I KNOW THAT I AM REALLY OUT OF IT

I don’t usually feel old. Yes, the little accommodations that you make because your knee hurts, or the pills that you take to lower your pressure are somewhat of an annoyance. When I look at myself in the mirror, my mind does the fandango. Who the hell is that old man in the mirror with the shaving cream on his ears. My brain rejects the picture and is off to repair any damage that was done when looking at that visage.

By the time I finish shaving, I am back to being about 35 years old, going to the gym and working out with my cut off tee shirt and my gym shoes. I feign being cool as I walk out the door into my station wagon. I put my gym junk on the back seat, pull out of the garage, put on ESPN on my satellite radio and I am in a cocoon that makes me feel that I am not approaching 72.

Once in a great while, I am able to sneak away from our business and family travel to go to an afternoon movie. Carol has no interest in the kind of movies that I like, although I do enjoy some chick flicks and tear jerkers ( no Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts for me). My usual bill of fare is science fiction, fantasy, Harry Potter, comedies( good ones) and sometimes a good foreign film or film with a meaning beyond just entertainment.

I would rather see the new Star Trek, which I have purchased , than a film of significance. What a treat to see two Spocks, one old and one young. The younger one is a graduate of the Governor’s School for the Arts ( which does not exist anymore). Once in a great while, I will deliberately see a film that an adult should not see- a kids film. I do go to see things like Narnia with my grandchildren and maybe Spy Kids, never Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The other day I fell for the advertisement for the movie, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” I thought that it would kind of give me a handle about what the current crop of kids feel is important. It seems to have been very popular. I went to the Regal Cinemas and announced, as I usually do, “ One old person for Scott Pilgrim.”

At three in the afternoon, there are very few people in the movie theater. I was able to stretch out in my seat and put my feet on the railing. I lived through 6 or 7 promos for new movies coming out ( I vowed not to see any of them) and settled back to see the feature. I was not aware that the feature had started. Usually there is some intro with music of a sort and the words feature film on the screen. This time they just went into the movie.

Essentially, the movie was about a young man ( age 22) who lives in a garage across the street from his parents home ( you never see them) who pursues a girl through the entire movie. He is forced to fight a number of her ex-boyfriends and at some point in the movie I was rooting for the ex-boyfriends. I did not know till the final credits that this was taken from an illustrated novel ( big comic book) and was narrated by someone from Saturday Night Live ( not Dan Akroyd or Chevy Chase).

Now that you have the essence of the movie, let me tell you, that if you are close to my age- between say 30 and 95, don’t go and see it. I never realized how out of touch I am with current youth happenings till I saw this movie. All of the references were to things I could not comprehend. It was not just the new toys- ipods, blackberries, ipads, but a host of song references, game references, comic references, relationship references, general music references and so much more.

It was not that I did not understand what was happening, but I did not understand the motivation for any of the characters. Maybe the cartoons, video games, music, and such was all the motivation they needed. The apex of the movie was so over the top ( for me) that it took me a minute or two of silent meditation to get over it myself.

I am just wondering if everyone reaches a certain age when current pop culture passes you by. Did I believe that I would always be current with what kids were doing? Sometimes, I have no clue what some of the ads on t.v. are referring to. Thank goodness there is a science fiction channel.

ERRATA

As a trivia freak, I sometimes amuse myself by reading all sorts of trivial information about things that have no useful purpose. I don’t really collect these little tidbits and factoids, but store them in my head so that I can amuse myself during the downtimes in my life. Here are a bunch of completely extraneous pieces of information:

