I Have a Gripe

July 22, 2019

Analog Skills Still Matter

Filed under: Education,Music Education — alvb1227 @ 3:02 am
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In seventh grade, students were required to do a rotation that included wood shop, print shop, home economics, and general music. I already had a love of music, but it was print shop that would unknowingly at the time, put me on a path that included a love of print technology and a career that included prepress and print workflow development and troubleshooting.

My first assignment in print shop? Make a ruler. I had no idea how important that assignment would be in the grand scheme of my life. I also hand carved a printing block with my initials. I learned it had to be created backwards so it would print properly.

In college some of my favorite classes were print production and typography. We learned about the technology of print, but we also learned how to do things “old school,” as it was called. We were taught it was important to learn the foundation of how things were done in order to understand and appreciate how today’s latest technology worked. In college I was on the staff of The Setonian. I learned how to run type galleys and set 2pt rule by hand. More manual print production.

So why am I telling you all this?

The Girl Scouts recently announced a new badge program. I was a Girl Scout from Brownie to first year Cadette. When the troop I was in disbanded, I volunteered as an assistant leader for several years. I loved being involved in the Girl Scouts and have wonderful memories. I still have all my badges and sashes.

So I was incredibly disappointed when their new badge program focuses heavily on STEM.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of STEM education. While I am a huge fan of technology and have spent a good part of my career involved in Information Technology, SEO, and web analytics, it is because of my analog foundation that began at the Belleville School System I learned to appreciate today’s technology.

When I commented on their announcement their LinkedIn manager said they still offer programs in the outdoors and the arts. I looked up their new options, however, and they are incredibly limited.

Time and time again studies have shown the arts play a key role in a child’s development and teaches critical thinking, among other skills. I can’t imagine my life without music in throughout my public school career that began with choir and band in fifth grade.

It isn’t just about learning to sing or playing an instrument.


Me working on my spinning wheel.

Playing an instrument, singing, participating in fine arts, crocheting, weaving, yarn spinning – all things I do – are analog skills. They get kids away from technology, and provide a relaxing and creative outlets.

I will tell you these kids want access to these outlets. A few years ago I visited a Girl Scout meeting and gave a yarn spinning demonstration. They were fascinated. But nowadays everyone is focused on STEM.

Well, here are two examples of analog skills at NASA. Yes, NASA.

We’ve all been watching specials about the 50th anniversary of the Moon Shot. Many of those at the Space Center would double-check their math work using a slide ruler. How many kids today even know what a slide ruler is? Even the Apollo missions went into space with a centuries-old piece of equipment on board – a sextant.

Both area analog tools that play important roles in the most technology advanced department in the country.

So for those of you who have children and continue to push STEM education, think about the importance of analog skills, which includes the arts. You never know where it will lead. Hopefully it will teach an appreciation for more than all things digital.



September 3, 2017

Back to School Time

Filed under: Education — alvb1227 @ 9:01 pm
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It’s the time of year parents wait for with breathless anticipation – back to school time.

While parents rush out to pick up school supplies and new clothes for their kids, teachers are doing something very similar – buying school supplies. Not for themselves, but for their classrooms.

No, I’m not kidding.

My husband was a teacher for 25 years. And each year we purchased more and more supplies for his classroom. Everything from pens and paper, to Clorox wipes and paper towels. And he wasn’t alone. According to a 2016 article in Time, most teachers spend $500 per year for classroom supplies and one in 10 spend over $1,000 per year.

Now any regular readers here know I have a very strong opinion about the hard work teachers do. They are expected to be teachers, parents, diplomats, nurses, psychologists, disciplinarians, and more. They often lend money when kids are sent with nothing for lunch and offer a caring ear to listen to children’s problems. Add to that they often put themselves in harm’s way when school shootings occur, teachers are literally laying down their lives for their “kids.”

And now almost all of them spend money on basic necessities for their classroom.

Most commonly needed supplies include:

  • Paper
  • Pens
  • Pencils/erasers
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Paper towels
  • Tissues
  • Printer paper
  • White board markers/erasers
  • Chalk
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Rubber gloves
  • Band aids/First aid kits
  • Scissors
  • Crayons
  • Sticky Notes
  • Tape

So as you pick up final supplies for your kids, offer to bring in some tissues or pens for their classroom. Or better yet, surprise your teacher with some common supplies from the those listed above.

