Sunday, May 31, 2009

Children's Museum of Phoenix

I'm back. I had a horribly busy week at work. It was almost like working at a big law firm again, meaning I was working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, taking a break for dinner, then working again until midnight or later, sleeping a few hours, and getting up to do it all over again. My kids saw me for two hours a day. Good thing my husband is on his summer break from teaching so he could entertain them. So I apologize for the total lack of posts for over a week. Perhaps while I'm on vacation in a couple of weeks I'll try to write some "extra" posts that I can use when I'm too busy to sit down and write.

I still don't have time to write much today, as I have all the law office administrative things to tend to this week -- monthly billing, updating the trust account records, and so forth -- plus I need and want to spend some time with the family to make up for my almost total absence last week.

But I did want to share with you these photos I took at the Children's Museum of Phoenix recently. The museum is relatively new (founded in 1998), and just this year it moved into a beautiful old, restored former school building (the Monroe elementary school, originally built in 1913) in the Phoenix downtown area. I hadn't been there before. My kids and I went with my friend and her kids. We had a blast.

The museum itself is more play-space than art exhibit oriented, although there is art throughout, as well. There are three levels to the museum, and the entry / lobby area has huge vaulted ceilings and is very spacious, light, and airy. There is a huge play tent-and-tunnel feature for the little kids, plus some funky foot-powered segway-style moving machines and little carts for the kids to ride.

Here is a photo of the art that hangs in the main entry lobby, made from used CDs. They were so pretty, shimmering in the light. The photo doesn't really capture it. (Perhaps I should have had my daughter take the photos....)

Here is a close-up:

Also in the main entry area, they had a tangled tubular thing that blew air, into which kids could put brightly colored scarves. The scarves would blow all around through the tangle of tubes and come out through one of the tubes at the top; the kids would try to guess where the scarves would emerge, and try to catch them as they fluttered down. They loved it. The parents loved it, too. Here's a photo of the scarves coming out of one of the tubes:

Upstairs, they had a "restaurant" where the kids could use play food and a play kitchen to make and serve food for their parents. (I liked this role-reversal... perhaps I'll have to try this at home). Hanging from the ceiling was a huge sculpture made of bent flatware. I wonder if the sculpture was made at the spoonbenders convention?

Here is a close-up of part of it.

Funny. I suddenly have the urge to go open my flatware drawer and play with my forks...

There were other fun, interactive things at the museum. An 8 foot high racetrack / ramp for foot-long go-cart looking race cars. A pretend grocery store where the kids could play cashier, shopper, shelf-stocker, manager, whatever.... An ice cream stand... A trike-racing track... An entire room set up with wooden balls rolling down ramps and tracks, hitting various wooden and metal objects along the way to make pretty sounds; the overall effect was very musical, and it was great fun to drop the balls onto the various tracks and watch them go.

And they had some other art, too, such as these tie-dye tapestries, with origami bird-mobiles hanging in front of them:

We were there for only about an hour, so we didn't get to see everything. The kids have been asking to go back, and we will sometime soon.

There's not a lot that would interest kids much older than 8 or 10 (the Science Museum across the street would be more exciting for the older crowd), but the younger ones had a blast, and my 10 year old could have happily spent hours rolling balls down the musical ramps and putting scarves in the air-blowing tubes; she was sad when it was time to go. And there were benches and chairs throughout for the parents to sit on while their kids romped and played. If you're in Phoenix and want to do something fun for a couple of hours in air-conditioned comfort with kids from age 1 to 10 - or if you're really into spoonbending - I'd recommend this museum.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Is WRONG With These People?!?

I'm in tears today.

In the news: a mother in New Mexico smothered her three year old boy, she says, because she "didn't want him to grow up feeling ignored and unloved, the way she did." Apparently she knew she was a bad mom because she spent all her time partying instead of parenting, and she had no desire to change her ways.

But did she not think of leaving the child with some caring family members? Or putting the child up for adoption if she truly has no caring family members?

No, she'd rather kill him.

And in 1994, Susan Smith sent her van into a lake with her kids strapped into their car seats... they drowned, of course... why? because she didn't want kids anymore.

Did she not think of letting their father, who loved them and wanted them, raise them? She could have walked away and the kids would have been better off -- a little sad that their mother was a flake, perhaps, but not beyond repair, and not incapable of a happy life. Did she think of that?

No, she'd rather kill them.

I dealt with a criminal case on appeal once, in which the mother had killed the child because, she said, she did not want him to have to suffer abuse during parenting time with his father.

