Category Archives: Education

The Last Day of School

Yesterday was Alexa’s last day of school. It was a bittersweet day that Alexa both looked forward to and dreaded.

When Alexa’s Dad died 2 years ago she wrote and read a tribute at his funeral, a good-bye letter if you will. In her letter she said that she feared the big days ahead, like graduation and someday getting married. She said that the milestones in her life would be marked by his absence.

Alexa made it clear to me that she would not walk in a graduation ceremony afraid she’d be reduced to tears and throughout her last year of high school I wondered if she’d graduate at all. She struggled with chronic illness related immune deficiency and she grieved over lost health and a lost father. Her grades fell.

Her greif counselor told me not to push her and sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes I did. I knew if Alexa didn’t graduate that she was still an able, capable girl, even more important Alexa knows she’s an able capable girl. But I was afraid if she gave up on graduation that it would give her more of a reason to give up on life. Alexa and I discussed our terms, she agreed to follow through with earning the credit needed to graduate and only said, “just stay with me,” and so I did.

Finishing class yesterday reminded her that she couldn’t call her Dad to say, ” I did it Dad,” but she imagined what he might  have said and how proud of her he would have been.

After her online classes ended at noon we loaded into the car and left for the suburbs of Minneapolis. Nick had a new car to pick up and Alexa and I made plans to visit Cookie Strange at Great Clips in Champlin.

Cookie is one of my closest friends, daughter. I’ve known Cookie ever since she was born and her Mother named her Emily…which she later changed to Cookie. Cookie works magic on hair and I will follow her to the end of the earth because she makes my hair fabulous.

The last time I got my haircut I had it done locally, it is viewable in all of my online photos. The cut was alright but it wasn’t the kind of cut that you could blow dry and go and it didn’t fare well on windy days in the garden. I need hair that you can seriously mess up and I prefer an modern edge because age appropriate just sucks,  as always Cookie delivered.

When Alexa and I finished getting our hair cut we went to Totally Tan. As Alexa’s health has worsened her skin color has become very light but her hair is dark. During the summer she frequently hides in jeans feeling like her legs glow white. She also burns easily so I agreed to take her to a place that offers a full body spray tan.

After I paid for Alexa’s tan, Alexa looked at me and said…”Aren’t you going to go?” I hesitated, I have  to attend a birthday party and a wedding today…but thought I could use some color. After asking a pile of questions I decided to try it. The experience was absolutely dreadful, it so cold it almost took my breath away and I forgot to use the shower cap so I stepped out once again feeling like Bridget Jones.

On the drive home Alexa and I talked about her Dad, upcoming graduation parties, what to wear to the wedding and we started to turn a warm brown …maybe not so bad. By this morning I staggered to the kitchen for coffee on gingerbread colored legs and thought; definitely not bad.

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Filed under Books, Cooking, Education, Fiction Writing, General, health, Life, Minnesota, Minnesota Fiction, Politics

How I’d Improve the American Education System

My daughter is immune deficient and has been an online high school student for about 2 years. I think the best and most cost effective solution to improving the American education system is to build a hybrid that blends the best online education has to offer in a public school setting.

Here’s how it could work:

Each student is provided a laptop computer to work off of  and they independently study digital textbooks, watch podcasts on  subjects they are studying and complete assignments, all within an online learning environment.

At first blush it doesn’t sound earth shattering but consider these net impacts:

The use of podcasting would allow the US Dept of Education (DOE) to hire the worlds best and brightest educators to deliver the curriculum because the person doesn’t need to be in each classroom to teach students. (Imagine  Stephen Hawking podcasting a high school physics course.) Such a change in the delivery of material would allow the US DOE to establish uniformity in the quality of instructors and instruction being provided to all schools EVERYWHERE regardless of the communities financial health. On site teaching staff can then focus on the students who are struggling and need additional instruction.

An education hybrid of public and online education would also allow the US DOE to offer a huge variety of courses to ALL schools everywhere regardless of who is available in that geographic location to teach. As a public school student my daughter could choose from a couple foreign languages, as an online student in rural Minnesota she studied Mandarin Chinese.

