Monday, May 25, 2015

On This Memorial Day, I Agree With The Veteran Who Said "I'm a veteran, and I hate 'Happy Memorial Day'"

George Washington Memorial Park, Paramus, NJ
I open this post in concurrence with the following quotes from Jennie Haskamp, a Marine Corps veteran who continued to work for the Corps as a civilian after leaving active duty in 2006. They are taken from a recent Commentary in the Chicago Tribune.

"That's when it hit me. I'm angry. I've come to realize people think Memorial Day is the official start of summer. It's grilled meat, super-duper discounts, a day (or two) off work, beer, potato salad and porches draped in bunting."
 "I'm frustrated by people all over the country who view the day as anything but a day to remember our WAR DEAD. I hate hearing "Happy Memorial Day."
"It's not Veteran's Day. It's not military appreciation day. Don't thank me for my service. Please don't thank me for my service. It's take the time to pay homage to the men and women who died while wearing the cloth of this nation you're so freely enjoying today, day."
"It's the one day on the American calendar meant to exemplify what it costs to be American and to be free. . . and we've turned it into a day off work, a tent sale and a keg of beer."
"I hope you enjoy your weekend — but I hope you pause to remember, too."
I totally agree with Ms. Haskamp, for when we look to the authority of definitions, Merriam-Webster, for the definition of the word memorial, it says serving to preserve remembrance. In other words Memorial Day is a day that is set aside for us to remember our military men and women who paid the ultimate price with the voluntary giving of their lives while representing the United States of America in battle/war. Sadly, Memorial Day, like too many of our holidays (The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig "holy" + dæg "day") has become reduced to gimmicky marketing and sales days with their true meanings never being truly recognized.  

For me, I personally believe that we ought to pause from time to time to remember all of our loved ones who have passed away or transitioned from this life, as each of them have contributed in one way or another to those of us who are still alive. I often visit the grave sites of family members, friends and national heroes just to remember them and to say "Thank You" for their contribution to the world and to my life. I've been to the burial sites of notables such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Joe Louis, Malcolm X, and Paul Robeson, just to name a few and not to mention the final resting places of my many family and friends. While I more than realize that the burial grounds represent the physical earthly remains minus the spirit (the true being of the person), by visiting the sites, it is my way of preserving remembrance. In fact, depending on the design of the cemetery, I have no issue with breaking out my portable chair and sitting for a little while. I do this from time to time at my father's grave which is in the George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, NJ, a cemetery that truly is more like a park where all of the markers are flat bronzed plaques in the ground compared with the traditional image of being surrounded by large above ground stone monuments. The experience really is like it's tag line describes as A Haven of Tranquility in a Turbulent World and a wonderful place to reflect and remember. Many find this practice strange, causing me to often question, why is it that cemeteries can draw in some people, yet repel others? Death is a part of life.

So on this Memorial Day, I too ask that you move beyond the marketing, hoopla and sound bites and seriously remember a fallen soldier or soldiers and then take it a step further and reflect upon the contribution of all of your family and friends who have passed away. Mentally and/or verbally thank them aloud for having been in your life and for their historical significance in it. Whether it was on the world-wide level such as a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or on a local level such as an immediate family member, thank them or say a prayer for their spirits and wish them continued peace in their rest. "Ashay." Something to critically think about.

You are invited to join me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. EDT, world-wide on gobrave.org and locally in the Northern N.J. area on WP88.7 FM. You are also invited to follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and @readingcircle01 and visit my website at www.thereadingcircle01.com.





Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Is This Thing Called "Fair?"

Not everyone receiving the same thing, but what each needs
"That's not fair!" "He's/she's not fair!"  As an educator, I hear this lament a lot and I am sure if you are like me, you have heard it as well and perhaps even have thought it yourself. In fact, what prompted this post was a student who came to me complaining that his being admonished for playing around in class was unfair, since some of his classmates were also playing around. He felt it was unfair of his teacher to correct him and was more concerned about the others who did not get caught doing the wrong thing, which was playing in a class that they were not supposed to have been playing in. I listened as he emotionally plead his case as to why he should not have been chastised and have been able to keep on doing the wrong thing simply because the others were not chastised. Now, mind you, the others had not been seen/caught, and he had. For that moment, the others had gotten away with their wrongdoing and he had not; so therefore, he felt that it was "not fair" that he had to be spoken to. Not fair that he had to receive consequences.