1. Orestes Minnie Minoso and Nick Altrock played in the major leagues in five different decades.
2. The overwhelming number of American Presidents were born in rural areas.
3. The Loco Foco Party of the 1840’s was virulently anti-immigration.
4. Joseph Stalin’s name was Yosip Vassarionivich Dzhugashvilli ( that’s from memory).
5. My grandfather, Israel Bernstein, came here in 1912 on the steamship Kaiser Wilhelm.
6. Stan Laurel came to this country on the same ship and in the same vaudeville troupe as Charlie Chaplin.
7. Oliver Hardy was an excellent baseball player.
8. Mary Shelley, wife of the poet Shelley, and author of Frankenstein, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first women’s libbers.
9. The 1906 Chicago Cubs produced 3 Hall of Famers- Frank Chance, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers. They were immortalized in a poem by Grantland Rice. Two of the three would not have been elected to the Hall without the fame of the poem and poet, The third baseman, Hank Zimmerman is all but forgotten.
10. John Dewey, great educator and philosopher was an assistant principal at the high school in Oil City, PA.
11. Purring doesn’t always mean that cats are happy or at ease.
12. My mom thought that the world was flat till the day that she died.
13. Cary Grant’s real name was Archie Leach.
14. Pluto is no longer a planet.
15. There is a degree higher than the PhD- Doctor of Social Science
16. John F. Kennedy was our only Catholic President
17. In the classic silent film of Laurel and Hardy, “ Big Business” ( an anti-war film)- the house destroyed in the film was not the house they were supposed to destroy.
18. Robert Wadlow was the tallest person on record 8ft.11.1 inches.
19. Judy Garland’s real name was Frances Gumm
20. The plane that Buddy Holly died in was called “American Pie.” Hence the name of the Don McLean song.
21. Richie Valens allegedly could not speak Spanish ( La Bomba).
22. What did the 2000 year old man eat- clouds, mountain water and once in a while a stuffed cabbage.
23. The atomic symbol for lead is Pb.
24. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament was initially created by 72 ( sept) scholars at the behest of King Ptolemy. It was done in the 3rd century B.C.E. and completed in the second century B.C.E.
25. Erik Von Daniken believes that earth was first populated by ancient astronauts.
26. The latest theory is that serial killers are predisposed to those actions from birth.

THINGS AREN’T GOING TOO WELL AND I KNOW WHY

I have been lobbying on behalf of rural schools since 1977. I have had my ups in downs in that area. I have never had the clout that others have had. I did not have any political contributions to give out. However, I want to tell you a secret known to only a few. You cannot tell anyone else about this because then they will know and use it for their own ends.

There are two groups of people in the legislature that one has to deal with- the legislators themselves and their staffs. When you boil things down to the folks that really get things to move- it is the leadership in all four caucuses- Republicans in the House and Senate and Democrats in the House and Senate. That does not make for a great number of people. Does that mean that others are not meaningful? No it does not. There are certain issues that come up that are within the purview of certain legislators and their staffs.

Since my issues have always centered around education, I became acquainted with those staff members and legislators who dealt with those issues. For over thirty years Paula and Jan have been my friends and cohorts. Anything that I have accomplished in the way of helping rural schools has come through them and also through David, in the Senate.

Education had always been a non partisan issue. Jan, the Democrat, Paula the Republican have made that their credo. Their way of doing things was to tamp down the things that they did not feel was good for kids and support and push those things that they considered positive for children in our schools. Many of the most groundbreaking legislation came through their pens ( or computers).

Although they worked apart from each other most of the time, they worked along the same lines. Depending on who the majority was in the House of Representatives, they would assume differing roles.

Of necessity, their mutual feelings for kids and public education, had to be subsurface when dealing with such issues as vouchers, charter schools and school takeovers. Somehow, when things came out the other end, they were never quite as harsh or negative as people thought they would be. I attribute that to both of them.

Sometimes, their roles were to oppose what a particular administration wanted to do. That was the trickiest thing of all. If the Governor and his minions were of one party and the House was of the same party, it made it difficult to oppose or ramp down what they wanted to do. Not that they were not loyal to their bosses, but, as one would think, sometimes leadership is a slippery slope.

If the leaders asked either Jan or Paula to create a piece of education legislation, or to meet with other staff to settle the education budget, or a rather contentious item, they were at leave to meet with each other and settle the issue. Approval was certainly sought from the leadership. However, most of the time, the issue was agreed to by the leadership at a joint meeting or independently.

