GREAT TEACHERS: A VERY LONG DEFERRED THANK YOU – Marilyn Armstrong

In the course of my school days, I had a handful of great teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and the mysteries of our world.

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

Mrs. Schiff, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 35. She suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You encouraged me to write and find other worlds.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me, the least mathematically inclined student ever, could be fascinated by science. I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

Professor. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Hofstra in 2014

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.” And I did and from that, I extracted a 40-year career.

I got what so much from these overworked and underpaid teachers who were dedicated to teaching dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning. Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

STELLA, HE TALKING DOG – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m sure you’ve heard about the studies in which chimps/apes are brought up from birth by humans and taught to ‘talk’ through sign language and other means. It’s not a big surprise that other primates close to us on the evolutionary scale can learn to communicate in a fairly sophisticated, ‘human’ way.

But I just read about a woman who trained her dog to do roughly the same thing! I am so excited! This dog, Stella, has learned to communicate in words AND sentences by touching buttons that signify specific words on a soundboard. To me, this is the coolest thing ever! I’ve always known that my dogs had complex thoughts running through their heads but just had no way to share them with me.

Stella next to her soundboard

Now, don’t get too excited – you won’t be able to teach your significant canine to do this. It’s not for amateurs. The lady who helped Stella master language is Christina Hunger and she is a speech-language pathologist who has vast experience working with children who have speech-language deficits. Many of these kids need ‘ linguistic technology’ to communicate, like modified computers, flashcards, soundboards, etc. So she’s an expert at creating and using these tools.

Christina got Stella, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler mix, at eight weeks old and started to train her immediately. She set up a soundboard with buttons for the words she wanted Stella to use. At eighteen months now, Stella knows 29 words and can tell her mom and dad her thoughts. She can even combine words into sentences of up to five words. Human babies usually can’t speak in phrases and sentences initially and have to master individual words first.

Stella using her board

Stella can ask for walks, playtime or a trip to the beach. She can communicate emotions, like anxiety, as well. One day, she heard a noise outside and pressed ‘look’ nine times and then ‘come outside’! Another time Stella was whining at the front door and Christina assumed that Stella wanted to go out. But Stella went to her board and tapped out ‘want’ ‘Jake’ (Christina’s fiancé who lives with them) and ‘come’. Stella then planted herself in front of the door until Jake came home. Then, to Christina’s amazement, Stella pressed ‘happy’ and assumed the position for a belly rub!

Stella and Christina

Stella recently started using both paws on the board and she appears to be developing the turn-taking skills of conversation, like answering questions. This also develops in children only after they are able to say words and phrases on their own. Here’s an example:

Stella: ‘Stella’, ‘bye’, ‘play’

Jake: ‘Where do you want to play? We’ll eat now then play’.

Stella: 15-20 second pause. Then, ‘eat’, ‘eat’, ‘park’. This indicates that she understood the sequence of eating first and then playing. Remarkable.

Another big advance in Stella’s communication skills is her mastery of time. She can now talk about something that just happened, not just what she wants now. After she eats, she’ll press ‘eat’ and after coming back from the park, she’ll press ‘park’ as if she’s trying to tell Jake where she just went. This implies a more sophisticated concept of language. To test this, Christina added an ‘all done’ button for Stella to signify something that happened in the past. And Stella used it after a walk!

In addition, Stella originally could use only single words, like a human infant. Then she started using short phrases once or twice a week. Now she uses as many word combinations each day as single words so her skills are improving along the lines of a human baby.

I’m sure that Christina devoted a huge amount of time to training Stella and that most average people couldn’t duplicate her experiment at home. But it’s still wonderful to know that our dogs are capable of understanding more human language than we thought and when given the opportunity, they can use it to talk back to us. I’m beyond thrilled that much of the anthropomorphism of my dogs is warranted and backed up by science!

Stella using two words.

You can follow Stella on Christina’s blog at HungerForWords.com.

WHY ARE WE SO STUPID? – Marilyn Armstrong

I found this cartoon yesterday on Facebook. Yes, Facebook and let’s not hear anything more about it, please.

