Talking to Monkeys

Winston Churchill said, “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”

I liken that to holding a conversation with the “man (brain, lungs, heart) in the pan” when the neurosurgeon is present! You may make assumptions about what you see, but why not ask germane questions?


  Suit up properly and “investigate” as my grandchildren like to do.

There’s so much at stake with this year’s elections. I hope people will investigate the candidates thoroughly rather than allow the press to be the entertaining monkey. 

Stop depending on whatever news outlet you like; they are all entertainment and do fight for ratings, you know! 

Instead see what the candidates’ records are. C-span is not riveting television, but it is first-hand information. Get information, not endorsements, from the League of Women Voters. 

If America doesn’t vote intelligently, we will find ourselves the monkeys, open to many frightening experiments. 

Revisiting Two Books

Returning to teaching in August 2014 meant the teacher had to reread timeless classics like Macbeth.   But this 2015 summer, as she ruminated over her 2014-2015 teaching experience, much like Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquility,” she revisited Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985),  and C. Sommerville’s “How the News Makes Us Dumb”(1999). Both writers nailed where we currently live!

Postman’s worry involved the threat that television watching held serious dangers academically as well as physically. Fast forward 30 years to all the techie toys now available, and we see how much amusement rules our lives.

Today’s student has the availability to access a computer link that posts nightly homework; additionally, many teachers also post the assignment on the white or smart board so the student can copy it. What’s the student’s question? “May I just take a picture on my phone”?
Hmmm. The research tells us that writing, when combined with seeing the information, and “saying” information silently, stimulates learning visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically.

The greater problem for many of today’s students lies in their addiction, yes, addiction, to the phones, social media, computer games and movies. After playing online games until the wee hours, drowsy students either sleep in, arrive late, or sit in school half asleep. Good thing schools sell sugary snacks and have soft drink machines in each hall! Forgive my cynicism, but the problem is very serious. Postman’s thoughts have become a reality far bleaker than he envisioned. Watch a toddler enthralled with the parents’ phones. Remove the phone and watch the angst.

Do we simply forbid? I believe we would be better off to teach the wise uses of technology and inform students that technology has real value for learning, and not just entertainment. That requires actual interacting among parents and their scions. Talk, explain, investigate topics… together! This productive time, begun early with the printed word (and Word) will bind generations.

 A word about the news and Sommerville’s book: his subtitle, The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society, speaks volumes. My husband, seen above reading to our youngest grandchild, has said for a number of years that news, real news, just doesn’t happen 24/7.

Is it really news that another celebrity’s marriage has collapsed? News that a professional athlete is going to jail or just being released from incarceration? That Olympic organizers have just decided athletes will have free air conditioning in Rio de Janerio in 2016?

Knowing  all this information creates a mental overload as well as worry over things that don’t affect us, or over which we have no control. This never-ending stream of factoids and sound bites leaves little time for considering weightier matters that do affect us. How will we help a neighbor or family member going through difficult times, manage our money, practice our faith? Reading afresh or revisiting both Amusing Ourselves to Death and How the News Makes Us Dumb could make us much wiser than we realize.

Students 2014-5

At age four she wanted to teach. God planted her home next door to Mrs. Goldsmith, the woman who would become her 4th grade teacher. So when the call came to invite the high school English teacher out of retirement and back into the classroom after a 7-year hiatus, she agreed.  With a love of books, writing, discussion, and teens, she considered her year at a Christian school in light of Psalm 78:4. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his powers and the wonders he has done.” 

The door invited her to walk into student lives — post the tsunami of technological advancements. Hmm. Sports still framed student life for some.  A few others devoted hours to fine arts they pursued outside of class.  But the pleasures of mindless hours of playing video games and watching movies on iPhones, iPads, and laptops, changed the classes. Her. Classes. Her. Students.

Motivating tired students made her wonder why parents let theirs kids stay up all hours. Then she realized that many of the parents worked nights or fell into bed too exhausted to consider options. Still others took the Laissez-faire approach, sometimes not even knowing their kids were at game stores “trying out” new games released from 10 until midnight for free play before going on sale. Resourceful teens told their parents that they were at another home; sneaking into one house or the other, they could sleep in and arrive at school late, sometimes very tardy.

