Sunday, January 30, 2011


NIMBY reactionaries don't stop change in the long run. They simply help to insure that it happens in the worst possible way. - David Brain

In the northwest corner of Washington state a series of recent land development hearings has taken place aimed at preventing a small construction company from developing several residential lots it owns. A hearing commissioner presided over the courtroom during the past several months, and will make a crucial decision after all evidence is presented and final arguments are made. Tens of thousands of dollars have been and will continue to be spent before the curtain finally comes down.

At stake is the future of a small business, the kind that any community would be proud of, and the lives of people associated with it. It’s an example of a monumental flaw in modern day America. Laws are being made as we speak which allow well-intentioned people to cause untold financial and emotional pain to their fellow citizens. As they find legal ways to impose their will on how life should be in America, the end justifies the means.

It’s a story of mistaken beliefs, misrepresentation, bureaucracy, and self centered motives , cloaked in concern for the environment. Filled with righteous indignation the individuals use delaying tactics, petitions, appeals, “expert opinions” and any other means they can to stop development they deem harmful to the ecology. They do not appear to recognize the cost to the hopes and dreams of others. Ironically, many of those lodging appeals live on what might be called environmentally fragile property. No matter. They bought their property long ago. That was then, this is now. They exemplify the word NIMBY!

Here is what on-line dictionaries say about the word. NIMBY is an acronym for the phrase not in my back yard. The term (or the derivative Nimbyism) is used negatively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them.

So, you might say, someone needs to take a stand for the environment. We can’t have high rolling developers and industries come in to strip our land of trees, poison our streams, or destroy the flora and fauna of our wooded areas. This is true, but reason needs to be part of the equation.

At stake in this scenario are wetlands. Three 20,000 square foot lots have some wetland areas on them that house certain animal and plant life considered important. Endless testimony was heard about mature forested lands, sizes of trees on the property, 50 ‘ , 75’ or 100’ buffers, set backs, etc. How extra people and pets would potentially harm the area was brought up. I sat through three different days of testimony. By the final day I felt exasperated and frustrated by the endless questions, conjectures, and "expert testimony."

This small company went through another such ordeal three years ago, when attempts to develop a different one acre lot were thwarted by neighbors who were against any development in their neighborhood woods. Their children had used the woods for camp outs, playing in a small year-round stream, and making tree forts. They did not want a house on that lot! In short, they banded together and got the city to designate it a native growth protection area which came with all sorts of restrictions and demands; i.e. removal of any non-native plants, putting in and maintaining a trail system, adding benches, and much more. It didn’t matter that the surrounding homeowners had not had to do likewise. You can well imagine the cost and the time consumed as the builder attempted to meet these newly imposed requirements.

A beautiful house in keeping with the woodsy setting was finally built on a very small footprint at the edge of the property. From the deck one could imagine hearing the song I heard a forest praying” . It was a battle fought, and won only to the degree that a beautiful home was built. But the cost of that battle was great. There was no profit for the builder, just another nail in a small business coffin.

As an aside, there are other examples of nimbyism going on in the area. People moving from town to the country don’t like the smell of manure from nearby farms. Its stink is bad for the value of their homes. Not in my backyard! They wouldn't want a hog farm to be built upwind, because of the stench. Not in my backyard!

As long as there is a market for homes there will be builders building them. It’s the American way. Change is inevitable and sometimes painful. A beautiful dogwood or towering pine may need to be sacrificed so that someone’s dream home can be built.

After we bought one of two homes built on a small Mercer Island development, we found that they were on the site of a former orchard -the delight of the neighborhood. Nearby homeowners must surely have been angry at the builder for destroying something that brought so much pleasure to so many people. But the houses were lovely, the neighbors became friends, and life goes on.

Native Americans, as the first people, were not NIMBYs, but rather caretakers of the land, expecting us to be as caring as they were. There were no building laws and restrictions. We have shown ourselves to be careless of our legacy, and we can do better. But the stranglehold, now wielded by folks with new laws behind them, is choking small business and taking away the chance for some people to have homes in beautiful wooded settings with water features on the property. Yes, there needs to be some restrictions, but perhaps they should be saved for the big developer who needs a cautionary hand. Perhaps also, NIMBYs should examine their motives to determine if it’s the environment they’re concerned about, or, rather, the loss of their own private greenbelt.

