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Friday, March 28, 2008

The Evolution of Spring Break

I wonder when the idea of spring break morphed from being a necessary respite after hard winters and the demands of school into a drunk fest in a beach town? It’s become vogue to travel somewhere exotic, have wild tales of extraordinary adventures to share. So then students return exhausted, too tired to attend classes for at least another week, though their body my actually be in a chair in the classroom. Perhaps the latter is more applicable to college students, but the travel has broadened to include all student ages. Maybe the Vitamin D is more important than rest, but I’m staking my claim for a walk on the MKT Trail, sleeping in, afternoon movies, and no grading for at least four consecutive days. Rest, relaxation, and re-energizing. That’s my goal.

Perhaps because I travel during the summer and on Christmas break, I don’t feel compelled to battle thousands of half-naked drunks who’ll regret 80% of what they did come the Monday after…

Oh, God, I think I just became my mother.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Brett Dennen's "Ain't No Reason"

If you haven’t heard Brett Dennen’s new song “Ain’t No Reason” you need to…much like Kid Rock’s “Amen,” it illustrates so much of what’s wrong in America, but offers hope of how perhaps to fix it. We can turn a blind eye, we can claim not to be able to change any of the problems spiraling out of control, but if we all felt that way, where would that leave us?

We have voices…blogs…websites…what kind of revolution could we incite? A revolution of hope, of promise, and what could be and not what once was. I look up at a horizon and not down at the mud puddles; I blink into the sun, but use an umbrella to shield myself from the rain. If we can teach that, embrace possibilities and not moan the roadblocks, then the promise of a new generation can open doors, eliminate barriers, and build new bridges. Brett Dennen and John Lennon (a parallel in names?) expose the wires, but it’s up to us to coat them, to re-connect, to reroute the current. My money is on a visionary who plans to seize the moment of our world and have a dream, someone who will guide us to ask not what our country can do for us, someone who has a hand up and not a hand out. If there is more than one, if we have the luxury of embracing change and challenges, then it’s just a matter of keeping our eyes open. Better to need sunglasses than umbrellas.

Brett Dennen's "Ain

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Victims of Violence

School violence has many victims. Those shot, those wounded, those who survive. Last week, an 18- year old boy in Alabama went to school with a gun. He stood in the gym, fired a shot into the ceiling to get the attention of nearly 150 classmates, then shot himself while they watched. He died. They didn’t. But how many will have nightmares, unable to erase the sound, the smell, the sight of a violent death right in front of them.

School violence has many victims. Those who recall things they might’ve said or done to him, maybe things they didn’t say or do for him. In an era when being a teenager is harder than ever, to witness such a horror is to know tragedy in a way most can never grasp. To say being a teenager today is tough is cliché. To know there must be a solution is naïve. To want answers and a way to smooth the way is idealistic. But to not try is to condone the daily apathy – and cruelty – we see in so many of our youth.

Today’s kids worry about fitting in, avoiding the bully who’s picked on them since third grade, and what to wear that won’t get them teased. Top that off with the stressors of drugs, gangs, and sex, they can’t even get to the issue of homework and making good grades. Kids who’re lucky enough to avoid many of these pitfalls have their own worries. And even what doesn’t happen in their world, because our media is obsessed with instilling fear in our nationwide audience, will leak into their sheltered world.

School violence has many victims, and the reality is, the American psyche is one of them.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Read Across America

The National Education Association launched Read Across America on Monday, and the “Read-In” began in Atlanta. I took part in it on Tuesday at West Junior High School in Columbia, MO, and I can tell you, the power of reading to teenagers is underrated.

Over 100 teenagers sat rapt while I read a story about kids like them… I shared an excerpt of my young adult novel Dregs, a chapter leading up to a jock on the verge of a meltdown. The most powerful image, for me, was of a girl who nodded her head while I was reading a scene of a freshman picking on a 7th grader. That said enough to me: she’d seen it with her own eyes. It validated what I’d written and why I write. For every author in America, validation from readers, especially young readers, measures higher than sales, recognition, even awards.

Reaching people…that’s what teachers strive to do. As an author, achieving that is on a different level. We get feedback, hear from readers what they liked and even didn’t. As a teacher, we seldom know our impact until years later. I have some students who stay in touch with me, and because they tell me what an inspiration I was, I know how I touched them. But so often, I’ll hear that a former student of mine has gone into education to be an English teacher or has gone into Journalism or has published something. A little smile creeps across my face, because I’d like to think it had just a little to do with me and my class. I might be wrong, but there’s nothing mistaken about a listener nodding her head like she knows exactly what I’m talking about. That’s direct and immediate feedback, and for many of us, it’s what motivates us to keep writing! I think I’ll start a new YA novel right now.