About Me

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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting Over the Cold

Well, it seems like I somehow managed to pick up my annual cold over the Ice Storm break. The only problem, other than the getting over it, that this presents is that Sunday we are having friends over for a Super Bowl party.

This morning I feel like I'm on the rebound, so I think we'll be able to pull it off okay.

The thing about Super Bowl parties is that the game is often the least important aspect of the entire event.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Back to Class

Back to school today. The ice held out as long as it could, but it couldn't stand up all that long to the Oklahoma weather.

We will have to make up 3 days which will mean, probably, that we will have one day in June.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ice Day III, Oops!

Still Thawing
Maple in Winter
Looking out my back porch
Cat and I got up this morning and got around extra early to get to school on time and avoid any traffic problems. Around 4pm yesterday, we got an all call from the district announcing that classes would resume on Thursday.

When we got to Nortwest Classen where Cat teaches, no one was there. A call to her principal confirmed that, indeed, classes had been later cancelled by the district! Evidently, we didn't pick up the phone when the 2nd call came through.

Guess the sidestreets didn't thaw enough to make it safe for the buses to run. On the way home, I nearly slid into another car while trying to stop at a 4-way stop intersection.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ice Day II

Our front year maple tree adorned with Oklahoma's state "flower," the Mistletoe.
Cars beginning to thaw.
We got another day off from school. As you can tell from the picture of our cars, the snow and ice are starting to melt, so it will be back in class tomorrow in all likelihood. The parents will be rejoicing!

I am glad that Rose State College decided to go ahead and call off all clases. That way I don't have to worry about driving on bad streets all the way to Midwest City. College, for some reason, doesn't do "snow day makeups," so a day off is a day off with no penalty.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Day!

The view from my front poarch as the ice continues to fall.

No school today due to an ice storm that roare through the state. "Snow Days" really should be called "Ice Days" in Oklahoma since that's what we get here on the Southern Plains in the winter.

We likely will have no school tomorrow as the forecast calls for a "high" in the lower 20's. This would make this winter the third in a row where we have had multiple days of instruction lost to incliment weather.

Of course, we will make them up at the end of the year, but that means fewer days to prepare for the state "End of Instruction" (EOI) tests. With the number of days we seem to lose each term to the ice, I would not be surprised to see districts across the state "front load" the school calendar, starting school during the second or even first week of August in order to get in more school days prior to the EOI's.

Some are doing this already, and I'd like to see if they experience any more success because of the change. Our State Superintendent of Schools, Sandy Garrett, has advocated a longer school calendar. Perhaps we just need an earlier start.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Can Obama inspire my African-American students?

Will Obama spur my students to great achievement?
The online edition of Newsweek magazine asks if there will be An 'Obama Effect' on Blacks' Test Scores? By this they mean, "[w]ill he . . . goad black students to higher achievement, since he is living proof that working hard can pay off?"

I teach at a high school that is about 75%+ African-American. My initial and very anecdotal response is that, if such an effect will take place, it will not happen right away nor will it happen automatically. The habits they have which seem to be geared towards defeating my attempts to teach them seem too engrained for now. Mostly, I am talking about their habit to carry on sidebar conversations while I attempt to teach the lesson. Another habit they have is to constantly want to call attention to themselves by "showing off" their cleverness thereby avoiding doing work that challenges their comfort zones.

What Obama may do for them is to prepare the ground for their future achievement. They have witnessed a nation come together to elect a man whose life mirrors their own. They know, for example, that I, along with many other teachers of different races, worked for Obama's election. This has taken away some of the "Us v. Them" attitude that many have had, or at least used as a pretext, for lack of effort and achievement.

They are still teenagers, and as is true with teenagers throughout the ages, I am still "the enemy", the authority figure to requires them to conform to a certain standard of behavior, the judge of their efforts, the out-of-touch one who "doesn't understand what it's like to live in the modern world." None of that has changed.

But now, at least, I am a part of those who brought about something they wanted. We are united in one very important cause.

In one important sense, we are one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Should I Go for National Board Teacher Certification?

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
I'm debating whether or not I will to become National Board Certified Teacher. It's a program would show that I meet high standards in my profession. It also means an extra $5000 a year from the state of Oklahoma.

I'd like to get involved in a course of study and reflection, but the program is very time-consuming, so I would have to drop or suspend some of my other responsiblities including my political ones.

