Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Question of Hate

Throughout history, artists have been commissioned to sculpt statues to show reverence to mythical Gods or impactful humans who have dramatically influenced the course of history.  In ancient Greece  the gods Zeus or Poseidon were believed to have exerted  power and influence over ancient Greek society. Thus artists sought to immortalize them via the construction of a sculpture or statue.  The Egyptians in an effort to commemorate the power of the great Pharaohs constructed incredible monuments. This practice of sculpture construction is a practice that dates back thousands of years. However there is another practice that has gained momentum as of late called "sculpture dismantling" that dates back to the ancient world as well.  Recent scholarship has indicated that much had been done to erase the female Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut from ancient Egyptian history, by those that reigned after her. Statues and other artifacts connected to Hatshepsut and her legacy were destroyed as a result of their efforts.  Why? Because history is written by the winners and those that reigned after Hatshepsut allegedly wanted her legacy erased because she was a female. 1

Two weekends ago a White Supremacist Rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, under the guise that they were to there toprotest the removal of a statue of Civil War general, Robert E. Lee.  The rally was met by an intense resistance and eventually violence erupted. Horrifically, multiple people lost their lives that day. Let's be clear , the possible removal of the statue did not fuel the hatred of the Neo-Nazi  or White Supremacist factions attending the rally that day. Hatred was the culprit. The opportunity to move forward an agenda of hate was the reason for the rally and the violence that ensued was a vehicle used  by the protesters to act upon their hate. This hatred towards other races and religions is a major part of the White Supremacist culture which has lived and been perpetuated for centuries in our great nation. Crimes have been inflicted upon humanity and gone unpunished  at the hands of these " hate groups".  As a nation we need to move forward a stronger series of political reforms.  These reforms need to be designed to eliminate crimes against humanity which are motivated by hatred and violence, with more vigorous prosecution for those responsible.

Tearing down statues is not the answer to removing hate from our nation.  We need to pump the brakes and be reflective about what we are really trying to accomplish. Statues in America have long been built in remembrance of military leaders, social activists or political figures who have accomplished something of significance.  The judgment of their legacy and impact is up to those that they leave behind. The opinion whether favorable of unfavorable may even change from time to time. People that make history usually are polarizing figures that cause a measure of discord, but discord is a fundamental and necessary part of our democracy. Removing or destroying a statue does not make that figure any less polarizing; only time can accomplish that.

Statues are constructed in the United States to serve as reminders of people and their actions that have changed our nation for better or worse. Unfortunately these actions at times unquestionably changed our nation for the worse. Especially glaring are those of the Civil War era and the issues that those fighting the Civil War sought to resolve.  The consequences of the resolution should not include the  erasing of history through statue removal or dismantling, because the winners get the final say. Rather, the answer is to educate our culture about the issues that led to conflict and their resolution. Then we need to examine the "question of hate" and act upon eliminating it wherever and whenever possible.

1. American History Encylopedia,  Hatshepsut Joshua J. Mark   October 19, 2016

Sunday, August 20, 2017


For most baseball fans, baseball is the game of our youth. Many of us dream of playing Major League Baseball. The reality though is that only the few and very fortunate are blessed with the opportunity to walk across the white lines of major league diamonds and engage in careers as major league baseball players.  My sons' Peter, Scott and I all put our formal association with Little League Baseball in the rearview mirror quite a few years ago.  However, every August we renew our passion for the game, closely following the Little League World Series.  Each year we are delighted for two weeks by the amazing stories surrounding the players and their teams, as well as the action on the field.

Over the years we have become familier with just how special a place Williamsport is, watching players from all teams interact off the field, enjoying amusement, fare and experiences designed to make them feel like royalty.  This year, things have been taken up a notch with the development of the Little League Classic.  On Sunday of week one, players from the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates arrived on site to watch Little League teams from around the world engage in this years tournament. In addition to taking in the games major league players and litttle league players had the oppurtunity to engage in conversation, as well as play ping pong, or just spend quality time with each other. Not only was it special for this years particiants, but also for many of the major league players as well, having previously played there as Litttle Leaguers.  You could'nt construct a dream any better.

The dream does'nt conclude though with the end of the days action at Williamsport.  After the final game ends, all of the players from all the little leagues represented, board busses and head to Bowman Field, the second oldest minor league ball park in the nation. (capacity 2,500)  Once they arrive the players will be treated to a major league baseball game featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The entire stadium witll be sold out with essentially an audience of Little League baseball players. Keep in mind that many of these players will be seeing their first major league game. Hopefully the game will be as much of a classic as the rest of the day.