Let’s hope that restrictions don’t go as far as one listed in Kaid Benfield’s recent blog when describing environmentalists and proposed land development:

BANANA . . .Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Funny? Maybe to some of us, but probably not to the small builders who are struggling to make a life and add their part to the economy. I think NIMBYs and BANANAs need to take a look at themselves and follow the Golden Rule for a better, more productive world

Sunday, January 23, 2011


To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the past month death has touched me both nation-wide and close to home. On a national level, from the January 8 Tucson shooting tragedy claiming six lives, to the recent natural death of Sargent Shriver, I have been watching how we deal with death whether in simple ceremonies or those on a grand scale. Close to home I went to a funeral in Ferndale two weeks ago and a memorial yesterday in Bellingham of two relatives by marriage.

I found myself wondering about the importance of such ceremonies and what the difference really was between them. As usual the internet provided the answer.

Both honor the lives of the departed, and allow the participants a chance to grieve in the community of others, as well as to share memories if desired. While the terms are used interchangeably, a funeral service takes place in the presence of a body in an open or closed casket. It is usually soon after a person has passed away. A memorial service takes place without a casket present, although there could be an urn with ashes or pictures of the person who passed away. It can be soon after death or months later. Both services last about thirty minutes to an hour, and usually include music, prayer, a eulogy, and in those I attended, a slide show of important family pictures.

Funerals are most often held in funeral homes, while memorials can be any place the family chooses. Because funerals require a casket and services by the funeral home they are more expensive than memorials.

We have had several memorials here at our beach house because it is a peaceful environment in which to reflect on the impact of death, and how to deal with life in the future without the loved one. In these cases potluck food was served for thirty or forty mourners. The family planned and executed the events and the cost was minimal.

The funeral of my brother-in-law two weeks ago was a small affair attended by co-workers and a few friends. Though only in his early fifties, he had been disabled for some time. My sister chose to have an open casket viewing as well as a simple service. He looked as though he was asleep and seeing him that way helped to take away disturbing memories of my grandmother's open casket funeral many years earlier. His body was sent to Indianapolis the next day where his remaining family members had a second funeral, which resulted in closure and renewed contacts between formerly estranged family members.

The church memorial yesterday was attended by hundreds of friends, family and church family members. Because I didn't know the deceased person well, I had a glimpse of her life and could see how and why she had touched so many people. Three things were very clear - the importance of her involvement in the church, the importance of the church to her and the love she had for her family. Many testified to her loving, giving spirit, her singing, her mischievous sense of humor and her cooking. I wish I had known her better when she was alive. A meal was served in the social hall allowing for more wide ranging visiting and sharing.

There is yet another way to mourn, and these are called "makeshift memorials" as discussed by Michelle Ye Hee Lee in her on-line article, "Makeshift Memorials of Tucson Tragedy Ease Pain." One sees these kinds of memorials along the roads, streets, or in front of hospitals and other locations where death has occurred.

Ms. Lee's article is worth reading. I had tears in my eyes at the number and kinds of tributes. A nine-year old girl, in reference to Christina-Taylor Green, wrote "In Christina's honor, I will do better in math. P.S. I am 9." These memorials are still there today, with caretaking by volunteers who find it comforting to do so. One lady waters flowers, and removes dead ones daily. All seem committed to making a permanent memorial to the fallen near the shooting site. Stuffed animals, cards, and other memorabilia are a reminder of what happened. There is even a table where visitors can make items, and get candles for the vigils that are taking place. The tables are manned by people called "lawn strangers". In Tucson after a horrific act it signifies the best of America....that no matter what happens we will persevere.

Because one of the Tucson victims was a young child, and because there was so much media coverage about this little girl, some people were unsure of the best way to share information with their kids. Again, the internet is filled with helpful information, but a study by NYU Child Study Center had some ideas that might be useful.

There are all kinds of insights we can take away from acknowledging death and its various rituals. Besides remembering the person who passed on, it gives us the opportunity to think about our own contributions, and what people might say about us upon our death. Will we have a funeral or memorial? Will anyone even care that we passed by? Is it too late to try?