Today’s parents need to talk to each other and assemble working strategies for this age of technology. How about collecting  the devices and charging them all in  the parents’ bedroom? How about talking about social media or checking teens’ phones? Invasion of privacy, you say? There’s a reason scripture talks about growing, and trees planted that bring forth their fruit. 

Ever think about a family tree? The growth intended requires the branches be connected, watered, pruned, grafted, even transplanted. Parents have the call expressed in Psalm 78. They may entrust parts of the training to others, but ultimately, parents need to teach the next generation God’s deeds, power, and wonders. Individuals on various electronics in separate rooms at home yield dying, exposed roots or plants that do not thrive, but slump as a blighted crop. Parents as gardeners could turn the soil, fertilize and prune. What a difference it would make at home, in school, and in the kingdom.


Getting Around

Have scooter, will teach!  In the back of the Jeep, the battery-powered scooter breaks down into component pieces. Each Monday and Friday either her husband or son assembled or disassembled this scooter. Thus the teacher could navigate the halls and elevator to the second floor where Upper School English classes met.


On Wednesday evenings, because the church used the school building for a full mid-week program, the scooter’s usual parking spot in the lobby was abandoned for her son’s office. Said son, the headmaster, had the red scooter parked in his office each Wednesday. The highlight of his week was to drive mom’s scooter back into his office once she got into his car. (Note: picture not available!)
Moment of truth for the teacher? Somewhere between “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” and “Someone is always being inconvenienced because of me.” The struggle to get into and around the school took energy from her as well as her family. Some days she dealt with her immobility graciously, mainly because of the two cute hitchhikers she motored to class with a wave of the scooter key.

  Other days she lamented the extra work she caused those she loves most. Yet they never complained, thus seasoning their service with grace. And that brought the teacher a dose of humility and gratitude.

Grandchildren and Grades

Torn between wanting to cuddle grandchildren and having to get her teaching work done, The new teacher sought equilibrium! Kelsey turned four during teacher orientation week. Olaf, rather than the sisters, stole her heart.

Party by day and write lesson plans by night! Praying for regular infusions of godly direction and physical strength kept grandma awake at all hours of the night. Dave worked hard to keep her from running away, and the Psalms calmed with familiar passages.

“May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

And she should mention that He used these smiling children to inject life and humor into this grandma.

After dropping the two passengers off, grandma kept the scooter keys to get her upstairs, via the elevator, to her classroom. Did she mention the scooter? Next time.


DCF 1.0

Dave emptied the hot tub and rolled it into the basement. Buttoned up, the cabin faded in our read view mirror as we aimed the Jeep for Winston-Salem and the year’s adventure: Dave to play Grandpa Extraordinaire and I to teach high school English after a 12-year hiatus.  We left Maryland on August 9, the day before our 46th anniversary.


At 9 AM on Monday I sat in the first faculty meeting  of the year, somewhat ready to tackle the task at hand.


The student contracts and each syllabus for grades 9-12 lay neatly on my  own desk.



My son, the headmaster, opened with a meaningful devotional based on Ephesians 2:8-10.


“For by grace you have been saved– through faith.And this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are Christ’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”


The students in grades 7-12 headed to Lions’ Camp for a week while I began to draft lesson plans.

Put me in a cannon and launch!














When Life Changes

About a year ago she sat on her retirement perch of purple, calmly taking in the four acres she and cabinman called home. Then came the call from North Carolina. Tragedy? Not at all. Life altering? Absolutely.


Son number two called, asking if Mom would consider coming out of retirement and teaching four high school English classes for the 2014-15 year. Prayers, questions, discussions… all swilled together for a week or so before she and cabinman decided to grab the adventure,  and head south.


The blog stopped, the books and red pens returned, and she, this out-of-the-classroom-for-12-years pedagogue, returned to teaching. After all, she felt as called to teach — since age 4 — as any pastor knows he’s called to preach. Graduation for the seniors occurred on May 28, so perhaps it’s time to relive the story of a year, the story of a lifetime. If teaching calls your name, please come along — for the laughs, the frustrations, the changes that have happened to education, and the insights from a teaching Phoenix who rose to fly one more year.