Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: November 2016

How do you as teachers support children who are confused or frightened by events going on in their world?

election-2016As a parent, I had to calm my son down before he went to bed Tuesday night and when he woke up Wednesday morning. His “I’m scared, Mom” was difficult for me to hear because I had to take responsibility for his fears. I made negative comments before the election about Donald Trump in front of my son, and told him I was confident that Americans would not elect a person like that to represent our country. When we woke up to that shocking reality, I realized how I let my son down.

What I should have done is emphasized that the government was set up as a three-branch system to make sure that none of them would have too much power, so our president will always be tempered by two other branches, limiting his power and control.

What I should have done is told my son the truth about politicians: They work for us. They may make a lot of promises and threaten a lot of things, but politicians are supposed to serve the Americans they represent. They are supposed to, but that fact hasn’t actually been true for a long time. And, truthfully, we are responsible for letting politicians get away with serving themselves rather than the American people.

What I should have told my son is that many media sources want money more than they want to be vehicles for truth, so if they can get our attention with fear, they will also get money. We need to be discerning on how we get our information and what we blindly believe without investigating further.

Now, I am changing the conversation to empower my son and college students; I am speaking more passionately at home and in my classrooms about how to take our power back.

What I am now telling my son and students is that we have been given a wakeup call. There is no room for fear in our lives. Neither can we sit idly by and hope for the best. We have to let our representatives know what we want and what we will not accept. We have to investigate what our elected officials are actually doing with the trust we have put in them. We have to make our voices heard and back up our voices with action.

What I am continuing to tell my son and students is that we need to be the change we want to see in the world. If we want equality, then we must treat everyone as equals. If we want kindness and compassion, then we need to come alongside people in need to let them know they are not alone. If we want our voices to be heard, then we cannot silence those who see the world differently than we do, and that includes President-elect Trump. If we want to protect our environment, then we need to stop being wasteful and start supporting renewable, clean energy sources. If we want to feel secure in our beautiful country, then we need to stand up for our rights as Americans; we need to stand up to the bullies on the playground and in our governing houses—not with violence but with knowledge, courage, and solidarity.

Bottom line, as teachers and parents we need to support students and children who are confused or frightened by role modeling equality, kindness, compassion, intelligence, and fortitude.

http://www.cmrubinworld.com/the-global-search-for-education-top-global-teacher-bloggers-children-are-listening

Joshua Katz’s TEDx Talk: Toxic Culture of Education

Joshua Katz describes perfectly the plight of American education, the damage it does to our lower achieving students, and the super villains behind it all.

“We need to pay attention to our students and who they are. . . . How can we help them be better students? . . . How can we help them with these non cognitive factors, like work ethic and character? . . . It’s the public narrative that must be shifted. We must talk about what is happening in the lives of our students–even our honors’ students–because we are simply creating a massive population of future citizens who are afraid to attempt anything challenging, unable to read or think critically, or unable to find a way to earn a meaningful income.”

I can’t say it any better than he did, so take the time to watch this video all the way until the end and pay attention to his solutions.

We can have an educational system that meets the needs of every child. We can change the narrative. We just need more people willing to stand up for our children, stand against the super villains, and demand an educational system that encourages success, not failure.

Friday Writing Challenge: 10 Interesting Facts About Myself

This week’s prompt: Ten interesting facts about yourself.

