Occasionally Standing up for Basic Humanity Does Not Make John McCain a Hero

I am always a little baffled when I read left leaning publications and individuals talking about what a hero and Maverick John McCain is for standing up to the growing white nationalist movement in our country. In his most recent “brave speech” he goes out of his way to not even mention the president, his current Republicans colleagues in congress, or his own personal  involvement in reigniting the “ash heap of history”.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shakes hands with former vice president Joe Biden after receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday.

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My Personal Experience Healing Back Pain

I am sure my legions of readers have wondered what happened to the critical thinker blog. I have not posted to this blog since September 2013, when we narrowly averted war with Syria.  I would bet Google Analytics is wondering what happened to the 15 hits every month or so that this site typically commands.

Have I run out of hypocrisy to rant about? Did I delete my Facebook account? Did I experience a massive head injury and then subsequently join the Tea Party? Have I given up on my war on fear? Has fixed ideology won out over critical thinking? Make no mistake, I have not run out of things to write about, just time.

Writing a blog about fear and hypocrisy is a good way to help a person deal with their own.  Dealing with your own fear and hypocrisy is a good way to sell your house and a majority of your possessions. Selling your house and a majority of your possessions is a good way to find yourself living in a van down by the river; a prospect I have contemplated a couple of times in this blog. Well, long story short my wife and I did, sort of, decide to buy a van and live down by the river, and like I figured, we are pretty damn lucky and happy about the decision.

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A Letter to My Congressman Regarding Authorization of Military force in Syria

syriaHere is a link to a place where you can find your Congressperson’s email. http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Below is an email I wrote to my Congressman Jared Polis regarding his pending vote on the authorization of Military force in Syria. Feel free to copy any of this if you have the same opinion and want to save some time sending a message to yours.

Dear Congressman,

The President was right to ask for Congressional approval and now it is your turn to be brave and to what the voters of your district have sent you to Washington to do.

The country of Syria has not attacked the United States of America and I do not support the use of Military force that is not part of a UN peacekeeping coalition. I have seen no evidence to support this administration’s claims that a military attack on behalf of the United States would have any positive affect in the region and I urge you to vote against the authorization to attack Syria.

The results that I am sure of if we go it alone with these attacks are; an escalation of overall violence in the region, an escalation of anti-American sentiment around the world, and even more innocent civilian deaths. I also anticipate continued and increased, targeted terrorism against US citizens both abroad and at home. All this for a military project that will not work and that we simply cannot afford. It makes no sense.

Although the bodies of the dead from our missiles and predator drones will not likely make it to US television news airwaves the way the gas attack victims in Syria did, make no mistake, those images will make the airwaves in other regions of the world, and there will be repercussions for both our soldiers and our citizens.

I have read that this proposed attack is intended to send a message to Syria and others in the region that chemical weapon usage will not be tolerated. Well, if that were an effective strategy, then why did Syria not get the message when we punished Iraq, overthrew and essentially assassinated the dictator for the same thing?

The previous administration’s complete lack of understanding and miscalculation of our enemies in both Iraq and Afghanistan has presented a crystal clear example of how there is absolutely no such thing as a six month military solution in a place like Syria. The fact that our President and Secretaries of States and Defense have not learned from the past is incomprehensible to a good number of voters that thought things had possibly changed.

I agree that something must be done to stop the slaughter of the innocent in Syria. I just completely disagree with the proposed strategy of using killing to promote peace. The only solution to this crisis will be through increased humanitarian aid and through increased international diplomacy and worldwide collective pressure. We need to set an example by leading the world in finding peaceful solutions and by being a productive member of an international peacekeeping coalition.

Instead, the President’s solution is the same as the previous. We cutoff talks and fire rockets as if real problems in the Middle East can be solved using a system of prison justice with the US President serving as judge, jury and executioner for the entire World. Then we wonder why so many want to kill us. Our national defense system must return to a system of actual defense. Not a middle class jobs program that actually puts us in the bull’s-eye of terrorism via the missiles and drones that simultaneously and fictitiously prop up a smoke and mirrors economy.

Enough is enough. If you do not make a clear indication that this is also your understanding with your vote on Syria, you will not get my re-election vote in Congress or in any future political campaigns. This is my promise and I am not alone.

We Do live in a Nation of Takers – And a Nation of Hypocrits

Louis C.K.

– Louis C.K.

Left and right, young and old, it seems almost weekly, I read some sort of ridiculous ideologically and hate fueled statement on social media from someone who is “tired of working to pay for some lazy person that just wants to mooch off taxpayer funded government supplied charity.” I have read posts about people that have too nice of hair to be using food stamps or how they saw a family that they know gets government aid at a pool all day while they had to work to pay for them. I simply cannot imagine seeing a poor kid at a swimming pool and getting angry about it. Do people have any idea how poor you are if you are getting nutrition assistance from the government? Do people realize how many kids in this country were born into a family that does not have enough to eat? Being born into generational abject poverty is not something that goes away when you simply wake up one morning and decide to go to work. There has to be jobs and educational opportunity too. Right now, for quite a few, this opportunity simply does not exist even if it does for some.

I guess I should not be surprised. Our own Congress has been leading the charge in this type of elitist mentality and way of thinking. I guess what always bothers me the most is that the people like Paul Ryan that are so determined to demonize the ultra-poor as takers were themselves born into a life of ultra-privilege and have spent a lifetime taking aid that dwarf’s any amount of nutrition assistance anyone poor person has ever received in the history of our country. Although, I see these types of messages from all types of people from all types of backgrounds, as usual there are a few critical thinking issues with this type of easily favored and small way of thinking.

Consider this. Every single taxpayer in this country receives some sort of benefit that someone else does not get equally based on the amount they earn. It just so happens that most reading this likely get government aid on April 15th instead of in the form of food stamps.

But realistically, what’s the difference between a poor person cashing in food stamps and a lower income earner cashing in on a lower tax rate? They certainly did not earn this aid by making less money than someone that made more. Or what about the multitude of millionaires and billionaires and even some of the most profitable corporations in all the world that “take” significant tax assistance via subsidization or loopholes? Or what about “taking” unemployment benefits when you get laid off and are in between jobs?  Are all of these people just too lazy to work and pay their fair share? Aren’t they the same as the food stamp takers that have been under assault by the Republicans, Fox News and my Facebook friends for years? A great number of food stamp recipients do have income, just not enough to pay for everything their families need. How is this different than lower tax rate earners that “take” breaks others don’t get and use those breaks for similar purpose?

When you look at it strictly at who is getting assistance you don’t get, and then call that stealing the way so many do with Welfare and food assistance; people who are in a lower tax bracket than me are actually stealing more money from me than zero income earners that get food stamps. A lot more. Should I start demonizing every one of my Facebook friends that gets dividend income or that do not have a household income of at least mine?  It’s not like there are fewer terrorists for our country to kill just because Mitt Romney decided to not find a real job and instead decided to just buy stocks in order to “take” more government aid.

How about the earned income tax credit? As someone that did not decide to have children, why exactly do I have to pay for all these babies? After all, just like I read all the time, I am actually working every day at least some amount of time to pay for these kids. By the way, how exactly can you afford that new phone you are posting on? Probably with that tax break you are too lazy to not “take”. Maybe I should just not work a couple days a week so that I can “take” a free phone from the government like you? If you are saying “hey, that argument isn’t logical or fair”, you are right, it isn’t.

In other words, all of the people ranting every day on social media about how other people need to “stop abusing the system by taking government aid” are not really against taking government aid, they are just against taking government aid that they are not eligible to receive.  Not too many are also demanding that Grandma’s Medicaid get immediately withdrawn or even remotely demanding that they themselves should be paying an actual equal share. Considering the real number of people and especially children in this country that literally do not have enough to eat, it is a real special level of hypocrisy to spend your day accusing a poor person of stealing your money by accepting food assistance while secretly lining your own pocket with the exact same type of assistance in a different form and even greater amount.

Although Welfare as a percentage of our money that gets “stolen” represents an extremely small amount, you sure wouldn’t know it by the hateful, self-centered rants from people that are so thoroughly convinced of their own self-perceived higher authority over someone they don’t even know. Considering the other options available for demonization as a “taker” in our society, the preferred target of the ultra-poor, boggles my mind and saddens my heart equally. Based on my reading of biblical scripture, the American Christian-right in the year 2013 sure is an interesting and hypocritical bunch overall. At least when they step into a voting booth.