Jan and Paula pretty much remained in the background on all of this legislation. They rarely appeared together at hearings or in the public domain ( other than to have lunch once in awhile). Things are not going as well as they have because both of these women have retired. The wrangling has become noxious, now even in education. We all miss both them, but not me. I will be having lunch with them very soon.

WHEN GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE

You go into your boss’ office expecting that he/she will tell you that you did an incredible job and that you will be getting a bonus. The amount of the bonus will allow you to pay off your extant bills and possibly start work on finishing your basement. The kids really need some place to play with their friends when the winter comes on and they track mud into the living room, bedrooms and kitchen. The picture of being debt free and able to fix up the house makes you kind of trance like as you face your boss.

“ Arnold, you have done an incredible job this year. The feedback on you from all of the branch offices has been magnificent. The task that we gave you a year ago has gotten done ahead of time and better than the company could ever imagine. We wish that we could give you a giant raise and substantial bonus right now, but it will have to wait while we get out of this cash flow problem we are in. Just keep up the good work and great things will happen to you. The company owes you big time.”

You leave the office in a state of confusion. You think that you heard the boss tell you that you are just wonderful, but you will not be getting any rewards for your work. You know all about the capitalist system. You have an MBA from a fine university in business and economics. You believe that the company is in good shape enough to give you something. You saved the company well over a billion dollars this year. Where did all that money go?

You walk out of the office. The boss’s administrative assistant says, “Arnold, what just happened in there?” I give her the answer and she looks wide eyed at me. “How can that be?” she exclaims. “ Why that creepy, lazy bum, Ernie Slacker got a really hefty bonus and you work more in a day than he does the entire year.”

I turn around quickly and walk out of the office. How can that be true. Slacker is a horrible worker and also a rotten person. There are more complaints about him than complaints about all other middle management people combined. He has been accused of sexual harassment, stalking some of his underlings, and taking lots of vacation days that he is not entitled to. He threatens his staff and gives them no presents at holiday times. He is a vulture and one of the worst managers he has ever seen. This must be some kind of mistake.

No, it wasn’t. It was indeed true. Slacker got a huge bonus and a raise. I checked to see if he was related to any of the upper management people or members of our corporate board. He was not. How could the upper management people make such a mistake? But they did and I could do nothing about it.

After a time, I thought about an offer that I had from another company a while ago. It was about the same money, bonuses were plentiful and they were given out on a regular basis. Who was that head hunter that called me about it. I believe I have the number at home. Maybe that job is still available. A little more travel, but not significantly more than now. I will call him tomorrow.

Right, how does this stuff happen? Why is it that sometimes the lousiest, most rotten people have great things happen to them. Is it the old “balance of the universe,” thing? You can’t always have all of your Yings in your life. You must also have some Yangs- some unexplainable downturns that have nothing to do with anything.

I once was called by a friend who did superintendent searches. He said that I would be perfect for this suburban district with about 15,000 kids. I was not really interested, but kind of did it as a favor. After I sent in my papers, I was one of five finalists. I became enthused at the interview. The school board looked liked they really wanted to improve the school system. I began to go back an forth with them on educational philosophy, community involvement, technology ( such as it was then), going on to college rates an so on. After a while it was a conversation and not an interview. I was intrigued.

After the interview, my friend, who sat in also, told me that it was the best interview, bar none, that he had ever seen. To say that I was elated is to downplay my enthusiasm. I was certain that I could work with these people. The next day, my friend called and said that I had NOT gotten the job. He had absolutely no understanding about what happened. The person chosen was not a good candidate and had been a failure elsewhere. The interview had not gone well and my friend was certain I was going to get the job.

As it turned out, the person who DID get the job did a poor job of it. After a time it was apparent to the board that the superintendent was causing a rift in the community. They asked the superintendent to leave. This person then got an even better job, more salary and benefits and a host of perks.

At my age, I have seen many of these happenings. Yes, good people do have nice things happen to them. They may even succeed more than the negative people. However, it’s the rotten people who remain in your mind forever. Maybe that’s what this is all about. We expect nice people to succeed. Whether a religious thought or a philosophical thought, good should triumph in all cases. If you watch Law and Order once in while, you know that’s not true.

