‘”THE HIGHWAYMAN”

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.

 

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Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”

BLOG #22, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #41
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S LITTLE WOMEN
June 3, 2015

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Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and ended her days in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Abigail [Abba] May, was born into one of America’s most famous families, in direct line from Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. Her father, Col. Joseph May, was one of Boston’s leading merchants. Between the Sewalls and the Mays, Abba was related to almost anybody who was anybody in the state—including the Greeles, the Frothinghams, and the Quincys; in fact, her great aunt, Dorothy Quincy Scott, had been John Hancock’s wife. And then there was that mystical improvident visionary named Bronson Alcott who, in terms of educational philosophy, was way ahead of his time, choosing to rule his students by love rather than by punishments. Not surprisingly life with him was one long financial struggle for Abba (in 28 years, they’d move 27 times). Yet she loved him, and would marry no other.

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Out of that union came eight children, four who survived into adulthood. The oldest was Anna; Louisa May, second; Elizabeth Sewall, third; and Abba May, fourth. Bronson homeschooled them all. Each of his children was expected to spread her wings, dare to fly with the eagles.

Always, Louisa had wanted to be a writer. She wrote Flower Fables (1854-55) when she was only sixteen. She would write prolifically all her life; she felt she had to because making a living was not her father’s strong suit. For some time, almost in desperation, she wrote melodramatic trash in order to bring in money. Her first successful book was Hospital Sketches (1863) about her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. While serving in Washington, D.C., under horrendous conditions, she contracted typhoid, and suffered after-effects from it for the rest of her life.

The books she is most remembered for, however, are the following: Moods (1865), Little Women (1868-1869), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875), Rose in Bloom (1876), Under the Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill (1881), and Jo’s Boys (1886).

But the masterpiece, of course, was Little Women

THE CONTINUING APPEAL OF LITTLE WOMEN.

All my life, I have loved the book Little Women. As a child, I was captivated by the tale itself. Like millions of readers everywhere, I fell in love with the March family—especially Jo—to such an extent that long before I realized it, the Marches had become almost as much a part of me as my own flesh and blood.

Years later, I read the book again, with more than a little apprehension, for so many books we first read as children end up disappointing us when we come back to them as adults. Not to worry! Little Women is a seemingly bottomless well, and the older one gets, and the more times one rereads it, the deeper and more profound the story becomes.

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Why that is so has puzzled me for many years. Each year that I assigned Little Women to undergraduates in my American Literature classes, I’d wonder: Will it hold up this time? Will this new class, a century and a quarter after the story was written, find it irrelevant or passé? Will the men turn up their collective noses at it? In this age of women’s lib, will the women find it too simplistic and stereotypical?

But each year, it was the same: I’d walk into the classroom the next class period after my exhaustive who-said-what-to-whom-about-whom tests (the only Cliffs Notes-proof tests I’ve ever devised), seat myself in the circle (all my classes are circles), and look around at the faces. It never failed—once class began, the room crackled! So intense were the discussions that sometimes it seemed like everyone in the room was talking at once, male as well as female. Needless to say, nothing would ratchet up the intensity level more than the relationship between Jo and Laurie—especially, whether or not Jo should have married Laurie instead of Mr. Bhaer.
–From my Introduction to Little Women (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 1997).

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You can find it anywhere for it is undoubtedly one of the most-loved and most-read books ever published in America. But naturally, I hope you’ll consider securing one of mine. I wrote a modest biography of Alcott at the front, a bibliography of all her writings at the back, and also Discussion Questions at the back as well. But our edition has something else: I was able to track down Frank T. Merrill’s stunning 203 woodcuts for the 1880 edition. Merrill actually read the book before he created each one! I know, for I’ve seen Louisa May Alcott’s personal inscriptions on the backs! That 1880 edition is one of the rarest of all Alcott books–I’ve seen only two in my lifetime. And all 203 Merriill woodcuts are in my edition. Which, of course, makes our Focus/Tyndale edition a rarity too.

As well as a number of shorter works, including many story anthologies and pessimistic last books.

My edition: Large trade paper – $16.99; the large hardback – $19.99, plus shipping of $6.00. And add 5% tax if you live in Colorado.

