Archive | August, 2010

From Fizzle To Sizzle

30 Aug

Just wanted to give a head’s up to everyone about a brand new class I am teaching at church.  The class is based on a new book I am researching and writing of the same title.  It is called, “From Fizzle To Sizzle:  Recapturing Spiritual Passion in an Age of Apathy.” 

Five Focal Points of the Class Will Include:

  1. Examination of 21st century Christian Character
  2. Relationships in an Age of Permissiveness
  3. Social Networking: Blessings and Pitfalls of Online Friendships
  4. Regaining Spiritual Vibrancy in Our Personal Lives
  5. Practical Ways to Reach Others Who are also Seeking Relevance Today

The main goal of the class is to refocus and rediscover the sizzle that once defined our faith and walk.  

This class is open to adults of any age and will run for 10 weeks, beginning September 12, 2010, at the 9:00 am time slot only.  Hope to see you there.  If not, there is a chance we could upload portions to video streams, just to tease you.  🙂

Mt. Whitney For My Dad

29 Aug

Indulge me.  OK?  It is almost that time again. In just a couple of weeks I will make my sixth one-day round-trip hike up and down Mt. Whitney. I train all year-long for this one big event of the summer. Permit me to reminisce about a previous trip in 2008. The photos included are those I took along the trail. Enjoy!


It’s July 15, 2008.

The time is 2:00 am.

The air is still.

Even the seasonal cricket chirps are missing this morning.

The smell of pines pervades the heightened senses.

The rushing water from a nearby waterfall is reaching crescendo levels.

The surroundings are pitch-black. Except for the flashlight beams that cut through and dot the darkness, and the stars above, the darkness is overwhelming. I agree with my friend who says, “Something just does not feel right.”

Suddenly, in a flash, just about ten feet away, there is a commotion and a few screams. Adjacent to where some fellow hikers were standing—caught in a moment of flashlight no one will ever forget—a bear is seen as she swipes a fully-loaded backpack off a picnic table. Now, with all lights trained on her, the giant black bear bounds away with the backpack between her jaws, causing instant shock in all of us. She pauses for just one moment to look back, as if to register approval, like a movie star, in her own cameo.

We were all warned not to leave anything lying around—not even for a second. My friend and I complied with these warnings, but others did not. It was too late. The grunts heard in the darkness serve as signs to remind us that we are not alone. This is not our domain.

As visitors in the wild, we are not about to confront nature on her home turf. In order to put anxieties of the recent event aside, several of us mutter in unison, “Enjoy your meal.” This was followed by nervous laughter.

Such occurrences for hikers are more commonplace than one could imagine. Cars are climbed on, pawed at, and there are regular reports of windows being shattered, all because of a gum wrapper, or some other vestige of food left in vehicles. Bears have such keen senses of smell. They also possess a wild mind of their own, which must be understood and respected completely.

Animals own the forests and their environment must to be respected. We are the hikers—the invaders—and we are interrupting their habitat. When it comes to hiking mountains anywhere, respect for life should be paramount. That goes for the safety, respect, and protection of one’s own life, as well.

However, even with the greatest of cautions exercised, nature has its own way of operating. Welcome to the realities of mountain hiking and the potential hazards that accompany such a pastime. Hiking a mountain is as exhilarating as it is dangerous!

There are many reasons why people hike mountains and, as just mentioned, there are many dangers involved. As you read this story, you will come to understand the reasons two good friends choose to hike, a little about Mt. Whitney, herself, and what it takes to accomplish a successful ascent of the mainland’s highest peak.


A Little History
Each year thousands of people attempt to hike or climb mountains in the United States. Gary, and I, are two of these people. In fact, we just completed our fifth-straight summer ascent of the highest mountain in the lower-48, contiguous, United States. Mt. Whitney, in all of her glory, stands a majestic 14,500 feet above sea level. That is not too shabby for two middle-aged men.


Mt. Whitney is located adjacent to Lone Pine, California, and is part of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. Along the way, there are so many wonderful things to see. Red Rock Canyon, Owens Valley River Bed, and also the Alabama Hills are wonderful geologic sites to behold. The latter is the location where many Hollywood westerns are filmed.

The mountain itself is part of the Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park, and is located some three-hours northeast of Bakersfield, California. A few miles farther north is Yosemite National Park, another hiker’s paradise.


In July 1864, the members of the California Geological Survey named the peak after Josiah Whitney, the State Geologist of California and benefactor of the Survey. In all 50 states, only Mt. McKinley stretches higher into the sky, which spires some 20,320 feet above sea level and is the highest point in all of North America. Originally named Denali, which means “The Great One,” Mt. McKinley was renamed after President William McKinley during the early 20th century, even before Alaska became the 49th state in 1948.

Setting And Attaining Goals
The reason Gary and I we decided to begin hiking Mt. Whitney was the result of a challenge I offered to my good friend and colleague. As public high school educators, Gary and I worked side-by-side for years. Then came the day when my friend had to have emergency open-heart surgery for an aortic valve repair. The good news is that he recovered and was able to return to work. But the bad news was that the surgery left him feeling depressed, as if he had lost his sense of vibrancy about life. Gary was a former Olympic Trials marathoner in the 1970s, and lived a very active life. As a result of the surgery, Gary was afraid to push himself, for fear of what might happen. His wife and adult children also had the same apprehensions. Yet, one day, we both decided that we had to do something together as a team.

During the fall of 2004, we were talking in Gary’s high school classroom, and I half-seriously said, “You need a challenge in your life.”

“Tell you what. If I train with you for one year, I will commit to hiking Mt. Whitney with you.” “What do you say?”

We chuckled, shook hands and agreed. Gary received the go-ahead from his doctors and family and we began to train. It is now five years later and we have completed our fifth consecutive summer one-day hike. But it has not been a “walk in the park,” as hikers say. 

In the past we have hiked to overcome medical illness, as a dedication to the military in Iraq (Gary’s son was serving there last summer), and now in memory of my dad.

This year’s hike is dedicated to Ernest Joseph Zarra, Jr., who passed away on June 6, 2010.  I will be bringing some of his ashes to the peak and releasing them in a private ceremony between my dad and me.  It will be a very special time.

Initial Preparations For The Hike
When deciding to tackle a hike of any mountain, a person must have a plan. He or she must be is very good to excellent health, undertake extensive research, and understand the risks involved. Hiking Mt. Whitney is no exception. Hikers are essentially out of communication with civilization while on the trail.

“Whitney,” as she is affectionately called, seems to call out to hikers from the vast freeway that passes her by. But one must not allow her “tempting voice” to fool the average person. Temptation is one thing, succumbing to it is vastly another. Training is essential for a hike of Mt. Whitney.

In addition to being physically healthy, one must be mentally prepared for the grueling conditions on the trail. Weather can change in a hurry and equipment must be handy to meet these challenges. The elements must be as respected as one respects the wildlife along the way.

There are two ways to ascend Mt. Whitney. The first way is to hike along the interior of the Eastern Sierras, following the John Muir Trail, which intersects on the backside of Mt. Whitney with the second trail. The second way to ascend “Whitney, is to begin at the Portal. Whitney Portal begins at 8,300 feet above sea level.

