Monday, February 27, 2012


I’m sorry. Two words that right many wrongs. Why is it so hard for some folks to understand the power of this phrase? Starting in kindergarten we teach children to use sweet words like “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” We see them posted on classroom walls, role play situations using them to thwart anti-social behavior like bullying, and make sure every child understands what respect and respectful behavior means.

Why, then, does all that teaching go out the window as folks get older and put their own needs and wants ahead of everyone else’s, ending in hurt feelings and miserable communication.

Watching the Republican candidates duke it out with each other and criticize much of what President Obama does and says, makes me shake my head in stupefaction. I have to believe they had teachers who attempted to teach them respectful behavior, and to say they were sorry if they hurt someone’s feelings, even if unintended.

What happened? If you add the forgiveness factor of the Christian faith into the mix, then saying you are sorry about causing hurt to others should be a given.

My rant today involves the furor over President Obama’s apology to the people of Afghanistan when copies of their beloved Quran were inadvertently burned by U.S. forces stationed there. Of course he should apologize, by any measure, in trying to right this wrong. Emotions are running so high that Americans serving in this mostly Muslim country can be at risk. If an apology can defuse the situation, aside from being the right thing to do, then we should be proud that our president took a forceful, proactive approach. What has me shaking my head is the stance of Republican presidential hopefuls, Santorum, Gingrich and Romney. Santorum’s statement that an apology wasn’t necessary because the act was not intentional makes me question this candidate’s ability to understand other cultures, and to be a leader in our global environment. Mit Romney’s view that an apology “sticks in the throats of many Americans” because of how many have died trying to help the Afghans is short sighted. It certainly doesn’t stick in my throat, quite the contrary. Sorry, Gov. Romney, please speak only for yourself. No doubt Ron Paul would say we shouldn’t be there in the first place, and in that case, there would be no problem.

How sad that our leader wannabees have forgotten their kindergarten lessons in civility. If we cannot look up to them for compassion and understanding, what hope is there for a more civil, effective congress. At least we have had good role modeling for the past three years. I, for one, am proud of President Obama’s messages of tolerance, understanding, compromise and getting along.

It’s not only in the economy that we experience the concept of “trickle down”. Civility, or lack of it, also trickles down - in state and national governments, in businesses and in families. In my own extended family I have just learned of an amazing turnaround between a father and his son because of the words ”I’m sorry.” Years of hurt and misunderstanding were forgotten in a hug and protestations of love following the apology.

What makes the words come so easily to one set of lips but so difficult to another’s? Maybe it’s time for everyone to go back in time to kindergarten. Perhaps the quickest and most effective way to do that is to re-read the poem below by Robert Fulghum. It is my sincerest hope that you take his words to heart and apply them to your life.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

“All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

1. Share everything.

2. Play fair.

3. Don't hit people.

4. Put things back where you found them.

5. Clean up your own mess.

6. Don't take things that aren't yours.

7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

8. Wash your hands before you eat.

9. Flush.

10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

Monday, February 20, 2012


A teacher’s schedule goes from the beginning of school in September to mid June, punctuated by various holidays, breaks and special occasions. When I look back it felt like the years zoomed by with those punctuations: Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter break, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, maybe a mid-winter break, Easter, spring break, Memorial Day and finally, School’s Out!

A few weeks separated these high points, and when I had my own classroom I made use of them to teach meaningful, high interest lessons. One I particularly enjoyed was President’s Day as learning about Washington and Lincoln allowed lessons on our country’s history, and values like honesty and truth telling. Who isn’t aware that Lincoln was so honest that he walked six miles to repay 6 cents to a customer who had overpaid; or that Washington could not tell a lie when asked if he cut down his father’s apple tree.

A book I particularly liked sharing with children was entitled The Story of Abraham Lincoln by Bernadine Bailey. I have had it since I was a youngster, and my cousin had it before me. It is ragged, worn, and even torn, with scribbles on the inside cover, but nonetheless dear to me. To my surprise I learned that several copies are still available through Amazon, and if you are a teacher of young children I urge you to nab one while you can.

This seventy year old book, published in 1942, enthrals children to this day. In it we see a family struggling with financial woes, a parent’s death, step-siblings, chores, homework, mischievous behaviour and many other experiences a young person today might have in common with Young Abe. How his hard work, vision and dreams translated to his success in life is an inspirational message for children.

If kids are getting a long weekend off from school they should really understand why these two men were honored. The following lesson plan using multiple intelligences makes learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln fun and memorable.

A great resource for teachers can also be found at a site called “Apples 4 the teacher.”

Linguistic – Read stories about both Lincoln and Washington. The library and internet are filled with numerous examples.

Interpersonal – Compare the childhoods of the two presidents. Discuss the contributions and importance of each to our country. For older children compare and contrast the American Revolution and the Civil War and what both meant for America.

Visual-Spatial - Here is a great art project for Lincoln. Copy the following poem “Abraham Lincoln, Kind an good, is honored and loved by many. To help us remember this president, we put his face on our penny.” The author is unknown. Draw a penny sized circle at the end. On a red and/or blue construction paper background, paste the paper with the poem to one side. Cut out a silhouette of Lincoln, and paste it beside the poem. Using white glue, paste a shiny penny in the circle by the poem. It can be placed on a class bulletin board or taken home for the refrigerator.

Here is another anonymous short poem for Washington which can also have a silhouette next to the poem. “We cannot all be Washingtons, and have our birthdays celebrated. But we can love the things he loved, and hate the things he hated. He loved the truth, he hated lies. He minded what his mother taught him. And every day he tried to do the simple duties brought him.”

Intrapersonal: Surf the web for games and activities about both presidents. Try these sites for good information: Click on George Washington or Abraham Lincoln to bring up the sites.