The next time you find yourself in line at a big box store, rolling your eye’s at the food stamp “taker” in front of you maybe also consider how much government aid you also “take”. Maybe also consider just how truly lucky you are to be in a place in life where your government aid comes in the form of a sealed envelope instead of an embarrassing public procedure at a busy retail store every time you want to feed your family. It won’t fix the problem of poverty in this country and it won’t get you out of having to work.  But after some time, it might actually make you a happier and nicer person.
Yes, there can and should be reasonable discussion about role of taxation and even government’s role in curtailing poverty. However, the current hypocritical crusade to demonize the poor as “takers” is as sad as any shift in public sentiment that I have seen in my life. I sure hope that changes as the  malnourished and obese stomachs are only as tragic as the ever hardened heart of a growing and hypocritical society of “ME”.

A Sad Defeat in the War on Fear

trayCan you imagine this scenario?

A teenage white kid, walks into an all black neighborhood in the South wearing a country music t-shirt carrying nothing but an iced tea and bag of candy. Seeing this, a middle aged neighborhood appointed black, vigilante immediately grabs a gun, puts it into his pocket and starts following the white teen. The neighborhood appointed black guard then confronts the unarmed white teen and a few minutes later they scuffle ending with the black guard shooting the unarmed white teenager point blank killing him. The white teen has no history of violence and there is no evidence that he was committing or had committed any crime when confronted by the armed black guard. Although no one but the black guard in the all black neighborhood and the dead white kid witness the confrontation, the black guard easily gets off on a self defense, defense. The jury that acquits him does not have a single white person on it. The news media widely reported this scenario as a two sided situation where there was just not quite enough evidence to warrant a conviction of the black guard who seems to just have been protecting himself under a pretty reasonable but unusual State gun law.

Yeah, I can’t imagine it either.

If this court case where based on the evidence I described, you would only have heard about it when Fox News was running biased and sensationalized news coverage of the black guards death penalty hearing and subsequent execution.

Why so many smart people who do not stand for this type of blatant racial injustice stand with (and vote with) those that repeatedly do is beyond me. Until more of socially sane portion of the Republican party take a clear step away from the racists and gun nuts, the laws of the land and the justice system are going to ensure that fearful, paranoid, and increasingly better armed killers like Zimmerman continue to play out their racially charged video game fantasies on our neighborhood streets.

Yes, this verdict and the media circus around it is a clear defeat in the war against fear, but make no mistake, the war is not over. States like Florida and Arizona are slowly but surely isolating themselves from the rest of the country, joining Texas as the laughing stocks of the educated, logically minded, and racially as well as religiously diverse world.

Although this is a defeat in the state of Florida, I anticipate that it will be a pivotal shift in the population’s feelings on race and our nation’s justice system overall. After all, it was not that long ago that a white man killing an unarmed black man for no reason and then getting acquitted would not have even made the second page of the paper in the deep south town that the murder occurred in.

I would love to tell you that this court case is not racially charged and I would love even more to tell you that there is no political element to it. Unfortunately, I can’t. What I can tell you is that the strange silence of the moderates on the right is every bit as loud as the shouting of gun waving racists that they are inexplicably standing with in the voting booth. Sooner or later the so called “fiscal conservatives” are going to have to stand up and take some responsibility for what the other half of their vote represents as well as its result.

Cowardice and fear will not be defeated within the corrupt and racially biased judicial system of our country.  It will only be defeated by the brave hearts and loud voices standing up and saying,  “enough is enough. Put down your guns, allow your fearfulness to subside, and just give peace a chance”.

What is Wrong With Public Education in America – Part II

I wrote my last blog about ideology and misconception and aimed my sites at the general public that is dramatically uninformed and ignorant about actual issues that our grossly underpaid and underappreciated professional educators face. I guess it is good that I buttered them up because for this blog, it is with some trepidation that I am going to turn the table and point the finger at the teachers themselves.

I previously wrote a blog criticizing the medical community for taking pretty much zero responsibility for their own societal wellness failures. I pointed out that in my field of electrical engineering I really don’t get the option of throwing my hands in the air and saying, “sure, that airplane system doesn’t work, but I tried. The task was just too hard and your airplane wiring was pretty screwed up to start with.” I actually think I tried that one a time or two and you can imagine about how well that went over with my customer. As laughable as that sounds coming from an avionics electrical engineer, that is pretty much the exact thing I see and hear from multitudes of teachers and professional educators all over social media and on the conference calls with schools that I find myself one desk over from while my wife coaches and patiently teaches.

I recently read a published letter entitled “Teachers aren’t the school problem.” It is written by a graduating high school senior that has a pretty strong but obviously fixed belief system and he describes why he would not go into the field of education. He goes on to state:

“I feel if a teacher presents the information in an effective way and thoroughly explains the information, they have done their jobs. It is now the student’s responsibility to receive the information. If a student still does not understand a concept, it is the student’s responsibility to set up an arrangement for further explanation. What is school without work? There should be an equal amount of effort.”

I guess I am not surprised to see that a teenager has such an ideological and simplistic view about the role of educators, but what surprised me is the amount of attention and accolades that this article has gotten from the teaching community. If you are a teacher and you believe that whether or not a student “receives the information” is completely outside of your job description, then you are certainly in the wrong field. I think we already have enough D’Marqus Jamal Forbes’s in education and enough limiting beliefs. I personally am pretty comfortable that young Mr. Forbes has chosen another line of work. It takes a lot more to be a successful teacher than a strong interest in the subject matter and a desire to help kids. You need to actually like kids too.

I can just imagine if I took that approach with my dogs. Hey, I delivered all of the information, but ultimately my dog just didn’t choose to receive the information. Not my fault, and after all, I really don’t like dogs that much anyway. Good thing there is a shelter nearby that will take him so that I can buy another dog and try again.

No one is successful 100% of the time at anything, but you will not be successful even 1% of the time if you start with an expectation of failure or apathy. This is just one of those great little nuances that make the journey of life interesting and difficult. If only we spent a little more time hammering this fundamental principle home to our kids instead of hammering home the ability to do long division by hand then I think we would have a very different crop of graduating students each year, and a different world in general.  Unfortunately, limiting beliefs with an expectation of failure and blame of others is a rampant problem in education and the world. Regrettably, I also find myself in this trap far too often.

How do we stay focused on what is best for the kids? If there is one term/question that has been drilled into my brain from listening to my wife work over the years this would be it.  I have said before that my wife is the best educator I have ever known or seen in action and I believe that her fundamental core belief system is what sets her apart. She is not the most polished public speaker, and she is not the most well read or highly educated University fact-filled, elitist. She is also not the most entertaining carnival act although I have heard her use her love of puns to regale more than a few stuffy rooms full of high school math and science teachers.

What my wife does have more naturally than anyone I have known, is an unwavering belief in the inherent potential of every single person that she has ever worked with from the neediest kindergartener to the crustiest, old school superintendent.  She has never met a bad kid, and never encountered a single child (or person for that matter) that isn’t worthy of at least her belief that they can change and learn. This is as solidly a part of her belief system as her belief that gravity will hold her to the earth when she steps out of bed and it is definitely no act she is putting on.  I know this feeling well because it is exactly the same feeling I have about every dog I have ever met or worked with in my life. Sorry humans, I am still trying to catch up to my wife’s level of enlightenment, but I am just not there yet. I have seen her put on an act to satisfy a job requirement and I have seen her teach/coach. The difference is strikingly obvious just like when I try to pull that dog and pony show stuff while training my dog Rufus.

However, if that student/client shows my wife even a glimmer of a belief that they might also share her opinion about their own potential ability to learn and change, then they are off on a journey with her that seems a lot more like what I think teaching should be than the fixed instruction that I received for most of my educational career.  If however, she enters a room and finds “limiting beliefs” lingering like a cloud of smoke over all, then she instinctively locks on to that sense of pessimism like a cheetah locking on to the jugular of a gazelle. Usually, good things happen educationally as a result, regardless of what is being taught or my wife’s own personal expertise in the subject matter. I think the difference between an educator/coach and a subject matter expert is a distinction that not too many people in our country realize although I sure wish they could. It is kind of like the difference between a wellness coach and a medical doctor. We need them both, but they are just not the same job, regardless how many people believe they are, or how many people believe that one has extreme value over the other. In my opinion, human medical doctors and educational subject matter experts are sort of a dying breed with a limited future in our society. At least that is with respect to dealing with patients/kids.