Is it God’s mystical plan for the universe that we cannot understand, or just our own memories of bad people having good things happen to them?

OLD PERSON’S SMELL

One of the great joys of my life is to be with my grandchildren. We have taken each of our grandchildren to Niagara Falls when they have reached eight years of age. We have one more to go and that won’t be for another three years. Cassidy is five years old and going into kindergarten. Not sure that her teacher will be ready for her. Cassidy is an articulate trip.

When they reach eight, we ask each of them if they would like to take one of their siblings or cousins with them. This time, 8 year old Jack ( my son’s boy) asked if he could take eleven year old Logan ( my daughter’s son) with us. Carol and I agreed readily.

The boys were delivered to our house on Saturday night and Sunday morning. By 10:30 we were ready to go. We never travel up to Niagara in one day. We have a tradition of staying in Batavia, New York, going to dinner and playing some card games like crazy eights or 52 pickup. As I was brushing my teeth, Jack looked at me and asked, “Grandpa, why are your teeth green?” I looked down at his sincere little face and stated, “ Wow, Jack, I didn’t know that.” The conversation just kind of trailed off into the distance. I kind of brushed my teeth a little harder to bring back some of the whiteness of the past.

We wended our way over the Rainbow Bridge to Canada. We oohed and aahed as we passed the Canadian and American Falls. Since Logan had been there twice before with his older brother and with his younger sister, he became the announcer and tour guide of our small group. Jack was fascinated by the crossing at the Peace Bridge border and asked us a million questions. He was most interested in cars, as was his dad, Marc, when he was a boy.

The next morning we were ready to make it out the door to our first trip on the peoplemover to the Butterfly Conservatory. For such an occasion, I was shaving when Logan walked in and looked at my aftershave. “Grandpa, that is a really old smell,” as I lathered it on my face. I asked him what he meant. “Nobody uses that stuff.” I thought for a moment. I had been using Canoe for as long as I can remember. When I was young, it was the in essence. The old stuff was Old Spice, Mennen and the various lotions that came out of barbershop bottles.

Now Canoe was an old smell. I wondered if the old smell was equivalent to my memory of old people smell when I was a kid. I believe that the smell was of mothballs. Memories of smells remain with you for most of your life. The odor of mothballs was probably because clothes were stored in them in closets all over the places in which I grew up. I associated the smell with old people who probably wore clothes that had been packed in them.

As Logan was standing in the bathroom talking to me, I looked at the plethora of pill bottles aligned on the countertop. I wondered if Logan noticed them too and associated them with Grandpa and Grandma. If he did, he said nothing about them. My children remember us as younger people. We were more active, had more hair, and did not smell “old.” My son and daughter can even remember me playing basketball and taking jump shots. If I do that now, and come down on my heels. I have to take an Alleve as soon as possible.

It’s all perception. My grandchildren see me the way I am now- fun to be with for short periods of time and always eager to hear what they have to say and quick to give them money when they want to go to the arcade. They see us for what we are- older folks who have to watch what they eat and careful about straining ourselves. However, there is something so much more important that they see. They know that we love them and that they are part of us and of our family.

EXPERT IN THE FIELD

So, since I have been to doctors for treatment most of my life, I now feel compelled to tell you that I will be hanging out my shingle next week and will begin to practice. Prior to that event, I will pen a number of tomes explaining how we might fix all the things that are wrong with the medical profession. I will condemn most medical schools for their lack of attention to homeopathy, patient needs, overuse of drug therapy and assorted other maladaptive behaviors of those institutions.

After finishing with the medical schools, I will continue to review all of things that I want to see changed in hospital care. I have been in numerous hospitals, and I find them all pretty much the same- inefficient, time wasting and lacking in the skills necessary to rehabilitate patients. They cost too much. I was charged $1,226 in the emergency room for a three hour visit. An additional $300 was added for an x-ray and a Doppler thingie for my ankle. I believe that I could run that hospital better than the current administrator.

I also have had much experience dealing with the legal profession. For 10 year I was in court with a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s funding system. I have also been sued a number of times as a school superintendent. I have a degree in political science and am familiar with a number of constitutional cases.