From the Portal there is a series of natural geographic points that serve as markers for altitude. These include, Lone Pine Lake (10,000 feet), which is approximately 2.8 miles from the Portal. Next, there is an Outpost Camp at 10,300 feet, some 3.8 miles along the trail. Trail Camp is 12,000, 6 miles in, while Trail Crest is 13,600, some 8.2 miles in. From Trail Crest, which is one of the peaks in the Whitney Range, one must cover another 2.8 miles over open rock to reach the Whitney Peak, stretching 14,500 feet into the sky.

Hiking Mt. Whitney
Geographic Location    Miles       Elevation
Whitney Portal          0 miles      8,300 feet
Lone Pike Lake          2.8 miles    10,000 feet
Outpost Camp           3.8 miles    10,300 feet
Trail Camp               6 miles       12,000 feet
Trail Crest               8.2 miles    13,600 feet
Whitney Peak           11 miles      14,500 feet

There are two ways to gain permission from the state and federal government, in order to hike Mt. Whitney. First one can arrange an overnight, or several-day trip. There are cabins to rent as well as places to camp in tents. Permits are required from the forest service of the federal government for any and all kinds of activities, ranging from day-hikes to several days of over-night camping . Permits are assigned by a lottery of applications. Day-hike permits are easier to secure than lengthier stays on the Whitney Trail. Further information can be found online by searching “Mt. Whitney hikes.”

A day-hike is exactly what it sounds like. Hikers and climbers must ascend and descend Whitney within one 24-hour period, on the day for which the permit is granted. The national park rangers are strict and check for permits and identification along the trail.

Day hikes are a lot of fun, but exhausting on the body. For each of the five summer hikes, Gary and I averaged the 22-mile round trip in 10.5 to 11 hours, of actual hiking time—which leads to how to achieve times such as these. It is all about the training.

Training For Hiking Mt. Whitney
There are many ways a person can train for a Mt. Whitney hike. Depending on age, and level of fitness already, the training regimen will vary. A medical examination is advisable before beginning any training, especially if a person is starting from scratch.


What most experienced hikers advocate is to do two major things. One needs to spend hours and hours of time on his or her legs, readying them for the duration of time, as well as the pounding that accompanies the hiking of any mountain trail. Working up to that level is essential. Remember, a hiker will be on his or her feet in all kinds of uneven and rocky surfaces for a minimum of eleven hours, assuming he or she tackles a day-hike.

The next major thing to consider in training is to find a place where the altitude is much higher than where you live. You see, everything changes in the human body, with each major change in altitude. For example, digestion changes, hydration and breathing change. One of the more significant changes we noticed from our experiences, is that our bodies swell. Wearing rings and watches can become very painful. Often, loosening one’s hiking boots is even necessary. Periodic breaks are also necessary to adjust to changes in elevation.

The proper hiking gear must include a solid and dependable, water-proofed pair of hiking boots. Twisting of an ankle, or breaking of a bone could really jeopardize your health and definitely ruin the hike for everyone. A poncho is advisable, as well as a light jacket, sweats, and thin gloves for one’s hands. Sun block, a hat, and sunglasses are essential. All of this, and more, must find a well-organized and secure place in a manageable backpack for the hiker. Be certain to carry also a small pack of medical supplies, and some ibuprofen or aspirin, in case of issues that arise due to fatigue or minor injury.

In terms of food and water, everyone’s needs are different. This is why training at altitude during the months preceding the hike is essential to determine what your body will need. Gary and I train all-year-round for this one big summer event. When the temperatures drop during the winter, and the night arrives early, we are training. On Saturdays, Gary and I are out walking, or climbing hills. We train hard so that we will actually enjoy the mountain hike. Over one-thousand miles a year are endured by our bodies under all sorts of conditions. We have learned to eat and hydrate while training, in order to simulate what will occur on a hike of Whitney.

One additional note of caution should be mentioned. Altitude sickness is real and affects everyone differently. Everything from slight headaches and hallucinations all the way to severe nausea and vomiting can occur as a hiker ascends to higher altitudes. Be ready for the possibility of any and all of these changes and physical conditions.

The best times to hike Mt. Whitney are during the months of July through September, when the snow levels are usually melted on the majority of the trail. However, crampons may be necessary, should you encounter snow and ice on any length of the trail. At higher altitudes, the weather can change on a dime. Hikers must be ready for any changes in weather and temperature.

Along the trail, it is common to see animals, including marmots, birds, mice, lizards, and even snakes. Warnings for bears are plastered everywhere at lower elevations. The most interesting things are found at 14,000 feet above sea level. I still question, “How in the world do flowers grow between rocks at that elevation?” It is not uncommon to hear the powerful engines of United States Air Force jets, and view the jets as they head to-and-from Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, California.

But one of the most overlooked things Gary and I ever saw at Whitney’s peak were pockets of ants. Black and red ants at 14,500 feet! Imagine that! How in the world did they get there?

Rangers tell us that all types of seeds, insects, and ants are transported along the Whitney Trail through various means. They are brought there as passengers by hikers who camp at lower elevations for one or more nights. They are also carried there by winds and dropped along the trail. Birds also drop seeds along the way.

But rangers are quick to make certain hikers are not lulled into feeling safe and secure on the trail—despite the wonders that greet them along the way. One sobering part of the hike is seeing signs telling everyone that people are injured and die on the trail every year. “People Die Here” and “Remember, the Summit is Only Half Way” signs mark the portal.

Hikers must be totally aware that ascending to the peak of Whitney is only half the trip. Hiking a mountain is two-ways—up and down! Fatigue, lack of oxygen, and human error are often factors that lead to injury and even death. The national park rangers tell us that these deaths are avoidable, if people just trained properly and had the right equipment.

Lessons Learned
The lessons learned from setting and achieving hiking goals, are many. Arriving back at the point of origin of a hike is exhilarating. In order to complete a successful round-trip hike of Mt. Whitney, future hikers are advised to keep a few things in mind.

First, one must set realistic goals when training the body and mind to accomplish each goal. Second, when doubts occur, be certain to take steps of faith toward achieving each goal, by trusting your prior preparation and knowledge gained by research and the experiences of others. Third, only you can accomplish goals you set for yourself, but relying on others to achieve them is a plus in many ways. Last, even if one falls short of a goal, do not consider it a failure. Failing at an event does not define a person’s character as a failure.

When it comes to hiking Mt. Whitney, especially, the attempt to achieve equals success. When people ask you, “Why in the world would you consider undertaking such a hike?” Feel free to respond the way Gary and I do: “Why not? Where some people see mountains, others see opportunities.”


So whether your mountain is literal or not, set a goal, train to achieve the goal, then take a step of faith with the help of others. There is nothing wrong with having a little fun along the way, either. Hiking Mt. Whitney can turn out to be one of the most arduous, yet rewarding events of your life. Just be careful to avoid those “unbearable” situations that might come your way at 2:00 am in your neck of the woods.

Happy Hiking!

See you at the top.