So I don't know. I'm giving myself this next week to make a decision.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Call It "The Obama Effect"

I am starting to notice at least one positive effect of having a President Barack Obama. I've noticed a shift towards civility in our public discourse. We are starting to address one another with a degree of politeness and deference. The shift is not universal. There is plenty of nastiness out there. (Just journey over to the "Free Republic" forum to get your daily dose of invective.)

Of course, one would expect liberal discourse to take a term for the better since we have gotten the change which we so long have sought. But even among conservatives like Rich Lowery and Cal Thomas, I have seen a somewhat grudging acknowledgement that Pres. Obama is intelligent and sincere. That his policies, so far, have been positive and beneficial.

So, to do my part, I have added a new New Year's Resolution to keep my political discourse at a higher level. I have been guilty many times of "snarkiness" and have ventured the occasional petty insult. But I want to begin the process of changing that.

Basically, I wish to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. After all, as Mom often reminded me, my words reveal more about me than they do about anything else, or as I tell my students, "Trash is as trash talks."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My President and Me

At the Martin Luther King Day Parade in OKC
A photographer for The Oklahoman newspaper took a picture of me riding in the back of a pickup with a cut-out of Pres. Barack Obama at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade in downtown Oklahoma City.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pete Seeger Sings "This Land Is Your Land"

I have long advocated that "This Land Is Your Land" should be declared our "National Folk Song." Pete Seeger and other artists performed this song on the National Mall as a part of the celebration of Barack Obama's inauguration.
This Land is Your Land

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Eve of Obama's Inauguration

Those of us who believe passionately in social justice, Tuesday, January 20, 2009 looms as the "Great Wakenin' Up Morning." For 8 years, we have the Bush administration tear down environmental protection, attack human rights, turn our beloved nation into an agressor nation, employ torture, run our economy for the benefit of the rich and powerful and commit a host of other rapes of the body politic.

Now, it seems almost too good to be true, and it probably is.

One cannot help but appreciate the symbolism of the fact that Obama is being inaugurated as president on the day after we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. We will celebrate the birth of one of the most important figures in the American Civil Rights movement with one of that movements most important accomplishments. Yet we forget that Dr. King was in his time castigated, not only by those who felt he was moving too fast to advance civil rights, but also by those who felt that he moved far too slowly. Malcolm X called King's historic "March on Washington" in 1963 the "Farce on Washington" because he felt King has bowed to pressure to tone down the militancy of the event.

Right now, Barack Obama has become something of a blank canvas upon which those on the right have painted their worst fears while those of us on the left have pinned our greatest hopes on his administration. Neither side will everything they fear nor everything they hope for come to pass.

Above all, those of us who hope that Obama will truly bring about the change he has promised must realize that he cannot change all by himself, we must continue to be the change we seek in the world. We cannot now set back to enjoy the harvest of our planting and work. We must continue to work the fields to cultivate the growth of justice.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cartoonists Craft

Daryl Cagle
I always admired a political cartoonist's ability to sum up a complex idea with the use of a picture and maybe a few words.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Women and Children Main Casualities of War Between Israel and Hamas

from the Associated Press
LONDON – International doctors called for an end to the violence in Gaza, saying hospitals were scenes of "nightmarish havoc" in articles published Wednesday in The Lancet medical journal. In a special report detailing the human toll of the Gaza offensive, the Lancet said Gaza City's Al Shifa hospital asked for extra refrigeration equipment before the bodies of patients with severe wounds began decomposing.

The hospital, Gaza's largest, reported its 585 beds were filled in the first week of the Israeli offensive.

The Lancet cited the Ministry of Health in Gaza as saying that as of Monday, 292 children and 75 women had been killed in the offensive, with 1,497 children and 626 women wounded.

Neither side in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians can claim absolute moral authority, yet this is exactly what each side claims for itself. The only thing absolutely true about this situation is that women and children will suffer and die.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Moral Failure in Gaza

Gaza Ambulance
My pastor, Robin Meyers, of the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, sent us this message he received from John H. Thomas the General Minister and President of the UCC. Rev. Thomas talks about the UCC's attempt to help with the relief effort for civilians affected by the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Reports from relief workers in Gaza that we relate to are grim. Also discouraging is the fact that the email blast we sent out on Tuesday with an appeal for funds and a call to action, along with a statement and a lot of background material generated very limited response.