Did she not think of calling child protective services? Consulting an attorney regarding changing the parenting time provisions? Obtaining counseling for the child to help him deal with any problems he might have with his Dad?

No, she'd rather kill him.

Then there was Andrea Yates, who killed her four boys and infant daughter by drowning them in the bathtub. She killed them, she said, because she "was a bad mother and wasn't raising them properly," and she had some misguided notion, based on her strange brand of religious fervor, that they were doomed to hell if she continued "raising them wrong" and so they'd be better off dead.

I think everyone agreed Andrea Yates was actually psychotic, had real mental problems that weren't treated properly... I'm not sure what to think of that case, actually... sometimes I almost feel sorry for Andrea, medicated to a state of sanity and in prison deeply regretting her actions; other times I think, even if she was crazy, couldn't she just walk away instead of killing her kids?

Those poor kids. All of them. Can you imagine anything worse than having your own mother kill you? Your mother whom you trust and adore and rely on for everything? Maybe it's worse to be raised by such a psychotic person, I don't know.... but there are so many people who would love to adopt a child, it just breaks my heart to think of these poor dead kids who could have been happy, and made some childless person happy...

Are all these women as crazy as Yates was? Or are they just evil? Or just too stupid to think of a better solution than murder? What is wrong with our society that mothers feel justified in killing their kids?!?

People, please listen. These are very simple instructions:

If you are ever thinking that your kids would be better off dead, YOU ARE WRONG. So, stop right there and go check yourself into a mental hospital. Ask for help. Now!

Perhaps your kids would be better off without you (especially if you are abusive or psychotic or just plain dysfunctional), without the abusive spouse, or without both of you. But that does not mean you should kill them.

Instead, you should either get enough of the right medication that you can function (and then take the med's, for cryin' out loud!!), or if you can't get your act together, walk away! Give the kids up for adoption maybe, or let your (ex-)spouse or your parents or your spouse's parents raise them. But don't kill your kids.

I can't stand any more heartbreaks while reading the news.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Never Heard Anyone Say *That* To A Judge Before...

Today I represented some clients in a very tough negotiation. It was a family money dispute, the most difficult type of negotiation. With business clients, it's just about the money, and so very often it is easy to structure something both sides can live with. But with family, it's about emotions --about how your mom must think and feel about you when she demands interest on that loan; about how your dad must feel about you if he refuses to repay that money he borrowed; about what grandpa felt about each of you if he left one of you more money than the other in his will.... emotions run high.

The differences seem small. You think, they're only off by $5000 and 2% interest, can't we just split the difference? but no, no they can't, because giving that 2% interest means mom doesn't love you, and giving that $5000 means your son has forgotten everything you ever did for him in his whole life. With business clients, you'd be done if you got within $5,000 just by reminding them of the hourly fee you are charging to sit there. With family, it's just... harder somehow.

The Judge mediating today's settlement negotiation came into the room after speaking with the other side. He said the other side had essentially agreed to accept the terms we had just proposed (after 4 prior rounds of offers and counteroffers), except that they wanted one additional term.

My client deliberated and finally said, "OK, but you tell him that he has to kiss me now since he just f---d me!"

Never heard anyone say that to a Judge before....


Friday, May 15, 2009

Some Friday Photos

Here are some photos my daughter and I took at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden. They are currently hosting a glass sculpture exhibit, by artist Dale Chihuly. Apparently he makes glass sculptures and exhibits them in botanical gardens all across the U.S. (and probably other places, too), so maybe you can see some near you sometime. Or you can just check out the photos below.

We went to see the sculptures twice, once during the day, and once at night. They are quite interesting and beautiful. I was surprised that my kids were actually interested in seeing them a second time, but they both agreed the glass was "way cool" and they wanted to see it at night. I thought it was worth a second look, too. Since most of you live too far away to visit these yourselves, and anyway the exhibit ends May 31, I thought I'd give you a quick tour of the "highlights."

First up, a giant blue "orb" hiding behind the prickly pear cactus - very cool:

Here is a photo of a boat full of glass balls....

... and one of some tall-ish blue glass sculptures that almost seem to wave in the wind like an odd bulbous prairie grass (get it, "blue glass / blue grass"?) ...