Packies: Collectors and Protectors

29 Aug
OK, all ye packrats unite!  Stand tall for your kingdom of garage and attic junk.  Rejoice at the piles of unwanted messes in most corners of your homes.  Celebrate the fact that you have junk drawers for good junk and bad junk, and unsharpened pencils, pens that are dry, and broken rubber bands.  Be proud that you had those photo doubles developed in the 1980s and 1990s.  Stand up and be counted all you newspaper and magazine article collectors, and outdated coupon clippers.  Yes, this is all about you, the Collectors and Protectors of junk!

Packrats.  They make me smile.  There is no room to park a car in the garage, because the garage is full of boxes, various and assorted crappus, and the lawnmower.  Let’s not forget the tolls!  Yes, rather than clean out the garage, or rent a storage facility, your personal storage facility is a haven for not only the spiders, but the webs and dusty old boxes too.  Why pay for a rental when you already pay on a mortgage? That’s the packrat motto!

Packrats love to move the stuff they are never going to see into the attic–up three flights of stairs.  Why?  So they never have to see it.  However, if they need it someday, they’ll know where to look for it.  Besides, the creaky old ladder and/or staircase make for interesting stories for the kids and grandkids.  Wouldn’t we all like to know what is stored in those sealed up boxes you have in those dark recesses?  You don’t even remember.  Yet, there is a faint memory to coincide with the warning, “Don’t open any boxes in the attic.” 

And what is up with people who just see a space and pile things right there?  Dressers, washing machines, counter tops, exercise equipment–all gold mines for packrats.  Why let a good space go to waste, is another of the packrat’s axioms.  Space is a packrat’s easel and canvas.  Is the pile a masterpiece in process?  You bet!  One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.  But there is such a thing as junky treasure.  You know what I am talking about.  Uncle Bob gave you that “thing,” and your spouse wants to chuck it.  No way!  Some of you are such packrats, the garbage men are licking their lips every time they slowly drive by your house–and you thought it was about you!  Nope.  They want your stuff.

So, “packies,” Let me ask why you have junk drawers.  When was the last time you went through one of those drawers?  How many times have you come across a phone number with no name on it, yet kept it for only God knows why.  Rubber bands, paper clips, old batteries, blah, blah, blah . . . they all represent a time in our lives that are memorable.  The only problem is, we cannot remember the memory that makes it memorable.  I can hardly venture a thought about what’s hiding in the backs of the refrigerators of these packies.  Some call it art, while others call it colorful, wavy mold.  My mom tried to cover it up one day.  As a packie, mom said, “That’s where penicillin comes from.”  I said, “Wonderful.  I thought it came from the pharmacy.”  No wonder I never take penicillin.

All right now.  How many of us have saved gads of those doubles of photos from the photo store, just in case we had to have a second picture of a sign, a thumb, or a blank.  Sometimes even people appear in our pictures, all faded.  Yet, there they are.  Still in order in the photo envelopes.  We needed to keep them–al of them.  So, into the drawers and boxes they went.  We have always promised ourselves that we would get to those scrapbooks one day.  Heck, packies cannot even keep the framed photos straight than hang on the walls in the house. 

Packrats have license plates, hub caps, and streets signs they ripped off–hanging in the garage above the mess as their statement of eternal proportions.  I don’t get it.  I guess we never know when that “yield” or “one-way” street sign might come in handy some day.

Remember the many times you clipped coupons and thought, “I’ll put this aside so when I get to that store, I’ll use it?”  Uh huh.  I thought so.  How many coupons are now dated 2007, 2008 . . .?  Hmmmmm?  Coupons are not collectibles, are they?  And remember the time you clipped that newspaper article, or advertisement to show your lovey?  Yep.  I know you do.  You found those things at the bottom of the stack of old magazines in your living room, or wherever.  You know the location, my dear packrat friends.  Those articles are under those magazines you’ve turned over, so as not to feel guilty about the svelte, sexy bodies they advertise, or the “5 Steps to Better Sex.”  That gets us back to the boxes in the attic. 

The Good Lord knows I am a collector of “stuffus.”  But my stuff is not junk.  I need all of that stuff.  And you know what?  I never smell either.  So there.  

To all the packrats out there.  If we all had garage sales, sold the crappus to some unsuspecting suckers for that extra dime, or quarter, we could probably end world hunger.  But as good packrats, we all get offended when some van load of foreign-speaking schmucks lets out and they traipse cross our lawns, and then try to wrestle a nickel away from us for some high-roll shirt we’ve been holding onto.  Hey, another of our axioms:  “Ya never know when it is going to come back into style.”  Maybe we should sell our leftover food.  I am afraid, even with that, someone will save those leftovers, somewhere.

So, the next time you open that squeaky drawer and press down the pile of incidentals, I hope your conscience is pricked.  If you want to make a change then do it now.  Immediately.  You can do it.  You can break the cycle of being a packie.  You first have to admit a problem.  Just begin with me.  Repeat these words:  “I am a packrat.  I’ve been a packrat for so many years.  I need to change.  I’ve never seen a yard sale I didn’t like.  The car I bought four years ago should be parked in the garage.  Yes, I admit to the world.  I am a packie and I choose, today, to make a change.”

There!  Don’t you feel better now?  Oh, that reminds me.  May I have your old Life and National Geographic magazines?  I had this huge crush on Doris Day in the 1960s.  Can ya help a guy in need here? 



29 Aug


Psychologists, educators, and parents generally understand that people sometimes say and do things for attention.  Sometimes this attention is the result of compliance and a good work ethic.  Sometimes this attention is not of the good variety–but it attention, nevertheless.

Similarly, we humans seek affirmation in all sorts of ways.  We learn it while we are younger.  Any parent who either has toddlers, or remembers those days with their children can attest to this fact.  When families add siblings as families enlarge, attention gets split naturally, and sometimes actions are taken in order to be heard–if you know what I mean.  Such tantrums are not relegated to toddlers.  Teens who have to split time on weekend visitation, spouses who feel “neglected,” and even some of us who have “close, personal friends” whom our spouses really do not know about–whether online, off, or both–we all seek attention and affirmation.  Is this not why we blog?  Don’t we chat for this reason?  Why do we post photos of ourselves?  It’s all part of human psychology of need.

Parents (spouses) with young children, when adding newborns to the mix, often find themselves left short of the time for attention they previously had shared with one another.  Constant care for children can strain a marriage and, if the couple is not careful, the necessary attention each required before children came along might just be found elsewhere.  As I said, we humans need affirmation in many areas.  When it comes to marriage and affairs, that’s another blog for another day.  All I can suggest at this point is that adults must find various outlets and realize that more often than not, they are not being neglected.  Priorities shift with families.  Is there any set of adults out there which would actually conclude that adding children would never have changed their lives? 

The need for affirmation does not end with a couple having children.  It continues onward throughout life.  One of the most neglected age groups, in addition to parents who bail on families (fathers particularly), is the elderly.  Too many of us bail on our elderly.  Walking through a nursing facility, or dependent-care facility during an evening, or on a weekend, is quite sad.  My emotions kick up when I think of the men and women I’ve seen slumped over in wheelchairs, or alone in rooms with no one present to let them know they are still relevant human beings in this world.  True, I have no idea who comes in and out over the course of each day in those facilities.  However, I make it a point to ask nurses and attendants, randomly, about visitors, when I am there.  Recently, I was in New Jersey visiting my grandmother in a facility.  Most have few visitors, if any, throughout the week.  After all these folks have done for our nation and the sacrifices they experienced for us, we send them off to be cared for and die in facilities away from family.  I think this is sad.  No, this is not a blanket indictment.  It’s just my emotions talking from within my own experiences.

