January 28, 2007

Bullying Is a Huge Problem!

If my volume of e-mail is any indication, BULLYING is one of the most pressing issues facing parents of school-age children, so please do not feel that you are alone in your worries if you are facing problems with bullying.

Bullying; A Critical Problem

I also want you to know that I view any bullying situation as a critical issue in the healthy development of any child!

Now what should you do if your child is facing a problem with bullying; either by doing some bullying, or by being bullied?

Bullying Cannot Be Solved in Just One Home!
It Takes a Community Effort

Asking your son or daughter to try to fix or stop this bullying behaviour would be futile; just about as futile as it would be for me to ask you, as one lone parent, to attempt to fix this huge problem!

Societal Problems NEED Societal Solutions

As I see it, this problem will never be fixed if each family attempts to make the change all alone! Asking you, as one parent, to do something, in your home, with your lone child would be foolish. Attempting to combat a huge societal problem like bullying would be as silly as Martin Luther King trying to do away with racial prejudice by talking to his son in his kitchen!

Do you see my point? Bullying is not a problem of just one child, or just one family. Even though your child may be a victim, we all must attack the big problem at it's source. Bullying is far bigger than you, your child or your family!

Bullying Is a Huge Problem Involving Many People!

This is a huge societal problem! It needs a societal solution! Now, don't think for a minute that I am telling you to throw up your hands in helplessness... because I am not!!

Here Is a Solution That Might really Work!

What I am telling you is that you need to get started in helping to CREATE THE COMMUNITY THAT IS RAISING YOUR CHILDREN! Do not accept what is going on! But, rather, change it by taking positive action! Just like we teach you in Rule #1 in our curriculum: figure out what you want your community to be like and start building it that way, with a group of families.

How might you do this? It's simple, get a copy of our Parenting with Dignity Curriculum and start a parenting class!

A Simple Concept

This is a very simple concept to understand. It is so much easier for you to teach the use of a simple word like "please" to your own children, if every home they visit uses that word in a similar way! Your child will use PLEASE because everyone else uses it!

By the same token, it is so much simpler to expect your child to make good choices with regard to drugs, if lots of other children do likewise!

It is so much simpler for you to expect your child to behave appropriately while on a date to the Prom, if he is dating a young lady who has been taught the same appropriate dating behavior!

Protecting Children from Bullying Can Be Simple

And... It is so much easier to protect your children from bullying if they are going to a school and interacting with other children who have also been taught to respect the rights and feelings of others!

This Sounds Difficult... But It Really Is Not!

"How do you get there?" you ask. Well, it is pretty simple... you must open a discussion with other parents! A parenting with Dignity Class does exactly that! Parenting with Dignity classes stimulate discussions about what you all wish to teach your children in your community! You must come to some agreement about what all of you are going to teach your children.

You cannot leave this to chance! Leaving it to chance is probably already resulting in Bullying! You must take positive action to create a positive community where children grow up respecting each other!

Please subscribe to this blog and I promise that I will do a series of future articles about how to set up and effectively run a Parenting with Dignity class.

Kidnapped Part 4 Follow-Up

Alert... New Information
Boy's Body Found

It is necessary for me to follow up on the article about the boy in our neighborhood who disappeared. I am sorry to have included this incident as part of an article on kidnapping because it turns out that this case was not one of kidnapping or abduction as it was originally thought. Unfortunately, this boy's body was found Friday. It now appears that he had drowned in a septic tank only 25 feet from where he was last seen. Details are sketchy at this point.

January 26, 2007

The Greatest Teacher I Have Ever Known

My Best Friend

My best friend for thirty-two years was an amazing man by the name of John Matau. He was a teacher!

When I first met him I was on my visit to Kittitas High School to interview for my first full time teaching job. His room was right next to the Principal’s Office and while I was doing my interview, I could hear the laughter of students through the cinder-block walls that separated the office from John’s classroom.

After my interview, I walked to the door of that classroom and peeked in to see what all the laughter was about. The guy in front of the room was playing some kind of a game with his students and it was obvious that everyone in the room was engaged in what was going on. It was near to the lunch hour and the principal had invited me to stay for lunch. I decided to stay and vowed to try to meet this teacher who was having so much fun with the kids.

Learning Can Be Fun

Well, I did not have to wait long to meet the fellow… he walked out of his room when the bell rang, came over and introduced himself to me and invited me to go to the cafeteria to eat lunch. He said it was a bit of a walk but it would be worth it because the menu was for hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes that day. He said the cooks did a wonderful job with this lunch, and they always made fresh bread so it would be a great meal!

