived lack of forthrightness as a "learning experience" ...

If for some reason I am not offered the contract, that's it -- I won't be able to take it anymore! If denied once again, I will simply chalk it up to experience and change direction, submit my application to Home Depot, where I will take whatever position I can get, whatever schedule, nights and weekends, whatever ...

As somebody who was never been anointed as a "great teacher" until recently, except when my Old Dominion University (ODU) evaluator recommended me for initial licensure in 2007, having witnessed my performances when I was in a state of peak "flow," with students responding to me, not when I was floundering, which happened when I became overwhelmed, particularly when certain administrators dropped in, set up a laptop, and began to tap-tap on their keyboards with my every move, how others in the teaching profession have viewed me has always been divided between those who have championed me and those who I felt had me square in their sights, as they looked for every possible way to disqualify me as unfit for the teaching profession. HR Professionals, protecting their organizations from "the Dance of the Lemons," perhaps had me flagged as a risky candidate. Highly likely!

Dr. P, with 28 years of experience, did his due diligence. To my benefit, more recently, from a performance standpoint, "the numbers speak for themselves." In the small sample size that Dr. P was able to observe, clearly I was not the same "greenhorn" I was 5 years ago.

The call from HR just came, and I have just accepted a 1 year contract. I can now change my Linked In Profile from "Substitute Teacher" to "Teacher." God's delays are not God's denials.

Joe, my son, was the first person with whom I shared the news. Joe was "relieved," not happy. Then, I called Karen. She suggested that I think about teaching summer school.

In a few minutes, when I am finished with my blog post, I will call Mom in California. She is going to cry.

The Discrepancy Model is an old, perhaps outdated, way of evaluating who might be eligible for services because of a "Learning Disability." According to the model, a discrepancy between capacity and performance is an important clue that might indicate a Learning Disability. In my case, I suspect what my particular learning disability, if professionally diagnosed, might be categorized as "Other Health Impaired" (OHI), which is generally how students with ADD are able to qualify for Special Education services. ADD is a disability that is typically comorbid with other conditions, but generally these comorbid conditions cluster around developmental difficulties with executive function, or disorders of the prefrontal cortex, the brain's center for planning and decision making. A diagnosis of ADD seems consistent with my lifelong "high-low" pattern of star performances and flameouts, which some non-clinical family members have "diagnosed," in efforts to be helpful, "bi-polar disorder," a condition that is, in fact, often comorbid with ADD. As a teacher of students formally diagnosed with Learning Disabilities, and a co-teacher in general education inclusion classrooms, I can empathize with students who have to come to grips with loved ones frequently telling them there is something wrong with them, when ADD for them is a normal state.

One explanation might be that my Amygdala, the brain's emotional center, which has primary responsibility for new memory formation, is particularly sensitive to emotional cues. Perhaps socially learned biases to always "tough it out" have led me to habitually disregard warning signs such as elevated blood pressure, shoulder tension, and reduced processing speed. I have tended to be a bit rigid and somewhat resistant to making needed adjustments such as taking care of my blood sugar, getting necessary rest, controlling my facial expressions, and modulating my tone, expression, and habitual exuberance. Self monitoring has never come naturally to me, as I have always preferred spontaneity

Negative feedback, I have learned, can be a positive thing. One year ago, I accepted Dr. Prinz's feedback that my blood results indicated a marker for prolonged elevated sugar, i.e., diabetes. In response, I began making changes to my diet and exercise habits. Although I have regained 10 of the 20 pounds I originally lost, and still need to lose an additional 20 pounds, the results of the blood test I took a few weeks ago showed considerable improvement, especially the marker for prolonged elevated sugar. While I have not yet fully controlled my diabetes, my numbers are moving in the right direction, although I now realize that I am going to need to consult with a nutritionist, since the roots of my dietary problems are highly complex, and I have come to the realization that in this case I need professional help. Dr. Prinz suggested that I might try going back to a more "interval style" of training, which was working for me, so I have begun to adjust my workout routine to elevate my heart rate.