Next, a photo of some strange white bulbous sculptures among the organ pipe and prickly pear cacti:

Here we have the giant neon yellow ... what - saguaro cactus? phallic symbol? ... you decide. This one is visible as you drive up the road to the garden's entrance, and acts as a beacon, luring the multitudes in to see the exhibit:

And here is an "arty" photo my daughter took of her brother in front of the giant neon yellow phallic sym- ... er, saguaro cactus:

Here are some interesting tall blue skinny ones with tops remiscent of the "crested saguaro" cactus:

Here is a giant round-ish sculpture, reminiscent of a sea anemone, or perhaps medusa, with all the snake-like tentacles sticking out all around:

And here is a close-up of the same sculpture:

Beautiful, odd, awesome, different, pretty, cool, neat, elegant, strange ... these are all words I heard used to describe the glass sculptures during our visits. How would you describe them?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays

It's Tuesday, which means it it time for Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays event, in which we write about something awkward that happened in the past, and link to Tova Darling's blog, and post a link to our blog on Tova's blog.

I was going to pass on the awkwardness festival this week, given the situation with my Grandpa dying and all. But since Tova Darling says it may be the last TAT for a while, I'd better join in. Plus, my Grandpa always had a great sense of humor. I know he'd approve.

Tova's story reminded me of a rather awkward job interview that I had, when I was in law school.

First, a little background. After college, I took a couple of years off and worked for a while, then decided to go to law school. By the time I was interviewing for law firm jobs during my third year in law school, I thought that ancient undergrad history was pretty irrelevant. The law firms tended to think otherwise.

So I was being interviewed by Ms. Blonde Bombshell ("BB") and Mr. Tall, Dark, & Handsome ("TDH") from one of the larger law firms in town. I think they send their most attractive partners and associates to conduct interviews in an attempt to make the interviewees feel even more inadequate. I also think the law firms get together and think up the dumbest questions possible to ask potential recruits, just so they can compare notes later and laugh at the dumb answers they get, because just about every interview I had featured at least two or three really stupid questions, often the same two or three really stupid questions.

These two interviewers appeared to be two of the most socially conservative - prudish, even - people I had ever met. I base this on the way they dressed -- conservative even for lawyers -- and the way they spoke.

On the way into the room, I bumped my elbow, hard, and said "ow, shoot!" as I rubbed my elbow. A couple minutes later, Ms. BB dropped her pen and her interjection of choice was "oh fudgesickles!" as she retrieved it. Fudgesickles? I recognize it would be entirely inappropriate to drop the F-bomb, and fudgesickles was preferable to that, but really, fudgesickles? In my experience, that word is used only by people who are soooo prudish that even "darn" is too strong a curse word for them. I would not fit in well with that crowd. So this interview was not off to a good start.

And these two really took the cake for dumb questions. They asked me a lot of things that were irrelevant and perhaps even illegal. The interview went something like this:

BB: What clubs did you lead or participate in during your undergraduate years?

Me: Well, I worked my way through college, generally working 30 hours per week, so I didn't have time for a lot of clubs, but I was vice-president of the Italian Club and I also volunteered for "Reading for the Blind" once a week.

TDH: What hobbies have you pursued during law school?

(This was a stock question used by all the interviewers at every big firm in town. I'm still not sure whether I was supposed to say, "none, the law is all I am interested in" to show that I would never let my personal life interfere with my work, or supposed to name six things to show I am "well-rounded." I always took it as the interviewers' attempt to find something fun to talk about, to sort of "ease you into" the interview because, really, who the hell cares?!? All that the big firms *really* want to know is whether you are willing to work 80 hours per week without complaining.)

Me: (Stock answer for these dumb questions) I enjoy music and hiking.

(I did not get the usual follow-up questions about that -- what kind of music? where do you like to hike? The better interviewers would make it into a conversation: "Oh, really, I like hiking, too! Have you hiked ___ trail?" To which I would respond either "yes, it's beautiful there, isn't it?" or "No, I haven't tried that one yet, where is it?" And so forth...)

There were a few other stilted questions, with no follow-up, demonstrating either that these interviewers did not know how to make conversation or that they did not care to have a conversation with me. Either way, not a good sign..... And then, the kicker:

BB: Are you married? Do you have kids?

Me: (Flabbergasted because they are not supposed to ask these questions): Uhhh....

TDH: BB, I don't think we're supposed to ask that! (Turning to me) Sorry about that...

Me: Uh, that's ok...

... awkward silence ... (are they waiting for me to answer it anyway?)

And then the final kicker, the one that ended the interview:

TDH: Who is your favorite famous person?