The cafeteria and lunchroom were in the grade school, and when we arrived there was a long line of students waiting for lunch. I showed him the ticket the principal had given me and mentioned that he told me that teachers and guests could eat without waiting in line. John’s response was simply, “Would never do it!” So… we went to the end of the line and waited our turn to eat with all of the students.

When I arrived home that afternoon I told my wife I had met the most amazing fellow at my job interview. He seemed to be a truly unique teacher! I told her that if I was lucky enough to get that job, I was going to get to know this guy and try to figure out why his classroom seemed to be so much fun! I told my wife that he just might be my best friend that I had not yet met! Little did I know the meaning of those words?

John rapidly became my best friend. I, too, became his best friend and we remained as such for thirty-two years. I guess he is still my best friend, we just don’t get to spend much time together since he died of cancer almost four years ago.

The Best Teacher

I want to tell you why I call John Matau the best teacher that I have ever known. John believed that education should be fun for all kids, not just for the most talented or gifted. He had run away from home at twelve and he told me simply he always tried to make his class into a place for kids like himself! He wanted the wild and unruly kids to have a place to learn too. I found that the “normally-good” students liked his classes because he made learning fun for them too.

John and I taught and coached together for four years there at Kittitas. I learned from that guy every day. John taught me that there was a place for every boy on a team so we invited every boy to be involved with our team in some way. We all learned the position of manager or equipment guy as is essential to the success of the game of football as are the players.

After four years together went our separate ways and taught and coached in different communities. John returned to the town of Elma, where he had graduated from high school, and I accepted an opportunity to try coaching at the college level… but our friendship seemed to grow with the physical distance. We shared our many experiences with kids and I continued to learn from John at every turn. I think he learned from me too and most of all we learned together. We loved kids and we were both proud to call ourselves teachers. Most of all, we, together realized what an awesome responsibility it was to be called “Teacher” or “Coach” by one of our students.

I watched John teach at every opportunity. I learned that while teachers must never cross the line and become buddies with their students, they could earn a special place among students by never considering themselves superior to them. I always ate school lunch in the cafeteria like John did and I always waited in line with the kids, even though every school I worked in offered teachers a separate line where they were served ahead of the kids. I always wrote my telephone number on the board the first day of school so that if any of my students wanted or needed some kind of help, I could be easily reached.

Now to get to the meat of this story… John and I got to teach and coach in the same district again down in Walla Walla, Washington. In my last year of teaching in that great school district, John told me that he had harbored a dream for years of building a school that was dedicated to his beliefs about teaching! Charter Schools had just become a new possibility and the concept of building a different kind of school got John to thinking.

The Courage to Try Something New

He went to the Administration and asked permission to build a school there in Walla Walla. By this time John had become Vice Principal at the local high school and he was becoming disillusioned by the common practice of letting kids drop out of school. He was even more alarmed at the practice of kicking kids out of school for attendance and behavior problems. When John talked about these kids being out on the street with no education, I always watched his eyes fill with tears.

As I saw his tears, I would reflect back upon his statement at Kittitas, when he told me he wanted his classroom to be a place for kids like himself; the wild and unruly. However, we had talked so often about how we wished the world could be different, that I just thought this dream of building a new kind of school was another bit of wishful thinking on John’s part.

I was so amazed when John Matau actually received permission to build his own school. I will not go through all of the red tape and hoops he jumped through to build his school, however I will share with you how his school was able to succeed with kids that the formal educational system had failed.

Why His School Worked!

First, John named this school The Opportunity Program, simply because that was what it was… an opportunity to succeed for kids who had never been given a chance!

To build his school, the district simply said that he could not recruit students from the traditional high school or middle school, and he could not recruit his students from the already existing alternative school. He could only recruit students off of the streets who were not in school. Also, he was told that his funding would come from the exact formula that governed the rest of the schools in the district. He would only get funding based upon the number of FTE’s (Full time Equivalent Students) that he had in attendance at his school.

John based his school on a couple of basic ideas. 1. The bar would be lowered for no one! Excellence would be the standard. However, he also said that 2. This school would be built and run for the convenience of the students rather than the convenience of the adults running it!

The Opportunity Program opened at 6:00 A.M. and did not close until midnight. Teachers came and went to meet with the schedules created by the students. (I know, I was a doubter too until I saw this school operate!)
He Treated Students with Respect and Dignity!