Even more important, these courses are self paced, students can move through coursework as quickly as they like or they can take the the time they need. Unlike the current industrial model of education, a 9th grader could work well above grade level while remaining grouped among his or her peers, students could even graduate early and or start college from the very same classroom environment. This would mean that the best and the brightest in our country would no longer have to wait for average learners to catch up and it can all be done within the confines of a single classroom.

Individual schools could allow rural students  the option of attending in person or online cutting the need for additional space and busing. Students with health problems, like my daughter, could still attend their local school by attending online when they are sick. School districts could eliminate the need for home-bound tutors, substitute teachers and even snow days.

Digital textbooks are cheaper to produce than standard textbooks and easier to update without mowing down a forest. They are also hyperlinked to dictionaries and wikipedia’s should students needs more information to grasp a given concept. Whereas a standard textbook might have offered a photo of an Egyptian tomb, in online schooling teachers can podcast an actual tour inside a tomb where students can pan the interior of the tomb right from their computer.

As as a parent of an online student I can log on and see the teachers grade books, I can see how my student scored on each assignment and I can see how much time she is spending studying each subject. This allows me as a parent a clearer view of daughter’s education and more importantly, her work habits.

The post-industrial model I’m suggesting also relieves the pressure on overburdened instructors and quells the issue of classroom size by allowing the human resources within our education system to concentrate on the areas they are most needed.  Even better, this model would allow the US to deliver the highest, most uniform standard of education to learners everywhere regardless of how wealthy or impoverished their community. Equal education could truly mean equal quality and an equal opportunity regardless of geography and its highly likely we’d save money doing it.

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Filed under Education, Fiction Writing, Government, Life, Science, Technology, United States

More People Died From the Swine Flu Vaccine than Swine Flu

Image by johnmuk via Flickr

I’ve followed the opinions of Dr. Mercola for over a decade,  he does a good job of separating industry driven hype from consumer-centric need-to-know facts. Since I found the information helpful I’m passing the link on to you.

Critical Alert: The Swine Flu Pandemic – Fact or Fiction?

American health officials declared a public health emergency as cases of swine flu were confirmed in the U.S. Health officials across the world fear this could be the leading edge of a global pandemic emerging from Mexico, where seven people are confirmed dead as a result of the new virus.

On Wednesday April 29th, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert level to five on its six-level threat scale,1 which means they’ve determined that the virus is capable of human-to-human transmission. The initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection already traveling at higher velocity than did the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu.

Phase 5 had never been declared since the warning system was introduced in 2005 in response to the avian influenza crisis. Phase 6 means a pandemic is under way.

Several nations have imposed travel bans, or made plans to quarantine air travelers2 that present symptoms of the swine flu despite the fact that WHO now openly states it is not possible to contain the spread of this infection and recommends mitigation measures, not restricting travel or closing borders.

Read the full story

***update 10.22.2009 There is no compensation for individuals injured by the current swine flu vaccine and you can’t sue your doctor even in instances of gross negligence.

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Filed under Education, Government, health, Life, Travels, United States, World News

3 A.M. on Day 3

It’s 3:30 A.M., I’ve been awake for about a half hour and I’m crabby, really crabby. This is the third day in a row that I woke up after 3 or 4 hours of sleep and I can’t go back to sleep. I was so exhausted yesterday that I couldn’t hold a thought.

For the past month of been under the weather trying to get rid of an upper respiratory infection which left me tired. For the past week I’ve felt like myself again and I’ve even looked like myself.   Looking and feeling rundown for a month grew worrisome and it didn’t go unnoticed by my daughter who tried really hard not to smile as she muttered, “maybe you’ll stay that way.”

Nice. As if inching seriously past 45 isn’t awful enough I have an 18 year old daughter amusing herself with thoughts of my eminent decomposition. Where’s the love? For that matter where’s my Rolling Stones t-shirt and my graffiti jeans?

The upshot is that my energy level is back to normal but I just can’t seem to stay asleep more that 4 hours at a time. Stress? Not anymore than usual. I will admit that I’m incredibly behind on everything from being ill for so long. I noticed it was Chinese New Year and thought crap! Last time I celebrated Chinese New Year was when I flew to London to celebrate my cousins birthday which means I didn’t send her birthday card…or write to my aunt in Wisconsin, or my cousin in Arizona…my second cousin is waiting for me to call and my 108 year old grandmother will cry when I visit because I’ve been away sick so long.

