Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ten Myths about America’s Public Schools

Since I retired in 2008, I’ve been working on a book about what good teachers do. That means I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reading hundreds of articles on the state of our nation’s schools. Certain trends in coverage are impossible to miss. One glaring fact is that no one bothers to ask teachers what they think.

As a result, nonsense spouted by ignorant critics is repeated without challenge. Slowly but surely, nonsense becomes myth.

Top Ten Education Myths

1. Myth of the Failing Public Schools:  How do we know U. S. public schools are failing? We look at international competition. Experts insist U. S. kids can barely sharpen their pencils without sticking themselves in their eyes or getting writing devices stuck up their nostrils. In 2012 fifteen-year-olds from the United States finished 21st in reading, 25th in science and 33rd in math compared to kids around the world. We got our red, white and blue butts kicked by Liechtenstein!

And how about all the dropouts! At the rate we’re going the last U. S. high school graduate our nation ever produces will don cap and gown c. 2050. This catastrophic dropout rate is entirely the fault of idiot teachers.

2. Saga of the Idiot Teacher: The reason public schools are failing is because teachers are stupid. According to critics the men and women at the front the classrooms are a sad “collection of warm bodies.” These poor, dumb sods are “chosen from the bottom 20% of their college classes, and not of the best schools.”

(Sources—Brent Staples in the New York Times—Michael R. Bloomberg in a speech at M.I.T.—pretty much any Fox News commentator.)

The author:  a retired educator.
This is what a stupid teacher looks like.
He probably didn't even read all those books.

3. The Helsinki Myth: We need to follow the lead of Finland or Japan because students from those nations score higher in international competitions. Finland—wow—Finland has awesome teachers. The same is true for Japan. And Liechtenstein! That little postage stamp of a country has kick-ass educators.

4. Ghost of the Middle Class Job: The failure of public schools explains our nation’s declining position in a competitive global economy. All the good jobs are disappearing—to Liechtenstein!—because our schools produce graduates who can’t understand math or science or read ordinary street signs.

Typical American job candidate on the way to an interview: “Does that sign say ‘Stop’ or ‘One Way?’ Never mind. It’s a mailbox.”

5. Fable of the Ivy-Covered Wall: Thank god for all the brilliant school reformers, all armed with their own plans to save the children! These people are really smart, especially compared to the rejects manning our classrooms. U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan graduated from Harvard. So he must be correct in every syllable he utters. Michelle Rhee graduated from Cornell. She would run Students First and give speeches about how to fix education for free if only fans would stop paying her five-figure speaker’s fees!

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, also graduated from a prestigious Ivy-League institution.

6. Test it and They Will Come: According to all the greatest school reformers if we do enough testing and “measuring” our schools can be great again. We will test first graders in long division and third graders in physics and measure what every child does in gym. If some chubby girl or boy can’t run a 7:00 mile by the end of eighth grade we will fire the gym teacher!

7. The Voucher that Wouldn’t Die: If standardized testing doesn’t work, even though brilliant reformers insist it will, we will save every child by opening up more charter schools and passing out more vouchers so parents can send sons and daughters to good private schools. Public schools are the problem.

In fact the real cure for what’s wrong with the public schools is probably exorcism.

8. The Teacher Who Walked on Water: If every child had an excellent teacher every year then every child would excel in school. No: every child would live happily ever after! All the girls would marry princes. Brilliant reformers do not plan to rest until they put an excellent teacher into every classroom and even a few coat closets. Not themselves, of course. Oh no. Oh no. They are far too valuable—and well paid—serving as leaders.

These heroes will never stop until Teach for America, founded by Kopp on the principle that we need to replace idiot teachers with smart ones, puts 3,000,000 Harvard and Stanford and Yale graduates into classrooms across the nation. Out go the dumbbells we have. In go the smart people. Okay, sure. Since 1990, the organization has trained only 28,000 teachers; and no one can tell us how many have remained in the classrooms. (They commit to two years.) But not to worry, because the smart people will save us. We are going to demand excellence in the teaching profession, just like we do in Congress. While we are at it every child is going to get a puppy or a kitten.

Maybe a bunny.

9. Myth of the Malevolent Thug: Teachers’ unions are the only reason school reforms fail. The plans can’t possibly be screwed up! Because the planners are all so brilliant! If standardized testing doesn’t work the failure has to be tied to unions. Every union member is a sloth with the scruples of a purse-snatcher. Teaching is a cushy job, especially in inner-city schools, and particularly for those men and women who make it past the five-year mark by which time half of all educators quit and find different employment.

