Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Heroes Who Only Pee Once a Day


Yesterday was Memorial Day and it was an easy day to think about heroes of the military variety, those brave souls who put on the uniform of our country and pick up a weapon to go do whatever we ask of them to help keep our nation safe.  But just a week ago or so, we saw heroes of another stripe, bloodied teachers corralling and comforting little kids who’d just gone through that roaring, screeching, blasting tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.  A picture I saw on the internet featured the lower leg of a young teacher with part of a desk piercing her calf.  It had happened, apparently, when she threw her body over those of her students, trying to protect them from the wind, trying to keep them from being sucked up into the vortex of this terrifying storm and whisked away to Kansas or to their deaths.

We should be getting used to seeing this kind of bravery from teachers.  We saw it happen at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children were murdered and six teachers and administrators, as well, including a beautiful, young teacher named Victoria Soto who hid her kids in cabinets, then lied to the murdering young man, saying her students were in the gymnasium.  Before heading to the gym, he shot and killed Victoria Soto, ending the young life of this new teacher who had done what she needed to do to protect her students.

This past year, bank-rolled by big, conservative money, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin set about dismantling the teacher’s union in that state.  Breaking the backs of worker’s unions in America is what the right-wing wants to do.  Funny, that’s exactly what Adolph Hitler wanted to do in Germany, too. Talk radio morons went on and on about teachers being overpaid, only having to work nine months out of the year, only having to work until 3:30pm each day, blah, blah, blah.  Clearly, these guys don’t know many teachers.  I do.

I know lots and lots of teachers. They all have Bachelor’s degrees; most have their Master’s degree; some have their doctorate. They go to work early and they get home late.  They grade papers at home, have conference calls between dinner and bedtime, put projects for their students together after work, and sometimes pluck troubled  students out of dangerous home situations.  Weekends are often taken up with some kind of school competition, Legos Robotics, Math Mania, or some such event.  Along in there, somewhere, they manage to mow the yard and walk the dog.  They meet with parents who are often angry or resentful and put up with student trouble-makers who manage to keep the rest of the class in some kind of turmoil so that nobody gets to learn. Some of the teachers I know have been hit, kicked, pinched, cursed out, spit on, and head-butted.  Lunch break, for them, is usually about 2pm, and right after that, they get to pee.  And, for most of them, that’s the only time for the whole day!  Sound like a job you’d like to have?

And still, through all of that, they love their students – are thrilled when all the gears grind a certain way until that CLICK! happens and they know their kids are learning.  My friend Sylvia taught biology in middle school.  Her first year was frustrating because there was so much to know and to do, plus, there were two boys she just couldn’t get to connect, no matter how appealing or interesting the subject matter was to the rest of the class.  Late one night, Sylvia slid on her butt down a hill behind her house and scooped creek water into a jar, which she then took with her to school the next day.  Carefully dragging out the microscopes, she paired the students up, smeared some creek water on slides and set up each pair of students so they could see just what was going into their mouths when they drank out of the creek their Mom told them not to. She put the two boys together and they took turns squinting into the microscope.  Walking down the aisle between the lab tables, Sylvia heard one of the boys whisper to his friend, “JESUS – LOOK AT ALL THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS IN THERE!”  It was at that moment that Sylvia knew she had two new students hooked on science and biology.  And she did.  She became their favorite teacher, and they became two of her best students.

It makes no sense to me that the people we entrust to teach our children should bear the scorn of the nation because they have the absurd notion that they deserve to make a living wage.  The crooks on Wall St. who drove our economy into a ditch make millions and millions using other people’s money and nobody seems to get bent out of shape over that.  And, if teacher’s unions are what we need to help bring about a fair wage, health insurance and a decent retirement for teachers, I’m all for it.  They deserve it.  MORE than deserve it.  Collective bargaining is better than no ability to bargain at all.  Indeed, if we really loved teachers like we like to say we do, we would double their salaries and halve their class sizes.

