Monday, July 13, 2009

More comments... reading, Chrysler, smoking, a social experiment, zinnias

"Only one-third of American students are reading up to age level," Nancy was relating to me from an article in the Kansas City Star. I felt a blog coming on.

I think we've all known this fact in general to be true for a long time. And, it is no secret there is a growing disparity in achievement levels between the (educated) haves and (under-educated) have-nots. Media outlets looking for quick, easy answers blame teachers, schools, school boards, politicians while side-stepping a crucial factor. It's also very much a home problem. Unquestionably, there are a few bad teachers out there and some schools that are poorly run, maintained, or equipped - but I wager those numbers are dwarfed by the enormity of the home problem.

If all students came to the classroom ready to learn - with a good attitude and preparation, well-rested and nourished, we would see enormous strides in reading achievement. And it would not matter how old or decrepit the school building is, or how inexperienced the teacher. Attitude and preparation? By that, I refer to parental encouragement, to the child developing an understanding from parent(s) that schooling is crucial to their hopes for a brighter tomorrow, that teachers are the good guys - not adversaries. One last comment, one that is heard frequently but worth repeating ~ children need to be read to, beginning at a very early age. Period. Not only for developing cognitive learning skills and curiosity, but for child/adult bonding.


My family used to be a Chrysler family. Back to the days when Dodge was the "farmer's car." (The photo at right is of my Grandfather Hackney's 1926 Dodge.) I've had a number of Chrysler products in the past but at present we own two so-called imports - vehicles with non US nameplates but assembled in America using components from all over the world, including our own country.

Not too long ago, while looking at full page ad for Chrysler products; I saw that none shown fit our needs and budget. Then more recently I read an analytical report asserting that four of the country's five most over-priced vehicles are Chrysler products. I'm beginning to wonder why the US government, then Fiat, would throw good money after bad. Fiat better have some darn good ideas, and much more reliable products than the Fiat I owned in the early 70s!


Smoking is stupid. It's expensive. It's deathly unhealthy. It's smelly and annoying. Expensive plus unhealthy plus smelly and annoying equals stupid. OK, we should all have the right to do stupid things. But not at the expense of my health and my pocketbook.


I recently followed what a favorite columnist labeled a "social capital experiment" with great interest, and with admiration for all those who took part. It took place in the tiny town of Whiting, Kansas. Cheryl Unruh's Flyover People column in the Emporia Gazette reported on it quite nicely: Obviously this experiment is far from a Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism. If, however, these selfless, community building efforts equate to socialism of any kind at all, I am for it. Bring it on, - and just imagine the effects of thousands people working and sweating together to rebuild their towns and cities without waiting for big government to do it for them!


For the first time in years, maybe even forever, we planted old-fashioned, full-sized zinnias in a flower bed (the one just outside our kitchen to patio sliding door). They are gorgeous, and so colorful - and for the first time in recent memory we have goldfinches visiting us! What a delight to look up from my bowl of breakfast cereal to that view! Why didn't we do that before?


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Memo: To a Long Dead Poet

I Don’t Hear America Singing Anymore, Walt

You heard American singing their varied carols -
The mechanics,
The carpenters,
The brick masons,
The boatmen,
The shoemakers, wood-cutters and ploughboys
And the mothers and young wives.
Their songs you heard were blithe and strong and delicious.

Walt, I’m sad to say we don’t sing much anymore.
We tweet…
We blog…
We text…
We email…
We are enslaved by credit card-sized communication and entertainment devices, receiving the information and digitized music we alone wish to hear.
But we don’t sing much. Why should we?

Singing laborers? On the job? No Walt, that’s not permitted now.
Not by the boss,
Not by fellow cubicle-dwellers,
Not by OSHA.
We’d be too self-conscious to sing, anyway, not possessing a pleasing, well-modulated voice that would bring praise from all blessed to be in its presence.
Singing is out the the question.

We don’t have shady front porches any more, Walt -
No rain-weathered rocking chairs,
No squeaking porch swings,
No foot stools for the little ones,
No place or time for aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors.
No place or time for the old stories and songs and hymns.
No place or time for guitars and mandolins and fiddles and autoharps served up with lemonade or sweetened ice tea or Uncle George’s home-made "special drink for the menfolk".

Where are the porches you ask?
Replaced by concrete stoops with straw Welcome mats from WalMart - and security service signs warning that your every move is monitored in some dark, secret dungeon far away.

The parlor? That semi-sacred room where tiny feet dared tread only if accompanied by authorized and responsible adult kinfolk? That parlor with the well used, out of tune upright piano with a B-flat below middle C which sticks for everybody but Cousin Maude? Topped by the yellowed hand-made doily from the old country and faded sepia portraits of stern ancestors that only a few great aunts can identify? No, Walt - parlors are a thing of times long past.
Homes have dens and offices,
breakfast nooks and formal dining rooms,
multi-media rooms,
master bedrooms, walk-in closets and palatial indoor privies.
A place for conversation? Oh yes, we go to $tarbuck$ for that.
We don’t sing there either.

What about you, Walt Whitman?

What if you were living in these electronic times?
Would you be a poet?
Would you sing?
Or would you blog?

Sometimes I even wonder if Woody or Leadbelly would have bothered or felt the need to write songs.

I wonder.

Maybe I will blog about that. And perhaps I’ll hum a favorite old hymn tune while I do it...

but very, very softly

"I Hear America Singing" is a short poem honoring 19th century laborers by Walt Whitman. Read this classic online at:

© frank thompson