Espn, MLB and Little League baseball executives all deserve congratuations for organizing a day that brought together little league baseball players and their major league heroes.  In doing so they ultimately created an experience that most adolescent baseball fans could only dream about.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Upon Further Reflection

Reflection enables me to be better in all facets of my life that require my attention and that I choose to maintain effectively. This became clear to me long ago and thus it it is a practice that I engage in willingly. Personal and professional growth continues to be achieved because I realize the true value of these practices. Although growth is one of the desired outcomes that is attained from reflection, there are outcomes that sometimes result in emotional struggles. While  honest reflection reveals strengths it also reveals mistakes, flaws and shortcomings. These can be challenging to face and lead to a reluctance to engage in the process at times. Sometimes I just wish that I was flawless in a particular situation or performance and reflection was unnecessary.

My experiences have taught me that like an onion their are many layers to peel back when engaging in the reflective process.

Layer 1: I must assess  the performance or issue through an objective lens, staying void of emotion as I examine the issue and my role or performance within it. What were my strengths? Where could I improve? What other factors were relevant in terms of how they impacted the issue or experience?

Layer 2: I must ask myself if my assessment is truly an honest one? If it isn't what is preventing me from making an honest assessment? Are my emotions clouding the process? Sometimes I may need the help of others.

Layer 3: I need to sit down with someone that I trust and honestly share the issue or experience with them and then openly listen to their feedback. Remembering that if it is someone I truly trust they will give me honest, objective feedback.

Layer 4: Apply all that I have learned about myself  from the current situation, to future situations. Keeping  in mind that I can always improve and others will benefit from those improvements as well.

Reflection is a complex at times painstaking process, but it is a skill that has great value. This particular skill allows citizens within global societies to move forward if they are courageous enough to engage in its practices and embrace the remedies that it reveals. This skill is one that must be taught to our children at a young age in order for them to recognize personal imperfections and failures. We must then use reflection as a tool to enable them to first accept failures and then to grow from them.  When we have done this we put them in a position of readiness to accept the challenges that await them in their future.

I am a better person today because of my ability to be reflective, but that's not to say that I wouldn't be just a little bit happier, if only I did it right the first time, most of the time.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ten Reasons to be Happy that its the Opening Day of Baseball Season

1. At the start of the first day, your team is at least tied for first place in the division. 

 2. There are still 161 games full of possibility and remarkability yet to be played.

 3. More than likely you won't have to shovel any more snow in the near future.

 4. A boat load of new prospects made it to the show and it will be fun watching them impact the game.

 5. A healthy dose of "web gems" each and every night begins immediately. 

 6. Having the opportunity to learn about the game from the great story tellers of the game for the next six months. 

 7. The renewal of the daily box score checking ritual.

 8. The chance that someone soon will pitch a no hitter or a perfect game. 

 9. Being able to sit outside in the fresh air with family and friends, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark.

 10. Knowing that weather or not the post season is a realistic possibility, the season will contain plenty of special moments, for your team.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Choosing Sides

This past Friday I was interested to know what my students thoughts were about the outcome of this year's Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.  Before I reveal their thoughts to you though I must tell you this; after caferful reflection, I blew it. That's right, you heard me.  Full disclosure, me a 22 year veteran teacher, I had a golden opportunity not to just find out what my students thought but why they thought that way, and I "dropped the ball."

While I did find out there is intense dislike for Tom Brady, some due to his success and some due to "deflategate", and I also gleaned that most of my students were tired of seeing the Patriots win. What I didn't find out was why they believed the Falcons would win the game.  Was it better Quarterback play? Did they believe that Atlanta' defense could stop the potent New England offense ? Was it because of an advantage on Special Teams. Why? I will never know because I never asked them to quantify their response. Fifteen yards, personal foul on yours truly and a loss of down.  Lesson learned!

In my 6th grade classroom there is no shortage of opinions on anything and that's a good thing. I want my students to be partners in a community with an ever evolving culture where they can confidently speak their mind on a variety of subjects. More importantly though I want them to know that they are accountable for how they form their thoughts and why they "choose the side " that they do.  I need to ask them questions and they need to question themselves.  When this occurs it allows the opportunity for both the students and their teacher to engage in reflective practices. Ultimately that will lead to individual growth and produce life long learners. 

