680: Getting out of my own way

Sad young woman. https://www.picnbooks.com/pnb/word/view.do?id=1237&page=105

For the greatest part of my life, the majority of my problems have had their root in me. I am my own biggest problem.

Sometimes the problem was that I was afraid to try something, but that was a fairly rare occurence. Usually, the problem was because I was a bull in a china shoppe, busting through all perceived obstacles to accomplish whatever goal I had set my heart upon at the time.

After sixty (mumble-mumble) years of life experience, and thirty-two years of teaching school, I can communicate with reasonable certainty that being our own biggest problem is true for most humans.

Now, this isn’t true in every single situation and there are things that happen that are beyond the control of the individual, and those things are not what I am speaking of. For most people, in the daily course of living life that isn’t beset with extenuating circumstances beyond their control (and yes, I do know that those situations exist) it’s our own behavior, beliefs, and habits that are the root of a great many of our life’s problems, issues, and irritations.

When I was much younger, I sincerely believed that being honest was the best policy, and I valued honesty as a moral concept. It was one of my own core values. And, in the course of my daily life, I’d say or do something (or perhaps NOT do something) that got me in a tight spot where there would be some unpleasant consequence, AND I’D LIE in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness. Get that – I violated one of my own core values. And I did it repeatedly.

It took me DECADES before I grew and matured enough to finally be able to say in one of those situations, “You know what? I did it, I should not have done it, I apologize for doing it and I will strive not to do it again.” Or, conversely, to confess that I didn’t do something that I should have gotten done and to accept the consequences of either forgetting to do it, or just not prioritizing my time properly to get it done.

I think a lot of life and sticky situations are like that example. Learning to live out my values, instead of giving them lip service only. Acknowledge a problem. Identify the cause. Formulate a strategy to avoid it, or to handle it. Practice it – or scrap it if it is unworkable and select another strategy to try, and keep doing it until I find one that works. Then, select another issue to tackle/

That ought to keep me busy fixing me and keep me out of the business of others. Sounds like a plan!


679: Weeds and my Ancestors

I garden, partly for stress relief, and partly in self-defense. Actually, that’s pretty much the same thing.

Today, in the garden, I was pulling weeds, getting ready for the next planting of cool-weather crops. When I am in the garden on my knees, getting physical tasks done, there’s lots of mental activity time available. God seems to visit with me quite frequently when I am in the garden, on my knees. Today, I was noticing how many weeds had appeared since the last time I paid attention to the garden, and I realized my life is a lot like that, too. When I am not paying attention, weeds sprout. When I am busy with other concerns, bad habits come back to visit, and new bad behaviors threaten to become new bad habits.

Bad stuff happens when I’m distracted and not focused on my relationship with God. The enemy is always looking for a way in. When I spot the weeds, or when God gently (or not so gently) points put weeds, we can together root them out. I just need to be willing to pay attention.

While I was pulling weeds, I also noticed some lettuce seedings that had volunteered where I had lettuce growing last season. God nudged me. He reminded me that good things in my life that “volunteer” are often there also because of what happened in a previous season. I have family members (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, other relatives and precious friends) who had good things growing in their lives that I have benefitted from in my life. Scripture speaks about a “great cloud of witnesses” that encourage us in our walk. Those people provided me with good examples (and sadly a few bad examples) that I can learn from in my walk on this Earth. Many of my good habits sprouted because someone else had tended fruit, or sown seed, in their lives that took root in my life, too.

My family has helped me to establish good things. God shows me things that need to be fertilized, weeded out, or pruned. Life, and my garden, are a journey through time. Seeds planted take time to sprout, and more time to grow. They take time to fruit, and then, with more time, they are removed to make way for new plants, or they are refreshed and re-fertilized for a new growing season. This is the cycle of life and gardens.

I have thanks for the examples given to me from my “great cloud of witnesses,” including those examples in my Scriptures, and all of the good things that are already established, or that are now newly growing in my life’s garden because of someone else’s fruitful walk with God.

The volunteer lettuce seedlings have now been transplanted into the garden where they have room to spread out and grow. I’ve also planted seeds for new plants to grow, too. In the same way, I’ve been reading and studying to start new fruitful habits in my life, too. God directs my attention towards things I’ve been doing that He’d like me to stop doing, or to do differently. I just have to listen and then He’ll help me get it done. One day at a time.

675: Erudition

Business man pushing large stone up to hill , Business heavy tasks and problems concept.