As a teacher, I cannot erase from my mind the mother who cried hysterically over the coffin of her son, Stephen.  All I could do is put my arm around her and affirm her grief and loss.  Her words as she bent to cup the face of her deceased 18-year-old were, “If only I had hugged him and told him I loved him just one more time–JUST ONE MORE TIME.”  We must affirm in both word and deed.  Who knows, this might be someone’s last day in the earth.  It might be yours.  It might be mine.

All things considered, we live in a society that thinks first about “self.”  We strive to be better for self, and to look good for others to validate us.  We walk by the needy and homeless, and care little about the indigent.  We see animals at shelters, abandoned, and we have to harden our resolve at the enormity of the problems in such places.  The multitude of babies being born to unwed mothers, with so much struggle ahead of them.  Abortions occurring at the tune of 1.5 million a year–over 50 million since 1973.  My heart hurts, dear reader.  This is not a political statement.  This is an indictment on the very things we validate and affirm in our nation and across our culture.  We affirm death by law and we expect our youth to pick up on the fact that our nation affirms life?

There is no way I am alone in claiming that grasping the hand of a dying loved one is such a helpless feeling.  I cannot imagine the sadness or fear that someone might have knowing that a spouse or a child is going to be holding their hand when they pass from this earth.  Maybe there is comfort there.  Maybe there is panic.  So many people come and go in this world without being affirmed as important.  And I question why it has to be that way.

I will never forget the time I held a dying kitten in the palms of my hands.  I wept realizing its mangled body and bloodied mouth drowned out its painful mews.  I saw it run over by a truck as it wandered out into the middle of an intersection.  I wept, thinking that at age-16, I could do nothing to save it.   Affirmation of life never seems more important than at those those moments when it is appears to be ending.  Can I get a witness? 

People ask me why I teach for a living.  I respond because I value life.  I am asked why I care about my family and I respond, because they are gifts to me.  Others ask why I believe in the Almighty.  I answer, because I am in awe of life, its complexities and I marvel at the fact I awaken each day.  People ask me why I value life?  It’s because I have seen death firsthand, both in humans and animals.  If we do not affirm life, then what is left for us?

So, my friends, this blog is not filled with vile name-calling, profanity, or sex.  It’s not given toward the risqué.  You’ll never see my blogs at the top of anyone’s list.  Yet, if what I have written rises to the top of just one person’s heart, I will feel validated.  This blog is filled with emotion from personal experience–with no apology given for the attempt to persuade someone to step up and hold that hand a little longer–or shed that extra tear for someone other than self, in realizing the world is a much larger place.  I hope and pray the neediest in our spheres take precedence over needs of each of our “selves” just once this next week.  For the neediest among us are often unaware of their own plight.

Thank you for being my friends.  I affirm each and every one of you who took the time to provide support during the recent loss of my dad.  I lift you up.  I don’t have a following because I seek none.  But I do have deep emotions  over certain things.  Hopefully, the message will eventually get out, one person-at-a-time, one-life-at-a-time.  The ultimate message is this:  We have to change, or the next generation behind us will treat us the way they see that we treat those ahead of us.         


29 Aug

A lot has been said these days about leadership. I thought I would toss my hat into the ring of opinions.

Leading People v. Organizations
Leading people is very different from leading organizations. Yet, as leadership goes, the two are not mutually exclusive. Generally speaking, a person who is an ideological leader, a hyper-visionary is usually well-versed in rhetoric, verbal and emotional manipulation, as motivation to get people to do something initially. This type of leader is a “motivational” speaker, of sorts . . . capitalizing on the moment. People react quickly and often emotionally. Such a “leader” quickly loses steam, when actions fall shorter than emotional expectations and hype, only to have something new and improved to market, if you will. How many motivational speakers can you recall that enabled us to have the “perception” that we changed something about ourselves, but actually we changed nothing. Put this type of leader into power, and it is one quick emotional plea to another, words and more words, fast changes are called for in radical fashion. This style does not work well in politics and it falls short in business, as well.

Any cursory examination of the word “radical,” is someone who favors “quick, widespread change.” This is what motivational organizers do well. This is why television channel infomercials are able to convince us to buy things that we accumulate in the garage. This is not leadership. Again, the fatigue that accompanies the lack of true leadership sets in with most folks in short order.

Perfect Leadership?
There is no perfect leader on earth, and I do not claim to possess the panacea for the political and economic problems we face as a nation. I cannot even take care of my own issues to the extent that I would like. However, my imperfections do not mean I cannot fathom truth, or traits and qualities that would provide great benefit to us as a nation. To this end, here is what I think a leader does, beyond the rhetoric and attempts at motivation.

Power Granted.  Leaders are granted power because they are trusted as people. The reason they are granted power is because they are truly tested by people and organizations to provide rational evidence of this trust. Words and actions are aligned beyond promises.

Making Decisions.  Leading people and organizations mean making decisions for what is best for most, listening to detractors, placing vision squarely in a real-world context, and taking responsibility for the actions and words of others. Decision-making tha is not agreed upon garners respect for the way it accomplished–not just THAT is was accomplished.

Leadership is Service.  Leadership is service-oriented, which is not accomplished in not listening to all sides. Leadership is not agenda-driven. It is “people-driven.” Power that is exercised is also power that is accepted in responsibility. Leadership qualities are never grown in an environment of blaming others for which responsibility should be taken.

So, there are a few thoughts to toss around this morning. I hope and pray the next time we vote. we find those who have been tested, have a record to examine, and who show up on the “servant-scale” rather than the rhetorical, ideological scale. In order to comprehend this, we must be educated and informed.

Eulogy For My Dad: Ernest Joseph Zarra, Jr.

29 Aug

Hi Everyone, or at least the few who check out notes! 🙂 I know it is self-serving to post what I am posting below, but I beg your indulgence. I sense that this week has been closure week for me personally, and I am grateful for that.

What you fin in the following almost all of the eulogy I wrote and delivered at me dad’s memorial service, back in NC. Thanks so much for reading. [Thanks to Carlos for the photo]

Eulogy for Dad
July 9, 2010

On behalf of my family, our mom, Faith, my sisters Deborah and Marjorie, and all the rest of the clan that somehow call dad “family or friend,” we thank you all for coming to honor his life. Dad had other names, some of which I am at liberty to express, and others I am not. 🙂 But whether he was poppy, grandpa, Ernie, friend, jokester, or just plain uolio . . . my family and I appreciate your coming to show your affection, as we seek closure today.

I wish to express gratitude to the ministry officials here today, as well, who have graciously volunteered their time to provide us with the leadership, in sending dad off in a loving and caring way.

To Begin
What does anyone say at a time like this? The cliché’s abound.

“You are not gone.”

“Your spirit lives on.”

“Your legacy continues.”

“We’ll never forget you.”

