Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Many Freaks And Not Enough Circuses

I honestly don’t remember where I heard this statement.  It could have been a line in a movie, or maybe something said on a news program by a commentator or someone being interviewed.  I Googled it and immediately saw that I could order a t-shirt with this statement on it, and that there is a blog out there with this statement as a title.  It would appear that at least somewhere, it is a common cliché or one-liner.  Heck, I hadn’t ever heard it before!
My initial reaction to it was “that’s kind of a funny line” and “boy, isn’t that the truth!”  So I wrote it down, as I often do, because I like to keep track of quotes, and then came across it and had a new reaction.  To put it blunt, I am tired of intolerance.  I am tired of some people who express their mean, sick, negative opinions of other people.  The battle of words being waged by people who disagree with a person’s sexual preference, and the actions taken by zealots that prohibit women from exercising their “inalienable rights.”  Our own governor refusing to allow child refugees to come to Iowa, even though there are families more than willing to take them into their homes.  Didn’t he live here when Governor Ray and hundreds of Iowans welcomed families and individuals from Southeast Asia?  Because these kids don’t speak our language and I would guess, come from Central American countries, they are somehow “less” than other children.  These kids are fleeing lives of violence, poverty, and in many cases, and absence of any kind of a family with the hope of a better life in this great nation of ours.  Just like all of our forefathers, they have come here seeking comfort and a new start.  We can certainly deal with this immigration issue better, but the venom coming from the mouths of people like Ann Coulter and other talking heads is disgusting.  It seems that many people that have the microphone have a total disregard for civility and respect.  Why do kids bully?  Because adults can get away with it!
In our school, we still haven’t gotten to the point where we have mutual respect and tolerance for all, though were are certainly closer than other aspects of our society.  Every school is a melting pot of different people.  Teachers and students come in all different shapes and sizes, and a few different colors.  There are different personalities, ideas, opinions, and motivations.  We have students with unique abilities and some with disabilities.  Diabetics, autistics, hearing impaired, musically impaired, athletically delayed, academically gifted, academically challenged, tongue-tied, and vertically compromised are but a few of the characteristics of people in our building. 
There are people that think they are better than others because they are natives, living in this community their entire life, and others who believe they are superior because of their last name or due to the income that their parents generate.  It is difficult for students new to town to be accepted for a multitude of reasons, but in large part it is because they in someway may threaten the status quo.  By the time students reach high school they have unfairly established some type of a pecking order.  That is not totally unique to our school, but there are places where people are welcomed and integrated easily into the school community.
By now some of you believe that I have thoroughly trashed the students and staff at our school.  No, I haven’t.  We have a very good school and we have many great people that walk through the doors every day.  Each person has a lot more good days than bad, and we are all human.  Mutual respect is absolutely necessary in order for any organization to function at its highest level.  Mutual respect is contingent on acceptance and tolerance.  On some issues, that is the ability to agree to disagree, done so respectfully.  In human relations, it is absolute adherence to the Golden Rule, the only “law” consistent in all of the major religions of the world.  Every person that resides in our building for a few hours each day must have the opportunity to leave with a smile on their face because they had a good day, because they didn’t have someone call them a name, put them down, or refuse to let them sit at the same table at lunch.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Respect.  Community.  Until we have an environment where 100% of our people exercise those character traits 100% of the time, we have a problem and we have work to do.  We don’t have any freaks, and while there are days when is does seem like it, NFVHS is not a circus. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Take a Trip

I remember a conversation I had with a little while back with a recently graduated student during softball season and her overwhelming joy and anticipation about an upcoming trip that her family had planned between the end of softball and the start of school.  Adding to her excitement was the fact that her family had never taken a trip like that before.  If I remember correctly, the plan was to drive west through Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, through Utah and Nevada and into northern California.  She was particularly excited about seeing San Francisco and Yosemite, as well as Napa Valley.  I shared some “must see” experiences for San Francisco, and then added more when she explained that they would also head down the coast to southern California and work their way home through Las Vegas.  So much to see and so much excitement!
Traveling is something that both my wife and I love to do, as well as something we have done with our kids.  We have made a point to turn some of our business trips into family vacations when we can, and we have also taken advantage of other opportunities when they have come up.  When our kids were very small we made a decision that we wanted them to see what is out there and to experience all there is in the world, starting with this incredible country we live in.  Yes, there were some miserable moments when they were younger and not too tolerant of long rides in the backseat of the car.  A trip to the Black Hills stands out!  And there were times when my frustrations boiled over as well, as the other three members of my family can attest.  But this part of one of my fundamental philosophies of education: Don’t let school get in the way of your education.  Now I understand that sounds strange coming from a principal, but it is something that I strongly believe and something that was instilled in me by my parents.  You see, there is so many different things out there that we can learn about, but we have to get out and experience them, and in my opinion, we are short-changing ourselves when we don’t.
I get it that not all families can afford fancy vacations, and while it is hard for some people to believe, we have students at NFVHS that have never been to Des Moines, have not been out of the state of Iowa, nor ever spent a night in a hotel.  It is for that reason that I am thoroughly impressed with the travel opportunities we have for students at our school, and I sincerely wish we could make sure that every student has a chance to go on at least one of them.  In fact, in one of those conversations I had with Mr. Willhite late on a Friday afternoon when we apparently didn’t have anywhere better to go, we discussed how we might add even more opportunities than what we currently have for students.  Is that part of our educational mission?  Is that something that would benefit the both the students and the academic program at our school?  Is it even possible?
I always hesitate to make lists because without a doubt, I will leave something out.  But I think I can come close to trips that we offer.  Spanish students go to Costa Rica every two years.  Any student can apply to go to Uberlingen, Germany every other year.  Seniors that take four years of math, science, or art can spend a couple of days in Chicago.  The band and chorus take a trip every couple of years to a city, including Washington, DC, Kansas City, and St. Louis in recent years.  Some FFA kids have a chance to go to their national convention in either Indianapolis or Louisville, and other go to Ames for the state convention.  Some business students took a day trip to Minneapolis this past year.  Yes, each trip has “strings” or qualifications, but for most students, there is one that nearly every student could qualify for.
My parents made a point of including educational aspects to all of our vacations, and we do the same on the ones we take with our kids.  Obviously the school trips do the same.  Yes, they cost money and that can be a barrier.  I would like to think we could overcome that so we don’t have students who have never left Iowa or spent a night in a hotel before they graduate from high school.