Archives for category: Personal

Vivian Connell is a vibrant and brilliant woman who was a teacher in North Carolina. She left teaching to become a lawyer. Last year, she learned she has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is fatal. She has thought a great deal about how to use the time that she has. She has used it well. She has lived every moment to the fullest, doing the things that might otherwise have been left for another day. She is a portrait in courage, whose words should inspire us all to live in the moment, reach out to our loved ones, do what we can while we can. She has traveled, and she even made a commercial in the North Carolina Senate race in favor of Senator Kay Hagan; she knows the damage that her opponent has done to public education. She has lived her life as fully as possible, using her spirit and her determination to take her to places that she wants to go. She knows she will die, as we all must. And she wants to take advantage of every minute she has.


As the ALS Association website says, there is presently no cure or treatment for the disease, there are clinical trials that offer hope.


Vivian is a beautiful person. We wish her continued courage and optimism and healing. We wish her the strength to continue living her life fully because she inspires us all.

Here is the latest from Donald Cohen of “In the Public Interest,” which exposes privatization scams.

Donald Cohen writes:

“A $300,000 plane. $861,000 to pay off personal debts and keep open a struggling restaurant. A down payment on a house and an office flush with flat-screen televisions, executive bathrooms and granite counter tops. This isn’t a list of expenditures from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, this represents a small slice of the more than $30 million of taxpayer funds that have been wasted through fraud and abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter schools since they first opened in 1997.

A new report from the Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education, and Action United is blowing the lid off the lack of public oversight at Pennsylvania’s 186 charter schools.

“Inadequate audit techniques, insufficient oversight staff, and a lack of basic transparency have created a charter system that is ripe for abuse in the Keystone state. But there is hope. The report provides a detailed roadmap for the state to create an effective oversight structure and provide meaningful protections that can curtail endemic fraud and waste.

“The report calls for an immediate moratorium on new charters until the inadequate oversight system can be replaced with rigorous and transparent oversight. That’s the right first step.

“According to the authors, charter school enrollment in the state has doubled three times since 2000 and Pennsylvania’s students, their families, and taxpayers cannot afford to lose another $30 million. Pennsylvania’s students and taxpayers deserve better.


Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest

Thank you!

From the In The Public Interest Team

Thank you to Politico magazine for naming me one of the Top 50 political figures whose ideas are making a difference.

The bio says “For standing up for teachers, not tests.”

I am honored to be in such illustrious company!

I have had so many direct questions about the status of my health that I thought I would share what I know. So many of you sent good wishes and even suggestions for natural cures; I thank you for your kindness and concern.

As you probably don’t remember (but I can never forget), I tripped down some outdoor steps on April 5, landed on my left knee, and pretty much demolished some necessary ligaments and tendons. I had surgery on May 9 for a total knee replacement at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery. Many people wrote to tell me that this operation is routine and that their sister, brother, mother, or father had it and felt great after about two months.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work so well for me. I was making steady progress but then, after two months, developed a huge hematoma on the operated leg. The blood from the bruise seeped into my knee, making it impossible to bend.

On July 31, I had what is called “manipulation under anesthesia,” in which my surgeon “cracked” my knee, forcing the bottom and top together, which was supposed to break up the adhesions (scar tissue) that prevented me from flexing my knee. That didn’t work either. Within a day or two, the adhesions had grown back, and my knee remained inflexible.

So now I am engaged in aggressive physical therapy, with a wonderful practitioner who is trying to break the adhesions by vigorous massage of the knee and exercise and lots of icing. It is helping but I don’t know whether it will be enough to bring back my mobility. If it doesn’t work, I will require yet another surgery to scrape out the adhesions. I seem to among the few who sprout scar tissue internally with amazing speed. I am totally focused on getting better, and at the same time exploring options about where to have this surgery done, with the best after-care, if it turns out to be necessary.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your expressions of concern. The blog has kept me going at a time when I am eager to think about something other than my poor knee.

Shortly before 1 p.m., the blog passed 14 million page views!

Although I am not afflicted with Triskaidekaphobia, I am nonetheless happy to move on to 14. I confess I am a wee bit superstitious. After all, this was the time that I crushed my knee, underwent two surgical procedures, and am still struggling to recover full mobility.

