Saturday, February 26, 2011

The political run-on

Would you believe that on the day Space Shuttle Discovery links up on its final flight with the International Space Station -- 26+ years after first launch in 1984 -- at a place in space where the former Soviet Union, the United States of America, Canada, Japan, and a number of representatives of the European Union have come together on orbit above our planet to work together as one team for the benefit of knowledge and humanity, taking along the first humanoid robot ever put to work in outer space -- policemen, firemen, social workers, teachers, and many other types of citizens are gathering in state capitals around the country hoping to convince Republicans-in-charge that killing public labor unions is not in the best interest of American workers?  

image:   Discovery STS-114 (August 2005) NASA

Friday, February 25, 2011

Public labor unions

Like most of you, I imagine, I’ve been paying lots of attention to the labor issues in Wisconsin and Ohio.  The controlling Republican administrations in those states want to take current state budget crises and parlay them into opportunities to weaken or destroy public unions.  
In Facebook interchanges this week I’ve been communicating with a former high school student, now an upstanding family man, who states clearly the purpose of unions is a thing of the past.  Let public workers take their jobs or leave ‘em.  His own wife works in education, and his advice to her is the same.  Don’t like your job?  Quit and find another one.  That’s what I have to deal with.
Another complaint of his comes from bad teachers.  Both good teachers and bad make the same money and get the same benefits.  Fire the bad ones and reward the good ones with jobs.  I do understand his issues, but I sure don’t agree with them.  
First off, let me say that as a retired public school teacher, I knew colleagues who I thought weren’t doing their jobs.  Most times I walked past one classroom, the teacher was reading the newspaper while students did seat work.  Other times I’d walk by and I heard the teacher putting a kid down soundly while other students laughed.  It was chilling to listen to and I didn’t like it. 
Still, all teachers have administrative bosses -- called principals -- whose job it is to evaluate performance.  Every contract I ever worked under had provisions for all teachers, even those under continuing contracts, to be reviewed.  Regardless of the teacher, administration had powers to work with staff to improve performance.  I always concluded that if administrators knew a teacher was doing a bad job, it was their job to intercede and follow procedure to improve that performance.  Bad teaching is not a permanent problem.  Make changes or remove the teacher.  It was in the contract.  
Lots of conservatives bitch about the National Education Association (NEA), the union I belonged to all through my career.  As a labor union, the NEA most often sides with Democrats.  I suppose they would support Republicans if the GOP acted like they cared about workers, but they largely don’t.  I’ve always known the NEA to support teachers, but also students.  The organization has always been in the forefront in updating standards and professional training.  The NEA offers grants, writing contests, and curriculum samples.  The NEA is more than a union, it’s a professional organization.  You could look it up: 
I know I worked hard in my career and made a decent living.  I could never live an extravagant lifestyle, that’s for sure, but I did okay.  Being a teacher gave me a good middle class living.  I paid my taxes, even local taxes in a municipality where I did not live.  I paid into my retirement the whole time, too.  Yes, I was a public employee, but I always felt like I was giving back to the community.  Even when I spent my own money to decorate my classroom which I did every year, along with every other good teacher I’ve ever known.  Many of us willingly spent money out of our own pockets to make our classrooms more attractive and student friendly.  
As a member of my local public school union, I also served on its governing board a couple of years, though I never took part in negotiations.  As of member of that union, I felt I was taking a responsible role enhancing education in that community.  Trust me, my job was way more than a paycheck.  It was a true avocation.  Most of us felt that way, too.
It hurts me to think that conservative Ohioans see me as a freeloader or enemy of the state.  I was always proud of my work and the kids I taught.  Taking power away from the teachers' union is one heck of a way to reward employees for a caring career well done.  
Today’s elder idea:  I wrote this letter to the Dayton Daily News editor a couple weeks ago.  It ran in today’s edition (Friday, 25 February 2011): 
I am sure Gov. Kasich and his crew of anti-public sector Republican cohorts now controlling all of Ohio’s state government offices would want nothing more than to have all public schools transformed into charter schools.  That way salaries could be cut, benefits gutted, and any chance of faculty negotiating better contracts for their families a thing of yesteryear.  Let’s return to the practices of the Gilded Age when big business only had the best interest of Ohioans at heart.  And I wonder why the good governor didn’t run campaign ads promoting his intent to disregard public unions?  Oh, that’s right.  You get more votes by spending money on ads trashing your opponent than telling the electorate what you really want to do if elected. 
Tom Schaefer
Harrison Township