With advancements in technology including things like Webmd and the unthinkable amount of “subject matter” that is at the fingertips of pretty much everyone today and everywhere we go, why do you really need to drive in a car, sit in a room and wait for someone to tell you what the bump on your leg is when you can probably just figure out what it is and what to do about by using the internet.  Sure today, there is some risk involved, but I have news for you, there is also some risk associated with believing your human doctor’s assessment and treatment plan. And besides, just because there is risk associated with that type of self-diagnosis today, I bet there won’t be in the future. A simple scanner will tell you exactly what that bump is with a great degree of accuracy right in your own home. Doctors can go where they belong, behind a door and working on science and making money, not trying to connect with an actual human being. Similarly, I am not sure I see the value of driving a bunch of kids to a building every day so that someone can tell them that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. By the way, I should probably have known that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States by memory, right? I am sure I have been thoroughly educated and tested on this subject matter during my primary educational career, correct? Well, guess what, I didn’t remember, but it took me about 2.5 seconds to figure it out using only one of the three computers sitting in front of me right now.

If you are laughing at the number of spelling errors or grammar errors in my blogs, well you have absolutely no idea what my blog looks like before I run the computer spell check. You would probably think I was a third grader although I was pretty much a straight A student in Spelling and Grammar in school. At this point I am just waiting for spell check to get better, and to be honest, sometimes I am just lazy. Go ahead and give me bad grade and smirk.

How about the four semesters of Calculus I endured as the building block of my electrical engineering career? Today, I could not pass a single calculus test that I have ever taken including a high school calculus test. Maybe other engineers have very different jobs than I do but I sure don’t see how studying that subject to that degree was necessarily critical for the vast majority of us engineering undergrads. For whatever reason, education seems stuck in a world that does not have computers and technology. Instead we say that spending hours and hours learning mathematical computation is teaching fundamentals. To some extent I see the value but the balance between theoretical and practical is way off in all levels of our education system and I believe this is a huge setback to the advancement of civilization. What we have is a population of students that know very well that Albert Einstein was a physicist who was responsible for the theory of relativity. They can also complete a few simple math computations using E=mc2. But unfortunately, at the end of the day, neither the student or even the teacher in a lot of cases have much of an actual concept about what the theory of relativity really is, or how it affects our entire perspective of reality, let alone the mathematics behind it.

What we need to be doing instead is specializing more based on interests and talents instead of using a generic education system to figure out who is mentally strong enough to store the most amount of information that they have no interest in pursuing other than because they were told they have to get a good job. Enough of my rant about school curriculum that probably should have been a separate blog, back to the point of this blog.

Coaching, on the other hand, is teaching a person how to unlock their own internal, self-guided, interest-driven potential, and the unbelievable power associated with belief in oneself and belief in one another. Unfortunately, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what could be achieved through the relatively new field of educational coaching or the power of positive thinking. If we could combine that with mindfulness training and teaching kids how to first and foremost learn to approach life with a calm, confident and stable mind there would be no limit to what these kids could achieve. Although coaching as a field or segment of education is relatively new, plenty of teachers like my wife have been using these techniques for decades.  Only back then it was just called being a good teacher. An awful lot of teachers now seem to take a far simpler view of their job by believing that whether or not a student decides to come to class or decides to apply themselves is not a part of their job or a reflection of their skills as a teacher. Maybe it’s not, but it sure should be.

Some would say that what I am talking about is the difference between an elementary educator and a high school or college educator. I disagree. Just the techniques differ. When I was in college, I had two types of professor. Professor A had absolutely no attendance policy and his lectures were packed every day. Professor B had a big policy requiring attendance and that was outlined in the class syllabus and strenuously highlighted on the day one introductions. I could tell within the first half hour of professor B’s first lecture why there was an attendance policy that was attached to my grade. I usually then spent the second half hour calculating exactly how many of professor B’s classes I could skip before dropping a letter grade.  Then I would get a head start on tackling the intriguing assignment that I just got from Professor A’s class even though it was not due for a week.

We can have debates about teaching techniques all day. I can see and understand legitimate arguments for tough love, and increasing standards and I can also see argument for my wife’s preferred method of coaching and making connections and gaining trust and trying to light a spark of interest from within. I think it depends on the student and teacher more than anything and adopting a one size fits all approach is a mistake, just like with dogs. Regardless, kids are a lot like dogs.  If you know me, you know I actually believe this is a compliment.

With dogs, one of the training challenges but one of their crucial instinctual developments and useful skills in working situations is that they don’t respond well to acting. You can do every single action, command, and training technique by the book but you will NEVER be successful until you, yourself become an unwavering believer in your dog’s ability to carry out your expectations. I believe I can speak for my wife by saying that kids and adults that you are teaching/coaching are no different.

Our fundamental belief is far more powerful than the actions of any individual or information they know. There have been many books written about this fairly well proven phenomenon, the Bible being the one that comes to mind first from someone of my background. A good number of people sure do interpret this book’s message differently than I do. Not the first or last thing in life like that for me.

My wife and I both cringe every time one of our educator friends posts a “look what my dumbass student said or did” status update on social media. I have even seen photos of dumb test answers complete with belittling comments written in red ink along with a poor circled letter grade for both the student and all of their hundreds of friends to see, laugh at, and comment on. But it is certainly not the teachers fault right? A teacher can’t make someone want to learn, can they? The truth is the good ones do every day. It is as if a lot of teachers actually like to brag on social media about how bad they are at their job and how funny it is that their students don’t respect them. Is that something to brag or laugh about if your actual job is the exact opposite? They then usually follow this up with a rant about how screwed up the system is because it is going to force them to pass this dumb kid on to the next grade even though they didn’t manage to teach them a thing or motivate them at all in the past year.

I think I would drop dead if I ever saw or heard my wife say that it is not her job to  try to convince a kid to turn her homework in on time or achieve according to his potential. Likewise, I am pretty sure my wife would drop dead if she ever found me posting a “look at what a crazy, dumbass my dog is” status update photo. It won’t happen because that is not part of our belief system and also because we realize that what we are experiencing is much more a reflection of us than our own dogs or students.  Not because our dogs don’t do some crazy dumb stuff and not because my wife has never had a completely ridiculous kid or teacher to deal with.  It is just that we both happen to have enough experience to know what works and what is a complete setback and obstacle in a world that is going to provide enough obstacles to last a lifetime without the teacher piling on.

I admit, I have a hard time criticizing the public school teachers of America even though they do at times make it hard not to. This is primarily because they have the very easy argument of saying “oh yeah? well, I would like to see you do my job.” I guess to that I would say, I am already aware that I am not near bright enough, talented enough, compassionate enough, or dedicated enough to tackle that job and that is why I went into electrical engineering. I am afraid there are probably a few too many teachers that, like me, aren’t really cut out for the job either. A lot of people think that you deal with this problem by busting unions and firing teachers that don’t stack up and by pushing kids toward private school options.  I would argue that there are a few logistical and equitability problems with this approach and I think I covered that pretty well in my last blog.

Although I fully admit that I don’t have what it takes to be a teacher, I certainly wish I did. My Mom is another lifelong educator that is talented, dedicated, and patient beyond anything that I can comprehend in my life so far.  Although she is not a University degreed teacher, she has worked in schools and with kids for decades as a multi-handicap aide, a teacher’s aide and as an elementary librarian. I have watched her my entire life as she makes friends with and ultimately positively influences the lives of a multitude of kids with all sorts of challenging backgrounds. Like with my wife, I have never once heard an inherently negative comment from her about one of her student friends. I simply cannot imagine her saying, “hey, I read that book perfectly to those kids. It’s not my fault that their parents let them watch TV so much that they can’t sit still or focus on reading.” She could have made more money doing something else or by getting a degree, but true to her fundamental belief, she has preferred to stay focused on the kids, and her family, and on enjoying her work instead of chasing dollar signs and then resenting it. Although I have witnessed it my entire life, these are virtues I have yet to achieve. Her talents and ability to connect with and make a difference in a child’s life make me feel very proud even though she is far too humble to toot her own horn or publicize her success. Her lifetime work and even the subtle impact that she makes every day is a far greater accomplishment than any degree, job title, or paycheck that I have ever received, thats’ for sure.

I can only imagine how it must feel to get the kinds of letters and feedback that my wife and mom get from now adults that credit them for forever changing the course of their lives by doing nothing else but believing in them, and listening to them, and by being their genuine friend and mentor, even when no one else would. They don’t write letters thanking them for teaching fractions or the Dewey decimal system, although no doubt they did that too. Unfortunately these types of rewards and accolades don’t come along with engineering jobs very often. Or, in my experience, at all. The fact that I yearn for these rewards is probably the exact reason they are so elusive to me. It is not really about that for my wife and mom.

