Last week a political science professor named Andrew Hacker published an article in the New York Times, titled “Is Algebra Necessary?” The headline alone triggered my math phobia. Math is right up there with my fear of swimming. (More on my aquaphobia another time.)
In my unscientific poll, my math anxiety is pretty typical for a woman my age. The thought of a quadratic equation – whatever that is – sends me into a panic. It’s tempting to agree with Hacker to skip the whole ordeal and just concentrate on the subjects I’m good at.
I don’t doubt Hacker’s statistics – that 6 million high school students and 2 million college freshmen are suffering under the weight of solving a simple equation like 5x+2 = 3x+10. But the truth is a high school graduate should be able to come up with four as the answer. I almost believed Hacker’s argument when he asserted that, “making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.”
But then I realized that he is, in fact, asking students to sidestep subjects that are difficult for them. Isn’t the point of being a student to challenge oneself? I ought to know. Writers are perpetual students. There’s no way around the fact that you have to put in the hours researching, writing and rewriting. Having said all of this, I’ve never met a writer who didn’t think writing was the hardest undertaking in the world. I had a teacher who told me that he psyched himself in front of the blank computer screen with these words: Down, Down, In.
To make it to the desk is the first of many small victories. Then it’s time to confront the equation that has to be solved, the Latin paragraph that has to be translated, the essay to say what you intend to communicate. These intellectual conundrums don’t simply loom large, they haunt one. You have to do this work because it matters. Hacker, on the other hand, reinforces the ultimate phobic behavior in education: avoidance.
Down, down, in. That’s how you’ll find your subject, gather your emotional strength, and cultivate your creativity. Lightning bolt inspiration is as rare as getting struck by actual lightning.
I had a geometry teacher who was downright abusive. She assigned an open-ended art project that was supposed to incorporate principles of geometry. For the record, I am totally opposed to art projects after nursery school. My geometry project was a dismal failure. I cut out circles, squares and other shapes and tried to calculate the areas. She took me down in front of the whole class, pointing out I hadn’t done the project at all. She offered no guidance on how I might fix my project. Just withering criticism. Consequently, I break out into hives when I hear the word geometry.
But in my gut, I know that math is important in our increasingly tech-savvy world. I’ve made sure that my daughter knows that she can solve a quadratic equation as well as any boy in her class. Hacker points out that only 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women score over 700 on the math portion of the SAT. I’m not worried about that statistic’s discrepancy between girls and boys. I’m astounded by our country’s math illiteracy.
Math students, particularly girls, need both mentors and teachers to excel in the subject. In an article recently published in the American Scholar, Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor, points out the subtle but crucial differences between mentors and teachers. “A teacher,” she writes, “has greater knowledge than a student; a mentor has greater perspective.”
Marantz Cohen is talking about the editor-writer relationship, but I think a similar relationship is very beneficial for girls in math. A teacher sits down and shows a student how to solve a quadratic equation. A mentor clears away the cobwebs of doubt for a student so that the learning can begin in earnest.
In our house Ken and I take on the roles of teacher and mentor respectively. As mentor, I try to expand my reach beyond that of cheerleader. After I read Hacker’s essay, I was spurred on to demystify algebra and asked Ken to teach me how to prove the quadratic equation Hacker offered in his piece: (x² + y²)² = (x² – y²)² + (2xy)².
“Show me how to do this for our daughter,” I said to my husband as I broke out in a cold sweat.
“She knows how to prove this equation.”
“Please,” I begged.
He proceeded to teach me a strategy called FOIL to tackle the equation. As soon as Anna heard the word in her room she called out incredulously, “Are you doing algebra?” And then she came in and showed me how to solve the problem.
The right attitude, coupled with competent teaching, means that learning algebra doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean undertaking. Even for me.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at The Judy Chronicles.
It wasn’t that Lena Henderson remarried Roland Davis 48 years after their divorce, at age 85, but the fact that in all those intervening years neither parent ever said an unkind word about the other to their four children that really made me stop and think about how I talk about my husband.
I am guilty of muttering about my spouse in front of my kids and he has been there too. We have gone through a very rough patch over the past two years as the economy worsened and I have failed to obtain full-time employment. Too often, instead of banding together to overcome as a unit we have been reduced to bickering and muttering afterwards.
So if it’s this hard for married people to keep a civil tongue in their heads, the fact that this couple, while divorced, held the line, is impressive and something I attribute to both their own upbringing and strong church-going ethic.
Ms. Henderson and Mr. Davis who first married in 1944, as teenagers in Chattanooga, Tenn., and after having four children, divorced 20 years later. Each remarried and in time lost their later spouses, according to the Buffalo News. No news report has mentioned the cause of the divorce.
Last week they tied the knot again after he proposed over the phone and later arrived at her door with an engagement ring “pinned to my shirt so I wouldn’t lose it.”
Renita Shadwick, their youngest, said that in the intervening years, "My mother never had a harsh or contrary word to say about my dad, and my dad never had anything but loving remarks to make about my mother."
While it’s utterly remarkable and beautiful that this love story played out through divorce, remarriages, and across time, to me the deeper gift to be found is the one they gave their children by retaining the dignity, mutual respect, and true love they both demonstrated by speaking well of each other in front of their kids.
The website Lawyer.com gave this tip on co-parenting after a divorce: “Never speak negatively about your spouse in the presence of your children. Contrary to popular belief, this will not make you look like the “good one” to your family. It only serves to confuse them and children should be protected from the drama of divorce as much as possible.”
I never thought I would say this, but I’m with the lawyers on this one.
Ms. Shadwick told NPR’s "All Things Considered:" "I see the way that he comes along beside her and wants to help her as she walks inside a building or the way he scoots around her to open a door. I look at the way my mother smiles at him when he's talking about something. Those are the moments I pray that all children are looking at when they are looking at their parents loving one another."
Perhaps is we manage to show that respect and kindness to one another daily, even in forced and stressful situations, we need not end in divorce at all. My husband and I have talked about this story and that’s the way we’re going to go, scooting around to open each other’s doors.
Each fall, Beloit College (Wisc.) publishes its “Mindset List:” 75 points of reference for understanding the cultural profile of their incoming freshmen class. More than just a core sampling of the historical events that an 18-year-old would, or would not, have experienced, the list holds a mirror up to the formative experiences for those new students – and, therefore, for their professors.
For instance, the Beloit Mindset List for the post-millennial class of 2014 included the following items:
1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
2. E-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
3. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration … unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.
4. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
5. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are not in the museum.
6. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.
7. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.
One might add, many in this class will have attended the most successful movie opening – indeed, franchise – of all time, a movie series that defines their childhood reading habits: Harry Potter.
You get the idea. Based on the list, you can “grok” 360 degrees of the experiences that have contributed to the mindset of people of a certain age. I shudder to think of the mindset list for my own freshman class, the college class of 1978. As I’m fond of telling my children, the laptop I went to school with was an Olivetti portable typewriter. A computer was a big teletype machine that only the math club (all boys) knew how to use. Telephones had dials. Tape cassettes were the newest audio advancement.
This mindset, however, refers to a world writ large, a context inhabited by adults and proto-adults whose cognition can cope simultaneously with abstraction and evolutionary blips and detours. Since I work in an elementary school, our incoming “freshmen” class is five years old. Street-level mindsets for them are quite different – but just as important to understand with accuracy.
One year, when I was principal in a small rural public school in Maine, I wondered, "What is the kindergarten mindset list for my kids? Would their list reveal intriguing things about the rate of change in our local cultural mindsets? What are the innovations or changes that have taken place in a quick five years to which we are already acclimated, but which account for their whole life span? This could yield a core sample of the life of the mind for small town 5-year-olds!"