It sums up exactly how I feel the fools “up there” in the thrones of power are destroying education in this country. It’s only funny if you think it’s okay that we have a whole generation of kids coming through a system that does not allow them to learn.

our education system

They are passing tests. If they learn, it is in spite of the system, not because of it. We cut the budgets for schools. Kids get textbooks so old, they are irrelevant. Many of them were irrelevant even 50 years ago.

We aren’t teaching anything except how to pass a standardized test. If a child really learns? He or she went to a private school … or they read a lot of books. Or are homeschooled by people who know what they are doing.

It isn’t because teachers don’t get it. It’s their bosses who don’ t get it.

WORLD SHARING AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 9-16-19

Fall is beginning to show up and we’re supposed to get a couple of cold nights. If it doesn’t start to rain nonstop, maybe we WILL get a little bit of Autumn. It would be nice. it’s my best season and the most photogenic. Lots of trees, lots of maples. Mucho color!

Are we losing the art of listening in comparison to simply hearing?

There is a time to seriously listen and times to be quiet and let the noise of the world fade to silence. Garry and I spent thousands of hours talking in the many years we courted without getting around to marrying. We still do, as long as one of us isn’t seriously reading, watching baseball, writing, or editing.

Garry and me – Thank you Rich!

These are private times and interrupting a writer in the middle of creating is a no-no.

As for “just hearing”?  If it’s chit-chat, I don’t listen or at least don’t listen much. I also don’t listen to most television shows. It has to be worth listening to before I bother to pay attention. I spend a LOT of time writing, editing, photo processing, and reading. Not much time left over.

How often do you openly discuss with friends or here in WP with your readership topics that make you feel uncomfortable or might be taboo or stigma-laden?

We discuss pretty much everything when we are in the mood. Not all the time. The noise would drive us all crazy. We are full of ideas, but sometimes the world also needs quiet and a little peace.

We argue about the existence of God, whether or not we have souls, and which version of Star Trek is the best (ORVILLE!!).

Republican talking points are off the table. Probably permanently.

Do you think that these discussions should be freely discussed and written about more?

What subjects? Which discussions?

Did you have a nickname as a child and if so, what was (or what is it now)?

No nickname. Wanted one. Nothing fit.

Why is there still ‘stuff’ we simply just don’t understand despite our progressive world?

Because there is a LOT of stuff and we’ll never know ALL of it.

Meanwhile, most of us pay little attention to anything scientific or technological. If they discovered some amazing and complicated body in space and it ran on page 23 in the New York Times, how many of us would ever read it, much less understand it?

About the stuff we already know, most of us understand very little and care less. We use it. We know how to plug it in and turn it on, but how does it work? I love the old grandparents who don’t know anything about computers while their wise children tell them the basics.

My granddaughter knows how to turn on her computer, use what she needs, and turn it off. If ANYTHING goes wrong, it’s: “Gramma, I have a problem.”

Thus we believe “using a computer” means being able to turn it on, enter a password, and using a mouse. We have no idea what is going on behind the GUI or what WYSISYG means. I’m not going to be making any fabulous new discoveries because I’d rather reread a Terry Pratchett novel.

How many people understand how these basic items work?

At least we are creative. If you don’t do physics or math, creativity IS discovery.

So. Summing up. With all the stuff going on, the vast majority of human beings are not involved in making new discoveries. I could literally be staring at the latest, greatest Truth of the Universe — and I would probably flip the channel. We aren’t discoverers because most of us don’t have the skill-set, education, or interest. We spend our time messing with cell phones, tweeting, or watching cat videos on YouTube.

I find it comforting that we are stupid by choice rather than via inheritance.

What is your most essential kitchen tool?

Coffee maker and we just (finally) got a new one. I totally love it. Gotta have the brew. That probably means I also need the fridge because where else can I keep the half-and-half?

Who is one blogger you really admire and why?

I admire many people for various reasons and even if this were a competition, they are each so unique, I couldn’t possibly pick one. I’m not even sure I could pick a whole slate of candidates.

Would you rather double your height or lose half your weight?  (In response to last week’s double your weight, half your height query). 

So would I rather be 10 feet 3 inches tall or weigh 80 pounds? Really?

CHILDHOOD CAN BE ROUGH! – Marilyn Armstrong

Childhood is a challenge.

Many of us struggled, had serious problems at home and lived with daily bullying at school. With the attention these issues get in the press today, things have not changed much. Bullying is as much — or more — of a problem as it was when I was a kid. Teachers ignore it. Parents dismiss it. Kids won’t talk about their problems because they (rightly) believe it might make everything worse.

These days, it’s all about awareness, as if knowing there is a problem is the same as solving it.

Awareness is not a cure. Positive public relations hype in the newspapers and television and social media does not make any difference to what happens to a child at home or in the schoolyard.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

I was a precocious child with limited social skills. Inept at sports, lost in math. Among outcasts, I was an outcast. I was bored in class, terrified in the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloakroom hoping no one would miss me. I found a stack of books and read them in the semi-dark by the light of one dim bulb.

Punish the child for reading too much!

My teachers were furious. It turns out during my cloakroom hours, I had read all the readers for the next four grades. I would have read more except I ran out of books.

The principal called my mother. They made her come to school so they could complain I had read too much. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all those readers in about an hour, the work was way too easy. As far as she was concerned, the school completely missed the point.

They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much which my mother felt hilarious. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She retold the story at every family gathering.

I didn’t think it was nearly as funny because that teacher hated me. It made the third grade a special kind of Hell.

I started high school at thirteen. Although I was blessed by a few teachers who made learning exciting and fun, most of my teachers felt reading a monotonic reading of the class textbook was education. I chipped a tooth one morning when I fell asleep and hit my mouth on the desk.

Jamaica High School

I was off the charts in English and history while falling rapidly behind in math and hard science. I was in my thirties — reading Horatio Hornblower — before I realized trigonometry had an actual purpose. It was used to calculate trajectories and navigate! A revelation! Pity I didn’t know that when I was supposed to be learning it.

I survived school and had a life. We keep telling our kids that childhood is the best of times. It can be and maybe for some kids, it is. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t for most of the other children with whom I grew up.

BUSING FAILED. IT’S ABOUT TIME WE SAY SO – Marilyn Armstrong

Watching the Democratic riots (aka “debates”)  the other night, I was surprised that Biden didn’t tell the real truth about busing. Because this is a subject with which we are intimately familiar here. Garry covered Boston’s busing crises and has an Emmy for his work. He interviewed white families, black families, every family. He interviewed politicians, teachers, and the kids who got bused.

I think by the time he was done with the story, he had interviewed almost everyone in Boston. Everyone had an opinion, but the most pointed ones were from the families who were directly affected by busing and the kids who were bused.

Because you see, the outcome has been clear for years: BUSING DIDN’T WORK.

Not one state exceeded 49%!

Educators and other organizations have done study-after-study about it. It did not improve race relations or education. It absolutely failed. However well-intentioned the idea, busing kids long distances to schools which did not welcome the students and where they would not make friends or get a better education didn’t solve any problems. It probably created new ones.

The real issue?

We need to invest in our schools. Money. Schools need money. Teachers need salaries. Schools need better textbooks and materials. Laboratories, computers. It’s not about better cafeterias and larger playing fields.

It’s about better learning.

Moving kids of different races, so you can say you have somehow achieved diversity, is nonsense. I’m surprised Biden didn’t bother to point it out. For that matter, I’m shocked that Kamala didn’t point it out either. I’m sure she knows as well as we do. Should Biden have supported busing despite not believing in it? Because it was the currently “right thing to do”?

I think not, but then again — I’m not a follower of trends or fads, no matter how well-meant.

Our school issues — local and national — are ruined by lack of funding. By an unwillingness of states, towns, and the federal government to spend enough money to make our schools what they ought to be. To pay teachers what they are worth. To make teaching an attractive profession.

Whenever a government runs short of money, the first thing they cut is education. They refuse to buy quality textbooks or even school supplies. The result is a nation full of stupid, ignorant people. Maybe some of them would have been stupid and ignorant anyway, but I’m sure the lack of education didn’t help.

Rebuilt Uxbridge High School. I’m sure the classrooms are nicer, but is education better?

It’s time to start questioning the idea that diversity automatically improves education and thus physically moving children from one school to another is in itself solving some educational problem. It isn’t.