Vaughn likes to share a story about a memorial he attended when one person after another got up to talk about what an "encourager" the person had been in life. In that moment he made the conscious decision to be an encourager. This is something we can ALL determine to do from now on. Encourage others, rather than discourage them. Give compliments rather than putdowns. Become listeners rather than preachers determined to get our own way. Carl Buechner said, "(People) may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." That goes for both good and bad, by the way.

For my part, I will always remember an older man, behind the counter at a video store on Mercer Island. He knew where every video was located, what they were about, and served up the information with a smile. This was not a high level job, but he took pride in what he did, and I loved his positive attitude. This was over thirty years ago and I remember him still. Did he make an impact? You bet. There is a quotation by Margaret Cho that seems apt here. "Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone's life forever." It changed mine and he probably doesn't even know it.

I love quotations and put several in this article. But this one is special to me. Elizabeth Kubler Ross said, "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within." For a better world, let your internal light shine for all to see, be it through thought, word or deed,

Sunday, January 16, 2011


"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 1964.

Since my birth in 1937 I have lived through some amazing changes:

From radio to TV; from wall mounted party-line phones to skype; from prop and jet planes to rocket ships to the moon; from World War II to conflicts in the Middle East; from the golden, peaceful fifties to Vietnam, hippies and the turbulent sixties; from censorship to the seeming complete lack thereof; from growing up near all-white Lynden to teaching in a predominantly black inner city Seattle school; from overt racial bias to the civil rights movement; and, finally, to the ongoing struggle for peace and equality in every aspect of American life.

Older age allows time for looking back and pondering on where we have been, where we are going, and what life is all about. Granted the thinking is subjective based on one's experiences, but there might be a few nuggets worth sharing.

On this eve of Martin Luther King's birthday I find myself reflecting on his life and the continuing lessons of his words and deeds, the cornerstone of which was our civil rights and striving for change through peaceful and non-violent means. Our country has come far since his "I have a dream" speech which touched my heart, particularly the following excerpt:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers . . ."

Tonight that part of your dream was a reality at a girls' basketball tournament in Ferndale, Washington, Dr. King. My 6th grade granddaughter's good friend and fellow teammate is a little black girl. They hang out at school, enjoy sleepovers with friends, and have a friendship uncomplicated by the strife of the past.

Another part of his speech said this:

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

But that part of the dream is not yet realized. There is still strife and divisiveness in the land. We have watched hatred and bitterness escalate and become part of our daily lives, unfolding in the media, in government offices, and in gathering places all across the land. Many of us stand helplessly by as hostility grows and harsh words are tossed back and forth.

It culminated last week in Tucson, Arizona, where an apparently unbalanced gunman murdered or maimed nineteen people, including a 9-year old child. The nation was stunned as we went into blame mode, searching for why and how.

Could the answer come by listening to another powerful voice calling anew for civility in our lives? Perhaps there is hope. In a speech at the memorial for the fallen, President Barack Obama tried to help us deal with the tragedy by searching for answers we can use in the future. Avoiding finger pointing and blame he said the following:

"... at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

In referring to those who died or were injured, he went on to say to we need to work together "to widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations."

Perhaps the most poignant part for me was his reference to 9-year old Christina Taylor Green who was there to meet Congresswoman Gibbons.

"Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted. . . I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

Yes, Dr. King is on my mind tonight, and so is President Obama - two intelligent, dynamic African-American men trying to help us see a way to bring out the best in our country. How thankful I am to have lived in their lifetimes, to hear them speak, to be inspired by them to be my better self. Can we all put aside our political differences and answer the call for civility in our discourse with one another? I hope so. In the words of Mary Worley Montaqu, "Civility costs nothing and buys everything."

Sunday, January 9, 2011


“Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one's condition.”

Two weeks ago, on December 26, I suggested a New Year's resolution for 2011 entitled "Removing the Rocks in the Road," talking figuratively about the obstacles in our daily lives. Now our country has encountered a major rock in our national road.

Yesterday America was shocked into new awareness when a young man, allegedly having emotional problems, opened fire on a political gathering killing or injuring nearly 20 people. The victims ranged from a U.S. Representative and Federal Judge to ordinary citizens including a 9-year old child. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was reaching out to her constituency outside a Tucson grocery store when the young shooter fired repeatedly into the crowd. He was brought to the ground by people nearby, but not before many lives were lost or changed forever.