There is a very great deal of contemplation involved in the process of self improvement, as well as considerable degrees of judgment of oneself, both regarding whether action needs to be taken at all, and to what extent, as well as what sort of intervention might prove to be most efficacious, given all the varying factors. Humans are annoyingly complex, and solutions are rarely simple and obvious.

Most issues of sufficient import to require intervention (or even to suggest it) are of such multifarious nature that a single course of action to solve does not clearly present itself. There is the temptation to let time alone be the solution, as if the vagaries of fate were to be trusted more than deliberate action. The choice to do nothing is still, inarguably, a choice.

Another temptation is to simply have shed of the entire boondoggle altogether, as if quitting the stage were some mark of valor. Retreat may be at times the wisest course, but it is seldom a mark of courage, and alas, there is no guarantee that retreat will solve, or even will be possible.

Sadly, we are usually left to fly by the seat of our pants, winging it (hopefully) as we select the best course of action we can judge according to the knowledge, intuition, and experience available with which to judge at the point of the decision, even though those may prove to be insufficient for an acceptable outcome. If indeed, our selected course is less satisfactory than we had hoped, we can then adjust our course, or scrap the effort, regroup, and apply a more attractive alternative for better results.

The key is not to quit, but to keep applying potential remedies until one of them at last does provide an acceptable outcome. Good luck!

Truth be told, many issues (self improvement being only one) require attack from multiple vantage points, not a single-pronged initiative. Interventions are often best when flexible enough to incorporate a strategy to head off secondary or even tertiary concerns related to the initial problem as they present themselves. Such strategies become necessary as the initial issue spawns lesser problems in the process of being conquered, much like individual ants scatter as their central nest is vanquished. In like manner do large concerns tend to engender smaller ones, even as the primary issue appears to be resolving. Don’t lose heart or fail to address these, too, as they appear.

Again, the primary key to success is not to quit and to keep applying alternate remedies until one works. And never let an issue tie you up into knots.

678: Asking for help and control

Luke 18:1-8

New International Version

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

May the Lord add His blessings to the reading of His word.

This parable Jesus told of the widow and the unjust judge gives us a comparison between Earth and Heaven. The unjust judge is Earth. Things, or people, of Earth have no reason to do good things for us. The unjust judge doesn’t care about us. The unjust judge is busy with his own concerns, as our society is also doing. The world is not focused on giving me what I want – it’s not even focused on giving me what I need.

The widow in this story had a legitimate need. The unjust judge (the world) just didn’t care. The world, like the unjust judge, does not care that you have a legitimate need.

This widow, however, was persistent. She didn’t give up. She kept coming, and she kept asking.

Scripture tells us we don’t get because we don’t ask. James 4: 2-3 says You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I confess. I have struggled with this for years. This part of scripture really ticks me off. Excuse me. God is God, and He knows everything. HE KNOWS what I need. HE ALREADY KNOWS! Before I ask, HE KNOWS. And the scripture says, I don’t get because I don’t ask. Sheesh.

It isn’t like God needs me to tell him what it is that I need. Often I think He’s probably up in Heaven shaking His head over the stupid stuff I ask for – the scripture in James says we ask for the wrong motives and THAT’S surely enough Biblical truth, right there, and another whole sermon all in itself. God does not need me to tell him what I need based on my requests when I pray. So, why should I have to ask when HE KNOWS?

Well, number 1, just because He said to ask, that’s why. God is God. If HE wants something, He wants it, period. It does not matter what I think, because you know what? I am not God. He wants what He wants – and it is my job to obey.

Number 2, God wants us to ask because we humans, including me, have a nasty habit of just accepting good stuff when it happens as just good stuff that happens. We forget where our good stuff is coming from, because I can guarantee you, it isn’t coming from the world.

Don’t get me wrong, God has abundantly blessed me with good things far beyond what I ever have deserved based on my words, actions, or existence as a human being, far beyond what I’ve ever deserved or earned. And still, I look back and I am ashamed to admit, I far too often didn’t acknowledge His generosity and goodness when those blessings occurred. THIS is why God tells us to ASK. When you ask someone for something and get it, you KNOW where it came from, and it wasn’t just a freak of nature or some circumstance, or just good luck – what do you think “good luck” is, anyway?

When you have ASKED, you know darn good and well where that blessing came from and you are a whole lot more likely to remember to say thank you for the gift, aren’t you?

So, for my hard-headed self, God wants me to ASK. And this story about the widow and the unjust judge is one more time Jesus explains to us hard-headed humans that God wants us to ASK.

