At the end of each April, those responsible for running small and rural schools gather together in State Collegeat their annual conference. The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools has been doing this since 1985. The crowd is a combination of superintendents, school board members, staff and vendors.
There is really no other time and place where these people get together. It is rare that they go to conferences that are aimed at rural people. The get together is a chance to commiserate, link with school districts that have the same problems, and seek solutions to problems. The districts can be large geographically (one is 900 square miles), as small as a borough where all kids can walk to school, or a small city surrounded by a rural county.
Speakers are brought in to focus on the needs of these places and their children. It is direct, quick and intensely personal. The sessions are very informal. There might be 150 people in a room, but it seems like a small group. The questioning is most intense and focused. There is no time to waste, that would be antithetical to the aims of the organization.
Visitors are often stunned by the offhandedness of the goings on. Meals are filled with helpful suggestions from some of the wizened old heads to the younger superintendents. Things have changed since 1985 when there was only one woman superintendent in a rural school district. Today they are plentiful and faced with the same problems of their male counterparts.
For Carol and me, it is time to visit with old friends. At this year’s gathering, I met a man who I had not seen since 1982. We both recognized each other. He had begun a technical revolution in his Punxsutawney School District, by introducing online courses and a television station 8 years before. He was there to present a new program that he had just begun.
The problems were plentiful. The state continues to treat rural places as stepchildren. The administrations of most of our governors have understood that political power rests in about seven counties of the sixty seven. The other sixty, because of the paucity of population mean nothing.
Rural schools have few administrators. They have fewer people to help the superintendent. A good friend of mine, who retires at the end of this school year, is serving as superintendent and high school principal at the same time. I warned him that it was not good for his health, and it isn’t.
The more mandates, paperwork, grant applications, attendance forms, free lunch forms and so many more, the less opportunity to deal with real educational matters. Those are just some of the discussions among the group. The small city supe has just been faced with five tea party candidates winning seats on his board. They want to take the school district back to the dark ages and actually want to spend more money doing it. That has been the story with tea party like school board members. They do not realize that when undoing something, it costs more money.
One chief school administrator is facing a strange situation. He is in the midst of budgeting for next year and understands that he must do some cutting. He does not have enough money to fund the current programs, nor can he get it by raising taxes. The school board wants him to hire back all of the people that he has furloughed over the past two years. Seems like a twist of fate.
All of these monetary problems are forced on a rural and small school because they have always been more dependent of state aid because of their poverty. No, the largest cities are not the poorest. Since 1974 when the state supplied 54% of all instructional expenses did they follow the advice in the school code? It is now down to 30% with cuts of close to a billion dollars last year and a new state budget that may be just about the same.
Those are the discussions around the rural table. The political reality is that we must fight for every advantage. We must look for funds under every rock and we must stick together. Some of our rural legislators understand our plight. With local taxes rising, they get the phone calls. Last year 14,000 positions were cut in all school districts. No one seems to be concerned about the children.
PARSS works continually with state legislators and sometimes gets a chance to stop something horrible from going through. I did not say that we work with the Executive Brand, as, in this administration, those lines of communication don’t exist. Rural schools are flooded with cyber schools who take money from their budgets, as do charter schools. Some rural schools are fighting back by creating their own cyber education. To the extent that they can help themselves, they are doing so.
We come away from the gathering both enthused and depressed. We look for answers from each other. Right now, we have to; there are no answers from our government, only support for those who would privatize (profitize) public education.
There was been a cacophony of objections, studies, even clamor for more of these programs over the last few years to take special care of these kids. My wife Carol taught these youngsters for over thirteen years. In my 10 years of being an I.U. Director I even supervised these programs.
One thing for sure, whether you approve of this kind of bifurcation, these kids are really something. I present three tales for your edification.
When teaching these sorts of children, you must always be on guard,because most times, they are much smarter than you are, or more clever. Mark was in 2nd grade. He was not the kind of student who really paid much attention to what was going on. Carol ran the classroom in a very structured way in terms of activities. She allowed the kids the freedom to do things, but she insisted that once they chose, they should finish.
One day, Carol had the bright idea of having the kids test their creative skills. She prepared a mixture of peanut butter and confectionary sugar and came out with a play dough consistency goop. She gave each one of the kids a bunch of these mudballs and told them to make some sort of sculpture. The kids went wild, creating the most marvelous kinds of things- both animal, vegetable and mineral. She was delighted, except for Mark.
Mark would roll the concoction into a ball and then lick the palm of his hand. Carol chastised him once or twice and insisted that he make something. It all came crashing down, when Mark refused to cooperate. Carol went over to him and glowered (as only she can do- ask our children). He immediately said that he would make a figure, took his nail and dug it into the ball, pulled it down and said, “See, I made a heinie.”