Me: (Flabbergasted because this is possibly the dumbest interview question I've ever heard, stalling for time because I was so taken aback by the prior question that I literally couldn't think of *any* famous people at all, and finally going for shock value because I have now decided I don't want to work for these numbskulls). Uhhhh... I dunno.... It's so hard to choose.... There are so many fantastic famous people.... Uh.... Axl Rose?

.... awkward silence ....

TDH: (Obviously hugely disappointed by my answer). Oh. I guess I thought you would say "Thomas Jefferson" since you went to the University of Virginia for your undergrad degree.

Me: Oh. Oh, well!

And that was that. I did not get an offer from that law firm.

Thanks, Tova, for helping me remember these awkward moments!


Monday, May 11, 2009

TBC, 1922-2009

My Grandpa died last night. It's odd calling him "Grandpa" here. In reality, he always had me call him by his first name. But I'm still trying to be a bit anonymous, so "Grandpa" it will be, in this space.

He was 87. He had been very ill with heart troubles so it was not unexpected. But I still feel the loss profoundly.

When I was a kid, I used to visit my grandparents every summer for a few weeks at a time. I posted about their awesome house in Pensacola, Florida, here (scroll down to number 4) . I loved that house. But even more than the house, I loved the people in it.

My grandma was (still is) a wonderful cook and was generous with her time, taking me shopping, to the beach, out for ice cream, and for walks around the neighborhood, visiting neighbors and just enjoying the days.

My uncles were lots of fun, playing games (board games, hide & seek, ping-pong, bumper pool... you name it) with me, taking me bike riding, building sand-castles at the beach, and even playing the guitar for me.

And my Grandpa... I could sit and watch golf or reruns of old cartoons (Felix the Cat, anyone?) with him on the weekends. On weeknights, he loved to watch Johnny Carson, and I loved that he let me stay up late enough to watch it with him. I fell asleep to Johnny Carson many a night. Sometimes while we watched tv, he would play scrabble with me. He always won, but he always let me think I had at least given him a run for his money.

When I was very young, he sometimes liked to pretend to pull coins out of my ears. Or he'd say, "what's this?" while pointing at my shirt (and I would look, thinking I must have spilled something), and then "watch out for that!" while chucking me gently under the chin or on the nose with that same hand. I would laugh and laugh.... and he would smile that smile and do it again.

Once when I was about 12 he took me golfing and let me drive the golf cart. What a thrill! Too bad I didn't really know how to drive and I almost ran over some trees and other golfers and my driving privileges were revoked within fifteen minutes. But it was a wild, fun ride while it lasted!

My Grandpa sold insurance for a living. He was good at it because he really cared about his clients. He had lifelong clients who loved the service and thorough explanations and assistance with wealth management that he provided. He was the top seller in his region and/or in the United States many different years. My grandma assisted him sometimes at the office, and sometimes my grandparents would take me to the office with them for an hour or two. My impression was that my Grandpa's office was always clean, bright, well-run, efficient -- and that the people there seemed genuinely happy to see him walk through the door.

Because he worked a lot, I didn't see him as much as I saw my Grandma and uncles, but he would come home from work, invariably cheery, happy to be home, singing some old Bing Crosby song or Irish ditty, and smiling as though his family had just lit up his world. He loved to sing old songs for me, and he had a deep, resonant voice and such a happy twinkle in his eyes when he sang. Oh, how he loved to sing.

He would always talk to me when he came home from work as he kissed my grandma, saying, "Isn't she just the most beautiful woman you ever saw?" (Frankly, my 8 year old self thought they both looked a little old, 'though at the time they were only in their 40's, not so much older than I am now... ) I always agreed with him though, and indeed, my grandmother is a beautiful woman. I would never have thought to look for it if he hadn't pointed it out, but she has beautiful eyes, perfect cheeks, and clear, smooth, perfect skin... Looking at photos, it turns out she was amazingly beautiful when she was in her 20's - movie star beautiful, even. I haven't seen her in several years, but I imagine she is still beautiful, if a bit older, possibly grayer and more wrinkled...

After my grandparents moved to Atlanta, they loved to take me out to lunch and dinner, and particularly loved to introduce me to new foods. I think they were enjoying the new variety of restaurants in Atlanta, and were thrilled to have someone, even a teenager, with whom to share their joy and enthusiasm. I might never have tried escargots if my Grandpa hadn't talked me into it. Or Thai food. Or Indian food. Or frozen yogurt. Thanks to my Grandpa and Grandma, I learned to keep an open mind, to try new foods, and to enjoy new tastes.