A lot of us act like God in Heaven is sitting on His throne and He suddenly turns to His angels and yells, “OM Goodness, did you see what just happened to Dianne? Quick! Convene the Advisory Council immediately – we gotta do something about this right now!”

Even saying it sounds stupid, right? And even though we all know that’s not how God does things, quite often we ACT like that’s how God does things. Nope. That’s how WE do things.

God is not panicked by the stuff that happens to us. It’s all under his control, and even when we do not understand it, God is never surprised by stuff that happens and He is totally able to handle it all by Himself – even when He allows us to help sometimes because we need it as part of what we need to learn. There’s another whole sermon all by itself, too.

Last Sunday, our Sunday School lesson started out with a story about a man who was standing on a beach, in front of the crashing waves. He had his back turned to the glorious sight and sound of the waves foaming towards the shore. He stood, turned away from the sight and sound of the mighty ocean with a seashell pressed up against his ear – trying to hear the sound of the ocean in the shell – while he was standing in front of the real thing with his back turned toward it, seeking the pale imitation of the ocean in an object he could control. If that’s not a metaphor for the human race, I don’t know what one is.

It is a metaphor for me and my journey. I like feeling like I am in control, even though realistically, I am aware that I control nothing, not even my next breath. I still like feeling as though I am in control of myself and my circumstances. I don’t have to control others and everything, just me and my circumstances. And when I humble myself and ask someone else for help with something (even when I ask God for it), I am acknowledging that I am not in control, and I do not like that one teeny tiny little bit.

Early on, I learned at great cost that if I cannot get it done on my own, it usually just doesn’t happen, because I learned that I can depend on no one. Husband One would do anything for anybody else that he could do, and everyone thought he was a great guy – and THEY didn’t have to live with him. He would do anything he could do for anybody else. I learned if I didn’t do it, it didn’t get done. I learned not to even bother to ask. It took quite some time, but I had two decades to learn that lesson very, very well.

I learned it so well that it affected my relationship with God Himself. God was waiting for me to unlearn what I had learned from my husband, and instead, for me to learn to ask my loving Father in Heaven for what I needed. Do you know how difficult it is to ask for help when you have been shown over and over and over that humbling yourself to ask for help, showing you are not in control and need someone else’s help, only to have them not help you? Asking for help is a learned skill for me, and I still suck at it.

This example of the unjust, uncaring judge who finally gave the widow the good thing helps me understand that if a judge who respects neither God Himself, or what the people think, can give a good thing to a woman with no other resource or recourse just because she is persistent enough to ask and keep asking, that my loving Heavenly Father will listen and respond to my asking because He actually DOES care about me.

All I have to do is ask. Even if it is hard to ask. God cares. He wants me to ask. So, I am learning to ask.

Last year, I had a very rough year at work. I didn’t respond well to the challenges, and I struggled to the point that I sought professional help. Yes, Christians can use counseling, too. Loving Jesus does not always mean that we will deal with challenges well, or even in a Christ-like manner. I certainly wasn’t handling my challenges well at all. So, I sought help and I began asking God to help me understand what lessons I needed to learn, and where He wanted me to improve.

See that passage in James says sometimes when we do ask, we ask for the wrong motives and when we ask for things with the wrong motives, we still don’t get, because what we are asking for isn’t in God’s plans for us in the first place, because what we are asking for isn’t what’s good for us in the first place.

I asked for what God wanted for me – what were His plans for me. I asked Him to forgive me for the times I let Him down last year (and before) and didn’t show others who I belonged to. I wasn’t a good example of grace under pressure. I didn’t do the right thing, too many times. I could have done better, He showed me where I could have done better, and I began working to incorporate those lessons into my thoughts and behavior. I began asking for what God wanted me to ask for – to seek His face and His will.

And things began to change. Since I had asked, and I knew whom I had asked, when those changes began to happen, I knew whom to thank. That tough job became a new job that’s still challenging, but it’s totally different from the job I had before and I praise Him daily for the change. Maybe the goodness of the change is not just the change of location, even though that’s part of it, to be sure – I suspect a lot of the improvement is the change He’s made in me. I thank Him for that, too.

Unlike the man on the beach who is trying to hear the ocean in the seashell he controls, I am learning to turn and face the ocean in all its fearsome, awesome beauty and power – and I am learning to appreciate the power of what I never could control in the first place. I am learning to ask for what God wants for me and for my family – my husband, my parents, my children and grandchildren.