Send me an email at: mountainauthor@gmail.com; or write me at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

Remaking Our Brains

BLOG #15, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REMAKING OUR BRAINS
April 15, 2015

This was the weekend of our annual Conifer Kiwanis Reading Celebration for the third-graders who attend six mountain elementary schools here in the Colorado Rockies. Also for a large consortium of homeschoolers.

Before we honored the kids for their reading improvement, I gathered close to 90 third-graders on the floor around me, and urged them to make reading central to their lives. Since I poured thirty years of observation and research into my 1992 book, TV on Trial, and one of my main doctoral concentrations had to do with the relationship between reading and writing, and since those areas have remained central to me during my entire academic teaching career, I felt this occasion offered me a golden opportunity to plant seeds in these young minds.

I pointed out to them that there are two ways they can feed their brains: Reading and Electronic Imagery. Reading has been with us clear back to ancient times, but most significantly since the advent of printing, some six centuries ago. Electronic imagery is much more recent: around the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of moving pictures.

Today, electronic imagery has become so ubiquitous it increasingly has pushed reading onto the ropes, with some even questioning whether it can survive at all.

So, I pointed out to the third-graders that there are two significant differences between reading and electronic media: Reading is a creative process; electronic imagery tends to be creative only for those who create it. Reading is connotative. In other words, every time a person opens a book and begins reading, something exciting happens: that person’s brain shifts into its creative gear as the reader cranks out non-stop inner imagery that has the potential to actually change the brain into a powerhouse.

I introduced two contrasting word processes: “denotative” and “connotative.” Denotative has to do with the dictionary definition of a word. Let’s take, for instance, the word “father”; the dictionary definition is “a man who has begotten a child.” That’s all there is to it.

But the connotative process is so explosive it borders on the mind-numbing, for it has the potential, over time, to remake the brain. I pointed out that as you read the word “father,” if you have a loving father you adore, the mental image you create will tend to mirror that; but what if you have an abusive father? That would contribute to a much darker mental image. And no two readers ever create exactly the same mental imagery from the same words! For each individual is one-of-a-kind. That is why cloning would be such a terrible thing. As a person reads, word after word after word triggers the creation of mental imagery in the reader’s brain. So much so that just one book has the potential to create seismic differences in the reader’s outlook on life. But that’s not all, by any means. Each author writes in a different way from other authors; this is why Google enables teachers to catch plagiarists so easily, and why it borders on the impossible that an anonymous writer can long remain anonymous. The reader reads works by Alcott, Tolkien, Blume, Milne, Seuss, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Twain, or Martin Luther King, Jr.—; those stylistic differences are stored in inner templates, each of which may be drawn from when the reader begins to write herself/himself.

Depending upon whether the reader reads from a wide variety of books, stories, essays, etc. written by authors worth reading as opposed to stalling out on mental pablum; the former is likely to develop into a powerhouse and the latter into straitjacketed narrowism.

* * *

But what if individuals read no books and little of anything else, and instead feed the mind with electronic imagery (the norm for untold millions today), what happens to their minds? When one is watching television, cinema, video, or other electronic genres, whether one person is watching a given source or a billion people are watching it, every last one is internalizing the same picture! Reason being that the receiver’s brain has had nothing to do with the image’s creation—someone else did that. In fact, the receiver’s brain is completely bypassed: BAM! The image is blasted into the receiver’s brain. But it is not internalized for it is a foreign object. It is a self-standing entity that just sits there. Over time, as these foreign objects take up more and more space in the receiver’s brain, that person all but loses the creative potential that individual was born with.

In the collegiate freshman composition classes I’ve taught over the years, I’ve seen replayed the two species again, again, and again. When I tell a class, “Take out a blank piece of paper. We are going to write. . . . Now write!” It matters little whether I give them a subject to write about or let them choose, the results are the same each time: the reader, having all the internalized imagery of many authors’ books and stories synthesized into the memory banks, stylistic templates too, can hardly wait to start writing—and then the pen races across the page. The non-reader, almost invariably, just sits there glassy-eyed, like Bambi on ice. Since there is precious little in their brains that wasn’t created by someone else, there isn’t much they can draw from. And since they don’t read, they don’t know how to write either. Structurally, they are equally at sea. Since electronic imagery explodes at them from all directions, little of it structured, their thought-processes tend to be equally unstructured and disjointed. This is also true when they speak in public.