March 7, 2017

For the Love of the Library

Filed under: Education — alvb1227 @ 5:42 pm
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librariesThis morning I decided to head to my local library to do some work. I have enjoyed going to the library since I was a child. I loved the smell of the books and the quiet space. Growing up in Belleville, I would often ride my bike to the library during the summer and stay there for hours. I even remember taking a “certified babysitter” class there. At one point, I even considered going to school for library science. But the call of journalism was too strong.

When I attended Seton Hall University, again, one of my favorite spots on campus was the library. I would find a quiet corner in the stacks to read and do my homework. Last fall I


The entrance of the Seton Hall Library. Source: Seton Hall University

headed back to the campus for Parent’s Weekend, and of course I had to visit the new library. What an amazing place! It is different building from my time as a student, but it is still a wonderful place.

This morning while working I had to stop at one point and look around. I saw a student being tutored in geometry, an elderly gentlemen helping a woman improve her English skills, people using the computers on site, and of course, people taking out books.

There are people who think the library is now passe. It is an unnecessary space that takes up tax dollars that could be used elsewhere. I completely disagree. The library provides a valuable resource for the community. From a child listening to story time, to adults attending a computer class.

So what is my gripe you might ask? That libraries today are undervalued. If you haven’t visited your local library lately, I encourage you to do so.

December 17, 2016

Education, Not Politics

“The classroom should be apolitical.”

I’ve heard this quote several times over the years from an educator I highly respect. And I agree with this statement completely. This does not mean we should not teach civics, history, or other potentially complicated topics. What this means is that the politics of the day should be checked at the door when you walk into a classroom to teach impressionable children. The opinions of the teachers should not enter the lesson plan. I believe this for both sides of the aisle.

So why do I bring this up?

A high school friend sent me an article that sent me flying.


Now regular readers of my blog know I am a huge advocate of music in public schools. My time in marching band were some of the best of my life. I had the opportunity to march at Epcot and DC. I never had the opportunity march in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an Inaugural Parade, or even Giants Stadium like other friends. But I still loved every minute of it and I cherish the memories I have.

Many schools are opting out of the opportunity to march in the Inaugural Parade. While some are citing budget restraints or other issues, some are saying, quietly, that it is related to politics.

I think this is deplorable.

Now I understand first-hand what band directors are facing today when it comes to tight budgets, time constrains, and all the other challenges that face music programs in public schools today. This is not what I am discussing here.

The chance to march in an Inaugural Parade is an opportunity few students get to experience. These teachers should not allow their personal opinions related to the election to have anything to do with denying their students this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To the band directors who are letting their sore feelings over the election prevent these kids the chance to be part of a small very club, I say shame on you.

April 30, 2014

What Ever Happened to Shop Anyway? Part Two in a Series

When I was in middle school students would do a rotation that included five different areas: wood shop, print shop, sewing, cooking, and music appreciation. I absolutely LOVED print shop. One of the first assignments we had was to create a ruler all the way down to a 32nd of an inch. It certainly wasn’t easy, but every time I come across someone who doesn’t know how to read a ruler, I think back to that assignment. Later on, we learned how to make a printing plate and we had to cut a print block out by hand. We learned why it had to be backwards and about the overall printing process. I absolutely fell in love with print! I still have that print block somewhere down in the basement with my other special things from school.

I also took all the other requirements. I made a napkin holder in wood shop, a pillow in sewing, and how to make a perfect omelet in cooking. As far as the music section – well, anyone who knows me that was far from my first or last introduction to music.

All of these classes were important. And while I didn’t become a professional seamstress or carpenter, they taught valuable lessons. Today, however, more and more schools are dropping shop classes in an effort to cut budgets, focus more on standardized testing and prepare students for college.

I grew up in a generation where many of my friends’ parents did not go to college. Those parents were proud to say “my child is the first in my family to go to college.” I remember being told as a child that college was the only way to get a good job.

While compared to college costs today, what my college bill was sounds like chump change, at the time it was certainly a lot of money. Today for a decent public college a bachelors program averages $30,000 per year – what two years at Seton Hall cost in the late 1980s. In today’s economy, what middle class family can afford that?

A few days ago I saw a story on Fox News that discussed the lack of skilled tradespeople are in short supply and can pay quite well. They also cited a statistic from the Manufacturing Institute that over 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled in 2011. This is causing some states to rethink bringing shop and skilled trade classes back to high schools.