And God, being God, is giving. And I, being His grateful child, am thanking Him every day, since I asked, and I know whom I asked and where these blessings are coming from.

This helps explain Jesus’ last question in this scripture passage, when He asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?” Will there still be those who seek to want what God wants, who want to ask God for what He wants for them, and who remember to thank Him for the blessing He provides? I plan to be one – how about you?

677: Hooking Up

Becoming part of a couple is an enterprise fraught with uncertainties. Face it, all you can really know is YOUR side of the relationship commitment. You think you know the other person. You know what they’ve said and you’ve seen how they’ve acted in the past. You think you know. Still, the only person whose heart and motivations you really can depend on is you. You are making your best guess on your partner. For some, that trust is warranted. For others, not so much. Does that mean you never take the leap? HECK, no.

No risk, no reward.

Still, if your primary consideration for a partner is the way that person looks – you deserve everything you get. There are studies that show that, pretty much, the less you spend on the wedding, the more likely your marriage will succeed (https://bestlifeonline.com/expensive-wedding-divorce-news/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20study%2C%20recently%20married%20couples%20who%20spent%20just,less%20likely%20to%20get%20divorced). If your focus is on the show, you’re missing, overlooking, not thinking about the foundation of your relationship with your partner.

For men, the biggest problems are women who are looking for that Mrs. degree, and women who overlook a good hearted, stable, decent man because she is wildly attracted to the men who are the “dangerous” type. Guys – you have no business teaching those girls how to be emotionally mature women, and teaching a “material girl” that there are more important things than “things” is also a complete waste of time and an almost guaranteed heartbreak.

For women, the biggest problems are men who still believe a woman is their property, their maid, or worse, their mama. Ladies – don’t waste your time.

Look for the things that last. How’s their sense of humor? How do they treat people who some think are “beneath” them, people such as wait staff, cashiers, custodians, nurses, teachers, small children, handicapped persons, animals, customer service representatives, and other service personnel, for example? How does that person react when they are inconvenienced in traffic, or when the computer connection is slow? How do they treat the others in their family? In your family? Their friends? Your friends?

Do they donate their time in service to others? Do they donate funds for that purpose? What charities and organizations are they supporting?

Those things indicate character that is beautiful or frightening. Those things show what’s deep inside, and how that person thinks. Those things last. Looks don’t. Sex doesn’t. Money can disappear overnight.

Try this set of questions to start the process: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/style/no-37-big-wedding-or-small.html. THINK about the answers you provide and the answers you get. What do these answers say about how you and your partner-to-be relate to the world and to each other?

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your brain. Your hormones will lie to you. Use your brain to think about this person. They will be the other parent to your children, should you have any. Make a wise choice.

676: Psalm 23

King James Version

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

This Psalm is one of the most beloved pieces of scripture in the entire Bible. Many have committed this Psalm to memory, and that’s a very good thing, because I’ve often said that it is difficult to “stand on the promises of God” when you don’t know what the promises actually are. This lovely chapter is chock-full of them. We are going to take this song lyric (because that’s what it is, the lyrics to a song) and explore God’s promises that are found here.

The verses can be divided into two parts – verses one through four and six are God’s promises to you specifically and personally. Verse five is God’s promise for actions He provides on your behalf in front of the rest of the world. This mirrors the Christian life in that most of it, like the verses in part one, are about that relationship that you have with God. The rest is about how you relate to the rest of the world, and how God cares for you there, too.  

Let’s start with the first verse. It acknowledges that God is our shepherd, and by extension, that we are His sheep. Sheep are very valuable animals to shepherds. Sheep provide wool, meat, milk, and money (wealth) to their shepherd. They are also warmth and companionship. In Morocco, I visited a farm in the countryside and explored a house that was built above a “basement” sort of structure that formed the first floor, and that space was the sheep fold for the family’s flock of sheep. Sheep are secured at night to protect them from predators, both four and two legged. The neat thing about this particular arrangement is that the body heat of the sheep in the first-floor fold helped to heat the house where the humans lived on the second floor. Shepherds who roamed the hills with their flocks were a common sight in that country, and the shepherd was continually with the flock, leading them during the day and bedding down with the flock at night. Sheep are known to be foolish creatures, needing the protection of their shepherd. I don’t know about you, but that truth about sheep applies very well to me as well as a follower of Christ. I’ve been known to do some boneheaded things that my Shepherd’s had to rescue me from, too. Scripture makes multiple references to believers as God’s sheep all throughout Christ’s ministry on Earth.

It’s the second part of verse one that has special insight for us. It says, “I shall not want.” Now, there’s two ways to take that statement, and the first, most obvious way, is pretty clear and a marvelous promise of God to provide for our needs. I will want for nothing. God will provide what I need. Hallelujah! There’s backup in other Bible verses for this promise, too – it does not appear just here in this Psalm. In Matthew 6:25-34 it says (in red letters, too – just listen to these promises):

25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 For after all these things do the Gentiles (or those with no knowledge of God) seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Now there’s some promises, straight from the Almighty! I can get excited about that!

The second meaning to this phrase, “thou shall not want,” has to do with your relationship with God, your maturity as a Christian, and your dependance on God. See, God supplies our NEEDS. He does not, in any way, shape, or form, promise to supply our foolish, fleshly, greedy, sinful DESIRES. Those are unholy wants, and our God is a holy God. So, basically, ya ain’t gettn’ em. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Another amazing, wonderful, uplifting promise from God.  

In the next verses of this Psalm, we see all the blessings God promises to believers who are earnestly seeking Him and working to be obedient. Let’s look at them:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: doesn’t that sound lovely? I can rest in the Lord, in lovely places and in unlovely places, both. My rest is in God’s green pastures.

he leadeth me beside the still waters. Calm – peaceful. God promises us His peace in John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He restoreth my soul: I am no longer a slave to sin and death, He has restored my soul!

he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The Holy Spirit will guide me in what’s right, if I will listen to Him and obey Him. That’s my choice and God help me to always choose the right path He’s showing me.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: WHY? for thou art with me! I don’t have to be afraid – Hey, worst-case scenario, I get to go to HEAVEN!!

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The Shepherd’s staff is a tool of rescue. What’s the rod? Remember hearing “spare the rod and spoil the child?” That’s a Proverb of Solomon, and the rod is a tool of chastisement. It says here that the tool of chastisement will COMFORT ME. This right here is another one of those mature Christian relationship sort of things that doesn’t immediately make sense to our humanness. Who gets comfort from chastisement?

Well, think about it this way. I used to tell my children that if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t care how they behaved. But, because I do love them very, very much, I cared how they behaved, and I sought to correct their mistakes and misbehavior. Guess what? God is our FATHER. He does the very same thing – pruning off our bad branches so we are better – like His better plans for us. It probably won’t mean we LIKE being chastised and corrected, but it ought to be serious comfort that God loves us enough to want to help us fix our rough spots. Our part in that process is to understand that God is pruning us because he LOVE US and wants to help us to become better – more like Jesus. We have to ACCEPT his chastisement, LEARN from it, and grow to be better Christians because of it. Doesn’t mean it’s fun. I can tell you that it isn’t fun when God is doing that in my life. But it IS necessary, because GOD IS DOING IT, and He does not play nasty games. He does what I need.

Verse five says, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointeth my head with oil; my cup runneth over. This is a promise God makes that He will provide for us even under the very noses of our enemies. He anoints us with blessings when we are persecuted. He promises our blessing cup will be so full it won’t be able to contain all of it! No enemy can take us from the hand of God. No weapon formed against us will prosper. He will take what is meant for evil and will turn it for good. He protects us all the way to the Pearly Gates. That’s a promise!

Finally, he promises us that: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Since He is with me always, like it says in Matthew 28:20, OF COURSE goodness and mercy will be with me! Like. . .DUH!! And then, I get to go to HEAVEN! I win! And so do you.

So now, you’ve got a cupful running over of promises from God that you can count on, all the days of your life, from this one short Psalm. Take those promises with you today and spread them around – share them with others who need them.

675B: Profligate Waste

The US government strives to do the right thing. They provide food for free to students who attend a designated Title 1 school – which is a school where the poverty rate in the district is high enough that all students who attend there qualify for free breakfast and lunch. All well and good, right? Well – not so much.

Here’s how that munificence actually plays out in at least one locality. My school had a situation arise in this era of no substitutes where nearly 20 of our small high school’s faculty would be out on a given Friday. Being that they were utterly unable to obtain substitutes (not even by making the remaining staff sacrifice their planning periods and cover classes for colleagues) they decided to just make tomorrow a “virtual learning day.” OK – I get that.

However, because we are a Title 1 school and we provide federally funded free food to students daily, that meant our cafeteria staff had to scramble to provide and pack sack breakfasts and lunches for all of our students who would not be present at school to be fed, so they’d have food at home for the virtual learning day (yes we did this each day of virtual learning during the pandemic, too).