Furthermore, even in the business world, non-readers are handicapped. Studies have shown that when employing CEOs test them to see which applicant would be the best fit for a job, they are often given a task composed of, say five, steps in which to reach desired completion. Deliberately and unannounced, the CEO leaves out a step. So a reader moves from step to step: A to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, and E to F—only D to E is left out. The reader reaches this abyss, is puzzled , but doesn’t give up. Since the reader has developed a part of the brain scholars call the “library,” in which the brain talks to itself, the applicant, much like a spider, launches filaments out into the void, seeking for a terminus on the other side. Sooner or later, one of the filaments touches solid ground; the applicant now bridges to the other side and moves from E to F, and completes the task. The non-reader never can complete the task. Even when both applicants are college graduates with 4-point grade A averages, the results are still the same. A neighbor of mine, an executive himself, and a veteran administrator and employer, when I shared this study with him, explained, “So that’s it! I’ve long wondered why some top graduates could problem-solve and others failed so dismally. It makes sense!”

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Sadly, our society has yet to recognize just how essential reading is to life and career success, even in areas that are not generally considered as demanding a reading background.

Washington and Lincoln: Are They Still Relevant?

BLOG #7, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN
ARE THEY STILL RELEVANT?
February 18, 2015

Are they ever! Again and again, I hear back from readers of my two Lincoln books: Abraham Lincoln, A Man of Faith and Courage, 2008; and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, 2013 (both published by Howard/Simon & Schuster), comments such as these: “Do we ever need another Lincoln today!”, “I was deeply moved by your new Lincoln book.” Just ten days ago, a Parmalee Elementary School fourth-grader who walked up to me and asked, “Are you the writer of the animal books”? When I answered that I was, his face brightened as he said, “I have all ten of them–I love them all!” When I then asked him which one he liked best, without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Best of all? . . oh, that has to be the Lincoln book—I read it over and over!”

Though I haven’t yet put together a Washington story anthology, over the years I’ve gradually tracked down many of the most powerful such stories—they’re hard to find for they were written for a much more patriotic age than ours today. Sadly, neither civics nor American history are taught much any more.

Washington’s role in our history is every bit as significant as Lincoln’s, for he was the reason why we (with the timely help of the French fleet) eventually won our independence from England. Furthermore, without him, it is doubtful the perpetually squabbling colonies would ever have agreed to support any one leader as President.

So one man, more than any other, made possible the establishment of our republic, and another man, more than any other, made possible the preservation of our republic.

Which brings us to a key question: Just what are their most significant character traits?

I’d say, selflessness . . . persistency . . . determination to see something through to its desired end, no matter the cost, no matter how long it would take . . . strong belief in God and Providence . . . Humility (Washington refused to be crowned King) . . . Solid as a rock Integrity . . . accessibility to all . . . Fear of Power . . . Consideration for others . . . Ability to motivate thousands of people to join him in common cause . . . organizational skills . . . tact . . . love of family . . . far-seeing . . . ability to see the forest as well as the trees . . . fear of a permanent military establishment . . . visionary: could see far ahead . . . kindness . . . empathy . . . loyalty . . . willingness to be used, then gladly step aside for others . . . Wise foreign policy . . . fiscally astute . . . wise use of spoken and written words . . . consistency . . . unwillingness or reluctance to abridge freedom for longer than necessity demanded . . . no daylight between the talk and the walk.

These qualities and more are the key reasons so many people wish Lincoln and Washington were still with us today.

Of course, in a very real sense, they still are!

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Should you wish to pick up a copy of either or both of my Lincoln books from us, here’s how:

 

Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories: $22.99 (plus shipping – $6.00)

 

 

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage: $22.00 (plus shipping – $6.00)

Both books are dust-jacketed hardbacks. Specify if you wish them to be personally or generically inscribed (no extra cost).

Our mailing address: Sage & Holly Distributors, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

BLOG #46, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE GIRL WITH DANCING EYES

November 12, 2014

She would not have been unusual during my growing-up-years—but she is now. She was reading the Scripture text at church: clearly, each word perfectly enunciated, with deep feeling. And her eyes—they lit up the entire church. I literally could not take my eyes off of her.

