Monthly Archives: June 2011

This One Makes Me Cry, Every Time…

If You’ve Never Failed, You’ve Never Lived

Motivation Moment

If Not Now…

Never Give Up


And Away We Go

Today I’m headed to the UK. In a few days I’ll be in France. To say I’m excited is an understatement.
I’ve made my lists, packed my bags, copied the passport.
I’m ready, but I’m still a little worried.
Three years ago I took a group of kids to Europe and ended up in quite the mess.
I’ll mind the gap this time.

If I can update my blog as I go, I will. If not, I’ve scheduled nine days of great motivational videos starting tomorrow. I hope you enjoy!

Schools Aren’t Failing, Society Is

No, Our schools AREN’T failing. Despite what you read or see on the news, despite what school reformers making a ton of money off the government say, despite what testing companies print, our schools aren’t failing.

Our SOCIETY is failing.

A few facts:

• 1. According to Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007, released by the U.S. Census Bureau in November, 2009, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today

• 2. In the most recent Census Bureau statistics, 2.4 million of the nation’s families are maintained by grandparents who have one or more of their grandchildren living with them–an increase of 400,000 (19 percent) since 1990. These families comprise 7 percent of all families with children under 18.

• 2b. Slightly more than half (1.3 million) of these 2.4 million grandparent-maintained families contain both grandparents; 1.0 million have only a grandmother; and 150,000 have only a grandfather.

• 3. Nearly 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $22,050 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 42% of children live in low-income families.

• 4. – Illicit teen drug use as of 2003.
* 8th grade — 30.3%
* 10th grade — 44.9%
* 12th grade — 52.8%

• 5. While no national data on the extent of truancy exists, we know that in some cities unexcused absences can number in the thousands each day. here are some statistics that have been gathered:
Studies have shown that two-thirds of male juveniles arrested while truant tested positive for drug use.
According to one confidential survey, nearly 1 in ten 15 year olds were truant at least once a week.

These facts can’t be blamed on teachers or schools. When I was in school, dropouts were a fact of life. A friend of mine got married and had a baby when she was 16. She quit school. It was just the expected. Years before that, my father-in-law quit school in 8th grade to go to work. It wasn’t that long ago that special needs students were sent to the hallway Or a closet sized classroom to work on their own. They certainly weren’t expected to master objectives in a class or on a test. And students whose first language was anything other than English were simply out of luck in our schools.

I don’t want to go back to a time where the above are considered acceptable, but to compare our schools today with those of the past on a side by side scale is ridiculous. It’s like comparing apples to cars and saying while they’re both red, one sure does taste bad.

Can our schools get better? Yes. I don’t know a single teacher or admin who isn’t on a constant search to improve. Will they get better by following Race to the Top, administering a new standardized test, encouraging vouchers and privatization? No. But people who have nothing to do with educating children will get rich(er) selling people on the idea that that they’ve got the cure.







Someone to Believe

Sometimes all you need is a chance and someone who believes in you.

It seems pretty generic. I was in a class studying scripts, and my professor gave us the assignment. I was a junior in college, a single mom, a little confused about what I wanted to do with life.

In stepped Dr. Hoffman with the assignment: write a one–act play.

Groans went up around the room, but not from me. I was worried and excited and ready to write.

Years before I’d written on a regular basis, but real life stepped in, and the writing stopped. At least the writing that wasn’t in the form of a paper or news story for my classes.

I don’t remember a lot about the play except it was a young adult romance and I made an A.

Dr. Hoffman didn’t know it then, but he’d rekindled a dream. It just needed a little more time.

Three years later I was done with school, teaching English and newspaper and enjoying life with a job that paid the bills and gave me weekends and summers off. My daughter and husband were suffering through my multiple attempts to become a gourmet cook. I didn’t really know something was missing.

Until Dr. Hoffman called to tell me he was offering a seminar class at the graduate level, and he’d like me to take it.

Two years later, I was done with grad school. All I needed to do was write my thesis.

When I submitted my idea, my committee didn’t hide their doubt. A coming-of-age historical novel set in the pre-Civil War era didn’t seem to fulfill the requirements for the assignment.

Dr. Hoffman stood up for me, said I needed a chance.

Thus Honor and Lies was born.

The research that goes into a book like Honor and Lies was crazy intense. I’m sure I still got some of it wrong.

What I didn’t get wrong: the idea that sometimes all you need is a chance and someone who believes in you.

Thanks for being the person who believed in me!

Garden Tales Because Forgetting Isn’t the Answer

I think my love affair with gardens started as a child enamored with dirt.
It didn’t matter where we lived, dirt was my friend.
You could dig dirt and turn it into roads and mountains and cities and caves.
You could add water to the dirt and turn it into something you could mold, change, create.
On a hot day, water added to dirt left a cool smushy mixture I’d stomp around in for hours.
In the summers I’d spend weeks with my grandparents and their dirt and their gardens. I loved that time.
It was a simple time, a time before we were all so connected, so busy.
Watching seeds turn to plants and plants turn to vegetables and fruits was fascinating to a kid.
Grandma and Grandpa spent hours in the garden. They always let us help.
Back then, I was a master gardener. I grew peas and corn and potatoes and beans and squash and tomatoes and onions and watermelon and more.
Today, I can’t grow much of anything.
A few years ago, I tried.
I had a gorgeous garden in the back yard, but the drought hit and the birds started attacking my tomatoes looking for a way to get to moisture.
We put netting up over the garden, thinking it would help. I guess it did. Unfortunately, it also killed the birds because they got caught in the netting.
I didn’t plant that garden. I just tended it.
Last year I spent hours in the garden. And killed it.
This year I decided to give up on the garden. But my husband bought some plants anyway. We have them in pots on the front porch. Maybe I’ll have more luck with that than with the gardens of my childhood
In my research for Honor and Lies, I learned a lot about plantation systems and dirt. They called an area that ran across the deep south the black belt. The soil there was black and rich and could grown anything. At least a million slaves were forced to work the land there.
Sometimes people like to romanticize the plantation age. They like to think of balls and gorgeous homes and chivalry instead of violence and death and forced servitude.
Honor and Lies is told through the eyes of young women. They get to think of the dirt as a place to play, a place to pretend. By the end they see they’re trapped in a society that won’t let them go just like those birds were trapped in the netting above my garden. I can’t imagine the lives the slaves led. I’m sure I didn’t capture the reality of the horribleness of that system.
Some people say the answer is to ignore our past, to push it away and pretend it didn’t exist. I disagree.