As it turned out, their mindset list ranged from the sublime to the humorously idiosyncratic. Though a few details … well, most of the details … are decidedly local, you can get a sense of the worldview of any kid beginning the long march toward that freshmen year of post-secondary education. (And how many college freshmen could identify how “The Long March” resonates in our collective historical mindset?)
Here’s what I knew that my students knew:
1. Adams School has always had a green playground structure and timber frame nature center … and a big granite rock by the bike rack. (All of this was just installed in August).
3. School always begins with a parachute game and the principal playing bagpipes on the town common. (We take it one year at a time.)
4. There has never been a merry-go-round or teeter-totter on the playground. (The old playground equipment was removed, alas.)
6. The flag always flies at half-mast on Sept. 11.
These are, of course, external factors of a mindset – more the adult mindset for kindergartners. To venture inside their own personal mindset, I invited the freshmen class to my office for a little an interview. Here is an introductory look, in no particular order, for the cultural record. This is where the rubber really meets the road.
1. Charlie drives the bus. I like going home.
2. We have the greatest, greatest time at school.
3. I can do an upside down thing on the playground.
4. I go down the slide backwards with my head pointing forward.
5. We like our teacher.
6. We get to be learned.
7. I’m making a woolly mammoth out of Legos. It evolved into hairless elephants from the Dinophyllus that weighed 14 times as much as a giraffe
8. The first movie I saw in a theater was Cars.
9. My mommy’s name is “Mommy,” and my dad’s name is “Daddy.”
10. Our parents make the best, best ice cream cones and sundaes.
This is where the mindset rubber meets the road. I’m not sure that Beloit College gathers all of the available mindset information, since they list only the chronological experiences available to their freshmen class. I’d like to hear a little more about sliding attitude, teacher appreciation, movie viewing, and ice cream preferences.
Further interviews may be required to complete my findings and connect the dots. Clearly, this is a complex matrix. Beloit has it easy. On the other hand, I have 12 years to prepare the kindergartners I know for Beloit. I’m wondering where to start.
Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley.
Those of you who study license plates know that Louisiana bills itself as the “Sportsman’s Paradise.” It’s also a libertine’s paradise, but that’s another story.
When we were in the process of adopting Albie, our yellow Lab-golden retriever mix who came to us from Louisiana, we learned that one reason Louisiana and many other southern states have huge populations of cast-off dogs is because those that prove sub-par for hunting are simply let go. Retrievers, whether of the Labrador or golden variety, are supposed to be, well, retrievers. You blast some innocent waterfowl out of the sky with a high-powered weapon, and the retriever is supposed to jump into the water with enthusiasm and retrieve your trophy.
Hey, it’s not tennis, but then who am I to judge? (For the record, Albie is very good at retrieving tennis balls, which explains why so few retrievers for adoption come from Forest Hills.)
This week, as we continued to puzzle over why anyone would let a dog as sweet as Albie go, we saw evidence that, as they say down south, “that dog won’t hunt.” Oh, he’ll take off after a rabbit, and spend several futile hours trying to catch a housefly in his teeth. (Believe me, it’s much more interesting to watch than beach volleyball.) But into the water? We’re pretty sure he either can’t swim, or doesn’t know that he can swim. It even made me wonder: Is this dog really from Louisiana or is he from New Jersey?
We were walking Albie along the Charles River outside of Boston the other day, to a spot where lots of dogs swim. There was no one around and Albie, as he has on many other trips to the water’s edge, waded in cautiously up to the middle of his forelegs and promptly plopped down. But this time we were determined to see if he could swim. We thought if we waded in we might lure him further out with treats, but all he did was inch forward ever so slightly and stretch his neck as far as he could in hopes of nabbing the doggie biscuit. No stick thrown, no treat offered, no leading by example could coax him beyond the point where he could easily stand with about 80 percent of his body out of the water.