After church, I spoke with her. I learned quite a bit about her upbringing, but learned little I had not already surmised. I complimented her on the sense of wonder radiating from her eyes—but really it was the parents who deserved the fuller credit for them. For it was they who have so far protected her from losing that God-given sense of wonder all babies are born with, but oh so few retain more than months.

So why, if her eyes are wonder-filled, do I label her “The Girl with Dancing Eyes”? This is why: When she was in church, her eyes were wonder-filled reverent eyes; but, one-on-one, outside of church—I was not a stranger to her (her family reads from my books)—, though the wonder remained in her eyes, there was a joyousness, tied to an entrancing addition of impishness, that was absolutely irresistible: the only word that adequately capsulizes the totality is “Dancing.”

But why is she not the norm among children her age? Reason being that many forces are at work that contribute to stripping that sense of wonder from the eyes of babies and children. Parents do it the very first time they permit the baby to be in the room when the television set is on. Studies have shown that babies are anything but unaware, picking up 60-70 percent of what is said and depicted on the screen. Parents all too often fail to realize how little it takes to quench that spark of vibrant life that brings the glow into the eyes. Parents—and how few parents are not guilty of this!—apparently don’t realize what they are doing when they say, “For goodness sake, stop bothering me with your questions—go watch TV!”

And precious little that appears on the television screen elevates the soul of those who watch it. And even if a program is values-worth-living-by-affirming, all too few of the million-plus commercials each of our children is exposed to during their growing-up years, are likely to increase the candle-power of those pure eyes they were born with.

But parents cannot take that sense of wonder for granted. It must be continually reinforced in the family story hour. For children do not internalize abstractions, but rather they internalize whatever values (uplifting or debasing) they hear or see in stories. Since few of the stories they experience on the media are compatible with the sense of wonder they were born with, wise parents realize that it doesn’t take more than seconds or minutes to blight—or even destroy completely—that glow. But if they are introduced to the right kind of stories (the ones they’ll ask for again and again), they will internalize those values. This is the reason Christ never spoke without stories: He created us to internalize them; to grow into them.

One danger, however, must be pointed out: It is all too easy for concerned parents to over-react. To be so over-protective and restrictive that their children either rebel or grow up to be narrow-minded, naive, and incapable of dealing with the complexities of adult life.

It is an awesome responsibility to raise a child.

Making memories with Grandchildren – Part 2 – Master the Geography of the World Before You are 13

BLOG #42, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART TWO
MASTER THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE WORLD
BEFORE YOU ARE THIRTEEN

October 15, 2014

The years flowed swiftly by, as years have a way of doing. I married Connie, the golden-haired love of my life; over time, we were blessed with two children: Greg and Michelle. Michelle grew up and married Duane Culmore. Two sons were born to them: Taylor and Seth (three years apart).

In today’s society, all too few intergenerational families live close to each other. Sadly, the same is true with us: our grandchildren are half a continent away from us. So we see them all too seldom. But there are no easy answers for what to do about it. In our case, Connie’s folks moved half way across the country to live near us, in Texas. Some years later, we moved away and left them there. One has to go where the jobs are.

So how could we spend quality time alone with our grandsons? Some years ago an idea came to me, born of Grandpa Leininger’s love of National Geographic maps and from my own fascination with geography and travel. We shared it with Michelle and Duane first, then with Taylor and Seth while they were still young.

Here is how we phrased it: “If you master the geography of the world before your thirteenth birthday, Poppy and Grammy will take you anywhere in the world you’d like to go.”

Well, the years rolled along and Taylor reached eleven. No apparent interest in the challenge. We began to breathe easier: there would not be big-time draining of our bank account after all. About a year later, just before Taylor’s twelfth birthday, our daughter Michelle phoned us with the news that Taylor was seriously interested in holding us to our promise. “So, Dad, how will it work? What are the requirements? We’ve only twelve months left, and Taylor will have to fit it in against school, sports, music, etc.”

