Archives for category: Goodness

Tom Scarice, superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, has advice for his community.

He writes:

In February of 2016 something magical took place in the scorched arid region of California known as Death Valley. Following years of drought and unrelenting heat, one of the hottest and driest places on the planet experienced a breathtaking phenomenon. Millions of seeds lying dormant buried under the dusty desert soil collectively burst to life, carpeting the floor of this barren stretch with over 20 species of magnificent wildflowers for miles and miles in what is now called a “super bloom”. These flowers have laid dormant for years, silently waiting for the conditions to call them back to life.

As our connections and sense of purpose begin to escape us during this global crisis, nerves fray and a sobering reality settles in. It is becoming increasingly likely that school, the place of connections and purpose for our children, and the soul of any community, will be closed for the remainder of the year. For now, it will be replaced by a virtual facsimile that could never replicate the warmth of a teacher’s words, the sense of belonging our children crave. Sadly, it is also likely that we will all eventually know someone who contracts this virus, and perhaps, we will all know someone who we may lose to this virus. It is precisely in times like this where we can see the very worst and the very best in each other.

The generation we serve in our schools today was born under the shadow of 9/11, raised in terror of Sandy Hook, seduced by the perverted temptations of social media and dopamine hits, and now finds itself facing a generational crisis, all the while aching for the adults in their lives to show them their very best, in the most challenging of times. Their childhood innocence, a natural endowment, has been violently stripped. They are looking for the very best in us right now. They are counting on us.

We tend to find exactly what we are looking for in life. If you want to see the best in each other, now is the time to look for it. It is there. Perhaps it is dormant, like the millions of wildflowers below the surface of Death Valley. Right now, the conditions are right. The conditions all around us summon the very best in us, even if it lays dormant, back to life.

There are acts of kindness happening all around us, big and small. There are people subordinating their comforts for the welfare of others. If we fasten our attention to these people, and to their examples, perhaps our measure of humane kindness can outpace the spread of this contagion. The very best in us is there if we look for it. If you look around, you’ll see countless young eyes watching us, counting on us.

I want to assure you that those who care for your children every day in our schools accept the responsibility to help our community through this crisis. It is time to see our very best. If we can find a way to meet the needs of your child, perhaps it will then cascade some semblance of normalcy and solace to your family, and then perhaps throughout our entire community.

The very best in us may be out in the open, or, like the millions of wildflowers beneath the floor of the desert, it may lie dormant. Now is the time for our best to come out. Perhaps they have never counted on us any more than right now.

Last week, John Merrow posted his congratulations to readers for matching up with an algorithm that selected them to make a substantial contribution to a worthy organization.

In this post, he cancels his congratulations and explains why he was in error–or just kidding around.

 

The family of a 2-year-old with limited mobility needed a wheelchair but could not afford the cost of a wheelchair, $20,000. The Farmington, Minnesota, public high school “Rogue Robotics Team” did it. 

Great and talented kids. No one mentioned theirvtest scores.

 

The boys’ volleyball team at Kepler Neighborhood School, mostly 7th and 8th graders, went for a run over a bridge near the school. They spotted a woman attempting suicide, dangling from the bridge. They raced to ask their coach what to do. He said, “Tell her that her life matters,” as he dialed 911.  The boys ran to the woman and told her again and again that her life matters, that people care about her, that she must not give up.

She pulled herself up. She did not commit suicide. The boys persuaded her to go on living.

According to the NAEP data, Fresno schools and students are among the lowest performing in the nation. Their scores are very low.

What do you think of those kids in Fresno now? Put another way, what do you think about using the scores to judge the worth of these boys?

Thanks to Nicholas Kristof for writing these stories and for recognizing that the economic and social supports needed for the hero of the story should not depend on philanthropy and charity.