I listened quietly until he was through and then I responded with a paraphrase from the first line in the book The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck, M.D. where he opens with these three words. "Life is Difficult." Dr. Peck goes on to say in the first paragraph:

"This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult -- once we truly understand and accept it -- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

I explained this concept to my student inserting the word "fair" where Dr. Peck used the word "difficult." In other words, I shared with the young man, that life is not fair and once he learned to accept that, the fact that life is not fair no longer matters and that he would stop looking for it to be. With all of that said, it caused me to reflect upon this notion of fair;what it is and what it is not because I believe once we get a better understanding of what fair is and what fair is not, it will no longer matter and we will be able to move on.

The best definition for fair that I have learned during my travels says:
"Fair isn't about everybody getting the same thing.....fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful." 
Hence the young man's and probably most of our source of confusion and frustration. He felt that since he was being chastised, that either all of his comrades should have also been chastised or none of them should have been chastised, meaning everyone should have gotten the same thing. He didn't realize that the teacher was giving him what he needed to be successful and that maybe the others may have received some other consequence if they were indeed caught. I further shared with the young man that if his little buddies that he was playing with did not get caught this time, that if they were to continue that behavior, it would just be a matter of time before their consequences would catch up with them. In short, I shared with him that maybe this was his time to get caught and the next time if the same scenario arose, it might be one of this friends who would be admonished instead of him.

Just like that sixth grader, many of us adults bemoan the same thing. We often say "that's not fair" just like the young man in this story. We bewail it to our employers, our co-workers, our spouses, our children, to law enforcement, our parents and even to God.......'THAT'S NOT FAIR!" usually followed by "Why me?"

As Dr. Peck would suggest and I agree with, if we were to understand that life is not meant to be fair, the better off we would all be. If we were to truly understand the definition above, we would be better parents, children, employees, citizens, students, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, supervisors, etc. etc.etc. In my opinion, the definition says it best when it articulates the difference between everyone getting the same thing and everyone getting what they need. There is a difference. I'll leave you with that, as that difference is something to critically think about. Let us transcend this notion of fair.

You are invited to join me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. EDT on gobrave.org and locally in northern NJ on WP88.7 FM, follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and @readingcircle01. "Like" my Facebook page 'Reading Circle' and visit my website www.thereadingcircle01.com.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is Integrity a Thing of the Past?



Educators were convicted April 1 of racketeering and other lesser crimes related to inflating test scores of children from struggling schools. One teacher was acquitted.  CNN
Pacquiao faces possible sanctions for shoulder injury. Boxer, who lost to Mayweather, failed to disclose an 'old' shoulder injury. Aljazeera

Tom Brady likely knew of 'inappropriate activities,' Deflategate report says  CNN

These are just three recent examples that caused me to ask the question, Is integrity a thing of the past? I ask that because it seems that in no arena do we find anything to be what it's supposed to be. People are telling us one thing and doing another. I often hear the question is chivalry dead?, but I think the more important question is the one I am asking here in this post. Where has our integrity gone? Think about the tainted records of Bobby Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemons, Mark McGuire, Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and the list could go on and on, enough to fill this entire post with just names alone. All who have broken the trust of the public......our trust.

Integrity is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as (1) the quality of being honest and fair (2) the state of being complete or whole. Where has this quality gone? Do we want to win so bad that we are willing to do anything? Do we want to be rich so bad that we are willing to do anything? Do we want to be famous so bad that we are willing to do anything? Apparently so.

In Atlanta, educators were so consumed with a system that required students to be proficient, they were driven to alter test results in order to what they thought, keep their jobs or obtain their increment/raise. As a fellow educator, I can understand their desperation; however, as that old adage goes, "Two wrongs don't make a right."  Is an educational system that focuses so much on test scores wrong? In my view, yes. Is altering the results of student test scores wrong. In my view yes. Whether it is education, sports, business, law enforcement, government, politics, religion, or whatever, where has our integrity gone? Integrity has become like "Where's Waldo?"  Where's Integrity? Unlike Where's Waldo, integrity is far more important and if we've lost that, we've lost close to everything.

