The Education Secretary is knowingly endangering children

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposed Donald Trump's reversal of Obama's transgender restroom policy because she worried that the reversal would hurt and potentially endanger children in schools.

When faced with the choice of supporting Trump's reversal of the policy (which he promised not to do during the campaign) or resign, DeVos opted support the policy and keep her job.

To be clear: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has knowingly placed children in danger in order to save her job.

Tiny moments like this is why I teach

My students were reading the first scene of Hamlet yesterday, trying to determining the meaning of the language using background knowledge and context clues..

In the first scene, Horatio says of Hamlet's father's ghost:

This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
as needful in our loves, fitting our duty?

"Dumb" in this case means mute. The ghost refuses to speak to anyone but Hamlet. Two of my students were able to determine the meaning of dumb in this instances.

One student used context clues.

The other told me that he learned the word by listening to Elton John's version of Pinball Wizard, which includes the line:

That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball!

He added that the Elton John version of the song is superior to The Who's version. Thus began a spirited debate as to why The Who's version of the song is far superior to Elton John's half-witted cover for the film version of Tommy. 

Eventually, I had to wrap up the debate as other children with far less pressing, less interesting matters were waiting to speak to me, but next week, I'll be playing both versions of the song to my class so they can decide for themselves. 

This is one of the reasons I teach. For moments like this. 

I was stupid when I was young.

My daughter Clara - age 8 - in the midst of eating breakfast and watching Blues Clues, just asked me who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

"Are they talking about The Nobel Prize on Blues Clues?" I asked. 

"No," she said. "I was reading something about inspirational people in the world yesterday. And I just thought that the Nobel Peace Prize winner from last year would probably be inspirational."

She reminds me every day about how incredibly stupid I was at her age and for many years thereafter. 

The glory and might of a good old fashioned pillow fight

Back in the early 1990's, when I was living in Attleboro, MA with my best friend, Bengi, in a home we affectionately referred to as The Heavy Metal Playhouse, we engaged in some of the most epic pillow fights in history.

After sunset, the shades would be pulled, the lights turned out, and anywhere from four to eight of us would use pillows, sofa cushions, and even stuffed animals to wallop one another in the near-pitch dark. The sofa cushions has zippers, so they would occasionally leave scratches across faces, arms, and legs, but we wore those scratches as badges of honor.

Couches would be tipped over to provide cover against frontal assaults. Temporary alliances would form out of desperate necessity. Smaller pillows would be fired as projectile weapons across the room. Occasionally a guy and girl would disappear into a corner to make out until discovered by some pillow-wielding attacker who would quickly break them up.

These pillow fights could go on for hours. They were glorious.   

I feel like we could all benefit from a few more pillow fights in our lives.

pillow fight.jpg

Of course, not every pillow fight ends well: 

  • In 1921, the New York Tribune reported that a small boy named Charles Hunton fell from his six-floor winder after having a pillow fight with his brother Arthur. Although Charles was knocked unconscious, a hospital examination found no broken bones or internal injuries. When asked how he was feeling, the boy nonchalantly said he was “fine” and asked for some ice cream.
  • New York police responded to a hospital riot in 1953, but found something more unusual: The New York Herald reported that rival wings of a narcotics ward at Riverside Hospital erupted into an intense pillow fight. Seventy-two men engaged in the melee before armed police came to shut it down. The brawl started at around 10 p.m., but was quelled within 45 minutes. 
  • Leave it to the police to ruin yet another good pillow fight. In 2009, a public pillow fight planned at Campus Martius Park was shut down before it even began. Detroit Free Press said police arrived at the scene and sent potential fighters home. "We don't have a problem with consenting adults hitting each other with pillows, but the issue becomes cleanup," Detroit Spokesperson James Tate said. 

Men who grumble about jeans and sweaters are stupid.

Back in December I wrote a piece about the stupidity of forbidding jeans in the workplace.

Just a couple days ago, I wrote a piece about the stupidity of bemoaning casual dress in America.

Yesterday a reader sent me this story about North Dakota's Governor Doug Burgum being asked to leave the North Dakota Senate floor for wearing jeans.

Burgum is a Republican. 

Burgum's preference for jeans and sweaters has reportedly spurred much grumbling at the Capitol among many male lawmakers who wear a suit and tie when the Legislature is in session.

Can you imagine? The state is facing a one billion dollar budget deficit - the largest in the country - and these lawmakers are grumbling about what about the clothing that the governor of the state is wearing.

