Sunday, August 18, 2013

To Josh: Welcome To Your First Day Of School

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”--Nelson Mandela

Dear Josh,

Welcome to First Grade! This is the start of a long journey of education and discovery. My hope is that you have a blast and discover that learning is a fun and adventurous life long experience. You will find that school is what YOU make of it. In fact, life is what you make of it. You should know that there are some expectations that have already been pre-determined that are non-negotiable, no matter how the next 12 years play out. I have laid them out quite simply here, so if there is ever a debate, I can easily turn to this and ask you to read it.  I want you to know that this is a contract from me to you. I have responsibilities as well and will do my best to live up to all of them. You have a lot of family members that love you very much, some are biological and some are not. They all will take a role in your education at some point and most of them already have, except you just don't realize it yet. Those family members have my express permission to do what they have to do to make sure you stay in school and stay safe. They also have my permission to help you become a man who values diversity and the quest for knowledge. In this family we value education and diversity and we expect you to do the same. So here are the rules of the road and this non-negotiable and binding contract that if followed, will allow you to make memories that last a lifetime.

  • You will graduate high school. Dropping out will not be an option. Right now in this country 90% of all jobs require a high school diploma and that number will be close to 100% by the time you graduate in 2025.       
  • You will graduate from college. This too is non-negotiable. Your family has a long history of  college graduates and I don't want you to get caught up in the rhetoric that college isn't neededCollege gives you experiences that are unmatched in any other part of life. I agree that many college courses are unnecessary, but the experience is something you will never forget. My part of this contract is to make sure we are saving for college. This might mean that we don't get a vacation every summer or your Christmas isn't as big as your friends, but I guarantee you that you will not be paying for college on your own. I will also let you go to any college you can get into (unless you want to be a Gator, then we might have to talk). I also promise you that you can major in anything your heart wants to follow, but you must finish. More and more jobs require degrees and it is my full belief that by that time you enter college, this world will look a  lot different than it does today and even more jobs will require advanced education, with a  strong global understanding. 
The best course in college I ever took was a one year course in Constitutional Law. The final project was that we were given a case where the defendant was someone that countered our very core of ethics. My client was a sexual predator and I had to use the Constitution as a way of showing that it was unconstitutional to put them on a registry that marked them for life. It was hard, but what I learned is that there are two sides to every argument no matter how much you want to believe you are right. I also loved philosophy and the debates that occurred during those classes. It might seem irrelevant, but it is important to ask the big questions of "why" and "why not?"
  • While in school you will find that there will be some teachers you love and some you don't. Some will be great and some should have never been in a classroom to begin with. Welcome to the real world kid. The expectation however, is that you will show them all respect whether you like them or not. My promise to you as part of this contract is that I will make sure they treat you with respect. If they don't, you can count on me to be the first person to call foul.  
Now, I realize that you were born to a rather "Out Spoken" mother. I also realize that I am "somewhat stubborn." I encourage you however, to do as I say, not as I do...unless you see injustice and in this world you will find that it could be at every turn. 
  • While in school I encourage and expect that you participate in activities. I don't care what they are. You can play sports, be in the band or be the newspaper editor for all I care. It doesn't matter. It is expected that whatever you choose, that you will do it full out and to the best of your ability. Quitting is only an option after the commitment to your team has been completed. This is important as participating on teams will teach you how to ultimately succeed in the work force. One thing you will find out about me is that I deplore apathy and half-ass attempts. Commitment to activities will teach you to finish what you started, work with others in high intensity environments, work with others you may not like, and to fail and succeed with grace. Participating in activities will give you a strong work ethic and something that is desperately needed right now in this world.
  • While in school, I expect you to challenge ideas. Challenging ideas is the cornerstone to learning. When you do it however, make sure you do your research and can form a well thought out and intelligent argument. Challenging ideas based on arrogance and sound bites will just make you look ignorant and make sure to pick the battles worth picking.
Remember what Mark Twain once said, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
  • Over the next 12 years you will most likely make many mistakes. I understand that. You will want to challenge authority. I get that, trust me. Remember though, you will be expected to own your mistakes and make amends for them. If you get in trouble at school I will most likely take the side of the teacher. This is part of learning to be human. Stand up when you screw up. If your mistakes look like they could endanger your life or your future however, you can expect me to employ every resource I have to protect you from yourself. (Remember, Aunt Jen, Aunt Carali, and Uncle John are therapists. You are already doomed).
 Now, I ask that you really pay attention to these last two rules, because out of all of the "non-negotiables" these two are most important.

