Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ode to New Orleans

Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans is still struggling to find itself and rebuild the vibrant core it once was. My friend Rob is doing his part, volunteering for Habitat For Humanity this month. You can read his musings at Quarry Hill Road.

There was also a wonderfully-written 'Ode to New Orleans' of sorts in today's Times-Picayune by gifted writer Chris Rose. Courtney and I have, as of late, thrown teaching a couple of years in New Orleans into the mix of things we'd be interested in doing post-Hawaii.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Bewilderment

With nearly 3,500 U.S. troops dead and more than 26,000 servicemen wounded, not to mention the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed, this was a poignant Memorial Day for me. I remember attending a lecture at LSU in the spring of 2001, and the lecturer listed all the reasons why Iraq was not capable of an attack on the U.S., and the reasons why a preemptive strike would be the wrong thing to do.

Five years later, those words echo as we've dug ourselves into a quagmire that has destroyed our reputation around the world, made our country exponentially more unsafe, and created a haven for Islamic extremists (in Iraq). It's tough to ignore the parallels to the Vietnam War that also began under the pretense of promoting democracy abroad, and ended in a senseless waste of money and human life.

Each evening, at the end of The News Hour on PBS, the program airs photos of soldiers recently killed in Iraq. Below the photo is the soldier's age and hometown. I'm not sure what saddens me most, seeing the 18 and 19-year-olds fresh out of high school, or the 35-year-olds who probably have three young kids at home waiting for their return. I think everyone who supported this disaster should sit through this photo roll each evening.

Watching this episode unfurl during the past five years has been at times unbelievable, and other times amazingly ironic. In a Christian society that each election cycle debates the value of human life with regard to abortion, we're so easily led into battle and are so quiet in the face of this enormous loss of human life. Equally ironic was tonight's report on The News Hour about proposed cuts to the SCHIP program that provides health insurance to America's least privileged children. Apparently we can't find the money to insure the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters, yet we supported a war that at this point has cost each American family $20,000.

This site compares the cost of the Iraq War to what we could do in healthcare and education with the same amount of money.

Initial White House cost estimates were $50 to $60 billion dollars. Some economists have now predicted that this war will end up costing $1 trillion.

I can try to find the bright spot in all of this and say that we'll learn from our mistakes and a transgression of this magnitude won't happen again. But there isn't a bright spot. As we've seen over and over again throughout history, nationalism and colonialist tendencies are no match for our feigned concern for human life.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Year's Reflection

Courtney and I are part of the "Sponsor A Teacher" program in Teach For America, where the organization gets corps members to communicate with important supporters and donors. It doesn't require much, just sending a couple of reflections during the year. I wish there was more contact, so that we could really engage in discussion about our experience, but this at least allows us to put some of our reflections down on paper. Here's the recent letter I sent to my sponsor.

"May 21, 2007

Dear Sponsor,

More than 300 days ago, I landed in Hawaii with an inimitable mixture of excitement, curiosity and trepidation. I had no idea what was in store, and still, after nearly an entire school year, can’t fully quantify the ways that this experience has affected me.

What I can quantify, however, are some of the ways that I’ve been able to impact my own students. I’d be remiss to say that I moved every one of my students the elusive two grade levels of growth, but I have collected my share of success stories.

Angelica, one of my smallest, shyest students, has made incredible gains in reading fluency and comprehension. She’s been able to recognize her own progress, and has seen how much her relentless hard work has paid off while moving from a fourth grade to a sixth grade reading level. Ka’au, who had a difficult last year, spending much of it in the principal’s office, has become a leader among his fourth-grade peers. And Jewel has steadily matured into a bright, compassionate young lady, all the while grappling with the disbelief that her father murdered someone in September.