What more do we have aside from these heartfelt clichés, that accompany the passing of a loved one?

What More Do We Have?
We have emotions. We have memories. We have the living. We have the young to raise. We have right now. Ultimately, we have each other. And we have God. When it’s all said and done, because we possess all of these and more in our lives–We have love.

The same emotions with which we grieve today, are part of the same package from which love is based. Is not love why we grieve in the first place? We’ve all lost someone we love.

Truthfully, I could launch into some sermon about life-everlasting and eternal destinies. But dad, I believe, had that settled, at least according to our last few conversations.

So, allow me to give you a glimpse into the life of a man who made a difference in life–my life, all of which helped to shape the security of my own personal and eternal destinies.

On April 6, 2010, I wrote the following poem:

Hands of Time

Our minds and bodies traverse each day
Wherewith, new memories an amassing foray
Experience builds schemata new
Twixt notions each day of losing you.

Reflect, oh mind, recalling when
His words to me yet time and again
“Let not your heart or mind forget
That you’re my son, of no regret.”

Diminution of body, affecting mind
As breaking of bread, communion find
Of Father and son, each breath adjure
“Please God, just grant him one day more.”

The hands he held now reach to hold
The hearts of others, as I grow old
There is no failure in shortfall grand
On thee, my dad, and Him, I stand.

Through grief and sorrow, the perfecting of love begins.
In John 3:16 we read, For there is no greater love in the universe than the love of God who sent His son that we might live eternally with him. We also read in John 15:13, “There is no greater love than this, except that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

I think of dad when I think of John 15:13.

A Character With Character
Looking back on life, when things were difficult, dad stuck them out. No, times were not perfect. Like many families in their beginnings, we had little. Marriage is never easy, especially in the beginning when the struggles occur over establishing a new family. Yet, when things got tough, there was dad. One job, two jobs . . . committed to keeping mom home for us kids. We kids made sure mom knew she was committed, in more ways than one. Their lovely insanity lasted nearly 55 years. It would have been 55, one week from today. I like to say that dad had all the faith he needed, and gave us way more grace than we deserved. But isn’t that the point of grace, anyway?

It’s been said, marriage is a good institution, it’s one where both partners ought to be committed. 🙂 But dad’s sacrifices, the laying down of his life, delaying his own pursuits, and his own future all came by way of his own sets of choices. Dad was not a college educated man, but many men of his generation did not pursue formal education post-high school. He sure made certain that we kids did though. I remember so well the times when dad would say, “I want you to get a good education, so that you don’t have to work as hard as I have to.”

Dad was not a book educated man, by today’s standards. Yet, he practiced the _Four Loves_, as written by C. S. Lewis. Dad knew of unconditional love, brotherly love, emotional love, and I think I’ll let you talk to mom about the other one, or my sisters and I could just wave as verification. 🙂

I reminded dad often of his not wanting me to work as hard as he did. I reminded him of that as he played golf, went to the clubhouse, took trips, and telling the same corny jokes to captive audiences for the 50th embellished time.

Work Ethic
Dad worked hard. He was the product of a generation that knew no differently. One day, while unemployed, a dear friend loaned dad some money, so that he and mom could start their own business. You see, it was always dad’s passion to own his own store. Here is where dad’s best friend from high school, enters the picture: Richard Byrnes.

The two of them were like glue. Without the help of this fine man, “Uncle Richie,” as we called him, who decided to take a risk on his best friend’s passion, there would have been no Country Cupboard in Florham Park, NJ. There also would have been no goofy mug shots that’s of the family, that’s for sure. Hey, thanks Rich for that. What were we thinking?

My, how dad used to love to have fun with his customers, many whom became lifelong friends and supporters of our family. Coffee, donuts, newspapers . . . I can still smell the onions, oil and vinegar on my hands, and taste that penny candy we helped ourselves to. And dad made the best coffee. BTW, Rich, I loved that T-Bird you had in the early 1960s–and so did the chicks. 🙂

Dad’s Honor of Others
Dad honored his mother and father for as long as I can remember. Who could forget “Grandma Bingo,” as we affectionately called her. She sure could “cheat” at Pinochle, also she promised it was always an accidental renege.

Dad honored our nation by joining the Navy and served her proudly. Men who still lay it down for their shipmates are found in the Tin Can Sailors Organization, another wonderful group of men to whom dad was committed. They put out a bulletin about dad’s illness and passing. Military vets are such faithful men and women.

Unconditional Love
This type of love, practiced virtuously by dad, affected so very many people. From Bloomfield, to Florham Park, to New Bern and beyond . . . I don’t think there is anyone sitting out there today who has not been positively affected by dad’s practice of love. Was dad a perfect man? No, he’d be the first to admit it. Yet, while he was showing others how much he cared, he surely acted as if the recipients of his loving actions were indeed perfect. I first learned the Golden Rule from dad.

What’s In A Name?
Dad once told me that, when he was younger, that he did not like his name. He was embarrassed by it. I found that interesting because, as a teenager, I also did not like my name. Ernest Joseph Zarra, III. Who names their kids the THIRD? He did not like being called junior, and I did not like being called Ernie the third, or in his words, “Oyknee Da Toyd.” Looking back on it now, I do think it might have made a great name for a king, don’t you think? 🙂

Dad went on to say that his name became all-important to him once his dad took ill, and it became even more so upon the death of my grandfather, Ernest Joseph Zarra, Sr. I stand before you today to validate that realization as truth. I am proud to be Ernest Joseph Zarra, III. I also would like to share other truths I learned from my dad. Many of these I am sure you’ve heard, or even used. I know I have.

Dad’s conventional wisdom for the ages . . .

“Don’t cross your eyes like that. You keep doing that and one day your eyes are going to stay like that.”

“You kids don’t know how good you have it today.”

“Castor oil is good for you.”

“Sit on your hands and keep yourself entertained.”

“That’s par for the course.”

“Your mother and I worked our fingers to the bone for you.”

“Try using some elbow grease.”

“If you don’t clean those ears, potatoes will start to grow in there.”

“If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it?

“Quit your crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

“If I have to stop this car, you are really going to get it.”

“Stop kicking my seat.”

“How many times have I told you not to do that?”

“You must be going to the movies, otherwise you wouldn’t be picking your seat.”

“You can do anything you want right here at home. But just don’t do them outside of the house.”

“I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.”

“Drinking coffee will stunt your growth.”

“Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

“I’d rather be a live chicken than a dead duck.”

“There is nothing wrong with you except that you are constipated.”

“The customer is always right.”

Dad’s Hands.
Dad was a meat cutter in his earlier years. He had some of the most powerful hands and wrists I had ever seen on a person. For those that knew him, his younger adult years were filled with baseball, semi-professional softball, community work, 2-3 jobs, and most of all, family.

On weekends, he would sometimes take me to Nicastro’s Restaurant, in Newark, where he, like his dad before him, would cut meat for the restaurant. I still recall listening to the world series games on that cheap, static-filled, “scratchy” transistor radio he kept hidden in the rafters, above his head.