Johann was in first grade. He was the cutest little boy and enjoyed making animal noises. Carol would ask him to entertain in the hallway and then come in when he was finished. He was that kind of guy. Carol planned a trip to the Reading Museum with all of here children.
The Reading Museum has a wonderful stream some flowers and other flora around the outside. Carol permitted the youngsters to wander around the stream and look at the beautiful greenery.
After about fifteen minutes, Johann yelled at Carol to come over to him. “What is the matter Johann,”she asked? He looked at her and said, “ I put a pussy willow up my nose.” Carol looked and sure enough. Fortunately the museum is close to the Reading Hospital. She lined up all of the kids, including Johann and marched them to the hospital. The kids then had a field trip to the hospital and loved it. Johann was fine.
By the way, Johann is now a pediatrician.
If you have not had the experience of living in a rural area, try it sometime. Carol was teaching in a rural school district. Most of the gifted kids in her classes wanted to be cosmetologists and drive truck. Nothing wrong with those occupations, but certainly different from the places in which she had taught before.
Lisa’s dad owned a horse farm. She did want the kids to see it and was extremely proud. Carol arranged for a field trip to the farm with three of the older girls in the gifted program. They were all in fourth grade.
The first part of the trip was wonderful, with the dad explaining all about how the farm worked, the nature of the horses, and the care and feeding of the animals. As a treat, the dad said, “How would you like to see how baby horses are made?” Carol blanched. She knew what would happen. The girls were so excited. The dad brought in a large male horse from the barn. He then brought a female horse over and then excited the male horse. The male horse then ejaculated into a receptacle.
The dad then put on a rubber glove that extended up his arm away above the elbow. He inserted the tube into the female’s vagina and left the sperm in there. By this time Carol was becoming faint. She quickly thanked the father and took the girls to the car. She was fearful for the repercussions and the impact on the girls. She even worried about getting fired.
On the way back to school, only one girl asked a question. She asked, “ Is a man’s thing the same size as the horse?” Carol quickly responded that everything is in proportion. That seemed to quiet things.
She never heard from any of the parents or other kids or teachers or principal. She concluded that kids in rural areas were used to this kind of thing. Maybe so, but would not want it to happen to me.
In times of yore (during the cave days), I spent a great deal of time on the road making presentations about school equity. At some point I was frustrated enough hearing the lies about public education that I decided to lie myself. However, remembering what my grandmother told me about uttering falsehoods, I would announce ahead of time that I was going to lie. I now present some preposterous lies.
1. Ponce de Leon is still alive and living in the Fountainblue Hotel in Miami, under the name Morton Mandlebaum.
2. Robert Redford’s birth name was Destiny Himmelfarb.
3. Betty Crocker was a man.
4. Auld Lang Syne means “I have canker sores.”
5. 77% of all identified American serial killers were home schooled.
6. All Shakespeare’s plays were written my Menasha Skulnik.
7. Beni Hana’s original name was Schmuckler’s, after the founder, but was deemed to be too ethnic.
8. The Hunger Games really began as a diet book.
9. Voodoo worship is very popular in congress.
10. Congress will never bring back earmarks
11. If Harry Potter were Jewish, he would have gone to a better school (P.Rudnick).
12. 62% of all women would prefer that they would not have the right to vote.
13. Vodka martinis shaken but not stirred was invented by Wally Cox.
14. As men get older, their rear ends begin to look like triangles.
15. Cougars are older women with sharp teeth.
16. Thomas Jefferson invented the malted milk shake.
17. Coca Cola was originally green.
18. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey boxed under the name Two Ton Tony Galento.
19. It is said that breast milk goes well with Graham Crackers.
20. Mel Brooks is the father of David and Garth Brooks.
21. The original Daily Show was to be hosted by Barbara Walters.
There are many studies done about laughter. In common parlance, laughter is contagious. If you did not know, there are laugh tracks on many television programs that get you to join in. It’s has been a standard since the beginning of television.
The most delicate act of humor happens when you are in a public place and you really don’t want to laugh, but cannot seem to stop. It becomes even more embarrassing when the person next to you catches you trying to hold back and joins you in the merriment. These instances present you to the public in a different light, especially when the event is very serious or maudlin.
Such a thing happened to my daughter and granddaughter a few weeks ago. They had gone to Friday night services at their synagogue. There is a part of the service that is a remembrance for people who have passed away recently or ones whose anniversary of their demise was that week.
