I Have a Gripe

March 14, 2014

The Attempt to Ban “Bossy”

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

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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 14, 2013

NEVER Mess With the Marching Band!

‘Cause the players tried to take the field, The marching band refused to yield.
~Don McLean

Multiple times on this blog I have defended the importance of music education in public schools. All too often music departments do not receive the respect or the funding they need and deserve.

music education

The magnet on the back of my car.

I often say my years in marching band in high school were some of the best times of my life. I was in just about every music-related activity offered in my high school. I took private lessons for piano and bass. I helped teach pit at my high school after graduation. And the ultimate – I married a band director. I grew into the adult I am in large part because of my experiences in music. I learned about responsibility, teamwork, leadership, the value of hard work, and built confidence, to name just a few key life skills.

I knew I didn’t have what it took to be a professional musician, but it was still great. Many of the individuals I met through the music department became professional musicians and music teachers. My husband and I were absolutely beaming when we learned that not one, but two of my husband’s kids were my niece’s band directors.

Fast forward to today…

Like everyone I know on Facebook, links to articles get passed around regularly. Today I saw one that had my blood absolutely boiling. All too often, high school football teams, their parents, and game attendees think the marching band is there simply to entertain at halftime and give the players a break. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Well, a football coach in Annandale, Virginia  displayed the ultimate in bad behavior when he flipped out trying to get the band off the field during halftime so his team could warm up. He went so far as to yell at the kids and the band director as well as shake the podium of the assistant drum major.

To say I was furious when I read about this event is putting it mildly.

I fired off the following letter to the coach, the school principal, and the director of student services.

To All,
I just read an article online about how disrespectfully your high school’s marching band was treated at a recent football game. I am absolutely incensed by the rude behavior of the football parents, coaches and administration. You should all be ashamed.

From what I have read online Mr. Scott, your poor behavior has been a constant during the entire football season by bringing your team on the field before you should. And you are very lucky indeed that the Assistant Drum Major did not fall off the podium when you began to shake it.

Believe it or not Mr. Scott, the marching band is not there simply to entertain at halftime. Marching band is quite competitive and requires absolute marching precision while simultaneously playing an instrument. Something that is not easy.

How do I know this? I am a PROUD former marching band member from Belleville, New Jersey and a former Drum Major. I am also married to a Band Director. I also went to a high school where the football team (which most of the time had a losing record) was treated with far more respect than the marching band – as well as the music department as a whole. Trust me when I tell you, the band usually had a better record than the football team. It sounds like you have a similar poor record. Meanwhile, your school’s marching band has won both the Virginia State Champions and a National award for “III-Open” class.

Have you ever been to a marching band practice or a competition Mr. Scott? I doubt it. You should. Maybe you would understand what is really involved and how hard these kids work.

I have also read that it was “suggested” that the band do their show after the football game to avoid any issues. That is completely unacceptable in my book. In my many years experience (four years as a student and 25 years of following my husband as he traveled with his band), opposing teams and coaches are always understanding of special events, such as senior night, thus any potential penalties are waived. Do you really think it would’ve been acceptable to do their show as people exited the stadium? I think not.

My Band Directors, as well as my husband, always taught their kids to conduct themselves in the most professional manner. Over my high school years and my adult life, I have always been proud of both my fellow band mates and my husband’s kids and have conducted themselves, even in the face of stupidity. It doesn’t sound like you have set the same example Mr. Scott. You could probably learn something from the band members.

You should all be made to publicly apologize to Mr. Hilkert and the entire marching band, as it sounds like the administration just sat idly by and let this man’s rant continue. I also think Mr. Scott should be reprimanded by your Board of Eduction.

Shame on all of you,
Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten
Belleville High School Marching Band 1984-1988
Drum Major 1986-1988
Belleville, New Jersey

The band director, Adam Hilkert, is an incredibly accomplished musician, and he has decided to spend his life educating children through the vehicle of music. In addition to his position as band director at Annandale High School, he serves as Doctoral Conducting Associate at George Mason University, where he studies instrumental conducting. He is the Music Director of the Vienna Community Band and Graduate Conductor of the Mason Wind Symphony and Assistant Principal Double Bass with the American Festival Pops Orchestra.

The manner in which this “coach” (and I use that term very loosely) treated Mr. Hilkert and his marching band is simply deplorable.

I am encouraging all my readers to email or call the Annandale High school and let them know that he should be, at minimum, reprimanded and forced to apologize. Personally, I would rather see him fired. He doesn’t deserve the important position of fostering the youth of this community.

September 6, 2013

Schools “Under Pressure”

Filed under: Education,General Annoyances — alvb1227 @ 12:46 am
Tags: , , ,

Just like many stores, Target has been running a “back to school” ad campaign. They are all set to popular music seemingly played by a bad elementary school band. While they are cute commercials, sort of, I find them incredibly frustrating.

You see, for those of you who read my blog regularly, know that I have very strong feelings about the arts and music in public schools. I am the person I am in due in large part to the music program in my school system. And while some of you may not think that is so great, I do. The music department helped me with confidence and I found a place where I was comfortable.