I can hear the scraping, rhythmic sounds of the knives being sharpened on the stones, and still recall the wisdom of allowing certain meats to age. It was there, in the hollows of that cellar, over three meat-chopping blocks, side-by-side, that I learned some of life’s most important wisdom for men. On Saturdays I was with him at the restaurant. On Sundays, I was with him at his softball games. How could I ever forget the after-parties at Binkies, or Morris’ Long Bar with the teams? I learned about leadership and friendship right there in the midst of it all. I was watching. I was listening. I was absorbing.

My life was in his hands and I felt safe. Most days.

Dad loved his game of golf. Bob Bowlen and everyone else from the clubs in town were deeply admired and respected by dad. If dad had any regrets in life, it was this: That was that he did not pick up the game of golf as a young man.

A Final Chronology
12-6-09: The day of the diagnosis. In the words of my jokester dad. “If you need a knee replacement, don’t go into the hospital. You might come out with something worse if you do.”

The night before surgery in January . . . I remember sitting up with him and talking. His main concern was that he did not want to become, as he put it, “A Bobble-head.” He also worried about letting people down, by not being there to be a part of their lives. He loved and cherished his grandkids so very much, and was so very proud of all of them. I have a sneaking suspicion that he still is very proud. Your moms will miss grandpa, poppy, so very much, so they’ll need your help and understanding.

Irony of It All
Who would ever think that sitting opposite dad for years, watching him cut meat, would play into his eulogy. But one’s perspective on life is shaped through many avenues and experiences. With me, dad’s hands were pivotal in shaping my youth. Whether by instruction, or for correction, I was privy to the an education I fully needed.

Sitting opposite dad for years, watching and learning taught me what he knew, was priceless. But learning lessons from a different perspective proved invaluable. I am not certain that dad intended to teach me from a different perspective than his own. But, oh my . . . what I learned.

What I saw and learned was from my reverse-perspective of his moving hands. Let me explain. Seeing people do things in reverse from opposite them is very different. That’s how I watched dad–across from him.

My Perspective
12-6-09; my poem written on 4-6-10; 6-6-10, all sixes. But what was dad’s name for me even up to the last days I saw him? “999.” 666 opposite is 999. With little things like this, it makes playing the lottery an interesting proposition, today on the 9th, don’t you think? 🙂

But there is one more irony in play. On July 12 I intend to make my 6th ascent of Mt. Whitney in dad’s honor. He’ll be with me in more ways than one. I will say my final goodbye and release some of his ashes at 14,500 feet, the highest point in the contiguous US. It will be a special moment for me. The man who taught me much by using his hands will be honored by a son who learned the reverse and used his feet. He played competitive softball into his 40s. I played competitive soccer into my 40s.

Yes, Dad loved golf. He loved cooking. He loved people. He loved mom.

My parents sometimes joked that they didn’t know where I came from. At least I hope they were joking. I don’t know where I came from dad, but I know where I am going. I know what I am made of. Thanks for that confidence dad, and allowing me to develop my own perspective.

One never gets over losing the ones they love, and those who have impacted their lives. We just get beyond the circumstances and move forward.

We will miss small things and large . . . things like dad’s incessant story-telling, his laugh that resembled an engine attempting to start up, his wall-imploding snores, his awesome cooking, his hugs, smiles, and his card playing. We will also miss his wonderfully, silly nicknames. “Hey Fahzee . . . ” I thought I would say that so mom could hear what it sounded like one last time. We’ll miss all those things and so much more,

Yes, it is true, words are cliché and fall short at times like these. But personhood does not.

Dad, we will always love you for the person you are in us!

Finally, old cooks never die . . . they just change kitchens.

God Bless You All!


Black Panthers: 1960s Activism Or Domestic Thuggery And Terrorism?

29 Aug

With the jump-starting and reemergence of the Neo-Black Panther Organization, and how out-of-step they appear in our modern era, I thought I would hearken back to the time when some in the nation actually listened to some of their incendiary rhetoric, and acted upon it to burn inner cities, vandalize and violently revolted. Lest we think the past movement has outlived itself, guess again. It is back, and it has emerged from within the hate and violence that comes along with any modern extremist movement, be it racial or religious, or otherwise.

It is going to be very interesting as to how far the Obama Administration is going to allow the rhetoric to continue today. With twenty, or so, states drafting legislation to deal with illegals, the political attempts to marginalize Hispanics and whites, all while missing the word ILLEGAL, and with the lack of condemnation of those wishing Whites dead en masse, the next few months are going to prove to be quite tenuous.

Compare with

This is such a travesty and one of the worst forms of child abuse. Teaching a child to hate based on race, developing a violence, anarchist personality, putting him in a uniform, and teaching him to hate all Whites. And we allow this in the United States?

“You want freedom? You’re gonna have to kill some crackers! You’re gonna have to kill some of their babies.”

I truly believe that the only way the present administration’s party members can succeed at the polls come November is to allow people of color to rise up and go to the polls in anger, and then step into the fray to deny that they are credible–after the brouhaha.

The president is in a fix. He cannot come out against a Black group, no matter how extreme, but he can call white policeman those who “acted stupidly.” The double standard has been achieved through policy and is mantra-ized by some major media outlets. This is what happens when a person’s moral compass is substituted for a political one. It is also what happens when arrogance enables the luster one’s own smile to deceive oneself into thinking one is truly grand. It has happened to political leaders before, and it will happen again. The sad part is that the next generation will pay a hefty price for the politicization and profound loss of our national, moral direction.

Having said this, President Obama, and most of his inner sanctum, have emerged from and ascribe to a past generation of political activists. I present a few of these below. These same ideas–and others–are now repackaged and espoused each day by factions. Take care not to judge completely on one quote. In a couple of cases, I provided a brief history of the persons in question.

“We have two evils to fight, capitalism and racism. We must destroy both racism and capitalism.” (Huey Newton; Black Panther)

Huey Newton was born in Monroe, Louisiana to Armelia and Walter Newton, a sharecropper and Baptist minister respectively. Huey was the youngest child in his family, and was named after Huey Long. Newton’s family moved to California when he was three. Despite completing his secondary education at Oakland Technical High School, Newton did not know how to read. During his course of self-study, he struggled to read Plato’s Republic, which he understood after persistently reading it through five times. It was this success, he told an interviewer, that was the spark that caused him to become a leader.

As a teenager, he was arrested several times for minor offences, and by age 14 he had been arrested for gun possession and vandalism. Newton supported himself in college by burglarizing homes in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills areas and committing other petty crime. Newton once claimed he studied law to become a better burglar. Newton earned his Ph.D. in 1980, from UC-Santa Cruz. He died August 22, 1989, at age 47.

“History is a relay of revolutions.” (Saul Alinsky; Socialist)

“I have often thought that if a rational Fascist dictatorship were to exist, then it would choose the American system.” (Noam Chomsky; Socialist Anarchist)

MALCOLM LITTLE (Also known as Malcolm X and s El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)
“The Negro revolution is controlled by foxy white liberals, by the Government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God.” (Malcolm X; Nation of Islam)

Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska. The events of his childhood, including his father’s lessons concerning black pride and self-reliance, and his own experiences concerning race, played a significant role in Malcolm X’s adult life. By the time he was thirteen, his father had died and his mother had been committed to a mental hospital. After living in a series of foster homes, Malcolm X became involved in hustling and other criminal activities in Boston and New York. In 1946, Malcolm X was sentenced to eight to ten years in prison.