  1. _MAC8790I’m a first generation American, born from Macedonian immigrants. This fact, however, is not what makes it interesting. What is interesting is what I gleaned from my family and what I have tried to pass on to my children. My parents and grandparents experienced America in a completely different way than people who were born here. They came to America with nothing but hope and ambition; they were courageous and relentless. Because of that attitude, they achieved their American Dream. With pride, each of my family members became American citizens while maintaining their ethnicity; my mother still cries when she recalls the moment she became an American citizen. They respected the abundance we have in our country because they lived without for so long. Entitlement was not a word in their vocabulary. My family contributed positively to our society, modeling and teaching all of those characteristics to my brothers and me. For better or worse, this is also where I get my views on marriage…
  2. One and done–When I said my vows, I knew it was the only time I would ever say them. I had hoped to grow old with my ex-husband, but that’s not how things turned out. Regardless, I don’t plan on getting married again. I have no idea if this feeling will change somewhere down the line, but for right now, I am content with being single. I wanted so badly to hold onto my marriage that I didn’t fight for the other things I wanted in my life—honesty, fidelity, love, partnership, security. I lost my independence and became completely dependent on someone who didn’t value the same things I did. What’s worse is that I saw how different we were but did nothing because I wanted to stay married. I never want to betray myself again. Even though it’s been hard to start over with nothing, I am just starting to spread my wings. I want to find out what I can do, what I can accomplish on my own. I’ve never lived on my own before. I went from my mother’s house, to college, to my mother’s house, to living with my husband. This is the first time I’m responsible for myself. I also don’t want any man coming into my life and thinking he can decide how I raise my son. I did that before and wish I hadn’t…
  3. My only regrets in life come from the things I didn’t do. I wish I had stood up to people who were wrong and defended the people who didn’t have a voice–more than I did. I wish I would have understood, created, and defended my boundaries throughout my entire life, not just within the last few years. I did learn important lessons during those years that I didn’t stand up for myself, but those missed opportunities still haunt me. However, I don’t look at those regrets as a bad thing. They just fuel my fire to stay strong and help others to use their voices. Now that I know better, I do better…
  4. I’ve become a minimalist, out of necessity at first, but now I am choosing that lifestyle. I’m not making a lot of money and haven’t for the last few years. It can be stressful, but I like my life a lot better now than when we had more money than we needed. We wasted so much money on useless stuff—stuff that we gave away when we left Colorado. The money wasted on things that ended up in a garbage dump makes me cringe. Now, I know exactly what is in my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. I don’t buy anything until we’ve eaten or used up every bit of what we bought. We don’t have cable, just the internet, which makes being a minimalist a lot easier–there are no commercials to remind us what everyone else is buying. Part of embracing this lifestyle is knowing the true value of things. Buying something that will last or give us better nutrition has improved our lives in so many ways…
  5. Ian and I are healthier now than ever before. Health and nutrition are simple—the more natural state the food is in, the better it is for our bodies. Some of the food might be more expensive, but our health is invaluable. These choices have made me realize that weight loss is not a mystery either: healthy food (not diet food), daily exercise, a solid night’s sleep, drinking water, listening to my body, and learning to enjoy every breathing moment have contributed to our well being. This healthy mindset has spilled over into my relationships…
  6. I can’t think of one person I hate. There are a few people I choose not to have in my life anymore, but I don’t hate them. I used to take things so personally that I could rattle off a list of people I hated. That hatred was only a reflection of my inner turmoil. I don’t have that anymore. Even people who have harmed me, I wish them well. I have learned that those people have their own issues, and their treatment of me is a result of their inner turmoil. I sympathize with those people, but I don’t own their behavior anymore. I have reduced my reactions to negative people to two choices: For those who want help, I try to help and support them. For those who aren’t ready for help and continue to negatively affect my inner peace, I distance myself from them. I have realized that I can only fix myself, which will help me be the best role model I can be for my children and anyone else watching, listening, or reading. I have removed negative emotions and people from my life…
  7. The art of letting go is a daily practice–I promise not to sing. (No one wants to hear that song in my off-key voice.) Knowing that I will never be a singer and being okay with that is part of letting go. I love Amy Poehler’s Yes Please for so many reasons, but most importantly for her “letting go” lessons: “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” I had to let go of pain, unrealistic dreams, and negative people, but I’ve also had to let go of things that I love for reasons that go beyond my personal comfort…
  8. I miss teaching high school English. My heart aches whenever I think about my students and the community I loved. I love keeping in touch with my former students on Facebook–more than half of my “friends” used to sit in my classroom, but I resigned from my position for many reasons–a few of those reasons make it impossible to teach in a public high school…
  9. I still get almost 100 hits a day on https://paulinehawkins.com/2014/04/07/my-resignation-letter/ –almost two years after I wrote it and posted it to my blog. I’ve noticed that around this time of year, the traffic to my letter increases exponentially. I struck a nerve with teachers, students, and parents. I think people (most of them at least) understand how much I love the profession, my students, and my colleagues. For that reason, people are drawn to my letter; for that reason, I continue to speak for those who do not have a voice…
  10. I have a voice, and I’m not afraid to use it. Writing is my voice. I write in order to encourage others to use their voices. I write because it is my exhale. I write so that others have healthy air to inhale.