As professional educators continue to be marginalized by the community and media and as teachers get further and further fed up with the bureaucracy that surrounds them,  I would bet that fewer and fewer of these types of letters are getting written every year. That is a shame for sure. What you are left with is class full of students staring at a clock and wishing they were just about anywhere else but in that classroom and a teacher that feels just about the same. I use to get that feeling in my gut quite a bit during my educational career. Just writing this will probably cause me to have one of those; I skipped a class and missed a final types of dreams. I just hope I am not in my underwear. Regardless, I can tell you first hand that not a lot of learning goes on in this environment of mutual misery and general disinterest between student and teacher.

Teachers of America, I realize your job sucks and that you are underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated, but really, the next time you have had it with your job, your boss, the board, smartass disrespectful arrogant kids or other challenges, try spending just a minute refocusing on “What is best for the kids”. Isn’t that why you got into teaching? I know you didn’t think you were going to get rich. While you are thinking, maybe also consider what an unbelievable opportunity you have to make a positive difference in the course of another human being’s life. Maybe also think about how you can be a coach and friend instead of just a subject matter expert and drill sergeant. Trust me, opportunities like that don’t come along for most of us very often as we sit inside of grey cubicles, staring at computers screens, filling out TPS reports and pondering the possibility that this is all there really is to life. If you can’t make a difference within the school or administration you are in, find one where you can, or start your own revolution of change. Or, you can just do like I did and take the lazy road of being a corporate slug and griping about what is wrong with the world in a blog. It is really your choice but the future of the entire world is in your hands and the pliable targets of opportunity are all around you. Just don’t act or go through the motions. That is a waste of everyone’s precious and all too short time.

What is Wrong with Public Education in America?

Oh boy, have I picked a fun topic for today’s blog about misconception and ideology. I must be feeling a bit risky too as the number of people that are close to me that I could possibly offend is a little higher than I would prefer. With that said, lets just remember that this is an opinion blog and yours is welcome. Also, as always, with comments about the medical system or even the FAA, and certainly education, my comments are about the system and specifically my personal experience with it. This is not about any individual doing their very best to operate within it while making a living.

I am also making somewhat of an effort to make these blogs a little shorter, although ultimately, I am sure not short enough for most. I guess the people that will not get my points would not get them even if they were smirked by a drunken women from the 1950’s holding a glass of wine in the form of a social media “eCard”. So be it.

Ok, now that I got the disclaimers out of the way, … What is Wrong with the Public Education in America?

Everyone loves to point the finger at standardized tests, teachers, unions, principals, parents, TV, video games, and occasionally, even the dumbass kids themselves, but I really think we need to look at the problem first from the very top. How do we determine what our kids need to know and what methods are used to teach them? Of course the educators that devote their lives to the field of education and that are experts in their field have a large say in the teaching methods, right? What about industry and societal experts that will ultimately be relying on the crop of educated juveniles to fill the countries demand for a skilled and employable workforce. I am sure they are heavily involved in shaping the education curriculum in this country, right? The unfortunate reality is that, in spite of the complicated and ever advancing needs of a modern skilled workforce, and in spite of ever increasing breakthroughs in the field of brain based learning, technology advances, and in spite of the potential positive societal impact that could actually be made with large scale educational reform, the public system is still primarily dictated and controlled by the largely uneducated and ignorant general population of citizen that inexplicably prefer that their children receive the exact same, cookie cutter form of education that they got as kids. Oh, and by the way, they also still seem to believe that a child’s overall future worth to society should be largely determined by how well they stack up against others in a largely arbitrary and biased ABCDF grading system. In other words, if you can’t determine that your spawn is at least better than XX.XX% of other kids then whats the point of procreating, or for that matter, working your ass off day and night so you kid can get into the best possible school.

Another big problem is that, unlike my field of electrical engineering, everyone in this country somehow believes they are an expert on education and every citizen also thinks they should have an actual say in the methods, materials and even the fundamental core objective of our public education system. I guess after writing this blog I will not exactly be the exception, but regardless, maybe this is something we should all at least consider. Almost everyone in this country has been through the primary education process and therefore everyone has at least some direct experience even if only on a very, very, basic level as a child-student or a child-student parent. Regardless, based on this alone, a tremendous number of people truly believe that they poses an awful lot of knowledge about both what our kids need to know, and about what techniques the teachers should be using to deliver the info and teach critical skills and concepts.

My wife and I both have college degrees in our respective fields and my wife in fact has an advanced degree in her chosen field of education. We have both spent our entire career working in the same fields. My wife was a teacher’s assistant, a teacher, an assistant principal, a head principal and has since worked in various capacities in educational consulting; all with the ultimate goal of improving the way we educate our youth and prepare our teachers for the challenges of the job. She is dedicated, driven, passionate (far more so than me with my career) and I have never known a harder working person driven towards this one non-monetary pursuit. She has devoted her life to her craft and the depth of her knowledge and the skills she has developed and polished as a lifelong learner, educator, listener, motivator, and coach are, and have been, something for me to marvel at from a distance for as long as I have known her.

As one might expect, with a skill set and background so different, her expertise above mine is strikingly obvious in even the shortest of debates on the subject of public education. However, true to her fundamental belief, I usually come to this realization not by her telling me, but by her subtly teaching me to teach myself. Maybe a seemingly minor distinction but in the reality of a devoted and skilled educator and in a world full of powerful, fixed and limiting beliefs, the difference is about as subtle as an electrical system that works and one that never even powers up. One way works and one way doesn’t, regardless of how painful or laborious the process can be for the educator. It is exactly the same as programming and using the new universal television remote control. Unfortunately for my wife, I am nowhere near as good of an educator as she is.

For some reason, I can not tell you how many times, after learning that my wife is a lifelong public educator, people happily pipe up and explain to her, “I will tell you what is wrong with public education in America”. Then my wife gets to sit there smiling while she gets an earful from someone that has no educational background or experience whatsoever and definitely not someone that has spent the last 25 years of their life learning and working professionally in the field. She gets to listen to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds make very choreographed and painfully simplistic statements like:

“All we really need to do is get back to teaching the basics and fundamentals in schools.”

Or

“We don’t need computers in school to teach math.”

Or

“Its really just a matter of the parents making their kids turn off the TV and do their homework.”

Or

“We don’t trust the government to teach our kids, we need to educate our kids in the home.”

Or

“Schools need to quit passing kids that don’t learn anything.”

Or

“If teachers want to strike, then just fire them. We can hire new teachers from the community.”

Or

“If a teacher is making $80,000 working part of the year babysitting 3rd graders, then something is really wrong with the system.”

Or

“All this coaching and motivation stuff is hokus-pokus. Teachers and parents just need to raise their expectations.”

Or

“If we want kids to learn then we need to start by putting God back into schools.”

How my wife maintains her composure, at times, is beyond me. I can only imagine if when I told someone that I was an electrical engineer I got to hear statements like:

“The problem with electrical engineering is that we are focusing too much on electrons and not enough on the neutrons”

Or,

“Engineers need to stop wasting time and money with computers, my dad was an engineer an all he needed was a slide-rule and drafting board.”

Or,

“All we really need to do is put God back into physics education”.

Then if these same morons got to vote on how I do my job as an electrical engineer, well, I hope you get my point. More often than not, when people find out I am electrical engineer they instead assume I am some sort of wizard with skills completely beyond anything I ever got at school or learned in my jobs and certainly not someone that needs their advice on basic electronics. They immediately ask me if I can fix their old broken computer or TV as if I carry around an oscilloscope everywhere I go or as if that is even remotely what an electrical engineer does or knows.

If you want an answer to “What is wrong with public education in America?”, this problem is the top of the list. The general public simply does not understand or appreciate what a GOOD professional educator does, or is worth; but for whatever reason, they absolutely think they do.

Sure we can have debate about state vs. federal control of public schools, but ultimately that debate should be about how we go about putting the correct required experts into the correct position, not about ensuring that ideology and mythology remains a staple of our kids education.  Like many other things, education is just too important and complicated to leave up to the direct control of the non-expert voting public.

Can you imagine if the public voted on national defense and had control of those expenditures and issues the way we do for national public education expenditures and issues? What if the voting population of Texas was allowed to launch their own nuclear weapons and they got to decide directly about when and how they were launched and at whom? Well, in my opinion, that is a pretty good analogy of exactly what is happening in our national public education system and with disastrous overall results for so many kids and in so many communities.

