Monday, May 30, 2011

Pledge of Allegiance

7:30 AM.  The students in my 9th grade Homeroom make their way to their desks.  I've spent roughly three months with these students and they've made a lot of progress in that time.  Sure, they still talk during the announcements, but they are no longer late.  Now they sit in their assigned seats.  Most stand for the Pledge of allegiance.  Most.  One does not- least wise, not on his own.  when I ask, he will grudgingly stand up one line into the Pledge, then lazily collapse back into his desk one line early.  If I turn away, he will collapse sooner.  I'm aware that students do not have to say the Pledge, and they do not have to put their hands over their hearts.  However, I do expect them to stand and be quiet.  One student barely does this.

To be entirely fair, while the other students stand for the Pledge, they don't take it seriously.  They stand out of habit.  They are quiet because it's expected. They glance and smirk at each other, giggle to each other, and lean on their desks during the Pledge.  This one student who grudgingly stands and lazily collapses back into his desk is simply the most blatant of all the students in his apparent apathy towards the Pledge.

It is a scene from the classic Red Skeleton skit.

When I was a student, we stood for the Pledge.  We didn't have to say it, and we didn't have to put our hands over our hearts.  Most of us did anyway.  That was less than a decade ago.  9/11 happened when I was in high school.  I remember the surge of patriotism that defined us as a country and united all of us during the following weeks and months.  Patriotism was a part of our high school years.  Oh, there were students who disagreed with our government.  They disagreed with foreign and domestic policies.  They thought there was too much nationalism, etc.  Despite those disagreements and reservations though, they could still find reasons to believe in America.  They still respected the concept of America and, to me, remained patriotic in that regard.

The Pledge isn't about agreeing with the American government or respecting government officials.  It's about believing in the promise of America.  A promise that includes the right to disagree with the government.  A promise that enables people to work together to reform the government.  A promise that no matter how bad things get, they can get better.  That's pretty respectable.

Patriotism may not be something that you can teach in a classroom.  It is not something that can be indoctrinated into students.  In order to be genuine and sincere, students must develop a sense of it on their own.  Annual remembrances like Memorial Day however, provide a perfect teachable moment for fostering a sense of patriotism.  It is an opportune time to reflect on and find the meaning in the things we say and do every day.  If I had to make a lesson plan for the 15 minute Homeroom period, every year the day before Memorial day would have the same plan... listen to the Pledge of Allegiance- performed by Red Skeleton.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Riding in the Passenger Seat with an Average Driver

The idea for this post started to develop on Monday night, but for one reason or another I haven't gotten around to writing it until now.  I'm glad I waited. 

Yesterday (Friday) evening, I let my younger brother drive the car as I ran errands.  My brother is 16 and has his permit but not his license, so I thought he'd like some road practice.  As an education major, I let him do his thing and make his own mistakes, and try not to say much while he's practicing.  Having learned to drive myself this side of 10 years ago, I know what it's like to have people criticizing your judgment while you're learning to drive.  And besides, I know I'm not the best driver on the road, so I'm not going to be overly critical of someone else.  Of course, being totally silent is harder to do when you're a passenger. 

Overall the drive went well.  I'm not sharing this anecdote to vent criticisms or praise.  I'm sharing it more because of some observations I made from the passenger seat.  I've already admitted I'm not the best driver.  I know the written rules of the road, but like many other drivers, I incorporate the unwritten rules too.  It was amusing watching the unwritten rules play out from the passenger seat. 

Rule #1-the speed limit.  Written rule says you go the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions merit.  You're not supposed to exceed the speed limit.  Unwritten rule- the cops won't give you a ticket if you drive just 5 miles above the posted limit....therefore 5 miles faster than the speed limit is the speed limit. 
 I'm a fast driver.  If there's an open space in front of my car, I'm going to fill it.  So, I'm a definite follower of the unwritten 5 mile above limit rule.  My brother (at least when he was driving my car) adhered to the written rule. The speed limit seems ridiculously slow for a chronic 5 mile over type of girl.

Rule #2- turn signals.  Written rule says you use your turn signals to indicate any change in direction or lane change.  Unwritten rule- if you're in a turning lane, your intention is clear enough- no need to signal. 
Again, I abide by the unwritten rule.  In this case, so did my brother.  No complaints- but I did advise him that the unwritten rules don't apply when taking the road test. 