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An open letter to Mother

This February 28 marks a real milestone for my mother, Gertrude Angela Schaefer:  She’ll reach her 90th birthday.  Such a day to celebrate!  Can you imagine?  Ninety years?  That’s a whole lot of years and responsibilities to put into perspective, to be sure. 
Mom came into the world in 1921, the fourth of five kids born to Dayton tailor Urban Zimmer and his wife Emma.  World War I was still fresh in everybody’s mind, though peace wasn’t officially declared until a few months after she was born.  Just days after her birth Ohioan Warren G. Harding was inaugurated 29th President of the United States.  Later that year Russian Communism took deeper root throughout eastern Europe and Asia while Adolf Hitler became Fuhrer of the Nazi Party in Germany.  That fall The Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery.  
In happier news, women were still celebrating their newly won right to vote with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which became law the August before Mom was born.  The first Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City in 1921, as was the first Sweetest Day celebrated in Cleveland that year.  Such a year it was.  
I suppose I wanted to start my Open letter to Mother with a little world history because, at her encouragement, my own fascination with world events grew.  As a school kid I was lucky enough to come home for lunch every day.  Sometimes she let me take my tomato soup, sandwich, and apple sauce into the dining room so I could watch television.  I remember fondly in 1961 sitting there watching Robert Frost attempt to read his poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.  
I remember, too, an evening one year later, with all us kids intently watching our black and white Westinghouse television in the corner of our Fauver Avenue living room, while the President reported trouble with Russian missiles in Cuba.  When I turned to look at Mom sitting in a kitchen chair behind us, she was weeping.  Maybe it was because she worried about her kids living in a nuclear world.  Maybe it was because of powerful memories of waiting for Dad to come home from war in the 1940s.  All I know is, I can see her sitting there like it was yesterday. 
Mother, you need to know how much I love you.  You need to know that I know how your interest in the world and your love for me spurred me on to become a caring person and a teacher of children.  
Thanks for reading Mr. Punneymoon’s Train and Five Little Firemen and a ton of other Little Golden Books to all of us kids countless times.  Thanks for buying that set of encyclopedias at Kroger when we were still in elementary school.  Thanks for the set of records that introduced me to the instruments in the orchestra.  Thanks for freezing cherries and making that amazing crisp out of them.  Thanks especially for the apple sauce.   
Thanks for packing so many picnics with Dad and taking us kids out to parks where we could run and be crazy.  Thanks, too, for getting my head stitched up when I needed it after a fall.  And thanks for telling Patty and Mike to quit spelling out words I couldn’t understand in our bedroom at night when we were supposed to be going to sleep.  Thanks for teaching us all how to play cards.   
Thanks for playing Flower Drum Song, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The Four Lads on the house stereo countless times.  Thanks for encouraging me to get a paper route.  Thanks for sending me up to the library on my bike every once in a while, the place where I found my love for literature.  Thanks for countless Christmases, new shoes, new prayer books, and Carroll High School tuition.  
Thanks for giving me my first collegiate dictionary when I was a freshman at Wright State.  Thanks for not blowing too many gaskets when I bought Mrs. Wise’s Chevy in 1968 when you didn’t think I needed a car to get to Fairborn.  Thanks for encouraging me to write and use my head for something other than a hat rack.     
Thanks for being a good grandma and great grandma.  One of my all-time favorite memories is watching you and little three year-old Noah sitting on your back porch deck with lemonades, talking as you love to do, while I cut the grass after Dad left us.  You initiated that little boy in the art of conversation that you love so much. 
Happy birthday, Mom.  I hope this one is extra special as you remember a life so full of love and children and a deep abiding faith in God.  
I love you. 
Tom / kid #3
Today’s elder idea:  My faith in God has ever been sustaining in my life.  No matter what problems arose, I found my first inclination was to get down on my knees in prayer.  An altar in the corner of the bedroom was a source of consolation and inspiration, and when times were especially difficult, I would light the votive candle.  God, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Mother, St. Jude (Patron of the Impossible), St. Anthony (Patron of Things Lost), St. Julie (Patron of Notre Dame), all hear from me frequently.  Life has been very tough at times, but always I can bound back although the tears are not far behind. 
Gertrude Zimmer Schaefer
Excerpted from “My Love Story”  (1996)
Written for author Nicholas Sparks through a writing contest sponsored by the Dayton Daily News.
photo:  Gert Zimmer at 20.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hunkerin' down