Nicholas Kristof wrote about an 8-year-old boy who won the New York State chess championship for his age group. He learned chess only a year earlier at his public school, PS 116, in Manhattan. He and his family, Nigerian refugees, were living in a homeless shelter. As a result of Kristof’s reporting, the family has been showered with gifts, including a rent-free apartment for a year and a GoFundMe collection of $200,000, plus scholarships for the boy, Tani, at elite private schools. The family accepted the home, is giving the money to help others, and turned down the scholarships because Tani likes PS 116.

From the first column:

“In a homeless shelter in Manhattan, an 8-year-old boy is walking to his room, carrying an awkward load in his arms, unfazed by screams from a troubled resident. The boy is a Nigerian refugee with an uncertain future, but he is beaming.

“He can’t stop grinning because the awkward load is a huge trophy, almost as big as he is. This homeless third grader has just won his category at the New York State chess championship…

“So we should all grin along with Tanitoluwa Adewumi, the newly crowned chess champion for kindergarten through third grade. He went undefeated at the state tournament last weekend, outwitting children from elite private schools with private chess tutors.

“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” he told me.

“Tani’s family fled northern Nigeria in 2017, fearing attacks by Boko Haram terrorists on Christians such as themselves. “I don’t want to lose any loved ones,” his father, Kayode Adewumi, told me.

“So Tani, his parents and his older brother arrived in New York City a bit more than a year ago, and a pastor helped steer them to a homeless shelter. Tani began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116, which has a part-time chess teacher who taught Tani’s class how to play.”

Knowing that his family had no money, the school waived the usual fees so that Tani could participate in the program.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/16/opinion/sunday/chess-champion-8-year-old-homeless-refugee-.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

From Kristof’s second column:

“Tanitoluwa Adewumi, age 8, skidded around the empty apartment, laughing excitedly, then leapt onto his dad’s back. “I have a home!” he said in wonderment. “I have a home!”

“A week ago, the boy was homeless, studying chess moves while lying on the floor of a shelter in Manhattan. Now Tani, as he is known, has a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and an invitation to meet President Bill Clinton.

“I think I am still dreaming,” said Tani’s dad, Kayode Adewumi. “I hope I don’t wake up….”

“After my column about this hard-working family, a GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. Three film companies are vying to make movies about Tani.

“Heartfelt thanks to all my readers for this generosity: I truly have the best readers…

“The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago….

“I asked them how they could turn down every penny of such a huge sum….

“I’m a hardworking guy,” Mr. Adewumi explained. He has two jobs: He drives for Uber with a rented car and sells real estatethrough Brick & Mortar. Someone has now offered him a free car so that he can keep more of the money he makes driving, and Tani’s mom was just offered a job as a health care aide at a hospital…

“The family was tempted by the offers of full scholarships at top private schools. But Tani and his parents decided that while he might accept such a scholarship for middle school, he would be loyal and stick with the public elementary school, P.S. 116, that taught him chess and waived his fees for the chess club.

“This school showed confidence in Tanitoluwa,” his mom, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, told the P.S. 116 principal, Jane Hsu. “So we return the confidence.” And then, overcome with emotion, the mom and the principal hugged.

“There’s a risk that a triumph like this leaves the impression that charity is the solution rather than a way to fill gaps: Fundamentally we need comprehensive systems in place to support needy kids. We would never build a bridge or subway with volunteers and donations, so why entrust an even more urgent cause — homeless children — to charity?

“Tani thrived because everything fell into place: a good school, a dedicated chess teacher and devoted parents committed to taking their son to every chess practice. The challenge is to replicate that supportive environment for all the other Tanis out there with public services and private philanthropy alike….”

Phyllis Bush, dear friend, founding member of the board of the Network for Public Education, leader of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, and great soul, has been writing a blog about her battle with cancer, wiphich she prefers to call “cancer schmanzer.” This is her latest update. I hope that as Phyllis thinks of her many wonderful memories, she enjoys remembering the sustained innovation she received at the last NPE Conference, when Carol Burris announced the establishment of the First Annual Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. The entire room, activists from across the nation, jumped to their feet to honor this remarkable, cheerful, resolute, brilliant, and kind warrior.