I am conversant with criminal law, having testified a number of times both for and against people accused of a crime. I have known some judges and have seen how they make their decisions. I have a handle on how the court systems work because I have been an arbitrator for many years.

I would begin my criticism of the legal profession by having law schools change their manner of preparing lawyers. There are too many courses dealing with ethics and suchlike. Most courses should be related to civil and criminal suits- prosecution and defense. No more of this nonsense about real estate law and corporate and international law. We also turn out too many lawyers who then go and take other jobs when they can’t find a space in the legal profession.

I believe that I can do any job in the legal field including running a law school and running a law office. I have seen all of these things and that is the truth.

Over the past few years, it has become obvious to me that the business world is not what it should be. Since I have been involved in business transactions over my lifetime, it seems to me that I could do a better job running a large company, investing in hedge funds, stocks and bonds and running the Federal Reserve System.

Ben Bernanke has the same background that I do. His folks came here in 1921, as did my mother. We both went to elementary school, high school and college. He has a doctorate and so do I. His doctoral dissertation was “Long-term commitments, dynamic optimization, and the business cycle,” and mine was not. I do, however understand long term commitments. I have been married for 47 years. I understand dynamic optimization because I am an optimistic person and I certainly understand business cycles. It goes up and it goes down.

As for running a large company, it there really anything else to having to manufacture something, hiring people to produce it and pay them low wages and sell them to consumers or other companies? You spend less than you earn, have a profit and give your shareholders a couple of bucks to keep them satisfied.

As far as investing is concerned, all you need is a stash to begin with, preferably somebody else’s and put it into stocks and bonds that you get a commission on. You can even fake everyone out by saying that you are investing their money and actually keep the money for yourself and send the chumps pieces of paper with numbers on it. How hard can it be?

Sound silly? It is. So why is it true that we have people who have never taught in a public school, run a school building, administered a school district or anything else, telling us how to run schools? It is this very fact that has made reading, writing and arithmetic lower on the totem pole than: constant testing, health and nutrition ( the latest panacea for fixing our kids), driver training, feeding kids breakfast lunch and after school snacks, family counseling, drug and alcohol education, and so many other societal issues that schools probably can’t fix.

The experts are governmentalists of all stripes- conservatives, liberals and lunatics, private companies who want a slice of the money, social activists, creationists, evolutionists, foundations ( with no responsibilities to the public),business people, legislators, snake oil salespeople selling the latest educational panacea, and elected officials and on and on and on. Somehow, I wish they would leave education alone for a while and try and fix their own problems for a change.

THE JOY OF EDUCATION IN MY DOTAGE

There is nothing in the English language to express the joy one feels, after having been in education for about 49 years, when someone you taught, had dealings with as an administrator, a scholarship dispenser or any other educational entanglement, contacts you. It takes all the pain that you have felt about the youngsters that you believe that you failed- Melvin, Carlos, Bernard, Samantha,Yusuf, Mindy, Erica, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Bradley and so many more.

Just recently, Carol and I had the pleasure of meeting with Karen who had been in my first 9th grade class when I became principal at the Kutztown Area Junior High School. Karen had family problems and mostly lived with another adult couple in the community as fast as she could. She left soon afterward to join the Navy. She spent three years in the Navy and was then given a chance to go to college and get an R.O.T.C. scholarship.
She remained in the Navy for 24 years. She came out with an advanced rank of Captain and became a very successful consultant for a number of years. She is now in the process of doing some wonderful things for servicemen who have become disabled mentally or physically. She has been happily married for almost 20 years and lives in the Washington D.C. area.

Janice was a student of mine when I taught at Thomas Williams Junior High School. She has been a successful educator, has her Doctorate in English as a second language and is part of the Distinguished Educator group teaching new superintendents how to begin their careers. We are in constant contact with Janice and went to her wedding a few years ago. We had dinner with her recently and one of her classmates, Bob.

Travis was one of our McKelvey Scholars. The area that he comes from is particularly rural. He went to Juniata College and was eminently successful. He said that he would try and meet one new person every day, each day of the year. He did succeed. He is now working for PPG and is located near Chicago. He spends a great deal of time on the road reviewing the work of other offices of PPG.