The challenges that I’ve faced, and there have been many challenges, pale in comparison to some of the inherent challenges and roadblocks that my students face in Nanakuli. What I try to do every day is equip my students with the capacity to make the decisions that will steer them in their own direction in life. I recognize my shortcomings in accomplishing this, and will make many changes in the upcoming year; but I also recognize the modest differences that I’ve been able to make in my students’ lives, and I cherish that opportunity.

Thank you sincerely for your support of Teach For America."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Renovation Part 1

In an effort to add some value to our condo, particularly in a cooling real estate market, Courtney and I decided to do a few upgrades. Our place was built nearly 13 years ago, and just about everything but the carpet is original. The prefab cabinetry is beginning to peel, and the appliances were really showing their age. So our first round was to upgrade all of our appliances (fridge, stove and stacked washer/dryer). We found some pretty good deals at the Sears Outlet store. In conjunction with the appliance upgrade, we decided to re-do the master bathroom. It was definitely an undertaking. We ran into a few snags, but nothing insurmountable, and learned a ton along the way. Courtney even broke a sweat once or twice ;) Here are some photos.

Unfortunately, we never really took a before shot of our bathroom before the remodel, so this is a picture of the second bath, which basically had the same layout and fixtures. The vanity light fixture was rusting, and the cabinetry was way outdated. The laminate flooring was a good color, but it just didn't add anything to the room.

Post demolition, installing cement board as a foundation for the ceramic tile. This whole process was brutal on my back and knees. So much so that I took a day off from school to recover.

The final product! After much sweat and bruised knees and knuckles, the project came together beautifully. The ceramic tile is a huge upgrade from laminate rug, and the deep color is refreshing. We're now working up enough stamina to tackle half of the other bathroom before heading home for summer break.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Zoo!

This week was the end-of-the-year fourth grade field trip to the Honolulu Zoo. My students were so excited. It's really easy from day-to-day to forget that they're such young kids. I demand so much from them academically and behaviorally, that it's easy to ignore the fact that they're just 9 years old. To see them wildly ecstatic was refreshing. Courtney also took the day off of work to join us.

Friday, May 18, 2007

If You Could Travel to Any Period in Time...

If you could travel to any period in time, where would go and why?

"I would go back to caveman time so I could ride dinosaurs!" - Ka'au
"But there weren't any cavemen when dinosaurs roamed the earth." - Mr. Landry
"Oh, well I'd still go back to caveman time." - Ka'au

"I would go to the future to see who I am going to marry." - Lyric

"I would go back to 2003. That was a happy time because my mom used to spend time with me and my sister." - Moani

"I would go back to when my grandma was still alive." - Tresslee

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ed in '08

Yes, I’m alive, and despite the long absence, I’ve been doing a lot of deliberating recently. After a spring break trip back to the mainland, we had a week of state standardized testing – a lightning rod subject in education circles.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) measures educational progress based on these tests, and fourth grade is a benchmark year. I was pretty nervous, and after my own attempt to gauge how my students did, I had plenty of reason to be. I don’t think they fared very well, despite the growth many of them have made. Unfortunately, schools don’t currently get credit for growth – so even if a fourth-grader moves from a first grade reading level to third grade, he/she still can’t hack the fourth grade test.

This is the only criticism I’ll lay on NCLB, as you can hear plenty of it from teachers, administrators and unions across the country. And, quite honestly, I’ve become a supporter of it in principle. The goals are unrealistic, and there are most definitely gaps in the framework, but the way it has brought at least minimal accountability to the classroom is a step in the right direction.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. If this experience is teaching me anything, it’s that the problems within our system are ridiculously complex and massive. Because of this, I’ve become wary of any quips and soundbites from critics or politicians – even critics of NCLB because the problems can’t be solved by any simple solutions.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Broad Foundation are aiming to put education at the forefront of the 2008 presidential discussion. As anyone who’s begun to follow this has already seen, Iraq is dominating the conversation, but the Gates and Eli Broad are hoping that $60 million is enough to grab the nation’s attention. Check it out at www.Edin08.com.