Post posts about what is happening in the State of Connecticut.

Woodbridge, CT - May 4th 2015

It has been a very long day, starting off with people wishing “May the Fourth” be with you, or singing, “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” I thought about Kent State. I was there ten years later. I thought about Baltimore, and Texas and how divisive our politics has become. Some friends have been saying it’s going to be a long hot summer.

But I had work to do. I took the day off from my paying job to volunteer to help get the vote out in the Woodbridge municipal election. There was a lot of data entry and number crunching, but not much time for reflection.

Now, I’m finally home, and I can reflect, but I’m too tired to go into detail. The incumbent Democratic First Selectman, Ellen Scalettar narrowly won re-election. The Republican under ticket did well, and it looks like, after a very divisive campaign, we will have mixed government in Woodbridge, perhaps doing as well as our mixed government in Washington has done.

Election Eve

It is Election Eve in Woodbridge and Bethany, and a few other towns around Connecticut as well. There are a handful of towns that have their municipal elections in May.

For the past week, I’ve been doing what I can to help with the Democratic ticket. Most of my focus has been on data. The signs are all up and we are ready for the election.

As I drove home from election headquarters, I felt a certain excitement. Elections are important, especially local elections, and too many people don’t appreciate that.

My writing has fallen behind schedule over the past week, but I’ve managed to organize some of my thoughts, so I hope to get back in the swing of things soon.

However, April was a very busy month and May is looking the same, so we’ll see.

Political Comments

A comment and a post I put up on Facebook today. The comment was in response to a friend who posted about “a segment of the population that acts as if anyone who is accessing their government benefits, they paid into their entire lives, is ripping off the government.”

I often think that people who protest too much about one thing or another are actually reflecting their own fears or weaknesses. They worry about others ripping off the government, because deep down inside, they know that they are getting more out of society than they put in.

I believe that I get much more that what I am justified receiving, not only in terms of services from the government (good libraries, schools, roads, police and fire, etc) than I actually pay for in taxes. Yet I believe that this also reflects the greater condition of mankind, receiving more from God's abundant grace than we deserve.

The other was a snarky comment about a post that one of the campaigns in this year’s Woodbridge Municipal election made about people in local politics having spouses that are involved in local politics. I noted that my campaign manager from my 2012 may have been a distant cousin of mine.

All of these are things I’d like to expound open, if I wasn’t so tired. The next three days will be pretty busy, but then I hope to get a little down time.

Woodbridge Crooks and Liars

Today, in a Facebook discussion about the upcoming Woodbridge municipal elections, one person wrote, “All politicians are liars” and another responded, “They are all a bunch of legalized crooks”. Much of the venom was directed at the challenger, Cathy Wick. It was pointed out that on her website she says she believes zoning commission members should be elected, but that when asked what she would do about issues in the flats, she talked about wanting to appoint someone from the flats to be on zoning.

You can’t have it both ways, the writer complained. I’m not sure these comments are really fair. As much as someone believes zoning commission members should be elected, until that’s the case, they are appointed. One could easily say, I believe members of the zoning commission should be elected to make sure all sections of town are properly represented. Until that happens, I will do everything in my power to make sure that the members are appointed in a manner that I believe best achieves this, including appointing someone from the flats.

Actually, I have to give Cathy a lot of credit for running, twice. Running is hard. I know. I’ve run twice for State Rep and was also elected alternate to the zoning board of appeals. I do not believe that either Ellen or Cathy are crooks or liars. They both have their visions of what’s going on in Woodbridge, and what should be done.

Cathy may not have spoken clearly. She may have a different view of what’s going on in Woodbridge than I do, but I won’t call her a liar. I’ll just acknowledge that Ellen’s description of what is going on in town and what should go on in the future better matches my view.

Back to School Night: Common Core, Ghosts and Seizing the Day

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig talks about the ghosts from his past as he taught rhetoric and quality before his nervous breakdown. In Dead Poet’s Society, the character of John Keating played by Robin Williams, invoked the ghosts of former students, urging his students to “seize the day”.

Last night, I walked the halls of Amity Middle School in Bethany, accompanied by these ghosts and others. My wife was a student at this school over three decades ago. The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates was one of my wife’s classmate those many years ago. Did they imagine, back then, that their children would be classmates, carry small devices like the communicators from Star Trek and have access to machines that could print out three dimensional objects? What were their dreams, what were the dreams their teachers and parents had for them back when they walked these halls.

