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Are there stickers for people who waste their votes?

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What does a wasted vote look like?

Is it cast on different paper? With a unique pen? Is the voter who casts it forced to stand at a special booth in an isolated part of the voting location? Is it processed through a different counter than the others? And what about the sticker at the end? Will it say “I wasted my vote?”

I’m curious because several people have told me recently that my vote will be wasted. And though I couldn’t disagree more, I marvel at the fact that so many people have bought into this lie.

The definition of a wasted vote is one that is cast for a candidate who is not formally taking part in an election. So in November, if I write in Winnie the Pooh on my ballot, I will have wasted my vote, since the “chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” isn’t actually participating in the 2016 race. Likewise, if I write in the name of a candidate who has not been approved for my state’s ballot, my vote will be wasted because it will not be counted.

A more stringent definition is this: any vote that is cast for a candidate that does not win the election. In other words, on November 8 of this year, it is possible that a whole lot of Republicans or a whole slew of Democrats will have wasted their votes because they cast their vote on behalf of the losing candidate.

Given the latter definition, my vote may very well be “wasted.”

You see, I will not be voting for either candidate, because I believe that each is inept and untrustworthy. I fear them both equally because they are unqualified for the job, but I am not ruled by my fear of what might happen if one of them wins.

John McAlister, former Libertarian candidate for Congress, wrote in 2000 that a vote is as much a message as it is a choice of a winner. He explained that a vote communicates what each voter’s vision of government and leadership looks like. So while my vote will never be the swing vote that wins an election for one candidate over another, it will be my means to communicate my values and beliefs to the leadership of this country.

But this election, like so many before it, isn’t simple to interpret, because while some people will vote for one candidate, others will vote against another. And the distinction is an important one.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that someone reading this intends to vote for Trump next month. As the returns come in that night, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus will no doubt puff his chest a little farther with each vote for Trump, and he will mentally congratulate himself for successfully promoting the party’s candidate. But he’s ignoring the possibility that the vote wasn’t so much a vote for Trump as it was a vote against Hillary.

Same with Interim Chair of the Democratic National Convention Donna Brazile: Each vote cast for Hillary will, in the minds of party leadership, affirm the Democratic Party’s platform and agenda. But it will ignore the possibility that the vote was cast by someone for whom Donald Trump was simply not an option.

My vote, on the other hand, will not be difficult to interpret at all. My vote will very clearly send a message to each party that the candidates they have championed do not represent me or my beliefs. My vote will very clearly be a vote against the lie that there are only two parties participating in the election. My vote will send a message to Governor Rick Scott of Florida that he cannot force me into voting for Trump by refusing to allow other candidates to be included on our state’s ballot. My vote will very clearly indicate that I do not support the two parties and their strong-arm tactics against candidates like Bernie Sanders who, although his programs run counter to my beliefs, would make a much better president than the two candidates on the ballot simply because he is trustworthy and honest.

My vote will communicate clearly that I am not willing to sacrifice the things that are important to me on the altar of party loyalty. And my vote will communicate clearly that the leadership of this country should not ever, ever make the mistake of taking my vote for granted.

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, there may be those who will suggest that 3rd-party voters like me helped her get there, but I don’t shrink from that accusation. I embrace it. I whole-heartedly celebrate the fact that there will be consequences for the party that allowed us to get to this place by telling voters one thing in order to win office, and then completely failing to follow through once they were there. I welcome the conversations about politicians who put the good of the party before the good of the country. I relish the discussion about the party whose credibility is such that Trump, in the opening days of his campaign, reserved the right to leave it because he doubted he would be treated fairly; or the party that ensured that Bernie Sanders would never succeed.

And lest you think this is a last-ditch effort to affect the election’s outcome, I assure you it isn’t. I’m not trying to sway anyone to a particular action. I’m simply suggesting that there are more than two options here for people who are unhappy with the choices. I’m simply pointing out that the tired, false contention that a third-party candidate can never be a viable option is touted most often by the two parties who have the most to lose when we, as a populace, latch on to that reality.

~Hebrews 11:16

 

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Reinforcing Racism?

Note: This is a letter that my daughter wrote as part of a high school English assignment. She and the other students in her class are sending letters to major media outlets in hopes of initiating a national conversation about race. This particular letter went to Greta Van Susteren, Anderson Cooper and Oprah Winfrey.

