WOODY

I believe that I have called Woodrow every possible permutation of the word wood. He has been Woodbine, Driftwood, Wood Chips, Balsa Wood and on and on. I have not called him what he needs to be called and this a great person.
I have known Woody for a very long time. We very rarely get together in a social sense, except for two times a year. Those times are a Christmas dinner with two other friends at PARSS and a lunch with the wife of a dear departed friend. Other than a wedding or some other life cycle event, we do not have contact with Woody and his wife Sam.
Woody has devoted almost all of his adult life to public education. He did spend some time as a barber and truck driver. I commune with Woody when we are working with rural school districts in Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS). He is dedicated to the schools and the children in them.
He is quick to point out that the logo of PARSS is Quality Education for ALL children in Pennsylvania. Woody was once an elementary principal, a business manager of the school district and a school superintendent. As with many current school boards, Woody’s was great for a long while until new people came on and decided that the district needed a new person. No real reason for the change, just want someone new.
Woody, who had devoted his life and energies to the district, was distraught. He had done everything correctly- curriculum, teacher evaluations, finances and so on. He was going to be a basket case, if he did not leave, or retire soon. I worked hard to convince him to retire and he eventually did. He then went on the become a fixture in the PARSS organization.
From my perspective, Woody is the kind of person that you want on your side during an educational fracas with those who are trying to destroy it. His knowledge and historical memory make him a special person in the pantheon of educators in PA. He is a comfortable in very rural places, as he is in city and suburban places.
He holds his own with legislators and can speak to them in their own language. Whether it is about NASCAR or state board regulations, Woody is there. He travels the entire country in his “motor pig” which he shares with his wife and their two dogs.
He is a Penn State alumnus and is devoted to them, especially during the football season. Woody was awarded his doctorate from P.S.U. And has some connections there. He also has connections with many superintendents across the state. His expertise in school funding, finance and taxation make him a perfect consultant to those who are in need of wise counsel.
I travel with Woody frequently. I therefore hear his rants about how children are being short changed. Whether the subject is charter schools, or the kids in Philly, or Susquehanna County, they are all his concern. Maybe one of these days, we will elect a Governor who shares Woody’s views. Wouldn’t that be a stitch?

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THE OLD TESTAMENT MODIFIED

When Carol and I were raising our children, we would tell them jokes that we heard. If they were to risqué, we would modify them to suit their ages. I believe both of our children do the same thing to their kids. I am sure that many parents do a similar thing.
Our Rabbi is on sabbatical. That means that at Friday night services, we civilians take turns at running services. At a certain point in the service, there is a place for commentary of the bible portion for the week. The portion is usually called a parsha. There are many interpretations over 3000 years of what the
Rabbis and philosophers have written about almost every single part of the bible. There are even those who derive mystical numerations from each book of the torah. If you look at the first word, “In the beginning ( Breached) and the last word Israel and put them together, you get a certain meaning. It is almost enough to drive you crazy if you read a bunch of them.
It was my turn to do the commentary this week. It is Chapter 37 to Chapter 40 of Genesis. Although I was not leading the service, those who did, asked me to do the commentary. I had not even looked at that part of the bible in many years. Not that I am a biblical scholar, but I did go to yeshiva (Jewish parochial school) until I was eleven. I can even read some Aramaic and Yiddish (thirteen century German with Hebrew thrown in).
I was not prepared to comment on this section of the bible. It is filled with things that children should not hear and it is filled with casual violence and sexual misdeeds. I knew that the Old Testament had these things in them, but not to the extent that these four chapters did. Jacob tells his favorite son, Joseph to spy on his other brothers. How about beginning with the almost murder of Joseph by his brothers? How about they sell him to some wandering tribes of Ishmaelite or Midionites into slavery.
How about the brothers of Joseph Dan and Nephtali slaughtering a whole town for something one person did to their sister? How about God striking down Judah’s sons Er and Onan- one because he could not impregnate his wife and the other for not wanting to raise his brother’s children, even though he would be impregnating his sister-in-law. Yes, he spills his seed upon the ground. How about teaching that in Sunday school?
How about Judah (another of Joseph’s brothers), losing his wife and then, “by accident” copulating with his daughter-in-law (disguised as a strumpet), and gives her two children. He also tries to have her burned alive for her misdeeds till he finds out that he was the one she was “misdeeding” with.
Although there are many other parts of the old testament that are pretty darned violent. This portion kind of got to me. I can handle God doing away with whole cities, nations, and the entire world (Noah), but this section is so much more detailed in the violence manner. I must remember that we are not talking about contemporary society. We don’t do those things any more, do we?

SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE ARNE

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”
Arne Duncan is the elongated Secretary of Education in Washington. As you can see Arne has a hold on a number of subjects; mothers, communities, education, testing, what frightens people, what constitutes brilliance and a number of other things. Just from that one comment that he made to some state superintendents of schools, he has shown his complete ignorance of public education, human emotion and a whole spectrum of human activity.
This is not the first time that our former basketball playing non-educator has made specious statements relating to his job as Secretary of Education. His former job as CEO of the Chicago school system did not go as well as he would have liked. As a matter of fact, Arne was a board member of the Broad Foundation which turns out superintendents with these mandates: Starting in 2002, the unaccredited Broad Superintendents “Academy” has produced graduates who supposedly learned the management techniques to turn the nation’s schools around. The Academy consists of six weekends over a ten-month session, where aspiring leaders are immersed in Billionaire Eli Broad’s management philosophy, which apparently means top-down mandates, high-stakes testing, close schools with low test scores, and never give evidence of compassion lest it be interpreted as weakness.(Diane Ravitch’s blog.
Duncan has used his influence to push the idea of charter schools to the limits. Private- for-profit corporations (some listed on the stock exchanges) come into a failing school district (read big city) and take over a certain number of schools for the school district. They operate under less stringent rules and regulations and can pick and choose what kind of students they get.
Pennsylvania has the loosest law on charter schools. Right this moment, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has had 40 investigations by both state and local authorities into the goings on in some of these schools. The difference in SAT scores in comparison to the school districts is a sad state of affairs- about 100 points lower in math and about 85 points lower in the reading scores.
This is Arne’s baby when he was the Grand Vizier of the Chicago Schools. His family background is helping inner city children to succeed. That is a worthy ambition. I don’t think that at this point in his Secretaryship he has begun to understand that one size does not fit all. Here is some other of Secretary Duncan’s malaprops:
“If we had 95,000 good principals, we’d be done.”
Didn’t he once say that it was teachers, teachers and teachers who were most important?
Arne visited a class in Hawaii with 110 students in the class. You could hear a pin drop when the teacher spoke. So no books or pencils or any intellectual activity is a sign of good education. Does he understand that Hawaii’s schools are not doing well? It is the only state with one school district.
“I see extraordinary schools where 95 percent of children live below the poverty line, where 95 percent are graduating, and 90 percent of those who graduate are going on to college.“
After being challenged to tell where one is, the statements have kind of disappeared.
I also loved the statements about how important community colleges are. There are 14 community colleges in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. All of them are in metro areas. How about some funding for starting up some others.
Please stop talking Mr. Duncan!!!