The first is that you must understand that both your dad and me have spent our lives working for others. This is why we aren't rich or have as much as many of your friends might have. Unfortunately, the world has their priorities backwards and in this world, money is king. What you have in this world seems to be perceived and interpreted as who you are. Well I'm here to tell you that the mentality of materialism is what got this country into the mess we are currently in. You were born into a recession for a reason and that reason is because too many people got too greedy and that greed brought us all down. I say this because as you go through school you are going to want more than you can have. You will see people with more than you. They will flaunt it and might even bully others because of it. What you need to understand is that it doesn't matter. Stuff does not make a man. Integrity does. What you give back to others does and who you stand up for does. I hope to teach you that in this world there will always be people who have more and people who have less...a lot less. There are people who you will need to reach out to for an offering of compassion and comfort. There might be someone with whom you have to fight for. I will always support you if you fight for a cause or for the humanity and dignity of another.  I expect you to treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Don't bully. Let me say that again. DON'T YOU DARE BULLY ANOTHER CHILD! This nation was formed so everyone could be who they want to be. In this family we respect all people. Anyone is welcome to be your friend and the only requirement is that they hold these values as well. Your friends can be gay,straight, black, white, Muslim, Jewish, immigrant,rich or poor. They are all welcome in our house. We do not generalize and we do not discriminate. I hope you will learn that everyone is an individual and not a "group" to be classified into political rhetoric.

The last and most important rule I want to pass on to you is that out of all the classes you need to pay attention in is history.Learn your history. Our country wouldn't be in the mess it is in if people knew their history. Pay special attention when your teachers start talking about the hatred that has lead us down so many unfortunate paths. Learn about why we have fought the wars we have fought and what we should have learned from them. Learn what we did to the Indians. Learn what we did to the black community. Learn how religion has been a driving force behind so much anger. Learn how women were and still are treated. Learn about how our government works, because so many don't. They will say they do, but I'm here to tell you that they don't. When you learn your history, you will be more apt to challenge the present for the hope of the future. Don't take what is told to you about history at face value either. There are many people who try to change it to fit their agenda. Many people come across as experts on history, politics, and the Constitution. Do your own research and ask your own questions.Do not buy into sound bites!

My favorite history class was in college when our professor had us read a particular section of 20th Century political history and then he would come into class dressed as one of the figures from the chapter. Our test for that week was that we each had to pretend to be a reporter and ask a question as if the situation was currently happening and then write a paper and analyze the answer. It was fascinating.

"The only thing new in this world is the history that you do not know."--Harry S. Truman

This might seem overwhelming right now, but when you are my age I hope it will make sense to you. There are many people in your corner. A lot of people have your back.  Please know that having your back might mean that we aren't your friend, but your teachers of life. 
Please enjoy childhood and school. Learn, laugh, play, compete, make friends, and explore. Most importantly though, learn to think for yourself with an open mind and an open heart. Be a critical thinker and you will always stay ahead of the game. 

I'm a firm believer that your generation could be the finest in history. Don't listen when people start referring to your generation as lazy and entitled. Your generation didn't get us into this mess of greed, selfishness, and polarization this country now faces, but maybe...just maybe your generation can get us out.



P.S. If you actually learn what the purpose of Algebra is could you pass it on to me? I'm still trying to figure that one out and don't forget...Go Vols!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Hope At The Start Of A New School Year And A New Marching Band Season

I have a hope for the children of our nation. This hope comes from a person who has worked with children and worked for children. Mostly though, this is not coming from Shelba the guard instructor or professional in adolescent development. This hope is coming from a parent. I am a parent of a 6 year old and here is my hope for a new school year and a new marching band season.

You are a staff member at the local high school marching band. You are a band director, an instructor for the percussion line or part of the guard staff. You are a consultant that comes in once a week and teaches the brass. You write the drill. You are a choreographer. You are someone who will touch the life of a young person in a profound way and whether you like it or not, the hopes of the parents and children are entrusted with you and this is why.