How can this happen, we say? Who would perform such an unspeakable act of violence? Was it politically motivated? Who can be blamed? As we think about all that has taken place, what do we do now? Better gun control? More security? Somehow the pundits are finding guests in both political parties to begin the endless speculation and questioning. The fact is, an event has hit close to "political" home, raising a fear factor, and giving new life to old arguments.

An interview with a Facebook marketing person today said that a million people had responded to the news. The responders were split on gun control, but not on the loss of a child's life. Will it be a 24 hour news blitz of shock and awe, or will some good actually come out of this catastrophe?

I watch the news, chat with friends and relatives, listen and read different points of view, and one thing becomes clear. We do NOT listen to each other with appreciative ears or with the understanding that everyone has a right to their own viewpoint, unless that viewpoint is colored by mental illness and deviancy.

It is o.k. to be passionate about one's position, but it is NOT o.k. to attempt to overcome another's beliefs by violence, abuse or simply talking louder. To believe one's own viewpoint is the only right one is arrogant, misguided, irresponsible and ignorant.

Sometimes it feels like we, in America, fall largely into three camps, A, B, and C. I know of someone in Camp A who is hardworking, passionately conservative and wants everyone around him to be the same. I have participated in several discussions where he attempts to force others into his way of thinking, using what to him are truths, references to what our forefathers fought for, and a strong belief in our constitution and inalienable rights. He seems unable to see opposing viewpoints as having validity. He is so busy trying to change the minds of others that he fails to listen and read the body language of those he wishes to convert. If he did he would realize they tuned him out long ago.

Others, in Camp B, are equally passionate about what the government should be doing to help others, no matter what the cost. They vote in social programs to do good works and to save the environment. They believe enacting legislation to control or guide others to their way of thinking is best for all concerned. They believe they know what is right for the country, the environment, and the public at large. Somewhere in Camp B are also people who see nothing wrong with living off the hard work of others by accepting help from the enacted programs when in fact they could be contributing. Camp B people drive Camp A people crazy.

I think the large majority of us are in Camp C, where we believe in the constitution, want to help others, care about the environment, and see the importance of contributing to education, social well being, and the infrastructure. Camp C people get equally frustrated with Camps A and B, and wonder why we can't all just get along. The fact is, Camp A and B people forget what America is all about - freedom to have one's own opinion, and that the majority rules. Strident monologue and putdowns are becoming a favorite way of communicating. They also need to realize that the world is evolving minute by minute, especially in this age of technology.

Our forefathers were intellectuals, wrestling with how to establish the government of a new young country based on the desired freedoms and social problems of the time. They had many of the same moral and ethical issues we face now. But, in fact, the country is not the same today, no matter how much we wish the same solutions could apply. It has evolved in ways the forefathers could not have imagined: From horses to cars. From trails to freeways. From small farms and small towns, to major cities and agricultural centers. From a few people getting a few years of education, to mandatory education for every child. From hundreds of newcomers from a few countries to hundreds of thousands of newcomers from dozens of countries, all wanting their piece of what we now call the American Dream. One Seattle area community college now boasts a student population speaking 61 different languages. Unheard of in our foregathers' time. In those days they dealt with English, French, Spanish, and whatever Native American languages were spoken.

As we have evolved, the Constitution has also had to evolve in order to solve new problems not encountered before - gender and racial equality as an example. The makeup of the population has not been the only change. Modern weaponry, health care, education for the masses, and more, have changed the face of America. What would the forefathers have done if confronted with assault rifles and other sophisticated guns.

Perhaps the biggest change is the way we communicate and the burden that the mass media places on how we think and what we decide to do.

Here is some of my "food for thought" if we want to continue as a nation:

1. We have the right to our opinions and to voice them. We have the responsibility to listen to other viewpoints respectfully.

2. We have the right to be treated with respect. We have the responsibility to treat others the same.

3. We have the right to share opposing viewpoints. We have the responsibility to respond to those with whom we disagree with civility.

4. We have the right to our own positions. We have the responsibility to not be so enamored of those positions that they cannot be altered.