One person complained that we were too anti-Israel. That was about it. I think the public, including most of our members, has bought the administration line that this is about "our friend Israel fighting terrorists." No reference to the broader context of illegal settlements,the wall that is a land grab, the repression of the Occupation, the relentless removal of Palestinians from Jerusalem, and the dwindlingo pportunity for a really viable state. We try, but. . .

I've been invited on Thursday to a meeting with the Transition Team in DC on the subject of Israel-Palestine. This in response to an excellent briefing paper Peter Makari prepared for them. But the "point person" apparently named by the Obama team appears to be AIPAC's dream come true. So I don't anticipate much. Michael Kinnamon has been trying to get a meeting this week with the Israeli ambassador [,]and if that happens I'm to accompany him.

Moral failure? As my time winds down I'm more and more conscious of many failures, none more dismal than the failure of the churches at all levels to mount a consistent and persistent resistance to the war in Iraq and the attending evils.

I'm involved in the Religious Coalition Against Torture and will be in a press conference on Wednesday once again calling for the President/President-elect to adopt a Declaration of Principles Against Torture supported by church leaders and military leaders alike. But. . .too little too late?

At the end of this month we have scheduled a major consultation here on Israel-Palestine and how the UCC can assert itself more aggressively. But even that may now need to be cancelled or postponed as our Palestinian participants are cancelling - either they need to be involved in relief work there and/or are afraid that if they leave the West Bank [,] Israel may make it difficult for them to return. I'm trying to keep my gloom relatively quiet, but as you may sense here, I'm not in a great place at the moment. Thanks for your friendship and passion.

If you wish to help with the United Church of Christ's Gaza relief efforts, go to Gaza Humanitarian Aid Effort at this link.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Visit to Hood River, Oregon

The Columbia River looking across to Washington state
I enjoyed my visit with my family at a very sad occasion. Hood River reminds me in some way of Alton, Illinois where my wife's parents reside. (Actually, they live in "East Alton.") Everything seems like it's at an angle! Since the town is built on a river bank of the Columbia river, all the land slopes down the river much the way that Alton like other towns on the banks of the Mississippi slope down towards the "Father of Waters."

Jim's resting place is in a mountain cemetary that is surrounded by the orchards and vineyards for which that part of Oregon is justly famous. It is also framed by Mounts Hood and Adams. Mount Hood in particular presents a striking image from his gravesite. I could tell that the cemetary has been there for many years because many of the headstones date back to 19th century.
Jim's pine coffin
I was honored to be one of Jim's pallbearers. We had to carry his coffin down a bit of an incline to his gravesite. I was very grateful that Jim insisted on being buried in a "pine box," which helped make the task easier than it could have been. I joked that the eight of us carrying his mortal remains had to be very aware of the "gravity of the situation."

Back Home Again

My father singing "Marvelous Grace" during Jim Beal's memorial service. Jim had requested that the minister's present at his memorial sing the song. He wanted his memorial to be a celebration of grace.
It's good to be back home in Oklahoma. I'll write in more detail about my trip, but I'm very glad I went to Oregon to be with my family at this time.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Jim Beal's Obituary

Illstration from ChristArt.com
Jim Beal's life demonstrated the truth of the statement that some people are the only Bible other's will read.
His wife, my sister, sent along Jim's obitutary:
Pastor Jim Beals, of Hood River, OR, died at his home on Monday, January 05, 2009 at 12:50am. Jim was diagnosed in Stage IV colon cancer in August 2002 and although his prognosis was bleak, he fought hard to live to help his wife Becky raise their girls, Sarah Jo, Juliann, and Dena. His first love, though was to Whom he devoted his life – his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Born September 29, 1960 in Sioux City, IA to Ken and Joyce Beals, Jim had one brother, Steve. Jim graduated from High School in Sioux City and then went off to college at Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, KS. His call to ministry began when he heard a gentleman speak in chapel about coming to serve for a summer at Golden Bell Ranch, a church camp in Colorado. That gentleman would eventually become Jim’s father-in-law as he and Becky were later married at that camp in the mountains of Colorado on November 26, 1982.

He finished his schooling at Southern Nazarene University where Becky was attending and received his Master’s degree at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ministry years began in Livermore, CA as an Associate pastor, Grants Pass, OR as a senior pastor and then Jim and his family came to Hood River in March of 1997.

