A KINDERGARTNER NAMED “ROVER”

Hannah

Going to kindergarten on the first day was a pretty scary thing back in the long-ago fifties when I went. One reason was that most of us including me had never been to anything like school except for vacation Bible school before we were five years old. Now days, children start in at the Day Care Center when they are a couple months old and never spend much time at all at home during the day. By the time that first day of kindergarten comes along they have a couple of years of pre-school under their belt. For the modern day kindergartner the experience could be described pretty much the same as my father used to say as he headed out the door to catch the morning commuter train, “just another day at the office”.

But when I went to kindergarten that first day of school, well, it was nothing less than traumatic. When I was five I had just gotten to the point where I could spend a good portion of my day outside roaming around the neighborhood doing what kids back then did in a very safe environment. I admit I won the birth lottery. I was five years old when the country was pretty safe for five year olds. My parents were part of the middle class, upwardly mobile and such. They had just won the war to make the whole world relatively safe, let alone our neighborhood. My Dad went to work and my mom stayed home. In fact most of the mom’s stayed home and one of their bigger jobs was to make sure the neighborhood was safe.

They did that by keeping an eye out, watching what was going on outside and inside the house. If I was down the street or at my friend’s house, an adult was never very far from a call of help away. I really liked my life before the age of five. I didn’t pack up my stuff in a backpack every day to head off to pre=school to hang with kids and adults that I “sort of” knew. I headed out for adventure with my pals- building forts in vacant lots (not too many tea parties for me), playing ball and riding my bike with playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes to sound like a motor cycle. No organized activities, no play dates (what on earth was a play date?) for this kid. All of which is to say that the first day of kindergarten was a real bummer.

There I was in my new first-day-of-school dress with only a few kids I knew and a teacher who I absolutely did not know. Gone were the carefree days, making a tent with a blanket thrown over the clothes line, wearing my jeans and play shoes (although I really liked my new Buster Brown school shoes). Even recess was a bummer. The “playground” was nothing like the playground of my neighborhood haunts. It was just a flat asphalt and grass “yard” with a couple jungle gyms and a basketball hoop. Big whoop-not a tree to climb in sight. Which brings me to our pal “Rover”.

My friend had a collie whose name was Rover. Back in the day people actually named their dogs dog-names, like Rover or Spike, Lassie, Duke or Bowser. Rover did exactly what a dog of such a name would be expected to do. He roved around the neighborhood. There was no leash law at that time which gets back to the fact that the moms were in charge of neighborhood safety. Nobody had a dangerous dog because it just was not allowed by the moms to let a dangerous dog rove the neighborhood. And nobody cared much where the dogs did their “business” because you would have to clean up after one dog or another, yours or the neighbor’s, in any case. So there was no need for a leash law which made dogs like Rover very happy I am sure.

Everyone walked to school back then-no buses, no parent rides. So Rover came to kindergarten with us that first day. Not just that day, but every day. My dog would follow along for a while but eventually go back home. Not Rover. He stayed on a porch right outside the kindergarten door the whole time we were there. In the winter time our teacher brought a blanket and Rover had a place inside. He was part of our kindergarten class and school was just barely, well…okay.

Looking back on it Rover was quite a special dog. I doubt that many dogs have the disposition to be a member of a kindergarten class. How lucky we all were to have him. Having Rover made it considerably less scary going to school and even allowed me to relax enough to like school-just a little at first. Of course by today’s standards we, that is, our school teachers and principal could never have Rover in kindergarten-the violation of the leash law, the safety and health Codes involved, the lawyers to consult, the School Board, complaints of parents…the objections are never ending. And today kids have all that pre-school background so why on earth would any of them be afraid of going to kindergarten? They have all been prepared for the big day when they will succeed with all due diligence and lack of fear. Why on earth would any kid need a Rover today?

No one can turn the clock back and no one can bring their dog to school today. Life is different for many of our children today. Many of us recognize, that some children do not come to us emotionally prepared and with the need for some sort of Rover that they can hang onto…just long enough to maybe make school and learning a little bit more comfortable. Perhaps the challenge for educators is to find the modern day” Rover” to have in our school.

Dr. Carolyn Koos

FUTURE GENERATIONS: A SEA CHANGE OF ENLIGHTENED EDUCATION?