I told her he’d have to know all the countries of the world, capital cities, major cities, mountain ranges, major rivers and lakes, deserts, and islands; also oceans, seas, bays, gulfs—and any unusual geographic features. She would have to be the hands-on instructor and pre-tester; only when he was ready with a country or region would Taylor phone me and the three of us would test him on it together.

And so it began. At first we waited until he’d mastered entire regions; but that proved too difficult to retain in his head, so gradually we reduced the testing areas to a more humane level. Because of his many other involvements, and Michelle’s and mine, it proved to be a long, slow process. Michelle became the taskmaster on that end. The U.S. and Canada (states and provinces too) proved relatively easy since Taylor already knew a lot about them. But after that, it got harder. Harder yet when we tackled European, Asian, and African areas of the world.

Once in a while Taylor would pleasantly surprise me: learning more about a country or region than I required of him. Michelle and Duane reported in to us that Taylor had already experienced a serendipity: when his history teacher referred to a certain Latin American country, Taylor was the only one who knew where it was. More and more, during class discussions, Taylor’s would be the lone-hand raised.

Another problem now surfaced: If Taylor didn’t master the geography of the entire world before his thirteenth birthday, he’d forfeit the promised reward. However, in order to get good booking rates, we couldn’t afford to wait. Yet another problem came in tandem: If he didn’t yet know the world, how could he then choose where he most wanted to go? We finally concluded that we’d need to rephrase the original question so it now read: “Where are three places in the world you’d like to see?” and we would select one of them and book it. Which resulted in yet another problem: Because of Taylor’s busy summer sports program, the available time-frame before school re-started provided us with only a small window of time.

One of his possible choices had to do with the South Pacific, but the time frame and distance to get there and back precluded our booking a destination there. Another two choices: central Italy and Venice worked better. So we booked a 12-day Mediterranean cruise that would feature both locales. But we didn’t tell Taylor because until and if he completed the challenge, we could still cancel the booking. To take him on the cruise without his completing the task would be a travesty and set a terrible life-precedent for him.

Meanwhile the remaining time interval was shrinking alarmingly and his progress towards his goal proved erratic. Our daughter knew she could push him only so far and so fast.

And something totally unexpected had come up: our son Greg had decided he wanted to go along! Many years earlier, when he was about Taylor’s age, I had mandated that he master the world’s geography, promising only to give him a nice reward when he finished. Well, he did complete it, and his munificent reward was only a train trip from Fort Worth to Cleburne, Texas—all of forty miles! Unbeknownst to us, Greg had been sulking about this ever since—and to add insult to injury, here we were promising a European cruise to his nephew for the same task! So, we now added Greg to our already full room in our cruise booking. But we didn’t tell Taylor for Greg wanted it to be a surprise. Naturally, we had to keep Michelle and Duane up to date—and that was tough given all the secrets involved.

The last month came, then three weeks, two weeks, and then there was only one week left—and still Taylor was not done. Needless to say, there was a lot of tension for all of us. Finally, only hours away from his birthday—Taylor tested out on the last piece in the jigsaw-puzzle of the world.

At last, we could send him a journal for him to write in during the cruise which we could now detail for him.

* * * * *

Next week: Taylor’s reward.

HAS AMERICA REACHED ITS TIPPING POINT?

BLOG #40, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HAS AMERICA REACHED ITS TIPPING POINT?

October 1, 2014

Unbelievable that we could even be discussing such a thing, but recent events in Colorado are serving as not only a state-wide but national groundswell of concern on the issue. Might it be that we as a people have become so complacent about our 225-year-old democracy that we have missed the ominous cracks that are only now being taken seriously?

In history, rare is the great nation that remains great long-term. We, as a people, however, have blithely assumed we’re an exception to the rule in that respect.

IS COLORADO A WAKE-UP CALL?

This is a question many people across the nation are beginning to ponder. Since we locals are in the eye of the storm, so to speak, we tend to take for granted that most Americans are aware of the raging debate over Colorado’s Jefferson County School Board. Permit me to fill you in on the story:

An unusual situation developed during the last six months when three of five board member positions became open at the same time. Since many local citizens felt strongly that they had little voice in how the district was being run, three centrist locals decided to run for those seats. In spite of being greatly outspent media-wise by union supporters, all three were swept in, giving them a three-fifths majority.