If you wanted a dog happy to pull a dead duck from the muck of a Louisiana swamp, Albie probably wasn’t your dog. On the other hand, if you wanted a dog, as we did, happy to pounce at houseflies when he wasn’t having his belly rubbed, well, then Albie is your guy.
A month in to our new life with Albie and he’s everything we could have wanted in a dog. He’s not a barker. He loves people. And he’s a fast learner. We already have him walking long distances off-leash without fear he’s going to bolt. He appears to know his name, which he clearly didn’t on his arrival. And he knows we’re complete suckers whose hearts melt every time those ears perk up and he looks at us like we’re the best thing since the invention of the tennis ball.
I admit it, I not only watch “Toddlers & Tiaras,” I have rooted for the Shirley-Temple-from-a- reverse-engineered-universe, Alana Thompson a.k.a Honey Boo Boo Child, even as I cringed at every word that came out of her and her mother’s mouths. While her TLC show doesn’t interest me much, her success and spirit do.
Honey Boo Boo Child – call her HB2C – is age six and her family (mom June, dad Sugar Bear, 12-year-old sister Lauryn “Pumpkin,” 15-year-old sister Jessica “Chubbs,” and 17-year-old pregnant sister Anna “Chickadee”) have run over the modern parenting mold in a muddy SUV, backed over it and then jumped off and rolled in the remains.
I think that’s what anyone who has tried to succeed within the model of perfection in both body image and parenting technique find a guilty pleasure to watch.
Writing anything positive about this child is a social test because of her regional dialect and choice of what some, like Salon, have termed her "racist" adaptation of a "sassy black women." She may not be aware of these perceptions. But if they ever sport the Confederate flag or utter a racist word I will never watch the network again.
The first thing your brain screams at June Thompson as she pours “special juice,” a cocktail of RedBull and Mountain Dew is, “You’re doing it wrong!” It’s screaming because the sound has to travel over the war whoop the hindbrain is making as HB2C struts her stuff with reckless abandon and Puckish pleasure as she waves her hand along her chubby sides saying, “Look at aaaallll a this!” Then she makes her chunky midsection “talk” as she squeezes her bellybutton and tosses out a one-liner you repeat for two weeks afterwards.
This child is happy in her own skin, no matter how much of it there is. That’s because her whole family is both overweight and nonchalant about it. They are certainly not going to get on the cheap-shot wagon alongside those bashing Amerca’s fittest by calling some of the female Olympic athletes “fat” or “heavy” as some critics recently have.
You are more likely to see this family beaning each other with rolls of paper towels, leaping into mud pits and laughing out loud, than looking over their shoulders and worrying about who’s standing there with a tape measure to size them up, down, or around.
In both the mini beauty queen and home environment shows, the mom announces to the world, “Some people are gonna love us and some are gonna hate us, and we don’t care what anybody thinks.”
No, I can’t stand that the mom swears in front of the kids and gives a child “special juice.” And I am not a fan of teen pregnancy.
However, for now HB2C is an undeniable instant hit for her BooBooisims such as “A dallah make me holla” in a bad economy.
Unlike other little pageant girls, I don’t think the child is told what to say by media-savvy hired coaches, but simply repeating and putting her own South Georgia spin on what she hears her self-styled extreme “Coupon Queen” mom say.
Through all the tacky and wacky, and beneath all the mud in which they both roll and have slung at them, it’s still a relief to see a genuinely happy, well adjusted child who dreams of being a princess on her own terms.
We brought our family to London this summer to experience the Olympic Games first hand – and unexpectedly our global citizenship has been validated.
While we’re celebrating both elite athletic achievements and the coming together of all nations to compete, there’s a huge focus on “Who do you support?” Are you Team USA, Team GB, Team Australia, or Team Qatar?
That’s an easy question to answer for most, but our son, 11, and daughter, 9, both born in London, spent the first half of their lives there and the second half in Qatar where they attend a British school. Their dad is Australian (and also has British citizenship), and I was born and raised in the US with an American father and Australian mother.