In effect, what happened is anyone who could afford it sent their children to private schools. Since both sets of schools involved in Boston busing were in poor neighborhoods — no accident — the result was non-education for everyone.

If we don’t invest in education, we’ll never have educated students of any color. Bad schools produce poor education. If schools are sufficiently bad, the result is uneducated students.

We talk a good game per education in the U.S., but we don’t live it. We don’t contribute to it. So while we worry about college debt, how about we put a little of that concern into worrying about teaching kids to read and understand what they are reading? Teach them some real history, not the crap they get in their old, out-of-date (and probably never accurate even when they were new) textbooks.

EDUCATION AND HOMEWORK – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Homework

This is a little rant about schools, educational funding, underpaid, exhausted teachers, outdated textbooks, and overpriced colleges lacking state and federal backing.

In the years since I graduated from college in 1967, I’ve been watching what was a mediocre school system get much worse. I see legally required fancy buildings which offer little real education. Each year, it gets worse. Do we care about education or is it just something we like to to talk about? Do we want our kids to be able to compete in the world?


I pretty much never did my homework. To be fair, back in those golden olden days, teachers didn’t check to see if you did it either. You might get tested on it at some point later in the term, but if the information was covered in class, I’d remember it. Back then, I had a great memory. I prided myself on not having to write down phone numbers. I could remember all of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now, no matter how often I use a phone number, other than my own and my son’s, I have to look it up. I may not remember it long enough to not have to look it up a few times while trying to make the call. Time. It does its thing. I have maybe 15 seconds between getting information and it disappearing like the breeze in the trees.

I swear kids these days get homework intended to make up for not getting taught anything in school. Apparently, they are supposed to learn on their own what their teachers are too tired, bored, or incapable of teaching.

Leslie commented the other day that there are some great movies that could be used in the classroom. There are, absolutely. Inherit The Wind. On The Waterfront. The Lion In Winter. A wide variety of well-done historical documentaries and movies. But they aren’t used.

Harvard – Photo: B. Kraft

What they are getting is dry, dull textbooks, many of which were out of date when they were written fifty years ago. I never cracked a textbook. I just read on my own and I had a mother who loaded me down with books and a library that was a mere mile away. I remember toting home the maximum limit of books they’d let you borrow in a week. Ten books. They were heavy books, but I was young.

High School, really

For a country that supposedly values education, this country has a  strange way of showing it. Every year, when we begin to run out of budgeted money, states and the feds cut school budgets.

You can’t make a great country from a nation of ignoramuses. Yes, if your parents have the money, they might be able to send you to a superior school and if the child is smart enough, he or she might really benefit from a better education. But there are also a lot of private schools that are essentially “pay tuition for good grades.” Send your kids there. Pay the fabulous tuition and they’ll get grades which should get them into college.

Hofstra in 2014

Colleges have gotten smarter, though. They test incoming kids to make sure they can read and understand what they’ve read. They make sure they have basic maths skills. They check science education. This isn’t to make sure they are brilliant, but to make sure have a basic grasp of English. To see if they can understand the concepts of what they’ve read because — as an English professor I know has pointed out, many kids not only don’t read but can’t.

They don’t know grammar because it isn’t taught in public schools and hasn’t been since before I started school in 1951. They don’t know the parts of speech, have no concept of punctuation, and can’t do anything resembling research because when all of the preceding is true, how can you research anything? If you don’t understand what you’ve read, you can’t move forward.

Let me state for the record this is not the fault of the kids. It’s OUR fault for allowing education to become so bad in so many places and so expensive everywhere else. Only the brightest and most individually motivated youngsters manage to rise above the system.

I know not every child from every family is going to be a scholar, but shouldn’t every child have that opportunity? If they have the smarts and the interest, shouldn’t it be possible?

P.S. 35, Queens

Loading them up with eight hours of homework while loading them down with 50-pounds of boring, timeworn textbooks is a total educational cop-out. The schools I went to weren’t fabulous, but the teachers knew something. They encouraged us. If we showed promise, there was always a teacher who’d give us a nudge, suggest we try a little harder and get better.

These days? Working (briefly) as a substitute I was appalled at how listless and bored the students were. They were thrilled to have someone in the classroom that could talk to them about anything. I was told that usually, all they did was read the textbooks until the bell rang. I’d have collapsed from boredom.