They would also take me to hear concerts in the park, to art museums, and to the revolving restaurant at the top of the 70+ story Peachtree Plaza Hotel. All heady stuff for a 13 year old who had lived most of her life to date in a smallish college town.

In his free time, for many years, my grandpa liked to paint. He used oil paints and mixed the colors with such love and joy. He painted birds sometimes, and landscapes. I wish I had one of his paintings now.

He also loved to fix and clean things, to keep them in tip-top shape. Probably this was a result of him living through the depression and learning not to waste things, but it was charming nonetheless. I remember he loved to keep his shoes well-polished; and he loved to polish mine, too. I hated this as a kid, when scuffed up, dirty sneakers were "cool" and bright white ones made you look "geeky." Looking back on it, though, it was really sweet of him to take the time to keep my shoes nice for me.

He used to smoke a pipe when I was a kid. I loved the smell of the pipe tobacco, and the gentle sound of him packing and then lighting that pipe. As he got older, his doctor advised him to quit smoking, and my grandma demanded that he comply, so he gave up his beloved pipe. For years he struggled, though, smoking cigarettes off and on. The cigarettes didn't smell as nice and I don't think he enjoyed them as much, but he could buy a pack on the sly for not too much money, unlike the investment of a pipe and expensive tobacco which my grandma likely would have thrown out. He thought he would be able to sneak in the cigarettes. He'd go for a walk and light up while he was out, being careful to finish the cigarette several blocks before returning home so the smell would dissipate. It didn't work. My grandma could always tell when he had been smoking.

He struggled with alcohol, too. He liked to drink, and sometimes drank too much. My Grandma really hated dealing with his drinking. She used to tell him he was going to smoke and drink himself to death. His own father had died of a heart attack in his 50's. My Grandpa made it to age 87. Perhaps the stress relief provided by the alcohol and tobacco wasn't such a bad thing after all. Or perhaps he would have lived well into his 90's as his mother did, if he had quit drinking and smoking sooner. In any event, 87 isn't such a bad ride.

My Grandma and Grandpa had a somewhat difficult relationship at times. But I know they loved each other. She cared for him to the very end, and I am sure he was happy for her lovingly-prepared home-cooked meals, and her attention to his health, when he could no longer care for himself these past weeks and months.

And they had their good times, too. He loved to read and summarize articles from the newspaper for her while she cooked or drove. (She usually wouldn't let him drive; said his driving made her nervous). Sometimes they would debate issues, and they both seemed to enjoy sparring about politics and world events, or discussing whether "Dear Abby's" advice was any good that day.

They both enjoyed travel, too, when they were able. I remember many car trips to the mountains with them, in Georgia and Tennessee. We would stop at little roadside restaurants and dine on fried catfish and fried okra, or barbeque ribs and corn on the cob. Awesome food in beautiful places. My Grandfather dreamed of moving to a cabin in a small town in the mountains.

In more recent years, as my Grandpa's health deteriorated, he was unable to travel so much. But he discovered the internet, and he would send me (and my mom, and my uncles, and probably everyone else he cared about) several emails each week (sometimes several each day). He took the time to send individual emails to each person or to targeted groups on topics he thought might interest them -- rather than sending everything to everyone on a huge mailing list, as many folks seem to do these days. For me, the topics usually were law, politics, travel... and occasionally a joke or two, or some photos. He learned so much about computers, too, and would often send emails warning me of internet viruses or telling me about some great new program he had discovered. I loved this new connection with him. And it is oddly fitting to write a tribute to him on the internet. I think he would have liked that.

But over the past several months, his health declined substantially. It was difficult in many ways, knowing that he was weakening, suffering... but one of the most difficult things was knowing that he was unable to sit at his computer, unable to connect with the world in the way he loved. I miss his emails. I've kept a few, unopened. I'll open them in the coming weeks and months, and maybe it will feel like he is still here, sending his love. I hope so, anyway. Regardless, it will be fun to see what he found interesting and thought I would be interested in.

My Grandpa was a product of his times - certainly not perfect, and the family had its share of dysfunctional interaction. My Grandpa could be difficult and ornery, withdrawn and sullen, even a bit mean, if he had been drinking. But he was, overall, a good man. He worked hard to provide for his family. He loved his beautiful wife (my wonderful Grandma), even when they fought, and he loved every one of his kids and grandkids. He sometimes felt he did not do enough, perhaps did not know how to do enough, to make sure we knew we were loved. But I always felt his love. It was in his singing, his smile, the twinkle in his eye, the time he shared with me.