Middle school nonsense. That's what this is. Wrapping a floral noose around your neck and throwing a needless coat over your shirt doesn't make you a better leader. 

It simply makes you a better conformer.

5 things to remember when bemoaning the proliferation of casual dress in America.

The next time you bemoan (or hear someone bemoan) the proliferation of casual dress in Americans today, please remember these five things:

  1. For centuries, clothing was specifically used to identify social class, gender, and age. It's only been recently that Americans have been able to break free from these culturally imposed norms and express personal identitythrough self image. This is a good thing.  
  2. Formal attire is expensive. The people who complain about the casual dress of Americans today tend to be the people who can afford more formal attire and are probably blind to their own good fortune and privilege.   
  3. Owning a wardrobe consisting of both formal and less formal attire is also expensive. Once again, the people who complain about the casual dress of Americans today tend to be the people who can afford more expansive and diverse wardrobes and are probably blind to their own good fortune and privilege.  
  4. For many people, clothing is not nearly as important as investments in education, experiences, and their children's futures. Complaining about the proliferation of casual dress in America today is to argue that your priorities are the right priorities. This makes you a jackass of the highest order.  
  5. People who are concerned with the physical appearance of others tend to be some of the smallest, most insignificant people on the planet. Our kindergarten teachers taught us not to judge books by their covers. These are people who need to go back to kindergarten.    

Historian Deirdra Clemente says it better than me

Americans dress casual. Why? Because clothes are freedom—freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor. The rise of casual style directly undermined millennia-old rules that dictated noticeable luxury for the rich and functioning work clothes for the poor. Until a little more than a century ago, there were very few ways to disguise your social class. You wore it—literally—on your sleeve. Today, CEOs wear sandals to work and white suburban kids tweak their L.A. Raiders hat a little too far to the side. Compliments of global capitalism, the clothing market is flooded with options to mix-and-match to create a personal style.
— Deirdra Clemente

Trump called the media "the enemy of the American people." This could not be further from the truth.

Donald Trump's assault on the press took a new and ominous step yesterday when he called the press the "enemy of the American people." At a rally in Florida, he misquoted Thomas Jefferson in an effort to defend his position, a fact brought to light by journalists. 

The Jeffersonian quote that Trump should've used was this:

"The only security of all is in a free press." - Thomas Jefferson

He might've also cited the words of South African President Nelson Mandela:

"A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy."

I understand why Trump is attempting to turn the American people against the media. In just his third week in office, journalists revealed that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had lied to the Vice President and the American people about his discussions with Russia prior to the inauguration - lies that Trump knew about for at least two weeks and did nothing about except fire the one person (Sally Yates) who warned him about Flynn's lies and his possible exposure to blackmail as a result. 

This led to the eventual firing of Flynn - something Trump obviously wanted to avoid but needed to happen for the safety and security of the country.

The truth can be inconvenient, particularly when you are attempting to cover up illegalities in your administration. 

Thankfully, Americans are supporting the media in numbers greater than ever before. Increases in subscriptions and viewership across television and newspapers is astounding:

The New York Times - a favorite target of the President - is enjoying record numbers of digital subscriptions, and their stock is at a 52 week high.  

The media is not and never has been the enemy of the American people. The media is comprised of men and women who seek the truth on a daily basis, oftentimes risking their lives in the process.

Journalism giants like Woodward and Bernstein saved our country from a tyrant (who also referred to the press as an enemy). Trailblazing journalists like Nellie Bly changed the way mental health institutions are run today.

And then there are the thousands of journalists who have been kidnapped, tortured, murdered, beheaded, and otherwise killed in the line of duty.

1230 since 1992 alone.

Here are the faces of just a few of the men and women who have given their lives in pursuit of the truth in the last few years. A President who was granted five highly questionable military deferments during Vietnam has no right referring to our press as the enemy of the American people.

Journalists are all that stands between propaganda and truth. They are underpaid, under-appreciated, oftentimes unsung heroes of the American people.

We must stand beside them in times like these.   

Three types of people who people hate

I think this list is fairly obvious, and yet I deal with people like this ALL THE TIME.

So in case you are not aware of your own shortcomings, here are three types of people who people hate. Check and make sure that you are not one of them:

Complainers: There is nothing wrong with taking issue in a matter of importance, but if you are a person who finds something to complain about on an almost daily basis, or you have several complaints going on at the same time, the problem is not the world. The problem is you. And we all hate you for it.

