Archives for category: Personal

Last night I watched the first segment of the CNN special on “Cancer: The Emperor of Maladies.” It was very well done. Most of the program was about childhood leukemia. It brought back many sad memories. Our Steven, a beautiful child age 2, died in 1966 of leukemia after six terrible months of suffering, in and out of the hospital. We thought he had the best of care. We prayed for a miracle that never happened.

The program interviewed the first child to survive. She was about 12 when she was diagnosed. The doctors in Boston gave her a “cocktail” of four drugs. She is now middle-aged. Her treatment started in 1964. When I heard the date, it broke my heart.

I am not a data-driven person. I am driven by ideas, reflection, hopes, worries, idealism, passion, and, yes, rage at injustice, especially when the powerful crush the weak.

 

But I am informed by data, as we all should be. I want to know my weight, my temperature, my blood pressure, my social security number, and gazillion passwords. What I do with my data is my business, not anyone else’s.

 

Today, the datum that just got me excited was that this blog has had 17 million page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.

 

That doesn’t mean the blog has 17 million readers. It means that on that many occasions, someone read something posted on the blog.

 

The blog has turned into something far more time-demanding than what I originally intended. It is my chief preoccupation. But I love doing it because I learn so much every day from readers’ comments, and I love to share what I know. More than that, I have heard from many readers that the blog is their most important source of information about education. More than that, I use the posts on the blog to help build a movement against the warped policies of our day: high-stakes testing and school privatization. Both political parties have bought into the zombie notion that children must be subjected every year to hours and hours of standardized testing. Do they ever ask why? On this blog, we ask why daily. We ask why students in most private schools seldom encounter a standardized test except when they enter and when they leave. We ask why the children of Finland do very well on international tests without ever taking a standardized test in school. We ask why our state and federal leaders are ignoring the rampant fraud and corruption in the deregulated, unsupervised charter sector. We ask why politicians continue to push vouchers even though there is no evidence that voucher schools offer better education nor do they “save” children from “failing” public schools.

 

I will take this opportunity first, to thank readers who so graciously permit me to turn their comments into posts as well as readers who send me links to stories in their own home city or state. And second, I will restate the rules of the blog: one, do not insult the host (me), it’s my blog and I will show you the door if you insult me in my living room; two, no cuss words other than hell and damn; third, no wacky conspiracy theories about 9/11 or Sandy Hook (there are websites for those speculations, this is not one of them).

 

 

The Sony picture “The Interview” created an International brouhaha. From what we know, the North Korean government hacked into Sony’s computer system and caused massive damage to protest the release of the movie. As you know, movie theater chains refused to show the movie, fearing terrorism, and Sony decided not to release it.

 

Within a matter of days, the film was widely available on the Internet and in a few hundred independent theaters. I saw it on the Internet, downloaded from an on-demand.

 

The basic plot line: the host of a late night celebrity-gossip show and his producer manage to get an interview with the dictator of North Korea, who loves his show. The CIA asks them to assassinate the North Korean leader to prevent him from threatening the world with nukes.

 

What did I think?

 

It is the kind of adolescent movie I would customarily never see. The target audience must be young men. It is a buddy movie, two guys embarked on a wacky adventure. It is also the most vulgar movie I have seen in my limited experience, with countless uses of the F word and raucous, wild scenes of sexual encounters. It is also hilarious. I laughed myself silly. The vulgarity is so innocent that it was not offensive. It should be rated RR.

 

See it if you can.

Yesterday I was supposed to fly to Dallas, then drive to Waco to give a lecture tonight. The next night–Wednesday–I was to be the guest of honor at the gala of the Friends of Texas Public Schools. Originally I was going to start the trip today–Tuesday morning–but when I heard that the storm of the century was heading our way, I switched the flight to Monday, to be sure I would arrive in Dallas and not get grounded by the storm.

 

Before I left for the airport yesterday, I checked with American Airlines and made sure that the flight had left Dallas and was on its way to LaGuardia airport in New York City. It was, so the website showed. My flight from New York to Dallas was due to depart at 12:45 pm. I arrived at the airport about 11:30 am. By the time I got to LaGuardia Airport, I received a text message from AA telling me that the flight was delayed by two hours. I checked in, went to the Admirals Club on a day pass, posted a few blog posts, and read the paper. I tried to switch to an earlier flight, but they were full.

 

There was a slight air of panic in the airport, since so many flights had been canceled. Long lines of passengers were trying to find another flight because theirs had been canceled. Passengers heading to Miami learned that their flight had landed at Kennedy airport, and they had to find a way to get there because the airport buses were not running

 

The departure time for my flight kept changing, getting later. When I was standing in line at the desk to check in, at last, the gate agent announced that the flight had been unable to land at LaGuardia due to zero visibility and had been diverted to Boston, where it had landed. That was about 4 pm. I began thinking of giving up and going home. The storm was getting worse. I had to accept the fact that my flight was not there and would not be flying to Dallas. I left the secure area and went to look for a taxi. There were long lines at the taxi stand and no taxis–though one would come along every five minutes. I contacted the car service that brought me and asked if anyone was available to take me home. They found a driver willing to brave the storm and the icy roads, and he was on his way.