Grandpa, I miss you already. I hope you are in a place of peace and comfort. I hope you know that you were, and are, dearly loved.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gifted Children Are "Left Behind" Under NCLB

It is not a popular position, but here it is anyway: We need to invest more resources into educating our gifted kids.

It is an unpopular position for two reasons. Most people think the terminology "gifted" is somehow "elitist" and most people believe that "smart" kids don't need any "extra" help at school.

Regarding the "elitist" charge, I often hear the phrases "but every child is a gift" and "all children are like little learning sponges" used to justify some warped egalitarian idea that we should not recognize extraordinary ability when we see it. While it is true that every child "is a gift" in the sense of deserving our love, support, and best efforts to educate him or her, it is not true that every child is equally gifted and equally able in every area. We recognize this already when we invest extra funding into assisting those children who have learning disabilities, or who need special physical accommodations in order to learn.

I am willing to apply whatever term people find acceptable to describe the kids with IQ's and abilities that are far above "average." You don't like the connotation that "gifted" kids are somehow ... more endowed than the rest of the kids? Fine, come up with some other term to describe their amazing intellectual capacity. But I am not willing to accept the pablum that these extremely bright kids do not need or deserve any special educational accommodations because they are "bright" and so they will "do fine" even without extra resources and accommodations. It simply is not true.

First, it is unfair to the "gifted" children to be stuck in a classroom where they are not challenged and do not learn anything new for days, weeks, months, even years. Often they will end up bored, frustrated, and disillusioned with school. They end up being labeled with "behavior problems" because they have nothing better to do than to act out, pass notes in class, throw things, make smarty-pants comments, and make fun of other kids. After all, they finished their work in the first five minutes, doodled on their paper for half an hour, and the rest of the class still hasn't finished the assignment! How long can we expect them to sit and stare at the walls and "behave"?

When the lack of challenge occurs at the early grade levels, as is often the case, the gifted kids never learn how to learn. Everything is easy until some point down the road, perhaps in middle school, perhaps in high school, when suddenly they are faced with concepts that aren't "easy." But because they have never been challenged before, they don't know how to study and learn. They think that if they don't immediately understand it, they never will understand it, and they may give up in despair.

This is a true waste of talent. If they had been challenged with difficult (for them) work early on, they would have learned how to approach difficult tasks, how to persevere, how to study, how to learn... and not only would they be far ahead academically of the middle school or high school curriculum, but also they would know how to learn. So instead of appearing as a roadblock, the new, difficult material would simply be another challenge, another exciting thing to master.

Under our current "system" (or lack of one), instead of having exceedingly bright kids learning difficult material at a young age, we end up with bored teens who do not know how to study and persevere, who get disillusioned with school, and who fail and/or do not even try to learn despite their "high IQ."

This makes no sense, given the repeated cries heard in the media that America is "slipping behind" in math and science and technology. We claim that we want America to excel in science and technology, but so far, our politicians' answer to the problem of America "slipping behind" in these areas has been to enact legislation such as the "No Child Left Behind" Act (NCLB), which focuses on making sure that the kids with average and below average "intelligence" and learning ability achieve minimum standards of education. Sadly, NCLB provides nothing for gifted kids.

I have no problem with the concept behind the NCLB, in general (its implementation and focus on testing is another issue, for another day). I firmly believe that every child should be provided with the supports needed (physical or otherwise) to ensure that he or she can achieve minimal standards.

It was just a couple of decades ago when kids with a physical disability were assumed to be incapable of mental functions as well, and were not properly educated. They were labeled as "deficient" and our schools often didn't even try to teach them to read and write, regardless of their actual capabilities. I think we all agree that approach was wrong-headed and short-sighted and unfair to the kids who were mentally capable of so much more than they were allowed to achieve.

And even moving away from issues of physical disability, many, probably most, kids who are substantially mentally challenged, who are on the borderline between "normal IQ" and "mentally disabled" can certainly learn to read, write, count, and think well enough to get along in society, and our schools owe it to them to provide that education, even if they must devote extra resources to do so. It is important for these kids to be appropriately educationally challenged, and the schools are and should be obligated to provide an appropriate education.

And while there may be a few kids on the very fringes who truly are incapable of achieving even minimum standards, it would be (and was, until recently) a great tragedy to simply label large groups of kids as "unable to learn" and ship them off to an institution to spend their days staring at the walls and letting their minds wither and rot, rather than teaching them new things so that they can participate in and contribute to society to the best of their abilities.