"Yeah, but": Similar to complainers, these are people who reject solutions to their problems by simultaneously acknowledging the potential effectiveness of a proposed solution while at the same time finding ways to continue to complain about the same problem. These are people who enjoy problems and find simple solutions oddly offensive. If you frequently say "yeah, but" or something along those lines, we hate you.

Escalators: These are people who may have legitimate issues with individuals, organizations, and other entities, but rather than approaching these entities in a measured, productive, civil manner, they take pride and pleasure in airing out their issues in public or semi-public forums in ways that make everyone around them uncomfortable. These are also people who constantly assume the worst of others and love to threaten to sue at the drop of a dime.

Here's a good way of determining if you are an escalator:

The average number of times that a person threatens to sue another person or organization in their lifetime is less than one. Even if you were to sue someone, reasonable people don't threaten to sue. They simply file their lawsuit in a court of law, absent of the verbal flourish. If the number of times you have threatened to sue someone in your lifetime exceeds two, you are likely an escalator, and we hate you.

My daughter embraces respectful dissent and nonconformity. Even in the face of Trump.

My eight year-old daughter, Clara, is no fan of Donald Trump. Ever since she saw a clip of him speaking poorly to Megyn Kelly on CBS Sunday Morning months ago (it seems like years ago), she has despised the man. 

Nothing since then has convinced her otherwise. Understandably so.

Still, when confronted with a weekly reader at her school featuring a piece on Trump's inauguration, she said, "Most of the kids in my class scratched his face off the cover of the magazine because they all hate him, too. But I didn't. I wanted to be respectful even though I really don't like him." 

Had Clara scratched his face off the magazine. I would not have complained. I may have even cheered the decision. 

Still, I was proud of her. I appreciated her surprisingly nuanced understanding of respectful dissent.

Her little brother, by comparison, is fond of saying that Donald Trump belongs in a trashcan.

A lot less nuance. 

Also, whenever my daughter takes the side of nonconformity, it warms her Daddy's heart. It's not always the path of least resistance (as I well know), but I believe it's the path to inner strength and enlightenment. 

Before you criticize the Superintendent for a snow day decision, consider this.

One of the most criticized decision that any Superintendent can make is the decision to declare a snow day or a delay in the school day due to inclement weather. 

I have made it a policy to never criticize a Superintendent - as both a parent and a teacher - for these decisions for a number of reasons:

  1. I believe that every Superintendent is making what he or she believes to be the right call when it comes to inclement weather. No Superintendent in the world wants a child harmed on the way to school. In other words, these difficult decisions are made with the best possible intentions, which is all we can ask of leaders when making decisions involving enormous uncertainty. Complaining about the decision after the fact serves absolutely no purpose. Your complaints will not cause a Superintendent to make a better decision next time. He or she  are already trying to make the best possible decision every time already.    
  2. This is a decision involving the weather. Any decision regarding the weather is an incredibly difficult one to make. It's impossible to predict. Thinking that a school official knows what the weather conditions will be with any degree of certainty when the meteorologists are often uncertain is absurd.  
  3. Just as important as the actual road conditions are the sidewalks. Many children walk to school. The roads might look pristine, but if the sidewalks around the schools have not been cleared, a delay may need to be called. Too often people decide if a Superintendent has made a good decision based upon their own limited set of information.
  4. Superintendents know that for many students, the breakfast and lunch they eat at school are the best and most complete meals of their day. This was the case for me as a child. A snow day often means that children will go hungry that day. This weighs heavily on a Superintendent's mind when making the decision. Even a two hour delay will wipe out breakfast at most schools. 
  5. Snow days and and delays throw families into chaos. Childcare must often be found at the last minute. When it can't be found, children far too young to be left home alone often are. Adults arrive at work late and risk losing their jobs if it happens too often. All of this also weighs heavily on the mind of a Superintendent.   

None of this is to imply that safety should be first and foremost in the mind of a Superintendent when making the decision, but he or she must also bring all of these factors to bear when making the call. It's a much more complex decision than I think most people realize. 

Here are two more factors that are so often forgotten:

  1. Parents and colleagues will complain that the roads were unsafe on a given day and that a delay or cancellation was in order, yet when I check at the end of the day, all children across the district have arrived to school safely. No accidents or injuries whatsoever. If every child in the district has arrived to school safely, the right call was apparently made, regardless of how slippery you thought the roads were earlier in the day. 
  2. Teachers should never complain about their drive to school during inclement weather. Snow days and delays are not meant for the safety of adults. My friends who work as lawyers, custodians, IT professionals. doctors, cashiers, and cooks do not get snow days. My buddy who works at ESPN goes to work regardless of the weather. My friend who works as an attorney in Hartford doesn't get the morning off if the roads are slippery. When I worked in banking and in restaurants, I went to work regardless of road conditions. Teachers are professionals and have no business complaining about their drive to work. Snow days are not meant for them.

