Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Total Lack of Diplomacy

My town has made the news again. For whatever reason, the powers that be seem intent on making national news every May, even if it means making a mockery of things many hold sacred.  It started when James Tate turned the side of the high school into his own personal bulletin board, using masking tape to post a sign asking a girl to go to the prom with him. He was subsequently banned from the prom for his “vandalism”, but after pressure from the community and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and the Today show, the decision was reversed. A few years later, the school administration was back in the national spotlight, this time regarding an 11th hour dress code that suddenly surfaced regarding the style of prom dresses, threatening to ban any student who showed up in a gown that had cut outs, side-slits, or exposed backs. Again there was an uproar and influx of satellite trucks and news teams, and again the administration backed down, or at least softened their stance.  

In both cases, I found myself sympathizing with the administrators for trying to do the “right” thing. Sure, I was also shaking my head at the stupidity of their seemingly knee-jerk reactions and complete lack of foresight in not seeing how these decisions would blow up in their faces, but I could understand and appreciate where they were coming from.  

But their latest May headline grab is absolutely disgusting and indefensible. The Shelton High senior pictured above was recently killed in a car accident, and his parents were hoping he would be posthumously awarded his diploma at graduation, along with his classmates. They were told no.  No. No, we will not allow the name of your dead son to be read aloud with the rest of his classmates. No, we will not award a diploma, even though he was already accepted into college. No, we will not provide any sense of closure, comfort, or common decency.

And why? Is there some legal issue we are not privy to that would give them a legit reason for not honoring such a reasonable request? The answer is no. The excuses they are giving range from rhetoric about World War II and Korean soldiers receiving honorary degrees to the board of ed not being able to find anything in their records to guide them and are therefor unwilling to set a new precedent One BOE member even said “The implication was that others in the future would expect similar treatment” Really? And that is a problem, why? We won’t award your dead son an honorary diploma because then we’d have to give every kid who tragically passes away a diploma? Is paper that expensive? Is decency that difficult?

I truly don’t get it. This is not the first time Shelton has dealt with such a situation, and sadly, it won’t be the last. But in every other instance, they did the right thing. The only difference in this case are the people in charge – and to me,  if I can’t count on them to do right by a single dead student, how the hell can I trust them to make the truly difficult decisions that affect the thousands of kids still in the school system, including my own son? I mean, budget cuts are hard to make. Curriculum choices are very difficult. Safety and security concerns are extremely challenging. I would expect board of ed members to struggle with such decisions. But no one could have expected such a no-brainer “decision” to show a little common sense and compassion to become such a problem. And that is a problem. I have lost all faith, trust, and patience with this board of ed – and even if they repeat their May pattern of reversing their decision, it will be too late. The damage has been done. If they require past precedent in order to be decent, then we need some new people in charge.

I say this not just as a concerned citizen or upset parent, but as a teacher. One, who every year, gives his students the same advice: “Don’t be the kid they dedicate the yearbook to.” They look at me a little strange until I explain that, chances are, when they show up in September as freshmen, one of the kids in their high school will not live to see his or her graduation.  And while that kid will get a special page in the yearbook, and have balloons released in his or her honor, and have the school rock painted in their favorite color, and get the loudest cheer at graduation, you do NOT want to be that kid.

And you definitely don’t want to be that kid if you live in Shelton.

Monday, February 8, 2016

S'no Fun

As I sit home, courtesy of a “snow day” called hours before the first flake fell, and watch as the pitiful amount of accumulation finally approaches the one-inch mark, and it’s already well past noon, I have to wonder: How did we get to this point?  

Granted, I get it. Snow makes for dangerous driving conditions. And the safety of our kids really is our first, and second, priority. And I even understand the overabundance of caution mentality and safety first approach that has overtaken this country in light of some terrible tragedies.And I totally agree that even one life saved is well worth the inconveniencing of thousands. 

But what I don’t get is how that is any different than 30 years ago?

Did parents back then care less about their children’s lives? Did they not understand that snow+roads=slippery? Did society value education more than safety?  Were weather reports more accurate and reliable? Were vehicles and clothing better equipped to handle snow and ice?

Or did we turn into a bunch of titty babies?