10. Parable of the Adoring Mother: All parents will do right by their children if we pass the right laws. If we hand out vouchers, for example, every mom and dad will sit down and start studying their “school choice” options. Every girl and boy will suddenly have a parent (maybe two!!!) backing them up, working tirelessly to get them into the best schools. Before you can utter the words “Horace Mann” and click your ruby red slippers three times, poor kids will find elite private schools swinging doors wide to admit them. Religious schools will start taking kids with severe behavior disorders because that’s what Jesus would do.

Parental drug and alcohol use, physical and mental abuse of children, homelessness and gang violence, will vanish from the land.


There you have it—the mythical path to educational perfection. Get rid of idiot teachers and hire smart ones. Give all good parents—that’s the only kind there are—plenty of choices and that’s all you need. All the jobs in America will be saved—except maybe the job of “education reformer,” since education will be perfected.

At some glorious future date, when students are tested internationally, America’s kids will finish 1st in reading, 1st in science, and 1st in math.

Then we will be able to say, as proud American’s, “Stick it, Liechtenstein.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Predicament of Innocents

IF YOU CARE ABOUT AMERICAN EDUCATION, I’ve just finished a thought-provoking book on the subject. Odd as this may sound, it made me want to start drinking.

I mean that as a compliment.

A Predicament of Innocents by George S. Stranahan (People’s Press) is filled with good sense if we want to improve schools. Stranahan also highlights critical dangers we face moving forward.

First, let me note that the author has worked with students. I’ve been working on a book about education, myself, and it has been amazing to see how many people write about fixing schools and yet know nothing about:

a) schools—or how to fix them
b) children
c) learning

That’s what made reading the book and talking to Mr. Stranahan later both pleasant and painful. This is a gentleman who has excellent ideas about how to improve the learning experience of children and almost every one of those ideas flies in the face of accepted wisdom.

I was curious, when I spoke to him over the phone, about his background. Did he always know he wanted to be a teacher? No, the “bug bit him” during the Korean War after he was drafted into the U. S. Army. He helped train others in the use of radar systems and he’s been hanging around students now for half a century.

He knows what he’s saying. 

(Once I understood that I poured my first glass of whiskey.)

We don’t agree on every topic (he’s far more pessimistic about regular public schools and I would argue that I worked at an excellent regular public school) but his focus is clear. He cares about children. He cares about helping them become life-long learners. He knows, for example, that you don’t develop skilled learners by feeding them a diet of standardized tests. Stranahan, himself, has a PhD in physics and he’s an award-winning photographer. His wonderful photos of former students provide the skeleton for the book and his ideas give it flesh. 

The focus: students and learning.
(Photograph by George Stranahan.)

I asked him to comment on a variety of issues. Did he think that current reform efforts were helping? No, he replied. “I don’t see any reform…I see a lot more damaging use of test scores.”

(I drain my whiskey and wait a moment to clear the burning in my throat before continuing.)

As head of the Aspen Community School for twenty years, he put his ideas to the test. He hasn’t been buried in the bowels of bureaucracy, hasn’t worked for some think tank. He’s been teaching. I ask what ideas he has for improving learning in our schools. He knows education is a complex business, but if he had one magic bullet he’d push for a “democratic classroom model.”

“If a decision affects students,” he says, “then they participate in the decision-making process.”

WHAT ABOUT THE IDEA—CURRENTLY ACCEPTED by reformers, backed by political figures, and gaining traction with the general public—that we need more standardized tests to “measure” what teachers are doing? He scoffs at the notion, warning that we are “turning schools into assembly lines for kids and making assembly line workers out of teachers.”

(I pause a moment to pour a second shot. This one I down in a gulp.)

Then, is there some way we can recognized good teaching? Stranahan believes the answer is yes, that in his experience it was an “instantaneous read” whether or not a classroom was “healthy.” He says that at Aspen teachers were expected to leave classroom doors open. He could look into a room, he believed, and “read the emotional content” in the faces of students. The quality he looked for in teachers—and here I totally agree—was the ability to make a classroom “a joyful place.”

The words “standardized testing” and “joyful place” will probably never again be used in the same sentence after I finish this one.

Aspen Community School serves the needs of 113 students, with emphasis on “community.” The focus was on “learning to learn,” not learning hemmed in by Common Core Standards. As Stranahan sees it these new standards are designed to force young people to travel a single road, with no exits and one destination:  training for job/college. 