Open the post to see Phyllis’ wonderful photos and an inspirational quote.

Some of you who follow this blog may wonder what has been happening in my life.
The reason that I have not written is because since I wrote my previous blog cancer schmantzer has delivered a bunch of not so pleasant gut punches that I am still trying to figure out. More pointedly, the month of November seemed like one long, kick in the pants. On November 1st, I ended up in the hospital with a bowel blockage, and then later in the month I spent another week in the hospital with another one. Apparently, a tumor has been causing the blockages.

My care team decided to resolve the issue conservatively because that seemed the
safest option. While being hooked up to PICC lines and IVs is not my idea of a good time,
if my docs thought that was my best option, then I was all in. Since I like to be pro-active,
I asked if they could move my next chemo appointment sooner to shrink the tumor
(if possible) rather than to wait for my next trip to the ER. Whether this will work or not is largely dependent on whether I can gain some of the weight that I lost while being hospitalized, and part is dependent on whether we can keep the tumor at bay.

Trying to sort out what all of this means has been mind-boggling at best. My docs are looking
at all of my options to find the best treatment. My palliative care team is talking me through options so that if those treatments don’t work, my end of life care will consist of my choices about what is acceptable and what isn’t. The week before Thanksgiving, Donna and I spoke with our rector, and he gave us a road map of what my next steps are. Thus, I have been spending a lot of time making end of life decisions, and I have enlisted my family and friends to help me do some of the research so that I can make the best decisions. While this has been emotionally draining and exhausting, the good news is that if I make a miraculous recovery, that would be great. If not, all of this will be done, and I won’t have left Donna and David with the burden of making these decisions.

PHOTO: With Donna at the NPE Conference in Indy in October

Photo: With David on Mothers’ Day

I have always been more than a little introspective, but this has caused me to be even more so. During a discussion with a friend, I remember telling her about the last time that I saw my mother before she died. As my mom and I sat and talked, I asked her if she had any regrets. Even though I knew that she had had her share of heartaches, she simply said this: “No, I have had a good life.”

Remembering her words, for a moment I lost my usual stoicism because I realized that, like her, I have had a good life. That does not mean that I have had a life without heartache and pain, but those things pale in comparison to all of the great stuff that has happened in my life. I have had the privilege of having an amazing family and amazing friends. I have had the privilege of standing up for what I believe. I have lived, loved, laughed, and followed my bliss. What more could I ask?

On my mom’s birthday several months after her death, I decided that David and I needed to commemorate this milestone day. I bought a pink and silver mylar balloon, and we wrote something pithy on it, and along with my friend Judith, we decided to launch the balloon with a few words and a prayer.

When we went out into the front yard, there were too many trees, so we decided that we would go over to the baseball field by the neighborhood middle school, say a few words, and then launch the balloon. So we did. Much to my dismay, as we launched the balloon, it rocketed into the air at warp speed, and then the balloon disappeared. Of course, I was disappointed at this EPIC FAIL!

As we were getting ready to leave the field, we looked up into the clouds overhead, and we saw the reflection of the sun on the balloon, which was blinking brightly like a beacon….and I knew that was my mom, in her own way, telling me everything would be okay….and I knew that it would be.

As I think about those whom I love, I want them to know that everything will be okay. I may not be present physically, but I will be nudging you to do better, to be better, to be kind, to be joyful, and to laugh at yourself and the world around you.

Despite all of the crap sandwiches we get served in this life, this is a wonderful world, and we need to be mindful of our part in making it so.

For those of you who are neither Cubs’ nor baseball fans, I am including this picture of rookie David Bote’s walk off grand slam in the bottom of the 9th during the playoffs. While a grand slam may not be in my playbook, I am hoping for the best but preparing for whatever lies ahead.