As I mentioned, I know lots and lots of teachers. My partner is one of them.  They are the heroes who only pee once a day.  When I think of the teachers I know, I don’t know a single one who would not have done what those lion-hearted young teachers did to save their kids from harm, whether it was taking a bullet to the heart or a spear through the leg.  God bless them all.






Educated Women Will Save This Place


It was hot and HUMID in southern Oregon yesterday. Horribly humid. Like Dallas. Or Houston. Or Tulsa. In the summer. Except that yesterday was May5th, a day usually sunny and bright and in the midi-70’s with a light breeze, perhaps.  Relatives of mine in Texas said it has been cold at night there recently.  Really cold.  It made me think, again, about this whole process of climate change and what we have been doing to our home, Mother Earth, for so long that now the wheels of nature have begun to grind in the other direction.  We have major hurricanes where we don’t expect them and are not prepared for.  Earthquakes in the middle of the nation.  Sinkholes swallowing up entire houses.  Drought and parched earth or flooding and homelessness.  It is hard to think that we don’t deserve some culpability in this, as we drill and drill and drill into the earth to extract whatever we can to build whatever we can or to go wherever we want to go whenever we feel like it.

Mitt Romney spoke at some college commencement the other day and, apparently, what he told them to do, to be successful adults, is to have as many children as they could as quickly as they could.  Really, Mitt?  REALLY?  Over 7 billion people already inhabit this planet, which is groaning under the weight of all of us and all of our stuff.  Aside from having to figure out how to keep everyone fed and clothed, what about clean water?  Education?  Healthcare?  Old age?  We are now living longer than ever, statistically.  Does it make sense that we should keep procreating just because we can?  It reminds me of what Ed Deever, our nextdoor neighbor from my childhood, said when their famiy got too big for their small house.  “Well, it appears that we have just screwed ourselves out of place to live.”  Indeed, they had.  And so have we, here on Planet Earth.

I get to talk to some really interesting people on my TV show, BACK PAGE.  A couple of years ago, I interviewed a brilliant woman named Robin Morris Collin who, along with her equally brilliant husband, Will, had put together a three-volume encyclopedia on sustainability.  Both of them are professors at Willamette University.  Toward the end of the interview, I asked Robin, “What’s the one thing that would turn it all around for all of us?”  I assumed I’d be hearing “Ride your bike,” or “Recycle your paper, cans and glass,” or, even, “Change out those lightbulbs.”  But I heard none of those.  Without hesitation, Robin looked at me and said, “The education of women.”  And she is right.  Educated women have more say in their lives, are curious about the world and how it works.  Educated women organize to make changes that need to happen.  And, most of all, educated women tend to give birth less often than uneducated women who become baby factories in some of our poorer nations.  Thus, we wind up with children who are starving or dying of disease because the uneducated woman figures she can’t so no to her husband who is her sole means of support.

And, even if all those children we produce manage to live until adulthood, what kind of world are we leaving to them?  A world with poisoned water?  Unsustainable crops because of the unpredictable weather?  Oil pipelines and gas wells leaking out all over the place, contaminating our land, rivers and oceans?  Water they can’t drink?  Genetically-modified food they can’t eat?  Is this really what we want for our future generations?

A few months ago, I sat next to a young man, an oil guy, on a plane from Tulsa.  “Tell me what you think of fracking,” I said to him.  “Absolutely safe,” he replied.  “Really?” I asked.  “Oh, yes,” he said, “100% safe.”  I leaned in a little closer.  “Would you drink water from a well close to where they were doing fracking yourself?” I asked.  “Absolutely,” he replied, “I’d have no qualms about drinking that water.  It’s 100% safe.  Absolutely.”  I leaned in even closer until my nose was just a few inches from his.  I looked him squarely in the face; I made him look at me.  “Would you feed it to your young children?” I asked.  He blinked.  Then he blinked again.  Sweat popped out on his forehead.  He didn’t give me an answer, but he didn’t need to.  His face told me what he couldn’t say.  I know I kind of bullied him, tricked him, even.  I feel a little bit bad about that. But not much.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely.  100%.