Americans are known for their unfaltering spirit. The “American Dream” was born in the 1800s as the nation was swept by Manifest Destiny’s call for expansion. This idea has carried on through history to form the concept of the “American Spirit,” built on the principles of freedom, opportunity, and progress. Americans are free to share their opinions, a right highlighted by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence in hopes that American citizens would always speak up for what they believe in.

We as a country have embraced that right wholeheartedly, voicing our thoughts with the exception of one subject: race. Tensions have been rising as a result of violence between races, primarily black and white. The issue is carefully avoided by politicians and leaders in our country for fear of offending citizens with opposing views. Race relations remain the proverbial “elephant in the room,” and even those who were elected to protect the best interests of the country haven’t made any attempts to fix it.

I am currently a student at a military high school. The students at the school come from a vast array of different ethnic backgrounds and have seen many parts of the world as a result of living at numerous duty stations. The school is an accepting environment for all students, and race differences have never been an issue.

In fact, the school is so well integrated that its test scores do not reflect the “black-white gap” (African-Americans scoring consistently lower on standardized tests than white students) observed across the country. Although the school is an anomaly, it proves that preconceived ideas about race can be overcome.

In 1992, The Oprah Winfrey Show conducted an experiment on a studio audience. Upon arrival to the set, audience members were separated into groups of brown-eyed people and blue-eyed people. The blue-eyed viewers were required to wear a green collar and were not seated in the studio, while brown-eyed guests were treated to breakfast and were seated early. Finally, the bewildered and angry blue-eyed group was permitted to enter the studio.

Diversity expert Jane Elliot (who has blue eyes) took the stage, and the group sharing her eye color immediately pointed out that she was not wearing a collar. Elliot explained that she did not need a collar, because she “acted brown-eyed.” Within minutes, Elliot had convinced brown-eyed audience members that they were superior to the blue-eyed guests. It was then revealed to the audience that the entire ordeal was meant to exemplify racism and how it is something humans invented in their minds along the way, not a belief hardwired into the brain.

Racial tension in America is a fixable problem. This school has proven that people of all nationalities and backgrounds can coexist and excel, when given the opportunity. Students of all races and nationalities are involved in Student Council, National Honor Society, class offices, and athletic teams in our school.

Researcher Jane Elliot demonstrated that discrimination can be taught, so it would stand to reason that perhaps we in America are reinforcing racism without realizing it. Although it is a conversation that has been avoided for years, it cannot be pushed to the side anymore. Recent events in Missouri and New York are proof that ignoring the problem is making it worse.

Instead, let’s use our freedom of speech responsibly and start a nationwide dialogue about race. Let’s be willing to listen to one another. Let’s not argue for “colorblindness,” but instead for equality. Let’s embrace cultural differences that make each race so unique. Let’s disarm race-baiters, who use racial differences to stoke the fires of anger. Our nation fought a war to stop practices that elevated one race above another. Let’s honor the sacrifice.

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Why Your Teenager’s Opinion Matters  

Teenagers have opinions. If you spend any time at all around them, this will not be surprising to you.

It might, however, surprise you to know that their opinions often sound a lot like yours.

During the past week, I have engaged students several times with questions about the upcoming Super Bowl. In the closing moments of class, I asked the students whether they believe the Patriots did, in fact, purposely deflate footballs during their recent game against the Colts. We discussed whether the team’s history of cheating should be a factor. We discussed whether it matters that the game likely would have ended the same way regardless of the deflation. And we discussed the NFL’s role in the controversy, and how it affects everyone involved.

I have lost count of the number of times that students used the phrases “My mom says” or “My dad told me.” Which might not seem like a big deal to you. But it’s huge to me, because it tells me that they are listening.

Last school year, an 8th-grade girl decided that she didn’t like me much. She and I were frequently at odds because she wasn’t interested in doing her work.

One afternoon, at the end of class, I asked the students whether our government has a responsibility to provide nutritional shakes for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who refuse to eat the meals that are provided.

And the 8th-grade girl absolutely came alive.

She offered an intelligent, reasonable opinion about the issue. She listened intently when kids on the other side of the issue disputed her facts. And then she engaged again, displaying a good understanding of the background of the story.

When I met her dad a few weeks later at a birthday party for our kids, I shared the story with him, and told him that I was really encouraged by her understanding of the issue. And he was absolutely stunned. Because he was certain that she wasn’t hearing anything he said to her at home. He was convinced that she was “checked out” and that his efforts to educate her about the world were fruitless.

The take-away from this is that teenagers are listening. They hear the opinions around them, and they retain much of what they hear.