Whether it is taking a kid to the zoo or to Zesto for ice cream, whether it is writing a letter to your legislators, whether it is running for office, whether it is supporting your favorite charity, DO IT!

Monday morning quarterbacks are of little use to anyone.

Whatever you do, live your life to the fullest. Once again, do what matters to you.

We live in a time of maximum selfishness and greed. It is important to remember that true heroes acted selflessly, doing the right and principled thing with no expectation of honor or reward. We must hold on to those memories so we can reclaim decency, when the opportunity presents itself.

The New York Times recently published a little-known story about a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of desperate Jews during the Holocaust. In these dark times, this story might restore your faith in the possibility of human goodness and courage in the worst of circumstances. It was written by Rabbi David Wolfe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. If you are able to open the link, you will see a picture of the hero of this wonderful story.

NAGOYA, Japan — “Even a hunter cannot kill a bird that flies to him for refuge.” This Samurai maxim inspired one gifted and courageous man to save thousands of people in defiance of his government and at the cost of his career. On Friday I came to Nagoya at the invitation of the Japanese government to speak in honor of his memory.

The astonishing Chiune Sugihara raises again the questions: What shapes a moral hero? And how does someone choose to save people that others turn away?

Research on those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust shows that many exhibited a streak of independence from an early age. Sugihara was unconventional in a society known for prizing conformity. His father insisted that his son, a top student, become a doctor. But Sugihara wanted to study languages and travel and immerse himself in literature. Forced to sit for the medical exam, he left the entire answer sheet blank. The same willfulness was on display when he entered the diplomatic corps and, as vice minister of the Foreign Affairs Department for Japan in Manchuria in 1934, resigned in protest of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese.

A second characteristic of such heroes and heroines, as the psychologist Philip Zimbardo writes, is “that the very same situations that inflame the hostile imagination in some people, making them villains, can also instill the heroic imagination in other people, prompting them to perform heroic deeds.” While the world around him disregarded the plight of the Jews, Sugihara was unable to ignore their desperation.

In 1939 Sugihara was sent to Lithuania, where he ran the consulate. There he was soon confronted with Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland.

Three times Sugihara cabled his embassy asking for permission to issue visas to the refugees. The cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read: “Concerning transit visas requested previously stop advise absolutely not to be issued any traveler not holding firm end visa with guaranteed departure ex japan stop no exceptions stop no further inquires expected stop.”

Sugihara talked about the refusal with his wife, Yukiko, and his children and decided that despite the inevitable damage to his career, he would defy his government.

Mr. Zimbardo calls the capacity to act differently the “heroic imagination,” a focus on one’s duty to help and protect others. This ability is exceptional, but the people who have it are often understated. Years after the war, Sugihara spoke about his actions as natural: “We had thousands of people hanging around the windows of our residence,” he said in a 1977 interview. “There was no other way.”

On Friday I spoke at Sugihara’s old high school in Nagoya, during a ceremony unveiling a bronze statue of him handing visas to a refugee family. After the ceremony, in front of some 1,200 students, I spoke with his one remaining child, his son Nobuki, who arrived from Belgium to honor his father’s memory. He told me his father was “a very simple man. He was kind, loved reading, gardening and most of all children. He never thought what he did was notable or unusual.”

Most of the world saw throngs of desperate foreigners. Sugihara saw human beings and he knew he could save them through prosaic but essential action: “A lot of it was handwriting work,” he said.

Day and night he wrote visas. He issued as many visas in a day as would normally be issued in a month. His wife, Yukiko, massaged his hands at night, aching from the constant effort. When Japan finally closed down the embassy in September 1940, he took the stationery with him and continued to write visas that had no legal standing but worked because of the seal of the government and his name. At least 6,000 visas were issued for people to travel through Japan to other destinations, and in many cases entire families traveled on a single visa. It has been estimated that over 40,000 people are alive today because of this one man.

With the consulate closed, Sugihara had to leave. He gave the consulate stamp to a refugee to forge more visas, and he literally threw visas out of the train window to refugees on the platform.