The "No Child Left Behind" Act was based in part on the concept that we should not label kids as "deficient" somehow and then fail to educate them. But so far, we have ignored the kids at the other end of the spectrum, the kids with the far above average and "genius" level IQ's -- the kids who have the best shot at being the "next Einstein," if we would simply educate them properly.

Aren't these gifted kids essentially being "left behind" if they could be pursuing college level calculus but they are instead stuck in a classroom being subjected to rote learning of their times tables, which they learned three years ago?

It is a great tragedy to simply label them as "bright" kids who need no extra help in class, and then ship them off to an institution (school) where they spend their days staring at the walls (because they finished all their work for the day in five minutes) and letting their minds wither and rot, rather than teaching them something new so that they can participate in and contribute to society to the best of their abilities.

In my view, it is as much a sin to fail to properly educate a "gifted" child, as it is to fail to properly educate a "mentally disabled" child.

The federal government, the states, and the school districts, however, have so far refused to provide adequate funding to properly educate and challenge the high-IQ kids. Funding for "gifted education" -- to provide special programs, extra resources, better teacher training, specialized curriculum and aides to assist in implementing it, and specialized learning equipment for the kids at the "top" of the bell curve -- is invariably far below the funding appropriated for "remedial education" -- for the special programs, extra resources, specialized curriculum, aides, and specialized learning equipment for the kids at the "bottom" of the bell curve. Funding for gifted programs is also often the first funding that gets cut when times get tough.

This is not only unfair to our gifted kids, but it also makes no sense in the context of trying to achieve greatness in America.

When we want to win a championship in sports, we spend money to train the most talented athletes and the most likely prospects; we do not recruit the average or below-average athletes, hoping to make them into champion basketball players, soccer players or gymnasts.

Similarly, if we want America to produce the finest mathematicians, physicists, engineers, chemists, researchers, and so forth, we need to invest the resources required to identify and train the "best and brightest" kids to the best of their abilities, rather than making our only focus the achievement of "minimum standards" by the kids with average or below average IQ's.

Are we hoping that, if we just spend enough time and money focusing on making sure that every kid in the country can pass a test measuring "minimum standards," the kids with the 82 IQ will somehow become the next Nobel Prize winning scientist? I suppose it could happen -- after all, Muggsy Bogues did make it in the NBA (doing a bang-up job for the Charlotte Hornets from 1988-1997!), even though he was only approximately 5 feet 4 inches tall. In his case, his natural ability and years of training were enough to overcome his major height disadvantage. But it is far more likely that the next NBA star will be a player who not only has some natural ability and years of training, but also is over 6 feet tall. In other words, you need certain physical characteristics plus talent plus training to become an NBA star. Similarly, it is far more likely that a kid with a 142 or higher IQ, with a natural talent for science, and who receives lots of specialized education focused on developing his or her special talents, will be the next Nobel Prize winner in science.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating that we stop educating "special needs" kids. I am not advocating that we cut funding for "special education." (On the contrary, perhaps we should consider a "gifted" child to have "special needs" and then provide a specialized curriculum!)

I value all of our children and I believe that each child should be challenged and assisted to achieve his or her best educational outcome. And certainly it would benefit America to have every member of our society educated to his or her greatest potential.

As it stands now, however, our gifted kids are being denied the opportunity to be educated to their greatest potential.

It is unfair to the gifted kids.

It is also a poor strategy if America wants to excel in science and technology in the coming years.

I hope President Obama will address this glaring deficiency. President Bush certainly did not.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tova Darling's Totally Awkward Tuesdays - Round Three (for me)

It's Tuesday, and that means it is time to participate in Tova Darling's "Totally Awkward Tuesdays" event, in which we write about something awkward or embarrassing and link to Tova's post, and she maintains a link list of those who participated.

So if you want to have a blast laughing at the awkward and embarrassing exploits of your fellow bloggers, be sure to visit Tova Darling's awesome blog (if you haven't already been there) and read all of this week's awkwardness! Here is my contribution to today's "laugh at us" festival:

When I was in middle school in Alabama in the 1970's (8th grade I believe), the "hip" slang term (at my school, anyway - I can't say whether it was "hip" anywhere else) to call someone you found annoying was "turkey." As in, "You are such a turkey!"

(You could get in huge trouble at school for calling them what you really wanted to call them, which was an a--hole or a beeyotch or a shite-head, so "turkey" had to do.)