IMG_00000118 I have been reading about what economists refer to as the “dependency ratio” or in simple terms, the number of workers in the economy compared to the number of children and retired people they are required to support. It is not surprising that economists have quantified through this ratio what common sense tells us i.e. that the number of old people as a percentage of our population is increasing dramatically. If this is quite apparent in the United States, it is even more dramatic in the rest of the world. The dependency ratio in Europe, China and Japan will increase significantly more than in in the United States in the next 20 to 30 years. In large part this is the result of progress in the field of medicine and a much longer expected life span. This good occurrence then leads to a huge problem: how will the U.S. and the world economy support all these old folks?

            Which leads me to think of other instances where a good development in the evolution of human-kind resulted in a great problem. The first that comes to mind is the invention of dynamite by Alfred Nobel. Nobel was widely known as the “merchant of death” for his invention of something which could result in the killing of more people in less time than ever before. Of course, explosives also gave rise to the ability to construct all sorts of tunnels and roadways and other good improvements of great benefit to people. The other is the splitting of the atom which gave us nuclear energy but also the atomic bomb and the potential to destroy human kind totally. The problem of an ever increasing population of idle old people which results from all the great improvements in medicine, life style, and health care could become much more vexing than either dynamite or nuclear energy.

Some economists predict that it will not be feasible to both maintain benefits for poor people and also take care of old people. This is true under the current state of world affairs. The political leaders of today as well as of the near future will be constantly faced with the Hobbesian choice between food for the old people and food stamps for the poor. But it won’t be quite as dramatic as, “do we allow old people to starve or poor people to starve”- at least in the foreseeable future.

Well then, what a bleak outlook for human-kind. I suppose because I am a member of the baby boomer generation and, to some degree, the cause of this dilemma, I could take the position that even with the advance in life expectancy, it is not my problem because I won’t live long enough to see the full effect of the looming tragedy. Unfortunately, that idea offers little solace or hope for my children or grandchildren. Further, as an educator, my entire professional life has been an attempt to make things better for future generations. I would think that I should at least take a stab at what every pageant contestant seems to include in her speech, “I’m for world peace”. So here is my two cents worth, to coin a phrase.

The economic predictions are only relevant if the vast majority of human-kind stays the same as it is. If there are sea changes in the way people and governments operate, the predictions change. For example if people did not have to engage in and be constantly prepared for war, there would be no problem in both taking care of old people and helping the poor. Our military budget if utilized for more positive endeavors could easily maintain the predicted old-age dependency ratio as well as make sure poor people do not starve. Of course world leaders have been talking of this for literally generations. I have little hope that evil will exit the world scene any time soon. We will always be in a contest with evil to some degree or other. However, it is just that…to some degree or other. If the fight could be somehow lessened, the degree diminished, then the dire predictions fail.

Another example is, if the vast disparity in wealth among people and countries could be somehow diminished the predictions fail. Once again leaders at all levels have been exposing and decrying the greed that places extreme wealth in the hands of a privileged few while millions in lower economic spheres suffer. Greed as well as constant warring are seemingly intractable problems.

I have learned over the years that there are two circumstances by which people change for the better. The first is that they become so miserable and desperate that change is the only option. In other words the pain is so great that they have to change. The other is that they become enlightened through education, and they perceive that unless change is made, future pain will result. I see examples of these two types of changes occurring every single day with young people at school. One child perceives that unless good character and responsibility are maintained the future is bleak and he or she changes, while another child ignores responsibility and character, and only changes when the pain of consequences is inflicted.

The solution for future generations is not in some political miracle or what is known in ancient Greek theatre as a “Deus ex Machina”, but in large part in enlightened education. The problem of the dependency ratio will not go away. What are the possibilities? To ignore the problem and only change when the pain of poor people and old people starving while billionaires luxuriate becomes too great to ignore further; or, to begin today to make a sea change in human behavior through an enlightened education? It would seem clear that the latter is the better choice.

Dr. Carolyn Koos

MUSICAL GARDEN, the Art of Planting Seeds

garden

I attended a concert that my husband sang in with his Glee Club this past weekend, and included in the concert was a performance by a group of high school kids who are called the “Unaccompanied Minors”. It brought back memories of my days as a music teacher. The group was really excellent and performed acappella doing songs that had been arranged by students as well as their chorus director.