Fourteen million page views doesn’t mean that the blog has that many daily readers. It means that over a period of 26 months, that is the number of times that someone has opened the blog to read an entry. On a slow day, I have 15,000 readers. On a good day, I have 30,000 or more. On my best day ever, I had almost 70,000.

Best of all, I have great readers who correct my errors, send news tips about their schools, their city, or state., and maintain a high level of discourse.

The blog has a larger purpose than giving me a perch or giving readers the latest news. Its central mission is to help build a grassroots movement against high-stakes testing and privatization of our nation’s public schools and in favor of sound policies that improves education for all children. I respect the men and women who do the hard daily work of education. I believe in public education. I believe in equity for children and schools. I love learning. I have low regard for those who seek to turn our children and their education into Big Data. For as many days as are left to me, I will fight for the humanistic values of genuine learning, not the guessing game or ritualistic responses of standardized testing.

I read every comment you post–there are now nearly a quarter million. I don’t permit cursing, although I ignore innocuous “hell” and “damn” stuff. I occasionally delete especially vicious comments. I do not allow insults directed personally at me (it’s my blog). But 99.999% of comments do get posted. I welcome dissent and debate. I welcome civil disagreement.

My personal goal is that I can walk on two legs unassisted long before we reach 15 million!

We have become accustomed in recent years to seeing films in which teachers are shown as lazy, greedy slugs. This fits nicely with the corporate reform narrative that seeks to strip all honor, dignity, and rights from teachers. Teachers don’t deserve those mean-spirited caricatures, nor the treatment they receive from legislatures.

Remembering Robin Williams’ portrayal of English teacher John Keating in “The Dead Poets’ Society” takes us back to another era, a time when the teacher might be seen as a source of wisdom and inspiration, a rebel and a non-conformist. Here is the trailer. Robin Williams represented the teacher as the best that one could hope to be: not just a man who taught language and literature but a man who changed lives.

My favorite scene in the movie occurs when Mr. Keating invites the class to read the introduction to the poetry anthology. The introduction describes a mathematical formula for judging the worth of a poem. Mr. Keating tells his students to “tear out the entire introduction! Rip! Tear! Rip!”

Now as I read about the econometricians who have developed algorithms to determine who are the best and the worst teachers, I will think of Mr. Keating–Robin Williams– telling his students “Rip!” Live life to the fullest! Dare to be yourself! He was–or he acted–the teacher of our dreams, the one who inspired us to be our own best selves, to defy authority when it is wrong, and to live lives of possibility, not lives weighted down by the routine. Now as I see the purveyors of Big Data descending upon students, teachers, principals, and superintendents alike, ready to label them, rank them, crunch their numbers and their souls, I will think of Robin Williams as the irreverent Mr. Keating. I know what he would have done with those forms and spreadsheets. “Rip!”

These images remain 25 years after seeing “The Dead Poets’ Society” because Robin Williams was that teacher. Not just in one film but in dozens of films.

If you are on the West Coast, you still have a few hours before bedtime, but I am turning in now.

Before I do, I wanted to acknowledge that I neglected to add the link to the post in which Mark NAISON explains why charter schools are like subprime mortgages. Here it is:

Fortunately I have readers who kindly remind me when I forget the link or when autocorrect turns words into gibberish.

Then I wanted to tell you I was preoccupied tonight watching Fritz Lang’s spectacular silent movie “Metropolis” (1927). See it if you have a chance. It was on Turner Classic Movies. So much that presages the rise of fascism. Knowing what was going to happen to Germany, I found myself siding with the “bad” Maria who wanted the workers to turn against the machines to which they were psychically chained, not the “good” Maria, who wanted the workers to wait, wait, wait, and be peaceful. If you think about the movie in relation to German history and the monster who would plunge the world into war just a few years later, you want the workers to be rebellious, not docile. There is a time for collaboration and a time to stand up and fight.

After writing a post last week to tell you about the great progress I have made, about going from walker to cane to walking like a normal person, I suffered a sudden setback. Out of nowhere, I developed a very large hematoma on the back of my operated leg. That’s a humongous bruise that is black-blue and very ugly. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk. The pain was intense. The physical therapist said I probably tore my hamstring. What do I know about these things? Nothing. It has been a few days, and I have graduated back to the cane. The hematoma is turning other colors. I think I’m getting better. I feel that so many of you are good friends that I wanted you to know.

