Saving The World By Staying “Half A World Away” – Some Hope From R.E.M.

Self-quarantine. Stay at home. Social distancing. Shelter in place. Isolation.

Keeping yourself “half a world away.”

One of the starker realities of this COVID-19 epidemic is that my neighbors and my family in other states are all literally “half a world” away. That possible human exchange and interaction that fulfills the need of belonging can’t be satisfied unless we take an uncalculated risk.

Our president seems more worried about saving the Dow Jones Industrial average rather than lives. A Lt. Gov. of a state that shall be named – Texas – says the patriotic action to take is for older people to just die to keep the world as it is unchanged for the younger generation.

They are “half a world away.”

The richest, most advanced country in the industrialized world cannot produce enough resources to handle this epidemic because the battle over saving lives has taken a back seat to saving financial bottom lines.

Our priorities are “half a world away.”

Almost 30 years ago, R.E.M. released Out of Time. I was a junior in college here in North Carolina transplanted from right outside of Athens, GA. Listening to R.E.M. was a way to keep from being “half a world away” from home, not that I was overwhelmingly homesick, but I wanted to stay connected and always have that possibility of freely traveling home. Now I am confined in my house that literally is two miles from that very dorm room where I first listened to the song “Half a World Away.”

Probably like many other people, I thought of the song describing a couple breaking up due to distance and having grown apart. Now as I listen to it, a whole new meaning takes shape. Great art has a way of molding its meaning around reality, even when that reality changes over 30 years of life experiences.

Instead of focusing on the “saddest dusk I’ve ever seen,” I am now drawn to the “miracle” and possibility of what can transpire from this prolonged event: reprioritizing our country’s needs, learning to help others more, expanded healthcare coverage, a new president, and a congress that tries to empathize with people.

“My hands” will get more “tired.” I may have “too much to drink.” I will find myself in a “lonely deep sit hollow” feeling like I may have to “go it alone.”

But…I can “hold it along and hold, hold.”

Being “half a world away” right now is painful, uncomfortable, irritating. But if it lets me keep those in this world that I never wanted to be away from in the first place, then I will “haul it along.”

And listen to good music, both through the speakers and through the open windows, especially at “dusk.” That’s when the blackbird sings its evening song.

It’s beautiful.

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“Half A World Away”

This could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high-alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away here
And I had sworn to go it alone, hold it along
And haul it along and hold it
Go it alone ‘n hold it along
Hold

Oh, this lonely deeps and holy way
Half a world, half a world away
My shoes are gone, my life spent
I’ve had too much to drink
I didn’t think, I didn’t think of you
I guess that’s all I needed
To go it alone and hold it along
And haul it along and hold it
Blackbirds, backwards, forwards and fall
Hold

Oh, this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high-alive
Blind eye that turns to see
The storm it came up strong
It shook the trees and blew away our fear
I couldn’t leave it here
To go it alone, hold it along
Haul it along and hold it
Go it alone hold it along
Hold

Go it alone and hold it along
Haul it along ‘n hold it
Blackbirds, backwards, forwards and fall
Hold

Oh, this could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high-alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away to go

This Has Aged Well – Framing The Words Of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Within The COVID-19 Outbreak

Remember the HB2 debacle? The one that gave us the “Bathroom Bill” and the lost business in North Carolina and a stain on our reputation as a state?

All for a non-existent problem. But Lt. Gov. Dan Forest championed that bill and its intent as much as anyone. Remember this?

“If our action in keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protected the life of just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.”

No price can be set on a child’s life, especially in a situation that never occurred. But what about a child’s life or the life of a child’s family member in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic? Even when we could expand Medicaid in this state with almost total federal funding that we as taxpayers already have financed?

Nope. Not on Dan Forest’s watch. In that case, each life has a price.

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But if you like the way that our President has handled the COVID-19 epidemic, then go ahead and support Dan Forest.

forestmedicaid2This teacher supports keeping people alive and not sacrificing them to profit and the stock market.

 

One The Best Virtual “Lessons” For All Students & Families: Complete The Census

It helps to follow people on social media who can always help keep important issues “up front and out loud.”

That’s one reason I follow Kris Nordstrom’s Twitter feed.

Today he reminded me of the need to get people to fill out the census survey. North Carolina is not doing so well in its completion percentage.