 

#1 Groundhog Day

I’m always excited when I find another person who truly gets Groundhog Day; similarly, I am annoyed when someone doesn’t understand the pure genius of it. Groundhog Day should only have two reactions: “Best inspirational movie ever made!” Or “I love that movie; it was hysterical.” Nothing less than that is acceptable in my eyes. Unfortunately, I get lukewarm reactions, or the question: “Really? Groundhog Day?” So, when I find someone who believes it is akin to a 12-step group for life, I feel like I have made a soul-connection with a kindred spirit.

I know. There are other outstanding, award-winning, inspirational movies that have greater acclaim than Groundhog Day; movies like Braveheart, Dead Poet Society, and Good Will Hunting are serious movies, about serious topics, delivered with intensity about characteristics we all want to emulate. Those movies are a few of my favorites, but they don’t beat Groundhog Day. How can I justify that? Simple: It is everything I stand for and want to teach my children and students about life, all bundled up in a hilarious 90 minute comedy. How can a comedy accomplish such a feat? That’s exactly my point.

Everything from the brilliant writing to the spot-on acting to the visionary directing creates the greatest life-lesson I have ever learned: I will metaphorically live the same day over and over again if I don’t find a way to positively contribute to society.

As Phil Connors illustrates so perfectly, we will never improve our lives by being selfish and manipulating people. That choice will contribute to the same-shit-different-day scenario. We can only improve our lives by improving ourselves in such a way that we help others, which then improves us as well as the quality of the lives around us.

What other movie has been able to accomplish that?

If you are still not convinced, let me take you through the plot structure of the movie, addressing the life-changing lessons as they occur.

The movie opens with Phil Connors, an egotistical weather man, reporting the weather. He believes he is a much bigger star than he actually is. He can’t stand that he has to drive to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania from Pittsburg to cover the Groundhog Day celebration . . .  again. He is rude to his colleagues; no one seems to like Phil, but they tolerate him. The new producer, Rita, is a kind-hearted woman who Phil slightly smiles at, but sarcastically claims, “She’s fun, but not my kind of fun.” Phil presents the idea that he’s too good for Rita. But in reality, Phil knows that a man like him could never get a woman like Rita; she is too kind and self-confident to fall for his lies.

As Phil, Rita, and Larry (the cameraman) are driving to Punxsutawney, Phil reveals that he is afraid that “Somebody is going to see [him] interviewing a groundhog and think [he doesn’t] have a future,” which, by the way, is a beautiful, ironic foreshadowing to what is about to happen: His interview with the groundhog is his only future for a very long time.

Phil, once again, displays his arrogance at the hotel; he objects to the lodgings because they were not up to Phil’s standards. Larry calls him a “Prima Donna.” Rita tells Phil she booked him at a lovely bed & breakfast. Phil is shocked but happily replies,

You know, I think this is one of the traits of a really good producer. Keep the talent happy.”

“Did he actually call himself the talent?” (Larry)

Like most people, Phil wants other people to believe he is important; for a brief moment he thinks he has succeeded, until Larry knocks Phil off the self-created pedestal.

The next day Phil wakes up to Sonny & Cher’s classic song “I Got You Babe.” He mocks the DJs, double-talks the kind guest, and passive-aggressively insults the elderly owner of the bed & breakfast: “Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chit chat?” When she asks about his checking out, Phil responds, “Chance of departure today, 100%.” Phil does not bother to hide his contempt for the town or its people.