So, at the end of our regular instructional day, the admin called students to the cafeteria to collect a bag of food prepared for the next day – a breakfast and lunch. Having experienced this situation previously, I told my class that if they did not want the food that they were provided, to please give it to another student FIRST (because that’s who the food was paid for) but to PLEASE not throw away food, because I (as their teacher) would GLADLY accept food donations. I had one student in that class who took home two full grocery bags (paper bag size, not plastic bag size) that weighed so much he could hardly carry them. I hope his mom was thrilled that her son brought home so much food – probably a hundred dollar’s worth – from school. I ended up with a sizeable bag of food the kids didn’t want (the vegetables, mostly), which I actually will eat.

Class dismissed and students left the building. Then, I went “dumpster diving.” I have no shame. I went classroom to classroom on my hall and mined the trash cans of teachers who obviously did not tell their students not to throw away food. I left the building with EIGHT paper bag sized loads (more than 100 pounds) of food. It took me THREE trips to my car with as much as I could carry each time. Apples, juice, Pop Tarts, fingerling carrots, Ranch dressing, cheese sticks, a few Doritos chips bags. What the kids ate out of the food bags they got? They ate the chips (the least nutritious item in the bag), and the Smucker’s peanut butter and jelly “Uncrustable” sandwiches. They trashed the rest.

When I got home, the workers who were finishing a flooring job for me at home were happy to take home a bag of food. This is what I had left:

A bag of apples at my grocery store costs five bucks. I had at least four bags of retail apples (probably more), red and golden delicious. It’s a good thing I have a food dehydrator – I can preserve them for apple pies later this winter. I had almost two quarts of Ranch dressing. I got dozens of cheese sticks. I got well over a gallon of fruit juice (which I do not usually buy myself because it’s expensive) and I am enjoying it thoroughly this evening with Captain Morgan’s Black Spiced Rum. I got LOADS of Pop Tarts (which I won’t eat, either). I’m sending those with my husband to his job site where he has co-workers who have small children who will enjoy them. I have enough fingerling carrots to eat them daily at lunch and dinner for about three weeks. Good thing I like them!

I get it that our school has a high poverty rate in our district and we qualify for federal food assistance for all of our students. HOWEVER. This has happened over and over again in my county. Because I abhor waste, I will trash dive to recover perfectly good food our students throw away. What this means is that I look forward to “days off” when students are provided food, because I take home hundreds of dollars worth retail cost food per year – every time that I rescue from the trash what the students discard.

I am benefitting. I am not the one who is supposed to be benefitting. Still, I’m not going to let the perfectly good food just be thrown away – that’s just WRONG. *sigh*

How to fix this? I do not know. Since I can’t fix it, I will continue to save food that would be trashed. Maybe this is a job benefit?

674: Can it be saved? No, it cannot, and here’s why:

After 31 years of teaching, I am coming to the sad conclusion that public education in the USA is almost to the point that it cannot be saved.

Federal agents, state agents and district agents have played all they can play on the one string they can easily control in the orchestra that is public education – the teachers. What is coming to fruition is the result of that relentless twanging on that one string, compounded by the problematic, stifling effects of teaching in a Pandemic, added to the ineffectual and undermining policies that have been enacted over the past several decades, to wit: teachers are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers, and the supply chain of new teachers is not keeping up with the demand. I myself, cannot recommend teaching in the USA, and instead, suggest that those who desire to teach consider international teaching instead of domestic USA public schools.

Why do I believe public education is almost unsalvageable? The federal policies that began with No Child Left Behind and have continued with the various equally flawed mandates since then, have set up a current system of comparison that allows no school to have their “numbers” drop. This race to obtain the necessary “numbers” to avoid having a school taken over by the state (mandated by the feds) has resulted in chicanery of the worst sort that would have an accountant brought up on criminal charges for cooking the books.

Shifting the responsibility for learning back to the students (because the teachers actually are teaching their hearts out under a ridiculous progression of “effective practices” professional development courses) will mean actually holding students accountable for attendance and achievement. Implementing this will mean (since it hasn’t been done for YEARS) a resultant drop in inflated grades and graduation rates (mostly worthless pieces of paper that purport to be diplomas certifying acceptable levels of achievement) that will result in schools being slated for takeover, meaning that entire school faculties will be terminated. As if they could actually replace those professionals in the current labor market, which is highly unlikely, given that more schools than not are currently understaffed because of the shortage of qualified professionals.