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In fact, if you follow that ncdemography.org link, you get this information.

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And participating in the census is both educational and helps funding for public education and other social services that directly affect our public school students. From the actual US government census website:

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Please, take time to fill it out and encourage all students to ask their families to fill it out as well.

 

This Teacher Would Rather Miss Them For A Few More Weeks If It Means…

…that I can see them a lot more in the future.

It’s funny that a nation which is both the richest in the world and the one that supports STEM related educational paths to get more students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematical careers is having such a hard time getting enough masks, test kits, and resources to places to adequately gauge the epidemic.

But it is true. The call to close schools until May 15th (at least) is a painful pill to swallow.

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My oldest child is a senior where I teach. There’s a lot that she will not experience in the traditional way. Prom is cancelled. Sporting events where she supports her close friends are cancelled. Actual graduation ceremonies will have to be reconsidered. College decisions may be altered.

She is somewhat isolated from her friends.

And it was the right call for Gov. Cooper to make. We know not what we are fully dealing with, and I for one would rather spend the time, energy, effort, and anxiety now than have it prolonged in the future with the probability of our having experienced more loss.

Somewhere in all of those discussions in which people try and verbalize what schools are really supposed to teach students is something about becoming good citizens in the world. Many might say that schools should prepare students to apply skills to tackle problems and real-world solutions.

Well, this situation has become one giant classroom for these students.

And I really want to see them healthy when it passes.

Whenever that is.

 

Dear NCGA, Call A “Special Session” And…

If teachers can teach students remotely through virtual means on a daily basis while still taking care of their own families and needs, then you could get a special session done.

And not one of these special sessions where a stupid grab for power bill like HB17 was passed when publicly it was announced that something else was going to be done.

Make sure that each item to be discussed is publicly released and that the agenda cannot be changed to accommodate any other items before they are vetted.

Make sure each vote is shown and that each lawmaker has a chance to validate his or her votes to ensure authenticity.

And put these on the agenda:

  • Cancel the NC Finals now that EOC’s and EOG’s are waived.
  • Eliminate the use of school performance grades for this year (and every year).
  • Guarantee income for our public school classified employees.
  • Medicaid expansion.

And all the items on this list compiled by teachers in advocacy of students, schools, and communities.

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Advocate And Fight For The Unsung Heroes of Our Public Schools: Classified Employees

We need to fight for them so they receive pay during these days of school closure. They are just as vital to the operation of our schools as anyone else, and I am thankful as a teacher to have these people keep our schools not only functioning, but vibrant.

If you have never really been inside the workings of a public schools, know that so many people work behind the scenes to help educate our students. If they were not doing what they do, then schools would never be as effective.

Today Mariah Morris, our NC Teacher of the Year,  hosted a YouTube discussion on her profile speaking about the need to lift the voices of these vital educational professionals. We need to heed that call and ask our legislators to help them as well in this time of school closures.

 

Thankful for these people at West Forsyth and all public schools. If I have missed any please let me know and I will add them to the list.

  • Teacher Assistants
  • Testing Coordinators
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Guidance Counselors
  • Media Assistants
  • Interpreters
  • Therapists – speech, occupational, physical
  • Data Control and Clerks
  • Janitors
  • Maintenance
  • Bus Drivers and Transportation
  • Food Services
  • Crossing Guards
  • Nurses

 

I Signed This Petition. Will You?

Please consider signing to show Raleigh how much our certified and classified school staffs mean to our communities.

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Here is the link: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/petition-for-immediate-relief-for-nc-public-school-employees-during-the-covid-19-pandemic?source=direct_link&.

 

 

What This Current Crisis Shows Is That Our Schools Are About Collaboration Among Teachers, Not Competition

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage, especially in this recent epidemic.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In just the one week that North Carolina’s schools have been closed the amounts of collaboration, sharing, and giving of resources, insight, and encouragement have been overwhelming. It has been more about what can we do for each other rather than what I can get that others do not have.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Many of us may be teaching from our homes and communicating with students virtually, but we sure are not creating a culture of insular competition.

Education is about people, not products. It’s about growth, not bottom lines.

It’s about all students, whether they sit in your classrooms or not.