Though we were squeezed in and feeling at one with the global community in the international crowd of 60,000 in Hyde Park for the arrival of the Olympic flame, once the summer Games began we suddenly noticed an intense focus on nationalism. Supporters were draped in their national flag, with faces, eyes, and nails painted in their national colors. Norwegians wear Viking hats, the Dutch stand out in their orange wear, lots of Australians carry kangaroos, and the British sport Union Jack leggings, shirts, jackets, body suits, you name it!
For us, the question “Who do you support?” became “Who are you”?
We have American, Australian, and British flags to wave, and we are also cheering on Qatari athletes.
Our daughter has embraced them all, with transfer tattoos on her face of British flags, an “I love Australia sticker,” a Qatar flag button on her hat, and carrying an American flag.
Our son is more confused. Asked if he wants to wear one of the flags we have at the Olympic Park, he tells us he doesn’t feel very patriotic. He appreciates the skills of the athletes, but feels more of a world citizen than a fan of any one country over another.
I feel for him and know he will sometimes struggle like I have as he switches from country to country. (I have lived on four continents in the past 20 years.) Like me, he will feel at home in the US, Australia, the UK, and Qatar. But he won’t necessarily be accepted by any of them. Are you really one of us if you are also the other?
As we’ve popped through the athletic spectrum – volleyball at Earl’s Court, soccer at Wembley Stadium, archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground, beach volleyball at the Horse Guard’s Parade, weightlifting at ExCel, Equestrian dressage in Greenwich Park, basketball, water polo, and hockey at Olympic Park, and athletics at the main Olympic Stadium – we've also experienced our sense of global citizenship.
We’ve cheered Qatari athletes, especially the women who are here representing their country for the first time. So we’ve been hypersensitive to the story of the female Olympian.
This games has been nicknamed the female games, as it is the first time that all countries have sent female athletes. We were all astonished to hear that women weren’t allowed to run further than 200 meters before the 1960 Rome Olympics. It is also the first time there are more females than males in the American squad. For Team Great Britain, their first medals were won by female athletes. It was an eye opener to realize how much has changed for women in sports in just 50 years, and there is still so far to go – not the least of which is the startling difference in clothing the male and female beach volleyball players wear, which was not lost on our kids.
We all noticed stories about athletes who have “switched” their country allegiance, like Ben Hoskin who represented Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and this year is representing Paraguay. He was born in Columbia, his mother is Paraguayan, and his father is British.
Then there are swimmers like Mihail “Mike” Alexandrov who once competed for his native Bulgaria and now swims for the US; and Olaf Wildeboer who competed for Spain then for the Netherlands, while his brother continues to compete for Spain, and their father coached the Dutch national team.
Our children are legally American, Australian, and British – and, in some less formal ways, a bit Qatari. They live in the Middle East but understand the First Amendment rights they have under the constitution when they are in the US that they don’t yet have under the constitution in Qatar. They know a great deal about the British monarchy and the times of the Tudors and the Celts from their British schooling. They chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” and love Vegemite on toast.
If they ever are good enough to compete in an Olympics, who will they compete for? Will they be accepted by any of their countries as a “true” American, Australian, or Brit?
It may be a hard concept to grasp, but the global community that is the Olympics is increasingly represented by individuals whose identity is broader than one nationality.
When Justin Bieber fretted aloud to the British media over Prince William’s thinning hair this week, what some might see as the cheap shot heard round the world, it served to focus us on the more serious issue of what prompted him to make it – a growing litany of ad-driven male body image issues.
Mr. Bieber is quoted in the British magazine Rollacoaster as saying of the Prince’s thinning hair: “I mean, there are things to prevent that nowadays, like Propecia. I don't know why he doesn't just get those things, those products. You just take Propecia and your hair grows back. Have you not got it over here?”
As a parent, my first thought was, “Yipes! Where did that come from?” My guess is that the young star may have been baited with just the right question to pop that answer out of his mouth in what was, to him, probably a casual answer.
Still, it made sense after the onslaught of Weight Watchers targeting men in a new ad campaign and the proliferation of image-conscious ads surrounding the games. It used to be a constant parade of Gatorade, sneakers, and Old Spice commercials during the Olympics, and now it’s manscaping tools and heavily perfumed products for guys. The male gymnasts and track stars are the most flamboyant with dyed and quaffed locks and facial hair in neat, trendy patterns and eyebrow piercings.
Sure, men have always had their heroes and images, since the days of John Wayne right up through pro wrestling and the mixed martial arts fighting, but those were more about manliness than manscaping.
As television cameras and big screen TVs blow up our stars until we can count their pores in our living rooms, men too are finding themselves wanting in the looking glass.
Gone are the days of the stereotypical male looking in the mirror and not only being satisfied, but failing to see any flaws at all. A recent study in the United Kingdom does show that men are genuinely as image panicked as women, just over different things.
At the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, Phillippa Diedrichs studied 394 British men, commissioned by Central YMCA and the Succeed Foundation, and found that men are indeed suffering from the influence of perfect male image ads.
Male worries included poorly developed or fat chests, beer bellies, and baldness. Four of five men (80.7 percent) refer to perceived flaws and imperfections.
However, the saddest telltale for me was that 38 percent of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.
“These findings tell us that men are concerned about body image, just like women. We knew that ‘body talk’ affected women and young people and now we know that it affects men too,” said Dr. Diedrichs.
• 80.7 percent talked about their own or others' appearance in ways that draw attention to weight, lack of hair, or slim frame.
• 30 percent have heard someone refer to their "beer belly," 19 percent have been described as "chubby," and 19 percent have overheard demeaning talk about their chests.
• 23 percent said concerns about their appearance had deterred them from going to the gym.
• 63 percent thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough.
• 29 percent thought about their appearance at least five times a day.
• 18 percent were on a high-protein diet to increase muscle mass, and 16 percent on a calorie-controlled diet to slim down.
That’s in the UK and not here in Adland, USA where Mr. Bieber formed his opinion. I suspect our issues are not only worse but more widely spread among younger men and boys.
So as we talk to our boys about fitness, we need to be more aware of the social pressures added to their load. It isn’t something to be dismissed as silly or unimportant. Sadly, this is one area where women have pioneered over the decades.
When it comes to life coaching our sons, we need to look to their self-image as much as their time around the track.
I was glad to see that Prince William, whose mother Princess Diana suffered so mightily as the result of her own negative body image, has not fallen prey to that kind of issue. He chose to be a dignified monarch and not allow appearance to be his focus. That’s why they call it majesty.
Who of a certain age can forget the summer of Apollo 11. I was a seventh grader, and stayed up late to see the grainy black and white footage of man’s first footsteps (“one giant leap for mankind”) on the lunar surface. It was amazing. An exploration both unlike, and exactly like, every prior voyage of discovery. Men were descending from their craft and touching a foreign shore.
Men were trampling where they had never been before: a new world, this time a celestial body, and it would be an unparalleled scientific epic. It was a greater leap than prior terrestrial voyages, to be sure. But it was still man going, landing, seeing, experiencing a new territory.
Will the next generation have a similar appreciation of this week’s landing on Mars by a robotic craft, the Curiosity rover? Sending back even sharper images of an extra-terrestrial body? I hope so. What are today’s seventh graders thinking about those images beamed back from the next planet out in our solar system?
We make such voyages in a new age. We’re sending our proxy voyageurs, an engineering marvel touching and looking as the extension of real men – our voyageur prosthesis. We probe with our fantastic instruments farther and farther reaches. We touch a distant planet. Our physicists decipher inner physical space just as remarkably, as revealed in the recent confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson.
There are, of course, the naysayers who note the price tag of Curiosity: $2.5 billion. But there are other variables. Stimulation of imagination among another generation of earthbound scientists: incalculably high value. Perspective on our home planet: priceless.