Thanks to all those who have inquired about my health. I was on Long Island in a remote location, no one nearby, when I tripped and landed on my left knee on April 5. I was alone, had no cell phone, and had to drag myself inch by inch into the house to reach a phone. Within minutes, the town’s fire department and police officers arrived to put me in a stretcher and take me to the localhospital. One of my sons took a bus that night so he could drive me to Brooklyn the next morning. On May 9, I had major surgery: a total knee replacement. I spent five days in the Hospital for Special Surgery, then a week in a rehab hospital. Then home on Long Island, where I needed a walker to get around.

I will be candid. I was in terrible pain, couldn’t sleep at night, and suffered deep depression. I continued physical therapy, first at home, then at a clinic about ten minutes from my home. My depression was profound. I felt physically depleted and couldn’t get over how dramatically my life had changed, how my horizons had shrunk. I kept blogging because I needed to keep my mind active. But again, in candor, I had very little energy to get out of bed most days.

About two weeks ago, I started to feel better. I watched movies that made me laugh. I stopped thinking all the time about how miserable I was. I started thinking more about other people. I switched from a walker to a cane. Then one day the physical therapist told me to leave the cane at her door. I walked like Frankenstein. Then, when my scar healed, I started using a pool. Not to swim, but to flex my leg. I still don’t have full range of motion, still can’t straighten or fully flex my leg.

But I’m walking again. I have the urge to write more than blogs, and I have something in mind though not yet on paper. I still have sharp pain in my knee but it is not continuous. I often wake up at 3 am in pain.

Best of all, I am not depressed anymore. I am feeling that I will get better. I have stopped feeling sorry for myself. I am glad I landed on my knee instead of my head as I would have bled to death, due to the fact that I take blood thinners and any major injury can cause me to bleed to death.

I think I will emerge from this ordeal with some changed ideas. I know what it feels like to be disabled, even if only temporarily. I still feel an urgent need to stop the theft of public education, but I intend to write more and travel less. I will save more time to spend with those I love. I can never repay the partner who took such good care of me and put up with my deepest depression and despair. I will walk more slowly and watch where I am going.

I am not completely recovered. I expect it will be September before I feel recovered. At least, I hope so. I hope I have learned to be grateful for life, for friendship, for those who helped me, for those who didn’t let me give up, for those who taught me patience. Now I will try to practice what I have learned.

I earlier posted about an article in the New York Times that expressed concern about the loss of handwriting, as children are taught keyboarding at younger and younger ages. The article said that some researchers believe that a loss of handwriting skills may be associated with a loss of cognitive development.

As I read the comments on this post, I felt inspired to share my own experiences with handwriting and typing.

When I started public school in Houston, we used pencils and quill pens. By quill pens, I mean that the pen was dipped into an inkwell repeatedly to have enough ink to write answers. Because I am left-handed, this was often messy as I ran my hand over the wet ink, which always got smudged. I believe we were taught to write with the Palmer method, which required making round, round circles again and again. It was excruciatingly boring as my circles were never round enough.

About the time I was in third grade, there was a technological breakthrough, and we switched from quill pens to ballpoint pens. I would have said “hallelujah,” but the ballpoint pens were even messier for a lefty than the quill pens. I always dragged my hand across whatever I wrote, and whatever I wrote was smudged and my left hand was always ink-stained. To make matters worse for us lefties, the chairs in the classroom had single arm extensions, almost always designed for righties. So my natural tendency to turn my hand above my writing was accentuated because of the design of the chair. There was a brief period when my teacher tried to force me to write with my right hand, but she gave up when she saw it was hopeless.

Now, despite the Palmer method and despite being graded for penmanship, I have truly terrible handwriting. Sometimes I can’t decipher my own notes.

I was really happy the day I was able to buy a portable typewriter. It was my proudest possession. That was probably about ninth grade. I was finally freed from the bondage of my own awful handwriting.

So, from my personal experience, I am not prepared to say whether my struggles with pen and ink improved my cognitive development. I don’t know. I do think it is a good idea that young children learn to sign their names and to write notes. It is practical. I admire people with beautiful handwriting. But I was never one of them.


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