Citing the report of the “Committee of Ten,” which helped set U. S. school policy in 1892, that a college-prep education, including multiple years of Greek and Latin, was appropriate for all students, Stranahan challenges us to consider this possibility: Perhaps not all students need two years of algebra to function in adulthood.

I suppose the answer is obvious enough, since I am not writing my sentences in Greek.

(I polish off another whiskey. At this point I hope I’m not slurring my words; but George is talking sense and I know none of the Big Fixers in education reform have anywhere near as much experience with kids as he does. I just hope drink isn’t making me sound maudlin.)

Meanwhile, Stranahan has studied the Common Core Standards. Ironically, these standards are intended to clean up the mess created by the last round of reforms triggered by passage of No Child Left Behind. He notes one particular requirement—that students learn to:  “Represent addition, subtraction, multiplication and conjugation of complex numbers geometrically on the complex plane; use properties of this representation for computation. For example, (-1 + √3 i)³ = 8 because (-1 + √3 i)³ has modulus 2 and argument 120.°”

(Let’s all pause a moment to finish our computations.)

He cites a second example in A Predicament of Innocents, this time from the eighth grade math standards: “Understand that the patterns of association can also be seen as bivariate categorical data by displaying frequencies and relative frequencies in a two-way table.” He “asked our town mayor, who is also an architect, if he found this essential; he said he didn’t understand a word I said.”

(I pour my fourth whiskey. I am thinking about “mercantilism,” which is a long, sad, story, covered elsewhere.)

THERE ARE A HUNDRED TOPICS I’D LIKE TO ASK about, because here we have a gentleman who understands children, a man with learning in his marrow. I ask about the idea that we have an “achievement gap” in our poorest schools and must punish teachers who fail to close it. He sums up the dilemma in what I think is the funniest line in the entire book: “It is well-known that teaching in have-not schools is very hard work, and now you can be fired for trying.”

Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind has made what goes on in our poorest schools worse. Now education is reduced to this:  “It’s about how to correctly eliminate three out of four bubbles.”

(Down the hatch goes drink #4. I am tempted to start chugging straight from the bottle.)

I know Stranahan is making sense. That’s what troubles me to my core. I explain my theory that almost everything important educators do happens at the classroom level. “Could you ‘decapitate’ the educational system, at the level of school principal, and not do any lasting damage?” Stranahan says he believes you could. The key players are the teachers and school leaders who interact with students, the students themselves, and parents.

“Home is the hidden partner in the education of our young,” he explains. So, at Aspen they involve parents directly in the decision making processes. When they had an influx of Hispanic students they held meetings in Spanish. Often they sent out cars to pick up low-income parents and help them get to school functions.

In his book he argues that the word “teach” must be broadly defined. To “teach” should mean “any practice that causes others to develop skill or knowledge.” A good teacher in a good school is a shepherd, a minister, a nurse (“to look after carefully so as to promote growth.”). George describes the ideal relationship between student and teacher: “I take you seriously because you take me seriously.”

No reader will agree with everything Mr. Stranahan has to say; but here we have a veteran educator talking sense so often lacking in current education debate. He knows that good teachers make a difference. He also knows, “There’s just no easy answer to evaluating teachers, and if good teaching is important to us, we must be willing to look at difficult answers.”

THAT’S HOW THE BOOK ENDS, which may frustrate those who prefer definitive answers. What makes A Predicament of Innocents worth reading, however, is not that Stranahan provides answers so much as that he poses fundamental questions for our consideration. 

“What do you hope readers get out of your book?” I finally ask.

He responds: “I hope it scares them. I hope they see it as a call to action. If we don’t wake up and pay attention to what’s going on in schools, nobody else will. Childhood is a special estate. We must learn to honor that for what it is, a strong and willful beingness, playful, irreverent, spontaneous, direct and honest, representing many behaviors that we might wish to reclaim as adults. I talk about innocence, and being around children helps me to reclaim my own innocence.

“I want to get a whole school district to charter itself into a progressive school system and challenge a bit of authority on the way.”

I thank him for his time and push a button and end the call.

Maybe the whiskey is clouding my judgment; but I feel I’ve just talked to someone who has insights into the heart and soul of education. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Loveland Students Make Good: Part Three

IF YOU TEACH AS LONG AS I DID it’s inevitable that you will mix up former students in your mind. Some you see you believe are almost certain will go on to success. Most you think will lead happy, productive lives.

One young man I had in class, however, made Cincinnati’s “Ten Top Most-Wanted List” a quarter century later.

In his case, even that was no surprise.