5. We have the right to listen to whatever news programs delight us. We have the responsibility not be be incited to bully-like, destructive behavior if we don't like what we hear.

6. We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have the responsibility not to take that right away from others.

If we are government leaders or media spokespeople, following the rights and responsibilities listed above are absolutely critical to our country's survival, in my opinion.

Finally, how can we use this rock in the road to improve our condition? Are we willing to let go of our personal positions and really start listening to each other? Can we treat each other with civility and good will, even if our desired outcomes are not the ones chosen? Can we learn to value our differences and learn from each other, becoming better human beings as a result? If not, then we are doomed to spiral downwards into experiences like the one yesterday.

Representative Gifford's husband is an astronaut. Her brother-in-law is also an astronaut presently orbiting high above us. I hear that our planet looks pretty amazing from far away - its beauty hiding the ugly behavior of we humans who inhabit it. It is my hope that we can learn from the events of yesterday to move this ugly rock from our road, and decide that we will be a kinder, more civil, more compassionate and understanding America. We can do this. It's a matter of will.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


"People who know nothing about education and whose ideas have no basis in research or practice are calling the shots. Left to their own devices, they will destroy public education. They have already demoralized our nation's teachers. Eventually, their bad ideas will fail, because they are wrong." by Diane Ravitch

I saw the post below today, and it made me mad. I have to respond.

"December 31, 2010 Posted At: 01:51 PM Author: Alexander Russo Category: NCLB News , On The Hill
Congress: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" About Highly Qualified Teachers

One thing Congress didn't get done during its lame duck session was to end the long-running practice of not telling low-income parents that their children aren't getting highly qualified teachers -- this despite an October court decision denouncing the practice."

My response: I am a retired teacher (2006), but still keep abreast of what is going on in some Seattle elementary schools by substituting when I can. I struggle with articles like the one shown above because I know what it was like to teach in an inner city low-income elementary school; what kinds of teachers were in that school; and what was being accomplished against great odds. My experience told me that the vast majority of teachers were well trained, intelligent, caring, creative and hardworking. On the other hand, it also told me that many students were on free or reduced lunches, in single parent homes with stress and crisis constant companions, and challenging daily lives most of us cannot even imagine. Acting out in class and on the playground was often inevitable. Obviously, no matter how skilled the teacher, the learning environment was compromised.

The PTA was one step away from non-existent - the same small handful of parents in attendance, carrying the load of whatever plans were being attempted. I clearly remember an after-school carnival that was only possible if the teachers each took on a booth or activity. Few parents volunteered in the school or classroom. Reasons ranged from difficult work schedules, to younger children at home, or no transportation. There were even a few parents who had an actual fear or dislike of the school itself because of their own prior negative experiences as children.

Curriculum Nights and Open Houses were poorly attended. I doubt that most people realize how much work goes into the planning and implementing of such events, and their importance to the child's school experience. I always took time to assemble packets of important information, homework ideas, how a typical day might look, classroom procedures, word and math fact lists, ideas parents could use for balking students, and more. Examples of school and art work would be on the walls, welcome mats proudly designed by the children would be on cleaned and organized desks, and a schedule would allow parents to attend more than one classroom if necessary. Although reminder notes would be sent home from the office, they were often left fluttering in the wind, or littering the ground. In order to get any kind of reasonable attendance I would call every family having a working number and send multiple notes myself. It usually followed that those parents who came to Curriculum Night had higher achieving children than those who didn't bother.

Principals make a big difference in every school, but particularly in those with low achievement. During my last years I felt lucky to have an understanding, skilled building leader who understood the needs of his staff as well as those of the kids. But his job was not easy as he struggled to meet the needs of teachers, students, parents and community with too little money in his budget. Deciding how dollars would be spent was a yearly trial. As the dollars shrank, tough decisions had to be made. Vital positions such as librarians, nurses, classroom aides, computer teachers, and office assistants were diminished or eliminated, with the rest of us taking up the slack. The pressure of raising the test scores was a constant concern and I am sure he took the brunt "downtown" as we called the administration offices. Rarely were we, in the classroom, visited by folks from Administration, who undoubtedly were also dealing with public pressure. However, in hindsight, I wonder if they were thinking that if our school only had teachers and a principal like those in "Excellent School A" or "Outstanding School B" the children would be learning, and the resulting scores would be higher.