Why will “numbers” drop if schools actually return accountability to the learners? Because students have been catered to in a decades-long atmosphere in public schools of complete absence of responsibility, contributing to the “entitlement” generation employers are discovering as schools churn out “graduates” with zero work ethic and very questionable knowledge. One public school system, for example (by no means unique) has no grade reporting through the entire elementary school experience (PreK through grade 5 – that’s 7 years).

This is then followed by “grades” reported in grade levels 6-8, but no zeros are allowed to mar students’ academic averages. This means points are required to be entered from teachers for zero effort – AND students are passed along to the next grade level regardless of grades or achievement in their classes. So, not only is zero effort rewarded, it isn’t necessary to actually attend to the lesson content that IS BEING PRESENTED by the teaching staff. It absolutely does not matter what a student learns or does not learn during those three years of middle school, because they are automatically going to be socially promoted. Yes, the school does have attendance requirements (by state law) but there is NEVER a case brought legally for truancy, and students who exceed the maximum absences allowed are routinely exempted from any consequences if they merely request an exemption. So, neither learning OR attendance matters.

This is the situation now for the first 10 years of a student’s academic experience. By now, the student is 14-15 years old, and they’ve had a decade of complete and total academic irresponsibility. They are reading and performing academically two and three years (or more) behind where they should be (and those expectations are being lowered to match).

At this point, students enter high school where there are requirements for Carnegie Units, and now, for the first time in nearly a decade, they have to actually pass a class. So, seeing as this isn’t happening for up to half of them, the school now gets into creative accounting to keep their “numbers” up. See, if they suddenly began failing students whose lack of knowledge/achievement deserve to fail, their enrollment numbers will rise as precipitously as their graduation rates will fall in order for those failing students to retake those failed courses next year. This means schools will have to hire additional teachers to handle the load (if they can be found), and/or class sizes will rise. It also means some schools literally will not have space to accommodate those students, meaning portable units, or floating teachers who are teaching classes in rooms when other teachers have planning. All of this results in pressure from administration on teachers to pass students who have not passed, by replacing grades for work not done, putting in points for learning tasks not attempted, and finagling any other way that can be finagled to shuffle kids on though who haven’t learned or performed to minimum standards.

And, for some school systems, what will trump the educational, staff, and space reasons for speciously passing along students who have not earned their diplomas, it is a fact that increasing enrollments from failing students who might have been held accountable for the first time in their lives means that rising school enrollment will result in the school will be placed in a higher sports bracket. And this is without a potential rise in eligible athletes since the enrollment rise is from failing students who aren’t eligible to be athletes and they will then be forced to compete in football (and other sports, but let’s be realistic, only football counts) against larger schools. OMG.

I know of one school near the top of one sports classification bracket that routinely won the state football championship for years by finagling their attendance numbers, striving to avoid being reassigned to the next larger bracket where they then would be competing against larger schools. They shuffled off low-achieving students (except for those who were athletes, of course) to an alternative school in the county to lower the enrollment at the primary high school in order to stay within their desired sports bracket numbers. Not kidding – talk about creative accounting.

For those schools that actually aren’t a sports franchise that does academics as a side hustle, they are currently forced to pander to students who have a history of doing very little – and who have no desire, like most other habitually lazy people, of actually expending any effort to achieve their education. If schools return to traditional education – since the modern “effective practices” research quite obviously has not resulted in a better-educated graduate, there will be a period of time when students who are discovering the reality of failure drops the school’s “numbers.” In this day and age, that means the school will be taken over, by the evidence of their falling “numbers,” because numbers don’t lie, do they? Of course they do. Thus, administrators actually cannot effect meaningful change, and must continue to pander and pad their “numbers.”

Employers can already tell it. Our society can already tell it. And it isn’t going to get better, because there aren’t administrators who are willing to make the necessary changes because of the consequences to their careers. Same thing for the teachers who are forced by administrative orders to award points to students who’ve done nothing in class – they also need a job, and are unwilling to be the first one to stand up and say, “I’m not doing this crap, because it is crap.” They have income and a pension riding on that crappy job, and they aren’t willing to rock the boat, even though they know full well what is happening. It is a self-perpetuating disaster, and it’s been happening, is happening, and will continue to happen.

A school that has the sort of teachers/administrators with the guts to call a spade a spade are so rare, Hollywood makes movies about them.

673: Being “equitable”

Some schools, in an effort to pass and graduate more students (this has nothing to do with teaching them anything other than finagling), have come up with a new policy. Students who have missing or zero grades at the end of term will have all of the work they chose not to complete replaced with their final exam grade.