LADIES OF THE NIGHT

The end of an era was displayed for me at Friday night services at our synagogue. Carol and I mostly go to Friday night services and have been going for 22 years. It is through our temple that we have come to know a very special group of women. At times, they have been very close to us. I have taught their children in Sunday school, or have watched them grow to be fine adults in their own right.
Each of these women has her own special talents and ways of comporting themselves. I have described Carol so often in these musings, that it will not be necessary to be redundant. Safe to say, that she is a special person to whom I owe a great deal.
There is no leader to these women. Mostly they go their own way and very little commune with each other away from the synagogue. Connie is by far the most Jewishly involved of the group. Connie grew up in the Quaker tradition. She did not know that she was Jewish until she had already married, had two children and was well on her way with her life. It came to her as a bolt out of the blue, when she approached her mom with a need to know about last names in their family.
Connie has been president of the congregation, and at one time may have harbored thoughts about becoming a rabbi. She is steeped in liturgy and has an abiding faith in her Judaism. Her voice can be heard above all others when we sing some of the prayers. Connie is trained as a nurse and it always one of the people to greet new visitors to our little congregation. Although her husband Chuck is not Jewish, he is part of our congregation. In my mind, Chuck and Connie are one entity.
Lisa was not born Jewish. She married CJ, a dentist of high repute. Lisa has raised three children in the Jewish faith. They are all wonderful people. Their daughter Aubrey is one of my favorites. I taught her in Sunday school. Lisa is also very serious about her devotion to Judaism. She has been the head of our Sunday school and has taught there for many years.
Lisa and her husband have been friends of ours since we joined the temple. Lisa was and is a nurse. Now that their children are all out of the house, she has gone back to her chosen profession. Lisa always has a kind word for everyone and is a hoot when she is on a roll. She makes baskets for our annual spaghetti dinner and involves others in their creation.
Char is a horse of a different color. Char actually owns a small farm with horses, along with her companion Marshall. Char has so many talents that it is difficult to count them. She is great with computers, she is an event planner. She worked for the State Higher Ed. System for a while and has the ability to create furniture. She is now a dog groomer. She has a van that she purchased and drives around the Harrisburg area to fulfill her appointments.
Char has even washed and groomed out cat. That was a sight to see. Char is funny, smart and one of the kindest people that we know. She would literally give you the shirt off her back. She and her daughter Colleen went to Africa and delivered shoes to needy people. Char is probably Carol’s best friend. They do a great deal with each other.
Robin used to be our neighbor when we lived across the pond on the West shore of Harrisburg. Her daughter Sandy used to babysit our cats when we were away. Robin and I go round and round using a faux Jewish accent. Robin has worked for a number of companies in the Harrisburg area. Her last job was with a drug company that dispensed drugs to nursing homes.
Robin is very smart and also has a great sense of humor. She is also creative in different ways. She has also taught Hebrew school for many years. She is wonderful with young children. In my eyes, Robin should be a teacher some place. She would be a star.
Last night, Friday night at our Oneg (a kind of cup of coffee, cookies and other assorted goodies) Shabbat ( Sabbath), I saw the five of them talking and laughing. In some ways, it reminded me of all of the other times that I have seen them do that. They have such an understanding of each other, that they almost talk in code. Even their senses of humor come from a shared history in the synagogue.
This time is coming to an end. Char and Marshall are moving to Atlanta to be near Char’s daughter. Connie and Chuck are moving to Massachusetts to be near their two daughters and grandchildren. Lisa and C.J. are going to move to Baltimore at some time in the near future, so that C.J. can continue his teaching at the dental school (which he now does sporadically). Carol and I have no thoughts of moving, but have talked about spending more time down South during the cold months. Robin and David have made no mention of moving.
I will miss the smiling faces of these women when they depart the area. They have become a part of our lives. It isn’t often that you can get such wonderful people together in one place.