When I was in high school, there were multiple skilled non-college-prep programs – auto shop, wood shop, beauty culture, mechanical drawing, and more. What used to come out of that wood shop (what I would see most often because it wasn’t far from the band room) was simply amazing!

Not every student should go to college or needs to go to college. And more importantly, that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. It means quite the opposite. Jobs like mechanics, pipe fitters, and welders to name a few are jobs that require critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. At the end of the day they can look at their accomplishments and see what they built with their own two hands.

I always loved the show Made in America. Hosted by John Ratzenberger, he would go to different manufacturing facilities all over the country to highlight all that is done in our nation. He has become a spokesperson of sorts for American manufacturing and skilled trades. He has even testified before Congress on the importance of supporting American manufacturing and vocational education.

Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs is an organization sponsored by The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association that helps promote skilled manufacturing trades as a career option. Their outreach is an important option for kids who are deciding what they should “be when they grow up.”

So what am I trying to say? Simply this. College isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the answer for everyone. Look at the underemployment numbers of the last few years. How many college grads do you know that are taking any job they can because they can’t find a job in their field of study. And most of those jobs do not require a college degree. Skilled trades jobs are challenging and provide great wages. Just another reason to think beyond what has become the “typical” life plan for many.

April 27, 2014

Think Beyond the Bubbles – Part One in a Series

Filed under: Education,Music Education — alvb1227 @ 1:50 pm
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Think beyond the bubblesThe more I watch the news and hear about what is going on in public education, the more annoyed I become. This post is the first in a series focusing on what I think is wrong with public education and what needs to happen to fix it. My first post addresses “thinking beyond the bubbles.”

My husband is a member of the National Association for Music Education and whenever information is sent to the house or email by them, we both read it with great interest. They currently have a push to move beyond the use of standardized tests to judge a student’s intelligence and potential. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows of my disdain for standardized tests, especially when school funding and programs are cut to focus more on testing. Well, the NAfME’s new campaign shines a light on the importance of music education and how it helps students improve in school and life development. To quote their campaign…

“Music not only impacts academic achievement, it also shapes the way our students understand themselves and the world around them. Let’s think beyond the bubbles™ and educate the whole student.”

There is nothing that frustrates me more than when I see music and arts programs cut in schools in favor of test prep, sports, or other areas a bureaucrat feels is more important. Every time a music or art program is cut, that school is telling those students what they excel in doesn’t matter and they are not important.

I’ve been told by some “it isn’t like many of those children are going to become professional musicians.” Well, probably not, but many of those football players aren’t going to the NFL either.

As I have said in multiple previous blog posts, I credit the music program in my high school with the person I have become. I learned about more than music, which I loved, but I learned about teamwork, built confidence, and responsibility, to name a few important life skills.

If you are a student, parent, board of education member, teacher, or other school advocate, I encourage you to go to the NAfME’s website and learn about this important campaign.

March 14, 2014

The Attempt to Ban “Bossy”

Filed under: Education,General Annoyances — alvb1227 @ 1:15 am
Tags: , , ,

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.”

That is a little rhyme many of us learn at a young age. Just about all of us were called names as children and sometimes that carry through to adulthood. Now, however, there is a constant barrage to homogenize the world in a sad attempt to protect children from, well, everything.

The latest attempt? To ban the word “bossy.”

This is the bright idea of Sheryl Sandberg. The reason? Because she feels it is a negative word toward girls and by middle school it reduces their self-confidence. I heard her tell a story that when she was a child one of her teachers pulled a friend of hers aside and suggest she no longer be friends with her because “she’s bossy.”

First of all, if that is what happened, that’s the teacher’s fault. That should not have been said.

Second, well, this could take awhile. Let me put on my feminazi hat for a moment.

For the most part, little girls are called “bossy.” They are trying to push their boundaries and have their voices heard. Historically, this is not an accepted behavior from girls. Think about it. When boys push their boundaries or act as extroverts, what are they called? “Boys being boys.” It is acceptable behavior.

Was I bossy as a kid? Probably. Am I bossy now? I don’t think so. Except now I’m an adult and generally for women, “bossy” turns into “bitchy” or “too aggressive.” Meanwhile, boys turn into “a strong leader” or “career-focused.” I do believe there is difference in how the genders are treated when they are children and it does affect how they progress.

But does that mean we should “ban” these words? Certainly not.

Instead, how about we teach children to stand up for themselves? How about teaching them “who cares what other people think?” By doing so, we would be empowering children to believe in themselves.

March 6, 2014

The Latest Round of SAT Changes

Filed under: Education — alvb1227 @ 2:21 pm
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I have been a long opponent of standardized tests. Like many, I think they are completely ridiculous. The day after one of these tests, is the test taker any smarter? Today’s schools “teach to the test;” often at the expense of other subjects. For the month prior to a test, classes are essentially cancelled in order to learn how to think like a test. Kids are put under an immense amount of pressure, being told regularly that their “entire life,” not to mention school funding, depends on how well they do. My husband would regularly have kids crying and vomiting in his classroom prior to these tests – in middle school! Does this all really help a child prepare for the future? Do they learn how to think for themselves or how to fill in little circles? My biggest test issue? The SATs.

Let me explain why…

When I was a kid, I was a pretty good test taker. I regularly read and wrote two or three grade levels above me. My math? Not so much. Also, I only remember tests every few years – far from what it is now.

As I got older and began to truly understand what these scores meant, I would put so much pressure on myself I developed terrible test taking anxiety. I began to do worse and worse. By my test scores, I should’ve barely graduated high school, let along college.

The worst one? The SATs.

I took that test three times and my score went down all three times. My scores? In the words of George Costanza – I’ll take them to the grave. Even my husband doesn’t know. I don’t recall any “test prep” classes like today. I took a book out of the library and read it in an effort to prepare, but other than that, I went in cold. And calculators? Forget it. As I result, I barely made it into my college of choice.

My process couldn’t have been any worse.

I took my SATs twice before my interview. Even though my grades were quite good, I was completely stressed – those scores hanging over my head like a raincloud. Then, to make things worse, I somehow was interviewed by the person who decides on sports scholarships.  If there was one thing I hated more than the SATs, it was gym. I made a career out of skipping it. Band lesson. Orchestra lesson. Test makeup. When I broke my hand freshman year and went sent to the library daily instead to shelve books, I was in heaven! You needed an excuse? I was your girl to come up with one. I found it completely useless and a waste of time. My favorite days (besides when a sub was in and we could just sit in the stands) were the days we could sign up for the weight room or we were sent outside to run laps. The teachers wouldn’t come with us, so we were left on our own. I would stick a book in my shorts waistband and when I got there, I would hide in a corner and read. Pure heaven! Now I sitting in this guy’s office and I’ll never forget his complete disdain for me when he learned I was not an athlete, but a music student, and worse yet, my SAT scores were terrible. As a result, I was wait-listed.

I took the test again and my score dropped further. Completely panicked, I asked just about every teacher, school administrator and local politician I could think of for reference letters and I wrote a letter as well. My second interview I thankfully met with a different person and was admitted. Four years later I graduated cum laude and carried a perfect 4.0 my last three semesters. This would’ve never happened if it wasn’t for my test scores and an idiot who was not interested in interviewing a music student instead of an athlete.

Let’s not forget a number of the athletes (that were on full scholarship) who could barely put two sentences together. But that’s a blog post for another day.

The entire point of this rant is that my life could’ve been completely different if not for my SAT scores and I doubt it would’ve been for the better. I am a proud graduate of Seton Hall University. To this day I still have many books from my major and use exactly what I learned in college in my job. My education was top-notch and when students I know are looking at colleges, I always advocate for SHU.

So do I think too much pressure are put on students and too much weight when it comes to college admittance due to the SATs? You bet!

Yesterday I saw a report that the test is being revised again. Some say it is for the better other say not. What is apparent to me is that this country is focusing more and more on standardized tests instead of the abilities and potential of the student; something that cannot be truly measured by filling in dots on a page.

December 8, 2013

Religious Music and Public Schools

When I was in elementary school, I loved how festive things were as we inched closer and closer to Christmas. Every class participated in decorating the school. I remember making “stained glass windows” in art class using black paper and brightly colored tissue paper. There were always two trees on either side of the stage. Each year one grade would put on a play of some sort and of course the concert.

Wow, have things changed…

Fast forward a few decades (not saying how many) and most auditoriums are bare. No trees or decorations. There was one principal I know of that would purchase poinsettia plants (using his own money, mind you) so there was something around the stage. After he retired? The stage was completely bare. Oh, and they are no longer called “Christmas concerts.” They are “holiday” or “winter” concerts.