What we actually need to do (my turn to provide an oversimplified solution!) is to stop recruiting the middle-bottom of our students into education and instead start recruiting our best and brightest.  Of course, in order to do this, we need to pay them according to the immense level of importance and the difficulty of their objective and student base. Maybe we could pay them at least close to what they could instead make as a middle manager at a giant sugar Corporation instead of a fraction of what that sugar manager actually makes in reality.  In other words, wouldn’t it make more sense to pay our best and brightest minds to teach kids instead of paying them six figures to figure out ways to addict and kill them? Next, we need to treat professional educators like the experts they are, and give them the respect, admiration, accountability and ultimately control of their profession so that they can effectively do their job in accordance with their professional judgement, and expertise.

Amazingly, at this point it seems that the public still heavily prefers and even demands a system that instead trains low paid robots to deliver ideological information in a fixed format. Guess what? It is not working and turning the clock backwards in an effort to “get back to the basics” is definitely not the answer, and neither is slashing teacher pay and redirecting what little resources are left toward private schools. This may seem shocking since the exact opposite plan is reported as “news” pretty much daily on Fox.

We need to knock over the apple cart and start over with public education. Not until we start relying on experts and critical thinking instead of our own fixed and unchangeable belief will we start to see real education opportunity and advancement for children of all levels of society and not just our perfect little upper middle class angels.

(I have a feeling that this blog may have a part two or three parts associated with it, but I am going to make an effort to keep these things a little more manageable in length and cut it off here. Stay tuned)

The Paradox of Eating Horse Meat

Horse MeatWell, as usual, the morning news was a complete critical thinking mystery for me. Headlines today were all about the growing European horse meat scandal. Stories went into great detail about how trace amounts of horse meat have been found in Eurpean beef and about how great it is that DNA technology can now be used to determine if trace amounts of horse meat is contaminating beef supplies. They warned of impending beef price increases as all beef will now certainly have to be screened for trace amounts of horse meat before Americans can eat it.

In addition to trying to figure out why we need beef from Europe in the first place, and wondering if we still make glue out of horses, the part that struck me as mysterious is why we should care that our cow-based pink slime contains trace amounts of horse-based slime. Americans in this country mindlessly scarf down and often throw in the garbage millions and millions of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, deer, turkeys and just about anything else that walks, flies or swims on earth and that can be captured killed for food. People eat horse regularly across the world and I bet we have been eating it here too whether we know it or not. It is common, plentiful, and relatively nutritious as far as meat goes. No part of the press coverage discussed the practice of eating horse meat from a logical standpoint. It was just assumed that the entire American public audience has already determined that eating horse meat was morally reprehensible. Is it? If so why?

Why exactly does the mere possibility of trace amounts of horse meat in imported Swedish meatballs create public outrage worthy of the top placement in national news for Americans? I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating this and I have yet to come up with one critical thinking justification. Is it because some people keep horses as pets? I guess that could be it, but not all that many people today keep horses as pets. People also keep pigs, sheep, rabbits and even deer as pets. Just about any animal can be domesticated but that does not create any sort of issue for most Americans eaters. Pigs are the perfect example. They actually have been bred so that the wild characteristics are completely absent in the animals we eat. In the right environment, they would actually make great family pets.  They are extremely smart (smarter than dogs or horses), loyal, and they are capable of complex emotions such as grief, sadness, fear, aguish and terror. They are also capable of bonding with a human being exactly the way dogs and horses do.horsemeat2

Why are we not outraged that millions of pigs have been found in our supply of pork?  Why is a horse considered sacred and a pig is considered a food staple of the proudly unconscious and unhealthy American diet?

I read an article and the author sums this paradox up pretty well in my opinion.

We continually draw distinctions between what’s dinner and what’s trash, who our pets are and who our meals are. We live with cats and dogs we smother with love and affection, yet other animals live miserable lives and endure horrific deaths because we’ve decided their lives are only worth the price of a fast food meal. But if we then accidentally eat a part of the animal we’re not accustomed to, it’s the end of the world.

 

Part of the success of fast food companies lies, of course, in exactly that: distancing ourselves as much as possible from what we’re eating. If we knew the sickening conditions animals in factory farms are subjected to (or, for that matter, the slavery-like work conditions forced on human beings who pick the under-ripe tomatoes and grow the iceberg lettuce for fast food hamburgers), we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I guess it’s true, as Paul McCartney once said, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

 

The fast food system – cheap food prepared quickly, eaten quickly, forgotten quickly – hinges on one slim peg: wilful ignorance. When incidences like this crop up, they slam right into what we don’t want to know. So we get outraged. But obviously the real scandal is that we’re allowing ourselves to fall for this great lie in the first place: that what we eat doesn’t matter, that it arrived in our hands magically, and that there are no consequences to our diets.

So how do we make the distinction with the horse? Considering how many other choices we have for eating, does the mere thought of consuming the tortured flesh of such a beautiful, majestic, and noble creature simply disgust you to the point that eating it would not be a choice even if it were the most delicious meat you have ever tasted and even if everyone else around you thought it was perfectly acceptable?

If so, congratulations on your first steps down the path of becoming a conscious eater. Now, expand your new style of thinking and start to actually listen to your logical brain instead of listening to fixed self-serving, logic-less, ideology that was planted in your brain the first day you mindlessly devoured a plate of bacon. Is it really that hard? From a logical standpoint, is that pulled pork sandwich any different than a pulled horse sandwich?

As a person that no longer eats mammals or foul of any type, people often ask me how I am able to resist a delicious steak or a good burger after years of consuming and enjoying them regularly. For me the answer is exactly the same way that the American public can now instantly refuse a perfectly good piece of horse after they have been consuming and enjoying it regularly for years. It is simply a matter of conscious versus unconscious decision making.

Just because the unconscious mind creates habits that are hard to break, make no mistake, the conscious mind can easily regain control if allowed! I know for me personally conscious eating was a spring board toward a new level of awareness that is still growing within. I became aware of decisions that I previously did not even know I had and more are revealed every day. Conscious eating is not a matter of mind-over-matter or extraordinary will-power. It is just deciding that horse meat is wrong to eat and then not eating it.  How hard is that?

When the conscience is the guide, there is really no need for dieting, will power, or DNA testing of meatballs that we ship from overseas to line our big box retail stores and arteries. We can just go to a farmer’s market instead! Best of all, if you get freaked out by all of the people swarming around you in the farmer’s market it is a hell of a lot easier to get out than when you are at IKEA!

Guns, Balls, and Batman

nerfgunI think I feel like writing this blog about as much as I did the blog about the fiscal cliff or about Chik-Fil-A. I don’t anticipate changing anyone’s mind although I am completely unable to not sound off.

Months ago, after the shooting near my home in Colorado, I questioned on social media why we so desperately need semi-automatic assault rifles available to the public with little or no background checks or screening. My other specific area of concern was the previously illegal magazines that carry hundreds of rounds of ammunition and allow a shooter to continue shooting without reloading. I realize that a lot of people might not know, but for a decade there was a ban on the exact ammunition used to kill masses of people both in the theater in Colorado, and again more recently in the elementary school in Connecticut. The ban was overturned. Another in a long list of disastrous moves by the recent Bush administration.

Even though I never even suggested banning any gun, I guess I was not surprised in the least that the overwhelming response from my “friends” on social media was to blast me for my statement about gun control laws.  Although I was not surprised that people disagree, I was entirely surprised about the reasons that came out so freely and honestly. I expected semi-rational statements about the 2nd amendment and the rights of hunters, sportsmen and people generally concerned about preserving individual civil liberties or constitutional rights. That is the argument I have heard in the past and what I expected. No, in 2012, what I got from those that were staunchly and dramatically opposed to any sort of gun law reform felt that way because they were genuinely fearful for their lives and safety.  They feel that they honestly need quick and easy access to all of these weapons and extreme ammunition because they believe that there is a very good chance that they will need to use them to protect themselves from a mass murderer or even more possibly, our own government or police. This was news to me. I guess I knew of paranoid people like Timothy McVeigh and others that insanely believe that they are in danger from the government and I have long suspected that this was the sentiment behind quite a few of the “sportsman” in the NRA although no one really admitted it. Somewhere along the line, as a society, I guess we stopped having to pretend that we were not scared out of our minds and crazy like McVeigh. That is what surprised me the most.

Although I do realize that it is not productive, whenever I hear or read the rants of gun nuts, my initial gut reaction is to just marvel about how truly child-like a great number of the minds in our society are. There is absolutely no logic between that belief system and reality. None. Your chances of being killed by a gunman, terrorist, or the government in this country are still very, very close to zero although it does go up slightly if you are carrying a weapon yourself. That is reality. Then again the people of our country will spend 5 billion dollars this year for individual 1 in 175,223,510 chances to win money in Powerball, so I really shouldn’t be all that surprised.

