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Time to 'Soften' Our Schools

Jun 27, 2018

When the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started the #neveragain movement, I was optimistic that these well-spoken, passionate young people would be able to change the hearts and minds of lawmakers and other leaders to increase access to mental health care and pass common-sense gun laws.

I hoped that, as a nation, we would undertake a coordinated effort to make our precious young people and dedicated educators safe in our schools. Sadly, we are once again faced with another mass school shooting – this time in Santa Fe, Texas.

The Wizard Behind The Works

Jun 26, 2018

I’m intrigued by the creativity that lies behind the scenes in music, film, theater, and writing. Those people whose names may be unfamiliar, but whose work and talent are fundamental to the production or composition – studio musicians and web designers, theatrical prop builders, and movie location scouts.

And have you thought about who’s behind radio productions like this one? Sound engineers, producers, and most definitely, editors.

America, Who Are We?

Jun 25, 2018
Carl Nelson / WNIJ

I am sick. I am sick because I have lost who we are.

What do we stand for? I used to think I knew but, over the last couple of years, I have become less and less sure.

After a campaign of sexist, racist, classist xenophobia, we elected Donald Trump. In the aftermath, the most unsavory elements of our citizenry emerged, emboldened. Since then, the respect and sanctity of our most fundamental cornerstones are crumbling out of political ambition … and winning.

The Benefits Of Civility

Jun 22, 2018

Seated across the table from me was a gentleman whose social and political beliefs were, to say the least, the polar opposite of my own.

I listened quietly as he expounded on a number of issues and bided my time. Typically I have no problem expressing my point of view in these discussions, but this was not a typical situation.

When he sensed my reticence, I joked that -- in the interest of group harmony -- I was suppressing my liberal viewpoint. He laughed, but he understood my reasoning. What was about to take place would be a first for both of us.

It Shouldn't Always Take A Law

Jun 21, 2018

Gun control and pro-life advocates look toward legislation for solutions. Ironically, on the other side of both: Gun rights and pro-choice advocates argue that the state should mind its own business and respect individual rights.

But what is left out is the potential for common ground and hard work.

I imagine we all would like a world where fewer people were killed by gun violence as well as a world with little to no unwanted pregnancies. These are worthy, complicated, and ambitious goals.

A Dream Instilled By Memories

Jun 20, 2018

I suffer from an affliction I call Cabin Dreams.

The roots of my disorder are traceable to childhood. I grew up on the shores of the Kishwaukee River near Kirkland. In the summers, once school was out, my family packed up the Buick and headed north to Wisconsin, to our knotty pine cabin on Blue Spring Lake.

Oh, time at the cabin was exquisite: pancakes for breakfast each morning, one pine drawer for all my belongings, and the lake itself, which seemed to bend summer days to its own shape, with shallow bays and windy points and a middle part deep and fathomless.

What Do We Have To Do?

Jun 19, 2018

In college I raised $52 for cancer. I walked miles in my achy body because I supported cancer research, but also because it was the most relatable cause I could find. Like sickle cell, cancer patients called the hospital their second home.

Everyone cares about something outside of themselves. It’s the definition of humanity. It’s the reason there are advocates who walk miles for a cause. 

Flags And Facts And Falsehoods

Jun 18, 2018

A few weeks ago, I was driving down a residential street in a familiar town here in north central Illinois. Hanging outside one of these houses that lined this street was not one but two Confederate flags.

I went a little further down the same street and noticed another flag on another house, but this one was only half Confederate; the other half displayed the American flag. I was tempted to check the date on my phone to make sure I wasn’t in some time warp, but I didn’t. I knew I was still indeed in May 2018.

Think About What She Can Do

Jun 15, 2018

There is a new robot in town. Her name is Sophia. She was designed and built by Hanson Robotics.

And she is popular. Sophia was featured on the Jimmy Kimmel show, has appeared on the cover of Elle, and was recently granted honorary citizenship by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

But not everyone likes Sophia. There has been considerable resistance from experts in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics. For these critics, Sophia is nothing more than a puppet —more smoke and mirrors and less actual science. And they are not necessarily wrong.