We wonder why they spend so much time on the phone or iPad or computer? That’s how they learn. But what are they learning?

THE OTHER SIDE OF IMMIGRATION – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.
Immigration isn’t easy, isn’t fun.
These days, it can also be life-threatening. 


In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was really an epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t.

My feeble attempts to properly learn Hebrew was even more entertaining. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery which occurred during my second day in the country was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, the pronunciation is actually tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the “Land of Zion” using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty of just getting the words out through my teeth (which were not designed for all those gutturals), many words in Hebrew are very similar to each other but have different meanings. For example, sha-ah is an hour. Shannah is a year. And there you stand saying, “My Hebrew isn’t good. I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed. Eventually, more Hebrew found its way into my sentences, though complex ideas never made the cut. I could say simple stuff. I could buy groceries. Chat about the weather, as in, “It’s really hot.”

The alternative was “It’s raining hard,” because you only had two seasons: hot and wet.

Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could understand most of what I said, sometimes without laughing, but not with joy. My accent made their ears hurt and they preferred English. It was less painful.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this because having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Scape-goating our immigrants is identical to scapegoating our grandparents. Unless we are Native Americans, we are all immigrants.

FOWC with Fandango — Scapegoat

SPEAKING A NEW LANGUAGE

UNE NOUVELLE LANGUE PAR RICH PASCHALL

What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school, however.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Now there is a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala and Colombia nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn, if I just knew this one language. It seems like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  All of the above would be interesting and certainly useful. Whether I would travel to countries where these languages were spoken, or use them right here in our local communities, I still have a different interest in a language. I would never have thought to learn it just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor, however.

A previous job of mine brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France, and I even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?

This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For eight years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about a particular parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  Some of my closest friends are French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?

HIGH ENTERTAINMENT AND LANGUAGE LESSONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Learning (or, in my case, trying to learn) another language was high entertainment.

In English, I rarely if ever used a word the wrong way. I was a serious reader very young and had a big passive vocabulary. By passive, I mean I knew a lot of words but had never used them in conversation. I knew what they meant and how to spell them, but not how they sounded.

I had no idea that Too-son and Tucson were one place. Or that ep-ee-TOME was epitome. I remember those two examples because of the hilarity they caused the adults in the area. I was all of 8, but adults were not all that nice to kids. They still aren’t, if I think about it.

language school

I was even more entertaining in Israel. I am sure that my fumbling attempts to learn the language, having caused hysterical laughter, probably played a part in my never properly learning Hebrew. I was so embarrassed by my errors, it didn’t seem worth it, especially since everyone knew at least a little English.

My first big discovery — during my first week in the country — was that Zion (Zy-on) means penis. In Hebrew, it’s tzee-own. So if you say that Israel is the Land of Zion using your good American pronunciation, you will reduce Israelis within earshot to tears of laughter.

They can be a rough crowd.

To add another layer of problems over the difficulty in just getting the words out through my teeth which were clearly not designed for all those gutturals, many words in Hebrew are very much like one another, yet have hugely different meanings. Sha-ah is an hour. Shan-nah is a year. So there you are saying “My Hebrew isn’t all that good, I’ve only been here for two hours.”

After a while, I mostly spoke English and used Hebrew words as needed when I could find no English equivalent. Eventually, I got to a point where almost everyone could be expected to understand most of what I said. Without laughing at me. But not happily. My accent made their ears hurt.

You might consider this when you meet immigrants who are trying to learn English. I mention this only because, having been on the other side of this experience, a bit of kindness to people trying to work through a difficult life transition while learning a new language and culture can go a long way to make them feel less lonely, threatened, excluded, and generally miserable.

Just a thought.

LEARNING TO HATE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a beautiful and poignant song in the musical “South Pacific”, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. It’s called, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. It opens with the lines “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year.”

I’ve been thinking about those lyrics recently. I was struck by a common statistic in both the Brexit vote in the UK and our election of Donald Trump. In the UK, the voters who voted most heavily anti-immigrant and anti-EU were from areas that had few to no immigrants. The open-minded, pro-immigrant, pro-EU voters were clustered in the areas with the highest volume of immigrants.