To me, all these changes pale in comparison to the biggest issue in my opinion – the attempt to eliminate any religious music whatsoever from the concert.

When I went to high school, we ended every concert with the singing of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Once you graduated, you would be invited to join the chorus for the singing of the piece with the current students. I can’t imagine not having that experience either as a student or after I graduated.

More and more schools are asking music teachers to submit their program for review and approval. There is great concern by some that the concept of separation of church and state should include the elimination of all music with a reference to some type of religious reference. As I see it, there are two major issues related to this entire situation.

First, the separation of church and state today has been taken completely out of context. The original reason for this separation was to ensure the government does not endorse any specific religion. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Children playing and singing music with a religious tone does not count as an endorsement of a specific religion.

Second, just as religion is part of history, religious music is an important part of music history and education. Just like Handel’s Messiah and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, these pieces have significant places in music and children should not just learn their words and music, but their histories.

As a result of the over-zealous attempt to eliminate this important genre of music from music programs across the country, organizations such as The American Center for Law and Justice have provided various documentation to help protect music teachers when planning their lessons and their concerts. Most music teachers I know keep a letter similar to the one linked here to protect their music programs. I also know of some districts where a letter like this is on file in their board office.

The fact that this needs to happen at all is amazing to me. When I first heard of issues such as these, it was in the South Orange/Maplewood, NJ School District. Since then, other towns have attempted to follow suit. Most have thankfully have lost. I remember a number of years ago when my husband was at doctor’s office he was asking him about his upcoming concert. He began to explain the situation just as many other teachers do, that he needs to produce his planned concert repertoire for approval. The doctor’s response? “That’s ridiculous. I was the little drummer boy for years in school and I wasn’t scarred for life.” This was in reference to his Jewish heritage. It made me laugh considering I had just recently read an article about how a Jewish man now in his 30’s said as a child he was incredibly uncomfortable with his experience as the little drummer boy as a child.

At the end of the day, all the festivities related to Christmas and Hanukkah should be celebrated as they have for generations. It is not an endorsement of a religion; it is an endorsement of valuing the importance of music education.

November 15, 2013

The True Sleeping Dragon – The Band Geek

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
~Isoroku Yamamoto

While this quote from Yamamoto is referring to the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, today it is referring to the collective community that is the “band geek.”

Yesterday I posted about a shameful event that took place at the final football game of the season at Annandale, Virginia, where a football coach threw a temper tantrum that included shaking the podium of an assistant drum major and yelling at the director to “get the band off the field.” An editorial appeared on the school’s news site about the event and in one resounding voice, proud marching band members, former band members, music educators, and the like have said ENOUGH.

For a long time, those involved in the music department have been disrespected while those who play sports are seen as the school heroes. This terrible event has rallied those of us who have valued their time involved in their music departments to take a stand. I have read comments on this event all over the Internet from Texas to Minnesota to Jersey (including me) aligning themselves with the marching Atoms to show support. I hope the musicians of Annandale know they have the support of music students (and former students) from all over the country.

Additionally, the story has been picked up by The Washington Post, NBC, The Huffington Post, Patch, CBS, and other local Virginia websites.

I say good. Enough is enough!

Today, the principal issued a letter to the parents and an apology to the band for the actions of the football coach and according to reports, an apology from the coach himself to the band and the director is forthcoming.

The principal and the coach owe much more than that.

This was the last game of the season. Senior Night. A special moment in high school to celebrate all they have accomplished. Now, that memory is forever tarnished. They didn’t get to finish their final performance properly.

Now I will say I did read a few comments actually “sort of” defending the situation. My personal favorite comment mentioned how band members should “learn their place” because the band exists “for the entertainment during the foot ball game.”

Um, what?

The music department does not exist simply to be a court jester for school athletes. Playing an instrument AND marching takes skill, practice, and discipline.

Now, let’s look at the other side of this coin. This coach shook the podium of the assistant drum major. Now, I know nothing of law in Virginia, but I would think in New Jersey he could potentially be charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child. And if that student fell, I’m sure a lawsuit would follow and rightfully so.

An apology? Well, that’s a good place to start, but the band and the director are owed much more.

Oh, and don’t think marching band members (and former members) will forget about this until we hear of a final resolution.


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