Let’s start this installment with one of my favorite former students, Lynn Holman (Blessing), who, as far as I know it, has never been in jail in her life. This may sound funny; but I had Lynn in class during my early years in Loveland—during an era when corporal punishment was still regularly applied. Yep, I swatted this young lady.

For not doing her homework.

Certainly, that sounds strange today:  “Teacher swats favorite student.” Yet it’s true. I also flunked Ms. Holman for history the first year I had her. Again: strange, but true.

Here’s what I discovered in those early years. It was not uncommon to have very bright students who didn’t use their talents and Lynn was one. The following year I asked the principal to place Ms. Holman back in my class. Again:  that may sound counter-intuitive. I had faith, though. This time Lynn turned herself around and proved she had an excellent mind. Same nice young lady—same brain—but now a solid “B” student. I think she woke up and realized she could do so much more with her talents than she thought and I was never prouder of any young lady I had in my class.

What’s she up to these days? Raising a son she dearly loves. Recently remarried. Still using her talents—running her own business, “Garden Girl Landscaping” in Germantown, Ohio. In fact, her latest Facebook status says it all:

“I’m so excited. The dream I’ve dreamt of being a landscaper for the last 25 years has really come true. I have an awesome man who supports and helps me more than anyone ever has...and I’ve recently gotten some really great accounts for some really nice people.”

Ms. Lynn Blessing, right.
Not afraid of a little hard work.

That's my former student up in the tree,
getting ready to jump in the river. No wimp is she.

In the late 90s, as part of a “March Madness” unit for Language Arts classes, Loveland Middle School used to bus 300 seventh graders down to Lexington to tour the University of Kentucky. The idea for the trip was the product of the fertile imagination of Mrs. Jeane Weisbrod, one of my favorite colleagues, who also did most of the organizing for the trip. One year stands out, when our greeter at UK was Sarah Hager, a former student and Loveland High School grad.

It didn’t surprise us to see that the University of Kentucky would choose Sarah as the perfect spokesperson to create a good impression.

Sarah left a good impression wherever she went.

Eventually, Ms. Hager returned to Loveland Middle School, as an aide in the special education department. Today, she’s the Intervention Specialist at Norwood High School. She reports that “Bubba,” her brother Jeff (another star student from days of yore), is “a science teacher at the Buckeye Ranch in Grove City. It’s an alternative school for kids that have been removed from public school for behavioral and/or mental issues.” Sarah continues: “We both LOVE teaching. We had many great teachers growing up…and their positive influence helped guide us into the teaching field.”

If I was a young teacher, just now starting out, I’d try to keep a few brief notes about all of my students; because the names do jumble. I have one note that says Jeff “took a bow during his skit.” It had to have been funny or I wouldn’t have noted it. Today I can’t recall what the skit would have been about or why the bow was so timely.

All I remember is that Jeff could be hysterical in class.

Sad, but so true:
Sarah (standing) was once a fan of NSYNC.
If teaching doesn't work out, I think
Sarah and her husband are considering becoming sheep herders.
That's her brother, Jeff, right.

Josh Brock reminded me of myself when I had him in seventh grade. I could see he had talent; but his grades were up and down. (In seventh grade, mine were mostly down and down.) He could think for himself, however, and I liked that in any student.

His manners were flawless, too.

Mr. Brock was the kind of young man you figured would do well someday and so he has. The same is true for brother Justin, another good man to have in class, who just finished his second tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Marines.

Josh writes:
From a professional stand-point, after having come out of Cincinnati State for Biotechnology and Chemical Technology I find myself living near Louisville, Kentucky, working for a contract laboratory company specializing in DNA sequencing. Personally speaking, I am getting married on October 6th to a fine woman who has two great kids and can’t ever remember being happier.

Mr. Brock (left) in casual attire.
Unidentified friend (right).
These days Josh still plays a little hockey for fun.

It’s not often a teacher can say, “My  former student is a professional poker player.” But with Noah Campbell, that statement is true.

At least it was. There was a time when Noah made good money playing in Texas Hold Em tournaments. Then he met a good woman, settled down, had a child, and decided to go into teaching.

Tragically, he remembers getting in trouble in my class one day, over some minor infraction. As many of my former students may fondly recall, I used to assign dumb ssays, as kind of a warning to everyone to stop any minor fooling around.

Noah had to write 200 words on the topic:  “My Date with Smurfette.”

Noah was not scared by the experience and adds, “I ended up doing stuff like that with my students too. Turned a punishment into a fun writing assignment.”