Image result for collaboration stock photo

 

The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Are Now Staring At Our Lawmakers – When Art Imitates Life

The Great Gatsby is a book that is rather quick to read, easy to absorb, and forever reflected upon. Among my junior English classes, whether AP level or not, Gatsby tends to be the favorite. Students feel smarter for having read it. They despise the right people. They wrestle with the shallowness of the characters. They seem to like the character who spent so much time becoming the person he was not. They sometimes come to look at a narrator as unreliable. (And when it comes to carrying out speaking truth to a nation, many of our leaders have certainly become unreliable narrators.)

Students certainly pick up on the symbols like the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

I am thinking of starting a GoFundMe Page to raise money to construct billboard for the obviously deceased and still fictional Doctor T. J. Eckleburg complete with the same “blue and gigantic” eyes with “irises one-yard high” on “no face” complete with “a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.”

And this billboard would be placed right outside of the North Carolina General Assembly building on West Jones Street, possibly near the parking area where each lawmaker who leaves the building would have to lock eyes with the celestial oculist after a day of wielding power that affects so many people.

Lawmakers like Tim Moore. Lawmakers like Phil Berger.

Were they not the people who intentionally stalled the budget process and keep those who were really looking to help North Carolinians from amending what was there?

Yes, they did.

Those two men spearheaded the effort to keep NC from expanding Medicaid which in turn kept hundreds of thousands of people from getting health coverage while we are dealing with a pandemic.

Those two men championed a version of the budget that would have presented dramatic cuts to the North Carolina Health Department.

Those two men wanted a version of a budget that would have not given hourly workers and classified school staff a raise to allow them to at least have a living wage and a possibility of saving for what is now a “rainy” day.

Those two men used teachers as hostages in the budget process talking about a “raise” that really wasn’t much of a raise, and those same teachers are literally working against this pandemic to just have the chance to teach students at this time.

And that’s not even covering what they have done over the years to keep schools from being funded.

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“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one-yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2).

When someone sits for a picture or portrait and stares straight into the lens, the result is the appearance of constant eye contact. The poster of James Baldwin in my classroom as he looks into the camera allows his eyes to always make contact with mine no matter where I am in the classroom. His smile, however, takes away any preclusion of judgement.

But the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg simply stare without any other expression. They are there to judge. They are the “eyes of God” in a society where many in power lack a moral compass, show spiritual depravity but scream religious fervor, and worship profit more than the welfare of others.

eyes1

They never blink.

They always look.

They seem to see all.

I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare (Chapter 2).

Amazingly enough, if you were to visit the webpages of many lawmakers during election periods you might find some sort of meter that reflects their allegiance to the common person, the everyday citizen, and all who reside within the state’s borders.

But what is happening now in NC, the country, and around the world will need more than propagandized resumes and glittering generalities to get us through.

It is action and the lack of action that are speaking loudly.

I understand. It may be a tad bit hyperbolic to equate a book that talks of a man who uses organized crime to build a life of opulence during the “Jazz Age” / “Age of Prohibition” in an attempt to control destiny who ends up crossing paths with a man of immense wealth who steamrolls over people because he can and looks at women and minorities as inferior then eventually gets killed by a mentally, spiritually, and financially crushed man to a modern setting.

Power, money, influence, and the addiction to control people and their fates drive many a literary character to do unspeakable things to make readers question society and government.

Art imitates life. Just ask Richard Burr.

And the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg are looking straight at all of them right now.

3/21/20 – Malcolm’s Wish For World Down Syndrome Day (And A Thank You To Special Education Teachers)

Every year on March 21, the Down Syndrome International sponsors for the world community a WORLD DOWN SYNDROME DAY. You can read more about it here: https://worlddownsyndromeday.org/.

The date is a direct reference to genetic condition known as Trisomy 21 (three #21 chromosomes) which is commonly known as Down Syndrome.

But Malcolm does not think much about the fact that he has a little bit more genetic material than most people do. In fact, he could care less as long as he feels included just like other kids.

So Malcolm asked me to tell you that he wants people to more inclusive and accepting of what are really minors differences we all have because whether you have Down Syndrome or not, we are more alike than different.

That is unless you are not redheaded and blue-eyed like over 99% of the world which makes Malcolm part of rarest minority in the world in that regard.

And he wanted me to share some pictures of him that show how uniquely alike he is to other kids.

And here’s to the fact that Malcolm never really needs a special day to just be.

Any day will do.