What disturbs so many people is what followed: The media regularly categorizes the three new board members as “Christian extremists,” and passes up no opportunity to disparage or discredit them. The teachers’ union orders district teachers to storm the board meetings, along with union operatives from all over. Without defenders, these board members tremble as hecklers turn their deliberations into virtual lions’ dens. One of the new board member’s own children has been so viciously harassed that the parents were forced to pull the child out of a local school and transfer to a charter school some distance away. Teachers have so openly maligned and discredited these board members that many of the 85,000 students in this large district are now seething with hatred against them. So much so that these board members dare not even step foot in any of the classrooms they are legally in charge of.

At first, the storm of media negativity was general: in essence, trying to make life such hell for the new board members that at least one of them would resign. And daily life for each of the three has become just that. “Daily discouragement” a mild term for how they feel from day to day—and unpaid positions at that!

They were first attacked for hiring a new district superintendent [the original one resigned rather than work with the new board members] who was empathetic to the desire of ordinary citizens to have a say in the running of the district.

They were next attacked for their attempts to tie pay-increases to excellence in teaching. The two original board members voted against it. The union unleashed a storm of outrage that the poorest-performing teachers wouldn’t get the same salary increases the best-performing teachers would.

Then there is the latest storm of outrage over the board decision that some form of positive patriotism in the teaching of U.S. history be encouraged. Deconstructionists raged: How dare they encourage patriotism when so many terrible things have been done in the past!

During the last week, teachers have been disrupting family-life by staging sick-ins; by not showing up for classes, parents are forced to stay home with their kids.

Well-founded rumor now has it that as soon as the fall election is over, a massive recall of the three new board members will be organized and funded.

All this is making many people, not only in Colorado but across the country, wonder what has happened to our nation that such things can be? That such tactics of intimidation and poisoning the well against an opponent can be condoned. Indeed, locally and nationally, Republican candidates are blistered in a media frenzy of attack ads for their right-to-life stances (which is in essence an attack on all American Christians who believe in the sanctity of life).

Woven through all this is a nation-wide tide of ridicule and scorn directed at all conservatives, Christians, and people who still dare to defend traditional marriage and family. One of the new board members’ cars had a Defense of Family bumper sticker depicting stick-figures of a man, woman, two children, and a dog defaced during the last week: defaced by the addition of a painted-on meteor on collision course with the family.

I’m in a personal quandary here because I have wonderful relationships with area teachers and administrators in five area elementary schools, where I’ve worked in tandem with them for eleven years now, as we together try our best to get more elementary students into reading. There are so many individual teachers who continue giving their all each day.

Reflecting national concern over one aspect of this controversy is a September 27-8, 2014 Wall Street Journal major opinion essay titled “Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education” by Donald Kagan (Yale University historian and professor emeritus), in which he weighs in on the issue in observations such as these:

“Our schools have retreated from the idea of moral education, except for some attempts of what is called ‘Values Clarification,’ which is generally a cloak for moral relativism verging on nihilism of the sort that asserts that whatever feels good is good.”

“Just as an individual must have an appropriate love of himself if he is to perform well, an appropriate love of family if he and it are to prosper, so, too, must he love his country if it is to survive.”

“Neither family nor nation can flourish without love, support, and defense.”

“Assaults on patriotism are failures of character. They are made by privileged people who enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest, but they lack the basic decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands. But honor, of course, is also an object of their derision.”

“The encouragement of patriotism is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt. This would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.”

“The story of this country’s vision of a free, democratic republic and of its struggles to achieve it need not fear the most thorough examination and can proudly stand comparison with that of any other land.”

* * * * *

So, my question is this: What can each of us do to help avert further cracks in the foundational structure of our republic? Is our current culture of disparaging, discrediting, and ridiculing conservatives, Christians, right-to-lifers, defenders of traditional marriage, and defenders of traditional family, irreversible? If it is not, what can each of us do to help fix it?

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part Two

BLOG #29, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part Two
July 16, 2014

Most Americans still act as though they inwardly believe they are living under the old template: productive vibrant goal-driven life ends at age 65. Most likely they don’t articulate this in mere words–indeed, they don’t have to: their actions confirm that they are living under the old template.