A Bit Of Respect, If You Please

Jun 14, 2018

With Flag Day upon us, I am about to go into my annual frenzy about something most people have unlearned from grade school. That is, respect for the flag.

Even the basic things like not having it out in the rain or at night without a light are way beyond people who want to show their love for America — 24/7, rain or not. I guess we are supposed to comment on how patriotic they are, ignoring the fact they are ignorant of rules of respect or just lazy.

A Book With Lessons And Memories

Jun 13, 2018

A book written in Portuguese in 1968 has a special place in my heart.

As a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I joined others to attend some informal evening seminars in the home of one of our professors to hear about a book he was translating by a Brazilian teacher. So we lounged on the living room floor of Dr. Richard Shaull, discussing Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire.

It's Time To Get Serious About This

Jun 12, 2018

How much longer are we Americans going to stay silent and side-lined as our federal government’s executive branch, led by Donald Trump, swerves out of control, pouncing on one constitutional norm after another?

As the unraveling of what used to be normal quickens and becomes more disgusting, are we just going to sit like immersed toads in a pot, unaware the temperature is rising?

Why Make The Children Suffer?

Jun 11, 2018

On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies on the topic of immigration enforcement.

“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” he said. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” 

Taking The Guilt Out Of Pleasure

Jun 8, 2018

We’ve all heard of guilty pleasures, such as Dove Bars, but even better are the guilty pleasure you can clear yourself of. These are pleasures where you’re guilty but figure out ways to prove yourself to be innocent.

Squirrels Can Drive You Nuts

Jun 7, 2018

Squirrels are fun to watch as they frolic in the back yard.

But they can also be a nuisance. They eat tulip bulbs and dig up newly planted annuals, leaving the small roots dying in the sun.

And while we imagine that squirrels live happily in the backyard, well aware that they don’t belong inside, I think they see the house as an extension of their territory. The yard may be loaded with nuts, plants and yes, tulip bulbs, but the house is bound to be full of really exciting goodies. Which, to be fair, is actually true.

An Atheist Asks A Question

Jun 6, 2018

I’m a lifelong atheist, but I mean no disrespect when I ask, “What would Jesus do?”

In the 1990s, conservative Christians -- often pointing fingers at Bill Clinton -- made a thing of asking this question in the name of Family Values. Funny, I haven’t heard that question asked lately.

I’m certainly no biblical scholar, but my understanding is that Jesus led poor people to believe they are worthy of lives of dignity, and that injustice must be challenged. It was a philosophy not of tribalism, but of Evangelicalism – live a moral life and spread the Good Word.

Avoiding Those Trojan Horses

Jun 5, 2018

Last week my daughter studied the story of the Trojan Horse, where the Greeks trick the Trojans into accepting a gift of a huge wooden horse only to find it’s filled with Greek soldiers. That horse was amazing – a grand gesture the Greeks made after 10 years of grueling war.

Yet Julia questioned why anyone would accept this horse. How could the Trojans be so short sighted?

Different versions of the myth portray some Trojans questioning the Greeks’ intent. But no one listens. Why don’t we listen to reason?

A Victim Of Farm Transformation

Jun 4, 2018

As a kid, one of my chores was delivering water to livestock in the field. I would drive a tractor pulling the water wagon out to a distant pasture. While the water slowly emptied into the field tank in the stillness of the setting sun, I would listen for the distant bobwhite quail in the hedgerows.

At one time, most of the Midwestern fields were surrounded with Osage Orange hedgerows. The bramble provided a natural fence as well as an ecosystem that included quail that were drawn to the cover.

How Do You Consider Charity?

Jun 1, 2018

Say a friend you haven’t seen in years texts you for money. You may wonder if she’s gambling or using, right? What if it’s a stranger asking for food money? You want to avoid callousness, but don’t want to be a sucker either. Personal desires to feel good about giving can be exploited.

Vacation Is Very Good For You

May 31, 2018

When it’s this close to summer, you’re probably thinking about how you’d like to spend your “summer vacation.”