The rest of the day doesn’t go much better. He ignores a homeless man; he refuses to engage with Ned Ryerson. He does a horrible job reporting on the groundhog. The high-lights of the day for the viewers are when Karma seems to get its revenge on Phil: He steps into an icy puddle; they try to leave Punxsutawney only to return because of the storm Phil said would not happen; he tries to take a hot shower, but there is only cold water. We chuckle because Phil gets what he deserves, a horrible day in Punxsutawney.

The exposition to Phil’s character is perfect. He is arrogant, rude, and cynical, and no matter how hard he tries to get respect, no one takes Phil seriously. As viewers, we don’t like him, nor should we. He is the guy we all love to hate and laugh at when he gets hit with the Karma stick. We don’t let ourselves see that Phil is merely covering up his insecurities with sarcasm and aloofness.

The rising action begins the next day when Phil starts the time loop; it should be February 3, but the day begins exactly the same as the previous day: The same song plays; he runs into the same kind guest; the owner asks the same questions. Phil starts to wonder if everyone is crazy or if he is having déjà vu. He tells the owner, “I’d say the chance of departure is 80%, 75-80.” When he questions Rita about the date, Rita thinks he’s drunk. Phil says, “Drunk’s more fun.”

When he tries to get an emergency line, they tell him to try tomorrow. He questions them, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” I don’t know why, but that line makes me laugh really hard every time.

He realizes that he repeated February 2, but no one else experienced the time loop. He breaks a pencil and puts it by the radio. The next day, 6 am hits and the song plays again: “Then put your little hand in mine, ’cause there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb. Babe. I got you babe.” The pencil has returned to its unbroken state.

Phil now realizes the time loop is not a fluke. I love the sequences that follow this realization because I think we would all be tempted to follow in Phil’s footsteps, or at least daydream about how reckless we would be if we were presented with the same situation.

This time loop serves as the inciting action that activates Phil’s hedonistic choices, beautifully displayed in the diner while he eats donuts, drinks coffee out of the carafe, and smokes cigarettes. He decides he is “a god. Not the God…[he] doesn’t think.” His arrogance perpetuates this perception. He indulges in all pleasures because “If there were no tomorrow, there’d be no consequences. We could do whatever we wanted.”

After a number of superficial conquests, Phil sets his sights on Rita. He works hard to discover all of her likes and dislikes in order to manipulate Rita’s affection. It ends bitterly unsatisfactory when Rita slaps his face over and over again finally to exclaim, “I could never love anyone like you, Phil, because you’ll never love anyone but yourself.” To this, Phil responds with his first truthful statement in the movie: “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.” It is at this moment that we finally understand Phil; his arrogance, his manipulation, his lies were all a cover-up for an insecure man who was merely trying to find something outside of himself that would make him feel valuable.

Failing to acquire Rita’s love, which would mean he was lovable, sends Phil into a suicidal tailspin: “I’ll give you a winter prediction. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be gray. And it’s going to last you for the rest of your life.” His depression is palpable. Phil decides to kill himself and the groundhog, believing it will end the time loop. He says goodbye to Rita: “I’ve come to the end of me, Rita. There’s no way out now.” This begins the difficult suicide scenes. His utter desolation painfully displays across the screen. We think Phil will be a tragic hero; however, it is a false climax and resolution. Phil wakes up every morning at 6 am to the same song.

Watching him commit suicide over and over again shifts our emotional attachment to Phil. We no longer hate him; we now feel sorry for his despondency and want him to find a way to heal his pain.

He finally reaches out to Rita with the truth: “I wake up every day right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Sadly, Phil reveals that he has become only a shell of a man: “It doesn’t make any difference. I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist anymore.” His truthfulness, even though Rita doesn’t believe him, strikes a chord with Rita and us. She decides to spend the day and night with Phil to see what happens. Close to midnight, she states a simple truth that proves to be the true turning point of the story for Phil: “Well, sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don’t know Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it.” He responds with humor, “Gosh you’re an upbeat lady.” But it resonates. Is life really about how a person chooses to look at it?

Phil finally has the courage to tell Rita how he feels about her, albeit while she is sleeping:

“What I wanted to say was, I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you something happened to me. I never told you, but…I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.”