Christian was one of the first McKelvey Scholars. His school district was not going to allow him to go and visit Lehigh University because he would lose his perfect attendance record. Carol and I convinced the superintendent to excuse that day and still give him the award. He went to Lehigh for undergraduate and graduate work. He now has a family and has a great job with a well known firm as a manufacturing/process engineer.

Anna came from Tioga County and when she went to Juniata College she called us the first week. She said she could not stay there because there were people with certain views about abortion that she could not countenance. We asked her if those views had changed her mind. She said no. Six years later he is completing her Doctorate at the University of Zurich in microbiology and has presented three original papers at international conferences.

Emily is now at Haverford College. When she went to Westtown Boarding School ( An old Quaker school with a long history of having both genders), her dad called us within the first month. He told us that Emily was going to a parade in Washington D.C. We were confused and asked what kind of parade. He said he really didn’t know. We were a bit apprehensive and when he called a few weeks later and asked us if we had known it was an abortion rights march. We said that we really had not known, but we were sure it was not a parade. Emily is now in her senior year and is majoring in peace studies and has done a bundle of community service both here and in foreign countries.

We still have hope for Muhammad. He and his brothers and sister were raised by their mom in Susquehanna County ( then the poorest county in the state). In 1999, their mom was killed in an auto accident leaving the four children destitute. The community pitched in and helped the family. Muhammad applied for the McKelvey Scholarship in 2001 and went to Juniata College where he graduated in 2006. The past years have been tough for Muhammad. He has been at many different jobs. He is talented in music ( he plays an number of instruments), art, acting, food preparation, and writes well. He hooked on with a gentleman named Mr. Recipe ( Aaron Issacson) in New York and Aaron has been shepherding Muhammad through culinary school and now at various food prep jobs. Aaron thinks that Muhammad will be a great chef someday.

I have no idea where Jose Rosa is today. When I began teaching in 1961 Jose appeared in one of my classes. He was then 19 years of age and a part of the New York City Schools attempt to bring back some of the students who had dropped out. Jose was three years younger than me. He was so eager to learn and to participate. He would shush the younger kids when they got rowdy. I found out later that he completed high school and may have gone on to college.

Susan is still in school. She is in her sophomore year and did very well as a freshman. She was from a strict Amish sect. Somehow Susan did not want to follow the role of the typical Amish young woman. She wanted more education. That was not the way of her family. She moved out and lived with other people in the community and was shunned by her family. When we first came to know her, it was at Camp at Mansfield University. She was troubled by having to share a room with another young lady. He background was so different. She was able to get a single room and later the university allowed her to have a single in her freshman year. She works and does so well in her studies.

Andy McKelvey loved entrepreneurial kids. Josh went to Slippery Rock and started selling used books online almost immediately. In his junior year he had so many books and so many sales, he had to buy a house to store them. He then got into the real estate business. Would you believe, he is doing none of those things now. He is a district manager of a large food service corporation and is doing unbelievably well. Just saw him at an event last Summer.

Dale got into the Len fest program as a junior. He was constanly being bothered by his public school athletic coaches to play ball because he was so big. Dale had not interest and when we entered him into the program at Mercersburg, he asked to be involved only in extra curricular sports. He graduated from Bucknell after a five year engineering program and is now taking his Master’s Degree at Lehigh University.

Then there is LaToya, who went from not having a residence to graduation at the Perkiomen School, to graduating from Ursinus College ( we owe President Strassburger a great deal for helping with LaToya) to studying in Spain to doing community service in Washington D.C., to getting a full scholarship to Yale Divinity School.

Yup, all of the stories aren’t that good, but so many of them are. More than anyone ( including us) would think. We know that our kids have gone to four year colleges from the scholarship programs at an unbelievable rate and have finished in four years- over 70% in the McKelvey program and higher in the Lenfest program. The students that we have had contact with over the years make us feel that we have done something worthwhile. The nice thing is, in our dotage, we can still do it.