Mom called. She did not cry.

I shook hands with Dr. P and he walked me over to his secretary to ask whether she had mailed me the new teacher orientation letter. Mrs. H gave Dr. P a knowing look as she removed the letter from her pendaflex. I resolved to use questions about my past performance as fuel for my future performance. "You understand my drive," I promised Dr. P as we were shaking hands, and resolved to become highly focused on my professional responsibilities.
"Results are the best measurement of human progress. Not conversation. Not explanation. Not justification. Results! And if our results are less than our potential suggests that they should be, then we must strive to become more today than we were the day before. The greatest rewards are always reserved for those who bring great value to themselves and the world around them as a result of whom and what they have become." - Jim Rohn, The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle.

  • Handle my business
  • Exceed expectations
  • Prove to Dr. P that he made the right choice in believing in me when no one else would give me a chance
  • Use adversity as motivation
  • Leverage past adversity as a teaching tool

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In Response to Howard Zinn

Here's a link to a critique of Howard Zinn which appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal:

My dad wrote the following:

David Bobb's article on the growing impact of Howard Zinn should challenge all supporters of the Just Third Way. Zinn's book has sold over 2.2 million copies, 20,000 teachers are now teaching his vision of Economic Justice and several influential universities have embraced his version of Social Justice, and big name entertainers are peddling Zinn's critique of America. Any thoughts? Should our supporters be writing David Bobb at the Hillsdale College Kirby Center in Washington, D.C.?

Here's my response:

Zinn is, evidently, profiting handsomely from his one-sided and incomplete historical analysis. So too is Hollywood from the victimization model of history.

I recently listened to an audio version of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, a Pulitzer Prize winning book, written largely in response to a question raised by an aboriginal political leader, who asked the author to help him understand why his people were so powerless in relation to the West. Written from an evolutionary perspective, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond broadly explores, analyzes, and outlines a series of technological advantages, as well as secondary consequences, which made it possible for elites like Zinn to have the leisure time needed to foment Anti-American sentiment through Hollywood image-making mass production, while all the poor defenseless victims from less developed nations like the aboriginal political leader were struggling with subsistence issues. Perhaps Zinn wants to reset evolution and send the vast majority of Americans back to the stone ages, where we can all live together as happy, far skinnier hunters and gatherers, and munch on berries.

As my dad pointed out to me, unfortunately, millions of people seem to be blindly accepting Zinn's analysis, which reminds me of how hard I started laughing when I realized how the masses, including my 15 year old son Joseph, blindly accepted the myth of Megalodon, possibly because the fiction was portrayed as fact on the Discovery Channel during Shark Week. I tend to agree with dad's assessment that students are leaving schools without the critical thinking skills needed to sort out fact from fiction, including people as brilliant as Matt Damon, my favorite actor.

Despite Zinn's impressive book sales, there are many statistics out there which indicate that few people ever get past the Introduction of the books that they are buying. If smart people like Matt Damon actually took the time to read Zinn's incomplete and flawed analysis, then were presented with a superior analysis and clear picture of what a just society might look like through a design science revolution, I have little doubt that all of the misguided people being led astray by Zinn would be fully capable of seeing the errors in their thinking, and as a result might make better choices, resulting in far better outcomes for everybody, far less guilt, and move everyone a little closer to a more just society.

Guest Blogger - Biography of Masako Tsuchitani

A Biographical Sketch of My Grandma
(Dawn K. Brohawn, 8/10/13)

My grandmother Masako’s life is a story of persistence and courage in the face of hardship. Born a nissei (second generation Japanese-American) in Alameda, California in 1913, Masako Otsuka married a successful Japanese businessman (Yunosuke Tsuchitani), with whom she raised three children in California. A celebrated beauty, doted upon by her mother and older sister Satsuki (who was later nicknamed “Pe Pe”), Masako lived a comfortable life.