The Rabbi was reading the names in preparation for the mourner’s prayers. He intoned Silverstein, Richter, Kedem, Braunschweig, Goldberg and Tinkleman. At the utterance of the last name, Dara and Paige began to laugh uncontrollably into their hands. Many of the people sitting around them looked over to see whether this was laughing or crying.
The laughter continued on into the service with the two women finally getting a hold of themselves. Since this was at the end of the service, they were satisfied that they had not disturbed people too much. At the end of the service, one of the congregants came over to them with a frown on her face and said, “You do know that this is the most solemn prayer that we say on the Sabbath.”
I guess the women had never had an uncontrollable laughing fit. My daughter, true to her quick wit said, “The Mourner’s prayer is a celebration of the joy of the person’s life, not their death.” The woman did not seem to understand and stalked away.
DAVID THE GOOD
Carol and I are very fortunate to have incredibly great son and daughter in law. We always told our children to marry people who were good. I am not sure what we meant by that, but it turned out that way. We enjoy both of them and they have become close to us. Their union has produced wonderful grandchildren who are grown up enough to help us serve the Passover meal and read from the Hagaddah (book of Passover prayers and stories) in both Hebrew and English. Could you really ask for anything better?
Our daughter, Dara, was anxious to go to a college that had a few more Jews, other than her brother. We had lived in rural places, where they were the ONLY ones in their schools. Carol was always called upon to tell the stories about Chanukah in the elementary classrooms, while I was the superintendent. Dara passed up a full scholarship to Notre Dame. They were fascinated by a rural, Jewish female and felt that they were doing some integration in their student population.
Dara chose to go to school at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was nine hours away from our home in Clarion. It is pretty much of a liberal arts school and the only place where Sigmund Freud taught in the U.S. Twenty five percent of the students was Jewish.
She enjoyed her first year there and it was very challenging. She made friends, got involved in a number of activities and actually got a job in an upscale furniture store later on in her years there. In her second year, she met this tall young man from Long Island. Since Dara had no idea what a Jewish boy was like, other than her brother, and David had never met a Jewish girl from a rural area, they had no idea that they both were Jewish. I guess they each had some stereotypes in their heads and it took three months for them to find out that they were Jewish.
They got married in 1992 and moved to Buffalo, N.Y. for David to take his Master’s Degree. Dara ran a number of Jenny Craig emporiums in Western New York. At the end of two years, they moved to Maryland and eventually to Virginia, having three children along the way.
David began his work life at Price Waterhouse, one of the big six accounting firms. He worked many hours doing auditing. At the end of a few years, he realized that it was not for him and migrated to other companies and finally landed with a defense contractor where he has become a Vice President for finance. There are many stories about his rise to that position, but that’s not the point.
David is as good a family man as my daughter could have married. Like all of us, he has flaws, but his family always at the forefront of his mind. He is there in every emergency, whether his own children, his sister’s children, his parents, his extended family or those close to him.
He coaches his kid’s teams- basketball and baseball and at one time he was the commissioner of the entire league that his son was playing in. His sense of humor allows him to guffaw uproariously at my foibles and we know that his kidding is done with a great deal of love and respect.
He is also close to my son Marc and they get along famously. It is because of their two families being so close that Carol and I are so happy. We see both of the families often and get together with both of them at the same time. Luckily, they live within an hour and a half and two and half hours by highway of our home.
David is about 6-3.5 and always refers to us as the munchkins. As their children grow taller than us, they are constantly measuring themselves to see when they surpass us. It is a joy to see them grow and a delight to be part of their family as David has become part of ours.
THROW OUT THE BALL
For those of you who have graduated from high school over the past twenty years, this statement may not be familiar. “Throw out the ball,” were the words used by male gym teachers for the better part of the 20th century. These days there is Health and Physical Education and they mean it. There are exercises and getting in shape. There are magnificent gyms in wealthy places and the usual wrestling mats, and basketball courts in those with fewer resources.
However, we are all in the nutrition and exercise era, not the, “Throw out the ball,” era. I have compared my experiences in Phys Ed (as we called it), or gym, with many of my age cohorts and it is the same. Whether you grew up in New York City, Altoona or Elkhart, Indiana, it was always the same.
My gym teacher was a former semi-pro basketball player named Ed Conlan. We didn’t know much about him other than the previous piece of information. He was about 5 ft. 8 inches tall and always wore some sort of gym-like sweater with FHHA emblazoned on the pocket. Somehow I thought that he came with the construction of Forest Hills High School in 1941.