Now here is where John really broke with convention… when a potential student was located and came for a visit to see what this school was like, they were immediately escorted in to meet with John, the principal of the school. John would then take the potential student into his office to a huge calendar on his wall and he would ask the student to tell him what time would be most convenient for them to have their entrance interview. He would point to the calendar and say, “You tell me what day works best for you and you tell me what time of day or night works best for you and I will be here. However, you must pick a time when you are willing to give me two hours of your time! I will make time for you but you must give me two hours of your time.”

Once the date was scheduled, John would give the potential student one of his business cards with the selected time for the meeting written on the back, and tell the young person that if something came up he would like a call, in advance, to let him know that there needed to be a change in the time of the appointment. He also offered that if the student needed a ride to the appointment, they could just call that number and he would gladly provide transportation.
Be Your Best You

The only requirement he made of the student was that on the day of the appointment he expected all prospective students, “to show up here on time, and bring your best YOU! That means that you do not have to show up looking or dressing like me. You do not need to conform to my standards but you must conform to the highest standards that you set for yourself!”

The original Opportunity Program was in rented space in the basement of a house owned by a neighborhood church. In one year John’s school had so outgrown that space that the Opportunity Program moved into a vacant building that had once been a super market.

When a student would come for the entrance appointment they would find John, the Principal of their new school, waiting out on the sidewalk or in the parking lot to meet them. John was always dressed very professionally in a suit and tie for these occasions and he would run to meet the kid with his hand outstretched for a handshake. John would always call the student by name and tell him/her how glad he was to see her/him.
Treat Them Like They Are Special...
and They Will Act Like They Are Special!

Next they would go into the school where John would take the kid on a tour of the facilities. The student would be introduced as if he/she were being interviewed for a CEO position in a Fortune 500 Corporation! John’s introductions consisted of stating the name of the teacher or staff member and then telling the staff member all about the new student. (Are you noticing a different emphasis already? We can tell kids that they are important but our actions speak much louder than our words ever could.)

Then John would escort the student into his office where he would offer a cup of coffee, a glass of juice, or a cookie. He would offer the student one of the comfortable chairs in his office and he would sit in another chair just like the student’s chair. (Are you beginning to see a trend of treating the student as an important person?)

John would then pick up a clipboard and a pen and the interview would begin. John would ask the student first to list for him any Personal Goals that she/he might have. Many students were caught off guard by this manner of questioning and most had really never thought much about personal goals. If the student seemed to be stumped, John would produce a big sheet with some of the personal goals that had been submitted by other students. Honesty, integrity, laughter, self-worth, a family, and so on. This sheet ran the gamut from wanting a good job to wishing to be a rock musician.

After writing down any of these goals the student had offered or picked, John would tell the student that he would type this list of goals for the student to have for permanent records and that he would always have a copy of the goals in the student’s personal folder there in his office.

Next, John would turn the questioning to the student’s Professional (or Career) Goals. He would ask the student where they saw themselves in ten, twenty, or thirty years. What job would you like to have? How much money would you like to make? What kind of a house would you like to live in? Just like with the personal goals, if the student seemed stumped, John would offer a big sheet of possibilities. Once the potential student had selected some professional goals John said the same about these. He would type up a copy of them, give a copy to the student, and keep a copy of them in the student’s permanent file. He also pointed out that these were the exclusive property of each student and that they could and would be changed at any time that the student wished!

Then John would then turn the conversation to Educational Goals. “What would you like to get from your education?” he would ask. Most of the time this question would really throw the interviewee for a loop. Most of these kids had never thought much about what they personally wanted from an education. When prompted with a list of some ideas many students would open up and admit that they really could not read very well and they would like to learn to read! Others were very specific in simply wanting a diploma. A few would even own up to having a dream of someday attending college. John wrote them all down with the same promise to type them and have them available to the student at any time, simply to look at, to change, add to, or modify!

While the student was in the beginning of the interview John would take a picture of the prospective student with his digital camera. While the interview was being conducted, one of the Opportunity Staff would take the picture, blow it up and make a poster of it. Under the picture would be typed the student’s name. Below the student’s name would be placed one of each of their sets of goals: a Personal Goal, a Career Goal, and a Professional Goal.

By the time that the interview was over the poster would be placed on the "Wall of Fame" next to all of the other students in the Opportunity Program, with the promise that it would remain there until the student asked to have it removed.