He was privileged to pastor the Hood River Church of the Nazarene for nearly 12 years. Jim’s heart for leading people to the Lord led him to tell the Lord that he was willing to do whatever it took to win people for Him, even if it meant losing his life. He always felt like his cancer diagnosis was a response to that prayer and he used his cancer journey to touch the lives of people literally across the world. ]

He had a passion for missions and it inspired him to go on several work and witness trips to Africa, Russia and Fiji. He was able to take each of his girls on some of those trips to instill in them a love of people around the world.

Mostly his hobbies included something to do with electronics as he was always interested in the latest gadget.

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Becky, and his children, Sarah Jo and John Bechtold of Olathe, KS, daughter Juliann, a junior at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City, and daughter Dena, a senior at Hood River Valley High School. He is also survived by his parents, Ken and Joyce Beals, of Sioux City, IA, his brother Steve, Arika, Emory and Gwendolyn Beals of Rapid City, S D.

Other family includes his in-laws: Bob and Jo Green and Jan Green of Bothell, WA; Lynn and Cat Green of Okla City; Lonnie, Christie and Scott Green of Bryan, TX; Rick, Marylynn, Tarah and Ben Warren (OK), Andrea and Marla Green of Brookings, OR; Steve, Teri, Ryan(WA), Rob and Angie Green of Bend, OR, and a host of Beals and Green family members who loved him.

Jim is preceded in death by his grandparents, Uncles and an Aunt and his much-loved nephew, Spencer Green.

He also leaves behind the church family, the people of the Hood River Church of the Nazarene to whom he has loved and devoted his time and talents.

Any memorial contributions may be donated in his memory to this Nazarene Church. Pastor Jim’s memorial service will be held at the Hood River Church of the Nazarene this Friday, January 9, 2009, at 3:00pm. The Church is located at 2168 Belmont Drive in Hood River, OR.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Jim Beals Passes His Final

I got word this morning that my brother-in-law, Jim Beals, died early this morning. Or as my sister Becky, Jim's wife, said, Jim was finally healed.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Jim Beals Journey of Grace Is Coming to an End

Some of my family got together during the last Southern Nazarene University Homecoming. Jim is the nearest on the left and his wife Becky, my sister, is across from him on the right
I have been informed that my brother-in-law Jim Beals is nearing the end of his 6 year plus bout with cancer. Jim is married to my sister Becky and pastors the Hood River Church of the Nazarene in Hood River, Oregon. Jim has put up a courageous fight as has his entire family, but he has now been checked into a hospice in Hood River and the family has been called home. I may be joining them soon. Jim wrote his testimony for something called "Relay for Life" which can be accessed here:Jim Beals "My Journey"

Friday, January 02, 2009

Proposed Sam Bradford Statue

Bradford Heisman Statue
A friend sent me this funny picture. It's supposed to be the statue that will be put the "Heisman Park" at the University of Oklahoma. If any of you don't get the concept, here's Bradford's "Heisman Momemt" against OSU.

Boomer Sooner!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year, Same Old Resolutions

Happy 2009!
I once was big on New Year's Resolutions. I always wanted to "reinvent" myself. So I resolved to read more, eat less, exercise more, worry less, write more, criticize less and so on.

I usually found that by the 2nd week of the new year, whatever year it was, I was pretty much back to being the same old, same old I'd always been.

The New Year is really just an artificial creation that helps to give us some fixed points in our lives. There is nothing natural about designating the 12th or 11th day after the winter solstice as the beginning of a new historical era. So why do we put such importance on it as a time of new beginnings other than the fact that we have a need to look back and look ahead and this is about the best we've been able to come up with so far?

I do want to do some things better this year just as I want to make some improvement all through my life.

I want to be a better job as a political organizer. I don't know yet if that means I will run again for Oklahoma County chairman or try for some other office in the Democratic Party, but I resolve to stay involved and do my best at whatever I do.

I want to be a better teacher. My students deserve the best I can give them, so I'm going to work on planning my lessons and getting my grading done in a timely manner.

I want to be healthier, so I'm going to work a little at it this year. We'll see how long that lasts.

I want to be a better person, so I'm going to work things of the spirit. I once studied for the ministry, and I've never lost my interest in spirituality, so I'd like to explore this part of my life again.

I also resolve to get back on this blog more. I enjoy writing, and some tell me they enjoy reading some of what I have to say.

So here's to a new year, and a not so new, but hopefully, improved me.

If anyone is reading this, I wish you a safe, properous New Year.