I’m thinking it’s the later, as back then, we did not have Doppler radar and AccuWeather forecasts. Or four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. Or the latest Nike dri-fit clothing. We had a daily newspaper and the 11:00 news for weather, rear-wheel drive with sandbags and bricks in the trunk (or kids sitting on the back over the drive wheel) for traction in the snow, and hand-knit hats and mittens that collected snow like lint-rollers, and kept out the cold about as well as a screen door.

I clearly remember leaving for school in snowy conditions that today would have caused the governor to close the roads and declare a State of Emergency. Yet I somehow managed to walk through the unplowed streets to the bus stop, where my fellow grade-schoolers were eagerly discussing the chances that the snow would keep coming so that maybe they would send us home early. Our conversations would be halted every so often so that we could assist a struggling motorist by pushing their rear-wheel drive cars up the hill. Sometimes it worked, and we would cheer as they fishtailed their way up the road, honking their horns in gratitude.  Sometimes it didn’t, and we’d jump out of the way as the out-of-control cars slid backwards into a snowbank.

When the bus finally came - it could be counted on to be up to an hour late (and we waited!), we’d place our bets (with our bodies!) on the spot we deemed most likely for the bus to skid to a final stop. If the roads were really bad, this practice turned into a rather dangerous game of Chicken to those who dared to hold their ground as the bus slid sideways down the street. But it was worth it for those rare times when the doors opened right in front of you, and you got to step right on the bus as your classmates slipped and slid their way from their ill-chosen spots. 

Now, the mere hint of snow is enough to cancel school. And while I sometimes appreciate the unexpected time off (say, on a day following the Super Bowl!), I can’t help but wonder what message we’re sending to our kids. Plus, I really miss the thrill of driving in the snow! 

Back in the day, it was expected that you went to work. We were ALL like the mailmen, making our way through rain, sleet, snow, and hail to and from our jobs (which apparently, were all essential back then. Now, roads are closed to all except emergency vehicles and douchebags.) Which makes me think that our kids are going to be ill-prepared for doing battle with the weather - even though their cars and trucks are 4 x better equipped (see what I did there) than ours ever were.  My fear is that what they have in four-wheel drive, they’ll be lacking in fortitude 

I’m not gonna lie, there is something thrilling and exciting about driving in the snow…but only when you have to. Taking the truck out and tooling around for fun just makes you a tool - but needing to get to work (or home again) makes you feel like a hero. 

I still remember the time, after working a double through the heart of a major snowstorm (at my “essential” job at Stop & Shop) and driving home in my trusty Chevette. I had trouble even leaving the parking lot. I put the car in reverse, and tried to back out, but the car refused to move. Thinking it was a snow bank, I floored it, and suddenly found my rear wheels off the ground and my nose pointing down. I got out to see what the hell happened, and realized I had backed over a shopping carriage that was buried in the snow. I somehow managed to extricate myself and continued on my way. Literally, 10 seconds later, I was rear-ended at the stop light at the exit of the parking lot! It was just a tap, and not wanting to get back out, I just rolled down my window, gave an “It’s okay” wave of the arm, and drive off. 

The flakes were falling so fast and heavy, it looked like warp speed in the Millennium Falcon through my windshield. I had, of course, turned the radio off (Guy Rule #1 in Stressful Driving Conditions)  and my knuckles were whiter than the snow, but it was exhilarating. I’d slowly pass the muted glare of snow-covered hazard lights of cars “parked” at odd angles on the shoulder, looking sharp for the slumped shadows of drivers who had abandoned them, wondering which of the upcoming hills and turns would be my turn. 

But somehow I made it home safely. I’m sure the fact that I was driving a shitbox made me less concerned, and perhaps a bit less cautious, but I couldn’t help but feel proud of my car, and myself, when I finally pulled into my driveway. Not only did I show up to work, when many did not, but I also made it home when others could not. Sure, it was scary, but it was also satisfying. 

So, yes, I sort of miss that feeling. I know, I’ve still got lots to be proud of, but nothing that involves real risk, you know? Not that I’m advocating taking foolish chances, mind you, or even saying that we should have had school today. In fact, when it comes to other people’s kids, I would always err on the side of caution. But I don’t want my own kid growing up to be intimidated by few inches!