According to news reports, the winter storm system that just came through the Midwest was ‘geographically the largest recorded.’  I think the Weather Channel said it was over 1,800 miles long, ranging from southern Oklahoma, through Chicago, across the Great Lakes, all the way to Maine.  And those in Dallas awaiting this Sunday’s Super Bowl were complaining of ice all the way down there.  To be sure, it was a mother of a storm.
Still, I read at least one letter to the editor berating Al Gore as a fool for promoting the dangers of global warming.  I guess that reader didn’t read the parts of the report about how when the Earth warms, we can expect more severe storms, summer and winter.  I’m sure this writer wasn’t from Brisbane, Australia, either, where those folks have just experienced their worst flooding ever and now have to deal with a category 5 hurricane with wind speeds upwards of 175 mph blowing in.  
Oh, the weather, she can be fickle as the Earth warms.  
Our part of the storm here in Dayton wasn’t all that bad.  Of course, I can say that from looking out from inside our nicely heated  home into a night of sleet and freezing rain and then an afternoon of a gentle 2 inch snowfall.  We lost power for 6 hours while we slept Wednesday morning.  Our neighbors on one side of our street weren’t so lucky.  They are now going on their 37th hour without power.  The next door neighbor kid said they are looking for a motel tonight.  
As a recovering high school teacher, though, I always loved winter weather events.  Trouble transporting students seemed to be primary to central office decisions to cancel.  Such was okay with me.  An unexpected day off in the middle of the week was a true treasure.  Sometimes we didn’t learn of the closure until we were supposed to get up and get going.  Hearing the radio announcement at 5:30 am, or in later years getting the phone chain call, was something to celebrate as Cindy Lou cheered and then rolled over for more sleep.  Me?  I often got up and got a fire going in the fireplace.  A quiet, warm, snowy house?  It doesn’t get much better.  
And, yes, since we’ve retired we’ve forgotten most of the unsavory stuff about being in the classroom everyday.  No more lesson plans, no more discipline forms to fill out, no more essay grading.  For this we are thankful.  But snow days?  The idea still gets us pumped.  
This storm, like other heavy snow fall days, shut down a lot more than local schools.  Wright Patterson Air Force Base had ‘system critical’ staff in only.  My daughter got a couple days off there.  Mailman Sam?  He’s our hero.  He didn’t miss any delivery days this week, and that’s with super treacherous icy walking.  He said a month or so ago on a day not nearly as bad as this week, he fell down a half dozen times.  Bless his heart for sticking with it. 
For me, and for a few friends I’ve talked to, the beauty of a winter storm like this one is that everybody is impacted.  Everybody’s schedule changes.  Just about everybody gets to stay home.  We’ve been lucky this week to still have power and internet, but even if we didn’t, we would have reveled in the experience as a couple.  Like when Hurricane Ike blew through a year or so ago.  
Without power, we would have fed the wood burning stove, picked up stuff to read, cooked over the Coleman, talked a bit more, and spent more time -- warm -- in bed.  
Now, that’s special, indeed.  
Today’s elder idea:  Only in winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.
Ruth Stout  (1884-1980)
Kansan Quaker writer and gardener