I don't have the answer, but I do know this, we have got to do better than this because if we don't, we are going to fall just like the Roman Empire and any other empire that fell due to the lack of morals. integrity, and compassion. I often hear that chivalry is not dead and I pray to God that integrity is not dead either. Something to critically think about.

Hear me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. EDT on gobrave.org and locally on WP88.7 FM. You are invited to follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and readingcircle01. Like my fan page on Facebook at Reading Circle and visit my website at thereadingcircle01.com  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Tape Is Never Rolled Back Far Enough

For those of you who are old enough to remember Warner Wolf with his tag line phrase of "Let's go to the videotape," you'll appreciate my metaphor in the title of this post. In 2015, we have more video tape than ever before to take a look at because of the presence of cameras installed everywhere you can possibly imagine, yet our crime rates and botched arrests are not decreasing. In just about every case that comes to mind, there is video evidence, and in some instances even what we see in the video is not enough to get a conviction of the wrong doing. But this post is not about getting a conviction based on videotape evidence but more about taking a look at the events that led up to an arrest gone wrong to begin with. In other words, rolling the tape back a little further than what we are always presented with.

In every major case that is publicized in the news, the focus is always on the arrest gone wrong; what is perceived as police brutality, or in many instances truly is police brutality, but the focus is never placed on the events that led up to the encounter to begin with. This is why I say the tape is never rolled back far enough. Had the alleged perpetrator not done anything to cross the police path to begin with, there would not have been a need for an arrest or a scuffle. We need to stop being in denial and overlooking the fact that every illegal activity that occurred or was thought to be occurring is what caused the encounter from the start. It is rare that I've seen or heard of a case of an innocent citizen that has no record or had not done anything wrong have a fatal encounter with law enforcement. In nearly 100% of these cases, the perpetrator now turned victim did something he or she was not supposed to have been doing. I am not suggesting that anyone, whether they were doing right or wrong, deserve to be mistreated or killed, but I am asking us to look further back at the root of the issue, which is the person was doing something illegal. The illegality of the act precipitating the police encounter is never brought into the discussion.

As citizens, we must stop doing any activity that will bring us into an encounter with law enforcement. We must stop stealing; we must stop selling drugs; we must stop prostituting; we must stop vandalizing, and any other activity that is against the law, for it is the illegal activities that keeps us crossing the path of the police, and once you've crossed that path there is no telling what is going to happen. Please be clear, I am not defending rogue police officers whatsoever, because they are just as wrong as the perpetrators they are attempting to capture. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, regardless of whether you are wearing a uniform and a badge or not.

I keep hearing that the lack of opportunity is at the root of why so many of our teenagers are having to deal with law enforcement and I tend to disagree with that statement somewhat because I do not believe it is the lack of opportunity; I believe it is the lack of preparation to take advantage of the opportunities that are available. If you are not prepared educationally, you will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in 2015. We are no longer in a time where you can drop out of high school and work in a factory, as the factories do not exist. We are no longer in a time where one can quit school and be able to get a well paying job. With that being said, our young people must gain as much education as they can get in order for them to be prepared to take advantage of the types of opportunities that exist in 2015. The types of opportunities that exist in 2015 require one to be able to read, and read well. The types of opportunities that exist in 2015 require one to be able to comprehend and to be able to think. No longer are there the assembly lines where one does not have to think but be able to do something physically. So it's not a matter of the lack of opportunity in my view, as much as it is the lack of preparation to take advantage of the opportunities that are here in 2015. Most of the opportunities in 2015 require some computer skills; require being able to read what's on the computer screen and require being able to make decisions based on the information that is provided.

When I looked at the video and the photos of the teenagers taking part in the riots in Baltimore, not too many of those photographed looked as if they were prepared to take advantage of any opportunity that might be available in Baltimore in 2015. I am not judging; however, based on those videos and photographs, it did not appear to be a massive amount of young people(or old for that matter) who looked like they had prepared themselves to take advantage of the types of jobs and careers that are offered in 2015.