Again, is our freedom of expression enough to cover this form of violence and hatred? Black children see this and we turn a “blind eye” because of race? This is disgusting. I think it is domestic terrorism of the first order.

The Educator In Me: Standardized Tests

29 Aug

Like many professions and vocations, we have reduced most of life’s complexities and subjectivity down to a number. We operate by a percentage, a significant correlation, and extrapolation, and seek to find security in the larger context of life, in so doing. Whether in the education business, or the political, sociological, medical, or psychological disciplines, it has become mostly about numbers. As I begin this piece, allow me to provide some examples.

What are your good and bad cholesterol levels? What is your weight? What is the likelihood you’ll contract this disease, or that? Does your DNA have markers for a predisposition toward cancer? Hormone levels all right? How about your IQ? Still have one after raising teenagers? What is the president’s approval rating for today in the latest tracking poll of likely voters? See what I mean? We’ve reduced our lives to measurements, numbers, and assorted percentages–complete with a range, standard deviations, and margins-of-error. Some of these numbers are life-saving, most definitely. For the record, you are “looking at” a tech nerd on this end, and I love the toys we use. However, some other numbers are just plain numbers, yet we seem to think they tell us things. One of these areas where time is wasted on crunching numbers is education.

First, an analogy. Let’s say a person takes an IQ test from a psychologist. She gets a respectable number, say of 115. She feels pretty smart. But what does that say about her intelligence? What is the number saying at all? The number is only good for today, compared to others who “today” also took the same test. Without a comparative aspect, the measurement means little-to-nothing. Is she smarter than two others who tested at 110, or 95 IQs?

Now, let’s say different people read these numbers and begin to study to take an IQ test next year. The test is taken and the results are higher than 120 for all three students. Are we to conclude that the current year’s test-takers are smarter than last year’s test-takers?

Well, here is a numeric glitch and misuse in education today. Using test data from one year’s test-takers, and comparing to a different groups of test-takers, who take different tests proves nothing. In fact, even if they were identical tests from one year to the next, one cannot conclude intelligence is better one year to the next. To put things in common language, let me say it this way. Gertrude’s 2010 IQ test of 120 is not at all related to Sandy’s 2011 IQ test of 125. One cannot say Sandy is smarter, unless one tests Sandy in both years separately. But if that is done, then a person has just as much of an argument that maturity plays hugely in intelligence, as much as education. It is all smoke and mirrors and apples and oranges in much of education today.

Here is another example of the frustration of using test scores are measures of growth. The Junior Class of 2010 has taken their national standardized tests, as required under No Child Left Behind. The 11th graders tested out above last year’s 2010 Junior Class. What does that tell us? Nothing really. Does that show growth to measure two separate entities? Nope. Measuring the same entity twice or more shows growth, or not. But we cannot test the same students each year on the same tests. Sheer recognition and familiarity will skew the scores terribly. Yet, we publish numbers in the newspaper and parents somehow seem to think schools’ numbers indicate whether or not their schools are of quality to be distinguished. I have such a problem with reducing schools to numbers.

Tests are like snapshots in a photo album. I know NOTHING about growth about Bobby’s growth last summer, when I photograph Fred’s growth this summer. I have to assume that Bobby has grown, as I look at Fred’s growth. Would I then change Bobby’s diet, because of something good or bad in Fred’s diet?

What we have in schools today is this reliance on numbers. We accredit institutions who show growth in numbers, and believe me, I know what I am talking about as co-chair of our school accreditation team. What we should rely on is the overall educational value of the school and its students, families, and product. Overall school accreditation DOES look at these factors, but will put a school on probation if test scores are not headed in the right direction, or their API scores do not hit their targets suggested by their states.

Teachers measure students in class, for about 180 days. They are the best gauges and are best equipped to measure student’s growth and progress. Why do we default to one test, given over several days, to determine growth? The fact of the matter is, we even give these tests in March and April, one full quarter before school is out in most cases, and before academic curriculum is even completed. You think I have a beef with standardized tests? You bet I do.

In all of my 32 years of education-related experience, I can tell you that students at the upper grades often do not take these tests seriously. For example, back to the Junior Class of a few minutes ago. As juniors in high school, they take their last standardized tests ever, and there is no impact on their college admission, or anywhere of personal import. The facts are, freshman and sophomores are still naive enough to think that the word “test” means something important. Seniors take no standardized tests, that count toward an NCLB measure. By their junior year, students have figured out that SATs and ACTs are where it is at. In fact, colleges use their junior year are the true “measure” of most students, in their applications to college. Senior year is basically when they find out admission or denial. So, what does the senior year measure? Great question!

Let me address what affects test scores in high school, so he reader will have a better understanding why many of the numbers should be reevaluated.

First, if there are any pregnancies of veteran female teachers, which results in a change of teachers for extended periods of time, those students affected will test differently. Would we conclude that lower, or higher test scores are the result of a teacher’s pregnancy?

Second, students cut classes today like they are heading for a drink of water–casually. Cuts affect students learning and knowledge and test scores. Is it fair that students cut classes and school, and then punish the schools for low scores? Whose responsibility is it to get kids to school, anyway?

Third, a large population of certain ethnic groups do not value education as some others might value it. Work, having babies, dropping out, etc. are part of certain cultures. Add to that migrants and illegals, whose L1 (primary language) is probably not English, and test scores drop. Is it fair to punish schools with students in these categories that affect outcomes? In California, illegals in schools are having a direct effect on test scores for many reasons. We cannot be jaded into thinking that the few that have overcome can truly transcend the mass that has not.

Fourth, how in the world are school expected to raise test scores if students do not have an excellent command of the English language? If they cannot read, they cannot test well. Case closed. Yet, schools get tabbed for lower scores and parents see that.

Fifth, families today, “en masse,” are not supportive of the tests, and spend little time making certain their children are ready to be tested. The vast majority of parents have defaulted to the schools for the primary education of their child. The reason students of the past were better educated, overall, in my opinion, is because schools received kids from families who made certain their kids could say the alphabet, know their colors, and do basic math. Today, with the way many families are in my world, they don’t even feed their kids breakfast. Depending on whether their families are together, or split up on every other weekend, breakfast becomes optional. Many parents expect schools to feed kids, and they do.

All of the factors–and more–just described affect test scores. Yet, there are no excuses allowed, no waivers given, and the data are skewed from year-to-year. Admit it, when you select a school for your kids, or grand kids, you look at achievement test scores. I know I did! More and more, today, parents are looking for “safe schools,” for their kids. The measure of success for these parents is whether their children are bullied or not, assaulted, or allowed to live each day. Using numbers to measure schools is one thing. Using numbers to conclude what humans do differently each day, is another.

All things are glorious if our football team wins each Friday. After all, school spirit is important. Again, numbers call the shots. I apologize for putting my work hat on during summer. It is just a bit unnerving to be judged by numbers and scores by those who have no clue what is behind them. [For the record, I work at a competitive, top-3 school in my county, have great test scores, and excellent API . . . but so what?)

Thanks for reading!