Now do you see why I say that John was the best teacher I ever met? When I would visit his school and talk with his students I would always ask them why they were succeeding in this school when they had failed in other schools and they would always answer with a few common answers; “This is the first school where they asked me what I wanted!” or “This is the first school where anyone actually cared enough to know my name!” or “This is the first school where I have been treated with respect for who I am.” or “I can still work to support my baby and also go to school here.”
A Demand for Excellence!

Now go back for a moment and reflect upon something that I said earlier about John’s premise for the school. “We will lower the bar for nobody!” He set up a school that honored and recognized every student and their different needs and different goals. His school saw each student as important and unique yet his school demanded the same level of excellence that the traditional school did! Often his school’s standards were even higher! And he was getting this excellence from students who had never before succeeded in school. What was the difference? Very simply, he had done as he said he would; this school was built for the convenience of the students! This school treated its' students as if they were capable of excellence and the students rose to match those expectations!

A number of times the Opportunity Program was challenged by the traditional educational community because many doubted that the Opportunity Program could be achieving the excellence they were reporting. I was there one day when a few members from the high school were there challenging John on how he could be awarding full credit for a course offered at the traditional high school. John simply replied, “I don’t know, but we are using your curriculum guide, your Student Learning Objectives, and your tests. If you would like to review any of our student’s work we operate on the “portfolio method” of evaluation here. So, if you would like, we can pull out the work of any student taking a course you feel is not being properly taught or evaluated and you could show us where we are falling short. As a matter of fact, one of our biggest tasks is evaluating our students’ work, so if you feel that our standards are not high enough, we would welcome having any of you come and help us to evaluate our students’ work!”

It is amazing to note that in every year John ran that school, they had a minimum of 95 students who had been cast aside as unfit for school by our traditional school system, but who were now working in pursuit of high school diplomas. As a result of John’s demand, all of his graduates walked across the stage along with students who had attended the traditional high school and received the real High School Diplomas they had earned from the Walla Walla School District.

Great teachers meet every student where they are and take them as far as they can go. Sometimes those teachers reach beyond what has always been done to meet the needs of their students.

John was forced to retire by his bout with cancer. Almost four years after his death, the Opportunity Program still is a living monument to the dedication of the best teacher I have ever been privileged to know.

January 25, 2007

Kidnapped Part 4 (A Necessary Concluding Chapter)

A Final Wake Up Call

Well, let me tell you that I did not intend to write a Part 4 to this series on Kidnapping… but something happened just yesterday, right here in our beautiful and peaceful little community of Kalispell, Montana, that made me know that I needed to do this concluding article.

Here in our beautiful and peaceful community and just about three miles from our home, a young boy, age three, has disappeared!

Amber Alert

According to our local newspaper, the Daily Interlake, “an Amber Alert was issued Thursday morning for a boy who disappeared from a relative’s house in Evergreen (a small subdivision of Kalispell) on Wednesday night. The alert signals that 3-year-old Loic J.M. Rogers is believed to have been abducted.”

If abduction can happen here it can happen anywhere! Like I said in my first Blog on Kidnapping, this family did one of the best things that they could do to protect their son… they live in America in a quiet and normally safe neighborhood. But that was not enough.

According to the article, Undersheriff Pete Wingert said, “The father, son Loic, and a younger sibling had just eaten dinner at a relative’s house on Maple Drive. The father took Loic out to the car and went back inside the house to get the other child. When he came back out, the boy was gone!” Wingert said.

The boy was wearing a red, white and blue coat; blue jeans; a multi-colored beanie hat; a long-sleeved T-shirt and tan leather boots. He is 3 feet tall and has blonde hair and blue eyes.Anyone with information is urged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 758-5610.

All that it took was that innocent brief moment and the boy was gone.

Start Today!

Practice all of the protections that were discussed in the previous three articles on this Blog with your children tonight! Right away!

January 24, 2007

Kidnapped Part 3 (revised because the previous article was incomplete!)

The Best Protection

Please let me go on record here as stating that I believe that the best protection against kidnapping lies in the heads of your children! The best protection lies in teaching your children to protect themselves because it is pretty certain that if your child is going to be kidnapped, the perpetrator will make sure that you are nowhere around when they commit the act. Your children must be able to protect themselves!

In a recent article By Wendy Koch, in USA TODAY, she noted, “according to a study released today by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the typical victim is a teenage girl on her way to or from school.
The study, released as a new school year gets underway, examined 403 attempted kidnappings by strangers or slight acquaintances that were reported by police or news media in 45 states from February 2005 to July 2006. It was conducted to learn how such attempts are foiled. The study did not look at successful abductions.

Six in 10 victims fought back and escaped, according to the ongoing study's initial findings. Three in 10 ran away before any physical contact, and about 10% were saved when an adult nearby intervened.

‘It is more important than ever for parents to empower their kids,' says Ernie Allen, the center's president. He says he doesn't want to scare children, but they need to learn to recognize danger and, if attacked, draw attention by screaming, kicking and running away.”

Parental Action

All of that being said, it is still necessary for parents to educate themselves in order to be able to effectively teach their children! There are also lots common sense types of things that parents can do to simply avoid putting children in situations that will make them vulnerable to kidnapping.
Things like never allowing children to used public restrooms unattended, or never allowing children to be out of their sight in crowded places like malls, stadiums, or theaters. (the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, that I will mention further down, will give you many helpful suggestions for protecting your children.)
One of the newest tools used by child predators is the Internet. Predators use the internet to attempt to establish relationships with targeted children. Parents absolutely must instruct their children about Internet safety. One great resource for information about Internet safety is our Parenting with Dignity Warning Signs webpage.

Rather that rewrite what has already been written elsewhere I will simply give you the recommendation for a couple of sights that you ought to visit to become well informed about how to protect your children from abduction.

I personally believe that the best source of sound parental advice about child abductions is the site of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Their site is comprehensive and informative without being alarming.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is also the recommended parental help organization of the FBI, who has jurisdiction over all kidnapping in America. I think that speaks loudly of their qualification to offer you help. While you are at it, I would strongly recommend that you visit the FBI site and look over their information on crimes against children. (If you do visit the FBI site please be forewarned to guard yourself against becoming unnecessarily alarmed. Some of the information you find there will alarm just about anyone.) While reading their information please use it to motivate you to keep you children safe!

Guarding children against abduction and kidnapping requires education, careful instruction, common sense, and well practiced, and safe actions from parents!

January 22, 2007

Kidnapped, Part 2

Due to the recent number of inquiries that I have received about protecting children from being kidnapped, let me talk frankly about protecting your children from being kidnapped by strangers, like the boys in Missouri.

Practice Positive Action - What "TO DO!"

Protecting children from being kidnapped by strangers is a great opportunity to apply Rule #1 from the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum.

First, it is necessary to decide exactly what you want your children TO DO! Then you must decide on a strategy for teaching them to do exactly as you said.

Telling your children, “Do not talk to strangers,” is actually pretty ridiculous! First it tells them what not to do but does not teach them a bit about what to do.

Next, it is really pretty silly to tell them to not talk to strangers because that would mean that they could not order a meal in a restaurant unless they know the waiter and they would not be able to get assistance from anyone in a store unless they knew them.

So, what would be a reasonable thing to teach a child?

1. Teach them to be cheerful and cordial with adults... BUT teach them to walk rapidly and immediately away from gifts offered by strangers. Teach them to walk rapidly and immediately away from offers of rides with adults. Teach them to Run, Shout, and Fight to foil abductions if they are ever grabbed by some person, even if the person is familiar to them! (Over 70% of child abductions are committed by someone that the child knows!) repeat this rehersal many times. (You are then applying Rule # 3 from Parenting with Dignity.)

2. Rehearse regularly with children, at as young an age as you possibly can, their vital contact information. Then repeat the process in many situations and settings. (By doing this you are again just applying Rule # 3 from Parenting with Dignity.) Have children say, out loud, to you, their phone number over and over regularly. (That recitation must include area code because if they are abducted and taken outside your area code, a seven digit number will do them no good.) Have them repeat your home address over and over until it is just like a part of their name. Have them include the city and state in their recitation of your address. Have them state, out loud, the complete names of both parents. Stating it out loud, and repeatedly insures that they really do know the complete names. Just think about this for a brief second; in the recent abduction of the two boys in Missouri, those boys were allowed access to computers and telephones. Teaching your children to dial your home phone number will help them to let you know they are in trouble and where they are. Practice dialing your number on your home phone. Have them call your home when you are at friends, and teach them how to leave a message on your answering machine. If those Missouri boys had simply dialed their own home number after their abduction, they could have been immediately rescued.

3. Practice precise “escape actions” with children. Like I said above, teach them to Run, Shout, and Fight. Teach them to shout, “I am being kidnapped!” at the top of their lungs. Teach them to run to the nearest adult and sream, “Help! Help!” Practice hitting at the arms of someone who is grabbing them and running at top speed away and toward the nearest person or house, all the while pointing at the potential abductor. Create possible scenarios with them and role play.