Interesting.

The same phenomenon repeated itself in the United States. Trump supporters accepted, if not endorsed his xenophobic, anti-Muslim, racist rhetoric and dog whistling. His voters were concentrated in areas that were most heavily white, with the lowest number of immigrants and other racial minorities.

The cities, where immigrants and minorities are concentrated, were across the board Democratic and anti-Trump. It seems that if you have contacts with minority groups or people not exactly like yourself, you accept and don’t fear them.

If these groups of people are total unknowns to you, you’re open to believing all the negative rhetoric about them. You’re open to seeing them as dangerous and destructive to you and your way of life.

At first, I thought this was counter-intuitive. But I realized that it makes perfect sense. When you live with a diverse group of people, you see that everyone, regardless of race, nationality or religion, shares your life experience. Most importantly, you see all other people as individuals. To you, they’re not, nor can they be seen as, a monolithic, mysterious blob of humanity, threatening everything you hold dear.

On a personal note, I grew up in New York City. Even in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, I saw different races and nationalities everywhere. I also went to integrated schools. When I was four years old, I had an eye-opening experience that I still remember. I’m a Jewish Caucasian. My beloved Nanny was a Christian black woman.

To me, Ethie was part of the family. She was just like me in every way. The first time that belief was challenged was when something came up about her going to church. It suddenly hit me that Ethie wasn’t JEWISH! She wasn’t just like me, she was different in some ways. It still didn’t register on me that her skin was a different color. That didn’t even show up on my four-year-old radar. I just remember grappling with the idea that Ethie was not really family.

She was not JUST LIKE US. She was, in some crucial way, different. I didn’t love her any less. I learned something that day. That I could love someone who wasn’t exactly like me.

Different was okay.

I guess isolation from different religious and ethnic groups leaves you susceptible to hate and fear.



You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
|Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

AND NOW, WITH TWO HANDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Ragtime Daily Prompt #66 – ABIDE (WITH ME)


“And now,” said Mrs. Nelson, “You can try it with both hands.”

This was huge. Before now, I could only play one note at a time, one hand at a time. I was four and a half. Almost five, I would point out.

Today, I was going to play “Abide With Me” with two hand using chords (okay, only two notes in each, but still chords). A power performance!

I was definitely going to be a great pianist. I couldn’t reach the pedals yet. I was much too small, but eventually, I’d get there.

Thus I advanced my musical career which, in the end, didn’t amount to much. I enjoyed it, though. I tried majoring in it in college, but piano wasn’t the right instrument for me. I needed something more compact, with fewer long reaches. I was tiny with very small hands (but big feet, go figure). Making those long reaches in complicated pieces was impossible for me.

By the time we were moving past the easier Nocturnes and into the longer Beethoven sonatas, it was obvious to me it wasn’t lack of practice. I practiced a lot. Every day, for hours.

I was simply ill-equipped to get it done on a piano.

Piano became a hobby and writing became my profession and I’m not at all sorry it worked out that way. I can’t even imagine myself performing with an orchestra or alone on the big stage.

I’ve also got an insane degree of stage-fright where music is concerned, though I can speak in public. There’s no accounting for irrational fear, is there?

THE ALLURE OF THE UNKNOWN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Unknown


I got a note from a reader about an article I wrote more than five years ago about blood types. I’m a B+ from an O+ mother and an AB+ father, which cannot, in theory, produce me. But it did and there’s no doubt who my parents were.

It turns out that unexpected blood types just sometimes “pop up.” Why?


Unknown.

There is more we don’t know about blood types and where they come from than we do know. The article is titled: DESCENDING FROM THE GOLDEN HORDE – B+ AND ME  and it is the most popular article I ever wrote. Especially since I wrote it more than five years ago and it’s still widely read today.

I got a letter yesterday from what turns out to be a first cousin. Or is it second cousin? I’ve never worked out the first, second, third and how many times removed thing in familial relationships. Regardless, she’s a pretty close match and is the great-granddaughter of my grandfather’s sister. This came with pictures and everything and damned if we don’t all pretty much look alike. Not exactly the same, but similar enough to form a congenial family portrait.