Our young people must take education seriously and we cannot continue to wait for opportunities to be made for us as we must become educated and make opportunities for ourselves. We must work to stop people from committing crimes so that there will be no need for them to be a victim of police brutality. We must stop breaking the law....PERIOD. Stop stealing the cars. Stop carrying the guns. Stop robbing the stores. Stop mugging the senior citizens. Stop raping the women. Just stop breaking the law and we won't have to keep seeing these cases of alleged criminals becoming victims. I end with two quotes from Malcolm X where he says "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today" and  "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." Something to critically think about. You can hear me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. EDT on gobrave.org and locally in northern NJ on WP88.7 FM. You can follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and @readingcircle01. Let us stop the madness. May Baltimore be the last.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Read A Framework For Understanding Poverty By Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.

About three weeks ago I was in a meeting with my assistant superintendents and the deputy superintendent of my school district and we were discussing the school of which I serve as principal. I was explaining to them the various challenges we face as the school is seated in what is probably the lowest economic area of the city. As we were chatting, one of the assistant superintendents asked me if I had ever read the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Dr. Ruby K. Payne?, in fact, because she knows that I am a voracious reader, she erroneously assumed that I had read it. I told her I had not. She then went on to tell me that she highly recommended that I read the book particularly in light of the school that I serve. I thanked her for the recommendation and when I left the meeting, I immediately downloaded the book on my iPad via the Kindle App. As I began reading the book, I clearly understood why it was recommended to me. Dr. Payne was indeed describing my children and all I had to do was change the names to protect the guilty. Her case studies were reflective of my students and there is no doubt in my mind that for many of them, what she described is their reality.

Each case study became more and more heart wrenching for me as I pictured in my mind some of the faces I look into each day as I move about my school and as they are sent to the main office. The book moved me so much, that it will be one of the first books that I order for the entire teaching staff of my school for the 2015-2016 school year (the only reason I am not ordering it now, is because our budget is closed). Nevertheless, there are some exercises outlined in the book that I will be taking our staff through to help them get a better appreciation for the students they are serving. It is only through getting a better understanding of the reality of the students we serve, will we be able to develop the compassion and the relationships necessary to reach them academically. I am not looking for us to excuse the students' behavior because they are impoverished; however, I am looking for us to better understand what may be driving the behavior we experience from our students on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps with a better understanding and appreciation for the plight of our children, we will rethink how we speak to them; rethink what we say to them; and be more conscious of our body language and sarcasm. Students will not learn from people who they feel do not care about them.

I am not finished reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty and some of the parts that I have read have choked me up and in some instances brought me to tears as I thought about my students who are homeless; who have been sexually abused; who are raising their little brothers and sisters; who are home by themselves at night, and on and on and on. You name the ill and I am willing to bet that I have a student or students who are or have experienced it.

So like my assistant superintendent who recommended the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty  to me, I likewise recommend the book to anyone who is reading this post. It is a great book for self-reflection regardless of what economic class you may be in. It is particularly important for educators but it is not just for educators. If we all acted upon or thought about what we learned from this book, we would treat people better. We would not snub our nose down on anyone because while we don't know their story, we would have a better appreciation for what they may have gone through or are going through. So as The Critical Thinker, The Principal and the host of The Reading Circle, I recommend that everyone reading these words get a copy of A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. Something to critically think about. I invite you to listen to me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. ET as the host of The Reading Circle on gobrave.org and locally on WP88.7 FM. I also invite you to follow on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and @readingcircle01.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Critical Thinker Can Now Be Found On Alltop - The Online Magazine Rack Of The Web


The Critical Thinker is now a part of the Alltop umbrella. According to Alltop, it's purpose is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer.

We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs such as The Critical Thinker that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. Then we display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Our topics run from adoption to zoology with photography, food, science, religion, celebrities, fashion, gaming, sports, politics, automobiles, Macintosh, and hundreds of other subjects along the way.

You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web. We’ve subscribed to thousands of sources to provide “aggregation without aggravation.” To be clear, Alltop pages are starting points—they are not destinations per se. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance your online reading by displaying stories from sources such as The Critical Thinker that you’re already visiting plus helping you discover sources that you didn’t know existed.

The Critical Thinker is proud to be listed under the Alltop umbrella. Hear me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. ET on gobrave.org as the host of The Reading Circle and you are invited to follow on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and readingcircle01.