What I have done is catch up on laundry, bookstore business including tons of shipping, paperwork, I’m organized to file my taxes and I caught up with both of my Mary friends who I haven’t talked to in too long.

What I have to do now is get seeds planted for this years garden, order the new crops and get them growing. Last year I planted 25 organic Roma’s which we harvested and roasted with olive oil and garlic…for hours. It made exquisite sauces that only lasted through fall, so I’ve canceled growing corn and instead we will plant 100 heirloom Amish Paste Tomatoes. We’ll also plant more organic German Butterball Potatoes this year, the ones we grew last year were wonderful and we harvested enough produce  to keep us through the winter. The asparagus crowns will be old enough to harvest this year.  I also plan to add an experimental plant from the Andes called Oca and Hopi Ceremonial Tobacco which is cold weather resistant.

I have a moral conflict with the tobacco, its sort of a novelty I’m excited to try and I’m eager to learn more.  I don’t know if I’ll give it to any of the smokers in my life. Obviously we’ll also plant the seeds harvested from last year which will include Amish Snap Peas, Christmas Lima’s, Blue Lake Green Beans, Scarlet Runner Beans, Arrow Peas, peppers….no green ones, Walla Walla & Sweet Vidalia Onions. Then of course the pots of fresh herbs, salad greens and the annual memorial Sunflower patch for Alexa’s dad…this year we’re planting a variety that is edible.

I’m also completing the application to attend St. Cloud State University. I’m not entirely sure I want to do that but I’m keeping my options open. In many respects I’m more lost at this point in my life than I’ve ever been. My life’s been defined by my children and my baby turned 18. I”m operating my online business while I decide where to go career wise…I have nothing defining my life and I haven’t the first clue as to what to do with it.

My children are grown, I’m not in a relationship, I’m working self employment from my home office….I just assumed at this juncture of my life I’d at least have a job restricting me and I don’t even have that.  Having the ability to choose is good but I’m bewildered.  I keep waiting for an obvious path or something to point me in the right direction but it’s all still murky.

Here is what I know:

I want to continue writing fiction &  I want to improve my skill as a writer so I am able to fall back on journalism and obtain work with bigger publications than I have in the past. A degree would also give me more range as a non profit director.

I have a finite amount of time most of which has been spent raising children and I don’t know the most direct path from point A to point B. I don’t want to spend time in a classroom covering political science when I’ve worked as a political organizer, community organizer and lobbyist. So, I’m not ready to commit to anything  and I’m not prepared to answer bigger questions about my life or pull together a plan.

For this reason I may continue with my online bookstore and launch a local newspaper until I have a clearer sense of direction. In the time it takes to get the paper established I can investigate my options and execute a well thought plan.

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Filed under Aging, Education, General, Life

Outliers and The Ecology of Success

Since it’s New Years Eve I’ll keep it short. I’m posting the radio interview with Malcolm Gladwell where he discusses his most recent book Outliers. In the interest of time I’ve only posted one thought I had regarding this interview and what I’ve read thus far. Since Gladwell raises so many facinating issues and questions many blog posts are sure to follow.

Malcolm Gladwell: On Outliers and the Ecology of Success online audio clip

My thoughts -Flawed by Design:
While Gladwell questions how it is that our society can observe biases but do nothing to correct them, thus missing a brilliant opportunity to exploit the vast wealth of human potential, it would seem that answer is rooted well within American history. It is true to say that American wealth was built on the backs of an enslaved subset within our society. It is possible that the reason we observe biases but fail respond isn’t due to a lack of knowledge or understanding but rather a more subtle and divisive reinvention of a replacement subset, thus giving a modern complexion to American slavery. Today,this assertion not only hold staggering implications for Americans but snares subsets on a global scale due to the implementation of inherently flawed, opportunistic international trade agreements.


Filed under Authors, Blog, Books, Education, Government, United States, Writer's