I didn’t even know this branch of the family existed. If my mother knew, she never mentioned it. I never knew my grandparents. They died when I was too young to know anything except how to walk. When you don’t know your grandparents, you lose a lot of history.


Unknown.

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know. The more I learn, the more yawning the unknown gets, too.

Maybe that is why so many people enjoy ignorance. If you don’t know anything, you don’t need to recognize how much more you need to learn to lose your ignorance. No matter how much you know, you always need to know more.

Ignorance is so easy. You just assume what you know (or think you know) is everything there is to know. Then carefully avoid learning more. If anyone intrudes on your ignorance, you can run screaming with your ears covered lest your lack of knowledge be devastated by the intrusion of previously unknown information.

Meanwhile, I have a whole unknown branch of my family branch to explore. Call me crazy, but I find the unknown the most alluring part of my universe.

Send down the Mother Ship! I’ve got my bags packed.

PARENTS HELPING THEIR KIDS THRIVE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There was an article in the Sunday New York Times a while back that was titled “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents.” It was written by Paul Tough and was an excerpt from a book he had written called “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.” The article cited a long-term study that started in 1986 and has followed the subjects constantly to the present.

The study proved that children who lived in poverty did substantially better than their peers, into adulthood, if one simple thing was changed in their homes during their first three years of life. If their parents received coaching from trained researchers who encouraged them to play with and stimulate their infants, for example, by reading to them, singing to them and playing peekaboo, the kids did much better.

Parents were taught the importance of these face to face exchanges in creating attachment, warmth, and trust between parents and children. This, in turn, helped create a more stable, nurturing environment in the impoverished homes, which are usually plagued by stress, neglect, and instability.

blocks

It’s hard to believe that some people don’t know that they should talk to and play with their infants and young children. But if no one ever did that with you when you were a child and no one later taught you how important it is, how would you know?

The impact of this easy and low-cost intervention was off the charts. The study showed that the children who had the play counseling had higher IQ’s, less aggressive behavior and better self-control than the control groups. They also had better ability to focus, follow directions, interact calmly with others and cope with disappointment and frustration. In other words, they improved intellectually, socially and emotionally. All this just by receiving the kind of attention that most of us take for granted every child automatically gets.

dad & baby

It turns out that adults can be taught to create an environment that fosters success for their children. Why isn’t this being done in every poor neighborhood in the world? Or at least in this country?

This is particularly frustrating for me because my father proposed the same type of in-home interventions in the 1960’s and no one listened to him. My father was a well-known psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and sociologist who stressed the importance of the first 3 years of life. He also did a study that showed how little stimulation and affection a large number of black children living in poverty in Harlem, New York, in the 1950’s were receiving from their parents. He suggested doing exactly what the 1986 study did – send in trained professionals to teach the parents how to give their children the kind of nurturing they needed to thrive.

mom reading

Guess who shot my father’s idea down? The “liberals” of the day and the radical Black Panther movement. They said it was racist to assume that black people didn’t know how to be good parents. It was also considered paternalistic and condescending to send (often white) people into black homes to “tell them” how to deal with their own children. My father backed away from the conflict that surrounded his proposal.

smiles for Mom

Now, 50 years later, the idea is being proposed again. Think of all the kids who could have benefited in all these years! With so much poverty, even just in this country, you’d think this article would have been front page news. You’d think that politicians, as well as educators and mental health professionals,  would be jumping on the bandwagon and yelling from the rooftops. You’d hope that large numbers of “family counselors” would be amassing to go in and make a huge difference in the lives of millions of children.

I haven’t heard anything yet. But I’m still waiting and hoping.

mom & toddler

IT TAKES A VILLAGE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

In an effort to improve public education, many mayors, including New York City Mayor Di Blasio, have converted inner-city schools into “community schools.” This is the first time I’ve heard about community schools and now I feel much better about the future of education in the U.S.

A community school, according to an August 7, 2016, NY Times article by David L. Kiro, is, ” … both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intending to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds wide appeal.”

elementary school

In poor neighborhoods, it apparently takes a village to educate a child. It’s almost impossible for kids to learn when they are dealing with health problems, ranging from hunger to vision problems to chronic asthma, learning problems, psychological issues or even major trauma at home. These programs address the needs of the whole child. They create an atmosphere in which kids can learn and mature into responsible adults. To that end, community schools provide breakfast and an in-house clinic to provide medical, dental and psychological services. There is also a staff of social workers to train teachers how to counsel their students and give them the emotional advice and support they need.