Just one question for all of those that are preparing for the government that is going to try to disarm you.  If the government does decide to go rogue and disarm the citizens, are they going to send someone to your door with small arms, or are you going to simply find yourself an unrecognizable pile of rubble that is spread out about 1000 feet in all directions before you even realize that you are no longer watching the gun and knife home shopping show?

I think it is also very interesting to read the recent stories about Israel and the “Iron dome” that protects them from missiles and what a giant success it has been based on the number of missiles it has shot down. Maybe we should all just move to Israel and hide with them under that protective dome. On second thought, maybe I will pass on that idea. If you look at the number of missiles and bombs that have been launched at them and that are reaching their target during the same time you really have to scratch your head and wonder how someone comes to the conclusion they do looking at the exact same set of stats as someone else.

Through my wife who is a former elementary school principal, I also know first hand about school safety programs, and the mandatory intruder and security lock-down drills they all now practice as a result of Columbine and others school shootings. My wife has actually been “the gunman” and she has had to comb the hallways of the school she worked looking for weaknesses in a lock-down scenario drill. When I hear her tell about this and how stressful this can be, it sure is hard for me to not think now about just how many times the real “gunman” in Connecticut sat hiding under his school desk during a gunman intruder drill over the last few years. Maybe it is time that Israel and our upper level school administrators do a little critical thinking around this issue before coming up with any additional knee jerk efforts to “protect” people.

Your chances of dying in a car wreck or being killed by your wife, husband, or your own child are far better than dying from a random act of violence. It is just the truth plain and simple. Heck, your chances of dying on a ski trip to Colorado, or being struck by lightning are actually significantly higher. I am not even going to get into the danger to your life that arises from the Marlboro you are sucking on, or the can of Diet Coke you are sucking down, while you rock back and forth clutching that AR-15 in fear. Stress and anxiety have been known to shorten a few lives too. The statistics behind that are not exactly insignificant either.

After I am done scratching my head and done contemplating how small a mind would have to get before it ceases to exist, I am usually then struck by a bit of pity. Yes, I feel for those that have lost their lives or loved ones in tragedy, but even more, I feel pity for the unbelievable number of citizens in our country that live with never ending fear and anxiety. Like most, I have had times in my life where I have battled worry, and anxiety. I know it is not fun at all! But when I replace that work or school deadline that has generated so much anxiety for me, with the thought of a mad gunman breaking into my home and mutilating my entire family in front of my eyes, I begin to have, at least somewhat of, a better understanding of the fears we are facing and why they are so powerful.

I understand the emotion associated with tragedies like these and why they generate such personal feelings and irrational fear. So many parents send their kids off to school with the deep belief that they are safe. Whether or not that actually changes in reality is sort of irrelevant.  When we see tragedy we put ourselves in the place of the victim, we embody what they are going through, their thoughts, their feelings, grief, and fear. We see our children among the faces of the dead and the rush of emotion overwhelms us. The 24/7 media circus also disproportionately and strategically highlights specific tragedies that will be emotional to us in an intentional and unintentional plot to increase ratings and public hysteria.

I am also, always so confused as to how a person can put themselves so completely and fully into the lives and reality of an unknown child or parent in Connecticut but the same person can still be so 100% completely immune and disconnected to a news story of a baby that’s head was blown off by a predator drone launched from our own military. How about our soldier that snapped and killed 17 innocent civilians including children just a while ago in Afghanistan? How many of these innocent victims were memorialized nightly on our evening news? Are those babies somehow less human to us than the ones in Connecticut? Are the same tears streaming from Barack Obama’s eye’s when he reads of the innocent people killed by an attack he ordered? I am aware of the casualties inherent in war, but I also am aware of the dangers of living in an open and free society. How are some so completely personally ambivalent to one scenario, while completely emotionally invested in the other? Our minds sure are amazing, complicated, and dangerous.

I use to love to go to the movies. I loved the superhero movies and I could sit all day and watch Han Solo, Superman, or Batman save humanity from Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, or the Joker. As a child I could literally place myself myself in the hero position and I could follow up a good film with about a 1000 hours of play with toy guns, imaginary hostages, as well as make believe gunfire and explosions that I could create very well with my own voice and mouth. The thrill of re-enacting these scenes in my mind was absolutely exhilarating. I would wear costumes and even become the characters, heroes or villains I saw on TV and in the movies. My parents allowed me to indulge my fantasy play, but at the end of the day, it was time to put away the toys, take off the costumes, and return to reality. They were not overly impressed or threatened by my love of make believe and the line between fantasy and reality was fortunately made very clear to me early on. As I got older, I noticed that in school, it seemed that some kids never put away their toys at the end of the day. They really sort of lived their lives as GI Joe, even at school, and even relatively late into middle school, high school…and for many, it appears even later. I sure do see quite a few young GI Joes, Batmen and Princesses all over the place today, and what I see with at least some, is that the line between fantasy and reality sure seems paper thin.

I don’t really go to the movies anymore or watch television dramas. Occasionally a flick will peak my interest and my wife and I still do rent a movie or two now and then. However, the current set of blockbuster films and popular network television shows just do not resonate with us in the least. The “Dark Night”, and other films I have seen parts of do not even resemble the types of movies I watched years ago. They are long, dark, complicated, violent, realistic, and the story lines closely mirror the types of real life situations we see glorified in the news everyday. As I watch these films and see their audience, I realize that these are not kids movies in the least. They are written to draw in the same kids that were enamored with the same types of movies that were made for them as children years ago. For many adults these movies are merely a two to three hour exciting break from the reality of life just like they were for them as a kid years ago. However, for a few of the GI Joe’s or Jokers in our society, it seems the line between fantasy and reality is no clearer now for them as parents as it was when they were kids themselves. Throw into the mix, a decade of real warfare and terror, realistic virtual reality video games, and a handful of pharmaceuticals and we really don’t need six different versions of CSI. We can just watch CNN.

So what do we do about this from a societal standpoint? Yes, I support gun law reform such as ending gun show loopholes and limiting the type of mass murder ammunition that is manufactured and sold to the public, but no, I do not ultimately believe that this is the answer to our problems. Just like drug laws, if you deal strictly with the access to the substance and not the chemical imbalance behind the need for it, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot; or in the head 100 times in only a few seconds, depending on how you look at it. Just the mere anticipation of gun laws and reform causes gun sales and societal paranoia to go through the roof.  We have to make sure that the ideology that we have and the gun laws we do pass do not have the exact opposite effect on the intended outcome they way we do with our current drug laws.

Guns and gun ownership is such a macho thing in today’s society. Isn’t it interesting that the ones that need the most are also, quite obviously, the biggest fearful cowards. I also find it funny that it seems a lot of the extremely paranoid gun owners live out in the middle of nowhere where they stockpile “protection” from a madman that they invent with their own fear. Others like myself have Crips and Bloods competing nightly for painting space on our trashcan but we really can’t even envision needing a can of pepper spray.

Yes, ultimately, we do have to get a hold of our own societal fear and collective paranoia but it has to start from the top. Just as some individuals in our society think they are Batman, so do quite a few in our Federal government. If Obama, or others in government want to truly help the people of this country then they need to do exactly what all the parents of this country need to do. Grow a set of BALLS! Realize that your fear and paranoia is putting a bulls-eye on our countries back, and our kids’ heads.

Instead of looking to imaginary superheros and weapons of mass destruction, we need to look to the true men and women of bravery and courage in our society and in history. Look at Rosa Parks, Gandhi, the Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, MLK, or that student that stood fearlessly in front of that tank in China. These men and women are examples of true courage and true bravery, and these are the people that actually make a difference in the world and that are worthy of hero worship! Not fearful cowards like Tim McVeigh, George W. Bush, or anyone that believes they need an assault rifle with a 100 round magazine in order to protect children.

As frustrating as this issue can be, I do firmly believe we are finally hitting societal “rock bottom” when it comes to fear. I believe the shift is coming and I can literally feel the warm blanket of love and bravery hovering above us, although just out of reach! Can you feel it too?

Yes, make no mistake, it is just exactly the same for a vicious killer pitbull, an Islamic terrorist, or a mad gunman. It is our collective fear and paranoia that creates them and gives them power, not what stops them. The sooner we realize this and actually start reading and understanding our scriptures instead of demanding that others do, the sooner the killing and fear will end, and love will reign over all.