The parents who raise children in the 21st Century are not existing in a time that they grew up in or that you grew up in. Their children are in a world that was virtually unimaginable 20 years ago. The children grow up in a world where information is at their doorstep 24/7. They have access to information and media all day, everyday. They have access to the world and guess what...the world has access to them. Think about that. As a parent, you live in a time where the world can access your child just by the click of a mouse. They have been raised to fear mankind because of words like stranger danger and cyber-bullying. Bullying is a crime. Hazing is a crime. Sexting the wrong person is a crime. The wrong Facebook message sent in the fit of the underdeveloped adolescent mind, can get them expelled from school. Fear is the lifestyle of a parent in the 21st Century. Through a media culture of 500 stations, Netflix, and YouTube, children have exposure to every form of sex, violence, and abuse known to man and they have access to all of that with a smart phone in their pocket. The culture our children live in is a culture of, "I want it now," and guess what...they didn't create it. We did. Just look at the fame of reality television stars.

Then there is school. Standardized Testing is the equivalent to a four letter word to a parent. What if they don't pass? Is my child's future doomed? Many schools are set up as literal meat grinders and parents are at a loss as to how to navigate the system and how to be the supportive person their parents were. They fight to get their child in an "A" school. They put their children on lists for charter schools...a system set up to pit parents and schools against each other. The system does not allow for our children's teachers to teach creative thought. By the time their child reaches 9th grade, their first year of marching band, the parent is worn out. They have been fighting for their child's education since they were told their child had to read by the time they were 4. It's a race and the parent's are exhausted. They are financially spent.

As a parent you can't win. If you spank your child  you could be called an abuser. If you don't spank your child you are a loser liberal parent raising a spoiled brat, who is destroying the future of our country. You can't leave your child alone anymore, because of the fear the media instills in you that your child will either burn the house down or someone will break into the house and molest them. Sports and activities are expensive. Parents are told on a daily basis through social media how bad children are today and in turn, how bad they are for raising them in this world of "too much." Saving for college is almost impossible. Paying for childcare almost killed us. We see our children's future and we are scared. It's a dog eat dog world and our children are the chew toy, by a political field selling our children to the lowest bidder.  As a parent, we only want our children to have a fighting chance. We aren't asking for them to win every trophy and we aren't asking for them to become the next Steve Jobs. Our hope is that they don't become the next reality television tragedy or the next statistic of teen pregnancy, drug addiction, or school drop out, because no one cared enough to say, "You can do it. You are smart. You are creative. You are NOT this test."

So here is my plea. Here is my hope. It is you. You the staff member of the local marching band. It is you the coach. We need your help. We want our children to go on to that practice field and be shown love through discipline...with a side of compassion. We want you to hold our children accountable, but we also want you to allow for creativity. Feel free to come down on our children when they don't pull their weight for the team, but make sure it is a fair game. Give them a voice in the creative process, even if it is only in a routine they make up for a song played in the stands at a football game. Show them that school is fun, because marching band is a part of it. Be their mentors. Seek to find the gem inside them, without coddling them. Listen to them as they share their fears of their future. Know that not all children are respectful and disciplined, but most are. Keep an open mind and don't become distracted by the one child who refuses to play by the rules.

Be empathetic to the parent who works two jobs and still manages to have their child at every practice and shows up to every performance. Be patient if a parent shows up late to pick up their child, because their boss wouldn't let them leave work early. Thank the parent who raises funds, even if all they could sell was a few candy bars. Support the parents who run the concession stand. Work to understand the situation of a child who can't afford the fees, but desperately needs music to give them hope. Here's the thing. We need you to help our children see that not everything in the world is fearful and some things like music and dance can be pure. Show them that playing music from the soul and dancing from the heart can be the future that was not shown to them while they were being forced to regurgitate facts for a state test. Every once in a while, turn the the parents in the stands and say, "Thank you for all you do and all you have done for our children." Believe that most of the parents are doing their best and are working from a sense of love, but also a sense of fear for their children. Work together with the parents. Seek to find a middle ground. Teach the parent's the importance of their role in their child's musical development, but don't trash them if they don't put the effort in you were hoping for. You might not know the entire story. Remember, some parents won't understand the value of the marching band, but most will.  Show our community that the teacher, the parent, and the child can work together for the future, in this world where teacher and parent aren't always on the same page.  We as parents are somewhat jaded, by a system that seems to work against us...much like the teachers. We are looking for hope that our children will leave their career as a student with a new found love for learning. We are hoping that music will give them that fire.

More than anything though, don't give up on the children. The one who needs you most might be the one desperately trying to quit. You might be all they have. Your band program might be the only thing keeping them in school and could be the difference between diploma or drop out.

We are all in this together and together we can make school a place where the community comes together for the future. I believe in this. We can do it.

Have a great school year and a great season.