From 1952 to 1955, I had gym with Mr. Conlan or Mr. Doyle at least two or three times a week. Mr. Conlan coached the basketball team and Mr. Doyle coached the soccer team. Mr. Doyle knew nothing about soccer. He also had the throw out the ball mentality and did it on the soccer field and allowed his all star foreign players do what they wanted. They almost always won. The one exception was to Grover Cleveland High School which had even more foreign players.
Our soccer players, who spoke nine or ten languages, agreed that Italian would be the language of the game. Mr. Doyle did not speak Italian. The guys actually did coach themselves
Mr. Conlan was much more hands on. He divided our gym classes into lines of students- from A to Z (remember there were 5,000 students in the school), or whatever letter it reached to. He had a scoreboard written in chalk on a chalkboard with the points that each of the teams had accrued. The teams were the lines. It was all done arbitrarily. You could have wound up with 12 people of below average height or skill or have the teams made up of all varsity players of many sports.
Our chief goal was to defeat the other teams in three man basketball. That was our winter sport and we played as if our lives would be forfeit if we lost. After each class period of about 50 minutes we looked up to the scoreboard to see who had the most points in each period of the day.
I was a somewhat average ballplayer- much too slow and short to be considered for the varsity or the junior varsity. However, I was a defiant little nudge in three man basketball. I did not have to be either fast or tall to wreak havoc upon my peers. It was perfectly fine to elbow Vinnie Montalto when he went up for his long jump shot or Vinnie Macaluso’s drive toward the basket, or Gene Breeskin’s tow handed set shot.
Yes, sometimes they did get mad at me and made a small scene. However, that was not o.k. with the rest of the members of the teams, who just wanted to get on with the game.
My arsenal of shots was limited to a wrong foot hook shot that could not be blocked because I was always stepping away from the basket. When someone tried to steal the ball or block the shot, I was fast enough to turn around for a layup. I always seemed to play on a team that had driven players. I was determined to win and so were they.
Oftimes, we remained on the court for the full 50 minutes of the period. We played “make it, take it,” and sometimes polished people off in seven possessions. When we ran up against a team made up of varsity players, we played even harder. I have a feeling that they did not. They were certain of their skills. We were not.
I did get banged around quite a bit, and sometimes had to wander off to the nurses’ office to get a band aid or have the blood dripping from my nose stanched. I was not the only one with that distinction. There were lots of guys my size with the same amount of desire to win. This was not a show off kind of thing. There were not girls around to show off for. Somehow it was a badge of courage to look up at the chalk scoreboard and see that your team had more points than any others.
Sometimes, it was us. “Throw out the ball.”
If things go well, Carol and I will be married fifty years in 2013. Let me drag out that old chestnut and say, “It really doesn’t seem that long.” On July 17, 1960, I saw her for the first time, knew that I would marry her someday. We were married on June 23, 1963. I have listened to a bunch of advice about keeping your marriage going. I have also heard some expound on the virtues of similar interests, similar values, and long fuses. I have also heard that having a sense of humor is key to it all.
I have made a careful study of the sense of humor reason and find it to be valid. It works this way. This morning, one of our three cats decided to join us for breakfast and while we were chewing away on our toast, I heard Carol yell at the top of her lungs, “Hey You’re licking the cheese.” She yelled it in a purposeful and serious way. The cat immediately scrambled of the counter top and ran to its own food.
I guess we could have continued to be annoyed by the cat’s actions, but we were not. We both started laughing louder and louder and concluded that it would make a great title for a blog.
I have noticed through the years that a negative situation turns funny within a two week period of time. When my mother visited our home and broke most of our appliances and our front door, it was a dark day for us. When she placed the watermelon rind in the dishwasher (to clean it before she threw it away) and flooded our kitchen with pink water, we were beyond angry. How could this happen. Now it is a staple of our comedy act containing lots of fun stories about my mom.
It takes a while to get used to the development of a consensual humor. It did not appear on our first night of honeymoon when I had made a reservation at the wrong hotel in Manhattan. It did not develop until after our honeymoon trip when we had little money and had to steal rolls, jelly and butter from the restaurants in which we ate.
It was not even a discussion throughout the years between Carol and me. It kind of grew as a result of situations that caused us pain or trouble. There had to be a better way of laughing when I did not get a job that I wanted, or someone shot at me when I was a human relations coordinator, or something was wrong in our family. It was surely serious stuff, but the eventual laughter put a different spin on it.
If humor isn’t a cure all, it comes close. That’s why we like to watch Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert and Bill Maher and don’t like Keith Olberman. There is something about humor that soothes and makes clearer. Next time you get into a hassle with your spouse, back off a minute and see the value of laugher. It might not work every time, but it sure helps.