Well, soon enough, the "hip" reply to that became, "Oh, yeah? Then eat me, pilgrim."

So one day I annoyed the crap out of my Dad somehow and he said, "You are such a turkey sometimes."

I said... you guessed it... "Eat me, pilgrim."

... awkward silence....

... and then my Dad asked whether I even knew what it meant to say "eat me."

At that point, I realized that I had been using this phrase with *no idea* that it might mean anything other than, you know, like eating turkey on Thanksgiving. (Jeepers was I naive!!)

Then I had to listen to my Dad explain oral sex to me and the slang term "eating" that was used for it (because of course this was before Al Gore invented the internet, so my Dad couldn't just tell me to go look it up at ...

... yeah, that was awkward.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Desert Botanical Garden Butterfly Pavilion

Every year, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix exhibits butterflies from around the country in their "butterfly pavilion," which is essentially a large tent with lots of flowers growing inside, and lots of different types of butterflies and moths fluttering around. If you have an insect phobia, you should not attend this event. If you think butterflies and luna moths are awesome, beautiful, and very cool, it is not to be missed.

I took the kids to it twice this year. They had a blast. The first time we went, my daughter had a grand time looking at all the butterflies and comparing them to the identification chart. My son didn't care so much about which kind was which, but a butterfly landed on the butterfly identification card they had given him, and he was fascinated. He gave it a "ride" and then encouraged it to walk off the pretend "elevator" onto a flower. He named the butterfly, and when we went back a couple of weeks later, he walked around looking for "his" butterfly, and calling its name. He found it (or one that looked like it) and was soooo happy.

Meanwhile on the second trip, my daughter (age 10) snagged my camera and had a blast taking photos. I didn't expect much -- thought we'd end up with a lot of blurry photos of butterflies in the distance -- but she was having fun and I was busy keeping my little guy out of trouble, so I didn't wrest the camera from her happy little hands. I just let her go for it. As it turned out, she took some darn good photographs - probably better than I would have done!

Here are just a few of the photos she took:

I made some note cards and other items from some of the photos at her Zazzle gallery, at*. I'll add more when I find the time. Check it out if you are interested.


Friday, May 1, 2009

My Car Company Is Bankrupt

In the news this morning: Chrysler is in bankruptcy.

I'm so glad I bought a new Chrysler last year.... obviously a brilliant decision!

I hope the bankruptcy reorganization is successful. Apparently Fiat is working on a deal to take over a partial ownership and inject some of its expertise in making more fuel-efficient cars. This could be a good thing. There is even talk of resurrecting the Alfa Romeo in the American market. I loved those cars when I was a kid; would love to see them rolling off the production lines here.

There will be tough choices to be made, and everyone involved is likely to lose out on something, from retirees to current factory workers, dealers, and salespersons, to equity holders and secured and unsecured creditors. I just hope they can work a deal that is acceptable to enough of the stakeholders to get through the Court system. I will be pretty distressed if my car company (along with my 10 year bumper to bumper warranty) vanishes.

I really like the Chrysler cars. They are distinctive, not just your same old boring sedans that are indistinguishable from each other until you see the logo. Can you tell a Honda from a Toyota at a distance? I thought not. But you know what a PT Cruiser looks like from across the parking lot, right?

And I do like my 300. It is fun to drive, comfortable to ride in, and pretty to look at. Gas mileage isn't the best, though. I sometimes miss my Toyota when I fill the tank. And it's not just Chrysler's large cars that were fuel-inefficient. The Sebring and PT Cruiser did not get substantially higher EPA mileage ratings than the 300, despite being substantially smaller. I'd love to see a Fiat / Chrysler merger - Fiat makes some nice-looking cars, too. Perhaps some smaller and more fuel efficient, but still stylish cars will be forthcoming.

Let's all hope for the best, both (selfishly) for my desires to keep my warranty and to continue seeing distinctive cars on the road and (more altruistically) because I hope that all the employees of Chrysler and its suppliers will not end up losing their jobs and pensions.

And if you get a chance to buy a new Chrysler at a good price, go for it, please. They're going to need the votes of confidence - and the dollars to finance their post-bankruptcy payment plan. Even if the reorganization plan is successful on paper and gets through the bankruptcy court, it won't work if people don't buy the cars.

For the record, my Chrysler runs well and seems (so far at least) to be well put-together. There are no rattles or loose panels or random noises. Just a smooth purring engine when I drive. I'd buy another Chrysler, down the road, if it's an option... I hope it will be an option...