When World War II broke out, Masako’s husband (a foreign national) was taken without warning from their home in the middle of the night by government “men in black suits.” He was sent to an internship camp in North Dakota and later was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in New Mexico.

Two weeks following Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, Masako and the couple’s young children (6-year-old Mariko, 3-year-old Isamu and 5-month-old Ken) found themselves in the horse stables of Tanforan Racetrack, soon to be sent to the Topaz internment camp. Two years passed before Masako’s husband was reunited with his family at Topaz.  They were all subsequently relocated to Tule Lake, California.

By the time the war ended, the family had lost their home, their possessions, and Yunosuke’s businesses. Disillusioned with their treatment by the U.S. government, and because her husband was not allowed to return to California where he had conducted his businesses with his partners prior to the war, Masako, her husband and children decided to move to Japan. (Ironically, on the day of their departure, Yunosuke received a notice from the U.S. government allowing him to return to California.)

Following the long voyage to Japan, taking the few possessions they were permitted, the family arrived at the port of Yokosuka. For three days they travelled south in a packed train to Fukuoka, and then walked several miles with their luggage across rice fields to the country home of Masako’s oldest sister, Shizue. Falling asleep exhausted on tatami in the entrance area of the house, they awoke to find that the shoes and other possessions they were still wearing had been stolen off them as they slept.

In January 1946 conditions in post-war Japan were harsh. The family was forced to move from place to place, relying on the kindness of relatives and others willing to put them up for a few months at a time. Jobs were scarce, but Masako, who was bilingual, was able to find work while her husband took care of the children. Yunosuke later found work as a houseboy for an American officer, and eventually as a translator for a Japanese construction company. When he suffered a massive stroke, Masako, who herself suffered from life-threatening asthma, had to support her husband and two of their children. (By that time Mariko had traveled back by herself to the U.S. where she attended the University of Nebraska.)

With her fluency in English, she soon found work at an American Air Force base in Fukuoka. That was where Masako first came in contact over the phone with my father, Lt. Norman Kurlansky, who commanded two radar bases in southern-most Japan.

How my mother, Masako’s daughter Mariko, met my father several years later in Lincoln, Nebraska, got married and helped to bring incrementally the Tsuchitani family back to the United States, is another story.

At age 50, Masako returned with Yunosuke to the U.S., where they lived for several months at Norm and Marie’s small home in Alexandria, Virginia.  Leaving her husband for a few months with Norm, Marie and their three children, she returned to San Francisco to be near Ken, who had located in San Francisco.  She immediately found a job because of her excellent secretarial skills. Shortly after, she was joined by her husband, and they lived for a time with her son Ken and his new bride, Akiko.

Masako was later hired by a Japanese electronics firm, where she worked for ten years while she continued to care for her husband, who passed away in a nursing home in 1974. Up until her late 80’s, Masako traveled regularly by herself to the East Coast to visit with her son Isamu’s and daughter Mariko’s families.

Many years have passed. Now the matriarch of her family, Masako has three children, 8 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. She has survived numerous serious illnesses, surgeries and life challenges that would have overcome most people. Today this “young centenarian,” with the help of visiting caregivers, is able to live independently in her own apartment, where she walks the steep streets of San Francisco with her walker, reads her Japanese and English language newspapers cover-to-cover, creates beautiful pressed flower art, stays active in her spiritual group, is a rabid and knowledgeable baseball fan, and serves as an inspiration to all her family and friends.

Masako’s life is a journey of dislocation after dislocation after dislocation. But it is also a story of persistence, courage, and how the kindness, generosity and friendship of many people can help us both bear the hardships we encounter and appreciate life’s beauty.

Thank you all for being such a part of Masako’s long life.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wagging a wag

Link to Mariam Kurtzig Freedman article in the Wall Street Journal

Link to Mariam Kurtzig Freedman ariticle in The  Atlantic.

As a "new" special education teacher, it makes no sense for somebody as low on the totem pole like me to pick a fight with somebody far more established, with far better credentials than I have. I could never win such a fight with a national "authority."

Plus, I have much better things to do, such as preparing to apply research-based Universal Design for Learning (UDL) methods for making the curriculum more accessible to every student in the classroom, whether on my caseload or not. Dr. P's school, where I will start in a few weeks, has a highly effective collaborative teaching model, with one of the highest reduced lunch populations, yet Dr. P's school is getting it done on par with some of the wealthiest schools in the area. Without my experience with Special Education methods, I would have likely failed in my takeover of a general education class, and would probably be starting at a local Home Depot rather than starting at Dr. P's school. Not that I have anything against working for Home Depot and could see myself working there during holidays and summers in order to pay off all the debt I have incurred in my 10 years in education. I have nothing wrong with earning a wage in an effort to pay the bills.

Not that I have a problem with anyone raising questions about the legal basis for Special Education, cost versus benefits analysis, and or an informed person raising questions whether structural changes to IDEA might be sorely needed. Indeed, questions raised by Ms. Freedman, particularly questions about costs versus benefits of special education, vis-a-vis general education students are on point, and well worth discussing. I am a little bothered, however, that so many people hold themselves as "authorities" on special education without ever having actually set foot in any of these classrooms. When lawyers and politicians propose what seem to me to be overly simplistic solutions about how to fix education without any direct knowledge of in-classroom challenges, I am led to wonder about questions of secondary gain. Just me.

Efficiency, cost considerations, and accountability are central to the historic debate on how to interpret the "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE).  At Dr. Thompson's suggestion, when I was in her course on Special Education Law, I researched the LRE thoroughly. I posted my research on this topic to my blog, so if any reader wants to see this research, enter LRE into the search box and the article should appear.

Ms. Freedman observes that Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are working at cross purposes, to which I would agree wholeheartedly. My argument was that the idea of a Fair and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which underpins IDEA, is more in line with constitutional traditions than group accountability, a concept that underpins NCLB. All the sub-class tracking that occurs for accountability purposes, is a product of NCLB, which is, therefore, the law which deserves greater scrutiny. NCLB mandates for penalizing schools that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) have led to tremendous hand-wringing as key subgroups, including students with learning disabilities, have not responded to ineffective teaching methods, such as "teaching to the test."

Not that I have a problem with the concept of accountability, and feel that it is appropriate for a teacher to assume responsibility for custom fitting instruction to meeting the needs of every child in the classroom, but group accountability to some subjective standard imposed by lawyers and politicians, whose only interests might be to gain reelection, or line their own pockets, is another matter. Moreover, I question the tilt away from preserving "equal access," i.e., FAPE, the central concept underlying IDEA, to group accountability, the central concept underpinning No Child Left Behind.

Regarding the shift away from special education to general education Ms. Freedman proposed in her Atlantic article, the concept of "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE) was never intended to eliminate self-contained classes, just make general education classes more accessible to students with learning disabilities. Given the well-documented" over-representation of minorities in special education, I worry that Ms. Freedman's solution is, in practice, nothing but a subtle form of gerrymandering intended to weed under performing, high cost minorities out of general education classrooms, thereby generating better performance numbers for school districts, at the expense of minority students, to the profit of lawyers and educational consultants who are thus, better able to game the numbers.

Regarding the paperwork bottleneck, wah! The paperwork is in place for the protection of individuals. Given the advent of online Individualized Education Plans (IEP), technology is overcoming many of the paperwork inefficiencies Ms. Freedman complains about. In other words, I don't feel her information on excessive paperwork is totally up to date.

Regarding the "wait to fail" model for Special Education to which Ms. Freedman complains about, a 3-tier process known as Response to Intervention (RTI) is incorporated into special education law, making the diagnosis of a learning disability increasingly a last resort, is increasingly becoming the norm. Her criticism that Special Education is a "wait to fail" proposition is, therefore, outdated.

The roots to difficulties with reading and math are deep, complicated, and fairly well researched, although there exists a substantial gap in research to practice. If the focus of the discussion is on how to apply all that research to make learning accessible to all, I think everybody can benefit.