Motivating Teenagers: Bored Yet?

29 Aug

There are vast differences between capturing a teenager’s interest and motivating him, or her. The former is momentary, titillating, and wrapped in an emotional brain response. The latter turns on a choice to commit to some sort of action. Yet, when they are combined the results are quite cool!~

In today’s culture, we are surrounded by sensory provocation, all meant to generate reactions. For example, technology is a cultural cause, and teenagers’ reactions are effects. Have you even heard a teenager reply, “I don’t know,” to your question asking “Why did you do such and such?” Well, brain reactions are the result of titillation, all meant to elicit kind of an automated response. Teens are wired for highly potent emotional responses and are sensorily more “alive” in their brains. Essentially, teenagers are impulsive and act often beyond a knowledge base, overwhelmed by the moment of emotional response. The transfer of action by feeling to action by cognition takes time. How many of us have THAT mastered yet?

Motivating teenagers to make choices, based on things counter-intuitive to their wiring is our aim. In fact, it’s the aim for us all, is it not? Forcing the brain to lay down tracks at the time of ongoing brain development is what we call learning. We glory in the fact that teenagers finally get it, and extol upon them terms like “maturity,” “growing it,” and the like. Although brains activities are similar, the transfer of data from emotional learning to cognitive learning and memory are different for us all. I bet we all can think back to the times when we made conscious choices, either to engage in actions and behaviors, or to shun them. The aspects of counter-intuitiveness are wired into our brains (at least in most of our brains). The essence of the point here is this: “Once we get it, we’ve got it!”

I am often asked, how do you keep the attention of groups of teenagers? Or how can you keep them awake, or why are they seemingly so bored in my class, and not in yours? Time of day? Food? Being a goofball? Handsome? LOL All kidding aside, there are some tangible factors to consider.

Motivational Factors
There are many factors that play into motivating teenagers. Certainly, first and foremost is interest in persons and material. If a teenager “senses” there is no interest in him or her, then they will remain distant. Finding a daily, relevant common-ground will provoke their interest. Why do you think teenagers play video games over and over again? Or why do they go to the mall, see the same movie for a third time? There is interest in someone or something. Finding a common ground with them is important. Adults must know their teenagers well enough to assimilate these interests into their lives.

Next, connecting a benefit and an incentive for teenagers to choose something is another critical element in motivation. If they see a benefit for them, there is a greater chance of action. If the risk is greater than the reward, then they’ll most likely choose not to act. A student may be motivated to act, but peer incentive NOT to act is greater than the personal benefit at the moment. We adults must not conclude that teenagers are not motivated simply because they choose self-restraint over action. If motivation is about choices, then so too is self-restraint an action.

Teenage Brain
The brain research on adolescents is quite exciting–literally. For the first time, we have been able to capture just exactly what goes on in teenage brains when they think. We know their amygdalas are all highly sensitized. Topics upon which capture a teenager’s attention, “fuel the fire” of impulse and cause the brain to be excited, literally. Synapses are going wild with connections. So, the catch is to engage the teenager on his or her own turf. That turf is the brain. Touch the brain and you touch learning. Cause learning, and you cause choices, which are the result of motivation–even if the choice is NOT to choose something.

In closing, we educators try danged hard to generate interest in what we teach. But we must remember “who” we teach, as well. How often have we adults recalled stories told to us by our teachers and professors? Why do we enjoy actors and actresses in movies, or a good story plot? How about bedtime stories told to us by our parents? Why is that? I have to tell you, even mathematics touches a person’s emotional base. Remember the time when you finally “got it?” Remember the “feeling?” You see, in terms of anecdotes told to us, the stories touched our emotional centers, where the best learning occurs in young people. There is a difference between “emoting” and learning from a person’s emotional center in the amygala. So, don’t think there is a lot of learning taking place when emotional outbursts occur. That is very different from that I just described.

Oh, and one last piece of advice for parents and grandparents of teenagers . . . 50% of life is boring. Remind them of that when they say they are bored. Remind them also that they are boring YOU by their being bored. Sharing the wealth is essential. **wink**

Just some thoughts . . . Have a splendid year!

A Few Doctored Thoughts

29 Aug

Good evening everyone! For anyone who uses either Facebook or MySpace as a social network, and not to build a farm, or develop a Mafia Family, I trust your days of summer are wonders to behold. If you are developing a farm, or some other more sophisticated online form of gigapet menagerie, let’s hope your fences stay up, the cows come home, and the chickens DO come home to roost. 🙂

This summer has been an interesting one, at that. I have learned much. I learned a lot about my immediate and extended families, much about myself, and just a ton about life itself. I know I am not alone in this learning and that no one learns in a vacuum. I am just very blessed and fortunate to have family and friends to stand with me on days when I need them most. They already know how I feel about them. No, no money. So don’t ask. **wink**

I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks writing for agents, and submitting my work for speculation. In case you have wondered why the notes here have been quite nonexistent, you know now. It’s always exciting for me to hear back about my work. More on that later. Just a quick note to the more revolutionary, hyper 2nd Amendment bunch of us . . . No, I am not a special agent. But I do have some cool friends with some high tech toys.

Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling good and things seem to be clicking along, that life sometimes slaps you right in the head? Well, we all have our ups and downs. Doggone political scene these days has many all riled up, including me on some days. Whatever happened to those days of old, when we actually thought we knew everything? Where are those days when we actually had hair and didn’t cut it? Also, where are the folks who had real “guts” to stand up for what they believed in? Seems the “guts” we show today slow us down way too much, rather than lead us forward.

The Baby-Boom Generation is no longer “baby,” and, although we’ve “come a long way baby,” we have given way to a new generation that has that “boom, boom boom,” all of their own. They seem more concerned that “tonight’s going to be a good night,” rather than next week being as secure as can be. And where does this leave all of us? I’ll tell you where. We are wearing glasses, contacts, drinking Ensure, taking naps, having surgeries to keep the parts moving, over-medicated, under-sensitive to each other, and addicted to all sorts of things, both online and in the real world, if you will. We hate scales and we hate mirrors. But we still like candles for many reasons. 🙂

Whatever happened to the generation that was not going to do things the way our parents did them? Moreover, what will become of the generation that will replace us in the future? Baby-Boomers gave this current generation everything from computers, to cell phones, sports clubs and their own cars . . . you name it. We gave our kids things our parents could not afford to give us. Yes, our kids got the “goods.” Yet, our parents gave us values that so many in today’s busy world have not taken the time to impart. I question whether we are doing it right, quite frankly. My skills as a parent could always use more work. So, I am open to suggestions from those who have much more together than I.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It is difficult to teach sacrifice when our kids cry that their friends have something and they don’t. It’s difficult to teach sacrifice when we pop the plastic like some pacifier between the lips of a whiny 3-year-old. It is equally as difficult when values like commitment and unconditional love give way to weak-willed selfishness, and instant gratification. We are all subject to the same pressures. But are we doing right by our kids?

So there you have it. A few thoughts from this goofy guy that some of you call “friend.” I’d hate to think about all the rest of the names you might have for me. JUST KIDDING. Thanks for listening in on the conversation between my two good brain cells and my heart. Sometimes my heart actually listens.

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