That view from the moon, or Mars, had as much to do with inner space as the exploration of the farthest reach of our contemporary craft.
It’s always been of equal inspiration to me just to see the photo of our lovely water planet taken from the moon’s vantage point. It humbles and, potentially, unites us. There’s something incredibly piercing to the soul of humanity to see ourselves, fragmented societies that we are, sharing the habitation of a fragile ecosystem one orbital ring closer to our star from Mars.
Isn’t it the nature of exploration to bring sharper focus to the value of home, the starting point. Apollo brought scientific and engineering advancements with tremendous returns for society. No doubt, Mars exploration will do the same.
But I would want my children to remember also the view from the distance, the terrain of inner space and the potential giant leap for the ecosystem and “ethosphere” of Earth. For it is always ourselves that we find setting foot on the forlorn shore of a new world. One hopes that both the near and distant explorations advance humanity, coming and going “for all mankind” again and again.
Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, PA.
American folk singer Pete Seeger, still going strong at 93 with a new album coming out in September, was on the "The Colbert Report" last night. And I am making it a point to sit the kids down in front of the computer today to experience the moment when generations looked as if they would collide, but instead, merged. Because to "everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven," and it’s time to talk about the music the birds in our family trees sing to our children.
The reference in my opening was to Mr. Seeger’s song, which he recorded in 1962, but was made popular by The Byrds the year I was born, 1965. The line from Ecclesiastes in the Bible was his – and later my – anthem about the quest for peace, equality, and civil rights, calling for patience in the face of adversity.
"A time to be born, a time to die / A time to plant, a time to reap / A time to kill, a time to heal / A time to laugh, a time to weep ... A time for love/ a time for hate/A time for peace, I swear it's not too late."
Seeger is promoting his book “Pete Seeger: In His Own Words,” released last month and is a collection of letters, articles, and lyrics. He talked with Stephen Colbert about two albums to be released on Sept. 25: “A More Perfect Union,” a record that will feature Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris; and a two-disc set called “Pete Remembers Woody,” a tribute to Woody Guthrie’s centennial, according to Billboard magazine.
There are moments frozen in time that we will never forget, those of tragedy, like Sept. 11, and joy, like the birth of a child. There are songs like that, too. Music from our childhood that, when played or sung, bring back not only the moment, but also the freshness, power, and inspiration of youth. Seeger’s songs are among these and perhaps the reason that he is still going strong.
My kids know Seeger’s work from the songs I sang to them while we lived aboard a sailboat when they were young and the wind was fresh. My kids know the songs from the days that I am angry with political decisions. “Mom’s singing Seeger," they say. "She’s probably going to go protest something"
I know Seeger’s songs from "Sesame Street" and growing up in Manhattan in the mid-1960s, going to school with Mrs. Lee Roth teaching, ”You can be a patriot, support our service men, and still wish they were home." Mrs. Roth brought classmate Shawn’s father, just back from Vietnam, in and he sang with us Seeger’s tune, “If you love your Uncle Sam, bring 'em home, bring 'em home.”
Then the class sang, "If I had a Hammer," which Mr. Seeger co-wrote with fellow Weaver, Lee Hays, the song about unity, justice, and peace. "If I had a hammer. If I had a bell, I'd ring it in the morning / I'd ring it in the evening all over this land / I'd ring out danger! / I'd ring out warning! / I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land."
The moment I will never forget is when we sang the song Seeger popularized, but didn’t write, “We shall Overcome.” Shawn was African American, my first serious crush in first grade, and I can still see his face as he learned the words. None of us knew them at the start of the song, but by the end we would never forget.
I am not suggesting unrealistic, smarmy family sing-alongs, but maybe it’s time to stop humming quietly alone to the iPod and start singing out loud again. There’s a woman in the neighborhood who walks along the busiest intersections, rain or shine, singing out loud to the world. She does it because she says it makes her feel the power of the Lord and herself.
