Our dad died in 2003 at age 96, and at that time, I was resigned to let him go: I thought "God must need him more than we do." Honestly, old as I was, that's a judgment I wouldn't have been able to make much earlier...because we always needed Dad, at least I know I did, but I also knew that since my mother's death five years earlier, my dad wanted most of all to rejoin her.
Dad regularly put other's needs and happiness before his own. Selfishly, I wanted to hang onto him forever even as I saw the fatigue in his eyes and his occasional stumbling step. To the end, he was always the helper, the fixer, the calm voice of wisdom and love. I may have seen my dad angry twice in my life; that fact made my own temper hard to understand, for Dad was always in command, all-knowing, sweet tempered, and calm. I asked him about this once. He told me that his two older brothers (he was third of nine children) fought constantly. It was mostly the fault of the second oldest, Dad said, who was hot-tempered. Dad decided not to follow that example.
And I think in any case, anger wasn't in his make up. Dad was interested in what makes things work, and he followed that inclination by commuting by rail to MIT from Fall River, Mass, to earn a degree in engineering in 1930. It wasn't an auspicious time to graduate. His own father had wanted Dad to follow in his monument (gravestone) business, but that wasn't Dad's intent. He left for St. Louis, MO, with my mother to take a job offered by a friend's father. By the time he arrived, the job had disappeared. Times were tough then. Dad worked for a while in an auto parts store, and he told me of waking up one morning with 5 cents and a loaf of bread in the house. If it were not for the generosity of neighbors, particularly one in the military who shared his paycheck, going hungry was a definite option.
After my brother was born in St. Louis, my Dad took my mother and their baby to Maine where he had been offered a job working on a farm for food. It was a long, cold winter trip in an unheated car, and on arrival, farming in Maine proved hard scrabble, and the food was limited to basics for survival. (In fact, the hardships there cemented my mother's later distaste for country living.) Eventually, though, times improved. By the time I was born (4th of six, five of us girls), my Dad was working in Columbia, PA. He'd moved into quality control engineering. When the war broke out, he was exempted from military service, and he moved from the manufacture of Cook washing machines to the manufacture of military aircraft.
One of my earliest realizations about my Dad was the respect with which others treated him. It was respect well deserved. Dad was the problem solver. Dad was the one everyone turned to for help. Around my Dad, I felt completely secure and really very special to be Bill Lord's daughter.
I don't remember my Dad playing games with us. I do remember him taking us swimming on hot summer nights...after he'd worked all day. I remember him showing us how to use tools and allowing us to mess around his basement work bench. I remember him fixing our car...in fact I remember impatiently calling him out from under the car on many occasions because it was time to take the family somewhere or time for dinner. And I remember my Dad tutoring me and my sisters patiently in algebra many many nights throughout high school. I owed my A's in math to him. Realizing this, I took symbolic logic in my freshman year of college to avoid math, and I found myself floundering. After weeks of panic, I decided I needed to follow Dad's example and work my way through problems step-by-step: I earned a B.
But my best memories of my Dad are being around him while he worked. Dad always sang. He didn't have a great singing voice, but that didn't matter because he was making up his songs as he went along. The songs were about whatever he was doing and also running commentary about the kid with him. They were funny, filled with Dad's quirky, good natured humor. They were the one thing that could force me to smile when I was in a perfectly awful pout and determined to stay there. Pouting was impossible around Dad.
I don't remember receiving a great deal of advice from Dad. We all just knew how we should act by watching him. He was the original, "do as I do." He did recommend once that I not drink gin. This is advice I've taken over the years...except once when I had the opportunity to try out some authentic moonshine from West Virginia. It reminded me of a time I asked my Dad if he'd gone to a speakeasy during prohibition. He told me no, but he had gone to the beach at night to meet the rum runners to buy whiskey for his Dad. My grandfather, as a result of his stonecutter's trade, suffered painfully from dust in his lungs, and he drank to kill the pain.
But if Dad missed out on speakeasies, he didn't miss out on fun. After my mother's death, he reminisced about the times they went to Horseneck Beach on Cape Cod to fry eggs and heat beans by fireside as the sun set. His and my mother's happiness was low key. They deeply loved each other and were happy with simple, inexpensive pleasures. My mother said she never wanted to live without my dad, and I can understand why. Dad survived Mom by five years, and he spoke to her every day of those years. Dad loved his kids; we all knew that, but his love for my mom was the deep passion of his life. Still, no one knew my Dad who didn't feel lifted up by his acquaintance. Dad was a common man and an uncommonly wonderful guy. I'll miss him this Father's Day.
How much does your public school district spend per pupil on education? According to a recent position paper from the Nevada Public Policy Institute (NPRI), it’s most likely more than you think, indeed more than you have been told.