SCHMOOZING AND THE ART OF ZEN

Have you ever heard of the expression, “I am in the Zone (or is it Zen)?” You can substitute any pronoun and apply it to any walk of life. There are just sometimes in your life where you seem not to be able to do anything wrong. It does not happen frequently, but just enough times to let you see what life can be life at its fullest.
Most often it seems to be applied to sports. Baseball players talk about it when they hit the ball no matter where it is pitched, or the pitcher who can’t seem to do anything wrong no matter how he throws the ball. Quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning throw 15 or 20 passes in a row without even trying. It all goes spectacularly well.
Since I am not in sports anymore, I do not have those physical kinds of days (maybe sometimes in the gym when I can lift a heavier weight or ride the stationary bike for a longer time). I do have however, days when I am working in the Capitol, as a lobbyist for rural schools, that I have one of those, “Zone (Zen)” times.
The day starts off with a good parking place, on a low floor in the garage. I walk into the capitol and when I am reviewed by the police and the machine, all goes well and there seems to be goodwill towards me from both. I walk into the rotunda and there are a few legislators or other lobbyists standing there and they look at me and smile. If I am lucky, they will beckon to me to come over.
The conversations are not always about legislation or how the Governor is really screwing things up, but just regular human things. There are barbs and quips. It is apparent that I am a welcome part of the group. I even exude confidence enough to tell a joke or two. When I leave the group, I know that I am on my way to having a good day.
I go to one legislator’s office to hang up my coat. This legislator is from Clarion and she was actually in high school when my kids were (although a few years younger). If she is there, I can ask her questions about how things are in Clarion County. Since we know so many people together, the conversation lasts a while. She may ask me some legislative questions, but it is mostly human stuff.
The political day really begins when I go to a legislator’s office for a purpose. I very rarely make appointments. What usually happens is that the legislator is called to the floor and my appointment goes up in a puff of smoke. Funny thing, you can call a legislator off the floor of the house or senate and have a better chance of seeing him/her.
This time, I march into the office and the secretary (now legislative assistant) tells me that the Senator is not in and would I like to make an appointment. I ask if there are any times today. She looks at me like I have just twisted a ring tailed pheasant’s neck on her desk. I surmise that there are no times available till next year (that has actually happened to me).
At that moment, the Senator comes out of his office and says, “I really need to see Arnold, could you hold me calls and my appointments.” We enter the office and the Senator has much to tell me and ask me. He has a bill that is coming up and he wants to know what kind of hearing it will get in the education committee. Since I have not read the legislation, I defer to the Senator’s short description. I nod my head knowingly and tell him that I believe it will be a winner (or a loser).
Somehow, he is comforted by what I have said. Thirty minutes has passed when I leave the office with a smile on my face and a nod to the legislative assistant. I can only pray that the next series of meetings with lobbyists and legislators are just as successful.
I wend my way to my favorite place, a legislator’s office where the staff is incredibly helpful to me and allow me to hang out, use the phones, or the computers, and generally treat me as they would their office mates. The legislator and his staff are congruent in philosophy to mine. I get much information in that office, which I translate into words for the organization that I represent.
I learned very quickly when I began to lobby, that the most important people in the capitol were the staff members. I have known some of them for a long time. Legislators come and go Committee Chairs come and go. Administrations come and go. However, staff remains. They may switch from one office to another (only rarely crossing party line), but they stay until they retire.
On this Zone day, I must see a few legislators who are trying to either block some nefarious bill from the anti- public education people, or pass their own bills. I cannot seem to catch them, either in the hall or in their offices. They are on the floor of the House or Senate. I try to have them called off the floor. Sometimes that works. However, there are some days when chaos is the theme of the day and they can’t leave their seats for fear that the bad people will prevail.
Once, on a particularly Zen day, I just had to speak to a number of members of the House. I visited one of their offices. The young woman (more legislative assistant than secretary) told me that she had an idea. She marched me down to the area in which the members of the house enter the floor. She said something to the gatekeeper and walked me onto the House floor. The man in charge of the entryway then walked me over to where the pages were sitting (at the front of the House) and found a seat for me.
I was then looking over the entire House. The speaker of the House, Sam Smith came over to me and asked me what I was doing there. I have known Sam (from Punxsutawney in my old I.U.) since 1982. I could not resist and have him a bear hug. As I released him, Bill DeWeese, the minority leader walked over and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I needed to see some of the reps and could not see them in their offices or off the floor.
That was a signal for him to wave to the people I needed to see and have them come up front to speak with me. It probably looked strange from the peanut gallery, where visitors were sitting and to the rest of the house. I concluded my business and left the floor. I had done all that I needed for that day and was walking on clouds. Things don’t get much better.
I trotted back to the office of the woman who had gotten me into the House. I asked her what she had told the guardian of the House to let me in and sit me with the pages. She looked up at me and smiled and said, “Sometime it’s good to have boobs.”

MAGIC, DONNY BASEBALL, LARRY LEGEND, JOHNNY BASEBALL

Magic, Donny Baseball, Larry Legend and Johnny Football\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\