So all this happened Friday,  but I could have written a similarly themed post on Monday night.
The Monday before my observations from the passenger's seat, I was sitting through a session of traffic school.  This wasn't my first session of traffic school.  I think I've attended traffic school 5 times in the 8 years since I've had my license.  Some of my acquaintances use that as evidence of an unsafe driver.  Personally, I think it's a more accurate distinction of an average driver.  In my experiences in traffic courts & traffic schools (and I have been to a few), many people are there for following the unwritten rules of the road.

Infractions like going under a yellow light, rolling a stop sign when there's no cars coming, passing on the right, no turn signal, driving 6 miles over the speed limit, etc.  All traffic infractions.  All go against the written rule of the road.  But, everyone does them from time to time.  All of these driving behaviors have become common unwritten rules of the road. 

Many drivers- myself included- participate in the unwritten rules of the road. 
Does that make it legal/safe?  No.  
Are we aware that what we're doing isn't kosher with the written rules?  In many cases, I think so.
So why do we do it?  We do it because at the time we decide the risk is worth it.  It's justified and calculated, and will most likely not result in any serious repercussions.
Could repercussions exist?  Absolutely. There are worse things than getting a ticket.  We've seen it happen to other people.  But regardless, many drivers still weigh the risks and continue to follow the unwritten rules of the road. 
Is it unsafe- yes. 
On the one hand the really unlucky drivers don't have the opportunity to receive tickets.  
On the other hand, it is a trait of the average driver.  The average driver takes risks.  The 'unlucky' ones get caught and get tickets.  The 'lucky' ones get away with it.  

Then again, every time I've gotten pulled over I've learned to be more cautious when driving.  As the only person who has been in the car for my entire 8 years as a driver, I detect changes in my own driving.  I am aware that I'm a much safer driver than I was 8 years and 5 traffic courts ago.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Don't We Just Dance?

If you like to be pampered, go to a spa. 
If you like to be waited on, go to a restaurant. 
If you like to complain about your life, go to a counselor.  
If you like gossip, go to a water cooler. 
If you like drama, go to a theater. 
If you like to lose yourself in someone else's life, go read a book.
If you like to dance and lose yourself in music, then go to a ballroom.  

For those of you who don't know me, I'm somewhat of a dancer.  Yes, I'm the type of dancer who dances when she cleans, cooks, and drives (which has led to some amusing performances and awkward moments).  I'm also the type of dancer who, like many young girls, started with tap and ballet lessons.  However, my experiences as a dancer do go slightly beyond these common displays of movement and rhythm (or lack of rhythm, as is occasionally the case).  For the past several years, I have been taking ballroom dance lessons from a local dance studio.  The term 'ballroom' in this case includes all styles of partner dancing (although I, myself, am single).  In addition to traditional ballroom dances like Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot, I've learned Latin styles like Cha-Cha, Mambo, Rumba, and Merengue, and rhythmic styles like Samba, Swing, and Hustle.  Basically, the dances you see on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, are the types of dances I've been learning over the past several years.
Actor Robin Williams dancing & cleaning in Mrs. Doubtfire.  I don't have a picture of my cleaning dance...sorry.  Image Source: Google Images

As a dancer working on improving my style and technique in these dances, I like watching Dancing with the Stars.  I like seeing what dances will be performed and how the pros will tailor the choreography to express the chosen songs.  I like watching the performances to identify familiar moves and discover some new ones.  I like studying the technique and expressions of the celebrities and seeing how they come together to affect the performance.  I especially like watching the performances when the couple is beyond the thinking stage, and is clearly having fun with the dance.  It's also nice to see the behind-the-scenes clips, and realize that learning to dance can be frustrating for both the instructor and student- even in the glamorous world of Hollywood.

Actress Jennifer Grey during a stressful practice session with Derek Hough in Season 11 of DWTS.  Image Source

After several seasons of dancing and watching DWTS though, there is one thing I can't stand.  The dance floor is a place for dancing, yet the focus has been shifted away from dance.  I don't like that.  I can't stand the drama and gossip that accompanies every season of DWTS.  Since the beginning of the show, rumors have been rampant about which celebrity is hooking up with which pro.  First it was Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke.  Then Mario Lopez and Karina Smirnoff.  Sabrina Bryan and Mark Ballas.  Julianne Hough and Apolo Ohno.  Sara Evans and Tony Dovolani.  Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Mel B. Julianne Hough and Helio Castroneves.  Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough.  Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.  Holly Madison and Demitry Chaplin.  Brandy and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.  Did I miss anyone?