Now? Well, thanks to the constant barrage of required testing, the arts and music are “under pressure” and getting kicked out of school in many places. That is an absolute travesty.

I wonder if Target realized the irony.

June 17, 2011

Christie and Sweeney: Shame on You Both

As Governor Christie and NJ State Senator Sweeney made a deal with the Devil, I submitted yet another letter to both of them. I wanted to share it with my readers…

June 16, 2011

In regards to: Subject: Teacher’s Pension & Health Benefit Legislation

Governor Chris Christie

State Senate President Sweeney

Gentlemen:

I have contacted your office via email and phone several times in the past to express my frustration regarding this constant assault on teachers and their pension and health benefits. I am writing again to voice my outrage.

I am the proud wife of a 24-year band director. He became a teacher for all the right reasons – to give back, to influence the lives of youngsters, and to share his love of music with others. He has successfully taught thousands of students not just how to play an instrument and appreciate music, but what it takes to be a good citizen and adult. It is also worth noting he is not one of those “80K a year teachers” you hear about on the news.

This constant barrage “on union leadership” as I often hear you say Governor, has certainly trickled down and has turned into an “us vs. them” argument. Many people already have a negative opinion of teachers. You have certainly added to that negativity. And for the record, I voted for you. I believed you when I thought you were going to make positive changes on the state’s school system. In my opinion, your changes are far from positive. You should really try reading the bully legislation you signed into law, because that is exactly what you have become.

Today, teachers are much more than teachers. They are counselors, pastors, and sadly, all too often, parents. Add to that list since Columbine, police, hostage negotiators, and body guards. When I was a child, I was told the three safest places I could be were home, school and church. Now, that is far from reality.

You want the best and brightest to be teachers in order to continue the high performance of New Jersey’s students. With your constant barrage, why would anyone want to become a teacher? Being a teacher is not the easy job many believe it is. The teachers I know spend a sizable amount of their own money on school supplies, endless hours preparing lessons, tutoring students and being active participants in their communities. This battle of yours has put neighbor against neighbor.

What I would like to see is the state government acknowledge that the reason the pension system is having financial trouble is because politicians have been using that system as their own personal piggy bank. That would be a good place to start. Next, I would like to see those politicians fix this without hurting those who had nothing to do with the problem being affected.

I would also like to know why there is such outrage about limiting healthcare options on the federal level through “Obamacare” by the GOP (my party, by the way), when you, Governor Christie, are trying to do the exact same thing to teachers? According to what I have read, there is even a limitation in the proposed legislation that you will limit the ability to seek medical treatment outside New Jersey. We live across the river from some of the finest medical institutions in the world and we wouldn’t be able to do whatever would be necessary if my husband or I was ill? I wonder how Senator Lautenberg would feel about that, given his insistence on going to New York for his cancer treatment.

I would like to know if either of you have ever gone to a school and watched first-hand what teachers do everyday. No cameras, no entourage, nothing. Just you, teachers and students. I would like to see you really understand what a teacher does on a day-to-day basis. My hope is that you would have more respect for what they do and change this from an assault to a conversation.

Shame on you both.

June 3, 2011

Christie and the Chopper…Ahhh, the Hypocrisy!

This week, a story surfaced that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie used a State Trooper Chopper, not once, but twice, to see his son play in a baseball game. There are multiple levels of hypocrisy here.

First, and most obvious, is the so-called champion of eliminating waste in government spending using a state chopper as his own personal joy ride. What is even more ridiculous is that a car took the Governor and his wife 100 yards to the bleachers after they got out of the chopper. In my opinion, this is the ultimate “I’m the Gov. and I don’t care what you think” moment.

Second, I find it fascinating that he has his son enrolled in a private school (Delbarton). Now, as a parent, you absolutely have the right to place your child wherever you think is appropriate. More often than not, however, politicians have their children enrolled in public school to show they have a belief in the public school system. Well, it is no secret Governor Christie has absolutely zero respect for the work teachers do. Yes, I know; “it’s not the teachers he hates, it’s the union.” What I say to that is it all rolls downhill. His negativity towards unions is easily picked up by many of the masses and spreads to the overall opinion of teachers at large and for quite a while, he really didn’t distinguish between the union and the teachers.  But, hey, if you have $26,500 a year to spend on tuition for Delbarton…

Finally, what bugs me the most is his lack of understanding that this was completely offensive to the public at large. I mean, can I borrow the chopper to drop in on my niece’s spring concert? Must be nice to have that at your beck and call. He has agreed to pay for the use of the chopper, not because he understands it was wrong, but to get the press and his constituents off his back.

Maybe the Governor should try going back to school himself and try to learn about responsibility and economics again, among other subjects.

April 23, 2011

The Truth About Property Taxes

Let’s face it, paying taxes is far from fun. It is, however, a necessary evil. This money goes to various local, county, state and federal needs and programs to help make sure roads are plowed, police are a moment’s notice away, and children are educated.