I have been a football fan since the mid 1940’s. Yes, I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodger football team in the old AAFC. If you remember those days, you are as old as me. To me all of the happenings since then are not history at all. They are things that I remember happening. I do have a pro football encyclopedia to help me, but most of it still resides in my brain. I do remember Frank Tripuka, Bobby Layne, Don Panciera (who), Buddy Young and George Taliaferro.
I can remember Jim Brown playing for his high school team in the 50’s and then going on to Syracuse and the pros. He was a hard rock kind of guy and not just on the field. In the 1960’s, he was a strong voice in the Black Power movement. He is still that strong man in 2013 in his 70’s.
There are some people you just remember because of their athletic ability and some because they transcended the playing fields. Some made it into pop culture. Were there two more popular and competitive basketball players than Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson? Even their nicknames, Magic and Larry Legend portended their abilities to be something more than players.
There were no reasons to think of them as models for younger kids, unless your child was 6 feet 9 inches tall. They did not comport themselves with great dignity or aplomb. They were somehow more than the sum of their pieces. Magic was a truckload of happiness and wonder that he made it that far. His battle with the HIV virus was done with the same spirit that he had when he played. Yes, he got the virus from a source outside his marriage. I understand that. However, he was not bowed by his tragic mistake and neither is he today.
Larry Legend is the supreme name of a dour and uncommunicative fellow. Bird, even in his current role with the Indiana Pacers is less than eloquent. Then why does he have that nickname. If you saw him play, you know the answer. Whenever Boston needed a score, Larry was there. It just did not happen once in a while, it happened all of the time.
Donny Baseball’s professional approach to the game as a player and now as a manager, oozed dignity. Yes, he might have complained once in a while, but his affect was that of a talented and calm individual. Nowhere in his demeanor was there any hysteria or lack of patience. He had a 14 year career with one team and he rarely complained about anything. He played first base in a subdued and graceful manner. There was just a class about him that he maintains today.
That brings me to the reason I am penning this. Johnny Manziel is none of the above things. He does not compare to any of the three aforementioned athletes. He is not subdued. He is not uncommunicative. He does not fill hearts with joy, as Magic has done. Yet, he is called Johnny Football.
What will we remember when he leaves the college ranks. If you have watched any of his games, you will remember them. He exudes confidence when large members of the other team are trying to rip him to pieces. He throws the ball with unerring accuracy on the run, when no one even sees who is free. He loves his teammates and his coach. Texas A & M loves him. He is not liked by other teams.
Yet, he fits into the same category as the other three. There is something about him that will endure. It won’t be a trivia question sometime in the future. “Who was the first freshman to win the Heisman?” People will talk about him, as they still do about Doug Flutie. No matter what he does in the pros, he will be remembered for both his on and off field exploits. I do not defend him as a young 20 year old. I believe that he is something special that most of us would like to emulate- a free spirit with a super abundance of talent.

MY DIAMOND BIRTHDAY

MY DIAMOND BIRTHDAY
On November 22, I will be 75 years old. I surely never thought that I would last this long. I was really happy when I passed my 37th birthday. That was when my father passed away. I guess not being a professional prizefighter. Or smoking four packs of cigarettes a day saved me from his fate. Each year since then has kind of been a bonus to me and a joy on a daily basis.
When we passed the millennium, I was shocked. I had passed into another century. My children had children and I was able to be around them and see them grow. One of them will be in college next year and I am lucky I will see that.
My mind is still functioning on all of its 6 cylinders. I am still chock filled with useless and trivial information. My work as a lobbyist for rural schools still goes on not impeded by a lack of energy or confused thinking. I am still able to spout the same bromides as I did 20 years ago. I am still welcome in certain circles, if I don’t make a pest of myself.
I am encouraged by my older sister Renee, who is 7 years my senior. She is still as sharp as she was in high school. She still suffers no fools and is able to help senior citizens fill out their income tax forms. She still views me as her little brother and has been telling me for my lifetime, “Just wait till you are . . . “
Of course, my luck is really marrying Carol (50 years now). She has kept me occupied and healthy. Her concern for me has never been more evident when I had heart surgery a few years ago. She was always on the ball telling me what it is that the doctor said or what the home health care people wanted me to do. I credit her with making me last this long.
You must understand that my birthday, November 22nd, is both a happy and sad day for our family. You may remember that President Kennedy died on November 22, 1963. We did not celebrate my birthday on that day. I still remember Carol taking the chocolate cake that was being readied for candles and putting it back into the refrigerator. I am not even sure if we ever ate it.
I guess I will now start to think of myself as an older person. I noticed that I am being called “sir” almost anywhere I go. For those people who do that, I believe that they think it is the courteous thing to do. I kind of think of it as payback for all of those times in the Army when I had to say “sir” to the officers and salute automobiles with blue stickers, even if they were parked ( military people will understand).