In “Funding Fantasies” (download here: http://www.npri.org/publications/funding-fantasies), the Institute’s education policy analyst Patrick Gibbons finds that “[t]he true cost of educating students is regularly misrepresented behind claims that certain expenditures, such as capital outlays and debt service, should not be counted, because those expenditures are not directly related to student learning. But such thinking merely seeks to illegitimately exploit the arcane distinctions of accountancy. If the expenditure does not contribute to student learning, why is it being made?”
Well, good question.
In Clark County (Las Vegas area), the school district reported per pupil spending for the recent school year would be $7,175, but dividing budgeted spending for the school year by the number of students, actual spending per student is $13,387. In Washoe County (Reno area), actual spending per pupil by weighted enrollment was $11,395. But the basic support claimed by the district is $5,323. Not included there is “additional revenue from...federal funds, local funds, capital project funds, food service funds, special service funds and debt service.”
This problem is not singular to the State of Nevada. Gibbons writes “[u]nderreporting of per-pupil spending is a nationwide practice. In the District of Columbia, Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute found that D.C. schools spent more than $24,600 per student—despite officially claimed expenditures around $13,500 per student. Meanwhile the average tuition at a D.C. private school that accepted vouchers from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was just $6,620.”
Well, one way of reading this is to confirm suspicions: a huge portion of the money spent on public schools never makes its way into the classroom. It is in the interest of administrators and educators to cry “not enough money” when the truth is closer to “not enough money well spent.”
Gibbons finds that of the $13,387 to be spent per pupil in Clark County in 2008-2009, only $4,514 (33.7%) was to be spent on “instruction related expenses.” Average salaries within the district range from $55,651 for workers in facilities to $113,189 to those in curriculum and professional development. He asks, “Can CCSD's academic results justify these generous average salaries?”…and notes “[t]he district employs 32,202.39 full time equivalent staff (FTE) on its payroll. That’s roughly one employee per 10 students, and an average salary-and-benefits package of $69,871.”
WestEd, a non-profit research institution based in San Francisco, looked at student graduation and achievement rates in Nevada in 2005. The institute concluded in the executive summary to its report (done in collaboration with the Center for Education Policy Studies, CEPS, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas):
Our review of the state’s student achievement and graduation rate data leads to severalfindings:
On achievement. Despite some recent gains among the state’s high schoolstudents, achievement remains low, ranking Nevada near the bottom among U.S.states. Moreover, as in other states, a significant racial/ethnic and socioeconomicachievement gap persists.
On the graduation rate. Although wide variations exist across districts, Nevada’soverall graduation rate is one of the nation’s lowest. Here, too, the racial/ethnic andsocioeconomic achievement gap is evident.
Well, there are gaps and gaps.
NPRI found a gap in school districts’ knowledge: “whether [districts'] spending patterns have any link at all to the policy priorities they publicly profess”…or is spending “an accidental system in which spending decisions, regulations and other restrictions are made piecemeal and with conflicting intent”...noting that “[s]chool board contracts with teacher unions currently determine how nearly half of all funds available to public education are used.”
Of course, teacher unions have a purpose…to increase teacher pay and benefits, but is that synonymous with increasing student achievement? Looking at results, the answer is “not necessarily.”
Accounting, also, has a purpose, but is it to clarify where the money goes or to obfuscate? In Nevada and in the nation, school districts hide the significant expenditures that create a top-heavy school bureaucracy and then claim to the public that they haven't enough money to educate students to even mediocre standards. Perhaps pundits should pan it as trickle down (maybe) learning.
George Will turns to our 29th president to offer our 43rd some perspective:
"Noting that people "criticize me for harping on the obvious," Calvin Coolidge justified that practice by saying, "If all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves." Consider what individual Americans know they ought to do, and what their government should know not to do.
"The nation could subtract from its health care bill a significant portion of the costs caused by violence, vehicular accidents, AIDS, coronary artery disease, lung cancer and Type II diabetes resulting from obesity. All six problems are significantly related to known risky behavior, which can change….."
Will notes the "new sobriety" of Americans ("more saving, less spending") encourages economic recovery, but wonders if it will survive. He sees the administration's huge stimulus spending as a "defibrillator" that quickens the economy's pulse, but reminds "a patient cannot become healthy attached to a defibrillator," and he sees the country being lead toward "[t]rillions of dollars of capital...being allocated sub-optimally, by politically tainted government calculations..." Continues Will, "The president's astonishing risk-taking satisfies the yearning of a presidency-fixated nation for a great man to solve its problems. But as Coolidge said, "It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man." What the country needs today in order to shrink its problems is not presidential greatness. Rather, it needs individuals to do what they know they ought to do, and government to stop doing what it should know causes or prolongs problems.
For the sake of our institutions, we can only wish that Obama's hubris will play out as American psychologist Og Mandino suggested: “The next time you are tempted to boast, just place your fist in a full pail of water, and when you remove it, the hole remaining will give you a correct measure of your importance.”
Times are shaky when we hope for a legacy of holes in water!