Now, let’s just suppose – let’s extrapolate that policy to the nth degree, shall we? That means I can attend class for the entire term (180 days, or 90 days for block schedule), do absolutely nothing, and squeak out a barely passing grade on the final exam, and all of that work I refused to complete all term will now be excused and replaced (scored, so to speak) with my squeaky passing grade – meaning I passed the course. I barely passed, but I passed.

Here’s an idea hatched from that cauldron of crap that might actually be “equitable” to all students: let’s give everyone a final exam on day one of the course. Those who achieve a passing grade can now exempt the course with credit, and they don’t have to show up all year. Isn’t that the exact same thing? Haven’t they proved (in advance, at that!) that they have enough knowledge to pass the course already?

Problem: No employer wants their employee doing nothing for the year and then turning in a barely acceptable performance for one day – and expecting to be paid (rewarded) like everyone else who showed up and did what they were asked to do on a daily basis. So this nifty educational idea bears no resemblance to anything that happens in actual life – at least, not for all those of us whose numbers didn’t hit on the lottery. And not everybody has a ready-made business they can run and therefore avoid being an employee, either.

672: Education

image from Buzzfeed.com

I was riding with my dad today on a several-hours-long trip and trying to explain why I am fervently hoping this will be my last year teaching public school in a rural, Title 1 high school (year 31). Being eligible to retire and being able to retire are not the same thing, unfortunately.

First, back in the day, the students who made it to graduation were, for the most part, the cream of the crop. This was so because approximately 20-30% of the student population dropped out along the way. Yes, there were academically competent students who had to drop out for financial reasons to help support their families, but the majority of those who left school did so because they weren’t interested, were determined not to be interested, or were unable to keep up academically, and they mostly went to work at what (then) were sometimes decent-paying manufacturing or other jobs. These days, schools keep most of those students. Teachers spend a great deal of time and effort trying to bring up the lower third to acceptable standards and the upper third (the ones who might be discovering the cures for cancer) are essentially not academically challenged, but pass because they are “good enough” for the standardized tests – and the SAT was “scaled” some years ago to make declining scores less obvious, too.

Second, many schools transitioned to alternative scheduling, primarily block scheduling in the 90’s. Instead of eight classes taught for 180 days, students frequently now have four classes taught for a double-length time in 90 days. That sounds like it is the same thing, right? Six of one or half a dozen of the other, right? Not so much. Back in the day when this new innovation was introduced, teachers went through extensive professional development to learn how to teach on that schedule, or two classes in one day. In this modern era of block scheduling, too frequently, it has translated into 90 single class days, and students are getting roughly half of what they previously covered, back in the day, in 180 days. That isn’t helping the learning curve.

In addition, many school systems have virtually removed a student’s ability to fail. Teachers are being commanded by administration to award 50 points (or more) for zero academic effort. The last time I checked, breathing wasn’t an academic activity. Half credit, or more – for nothing, no effort, no learning. Some systems absolutely will not retain a student grades pre-K through grade 8, regardless of educational attainment, or lack thereof. The students are just promoted each and every year.

That’s NINE YEARS of dedicated learning that they do not have to learn what their teachers are teaching, because they will be promoted anyway. And then, at age 15 (approximately) they come to the 9th grade in high school and all of that laissez faire schooling comes to a screeching halt. Now, for the first time EVER, they are expected to actually earn credit and pass a course of instruction, often accompanied by state-mandated content exams at course final assessment that count a significant percentage of their course average academic grade. AND most of them arrive several grade levels behind where they should be in skills – that I, as a ninth grade teacher, am expected to “catch up” for them. . . . in five months on a block schedule.

And dad’s eyebrows kept climbing higher and higher as the list went on. His sideways glances at me got softer and sadder as the story unfolded.

I do not believe that our public schools are now working to create decent employees, citizens, or humans. I don’t believe in what I am doing as a part of education any longer. Yes, it is time for me not to be a teacher any longer. I can’t keep doing what I no longer believe is helping make better humans. And COVID-19 has added the last nails to that coffin. Because I am a dedicated teacher and I do my level best every day to catch up and accelerate the students who are assigned to me to teach, I was again this year nominated for Teacher of the Year. Again, I declined to participate. One new reason this year not to participate is that the application asks me to disclose all my social media accounts so that they can check up on what I’m posting, and I am far too honest to ever seriously be considered a model teacher who might be chosen for Teacher of the Year.