Singer Drew Lachey & professional partner Cheryl Burke; a rumored and never confirmed romance from DWTS Season 2 Image Source

I realize some of these dancing partnerships actually did turn into something more, but some didn't.  I recently came across an ET interview with Melissa Rycroft online.  In the interview, Melissa discussed the rumors of DWTS hook ups, and I couldn't agree more with what she said.  She basically said- you spend a lot of time with your dance partner and you go through a lot together, you become best friends, but rarely do you actually hook up.

ESPN Sportscaster Erin Andrews & professional partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy; a rumored and vehemently denied romance from DWTS Season 10 Image Source

Now this is Hollywood.  Hollywood likes ratings. Apparently gossip and drama get ratings.  But to the people who actually believe, spread, and follow these rumors-  
Why the fascination with other people's lives?  Why the need for drama and gossip?  
Is it simply a guilty pleasure?  Do you find the pros/stars attractive (can't say I blame you) and wish you could be dancing with them too?  Would you like to be romantically involved with them? 
Is it a reflection of your own life? Are/were you romantically involved with all your single acquaintances?  Are you so insecure about yourself and your own relationship that you can't imagine being that close to another person without developing uncontrollable feelings for each other?
Or is it simply a form of escape? Is your own life so boring and inescapably mundane that you enjoy losing yourself in fantasies about other people's lives?
Singer Brandy & professional partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy in their Quickstep to the Friends theme song; DWTS Season 11.  Image Source: Google Images

Yes, a lot of the stars and professionals on DWTS are single.  It's not a crime.  Yes, they spend a lot of time together.  It's their time, they can spend it how they wish.  The stars struggle to learn new routines and the professionals patiently support them.  That's how most teaching/learning relationships are.  Both get frustrated from time to time.  They're only human.  They laugh and joke and have fun together.  It happens.  They talk about things.  Communication is important for successful partnerships- even professional ones.  They trust each other.  The female needs to trust her male partner to give her a solid lead, to support her in over-sways, and catch/support her in lifts.  The male needs to trust that his female partner will follow his lead, be confident of his support in over-sways, and help elevate herself in a perfectly timed, effortlessly performed lift.  Trust is essential. The partners perform dances together.  They flirt in the Cha-Cha, silently argue in the Tango, and are sensual in the Rumba.  That is the character of the dance.  Successful partners capture that character, embrace the personality of the dance, and emote accordingly.  Yes, dance partners go through a lot together.  Yes, they may become friends.  But no, that does not mean they are romantically involved.

Disney channel actress Chelsea Kane & professional partner Mark Ballas from current DWTS Season 12 Image Source

The dance floor is a place for dancing, yet people bring so much dramatic baggage to the floor that the dancers can barely maneuver on it.  This season, it would be refreshing if we could keep the gossip, drama, rumors, and other baggage off the floor.  This season, it would be refreshing if we could just dance.

Wide receiver Hines Ward & professional partner Kym Johnson from current DWTS Season 12 Image Source

*Note: 'Why Don't We Just Dance' is the title of a song performed by country artist Josh Turner.  'Dancing With The Stars' is the title of a television show produced by ABC.  No copyright infringement is intended by the use of either title for this article.* Images used in this post were found through Google Images.  Image sources were used solely for the images provided above.  Citation of these sites is not meant as an endorsement of content on those sites. No copyright infringement is intended by the use of images in this post* 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chasing Rainbows

I'm not Irish.  I'd love to visit Ireland, but I've never been.  And I'm not Irish, so I don't have an Irish story to share on St. Patrick's Day.  I'm Polish and English, and this is as close to a St. Patrick's Day theme as I could get.

When I was younger, leprechauns, four leaf clovers, and rainbows went together.  The leprechauns hid their pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and if you followed the rainbow to its end, you would find the gold.  Whenever it rained, we would wait for the sun to come out and reveal the rainbow.  Then we'd try to guess where the rainbow ended, and say that someone there must be rich.  Rainbows held the promise of riches and dreams come true.  If we happened to be in the car, we would drive along the length of the rainbow, trying to parallel its end point.  Of course no matter how far or fast we drove, the end of the rainbow was always just ahead of us until it eventually dissolved in a flood of sunlight. 