Some years ago, during a period when I directed an Adult Degree Program in Texas, I realized that there was little correlation between teaching college students and teaching adult students. Since our program included an incredibly wide age-span (students in their twenties all the way to students in their eighties), I was forced to reinvent my inner concept of what teaching was all about. Heretofore I had to relate only to students in their late teens and early twenties. Now, I had students who were older than I was! Those years forced me to deal with the aging process for the very first time in my life, for I was no longer concentrating on a small slice of life but rather all of life. My life has never been the same since.

One study really jolted me. It revealed that the average American tends to die within seven years after retirement. The only exceptions being those who, in effect, never retire at all, but merely shift gears, set new goals, new trajectories, and follow new dreams. Or, in the words of a dear friend of mine, Dr. Phil Burgess: “When your career comes to an end–Reboot!” if you fail to institute such a transition, a command goes out from the Commander in Chief of your inner armed forces (your white blood cells); in essence it reads: Demobilize your defending armies! There are no more dreams or goals left to protect! And you die.

There is no such thing as retirement in Scripture. But rather, it is clear that God expects us to live vigorous, creative, caring, helping, growing, becoming lives as long as we draw breath. We deviate from such divine expectations at our own peril.

Several years ago, I shared the results of another related study with you: The body essentially reinvents itself every hundred days. In other words: At the end of every hundred days–at any age!–, I am either measurably stronger or measurably weaker than I was a hundred days earlier. The difference? Daily exercise (vigorous exercise). Up until the time that study reached me, I had been steadily deteriorating physically due to a predominately sedentary lifestyle. Oh I knew full well I ought to exercise–I just kept postponing doing anything about it. But on that day, around fifteen years ago, when I fully assimilated the significance of that study, I made a vow to God that, starting that very day, I’d vigorously exercise every day! No exceptions. Reason being: I knew myself so well I was absolutely certain that if I missed but one day–I’d miss another . . . and another . . . , and all would be lost. Thus if it’s midnight and I haven’t yet exercised, I’ll not go to bed until I have. Result: When I had my last major operation, the hospitalist said, “You have the cardiovascular system of a much younger man! You’d be amazed at how many patients your age do not; in such cases, we don’t dare operate on them.”

My wife and I love to travel. And on cruise ships we can’t help but notice the difference between those who are physically fit and those who are not. Those who are not (sadly, the majority), are obese. They line up by elevators rather than take the stairs; they don’t take day-trips that involve much walking; they graze continuously; they avoid the walking/running tracks on the ship, they loll around for long stretches of most days by the pool, or on the top deck. They are ferried around, even on the ship, in wheelchairs. They, too, are just waiting to die. And everyone who sees them senses it won’t be long.

But it’s all so needless! It’s all so self-determining. I see the difference in every alumni weekend we attend. Former classmates who today can barely walk across the street without help. Who look at you vacantly when you ask them what they’re doing with their lives.

And it gets worse. Just look around you in the local supermarket or mall, as children, teens, and young adults who ought to be in the prime of their lives are already old. Remember the first part of that question?

“A life may be over at sixteen, or barely begun at seventy.”

Untold thousands of young lives today are over–not because they were killed by someone or were involved in accidents–but because they have ceased to grow or become, and have given up on vigorous daily exercise and healthful diets.

So what would it mean to be “barely begun” at seventy years of age? Tune in next week for the conclusion to this series. Its subtitle is “How to Never Get Old.”

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

BLOG #28, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part One
July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
seventy;
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014

 

Once Upon A Time 141 Years Ago

BLOG #11, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ONCE UPON A TIME 141 YEARS AGO
March 12, 2014

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What’s so significant about 1873, 141 years ago? Let’s find out.

Lincoln had been assassinated at the end of the horrific Civil War during which virtually every family, North or South, had been bathed in blood. The terrible Reconstruction Period was bringing a new species of hell to the South. To add even more misery, the terrible bank panic of 1873 was blighting the hopes and dreams of millions of people, for there was then no FDIC to fall back on.