Currently, he stays busy raising his daughter Sophia. For five years he taught third grade at Northpointe Academy, a Toledo charter school. Recently, he says, he “was promoted to the position of School Improvement Coordinator for The Leona Group, a management company that has about 60 schools nationwide. I oversee eight schools in Ohio and Michigan, working with them on their grant funding, and their school improvement planning.”

I think a quote he has posted on Facebook gives you some idea of what kind of young man Mr. Campbell has become:  “Your beliefs don’t make you a better person. Your behavior does.”

Noah's daughter, Sophia.
I couldn't resist including her picture.

Noah (left above) sings in a barbershop quartet.
At least he made the paper for doing something good.

Mr. Campbell agreed to dye his hair pink
if students did well on the Ohio Achievement Assessment test.

I think Suzy Culbertson made it all the way through my history class without ever losing her good humor or her patented smile. I remember her, first, as a very fine writer (even though I once gave her an “F” on a paper after she made foul use of the dread words, “things,” or “stuff.” Again, students may recall that rule of writing in my class).

At any rate, Ms. Culbertson was fantastic in skits and plays in history and once served as the narrator in our famous play, “Jessica of Troy,” loosely based on Homer’s Iliad. I am blaming Mr. Sharpless, my trusted colleague, for that idea. The play focused on Helen of Troy, Hector and Achilles—and the inimitable Jessica Simpson.

Suzy was a fine student in all kinds of ways and a joy to have in class every day. She did drama in middle school, later dabbled in community theater, and right now…I mean this very instant…she is studying biology at the University of Iowa.

No doubt she’ll do well. The girl has incredible talents.

Suzy in the mountains near Boulder, Colorado.
Culbertson, tuckered out after hiking those mountains.

Betsy Barre stands out as one of the most mature teens I ever happened to meet. True, most of the time you can’t even use the word “maturity” in a sentence about teens, but Ms. Barre was preternaturally mature in eighth grade. Maybe she had to be—since her mother was also the dread principal of the school! Ha, ha, only kidding. Her mom was also cool.

I also remember how Betsy challenged herself to read more advanced books for my class.

So, what has she been up to recently? First, she attended Bowling Green State with the idea of becoming a music education major. One class in philosophy, however, and she was hooked and majored in philosophy. She met her husband around the same time and both went on to earn PhD’s at Florida State. Then they jumped around to various colleges. Ms. Barre taught Islamic Studies at Lake Forest College, then Philosophy and Religious Studies at Marymount Manhattan College. Now she and her husband both work at Rice University. She adds:
He’s teaching Poli Sci and I’m teaching in their new freshman seminar program. These courses are small (15!) and can be on just about any topic of interest. They’re designed to help introduce freshman to academic life (learning how to write, read, critically think, etc.) Last semester I taught a Religion & Politics course (on the philosophy and history of church-state relations in the U. S.) and this semester I’m teaching a course on Religion and Sexuality.

Again, as with the gentleman who went on to make the “Top Ten Most Wanted List,” but this time in a good way, I’m not surprised to hear what Ms. Barre is doing with her life.

(I might also add that her sister, Jill, another mature and excellent student of mine a few years back, is teaching at Milford High School. Kevin, their brother, escaped being in my class, and is currently an assistant principal at a middle school in Brunswick, Ohio.

The Barre’s have education in their bone marrow.

One of my favorite pictures:  Betsy sent me this picture of her library
and said I helped turn her into a serious reader.
Betsy back in what she labels her
"nerd" days.

Besty and husband: Betsy looking a little more sophisticated.

Brandi Rush (Campbell) was born on Valentine’s Day—and grew up in Loveland. What are the chances of that!

Sometimes, I tend to mix up brothers or sisters from the same family in my old teaching brain. So, let me start by saying that all of the Rush siblings I had were entertaining in class. Brandi was lively and involved and a bright young lady. My memory is that she was a cheerleader in middle school, during the Big Poofy-Hair 80s.

Her sister Julie was also cool. Julie is now a police officer “somewhere in Cincinnati,” and I’ll put her picture in my blog sometime if I get permission—and let me say right here, to Julie, that if you should ever stop an old gray-haired man for speeding, and you notice the name “Viall” on his license, then maybe let him slide on the ticket.

As for Jerry, he was one of the most comical kids I ever had in history class and I always enjoyed students who could make me laugh. Today he’s in the restaurant business.