Being older and having spent my undergraduate career studying Earth Science, Meteorology, and basic Physics, I now know that rainbows do not have a physical end point.  Contrary to what you may think, gaining that knowledge did not diminish the magical connotation of rainbows in my mind- it actually increased it.

Knowing the meteorological conditions that need to come together for a rainbow to form, makes their occurrence more intriguing.  Rainbows do not form after every rainstorm.  The size of the water droplets, the position of the sun, and other factors determine the appearance of a rainbow.  For conditions to be just right for a rainbow to form, is still pretty magical. 

Then there's the characteristic of not having an end point.  Rainbows are bridges with an infinite amount of starting points and ending locations.  A bridge spanning infinite distances...that's pretty magical too. 

And then there's that 'promise of dreams coming true'... Life certainly has its share of rainy days.  Even on the dreariest day though, a little light shining just right can make a rainbow form.  And that rainbow can be the impetus, the motivation and inspiration for moving forward out of the rain and into the sunshine, along the path to achieving your dream. 

Rainbows are also in endless supply.  Whether you achieve your first dream or have to give it up, there are plenty of other dreams to pursue and rainbows to follow.  You just have to wait for the right conditions to come together.

Finally, if you're impatient and don't like waiting for the rain to end, you can always make your own rainbow.
 Magic that everyone can do...

'the lovers, the dreamers, and me/you'!

Disclaimer Toast

I should point out that for one or two reasons, I may not be posting to this blog everyday. 

The first reason is- well, I'm a grad student and occasionally I get a burst of motivation to actually work on my graduate research.  It doesn't happen all the time.  So when it does, I feel obligated to take advantage of it and make some progress while the motivation lasts. 

The second reason I may not post everyday, is that while working on starting this blog, I found some advice from another blogger at  Her advice was, 'don't write when you're not in the mood'.  That's rarely an issue for me, as I typically organize my thoughts better with a pen and paper.  However, not everything I think needs to- or should-be shared in this blog. 

My goal is to keep this blog as constructive and positive as possible.  If you can't tell, I'm a 'glass half full' type of person.  Yes, this blog is something of a life journal, and I'm aware that life is not always a pitcher of sunshine.  I'm not denying or disputing that.  There are days when my glass gets low too.  While I look forward to sharing several aspects of my journey with you, I tend to operate under the theory that the best stories are told over drinks (my preference is tea).  Point being- I'm not going to use this blog as a place to vent.  If my glass is on the empty side, I'll probably wait for it to be half-full again before relaying the story.  It gives me time to reflect on the situation and just seems more constructive. 

Besides, you can propose more toasts with a full glass than an empty one!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Welcome to Unwritten Ends!

The idea of starting a blog has been wandering around my mind for a while now.  I am a relatively pensive person with a flair for writing about many topics, but my blogging endeavor was waiting for a topic capable of supporting an abundance of posts. Enter a suggestion from my friend Linda, some inspiration from author/reporter Gene Weingarten, and several reflections of my own, and I arrived at Writing Unwritten Ends

The premise behind Writing Unwritten Ends is that each of us is the author of our own life and our own destiny.  Of course we can't control the entire plot of our lives, and we can't be sure how things will play out in the end.  Life, as with writing, is an ongoing process of revision.  There are some basic rules, but no literary expert can provide a single outline for all great stories.  Sometimes in writing, the story takes control of the plot and heads in a direction unforeseen by the author.  The author may approach a story with a conclusion in mind, but he can never be sure how the plot will unfold and shape the ending.  Each of our lives is a unique story.  We all have our own life goals, and we all encounter unforeseen twists and turns.  But no matter what the 'experts' say, the end remains unwritten.

Writing Unwritten Ends is something of a life journal, where I share my thoughts and experiences.  I won't bore you by chronicling every detail of my life, but I'll share some of the everyday highs and lows, reflections and musings that cross my path.  This isn't the blog of someone who has been everywhere, done everything, and knows everything there is to know.  It's the blog of someone who is here, trying things in the moment, learning as she goes, and sharing those thoughts and experiences with you. 
I hope you'll join me in Writing the Unwritten Ends of our lives and the future.