Back to School night started similar to the school day. The principal’s voice crackled over the loudspeakers. We all stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, bringing recollections of the ghosts of those who fought for our freedom. There was a moment of silence, thirteen years after 9/11 as we recalled our friends and neighbors who died in that attack.

Then, it was off to meet the different teachers. There were a few themes that emerged, the total point system was repeated over and over again. There were frequent mentions of the Common Core, and at least to me, it seemed, there was too little focus on the actual curriculum and acknowledgement of the ghosts.

The first class I sent to was World Geography and Culture. There was a good syllabus presented and a discussion about the focus on argument and debate. Fiona, like her parents, loves debate and I’m excited for this class. I did wonder about how much the students will be encouraged to question the assumptions they have about culture based on the culture they’ve grown up in.

The second class was Spanish. I believe both Fiona’s mother and uncle had Mrs. Young for world language classes when they were students.

This was followed by English. I am sure that this will be a fine class and that the teacher will inspire the students, but I have concerns. The teacher will be managing the class using a “behavior management plan” based on corporate structure. I’ve already written to the teacher expressing concern. I am not convinced that CEOs are the best role models for proper behavior. Nor do I believe that they are the best exemplars of the use of the English language.

She spoke about finding examples of good writing to emulate, of “mentor texts”, and my mind went to e.e.cummings, Jack Kerouac and James Joyce. Somehow I suspect that may not be the sort of texts they’ll focus on. She mentioned that because of the Common Core, the readings would be based more on the skills being taught than on the titles of famous books. I have mixed feelings about this. Skills are important, but so is being literate in certain classics. I hope Fiona will end up reading Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, A Separate Peace, and other great books that illustrate something more important about language than just skills.

The essay, 'Understanding Poetry,' by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. comes to mind:

If the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.

For those who miss the reference, this is a section of the text book that Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society urges his students to rip out.

That said, I remain hopeful for the class and the work they will do. Perhaps the students can form a union to deal with the corporate structure. Perhaps some can even participate in the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program. I think everyone should try to write their first novel by the time they complete middle school.

There was a nod to integrated curricula connecting the English class with the social studies class. I was glad to hear that. I’m a big fan of integrated curricula.

The next class was science. The teacher highlighted the classroom and the lab equipment. My daughter wrote that she thought I would like the science teacher, and I do. They will be studying lab safety, metrics, the scientific method, earth movements, meteorology and astronomy. I wondered if AMSB had a weather station connected to Weather Underground. It doesn’t appear as if they do. I figure I’ll have to dig out my ten inch Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope soon. I wonder how much they will get into issues of climate change or the effect of fracking on earth movements. I also wonder to what extent the science curriculum can be connected to the social studies curriculum.

The following class was tech. The teacher recognized me because of my Google Glass and we talked about 3D printing. My daughter is pretty excited about this class as well. As the teacher lauded the school district. We do have a great school district with wonderful facilities, great teachers, all contributing to the success of the students. Yet I remember hearing former New York City school Chancellor Joel Klein talking about equality in education. He spoke about how if the school system is working properly parents should be happy with whatever school their children end up at knowing that they all have the same level of excellence. I thought about students at under performing schools in Connecticut and remembered a great quote attributed to Virginia Woolf, “There is only one thing wrong with privilege, it’s that not everyone has it.”

For the final period, my daughter wrote Phys-Ed/Choir and listed the teachers and rooms for each. I suspect that Fiona, like me, prefers choir over physical education, so I went to the choir room. No one else showed up. Since we were supposed to be following the A schedule, I should have gone to physical education. My daughter had made a similar mistake at one point, missing technology and going to choir instead. Yet it provided one of the best chances to spend time talking with a teacher.

We talked about folk music festivals, expanding musical horizons, and the role of the arts in STEM oriented systems. My middle daughter, with her masters in community arts education always points out that it really should be STEAM, with the A standing for Arts. Without the creativity of the arts, the inventions of STEM projects are too likely to be lifeless and soulless.

There wasn’t any discussion of integrated curricula here, but it would be great if choir expanded the musical horizons of the students to include cultures being studied in social studies.

Like the students, when the classes were over, the parents found time to speak with their friends before heading home. As I drove home, I thought about the Common Core, various ghosts, and seizing the day.

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