After the war, Sugihara was dismissed from the foreign office. He and his wife lost a 7-year-old child and he worked at menial jobs. It was not until 1968 when a survivor, Yehoshua Nishri, found him that his contribution was recognized. Nishri had been a teenager in Poland saved by a Sugihara visa and was now at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo.

In the intervening years Sugihara never spoke about his wartime activities. Even many close to him had no idea that he was a hero.

Sugihara died in 1986. Nine years earlier he gave an interview and was asked why he did it: “I told the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a matter of humanity. I did not care if I lost my job. Anyone else would have done the same thing if they were in my place.”

Of course many were in his place — and very few acted like Sugihara. Moral courage is rare and moral greatness even rarer. It requires a mysterious and potent combination of empathy, will and deep conviction that social norms cannot shake.

How would Sugihara have responded to the refugee crisis we face today, and the response of so many leaders to bolt the gates of entry? There is no simple response adequate to the enormity of the situation. But we have to keep before us the image of a single man, overtaxed, isolated and inundated, who refused to close his eyes to the chaos outside his window. He understood the obligations common to us all and heard in the pleadings of an alien tongue the universal message of pain.

On Friday, I told the students that one day in each of their lives there would be a moment when they would have to decide whether to close the door or open their hearts. When that moment arrives, I implored them, remember that they came from the same school as a great man who when the birds flew to him for refuge, did not turn them away.

Arnold Hillman is co-founder of the South Carolina Organization for Rural Schools, with his wife Carol. They retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. But instead of relaxing, taking long walks, and fishing, they found themselves drawn to a new mission: helping the state’s underfunded rural schools. This is a good “retirement.” Some locals were amazed, seeing this couple throw themselves into helping local children and schools as volunteers.

They did not not fit the stereotype of retired Yankees,as a local wrote:

“Here’s the popular stereotype: they move here but for a long time still drive around with car tags from Ohio, Pennsylvania and such. They don’t change their cell phone numbers from 614, 309 or 315 to 843, 803 or 864. They walk around with sweatshirts from Ohio State and Michigan, not Clemson or USC…

“Well, I’d like to tell you about two Yankees I recently met and what they are doing here in South Carolina. In 2015, Carol and Arnold Hillman moved from Pennsylvania and re-located to the Sun City Retirement Community at Hilton Head. But unlike the stereotypes of newcomers who spend all their time playing golf and complaining with their fellow transplants about the locals, the Hillmans began to travel around the Lowcountry.

“One day they found themselves in Jasper County where they struck up a conversation with some folks about the schools – they had both been in education in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another and after some conversations with Dr. Vashti Washington, former Superintendent of Schools, they began volunteering at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School mentoring students.

“One can imagine the culture shock that followed. The nearly 100% African American students couldn’t understand why these old white folks from some place they had never heard of were hanging around asking questions. And the Hillman’s couldn’t understand the ‘cultural folk ways’ of teenagers in rural Jasper county – you get the picture.

“But the Hillmans were committed, “We didn’t care if the kids were good students or even if they were well behaved; all we wanted was to work with students.”

“Carol was soon meeting with a group of 10 girls. They talked about everything from the difference between credit and debit cards to how to choose a good college and the benefits of going into the military. They met right after the students ate lunch and Carol provided snacks. “Sometimes we weren’t sure if they came for the milk and cookies or to learn something, but we figured, ‘whatever works,” Hillman laughed.

“Carol’s story about one girl is truly inspiring. “Lauren (not her real name) explained that she was 16, had a baby with cerebral palsy and was living with her grandmother who had raised her. Grandma had cancer and Lauren was trying to take care of her, care for her baby and go to school. By now she was crying. It seems her greatest desire was to graduate with her class in June 2017, but she had missed so many days in the past year that she was failing too many classes.”