 I recently wrote a piece about the snow days of my youth in my humor column in Seasons magazine. You can check it out here on page 49.

Trumpian typos abound - and frighten me to death


The US Department of Education published a tweet that spelled W.E.B. Du Bois's name incorrectly. That error stood for four hours before it was finally corrected. The Department of Education then apologized, with another typo:

“Our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo..."

Great start for Betsy DeVos. Or DuVos. Or DeVes.  

A couple hours later, the Republican Party published a tweet that quoted Abraham Lincoln on his birthday, except that it wasn't something Abraham Lincoln ever said. 

In fact, the quote probably originates from the 1940s. As the website Quote Investigator notes, a version of the quote was probably first uttered by a medical doctor named Edward J. Stieglitz, quoted in the Chicago Tribune in 1947.

To top it all off, the official inaugural photo of Donald Trump, on sale now at the Library of Congress, also has a typo in its one and only sentence:

Earlier in the week, The Trump Administration gave the press a typo-riddled lists of terrorist attacks that they claimed were not covered enough by the press.

Kellyanne Conaway's Bowling Green Massacre (a story that she has repeated multiple times until she was caught) was not on this list, but it received ample coverage nonetheless. Rightfully so. 

I know. I know. I'm an elitist for thinking that our government might have some spell checking apparatus in place and we might expect a modicum of professionalism from our leaders, but it doesn't look good and makes me worry about other items requiring precision. 

Say... the value of the dollar. The rate of inflation. Interest rates. The location to drop a bomb on a terrorist. The nuclear codes. 

Brother and Sister Day

Yesterday, February 11, my kids declared it Brother and Sister Day, a self-made holiday of sorts.

I thought it was cute when they proposed the idea the day before but thought nothing else of it. I figured that they'd probably forget about the whole thing by the next day.

Boy was I wrong. 

The two of them actually turned it into a genuine holiday, spending enormous amounts of time in each other's company. They didn't argue a single bit. Cuddled frequently. Complimented each other constantly.

They don't fight very often, but yesterday was a genuine love fest.  

And around 6:30 PM, Elysha and I heard Charlie lament, "It's so sad, Clara. Brother and Sister Day is almost over."

"I know," Clara said. "It was such a good day. I love you."

I listen to my kids say these impossible things. I watch them love each other beyond measure. I often turn to Elysha and say, "No one would believe the things our kids say to each other."

I witness all of it and know that they will always have each other.

Each other. It might be the best thing we ever give them. 

Got kids? Here's how to turn them into writers.

As a teacher and a writer, I often give parents advice on helping their children to become effective writers who (more importantly) love to write.

My advice is simple:

Be the best audience possible for your child’s work. If he or she wants to read something to you, drop everything. Allow the chicken to burn in the frying pan. Allow the phone to ring off the hook. Give your child your full and complete attention. When a child reads something that they have written to someone who they love and respect, it is the most important thing happening in the world at that moment. Treat is as such.  

Don’t look at the piece. Don’t even touch the piece. Any comment made about the piece should never be about handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and the like. By never seeing the actual text, you innate, insatiable parental need to comment on these things will be properly stifled. Your child does not want to hear about your thoughts on punctuation or the neatness of their printing. No writer does. Your child has given birth to something from the heart and mind. Treat it with reverence. Speak about how it makes you feel. Rave about the ideas and images. Talk about the word choices that you loved. Compliment the title. Ask for more. Forget the rest.

Remember: Rough drafts are supposed to be rough. Even final drafts are not meant to be perfect. That’s why editors exist. Go online and look at the rough drafts of EB White’s Charlotte’s Web. They’re almost illegible. Who cares? Writing is messy.  

Once your child has finished reading the piece, offer three positive statements about the writing. Compliments. Nothing more. Only after you have said three positive things may you offer a suggestion. Maintain this 3:1 compliment/criticism ratio always. Use the word “could” instead of “should” when commenting.

If your child asks how to spell a word, spell it. Sending a child to the dictionary to find the spelling of a word is an act of cruelty and a surefire way to make writing less fun. You probably so this because it was the way that your parents and teachers treated you, but it didn’t help you one bit. It only turned writing into a chore. If you were to ask a colleague how to spell a word, you wouldn’t expect to be sent to the dictionary. That would be rude, The same holds true for your child.