My memory was spurred by the fact that this concert was on a Saturday night that the young singers arrived at about 6:30 for a warm-up and pre-show rehearsal and left at about 10:30 after the performance. And of course the Director who looked to be in her 20’s was also there for the entire time. I remembered that this director who appeared to be an excellent musician and teacher had put in a full week of classes and rehearsals at her school (this was not the main choir, but a small group of about twenty singers) and that this time of year she was also involved in preparation for a Spring concert as well as most likely performing at graduation. There are also other small group performances and performances that require her attention outside of normal school hours. All of which is to say that I was reminded of the amount of time and energy that a position as choral director requires.

For those of you who have never imagined what it may be like to be a teacher in the performing arts, allow me to briefly fill you in. Choral directors band directors, music teachers, drama teachers do not have much “quiet time” during a typical school day. It is the nature of the subject that one is performing all day long, either at a piano or standing on a conducting podium or on a stage. The school hours are only the minimum required to be successful. One is always in preparation for the next concert or play or musical. The performing arts teacher also serves as the play/music selection committee, the producer, the arranger and the technical advisor for performances. Most of these teachers are excellent artists in their own right, and you might think that teaching would allow them to pursue their own performing achievements. That is usually not the case. No teacher worth their salt has any time for those outside activities except if they squeeze something in during the summer.

So, are my memories only of long, demanding days of rehearsal and nights and weekends working? Absolutely not. I remember all the wonderful performances, the accolades received for an entertaining event. But most of all I remember insecure kids who came to me with a flicker of talent and not much confidence who blossomed into self-confident and interesting as well as interested young adults. All the sacrifice was worth it but make no mistake, the performing arts teachers in our schools, such as the young director I observed this weekend, are all making sacrifices for the children they serve. Thank you to all of them.

Dr. Carolyn Koos

Eleanor Roosevelt ”Condemned War on Cops”

wa65Here are a few stats from The New York Times (December 30, 2014). Nationwide deaths of police officers on the job increased 25% in 2014, fifty by way of firearms; and very disturbing is the fact that ambush killings went from 5 to 15. As of this afternoon, we can add the death of New York Officer Brian Moore, ambushed in Queens on Saturday night. Officer Moore was 25 years old, the son and nephew of NYPD officers.

New York is the safest large city in the country. Murder rates have plummeted in the past 20 years. But the murder rate for New York Police Officers since December, if one includes the ambush of officers Ramos and Liu, is increasing dramatically. And, if one goes across the Hudson and includes the ambush of Jersey City officer Melvin Santiago last July, that totals four in less than a year in the New York Metro area alone. I am only discussing the assassinations that were successful, not including the officers that were shot or hit in the head with a hatchet who miraculously survived. What is going on? Indeed, what is going on! By all accounts attacks on and murders of police officers are increasing dramatically in the past months.

I have heard various spokespersons, that is, people who have a national forum be they politician, news commentator, religious leader or others express the opinion that we (the country) must first fix the underlying conditions of poverty and unemployment which are the root causes of violence and defiance of authority. I am reminded of a conversation that Eleanor Roosevelt had with Winston Churchill after World War II concerning how to maintain peace in the world. “By an American-Anglo alliance”, was Churchill’s answer. The great humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt responded that the answer was, “to raise the living standard for all peoples of the world.”

Yes indeed, poverty and the human condition have fueled many a war and riot. The slippery slope here, the illogical and terribly incorrect conclusion, however, is to blame poverty and inhumane conditions for the killing of a police officer. The blame for the killing lies totally upon the person who pulls the trigger or swings the hatchet. The message should be and must be that it is wrong in this country to assassinate a police officer; there is no excuse, and there is no justification. Our leaders from the President to so called community leaders and other politicians have diluted this message by stating in the same breath, “This is wrong. BUT we must address the conditions that lead to this behavior.” Implicitly blaming the murder on abject human conditions is wrong. This sort of rhetoric only fuels the fire of those immoral, amoral and criminal minds who are looking for an excuse to vent their hatred. It comes across to deranged minds as, “I am miserable, therefore I am justified in taking out a cop to get my revenge.”

The message must be in our schools, our houses of worship, and our political forums that it is wrong to kill or attempt to harm police officers in this country period. This must be the first order of business. Until that message comes home loud, clear and unconditionally, fixing poverty or joblessness will not stop the war on police that seems to be gaining strength.

You see, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, she said that we must address the human condition in order to maintain peace; she did not say the Germans were justified because of their dire condition in 1939, in starting World War II. She would have and the leaders of today must make it crystal clear that one’s perceived misery does not justify starting a war on the cops. By condemning Hitler’s war Eleanor Roosevelt condemned war on the peace-keepers including police officers.

Dr. Carolyn Koos