Want to Rescue a Dog? First Rescue Yourself From Guilt and Pity.

My last blog focused on misconception, ideology and fear as it relates to dogs, dog rescue, and specifically pitbulls. In accordance with the theme of the blog, I am going to stick with misconception and ideology, but instead of human fear, I am going to take on its nearly as powerful antithesis – human pity and guilt.

While one spectrum of the country stands blinded with fear, guns drawn; another segment kneels, also blinded by an often lethal dose of human pity and guilt. Both are partly responsible for the millions of dogs euthanized or completely tortured inside of a perpetual revolving door shelter system. I wrote in my last blog that for a dog rescue to be successful, the rescuer needs to think about what they can do for that dog, not what the dog can do for them. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, including myself, this can also be an ideological challenge.

Far more than fear, pity is the emotion that I have had to overcome as I work to help dogs. I fully admit that I have myself been blinded by the stories, the faces, and cries of the endless masses of dogs in our shelter system. Some of the rescue work I have engaged in has been more to satisfy my human feelings of guilt instead of meaningful work towards a reasonable solution.
Puppy Hank
When we rescued our black lab cattle dog mix Hank, he had been a stray and although he had been at the shelter a couple of weeks you could still plainly see his ribs when he laid on his side. That is a pretty powerful and pitiful look for a 6 month old dog. My wife and I were going to take that dog out of that situation give him everything he ever wanted in life! Food, warm comfy beds, and ENDLESS amounts of love and affection. We did, and he showed us his appreciation by chewing up and destroying everything we own!

We lived in Aspen, Colorado at the time and we really wanted Hank to be that picturesque dog that hikes off leash and enjoys a cool swim in a mountain stream. However, most of our early attempts with Hank off-leash resulted in embarrassment, apologies, the use of our car, and a stiff drink for us once we got him safely back home.

The problem was that our own desires to fulfill Hank’s needs had nothing to do with Hank’s actual needs. No matter how strong my belief system or desire for Hank was, it did not change his behavior. At least that is what I thought. Our belief and pity actually was affecting Hank’s behavior very much, as was our lack of expectation, focused exercise, and training. We tried crating him, but his cries were just too much! We couldn’t take it. The more times we tried it, the more pitiful he became. In hindsight, this makes me chuckle. I had no idea how smart my black lab/border collie puppy really was. He was way smarter than he was pitiful that’s for sure. As I listened to his cries, all I could think about was the miserable life of starvation he had as a stray, him being captured and caged and how lonely he must now be locked up again alone in a crate.

In reality Hank couldn’t even remember those days as a stray and even if he could he certainly would not have seen the point of thinking about them again now. No, he had way too much work to do in the present moment of today. He was more than ready to learn, but since we were not really teaching him anything, he took it upon himself to learn on his own…about me and my wife, our strengths and weaknesses and the meaning behind our most subtle emotions. That is what dogs do and do well.

I had watched the “Dog Whisperer” but I also had read that he was cruel for using dominance theory to tame a wild dog. Hank had been through enough, I didn’t want to have to “dominate” him or put him on his back to show my superiority over him.  I liked the things I read about Positive Reinforcement training as an alternative to dominance theory. We went with that and it worked. We found that Hank will do just about anything for a Pupperoni or a tennis ball. The key phrase here is “just about anything”. When he had to choose between a Pupperoni and chasing a squirrel, or the garbage truck, unfortunately, that choice too often left me standing like an idiot with a handful of meat sticks while he was biting the tires of a moving truck and disappearing over the horizon.

We pretty much decided that Hank would be an “on-leash” dog the rest of his life. I guess not so bad. We knew plenty of others that had dogs that stayed on leash and in fences. After all, we had a pretty decent sized yard, although, at the time, we couldn’t figure out why Hank never really used it for anything except digging holes to hide his most cherished possessions. We had rescued him from that shelter and given him everything.  Why was he still so nervous and seemingly unhappy? As I write and reflect on the past eight or nine years with Hank and the miles we have logged hiking, mountain climbing, camping and exploring, I really can’t imagine how different Hank’s life would have been if we had stopped here. I can’t imagine mine either.

Around the peak of our frustration with Hank’s behavior, I observed some friends training their new dog who was to be a hunting dog. I couldn’t believe how strict the training was and the types of things they were trying to make her do. They used an electric collar and they made her sit motionless while they threw balls and fake ducks all until they released her by voice command. They were not overly successful and the dog seemed a bit stressed by the whole process. It was interesting for me to watch but we couldn’t stay long because Hank didn’t really do well around other dogs. My wife and I talked later about how lucky Hank was that he got adopted by us and not someone that would make him work and train like that.

We saw our friends a couple of weeks later and the epiphany hit me like  a ton of bricks. They showed us how far they had gotten in the dog training but I was not impressed at all by the tricks that dog performed almost perfectly. What impressed me, was that this dog was the calmest, most confident and genuinely happy puppy I had ever seen; pretty much the opposite of Hank. Almost immediately, I could see the fault in my thinking. He was craving a calm and confident leader to show him the way, and instead we had been feeding him a steady diet of guilt, pity, and self-serving ideology.

I didn’t want to crate him, I didn’t want to dominate him, I didn’t want to discipline him, and I didn’t want to educate him. These things had nothing to do with what Hank wanted or needed. They had to do with what I thought I would have wanted if I were a him. If what I truly wanted was to rescue Hank and give him the life he deserved, I had to once again let go of “me” and use my critical thinking brain instead of my own pre-determined fixed ideology and guilt.

DSCF0464 (800x600)It took time, reading, and a lot of patience and help from a good sensible trainer, but Hank did become the perfect dog! He hikes off leash, “heels” perfectly, “comes” flawlessly, pauses and sits patiently for children that want to pet him and he even looks the other way when he sees one of those ever so tempting and twitchy squirrel. Unless that is, he looks at me first and I say, “Go get him Hank”.  Then he has the time of his life chasing and treeing that squirrel!  He understands full sentence English and even communicates with me in ways that surprise and amaze me everyday.  He is just as comfortable and confident attending a crowded parade in downtown Denver as he is leading the way up a 14 thousand foot mountain peak. He helps me with training of our younger dog and he has helped immensely with strays and fosters over the years. He also still thinks he can, and should, kill a trash truck although he now can resist the urge to chase it down the street! He is that dog I always dreamed about although the path here was no-where near as easy as I thought. I guess I had always assumed that dog ownership was more of a passive endeavor. I thought that if I walk the dog and take care of the dog, the dog would pretty much just grow up perfectly smart. We know that is not true of people, I wonder why so many like myself years ago don’t get this with respect to dogs.

Although he doesn’t do it using pity and whining (as much), he is still smart enough to get me to do what he wants.  He is just more direct with his communication. We have a mountain cabin in the woods and Hank generally prefers to stay outside when we are up there even when my wife and I are inside or when the weather is a little cold. He knows our property, and he has earned our trust and this freedom.

When I hear him woof once or twice at the door I know that means he wants something. I open the door and say “do you want to come inside?”. He then usually puts his tail straight down and takes his eye contact down and away for a moment. Then he looks back at me and wags his tail slightly. I then say “do you want your dinner?”. Sometimes this is the end of the conversation but sometimes he again looks down and away momentarily. Then I say, “do you want to go for a hike?”, and then he starts jumping up and down wagging his tail furiously and I am usually then strapping on my boots as he heads down to find his ball and wait for me by the trail! Sometimes I say, “Sorry Hank, we can’t go for a hike right now.  We will go after dinner”. To that he slinks over to the end of the deck and plops down extra hard usually laying his head all the way down flat to let me know just how disappointed he is. I roll my eyes as I have to consciously let go of pity and replace it with pride about how smart my boy is.  We then usually hurry dinner so that Hank can get his hike in before dark. Don’t think for a minute Hank does not still have my wife and me figured out. I laugh about how we use to have to spell out words like W-A-L-K or H-I-K-E. We don’t anymore. He understands the full sentence and knows if we are talking about the present or future by how we say the words and the energy we use. If we are talking about the past, he is generally confused.September 2011 Cabin 033 (640x539)

You hear all the time that “you shouldn’t treat a dog like a person”. My experience and philosophy is pretty much the exact opposite. Sure they speak a different language (at first) and the lessons and methods that you use with them are quite different, but our expectation certainly shouldn’t be. You are not going to crate train your child but you are not going to tolerate a child that destroys things and that is disrespectful to others. I see households all the time where kids are relatively well behaved. Parents make sure they say please and thank you and make sure they respect adults and sit down calmly before eating. They don’t run or throw things inappropriately or scream at their parents. If they do the parents are all over them instantly! Then the family dog rips through the living room barking his head off and the owners don’t bat an eyelash or even seem to notice the ridiculous childish behavior. Or they say something like “awe what’s the matter boy, you want a treat?” I believe that if more dog owners had expectations of behavior and ongoing education closer to what they have for their own children, those dog shelter and euthanasia statistics would likely go down very quickly as would the number of chewed up shoes and dog bites.