Now, we all have programs we want to see supported and ones we want to see cut. For example, I often hear people complain about how the majority of collected property taxes go to support the local school district when they do not have a child in school. There is something important to remember about this potential sticky point. The value of your home is in direct correlation with the quality of the local public education system.

Think back to when you were purchasing your home, what was one of the first questions you asked the agent? “How are the schools here?” Even when you are taken to a property by a real estate agent, they often start off with information related to the school system. They will even steer you away from certain towns because their school system may not be considered “of high quality.” Whether someone has a child or not, the answer to that question will definitely affect real estate buying habits.

Generally speaking, those who complain the most about their property taxes are the elderly and those without children. What the elderly forget is that when their children were going through school, someone else who didn’t have children in school was flipping the same bill. Maybe they forgot that little point. Others who do not have children are also paying towards that same school budget, which will help keep the value of their home up.

Now before you get a knot in your shorts…yes, there are certainly areas where money is wasted in the public schools and yes, as tax paying citizens it is our responsibility to understand what our tax burden is and how it is spent.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, if you live in New Jersey, like me, you know how high the property taxes can be. Due to the high tax burden in this state, many are moving away and some businesses have left for other states with a smaller tax burden. Add to that the current negative opinions of “those greedy, lazy teachers” and their union, there are many on a witch hunt to further vilify the connection between public education and property taxes.

Some also complain that their property taxes are too high. Well, that may be true, however, it is important to remember every home will be assessed differently. Do you live in an urban area or a small rural town? Do you have a McMansion or a small two bedroom colonial or condo? Do you live on the waterfront or on a small piece of property with no “major amenities” to speak of? All these issues are taken into consideration and go into the tax assessment on a property. If you disagree with your assessment, you are completely within your right to challenge it. It is important to remember, however, that if you go from a small house to a giant McMansion, don’t be shocked when you get a major increase.

To steal a line from our President, “let me be clear;” I am far from advocating for MORE taxes. Additionally, I don’t particularly mind paying my taxes. I just want to reduce the amount of waste involved and look at what taxes are being spent on – such as healthcare for illegal aliens. Cut that out and we could save billions.

Ultimately, by spending more time examining how to eliminate waste, instead of going on a wild witch hunt spending money unnecessarily, the taxes collected can go towards important things, like our police, fire department, school systems, infrastructure and more.

March 3, 2011

Support for Suspended Philly Teacher

Filed under: Education — alvb1227 @ 2:20 pm
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In a recent post, I shared my opinions about a teacher that was suspended for blogging about her students that are “lazy, whiners.” Well, in an update, this teacher is receiving tons of support! The school system? Not so much.

“Ms. Munroe, by her own actions, has made it impossible for her to teach in this district,” according to a prepared statement read during a school board meeting. “No students should be subjected to such a hostile educational environment.”

Hostile educational environment? Seriously?

Many, however, are coming to the teacher’s side showing support. Paul Carpenter of the The Morning Call, wrote a great editorial and commentary about the entire situation, citing blame all around.

“Nevertheless, commentary that is not soothing to students, no matter how rotten they are, is not well received by the hand-wringers who feel all young people should be lovingly patted on their heads at all times. I’ve never been able to discuss stupid, criminal or lazy students without angry parents and others attacking me for being ‘insensitive’ or ‘insulting.'”

Mr. Carpenter is absolutely correct. More and more teachers, and the school system as a whole, are expected to be both educator and parent. That is, until the educator needs to reprimand the student. Then the parent is all of a sudden involved. Shameful.

Additionally, instead of the school system using this as a way to show parents they need to take a more active role in their child’s education, what are they doing? They are reviewing and establishing policies for teachers that blog. Oh yeah, that makes sense.

I echo Mr. Carpenter’s comments:

“If society does not like the message Munroe’s blog delivered, it should not kill the messenger. It should think about being more demanding and getting a lot tougher on the students who attend public schools.”

Public school goes beyond a “right.” It is a collective responsibility and students and their parents need to take that responsibility seriously if we expect our future generations to be able to lead this country forward.

February 15, 2011

2010 Medal of Freedom Recipients and the Arts

Filed under: General Annoyances — alvb1227 @ 7:48 pm
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For roughly the last hour, I have been watching the coverage of the Medal of Freedom ceremony. It honored many different individuals that have made great contributions to our nation and our world. I did find one point interesting; the number of artists being honored.

Artist recipients included Yo Yo Ma, Jasper Johns, Maya Angelou and Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, an organization that provides educators, parents, and artists with resources and the tools to support arts programming in schools and communities with a focus on disabled individuals.

What great contributions to the arts from these people.

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know where I am going with this. Without the arts in our schools, would Yo Yo Ma be the musician he is today? Would Maya Angelou have found her voice? Would Jasper Johns be such an inspiration to so many artists? I wonder.

Again, the arts and music play an important part in a child’s development. When these programs are eliminated in the schools it not only robs the students of an opportunity to explore their artistic abilities, it potentially robs us all of the future of an artist.

I hope this gives many pause that feel the arts and music in schools is nothing more than “fluff.”

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