The success rates for community schools has been awesome. In one school in New York City, kids entered 9th grade reading at a 3rd-grade level, 25% of the students were classified as special needs and 20% were learning English as a second language. Nevertheless, compared to other demographically similar schools, this school’s rate of absenteeism dropped 15.4% and the graduation rate went up 8% in two years. These rates are now close to the citywide average.

In other states, the statistics are just as impressive. For example, in Massachusetts, one group of community schools managed to erase 2/3 of the math gap and ½ of the English gap between their schools and the statewide average. In addition, their drop-out rate was cut in half.

You might be thinking that these programs must cost a fortune and put a real burden on state and local governments. However, studies show that these programs more than pay for themselves in the long run. The adults they send into the community actually save states and cities a huge amount of money because these students have lower incarceration rates, better health and less reliance on welfare programs. The NY Times article comments that if the community school concept “ … were a company, Warren Buffet would snatch it up.”

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Massive social and personal gains are achieved in the long run with little or no net cost to the government. The problem is that money still has to be allocated today to establish community schools and the benefits can’t be seen for several years. Short-sighted politicians probably don’t want to allocate this money. And there may not be a lot of pressure on them to get behind these programs because so many voters don’t care about the underprivileged.

If it were up to me, all schools in poor areas would be converted into community schools. Maybe if we contact our local and state officials about this issue, we can raise awareness and maybe make a difference. This is a worthwhile cause so I will definitely try.

A PRACTICAL COURSE … – Sue Vincent

“…am I missing something?” The frantic voice on the phone made it quite clear that he really hoped he was…
“There’s a grey ring with symbols on it. Turn it to the one with parallel lines.”
“Okay, done that.”
“Then, above where the ‘U’ shaped bit of red plastic is, there is a red slider. Push it to the right.”
“Whew… That’s got it. Thank you!” He hung up to deal with the piscine emergency and, while I threw on some clothes to go and join him, it occurred to me that this was a really useful example of one of the exercises we use in the Silent Eye to build awareness.

The gadget in question is nothing interesting, nor is it one I own, but it isn’t something I have to think about either; operating a hosepipe is just one of those things you do on autopilot. I cannot recall ever having particularly examined the fancy nozzle-that-does-everything-except-feed-the-cat, but I was, thankfully, able to conjure its image in sufficient detail to be of use.

I am lucky in this respect; my imagination and memory work with visuals and, while I may be utterly useless at remembering anything to do with numbers these days, what I have seen I can usually picture with clarity. Part of that is just down to how my mind functions; where some people remember the spoken word accurately and others have a gift for recalling numbers, I tend to remember what I have seen. Except numbers. But part of it too is down to training.

I have been working with the Mysteries for nearly half a century. Early in my studies, it became evident that there were two basic choices open to anyone seriously following that path… study for knowledge or study for application, and it seemed to me that the two needed to work in tandem.

While you cannot put into practice what you do not know, and therefore knowledge is necessary, the acquisition of knowledge alone serves no purpose unless it is used, except to satisfy the hunger of the inquiring mind and foster understanding. But as real understanding comes only with experience… so the most practical course would be to learn all you can, extrapolate the practical uses and apply them. And, as the lessons learned studying the Mysteries must be applied to life, it is through your own life that you learn.

Right from the very beginning of my own studies,there were exercises in awareness, even though, ironically, I did not realise it at the time. From simply visualising your room as you drift into sleep, to noting new details in familiar places, or playing memory games with yourself… they were simple enough exercises. It is difficult to gauge the cumulative effect, especially if your mind works best in pictures, until something makes you take note.

The hosepipe was an insignificant example, but the clarity with which it was brought to mind was striking. Places I have visited once, maybe thirty years ago, are still very clear. I drive thousands of miles on obscure roads and seldom look at a map… and if that kind of thing is a practical result of my studies, then I am happy to have spent so much time on ‘awareness’ exercises.

Continue reading at The Silent Eye

via A practical course…