Just because you use “timeout” or a crate to train your young ones, doesn’t mean that they can not learn and grow as their maturity results in additional freedom. Hank is an adult dog now. He does not have boot-camp anymore and he does not use or need a crate unless he wants to. He does still love any sort of formal training exercise he can do along side his younger brother. Hank has earned and gained freedoms as he has proven that he is capable of handling them, just like he would if he were my human son.

In addition to my own struggle with dog adoption and guilt, I have also seen first hand, the amazingly crippling effect that pity can have on animals living inside of an animal shelter. I worked as a volunteer at a “no-kill” animal shelter near my home. During my time there I saw plainly and sometimes painfully how good hearted people full of pity and guilt can be just as detrimental to the life of a difficult stray dog as a fearful cop with a gun.

KaneThe dog in the picture is named Kane. My wife and I fostered Kane and helped to find him a home although it was a very tough job. Kane lived in the shelter for several years where he developed (or experienced) severe depression, fear, and paranoia. He developed a weight problem and had to have surgery on both of his back legs due to his weight combined with a lack of physical activity leading to muscular atrophy and deteriorating joints, all at the ripe old age of 6.

Although during all his years at the shelter he never received any of the real physical or psychological rehabilitation that he desperately needed, about any regular shelter volunteer could quickly tell you that his favorite treat was peanut butter. They were also quick to point out how his picture is painted on the side of the shelter’s prized mobile adoption truck. He had become the shelter mascot of sorts. Meanwhile Kane sat day after day in that cage, body and mind breaking down right in front of his somewhat oblivious “saviors” and with really no one doing anything productive to help Kane find a home. For at least a few, I think Kane already was “home”.

We took him to our house as a foster and after several months and after he got a few pounds off and after he recovered from his second ligament replacement surgery, we began to see progress. Once again, my instinct and human brain told me to pamper this guy as much as possible. Of course it didn’t work. We soon found that after years of shelter life (and because he is a dog) he needed and desperately wanted “boot-camp” too. We found he actually could only sleep in a crate where he liked to lay his head against the side of the cage so that his face skin pushed through. It comforted him. He did well with regular structured exercise and VERY formal training and VERY limited overall freedom of choice. Generally speaking he wanted, and desperately needed for us to tell him what to do and how to do it. Showering him with affection, kisses, choices, and peanut butter made him retreat quickly into the less confident state I became very familiar with from the shelter.

My one goal in addition to finding him a home was to get him to play. Any sign of a toy or even me and Hank playing with a ball usually caused him to retreat to his crate and slump down. One day he trotted out and picked up a tennis ball in his mouth and wagged his tail. We proceeded to play a short and awkward round of fetch! Sounds weird I know but this was the very first truly “happy” thing I had seen him do in all the months I knew him. Shortly after, on his own, he also started occasionally engaging Hank in some play dog wrestling! Slowly but surely, he was on his way out! Small steps but I almost cried as I wrote emails to the shelter volunteers that I knew cared so much about him. They were strangely not impressed as they reminded me that he is “not playful” but that he does always “smile” when he gets his daily peanut butter. The also wanted to know if he still missed his “wife”. Kane initially came to the shelter with another dog and the correct but controversial decision was made to separate them in order to increase their chance for adoption. Kane did not remember his wife, but he could definitely feel the present pity of the shelter workers and this is the exact type of issue we were trying to help Kane overcome. Those that cared the most for Kane were also the ones sealing his fate inside that shelter. It was my goal to help Kane break from that into a world of confidence, and into a forever home.

Shortly after, I found a couple that met him, liked him, and also fit his narrow adoption profile. Kane was playful and energetic during the meeting and the couple decided that they wanted to adopt him! I was so proud of him, but to my surprise the shelter was less than thrilled and they quickly and flatly rejected the family’s application because they put a check-mark next to “watchdog” on the application as one of the reasons they wanted him. This for a dog that had lived in unthinkable conditions at that shelter for years! I could see that the shackles holding the beloved Kane were stronger than I had thought. The shelter believed that they were adequately caring for him and giving him love and peanut butter and making him happy, saving him from certain euthanasia or another bad dog owner like the one that abandoned him years ago. They were actually just satisfying their own needs, not his in the least.

After some negotiations, the shelter reluctantly agreed to let this couple “trial” adopt Kane and I was filled with Joy! My joy was soon replaced though as I got calls and emails in the ensuing days from his adopters telling me that Kane was, “Not at all like he was when they met him with me, and since it was only a trial they were not sure it would work out”. I frantically pounded out emails telling them all about the crate and about “boot-camp” and how well he had done when I just told him what to do! Their response was something along the line of, “After all he has been through, we could never crate him”, and “all we tried to do was give him a kiss and he growled and snapped at us”. My heart sank as I shot out another desperate email or two to what felt like an ideological brick wall. They were good people and they needed Kane just as much as he needed them if they could only realize it. I still am not sure if they worked it out although I think about him all the time and I hope the best. I just wish I could take them all myself or somehow figure out how to crack the thick skull of a human being. So much tougher and thicker than a dogs!

I don’t believe in dominance theory and I don’t believe in positive reinforcement theory either. With that said, I can tell you that I use tools that I have learned about from both theories every day. I believe in using my own brain and critical thinking skills to come up with the best solution to a given problem independent of the “me” portion of my brain or any ideology or theory that might be my or someone else’s natural inclination. I would be very skeptical of any dog trainer that says they only believe in this theory or that theory for every situation and every dog.

Sure, if I take a ride out to the golden retriever puppy farm and get the pick of the litter, I may choose a very different initial training style than I would choose for an adult rottweiler mix that has been living on his own for a while and developed a propensity to kill small animals on sight. Regardless of many people’s deep ideological beliefs, there are methods to humanely deal with severely ingrained behavior issues like this in a canine. There are ways to get difficult dogs into reasonable homes without supper human effort and only using methods that are very reasonable to a dog even if they would not be to a human.

The problem is that too often the types of people that open and run “no-kill” shelters, are also of the personality type that would never allow what they consider “cruel” training methods such as dominance or electric collars. In other words, for some, pity and guilt win out over logic and reason exactly the same way fear does for others. So instead, dogs are “rescued” from certain death so that they can rot for years in a torturous cage behind concrete walls. At least no one will be cruel to them.? Meanwhile on the other side of town, just how many easily adoptable dogs with zero issues get euthanized down at the municipal shelter while the private “no-kill” shelter is full of difficult to adopt dogs that are becoming behaviorally more psychotic and medically more expensive every day? Either way, our human brain is going to attempt to trick us with guilt and pity. The judgement and peer pressure of other ideologically based humans is also taking a significant toll on the overall problem.

Although early on we made a lot of bad and even dangerous mistakes, my wife and I have taught Hank a lot and he has taken well to our training regarding appropriate behavioral response in a human world. Hank and numerous other dogs like Kane, in turn, have taught us about living life in the present moment and about the power of belief, expectation, pity, guilt, fear and ideology.

If as a nation, we choose the calm, present mind that the dogs teach us about over the guilty, fearful mind that other humans teach us about, we are far better off, both in helping dogs and in every other aspect of living our lives. As long as we stay focused on the present moment and the actual needs of dogs, things will work out. As a nation, things are not working out very well for dogs right now..or people. We need to change that. Dogs mean too much to our present day society, the history of our nation, and to me personally, to let this be the legacy of my generation. We can do better and if we do, the dogs will in turn help us humans, just like they have for centuries.

Yes, it is true that dogs are not human beings and treating them like one or seeing them like one is not helpful. On the other hand, a dog is not exactly a hamster either. If people truly want to meet the needs of a dog, they need to be conscious of and have expectations of the dogs true potential, capabilities and natural instincts.

Writing this has been a good reminder of how special Hank is to me and how I should not take him for granted or waste what time we have left together. Saying or writing that “I rescued” Hank” is about as far from the truth as anything I can think of. I hope other people in this world have the opportunity, privilege and joy in life of having and knowing a dog like Hank.

There are literally millions of Hanks waiting for their chance to rescue someone too. Give them that chance.IMG_0034 (800x533).