4. Have a "secret word" in your family. There are many uses for a "secret word" but teach your children that one use of the secret word is to communicate distress to you in a phone call. Teach them to include your secret word if they are ever abducted and are forced to call home and are forced to say that they are at a friend’s or that they are OK. Teach them that their abductor will not even know that saying the secret word will give you the distress signal but that it will get you activated to rescue them.

Please check back tomorrow for some tips for parental actions that can reduce the chances of having your children abducted.

January 17, 2007


(The alleged kidnapping of a couple of boys in Missouri has prompted me to take a “Time-Out” from my series of article on sending messages of love to children to offer some help to parents who are now fearing for the safety of their children. The number of requests says to me that I should address the concerns of the parents who have written simply because each one who writes undoubtedly represents thousand more with similar questions.)

Over the past few days I have received a good number of inquiries from alarmed parents due to the recovery of two boys from Missouri who had been kidnapped. Almost every parent who has written to me has had almost the same question… “How can we prevent our children from being kidnapped?”

Well, that is a great question… and I will attempt to give some concrete steps that can be taken in order to protect your children from a similar catastrophe.

1. The first step that you can take to protect your children from being kidnapped would be to live in the United States of America! Please do not start laughing or stop reading and stick with me here because I am not joking. While the United States does have a pretty high crime rate, crimes against children are actually very rare in America. In an average year there are usually less than a hundred children kidnapped by strangers in the United States! The chances are probably greater of your children being bitten by a poisonous snake and dying than they are of them being kidnapped by a stranger! Living in America would be one of the best ways to prevent having your children kidnapped because kidnapping is really, very rare here.
2. In addition to the low number of children kidnapped in the U.S., it is interesting to note that the vast majority of kidnappings here are committed by people who are related to the children. Most of the time the kidnappers are estranged parents who have lost custody battle and kidnap their own kids! So the second way that you can prevent your children from being kidnapped is to maintain a stable marriage.

(Please check back tomorrow for some tips for protecting your children from being kidnapped by strangers!)


I promise to very rarely use this blog for things like this, but I just could not resist passing these on... Please enjoy and take comfort in knowing that your children are normal when they say stuff like this:
3-year-old Reese:"Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is His name.Amen."
A little boy was overheard praying:"Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."
After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied,"That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."
One particular four-year-old prayed,"And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."
A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service,"And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied,"Because people are sleeping."
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"
A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand."Daddy, what happened to him?" the son asked. "He died and went to Heaven," the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, "Did God throw him back down?"
A wife invited some people to dinner.At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," the girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said,"Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

January 11, 2007

Messages of Love: Play with Kids! (Part 1)

All People Who Love, Play!

Seek opportunities to play with you children. That is what people do when they love each other… they play! All too often we find parents who take the job too seriously. They seem to think that every conversation has to be loaded with lots of guidance and advice. That is not true. Play and laughter is a great way to build a relationship with a child. (It is also a great way to extend our own childhood!) Just let your hair down and play with your kids, for no other reason than to have some fun.

Don’t Wait… Play Today, and Play Every Day!

I learned way too late in life that adults could buy water balloons too! Imagine this: You have left work early some sunny afternoon and you have filled up 30 water balloons and you have them in a bucket on the roof where you are hiding in wait for the school bus to drop the neighborhood kids off at the corner. As the kids unload you start launching your ammo at them. Did you know that you can get about six in the air before the first one lands? By then you are out of sight and the projectiles begin to hit. All of the kids are dodging and tryint to find out where they are coming from.

Then one of the kids spots you on the roof as you continue the bombardment. I will guarantee you that not one kid at the bus stop will be telling your kid, “Your dad is so dumb!” what they will be saying is, “Your dad is so cool, my dad would never throw water balloons at us from the roof… let’s get him!”

Play at Every Opportunity

My gosh, turn off the stove and go out and make a snowman! It is snowing! And in the life of an eight-year-old that is exciting and fun… and it is fun for parents too. Dinner can wait. As a matter of fact, a late dinner might be really fun for the whole family.
Play tricks on your kids and let it be known that you are fair game for tricks. Short sheet their beds, put surprise toys in their shoes, put blocks of wood in their sandwiches, and get ready for some fun tricks to be played on you. (It might be necessary to establish some rules and guidelines for tricks because they might get out of hand.) Don’t be surprised if you try to get up from Thanksgiving dinner and find that someone has been under the table and tied your shoelaces together.