Logical/Mathematical: Examine pennies and dollars for the pictures of the two presidents. List all of the presidents from our first one, George Washington, until our present one, Barak Obama. Convert the dollar to pennies or pennies to a dollar. Research what you could buy with pennies or a dollar in those times.

Kinesthetic - Using Lincoln logs, design a house you could have lived in back in the day. Role play anecdotes like George cutting down the apple tree and what might have happened as a result. Play “store” and have items for sale that might have been available in Lincoln’s time.

Music – From Washington’s time listen to an original song called Yankee Doodle. From Abraham Lincoln’s time listen to some old ballads of America.

of America.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


"I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music." by Billy Joel

I'm watching the Grammy awards, like many of you probably are. Because of the untimely and unexpected death of Whitney Houston a quick program change was made to honor this amazing singer's life.

Obviously tormented by personal problems and substance abuse, she probably had no idea how her life and death would affect millions around the world. If she could have known would it have made a difference?

I think there is a lesson here for all of us, no matter how inconsequential we think we are. Each of us matter, whether to few or many, and we need to make as many minutes count as possible.

Here are some of Whitney's contributions in poem form:

M. . . Moved us to tears

U. . . Unified the world

S. . . Seven consecutive number one singles

I. . . " I will always love you" will endure forever

C. . . Contemporary pop star often copied by others

Whitney, we will miss your incredible voice, and hope that your music continues to bring pleasure to others wherever you are.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I was in quaint downtown Edmonds the other day, and saw a sight to gladden my eyes. A little girl was walking with a grabber in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. She was accompanied by an elderly woman I assume was her grandmother. The bag was full of trash and it appeared that a good example of civic/community service was taking place.

What an effective way to teach community involvement, I thought to myself. It struck me that this simple activity put new meaning to the word "grassroots." The grandma was teaching a fundamental lesson of caring about one'scommunity. It would not surprise me if the child was learning other important lessons at home - like how to be civil to others, how to show compassion, and what it mean to be a good citizen.

How does our country's general population stack up in these four"Cs" ? Not well, if what we see on television is any measure. The rude, lewd behavior our children witness daily, the brutality of bullying at school, dissension and child abuse at home, and the out and out lies, distortion of the facts, or spin as it is now called, by our nation's leaders and media are appalling lessons that undermine our country and our world.

Although "Respect others" is posted on every classroom wall, and teachers fight the "respect battle" daily, children are often subjected to bad behavior everywhere in their lives. We decry the lack of civility in others yet important and visible adults are verbally bashing each other at home, in sporting events, in the media and even in cartoons.

Recently, those involved in this election cycle have been guilty of name calling, spinning the truth, self interest, and flagrant disrespect of their opponents . If you, like me, agonize about these issues, what can you do? I think one answer is to make a difference in one's own world. We throw our pebbles of compassion, civility and community service into the pool of caring, and teach our children to do the same. Then we hope that the ripple effect will bring about a positive change for everyone.

Here are ten effective pebbles to teach children how to be compassionate, caring, civil community members and citizens:

1. Use the example above and take your child on a "clean up" stroll through your own community.

2. Find articles in the newspaper or online about what is going on in our country and the world, and selectively share them for discussion. Example: Today, in the N.Y. Times there was an article about how protesting a soccer match caused a riot in Egypt. Talking about why riots happen, and how they can be avoided could be useful.

2. If you give your children an allowance, show involvement by having them give 10% to a charitable cause. Let them choose the cause after you discuss possible options.

3. Teach respect for the elderly by bringing cookies or pretty cards to a nursing or assisted living facility. Valentine's Day is a great time to show some love.

4. Help someone in need. Have your children set up a lemonade stand or plan some other fundraiser with the proceeds going to a needy person/family in your community. We had a real life example a few years back when a local boy was hospitalized with a rare disease requiring a long stay in the hospital and many costly plastic surgeries. The children in three local families put on a small carnival at the same time as a fishing derby for kids in the area. Over $300.00 was raised and it was all given to the boy's family. The children putting on the carnival gained skills in planning, promoting and executing a worthwhile event.

5. Have your children go through their toys and give those they no longer need or want to a charitable organization or church bazaar.

6. If your children are involved in after-school sports, where emotions often run high, insist on good sportsmanship in your child. Be courageous enough to call on others, even the coach, to do the same. On the other hand, in these same after-school sports, if you have coaches who are giving of their time and talent to young people, make sure your children and you show respect to them, especially if he team is not doing well.

7. Pick a family in need at a holiday like Thanksgiving, and provide them with a great dinner. The community college where my son teaches has a Thanksgiving outreach program aimed at impoverished families. Entire meals, with all the trimmings, are prepared at the college and delivered by faculty members. My son and his children have delivered these holiday meals to two families or more families since the girls were old enough to walk and talk. What a great lesson in sharing and compassion.

8. If your city is planning something oriented to children, like a park or playground, consider taking your child to a council meeting to give input or writing a letter to give ideas for the planned project.

9. Since the world is shrinking and we are becoming interdependent, gaining understanding of and respect for other cultures is a key to harmony. One old tried but true method is finding a pen pal. With the internet making communication easy and instant, monitoring the correspondence with a student in another country can teach a lot about how others live.

10. Teaching your children the importance of honesty,integrity and respect for others is one of the most important pebbles for the pool of caring.

Really, the "golden rule" says it all. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. How can it be said better, and wouldn't the world be a better place if we followed that one rule? It covers compassion, civility, the people in the community, and our country's and world's citizens. Start casting your pebbles today to make a difference.


Teachers and homeschooling parents can learn more about teaching civics and citizenship by checking out these sites: