Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beach Finds

When I'm not writing, reading, cooking or gardening, I walk.  This is my neighborhood, the houses on Lake Garrison facing the Pacific Ocean. From my house, I can walk to this beach and spend hours here.
Lucky Me!

It's easy to find peace here. The Ocean pounds right outside our doors, keeping us in its rhythm, in its core harmony.  We are connected to each other and the world by this constant pounding, splashing and thunderous clashing. We are just tiny voices here, lost in the sand of time and space.

Sometimes, we appear to shine, agates in the sun, catching the rays for a second, wet and sparkly and brand new. Agates are tiny stones, beaten and polished in their journey by all kinds of forces. Like agates, we end up here, on the shore, awaiting the final chapter of our days. The stories we could tell!

I've become a solitary walker, by choice.  With each step, I weave a story, a narrative of losses and finds,  of journeys that took me closer to what I wanted, and further from what I loved.
All narratives speak of our struggles and  joys , our humanity.

With each story, with each walk, we find something new, a sign we missed yesterday, an object that reconnects us to our past.

Where do you find inspiration, threads for your narrative?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Schools Under the Microscope: Final Words

I'm ending my discussion on this topic by sending you all to read the article in The New Yorker, Sept. 27, 2010, p.27, entitled Comment-Schoolwork, by Nicholas Lemann.

His final words:

"We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are-like subpar schools for poor and minority children-and to resist the heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don't demonstrably do that."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Schools Under the Microscope: Part Three

Southwest Oregon is represented in Congress by Peter De Fazio, a democrat from Eugene. Eugene is sophisticated and quite liberal, compared to the rest of the Fourth District that Peter De Fazio serves. Peter understands the various factors, the veteran enclaves in Brookings, the disgruntled fishermen and lumbermen in the small coastal towns, the many retirees from California with environmental concerns and financial independence, and the lack of great paying jobs afflicting many of our communities where big swaths of ranch lands and century farms have been trying to break up and sell parcels to make ends meet.

Peter meets us in town-halls on a regular basis. His smiling face and that of his dogs-we love dogs in Oregon; they go everywhere we go-are common sights in our communities.

This year, Art Robinson, a Republican, is running against Peter and has stuck his campaign signs on every parcel of land not occupied by a democrat.  Before any body knew what party or ideas he was representing, his name became a household oddity.

So, who is Art Robinson, and why am I talking about him in an essay about schools?

The answer is simple: Art Robinson hates public schools! He thinks parents who send children to public schools are abusing their children!

Don't take my word. Go google him and find out for yourself.

Art Robinson has home-schooled his children, has produced videos and materials for homeschooling children where racial bias,religious conservatism, and environmental disregard, are  ideas woven in the lessons he created and has sold to families.  He wants everyone to believe what he believes. 

And that brings me back to my original topic.  There are all kinds of people who prefer home-schooling. But, to run against public schooling, the right of every young person to be educated and exposed to many ideas, to participate in a democratic society fully conscious and prepared, that right is being denied by Art Robinson.

"We want government out of our life!" is a rallying cry by the new voices running for political office.  Well, I do want government to fulfill its functions, to protect, to educate, to make rules by which each of us is treated fairly. I don't want government to stay out of schools. I want national standards in teachers' preparation, national standards in curriculum benchmarks, national standards for certification and for assessment.

It's hard not to take a stand this political season.
Not taking a stand will mean the end of life as we know it!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Schools Under the Microscope: Part Two

(IMPROVING  takes time. We ought to remember that when we are talking about institutions!)

Diane Ravitch, Why I changed My Mind about School Reform  in the March issue of the Wall Street Journal, is an excellent article to jump start our discussion. Ms Ravitch is the author of " The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, " published in March by Basic Books.

"On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumping down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it."

As of this date, many schools in the United States, from Washington D.C. to California, have been closed, or have become private, teachers have been dismissed, parents have been given permission to take their children somewhere else, and funding and support for public schools are at an all time low. This last year's economic recession has further penalized any effort to stabilize this institution.

We all agree that strong and well qualified teachers form the backbone of a good system. When we enter a classroom, and  observe that  teacher's'interaction with her students we can draw many conclusions  about her effectiveness. But that's just an impression, a snapshot. Teaching is a complicated dance, both choreographed by the teacher and danced together in that room, at home and in the community.
Teachers are the directors, the performers, the writers and the set-design of their show. Like preachers, they need a willing audience, a trusting relationship, great tools, and a support system that allows them to spin magic in their rooms.

It's easy to say, let's hire the best qualified. Does that mean, the one with the highest grades?  I don't know about other countries or other states, but here in the West, college students need no more than average grades to apply for teachers' training. We don't get the best students.  For decades, we have needed more teachers (in the West)  to staff hard to staff classrooms such as those for new language learners, bilingual classrooms, special education classrooms.  Our math and science classes in secondary schools are extremely hard to staff.

In Teachers' Training, nobody is excluded for personality or character flaw. Harsh, soft, radical or liberal, every teacher candidate is welcomed. After two-three years of probationary status, they become permanent and are offered automatic renewal in their contract, or permanency.  Their contract specifies how often they get evaluated, visited, consulted with, and how the process is structured.  If  problems are discovered early in the teacher's career, he/she is given assistance to improve.

Once a teacher is permanent, only two reasons really exist for dismissal: criminal behavior, or total incompetence.  The first is usually a law-enforcement issue, not an educational issue.  Total incompetence is extremely hard to define and even more difficult to prove.

A great deal of the talk about Reform, has to do with getting rid of incompetent teachers.  Everyone agrees our children deserve the very best.  Most people want short cuts to teacher dismissal.  Most people have their own idea of what determines incompetent behavior.  What we have not done is bring the teachers' unions and association into this discussion, into certification and re-certification issues.  When a teacher is under fire, we take sides.

Strong qualified teachers need a host of support to remain strong and qualified.  They need strong leadership in administration and in their board members, and they need opportunities to share and learn from the best throughout their career.  Even strong teachers become weak and maimed if parents don't support their methods, if tools are not available, if the paperwork,interruptions and politics of their district sucks the energy out of their efforts.

Strong qualified teachers also need incentives, such as good salaries, opportunities for advancement and recognition, opportunities to contribute to the running of their institutions.
 Strong, qualified teachers want strong leadership, appreciate rules and procedures that keep their campus safe and pleasant.  They will not stand in the way of reform; they will welcome change that will benefit student success.

Most of our schools are under-staffed, meaning that people are doing way too much, besides teaching a full load. Teachers run clubs, field trips, enrichment programs, as well as testing and committee work.  Their reaction when we mention school reform is yes, let's get rid of those incompetent people.

I'm offering  Two solutions to this big problem: First: Strengthen the selection,the training,  the hiring process and the internship programs.  No young person should go into a profession that will not be a good match for her.  Those first years of teaching are critical.  Let's design these steps more carefully, and give those new teachers plenty of support,building  critical skills and habits right from the start.

SECOND: Let's involve teachers in school reform, by making them the leaders in finding solutions, not the victims of a bloodshed.  Teachers know how best to reach students and how best to improve curriculum.  Giving them time and resources, they will build wonderful learning communities.

How do I know this? I have seen it work!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Schools Under The Microscope!

Summer is over, and schools have started. Everyone, including the janitor, dreams about that outdoor vacation, even if he didn't go on vacation. Summer will linger in his soul for a long time.  School, like work, is where we return, after the fun, the recreation, the time off. School is where children spend most of their young lives.

Lately, everyone has jumped on the bandwagon on the subject of school reform. Chatrooms are filled with all kinds of people who believe that schools need reforming and the best thing to do is ....

Everyone has a solution.
Everyone has an opinion.
Even my oral hygienist.
After all, we have all been in schools.

As you know, I'm a retired educator, and presently serve as a member of the local school board.  In addition, two of my children are teachers in public schools. If I look at all the people that are teachers and follow this blog, we now have a very good sample of professionals who can jump in and get into the conversation.

Historically, in my lifetime, schools have never had adequate resources. Many teachers supplement their classroom libraries, supplies, videos and outdoor activities with their own moneys.  I go back to my first teaching days when sets of textbooks had to last ten years or so, and things have not changed much since.

When President Johnson's War on Poverty brought some needed funds, training and supplies into poor schools we began to address  the disparity of educational opportunities in different neighborhoods.  Rich neighborhoods had great schools; poor neighborhoods had poor schools.  The rich children had parents with books and accessibility to cultural activities.  Poor children had illeterate parents, no books, not even enough food. 

Now, Title One funds have continued to flow into schools with poor children, and the funds have done tremendous good to those schools. But, the dispararity doesn't go away. 

Rich folks will continue to have the advantages because they can afford to supplement their public schools with PTA and Booster Clubs funds and parent led field excursions, and parent volunteers, and mentoring. They can tax themselves to construct new schools or repair present ones.  Poor schools will have a portion of their funds cut, as of this writing, if the children do not make adequate progress. The local parents are too poor to provide supplemental funding to maintain the facilities, or to provide field trips and other enrichment activities.

There are five  issues schools face:

1. Motivate students to do their best and stay in school.
2. Provide  rich curriculum offerings, including the arts and outdoor education.
3. Achieve Adequate Progress as measured by standard and non-standard methods.
4. Maintain facilities so they are safe, pleasing, and attractive.
5 Hire and retain the best qualified teachers.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fishing Season on The Rogue

Here we are in Gold Beach, 23 miles south of us, at the mouth of the Rogue River.  This river is still wild, meaning that it doesn't have damns and distractions.  The adult chinook salmon that enter the river to go spawn in their ancestral habitats are fat and happy at this time of the year.  The first rains have blasted the opening of the river, and here you can see the small boats all trying to catch the big one.

Fishermen are allowed two catches per day.  They hope to get a big one, this time of the year, as the salmon has spent years at sea before returning to spawn.

The female will die after spawning, exhausted by the activity, and at that point she will be a delightful meal for a hungry bear.  Bears have been known to scaveng in town, close to camping grounds before the salmon's return to spawn.

This cycle of life and death takes place every fall.