I called a former colleague to find out her views on this serious problem. Let's call it the "good teacher-bad teacher syndrome." I learned that she is as incensed as I am about the general public's misunderstanding and ignorance about what is really going on in our educational institutions. After years at an inner city school like the one I described above, she is now in a wonderful school filled with very involved parents and on-task students.

I thought she made a great point. She wryly said that in the inner city school where she used to teach, with its poor test scores, she would now probably be labeled a "bad teacher". But in her present school she is considered a "good teacher" because her students are well behaved and her scores are high. She went on to say this:

In her former low-achieving school the students were from a low socio-economic group. There was a high percentage of students needing free or reduced lunches. Many families were in crisis. Most children came from single parent homes. Very few parents volunteered in the class or school. Many were absent from school functions.

In her present high-achieving school, the students come from a high socio-economic group. Very few students need free or reduced lunches. Whatever problems families might be experiencing does not seem to affect student achievement. Only a few students come from broken homes. A high number of parents volunteer in her room and the school. School functions are well supported.

From her point of view she would like to see some of the following things implemented in what I call hardship schools:

· Earlier and better medical diagnosis and treatment of vision, emotional and other handicapping conditions.

· Support for counselors and counseling

· Two certified teachers in every room. At the least, a skilled aide in addition to the classroom teacher.

· More pay for teachers in hardship schools

· Recognition and respect should be accorded to teachers for their work in these schools, rather than the put downs so often heard when scores are low.

She strongly encouraged me to read a book called The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Dr. Diane Ravitch, educator, educational policy analyst and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Curious, I went on line and read a review of the book, and also found that she had made several worrisome speeches about the state of education in our country. I felt validated by her article, "Stop Trashing Teachers." As my friend encouraged me, I will now encourage you to check out this amazing educator's evolving views on teachers and education.

In the meantime, here are some of my feelings about fixing the schools.

1. Stop trashing the teachers!!! There may be a few bad apples, but by no means is there the number the media would have you believe.

2. Lower the class size, and bring some instructional assistants into challenging classrooms.

3. Offer parenting classes and make them mandatory if students are repeatedly interrupting the learning of others.

4. For those students, remove them immediately from the room to minimize their impact on the learning. Find ways to successfully integrate them back into the classroom.

5. It seems like there is a preponderance of special needs students in low-income schools for a variety of reasons. Could fetal alcohol syndrome be a factor? Are there some "babies raising babies" or young mothers who did not experience good parenting themselves? Are there children of unrecognized abuse and neglect who are bringing their problems to the classroom?

6. Where parents cannot help out, get volunteers to come in to help struggling children and overworked teachers.

7. Make sure the physical playing field is equal. This means computers that work, and technicians who can keep them working. It means a working document camera in every room. It means not having to choose between a librarian, P.E., or art teacher. It means not having to juggle the dollars and choose between more things like nursing hours, an office assistant or a classroom assistant. It means finding a way to supervise the playground during recess that doesn't involve the teacher. Teachers need to make calls, take care of problems that invariably come up, get some last minute item for the next lesson, and even take a minute to use the bathroom. Supervising the playground may show the teacher a different view of the student, but that time is better spent in the classroom or reaching parents.

6. Recognize that until the playing field IS equal, low-achieving schools need all the moral and physical support they can get in order to do the job. This support should come from all quarters. Educators in authority need to remember what it was like when they were in the classroom, and be particularly supportive and helpful. They, of all people, should stick up for the teachers and educate the public.

7. If normally excellent teachers are struggling, give them opportunities to learn better behavior management techniques, or offer them other classroom settings where they can be more effective. I remember one teacher of gifted students, known for her creative teaching style, failing miserably in a classroom of poorly behaved students. She was not a "bad" teacher, but simply one who was better suited to a different population of learners.

And to you, Mr. and Mrs. General Public, why don't you follow the advice of the song "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" by Joe South, as performed by Elvis Presley.

"Walk a mile in my shoes.
Just walk a mile in my shoes.
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse,

then walk a mile in my shoes."