“All summer long Lauren and Carol stayed in touch by email as Lauren did not have a cell phone. “When she was down, I would remind her that she was smart and capable and that we would both be ecstatic when she graduated on time. When she was happy, I’d celebrate with her and remind her of how proud I was of her. She passed both of her summer school classes! Here it is, October of her senior year and so far, she is coming to school on a regular basis. I’m delighted to report that Lauren is on track to reach her goal of graduating on time.”

“Meanwhile, Arnold set up a program called Jasper Gentleman, 10 senior young men who could use some mentoring and who in turn helped younger students in fourth and fifth grade. Arnold explains, “Each of the young men were enthusiastic about doing the mentoring. They were also very interested in what was happening in the world and how they might achieve their goals. We spent months talking about colleges, the military, job possibilities, community happenings and how they might improve the high school. We took a trip to the branch campus of the University of South Carolina in Bluffton, arranged for an etiquette lunch (which turned out to be lunch without etiquette) and concentrated on the next steps in their lives.”

“Carol and I attended 11 basketball games, both home and away. A number of the Gents were on the team, but it was the community that encouraged us to go to the games and later on to community events. You see, rural people have been taken advantage of so many times across our country and are naturally suspicious of outsiders. Sometimes, Carol and I were the only snowflakes in the gymnasium. We became fixtures and the folks seemed to welcome us. Sometimes, at away games, they even saved seats for us. They are wonderful people, as are their children.”

“The Hillmans met with State Superintendent Molly Spearman about how their work in Jasper could be spread to other rural districts around the state. Spearman was encouraging to the Hillmans and they have since established the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools to help others learn from their experiences. Go to their website http://www.scorsweb.org and see how you can get involved.”

Are the Hillmans amazing or what?

As I read the story above out loud, I started crying. Why? I was moved by their goodness. Just two educators helping kids.

Arnold writes here about the misguided national narrative of teacher-bashing and public school-bashing.

He emphasizes the crucial role that public schools play in the lives of the state’s poorest children.

“Public schools are for everyone. They do not have the capacity, as to private schools and now even some “public”charter schools, to throw children out for whatever reason. They must deal with whoever walks through those school doors. Their job goes on even in the face of governmental obstruction, mass shootings, or the reduction of funding.

“Public schools still turn out the overwhelming number of American Nobel Prize winners. While other countries select their most talented to take international tests, we include everyone, and suffer for it. While media make fun of public schools by having characters say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I went to public school,” public schools still turn out the best and brightest.

“Public schools have taken generations of immigrants to this country and have taught them to be contributing citizens. When you hear a critic say, “Why didn’t the schools teach these kids . . .,” you might step back and ask, how many more things do you want the public schools to teach?

“Having traveled around South Carolina to visit our rural schools over the past 2 years, we have seen how educators are coping with the burdens put on them. There is not a moment in their day that they don’t put forth massive effort to help their students reach their potential. If you have not seen that effort, then you have not been in one of our rural schools.

“For all of their Herculean efforts, they do not complain. Once in a great while, you might see them stand up, as they did in the Abbeville case, or pleading with the legislature to provide them with the proper resources for their students. However, their primary goal is to teach the children and they do that so well.”

These two good people are definitely on the blog honor roll.

This is a beautiful and inspiring 4-minute video about the iconic singer Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto,who generously support the arts in public schools.

It is a magnificent testimony to the arts, to public schools, to diversity, and to the way that the arts bring hope to the world.

They may never know about it, but I gladly add Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto to the blog’s Honor Roll for their love of the arts and for their recognition of the transformative power of the arts in the lives of young people.

Lin Manuel-Miranda is the amazingly gifted young man who wrote “Hamilton,” the smash hit Broadway musical that rewrites the Founding story of America to include everyone.

He wrote a song to raise funds for the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Every Puerto Rican Singer he contacted joined the project.

Here he explains why he wrote it. And he explains his famous tweet to Trump.

Here is the performance of “Almost Like Praying,” a title which resonates from the song “Maria” in “West Side Story.”