Also, the dictionary was not designed for this purpose. It’s an alphabetical list of definitions and other information about words, but is wasn’t meant for spelling. Just watch a first grader look for the word “phone” in the F section of the dictionary and you will quickly realize how inefficient and pointless this process is.

When it comes to writing, the most important job for parents and teachers is to ensure that kids learn to love to write. If a child enjoys putting words on a page, even if those words are poorly spelled, slightly illegible, and not entirely comprehensible, that’s okay. The skills and strategies for effective writing will come in time, though direct instruction, lots of practice, and a little osmosis. The challenge – the mountain to climb – is getting a child to love writing. Make that your primary objective. Make that your only objective. Do everything you can to ensure that your child loves the writing process. Once you and your child achieve that summit, the rest will fall into place.

I promise.

Except for the handwriting. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about that. Just be grateful that we live in a world where most of the writing is done on a computer. 

Follow this rule. Change your life.

Here's a rule to consider when living your life:

At least once a year (and much more often if possible), you should try something that is:

  1. New
  2. Difficult
  3. At least a little frightening
  4. Reduces the amount of time spent watching television
  5. Has the potential of becoming something meaningful - a new hobby, a new career, something that you can be proud of - if done well

Change in our lives is essential, and yet so many of us avoid it at all costs. An enormous percentage of the population slowly settles into a daily routine that only varies if external factors forces change upon them. Days bleed into one another, with the Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays of last year resembling the Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays of the year before in almost every possible way. 

So many of us forget how good a new struggle can feel. We fail to remember the joy of self discovery that we so often experiences when we were younger. We no longer see the value of variety.   

Change keeps us youthful, interesting, happy, and motivated. Constant, relentless change is the thing that prevents us from feeling like time is flying by. It brings greater meaning not only to our lives but to the individual days of our lives.

Following my suggestion just once a year is a reasonable goal. An admittedly low bar, but a good start. The chance to bring something new into your life. The chance to change your life.  

Victory brownies and the definition of fandom and friendship

Our tailgate meal prior to a New England Patriots game has many glorious traditions.

One of these traditions are "victory brownies." Tony and his wife, Erin, bake brownies for dessert after an enormous meal of meat and meat and meat and potato, but we don't eat the brownies until the Patriots win.

Yesterday I received a package from Tony. When I opened the box, this is what I found:

Victory brownies. "Victory brownies of all time."

THIS, my friends, is what friendship and fandom look like. 

15 piece of advice from Elizabeth Sampat

Elizabeth Sampat, an award-winning game designer and activist, recently took to Twitter to offer 100 pieces of advice. I pulled out 15 of what I thought were the best and offer them to you here.

My favorite is #71.


2. Unless you are a salaried employee or have guaranteed regular hours, always buy the largest amount of toilet paper you can afford.

4. When someone says they can’t do something, 75% of the time it means “There are things not worth sacrificing to make this happen."

6. Never feel bad for dropping people from your life. Friends, family, whoever.

15. Treat your kids like human beings from the day they’re born and you’ll end up living with people whose company you like for 18 years.

20. Don’t put more than five words on a slide or people will be reading instead of listening to you talk.

22. Have a tweet in your drafts that a friend can send if you die, so your last tweet ever isn’t a drill RT or something.

25. If you have to say “I was just kidding around” then your joke wasn’t funny.

40. It’s just as important to have enemies as it is to have friends, otherwise you haven’t done anything worth doing with your life.

49. If you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a different room.

50. The best thing you can ever do for your kid is to replace every hope/dream/preconceived notion with a desire to help them be themselves.

70. Listen and learn from marginalized people, especially black women, and give them credit every time you say something you learned from them.

71. We’re all going to die someday, and it’s good to remember that, but don’t think about it after 8PM.

72. Your childhood wasn’t normal. PROMISE. The sooner you realize it, the better off you are. (if it felt “happy” normal, it was privileged).

82. It’s 1000000% okay to laugh during sex.

90. Dishes only get grosser the longer they sit in the sink. Soaking for more than an hour is a lie.

Things About Me #6

I can sing all of the words to the theme song for Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, a Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1985-1991. 

The math on this is a little disconcerting, given that I was 14 years old in 1985. 

I can also sing the theme songs to the first two seasons of Star Blazers, an American animated television series adaptation of the Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato. When I was watching it in the early 1980's, it was an after school cartoon on the UHF stations.  

The fact that these two theme songs are also embedded in my mind is disconcerting.