“When music’s in you, sometimes it gets too big to keep to yourself. You got to share,” she told me.
Seeger’s songs have always been those kinds of songs. I hope he gets Mr. Colbert to sing to his children. Let us be united in song, if in no other way and perhaps even in this modern world with all its woes, we shall overcome.
Last week I wrote about how more fathers are parenting through coaching, but today Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid stands before the world coping with the death of his son Garrett Reid, 29, who had a history of drug issues. Garrett Reid was found dead Sunday morning in a dorm room at the NFL club’s Lehigh University training camp where he often spent time with his father.
Moments of silence were held in major sports venues – moments that also belong to all parents, famous or not, no matter what race or tax bracket, who have lost the battle for their children once drugs entered the picture.
While police said the death was not suspicious, and the cause was under investigation, the history of drug use and issues of both Mr. Reid's sons is a heart-breaker. I know there are those who will seek to attack his parenting, wealth, status, and forget that in this one way, he is no different from every father or mother who has ever struggled to tackle the issue of a child scarred by drug use. By all accounts, Reid was the classic father-model as a man and coach, a tough-on-the-outside “teddy bear.”
“I knew Garrett when he was 14, 15 years old, all of his kids,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told the Associated Press. “The thing with Andy is he’s strong and rock solid, but deep down, he’s a teddy bear and the players who know him know that really well. All of us that know him know that really, really well. It’s why he’s so effective. Is he perfect? No. No one is. But that combination of, again, strength and tenderness is very, very special.”
According to a July 2012 US Department of Health and Human Services National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, summer is prime time for kids trying drugs for the first time, peaking between June and July. Why? Because they’re not in school and have more free, unsupervised, time.
Based on monthly averages between 2002 and 2010, the report states that on an average day in June, July, or December (which is the secondary peak time), more than 11,000 youths used alcohol for the first time; in other months, the daily average ranged from about 5,000 to 8,000 new users.
On an average day in June or July , more than 5,000 youths smoked cigarettes for the first time; in other months, the daily average ranged from about 3,000 to 4,000 new users per day.
On an average day in June or July, more than 4,800 youths used marijuana for the first time, whereas the daily average ranged from about 3,000 to 4,000 in other months.
That would seem to indicate that right now, as parents, we need to be trying to secure the barn door behind the horse. While it’s true that good parenting takes place year-round and should hold through temptations, it helps to know where the weak spots in the fence are located.
The report also tells us nearly 300,000 adolescents used cocaine for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to about 800 new users per day. Also, 500,000 adolescents used hallucinogens for the first time within the past 12 months; about 1,400 new users per day. The daily average for first use of hallucinogens peaked in June and July, but has secondary peaks in October and January.
As the parent of four boys, I find those figures motivational. As someone who runs a free chess program for at-risk children in low-income neighborhoods, I have a deep and abiding contempt for drug dealers, against whom parents and I vie daily with chess and community and snacks as our weapons.
Reid’s son said in the past, according to AP reports, that he enjoyed being a drug dealer in “the hood,” which makes it hard for me to come to grips with this, but the sad fact is that drug dealers are somebody’s sons, too.
And Reid’s pain is written all over him and his team today.
We always ask, “Where were the parents?” My answer, today, seeing this tragedy, is that they were probably praying to be the best kind of parents they could be, working to provide for those children, coming home at night and asking those children, “So, what did you do today?” My guess is that the kids did not volunteer their drug use as an example of their activities.
Are there parents out there failing to ask? Yup. Are there parents not laying down rules, talking about the dangers and not doing all they can to provide guidance? I am sure there are.
However, the danger here is in assuming that because a person’s child is on drugs, selling or dying out there, that it is because that parent did not do all they could do to stop it. The path to the gateway drugs is spread before our kids right now, some may have already begun the walk. As we run after them, let’s pause to remember those who have gone down that path and lay a supporting hand on the shoulders of their parents.