 

While waiting for him, I received a text message from AA that my flight was taking off at 5 pm from gate D8. What to do? I called the car service, explained the situation, and they agreed to keep the driver waiting while I found out if my flight was in fact taking off. I checked in again through security and went back to the D terminal. I went to gate D8, and no one was there. I found a gate agent, who said he didn’t know if the flight was coming back. A nearby passenger told me that the flight had landed at Kennedy. At that point, I gave up. I again exited the terminal, found the driver, and headed home. It took an hour and a half to get back, a trip that is usually 30 minutes. Not only was the traffic bumper-to-bumper, but cars were spinning out and some were completely stalled on the icy road.

 

When I finally got home, I checked the AA website and learned that my flight had been canceled. It landed at Kennedy, but went no further.

 

I was so looking forward to speaking at Baylor, seeing my old friend Wes Null, who was going to introduce me, and visiting Waco. It was 75 degrees and sunny in Waco. I deeply regret that I could not meet the leaders of Texas Pastors for Justice. I was very sorry I could not join the Friends of Texas Public Schools for their annual gala.

 

Stuff happens, as we all know. There is much worse that has happened to all of us. I just thought I would share my story of a really bad day at the airport. I was glad I brought a sandwich from home. That was the only thing that was good about my experience yesterday.

I seldom opine about global affairs since I have no specialized knowledge in the field. On the other hand, as a citizen in a democratic society, I feel eligible to comment and put my thoughts out into the free marketplace of ideas.

A recurrent concern among government officials is the risk that citizens will go to war zones or train with terrorist groups, then return to our borders and plot acts of terrorism. Many countries have an estimate of how many people have left to engage in war. According to the linked article in the Néw York Times, governments are trying to discourage their citizens from joining Al Queda or the Islamic State.

For what it is worth, which may not be much, I think we are taking the wrong approach. We should not stop those who want to leave. We should give them fair warning that if they join a terrorist group abroad, they will lose their passport and not be allowed to return.

Call it the hasta la vista policy.

You know what happens when you say to somebody, “How are you?” Either they tell you, “Fine, thank you,” or they answer truthfully, telling you more than you want to know. Much more than you want to know. Lots of people have asked me how I’m doing. I am going to tell you. If you don’t want to know, stop reading right now.

As readers know, I tripped and fell in April. I didn’t hold the handrail. I landed on a patio stone on my knee and tore ligaments and tendons. I had total knee replacement in May. I started physical therapy right away and thought I was making progress. I advanced from a walker to a cane. But at the end of July, I suddenly got a huge hematoma on the operated leg, and the blood settled in my knee. As a result, I couldn’t bend or straighten my knee, and I regressed to the walker. All of this was very depressing. I saw no end in sight. After a lifetime of activity, I was suddenly disabled. I couldn’t adjust mentally.

I switched physical therapists. The new therapist, Karen Y., is incredibly knowledgable about all things physiological. After a few sessions, she told me that she believed I had arthrofibrosis, a condition in which the knee is encased in scar tissue. I had an MRI; she was right. At her suggestion, I went to see Dr. Frank Noyes of Mercy Hospital and the Cincinnati Sports Medicine Institute, who is a surgeon and an expert on arthrofibrosis. He confirmed the diagnosis and advised against any additional surgery, due to the risks and my age. His staff built a rigid cast for my leg, which forces it to be straight; I wear it every night. It worked. It straightened my leg. I ride a stationery bike every day. I’m walking without a cane. Karen is teaching me to walk without limping. I’m not completely recovered yet. The thing about scar tissue is that it never goes away. I have to exercise every day. But I’m feeling better. I’m feeling hopeful.

What kept me going was my loving partner, who took care of me, went to every doctor’s visit, and made sure that life went on when I was down and unable to do anything but mope. And I counted on the blog. It was my daily work. It kept me engaged, distracted me from my problems, put me in touch with my virtual friends, involved me in what I enjoy most: thinking.

 

I have learned what it means to have a disability. I can’t walk more than a couple of blocks without getting exhausted. I have to build up my quadriceps. I have to build up my strength. I have started traveling again, on a limited basis. I was in Connecticut last month. I will be in Nashville in a few weeks, then in Phoenix. In January, i will be in Waco and Dallas. I won’t travel more than once a month.

Since April, I have not had the intellectual energy to write anything longer than posts on the blog. It took enormous effort to review Yong Zhao’s book, and I was thrilled when I finally completed the review. It was a big step forward for me.

As you can tell, I was feeling sorry for myself for months. Then I heard about Karen Lewis, and I felt like a jerk. All I have is a bum knee, and she’s fighting a brain tumor. That puts things into perspective. I will be fine. Let’s pray for her. I want her to recover fully.

Stuff happens. None of us knows what life has in store for us. Let’s try to be kinder.

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.

Sincerely,

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.

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