There is a ceremonial run, called The Run to the Rogue, performed by the native population, the Siletz and other tribes, from their reservation in the north part of the state, down the coast to the Rogue, where their hunting and fishing places used to be before the white men displaced them forcefully.  They gather at Agness, a small town up the Rogue River, barely accessible by mountain roads, where they have a pow-wow, a gathering, called The Gathering of The People.  On their run down the state, they stop at each community, and are welcomed and fed by townspeople, until they reach their final destination.

Should you want to read about The Run to the Rogue, visit our paper or look up "Run to the Rogue" on your google bar to learn about this event and other Native American events and cultural facts.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"The American."

I'm disappointed by this movie: it didn't show me the beautiful Italy I love. No, sirree!
It didn't even show the Sweden I love. Bummer!
It failed to show George Clooney smiling his big smile I love. Sh..!

But the movie is a study in tight and spare storytelling, from the setting to the characters, to the lack of music. Yes. Silence is king here, broken only when cars bump, tires squeal, and guns pop suddenly to remind us that we are following an assassin here.

Tight and sparse, The American is a study in character development. From the first frame in a chalet in Sweden, to the last one on a river in the Abbruzzi, our character has tried to escape his work, his identity.

At the end, he succeeds.Beautifully. As the endangered butterfly he had been studying.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Price of Isolation

Highway 101 is  known as the Pacific Coast Highway. It  travels up and down the west coast of the United States, from Mexico to Canada and Alaska. It is a scenic, two way road, traversing rivers and mountains, big cities like San Diego,  Los Angeles and San Francisco, and many little towns, like Port Orford. 

The Highway is our main thoroughfare, North to Bandon and Coos Bay, and South to Brookings and California.  If something should happen on this highway, a bridge problem, a mountain slide, we are trapped.  Traveling by sea would be our other alternative; unfortunately, the only boats on our dock are fishing vessels, not passenger or even freight vessels.  Fishing vessels here are small, containing gear and storage for fish catching and transporting.

Oregon is still quite rugged: many mountains and streams are wild and inaccessible.  This part of the coast is even more isolated than the other parts.  The only other road to the interior and to I-5  in this part of the coast, is Highway 42 going East to Roseburg, a three hour slow drive through the Coastal Range with  slides and snow problems in winter months.  There is a road from Gold Beach, through Agnes that has left many people stranded,  and is not recommended through winter months. A few years ago, a couple from San Francisco was stranded for days, with two little children, having taken a wrong turn and unable to drive out after a snow storm.  The young husband died, after leaving his family to search for help. This story is etched in our consciousness every time we travel in winter.

Our tourist season has ended. Now comes our isolation season, wet and windy most of the time.  Those who make a living here are tough souls, aware of the price they pay for this much beauty and this much isolation.

If you want to know more about Oregon Coast issues, go to
The Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association is a voluntary association of counties, cities, ports, soil and water conservation districts, Indian Tribes  on the coast, all trying to solve issues of concern to the people living on the coast.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Natural and Man-made Beauties

I don't know what holds my attention longer: the view at Battle Rock overlooking Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve, the food at the newly opened Redfish Restaurant, or the exquisite Hawthorne Gallery next door to the restaurant.  These are Port Orford's premiere destinations, great view, superb food, outstanding art.
The young man on the motorcycle is Chris Hawthorne. He, his wife Julie, their children, sisters and brothers are all artists, in different media.  Their work is featured in many museums and galleries. 

When they opened Redfish Restaurant, named after the Redfish Marine Reserve you can see by sitting on the patio above, Port Orford received an additional jewel, an enticing and well appointed restaurant with world-class pedigree.  We ate lunch here today, delightfully constructed salads with grilled salmon for hubby and chicken for me,  freshly baked bread, delicious wine, and a view  unequaled anywhere. 

WE don't have to leave home to have great food anymore.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two-Piece Orchestra

This is a unshameful plug for two favorite musicians on the release of their new cd:

Two Piece Orchestra

Follow the link, give it a listen.

You are Welcome!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Perspectives of a writer.....

I live like a writer now, from the time my eyes open in the morning:
i walk around with a camera looking for small things
and i talk to myself the whole time
the story in front of me
revealing details and strings
dead cells
life under cover
here and there
waiting for intervention
waves of stimulus
salt water to push them to spring
to life to find movement and rhythm of the universe.
I live like a writer now, the smallest thing tells the biggest story to me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back in Time

Sometimes, I think we stepped back in time when we moved to this hamlet. People here love the sixty's, cars, music, clothes, attitudes.  I was a teen in the sixties. I understand.

On a day when old cars are paraded and people pose with their favorite, a holiday fixture we call Show and Shine, the Sixties are alive and well.  In this last photo, Mr. and Mrs. Miller from Brookings pose with their Pontiac and a picture of him sitting on his first car, a Pontiac similar to the one he is standing close to, now a labor of love to maintain his memories intact.

Happy Labor Day, wherever you are!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My World Thursday

Our backyard, in summer.
Who needs to go anywhere else?

See other bloggers' worlds. Visit Honolulu:
Winds of Change: