Kish and I are up in Vermilion, Ohio for a family bridal shower. Because I’d rather thrust rusty screwdrivers under my fingernails than participate in a bridal shower, I’m spending a soggy Saturday knocking around the downtown area of Kish’s home town.
Vermilion is a cool place. Located right on Lake Erie, about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo, it’s got a clear nautical orientation. The high school football team is the Sailors, there are boats pretty much everywhere you look, and there’s a well-stocked bait shop right in the center of town. It’s one of the best places in the world to get a Lake Erie perch dinner — and anyone who has had a fresh, hot, fried Lake Erie perch dinner knows that’s the best fish you can eat, period.
Lake Erie is vast — it is a Great Lake, after all — and choppy on a day like today. A landlubber like me is endlessly fascinated by anchors, and masts, and rigging, and large mooring pylons that look massive enough to hold a freighter hard against a pier. They can be found in Vermilion in abundance. With its quaint buildings, white wooden frame houses by the lake, and the ever-present sound of water slapping against docks, Vermilion is like Ohio’s special little slice of New England.
The stated goal of Common Core is to develop critical thinking and better ready students for college and careers and — as its name indicates — establish a common set of standards between states. Supporters say the Common Core approach to learning about math and reading are better, and in any event it would be foolish to retreat from the standards after the participating states have spent years developing and implementing them. Common Core opponents object to “federalization” of education and raise questions about costs.
Richard and Russell are long past learning math and reading, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not automatically opposed to trying new approaches or promoting standards that ensure that kids learn the basics; I remember taking “The Iowa Test of Basic Skills” when I was in grade school in the ’60s. At the same time, I’m often skeptical at claims that new approaches are better, particularly when it comes to subjects that have been taught for centuries.
With respect to Common Core, I’m more interested in the human element in these changes — which, I think, often get overlooked when huge national forces and politics enter the process. I became aware of that human element when I had lunch several weeks ago with two colleagues who have youngsters in grade school. Neither is a Republican or a reflexive opponent of “federalizing” standards, but both had serious concerns about Common Core. One related a story in which she sat down with her daughter to look at her math homework, which involved addition and subtraction problems. When the mother started to use the familiar right to left process, “carrying” numbers from column to column, the daughter said: “Mom, we don’t do it that way!” The Mom was embarrassed, and wondered why we are making this kind of change. NPR recently carried a report that raised that same issue of disconnect between parents and their kids that Common Core presents.
I think parental involvement helps to encourage kids to work hard in school, and homework assistance can also be one way of strengthening the parent-child bond. Those of us who learned the “carry” method have somehow managed to balance checkbooks, perform the basic math skills needed to function in modern society, and contribute to the economy. Why change the basic approach to addition and subtraction in a way that shuts parents out of the homework process even in the very early grades, and suggests to young children that their parents are old-fashioned and out of it? Isn’t it at least possible that there is an ultimate social cost in such a change that outweighs whatever incremental learning benefit the new approach is supposed to realize?
When you reach your 50s, as Kish and I have, part of life is dealing with death. Whether it is more senior members of your family succumbing to age-related conditions, or colleagues who die in inexplicable, tragic accidents, or friends who finally are taken down after long battles with cancer, at some point death becomes a significant, unfortunately recurring part of the reality of your life.
The question is how to deal with the losses, particularly when the deaths come in bunches — as so often seems to be the case. People find themselves grappling with complex combinations of emotions that they don’t typically experience at the same time — such as grief, and guilt, and also anger — and everyone needs to deal with them in their own way. When multiple deaths hit in a short period of time, and strike down people who are about your age, you can’t help but think of your own mortality, and wonder.
Kish and I try to go to calling hours or memorial services, as a kind of tangible sign to the surviving family members of the significance and impact of the departed; I’m not sure whether the family members appreciate it or not, but it makes us feel better. Collecting your thoughts about the person, mentally composing your own personal tribute, and focusing on the good, also seems to help. And as we’ve gotten older, and seen how people respond to such losses in different ways, I find that I’ve become a lot less judgmental and a lot more accepting about how people respond.
Ultimately, though, you just hope that the period of bad news finally ends, and a period of good news begins. We’ve got a family wedding coming up, and we’re looking forward to it.
Say what you will about Penny, but she is the epitome of the faithful dog. When Kish is out of the house, Penny will stare out the window next to the driveway for hours, hoping to see the headlights that mean that Kish has finally returned. Sometimes she sits there, and sometimes she stands there, but whatever her position she is always there, for hours — waiting, watching, and fervently hoping.
I’ve mentioned our nephew Andrew Kishman before. He is the pastor of the Miller Avenue United Church of Christ in Akron, in a neighborhood that has fallen on very tough times. Helping the people — of all faiths — who live in that decayed, dangerous place is a tough challenge, but it is a challenge that Andrew is willing to tackle. Our whole family is proud of him.
This morning Andrew wrote a wonderful piece about his thoughts on the decision of LeBron James to return to his roots. It’s an interesting take that you’ve probably not seen elsewhere, because it is written from the perspective of someone who struggles every day to give hope to kids whose situations seem hopeless. Andrew thinks that this famous athlete’s recognition of the pull of the community from whence he came, and his interest in giving back to that community in the way that only athletes can, might just provide that hope.
I think it’s nice of Andrew to thank LeBron — but I also think it would be nice for LeBron, and others, to thank people like Andrew.
If you live in Worthington or nearby — I’m thinking of you, Dr. Science and Mike N! — I encourage you to get to the Taste of Worthington 2014 tonight.
Our nephew Joe and his business, JT’s Pizza, will be at the Festival, serving up some of delectable assortment of pizzas and other goodies. Joe has worked hard to come up with a diverse menu and is always experimenting with new options; like any smart restauranteur he focuses on serving high-quality food to his customers.
Kish is up visiting family in Vermilion, and without her around Penny and Kasey think the house has gone to the dogs. They obviously miss her, which is why they’ve got that hangdog expression.
I thought some exercise might shake them out of their torpor, but our brisk afternoon walk just left them dog-tired. Rather than trying again, I’m just going to let them dog it for the rest of the day.