People who work in education tend to measure time a little differently than the rest of the world. Our new year begins when autumn draws near and the arrival of summer heralds the end of another year on the job.

A Simple Offering Of Help

May 30, 2018

My desk was on the second floor of a downtown building. My window looked out at a tavern that had two dumpsters behind it. Homeless came to those dumpsters every day, pulling out aluminum cans they sold to get money to buy some food.

One day I saw one of them take a Styrofoam container from the dumpster, pull something out of it and eat it. I thought then, “Enough of this crap.”

Some Things Matter More

May 29, 2018

“You suck. You suck. You suck,” hammered my thoughts as I stood in front of a class that did not want to talk. We were talking about Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

I appreciated that Rubin talked about how money contributes to happiness, a common-sense slant that people often forget. While they sat, silent, I remembered a missionary talk I’d heard back in the 70s. Tom Little was a local optometrist called to work in Afghanistan.

A Unique Day Of Honor

May 28, 2018

Today is Memorial Day, an almost unique holiday for us. We do not celebrate with joy; rather, we honor fallen soldiers with wistful sadness in our hearts. Part of that sadness stems from the fact that so many of us know, or knew, some of those we honor.

We honor those brave men and women who gave what Lincoln termed "the last full measure of devotion." We honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country -- or rather, for us. Given what they did‎, mere words seem inadequate.

I'm Looking For That Word ...

May 25, 2018

My wife and I talk about moving someday, but I wonder if I can.

This would be like no other move. Likely several states away, to be closer to our boys. Maybe grandkids.

Still … I feel grounded here. Like my feet are anchored with some kind of natural connection.

Roots. After nearly 70 years their grip has grown deep. I feel a tug, like a leash, reminding me where I came from. I have a kinship with this territory.

Could I give it a label? Maybe. The Midwest? Or better, the prairie … but that stretches over many states. I need a better word.

Wishes For Memorial Day

May 24, 2018

“Oh, beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain…” I love that song; it can always make we weepy.

I’m a veteran. I served in the Army in the midst of the TET Offensive. I wish I could tell you I was as politically aware as I am now, however I was 18, and the world was all about me.

A Real Advantage To Postal Job

May 23, 2018

During the late 1950s I was a summer mailman in Rockford.  The job changed my life forever -- for the better -- but there was a challenge: the dogs.

Once a man on a porch saw me coming down the public sidewalk, and – pointing to the hound at his feet – called out, “Don’t worry.  He won’t bite.”

“Already did,” I said. Moments before, the creature had raced down, bit me on the leg, and trotted back to assume an innocent pose.

Another time, I felt an electric shock running up my leg before realizing that I had been bitten hard from behind. 

How The Ivories Tickle Imagination

May 22, 2018

I recently started taking piano lessons – again. The first time, I was around 10 years old.

We didn’t have a piano so I practiced on my cardboard keyboard. I guess my parents thought that demonstrated commitment, so eventually they surprised me with a big, old converted player piano. When puberty set in, I became less motivated and started fibbing in my practice log.

We Must Address The Context

May 21, 2018

True story.

The afternoon of May 10, an African-American gentleman was walking down the street when he heard someone yell “nigger” from an upper floor of a parking structure. That word was hurled three times, followed by an object which barely missed the gentleman’s head.

The Real Reason For Shame

May 18, 2018

I am not a betting person, but I would be willing to wager that no one has ever seen an opinion piece titled "Heterosexual Teacher Shames First-Graders."

Yes, that would be ludicrous, but no less ludicrous than the headline I did see recently: "Homosexual Teacher Shames First-Graders." The author of this screed was Laurie Higgins, cultural analyst for the Illinois Family Institute, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Here's A Way To Change Lives

May 17, 2018

Teachers are the backbone of our democratic society. They prepare children to read, write, think critically, innovate, collaborate, lead, and take on the challenges of the world. Unfortunately, teaching has gotten a bad rap lately and, as a result, fewer young people and career-changers are pursuing teaching as a vocation.