There is nothing more moving than a man who admits he needs and wants to become a better person. We can all identify in some respect to the emptiness of the pleasure principle or the despondency of the same-shit-different-day futility. We all want to leave the emptiness behind, but how? The beauty of this movie is that it answers that question. We watch Phil become that better man–not by having someone fix him, but by making choices to fix and improve himself.

At 6 am, Phil wakes up alone again, but his awakening to a new life is obvious as soon as he opens his eyes. We see it acted out when he hands over all his money to the homeless man. Later that night, Phil sees him again, but struggling to walk. Phil brings him to the hospital where the old man dies. He demands to see his charts to know the cause of death. The nurse replies, “Sometimes people just die.” Phil says, “Not today.” My heart breaks as Phil’s compassion overflows for this man. He attempts to save the old man’s life in every conceivable way, but he fails each time. Instead of giving up, Phil puts his compassionate energy into making a positive difference with the people he can help.

The futility of life becomes a distant memory for Phil and us. I always ask myself at this point, who can I help today? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? When a movie helps us examine our own lives, it is a powerful inspirational tool, not just entertainment.

The last time loop sequence shows how Phil takes advantage of the newly realized gift of time he has received. He learns to play the piano, to ice-sculpt, and to speak French. His new purpose and vision of life is presented in his coverage of the groundhog ceremony: “Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life….I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

Although Rita is still the woman he loves, he sees his place in the community as his greater purpose. She asks him, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” He responds with “I’d love to. Can I have a rain check? I have some errands I have to run.” What should have been the attainment of his goal, Rita seeking his company, is only a benefit to his new life. Phil, asking for a rain check, shows he now has respect for himself and his purpose in life. Phil doesn’t need approval from anyone else; he, and he alone, completed himself.

Of all his “errands” my favorite is when he catches the little boy falling out of a tree. Phil hurts his back and the child runs away: “What do you say, you little brat? You have never thanked me! I’ll see you tomorrow.” This one errand shows Phil’s growth the most. The fact that he would do it all again for a child who is ungrateful shows his character shift from selfish arrogance to self-fulfillment: His reward is in the act itself, not in the praise.

Groundhog DayBy the end of the day Phil has helped just about everyone in the community. He has won Rita’s love because he is now a good man who believes in himself. We know the transformation is complete, the climax of the story, when he accepts his life as it is, with or without the time loop: “No matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.” True happiness comes from unconditional acceptance of the path we are on and sharing that acceptance with others.

Unbelievably, the next morning the song plays again: “I got you babe.” But this time, Rita’s hand turns off the radio. Phil is in shock: “Something is different.” Rita wonders, “Good or bad?” Phil responds, “Anything different is good. But this could be real good.” He realizes that the time loop has ended. He has finally figured out how to move forward: “Do you know what today is? Today is tomorrow. It happened. You’re here.” We anticipate that Phil’s resolution will fill his days with happiness.

His final comment is my favorite: “It was the end of a very long day. Is there anything I can do for you today?” After a lifetime of wanting other people to do things for him, he realizes that doing things for other people brings meaning to his life. We know he will continue to live his life that way because now he wants to take care of Rita’s needs.

In our current world of entitlement and self-gratification, we need Groundhog Day now more than ever. In the words of Danny Rubin, the brilliant mind behind the script, the best lesson of the movie is this:

The absolutely worst day of Phil’s life took place under the exact same conditions as the absolutely best day of Phil’s life. The best day and the worst day were the same day. In fact, a whole universe of experiences proved to be possible on this single day. The only difference was Phil himself, what he noticed, how he interpreted his surroundings, and what he chose to do.

This is an extremely empowering message. It suggests that, like Phil, we need not be the victims of our own lives, and that the power to change our fate, to change our experience of a single day, rests within ourselves. No matter what cycle we are stuck inside, the power to escape is already present within us. . . .

The world changed because Phil changed. That means that the difference to us between a bad day and a good day may not be the day, but may be the way we approach the day. (How To Write Groundhog Day)

I hope I have helped you understand why Groundhog Day is my favorite movie. May it empower you to approach each day from this point on with a sense of joy and purpose.