Here’s how Brandi describes herself on Facebook:

“What you see is what you get!!!!!!...I am married and have two kids Jack, and Liam, we have one dog his name is Chet. I love animals, Jam bands, beer, watching movies, hanging out with friends, riding my bike, swimming, painting abstract art, making my friends smile, camping, fishing, hiking, most importantly my family so you mess with them you will regret it!!!!!!!!!”

(I counted the exclamation points there—and decided Brandi meant it; plus, her sister is a cop. Okay, no messing with Ms. Campbell or her family)

Among things she hates (I didn’t use the word “things,” former students. Brandi did):

1. Snakes

2. People who think they’re better than you

3. Men that wear the pants past their butts

4. People that turn their radio so loud that it thumps, but their speakers suck, so it sounds like crap

She listed others; but that’s enough. What matters is she’s practicing her art, and raising two sons, which is art in itself, and says “I love all my friends and family very much.”

Like I say: if you’re a teacher you can expect that most of the kids you teach are going to turn out just fine as adults.

Brandi (left), Julie (right) back in the good old days.

Brandi's abstract art.
Brandi's art of raising good children.

Lynzi M. Engel (Beadle) was one of the hardest-working students I had back in 2002, not to mention one of the very nicest. I wasn’t surprised to find that she was full of fun and ideas. I knew it ran in the family. I had her brother, Adam three years later, another star student, and knew their dad from basketball, too. And…what the heck…how old am I??

I had mom in class back in…back in…crap…who can remember?

I think it was Lynne, her mom, and several of her “hoodlum friends,” who brought me a bag of potato chips one day, after I mentioned in class that I ate chips whenever frustrated. My memory is that their class had been frustrating as hell the day before.

So I think they thought I needed salty solace.

Normally, Lynne was a joy to have in class, too, and Lynzi was a chip off the Engel iceberg and always easy to teach. Here, I suppose I should apologize for repeatedly making her name the correct answer to joke questions on various tests.

(Did I mention that Lynzi had a great sense of humor?)

So how is Lynzi faring in 2013? She has her undergraduate degree in speech language pathology from Ohio State and she’s happily married. She sends word to me electronically: “When I further my education it will either be for Speech or Special Education…I will be working with either speech students as [a] special education teacher or vice versa. Still deciding and praying for a clear decision.”

Ms. Beadle calls herself “a follower of Jesus Christ” who “created me into the person I am today.” What that is that was created is a very good person, from what I remember.

I suspect Lynzi is the same fine young lady today.

Lynzi as a baby; Lynne holding her tight.
Both star students during my teaching career.

(Dad was really good in basketball, too.)

Lynzi, left, Adam, right.

Mr. and Mrs. Beadle
at their OSU-themed wedding.

Last, but not most assuredly not least, we have Ms. Jara Bonner. I remember her as a bright and caring and nice young lady. She, too, was mature beyond her years and wanted to do her best, which is the standard all of us should follow.

After she graduated from Loveland she went on to earn a degree at Xavier. I checked her Facebook page to see what she was up to. Right away, I noticed she included this statement:

“I love my son, he is the greatest gift that I will ever receive. I love to read, travel and spend time with my son and my family.”

I also noticed that Jara quotes Rene Descartes (I told you she was smart):

“All the same, it could be that I am mistaken, and what I take for gold and diamonds is perhaps nothing but a bit of copper and glass.”

So, I send her a message and ask her to fill me in on what she’s now doing. She replies:
I loved doing skits in your class, and I still remember that I had to write an essay on my date with Goofy! [Noah Campbell can relate.] !! I don't even remember what I did, I just remember having to write. LOL I am currently playing around with returning back to school to pursue a masters’ degree, in what I have no clue…When I am not working, I volunteer with a project entitled The Family Is First Project. This is a group/ministry for inmates, ex- offenders and their family members. The group encourages rehabilitation, education and self-development of those behind bars as well as providing support to the family members. The group currently meets inside Warren County Prison. I am also a Chemical Dependency Drug Counselor Assistant.

I will probably switch gears soon and move into more of a social service position. My son Markus is 18, and will be attending Mt. St. Joe in the fall, he will be playing football, and studying Law Enforcement. I still love to read, recently learned to ski, [and] I might take it up next season.

Raising a good son—helping people rebuild their lives—no surprise, from what I remember of this young lady.

So let me finish this post with a positive note for anyone who reads this far. When I hear people wondering, “What’s wrong with young people today?” I always want to reply, “Nothing.”

I must totally agree with Mr. Markus Bonner.
Mom!  A Steelers' jersey???
Raise a good son and you have an accomplishment.
That's what Jara is about.