Oh , before I forget, the results of the poll, Falcons over the Patriots by a three to one margin 58 to 19. Interestingly, 19 students said that they didn't care.  Why were these the results when I polled my 6th graders from Central New Jersey? I can only imagine.  I think I will go back in on Monday and ask them.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Giving Thanks

Thank you Dr. King for having the courage to challenge authority and conformity. For lighting the path to change with civil disobedience , as opposed to violence and venom. For being willing to climb to the mountain top despite being knocked down repeatedly. For seeking the fulfillment of your dream, knowing that it held the promise of a better life for all of the future generations to come.

Thank you to all of those who followed Dr. King, for believing that our best days always lied just ahead. For those that endured the injustices and fought peacefully seeking justice. For those that sang a hymn or lit a candle, or refused to be treated like a second class citizen, thank you.

Thank you to those who serve, in the hospitals, in the schools, on the front lines protecting our freedom, those who patrol the streets or fight the fires. To all that serve in the churches or government offices, thank you for continuing his legacy. When we serve each other we strengthen the ties that bond us as citizens and our nation prospers.

Thank you in the months ahead for being willing to move forward with a clear mind, but being vigilant at the same time.  Thank you for being willing to hold our leaders accountable to the highest social and political standards. Thank you for taking the necessary steps to maintain peace and harmony.  Thank you for carrying the torch to continue Dr. King's legacy. The light will always shine on this great nation as long as we continue to be the guardians of his dream.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Full Circle

"There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

    `Edith Wharton~

In 1989, my career in education began when Harry Conover the former Athletic Director at Lawrence High School decided to take a chance on me and hire me as the assistant Winter Track coach. Beyond the opportunity to work with young student athletes every day, the thing that thrilled me the most was the opportunity to coach against the men who had coached me as an athlete, during my years at Steinert High School. My passion for, and knowledge of the sport was a direct result of their influence on me. Over the next six years being able to develop a positive professional relationship with these men who had mentored me as my coaches, is something I will cherish forever. Every chance I was given to spend time with them as a peer and learn from them as a coach, brought me great joy and enriched me professionally. I only hope they realized the gratitude that I felt towards them, as they assisted in my professional and personal growth.  They all have had an immeasurable influence on my life as an athlete, a coach, an educator and a man.

This September I began my 28th year as an educator. Six years were spent coaching High School athletes and the last twenty two teaching Social Studies to middle school students.  The rewards have been plentiful, but the ones that have brought the most joy involve learning about the successes of my former students, as adults. At least twenty former students are educators as I publish this post.  The following are some of the stories of former students and the current stages of their journeys.

Chris Katzman is a fifth grade teacher at the Drew School in East Windsor who teaches with my wife.  He is an outstanding educator and is beloved by his students.I had the opportunity to coach and teach Chris and I knew in middle school that he was a born leader.   Last year I attended his wedding. Watching him write that new chapter in his life was amazingly special.

Brian Williams is the Vocal Musical Director at Robbinsville High School, He develops amazing voices and directs School Musical performances that are first rate. I have seen several  performances over the years from the choir and from the musicals that he has directed and I always walk away impressed and inspired.  He is a gifted educator.

Kyle Gafgen is a Physical Educational teacher in East Windsor and the Head Track coach at Kreps Middle School. When I coached him in middle school he was quite the speedster. The last time I saw him he led his team to victory against our team at Pond Road a few years ago.

Marissa Dilts is an outstanding 4th grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School and is a valued member of my PLN. Recently we engaged in a district hashtag conversation about professional growth and New Year's resolutions on Twitter. She continues to nurture young lives and enriches our district.

Casey Kennette is an elementary school teacher in Edison New Jersey who implements an innovative 4th grade program. A few summers ago she showed campers the "ropes" at the Rambling Pines Day  Camp in Hopewell and I was privileged to serve as her supervisor. I learned first hand of her passion for teaching and her enthusiasm for working with children. I hear great things from administrators in her district about her performance as an educator.

Ben Hutchison continues his academic journey in the fall of 2017.  He begins the pursuit of his "passion", a career in History, on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg University.  I wish him all the success that this new adventure affords him.  I especially look forward to learning about the experiences that take place when the learning environment takes the form of the most important Civil War battlefield in the northern United States.

These are just some of the success stories that reflect the paths chosen by former students in the field of Education or History. I consider myself fortunate to have had a front row seat for at least part of their journey. I am proud of everything that they continue to achieve and of the productive, contributing adults that they have become.

A few years ago my friend, mentor and former coach Jerry Bleistein after learning that one of my former athletes had coached against me and had coached his team to victory said " see it comes full circle". I always knew it would, I just never thought it would happen so soon.

(This post is dedicated to all of my students past and present who continue to inspire me each and every day.)