But in the midst of all this, something totally unforeseen took place: Roswell Smith (1829-1892), cofounder of Scribners and founder of the Century Publishing Company, woke up one never-to-be-forgotten morning with a dream; but, unlike most people, this publisher believed in constructing lasting foundations under his dreams. Since he had more than enough money, all he lacked was a young energetic visionary editor who’d help him to change the western world. He found her, a widowed Mary Mapes Dodge, whose best-selling book, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, eight years before, had elevated her to the pinnacle of national popularity. Once she’d signed on, the stage was set.Scan_Pic0080

On my lapboard this stunning late winter day in the Colorado Rockies, is a very old book containing two 141-year-old magazines and four 140-year-old magazines. The crystallization into reality of Smith’s and Dodge’s dream: the very first volume of a life-changing magazine, St. Nicholas.

I’ve always been attracted to visionary dreams that change the world. I can only imagine what it would have been like in that New York editorial office when Smith handed Mrs. Dodge that very first magazine. In my introduction to “A St. Nicholas Magazine Christmas” (Christmas in My Heart® 17, 2008), I took our readers back in time to what it would have been like for a child or a teen to have been handed a copy of that magazine.

The fastest speed known to man was the train; transportation in general was still dominated by the horse. The telegraph office and the newspaper in each town were their windows to the world. The center of home life was the stove, kitchen, or fireplace–here is where family reading took place in the evenings. Paper was so rare that children, both at home and at school, tended to write with chalk on slate rather than using a pencil on paper. Childhood, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then, for children were expected to work as hard as adults. Education was all too brief; maybe, if you were lucky, three or four grades in a one-room schoolhouse. Girls especially faced an unenviable future for few careers other than marriage and motherhood were open to them. They were expected to marry by the ages of 14 to 17 (boys 15 to 18); children would then arrive on an average of every two years. No small thanks to the failure of doctors and midwives to wash their hands between patients, untold millions of women died of puerperal fever or childbirth “complications” – hence men tended to go through three wives in a lifetime. Life expectancy was short.

So just imagine yourself as an 1873 child or teen, as this magazine created just for you was delivered to your door. You’d be not only hungry for knowledge, you’d be voracious: all that knowledge out there, but inaccessible to you. Now here come, in your mailbox, windows to the world: history, biography, religion, literature, art, music, mythology, biology, architecture, anthropology, philosophy, technology, folklore, popular culture, and on and on. Authors and poets such as Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Anthony Hope, Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Longfellow, Bret Harte, Whittier, Frances Hodgson Burnett, William Cullen Bryant; and artists such as Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Frederic Remington, Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Keller, etc.

Faithfully, for two-thirds of a century, three generations of young people received 1,200 pages of fascinating reading material every year. Without preaching or moralizing, the magazines helped inculcate principles of right living in its readers: character traits such as integrity, kindness, self-sacrifice, empathy, industry, courage, fortitude, self-respect, patriotism, respect for their elders, sportsmanship, etc.. – traits that bridged to the Golden Rule and service for others. Interwoven into the very fabric of the magazine was God’s leading in each of our lives. Thus, in its 66 years, St. Nicholas had a huge impact on the American people and British Commonwealth.

And yet, miraculously, defying all the odds, here is this refugee from another time, this 1873-74 artifact, on my lapboard! Thoughts and reactions almost overwhelm me. What will be the thoughts of people in 2155, 141 years from now, when they look back in time? Will there be any paper books left outside of mega library vaults? Will the average person be able to experience the thrill of touching and reading actual paper pages from times past? Or will the closest thing be digital? Digital recreations that lack any real connections to the real artifact itself. In that probable age of Orwellian Big Brother will they be forced to enter the Ray Bradbury world of Fahrenheit 451 and seek out those who memorized seminal books from the past (reason being totalitarian rulers have now erased all printed records that such books ever existed)? Even more terrifying, will there yet exist civilizations based on the Judeo-Christian belief system generations of children once grew up internalizing?

In a way, thousands of homeschooling parents are already circling their wagons around their children, earnestly seeking to preserve values worth living by for their children. Searching out real books, with the known potential to change lives for the better if their values are internalized. In a world that increasingly devalues real books, a revolution has already begun, a revolution every bit as significant as the one begun back in 1873-74 with this priceless book resting on my lapboard today.