In the process of the laughter you have established a relationship of laughter and fun in your family and with your kids. Play is magic for building lasting relationships. Remember that the ones that you laugh with are usually the ones that we seek out in times of difficulty. If you have built a tradition of laughter with your kids don’t be surprised if your kids come to you during times of need or tragedy.

January 10, 2007

Messages of Love: Make it (part 2)

Moms and Dads Can Make a Variety of Things!

A Mom Builds a Car with a Son

One day I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned and the lady technician recognized me as the person teaching parenting classes so she asked me, “I have a fourteen year old son who is becoming very interested in cars and I was wondering what you would think about me buying a car for us to restore?”

My reply was, “What a great idea! You will never be sorry that you did it!”
Every six months I would receive an update on the car and the mother/son relationship. It was really something to marvel at. The technician would give me an update every time I went in for my six-month tooth cleaning. They bought a 65 Mustang. They took the body off and began restoring it from the frame up. They finished it just in time for the son to drive when he got his driver’s license. She told me he was so protective of the car that she was really assured that he would drive carefully.

I was amazed at what I heard over the next couple of years. This car became a bonding agent between mother and son. They would go to swap meets together to look for parts. They would attend rod runs with other Mustang owners. They went to Hot August Nights in Las Vegas to hang out with other hot rod enthusiasts! They spent hours together just because they had a common interest.

Where could you find a common interest with your children? It sure seems that one of the keys to developing such an interest is to start early. I doubt that the dental technician would have found her son to be so patient in restoring the Mustang if she had waited until he already had a driver’s license.

Moms can build cars and dads can build dollhouses! The key here is relationship building. It takes time but it surely is meaningful time. The conversation that results over a common interest is not forced. It is natural and spontaneous. The thing that results is a relationship that is natural and easy. The dental technician said that she had the greatest conversations with her son while working on their car. She said that one night she was laying under the car with her son attempting to put the transmission in and all of a sudden her son looked over and asked her, “Mom, when I am on a date with a girl is it ok to… ?” and he asked her the most personal question. He would never have asked if they had not had the relationship built around the car. The place that he felt relaxed and confident enough to ask the question was under their car.

Pick some ways that you can make something with your children. The outcome will be a relationship!

January 09, 2007

A Lesson about Love

Kids in Gangs are Screaming That They Need Love!

When I got to Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Washington, for my first day on the job as an English teacher, I received a real education about the complicated issue of dealing with Gangs and it was pretty graphic. On that first day on the job we met with all of the staff at the school; the kids were not due until the next day. What took place on that day was that we divided all of the employees who worked in the building into two large groups and went into two of the largest rooms in the school to discuss a couple of key problems we would be facing in the upcoming year.

I was new to the school, so I was very hesitant to enter this discussion. I felt it best to just sit back and listen to get a feel for my new faculty and this school that was new to me. The group school employees that I was in was to discuss what we as a staff were going to do about the “gang problem” that we would most surely face in the upcoming year. You see I quickly learned that the federal government had come to the Yakima School District and informed us that we could not continue to operate a school district with two high schools of such differing racial make up. Davis High School had something like 68% “Minority” students while Eisenhower had only about 5% “Minority” students. Both schools were under the authority of one school board, and we were given the edict to integrate the two schools or else the district would face federal intervention or loss of funding.


This meant that Eisenhower was going to have to welcome many more of the Mexican population into our school because we had to. The plan was to integrate the two schools by using active recruiting and what are known as “Magnet Programs” that draw kids to schools by presenting opportunities. Beginning this year, Eisenhower was going to offer a whole bunch of new classes in English as a Second Language to draw the Mexican student population to our school.

It worked!

(I must say here that the Yakima School District was amazingly successful in this endeavor and has built a very equal distribution of students from all ethnic groups in both of the high schools and they did it with some amazing leaders like Dr. Steve Mitchell who was principal of Eisenhower for four of the years of this wonderful time of peaceful integration of the two schools.)

I was sitting in the room with half of the faculty and we were to discuss how we could be proactive in denying gang activity among our student body. This very discussion was rooted in some rather irrational fears with their origin in the fact that in the town of Yakima there is a very small portion of the Mexican population who control the Cocaine and Marijuana traffic for most of the entire northwest region of the country. This drug traffic is controlled by a few very strong and violent Mexican gangs and the rest of the Mexican population suffers from the extreme misconception that Mexican kids are gangsters. This was a fact that we soon began to see as false as the kids came to our school.