We were six adults, three sisters, a brother-in-law and two nephews, and four kids, three sons (grandnephews) and a daughter (grandniece) whose homes spanned the continent, which meant we didn’t know each other all that well. But the bond of family was taken for granted; we climbed together, intermixing easily.
It was an August day in New Hampshire, and at the base of Mt. Monadnock, the heat, humidity and mosquitoes were discouraging even as we entered the shady forest path. The youngest demanded a ride on his father’s shoulders; I didn’t think he would reach the mountain top.
But before long, he was set down, and all four kids scampered ahead, vying to be first, vying to find the best native blueberry bush to gorge on its fruit. The adults proceeded at different paces, taking pictures, noting the vegetation, conversing. Periodically there were stops as the forest gave way to steeper, rocky terrain for a drink of water and snacks and admonishments to be careful.
Mt. Monadnock is not a difficult climb for kids and able bodied adults (although descending with bad knees is a challenge). The rocks are giant stepping stones, but not hard to maneuver over or around. No special equipment is necessary, and as we ascended, earlier climbers, teenagers, ran and lept down the pathway: oh, to be young again!
The reward of the climb is the mountain top. It’s a relatively flat, ½ acre or so of rock surface with peaks to stand upon to soak in the vista of the green, green lowlands below, the ponds, the stretch to the horizon, which can include a faint glimpse of Boston on a clear day. And there are small planes flying below, white against the landscape.
The summit is windy and chill after the climb, but there are rocks again to shelter beside and eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we’d brought for sustenance. And there’s a bronze plaque that notes the elevation: 3,165 feet. I was thinking about this number as I gazed, feeling very much on top of the world, out into the far distance. I live now in Reno, NV, which has an elevation of 4,505 feet. I was, in reality, some 1,400 feet lower than when in my backyard.
Perhaps this is a lesson in perspective, perhaps in irony. But what I was actually experiencing was the joy of the climb, the camaraderie of joint effort and success, the deliciousness of the moment (and the sandwich). These are the tangible understanding I brought back down the mountain.
And I think that is what is to be learned from a mountain top: how to live when we return. When Moses went, he returned with 10 commandments from God to live our lives. My grandnephews and grandniece that day, returned, I think, with awe at the height they’d achieved and confidence to strive and endure to success. Others may have found a peace that eludes them in the flatland, but a peace to bring home.
My granddaughter is now nine months old. She’s accomplished crawling, and now she has taken to looking up. No longer do the scattering of toys on the floor interest her; she looks up to pull things down (including a chair on her head) and she tries to pull herself up, succeeding, on her knees, in reaching into her brother’s toy bin to rattle the contents and pinching her hand as she descents down. There’s a momentary cry of distress, and then she’s off to other mischief.
When her brother was 18 months old, I watched with curiosity as he climbed a vertical stack of wooden flooring some four feet high, successfully. I probably should have stopped him, but we both wanted to see if he could do it, and he could.
Perhaps that’s another lesson: never be satisfied with the status quo, accept the challenge, strive. Why do we climb mountains? We do because they are there, and we do because they are much more enlarging than molehills. Looking up is our nature and destiny.
This posting is an entry into Robert Hruzek' s "What I learned from a mountaintop..." group writing contest a middlezonemusings.com (http://middlezonemusings.com/wilf-mountaintop-experience/). You have until Sunday, June 7, at midnight to enter, and I encourage you to return to Robert's site to read the many fine entries on Tuesday, June 9.
Here's the reaction from Israel to Obama's speech to the Arab world. Caroline Glick, an editor of The Jerusalem Post, writes:
US President Barack Obama claims to be a big fan of telling the truth. In media interviews ahead of his trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and during his big speech in Cairo on Thursday, he claimed that the centerpiece of his Middle East policy is his willingness to tell people hard truths. Indeed, Obama made three references to the need to tell the truth in his so-called address to the Muslim world.
Unfortunately, for a speech billed as an exercise in truth telling, Obama's address fell short. Far from reflecting hard truths, Obama's speech reflected political convenience....
And Glick concludes: By his words as well as by his deeds, not only has Obama shown that he is not a friend of Israel. He has shown that there is nothing that Israel can do to make him change his mind. Readthe full indictment here: http://tinyurl.com/oy5yq3. Charles Krauthammer has a similar take here: http://tinyurl.com/odfnuj.
I am a wife, mother, grandmother, observer, writer, middlin' cook and imbiber, instigator, awe-struck Christian, conservative and therefore mild cynic, appreciative and therefore optimist. I love the gusto in life; I hate hubris and value humility. I love the English language and deplore its decline in contemporary speech and writing. My husband calls me, fondly of course, an old bag, but I fill it with new tricks. You'll find a lot about politics in my Left Senseless blog, along with my opinions (and I welcome yours!), and glances at life's beauty and pleasures in Plum Duff.