What Should Our School Do about Gangs?

Well, our discussion began with a question, “What should we do to prevent gangs at Eisenhower High School?”

One of the first comments was, “We have to take a strong stand on gang dress. We must ban gang dress at Eisenhower!”

I found myself agreeing with that statement, initially, because I didn’t much like gang dress and thus I was opposed to allowing it at the school.
Then, my eyes were opened by the next statement from one of our fine counseling staff who said, “Well, if we are going to be fair and equitable about gang dress we must own up to the fact that one of the most violent gangs in Yakima are the Cowboys! If we outlaw saggy-baggy, kahki, Dikie pants and certain colors of t-shirts as gang dress then we better outlaw cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans, big belts with big silver buckles, vests and cowboy hats!”

(Again, a little explanation is necessary here. A common activity on Friday and Saturday nights in the area surrounding Yakima was for groups of kids known as the Cowboys to get together in groups in pickup trucks, arm themselves with baseball bats and clubs and go out cruising in the orchards surrounding Yakima. Any time they would come upon lone Mexicans they would stop and beat the lone person, or at least threaten to, in order to steal their money. You see many of the orchard workers are Illegal Aliens and many are paid under the table in cash because of their illegal status. This creates a dangerous circumstance for them in that many have large amounts of cash on their person since they cannot put their money in the banking system and they also cannot complain about being robbed to the Police because it will result in being discovered as being illegally in this country.)

Our Biggest Gang

The “Cowboys” had evolved as a pretty violent group, and in reality, were probably responsible for as much violence as the Drug gangs but were maybe not recognized as being as tightly organized or as dangerous because they wore clothing more acceptable to adults.

Now here I was, sitting in the room with the school employees, and I was listening to this discussion rather differently because I was wearing the gang dress of the cowboys. Almost all of my life I have worn cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans. I wear one of three big cowboy buckles that I own and I wear western shirts. All of a sudden banning gang dress meant something rather different to me.

Suddenly, I really began to empathize with the “gang kids”. I asked myself some interesting questions. “How would I feel if I could not dress like me at school?”

For the first time in my life, I realized, firsthand, what it was like to be told that the way I dress is not acceptable at my school. I would feel like I cannot be me. I realized that I dress with a sense of pride and identification and the kids we are dictating to do also. I realized that much of the way I dress is almost exactly like the way that those kids dress. I wear things that I have picked out because they are like my dad and Buck Minor, two of my heroes. The buckles that I wear all have great significance to me and identify me with my family. The kids are doing the same thing.

Then I thought about a dress code that would deny me from wearing the clothes that I had on and realized that I really did not have other clothes to wear. I would have to go out and get some new clothes. I could imagine that and knew that if I had to I could afford it but realized that was not the case for the kids I taught. Most of them did not come from backgrounds where there was enough money to buy a new set of clothes. If we told them that they could not come to school in the clothes they were wearing most would have to choose between coming to school in their underwear or not coming at all.

All Kids Want To Be Loved

Boy was this experience eye opening to me. It forced me to really think about gangs and what was the real problem with gangs. The problem was not the clothes and changing the clothes would not change the critical behavior of gangs at all. The problem with gangs was the illegal behavior of drugs, violence, coercion, and intimidation that they are involved in. It even occurred to me that a dress code seemed to be using gang tactics ourselves; we were just requiring different clothes!

Then I realized that I was a leader of one of the biggest “gangs” in the school, the football team. We had our “gang dress” that we put on every Friday night. Then we would go to neighboring town to try to whip up on their “gangs.” We even had our dress that we wore to school in the form of t-shirts and letter jackets. On game days we even dictated that every member of our “gang” had to wear their game jersey to school!

Gangs For Excellence

It all of a sudden occurred to me that it might be exciting if we could get those gangs to exist for excellence rather than drugs, violence, coercion, and intimidation. What if we could get gangs to stand for drug free living like our football team? What if there were standards for minimum grades that had to be maintained for the kids to join the gangs?

I would never have been able to understand those kids had I not known the language of love. If I had never experienced compassion, empathy, respect, or love, I would never have understood the motivation for the behavior of many of the kids I taught! Understanding them allowed me to teach many kids that I would never have been able to reach otherwise.

Simply put, we must teach our children the language of love by speaking it to them!

How do we do that? By remembering this: Kids spell "love" T-I-M-E!