We can empower our teenagers by asking their opinions: about politics, current events, sports, and anything else happening in the world. We can ask their opinions about things that happen at home, and problems we’re trying to solve in our own lives.

We’ll be giving them an opportunity to think about the things they know and figure out how those things affect them. We’ll be challenging them to become problem solvers. And, most importantly, we’ll teach them the value of dialogue, which our country sorely needs.

It’s worth noting, though, that ours aren’t the only voices they hear. They hear from teachers, administrators, coaches and peers. They also hear from the media and the Internet. And we have little control over those other voices.

It’s possible, too, that if we never ask teenagers their opinions, we’ll raise a generation of kids who base their opinions solely on what other people say. They won’t understand that they have a right to share their own perspectives, and they won’t know that disagreement can be a great motivator. They will rely entirely on other people to shape their beliefs, and they won’t appreciate how their own experiences make them unique from other people.

Given that the world is full of people who could lead our teenagers in the wrong direction, this isn’t a chance we should take.

Ask teenagers their opinions: about school rules; about choices they face; about issues challenging our nation. Engage them in discussions about the world around them. Challenge their opinions about the things they believe. (Admittedly it’s a little easier for me, because I have a captive audience: law requires these kids to be in class and, in their minds, discussion usually trumps written work.)

My relationship with the 8th-grader changed that day, largely because I saw a side of her I’d never noticed before. I discovered her interest in politics, and it gave me a sense of what motivates her. She and I regularly talked politics after that day, and I learned quite a bit from her.

She taught me that teenagers care about the world. She reminded me that they have ideas about how to make things better. And she reminded me that we sometimes forget to ask for their input.

There are likely moments when you have a captive audience, too: when you’re driving him to yet another social event or driving her to soccer practice. Tell her what you think. Challenge her ideas.

Arm your teenager to distinguish between positive and negative voices. Make sure your voice is one of the many he hears.

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Parenting, Uncategorized

When a Coincidence Really Isn’t

I could tell by the look on his face that he was lost.

My son was a 6th grader,  standing behind a podium in his school’s library frantically trying to remember the part of his speech that came next. He had won the classroom-level speech competition and had been invited to compete against other classes at the next level of the contest. He had invited me to watch the competition that morning but then greeted me at the library door with the news that he had lost his notecards. He had no copies of his speech and only his memory to draw from.

There was no time for him to recover. He was scheduled to speak first, and he was going to have to muddle through. My heart ached for him, and I wanted nothing more than to whisk him out of that room so that he wouldn’t have to struggle. Three minutes felt like 30, and I was relieved for him when it was all over. He didn’t win the competition. But he survived.

And then he found his notecards inside his binder. And we had a much-needed discussion about organization. And I was thankful that I was there to “dust him off.”

Watching our children struggle can be heart-wrenching. These little people are ours to protect and guide and teach. And even when they fall short or get it wrong because of choices they have made, it’s difficult to fight the urge to rescue them. And it’s even more difficult to equip them to endure the struggles that will surely come.

My daughter has been facing a prolonged struggle at school against a culture of negativity. She has run for office, spoken at meetings, painted bleachers, decorated hallways, rallied support and met with more than a few leaders in our community. The movement enjoyed some early support and she was pleased when many of the students responded positively to the efforts.

But then she was publicly sent out of a meeting because of a misunderstanding between teachers. And then some teachers were less-than-forthcoming about the events that led up to the ejection. And she was chastised for repeating something an adult said to her. And a few adults failed to take a stand when she needed them the most.

And unfortunately that’s just life sometimes.

But there’s good news in this story, and it’s this: I was at home the day that the drama exploded at school, and I was able to drop what I was doing and meet with her for a few minutes when tensions were running high. I should have been working as a substitute teacher that day, but through a strange turn of events, I wasn’t. So I met her in the foyer of the high school and encouraged her to hang tough. I discouraged her from giving up, and I reminded her of Esther, a young Jewish girl in the Bible who found herself in a position of royalty during a time when Haman, a Persian official, wanted to eradicate the Jews. The story challenges that Esther was raised to her “royal position for such a time as this” and affirms that God is sovereign and always in control.

I left my daughter at the high school, and I was encouraged a short while later when, while editing, I found a scripture reference that said “Let us not lose heart in doing good.” So I sent it to her. And I was encouraged again when I received an email from my small group leader at church… about the story of Esther. I forwarded the email to my daughter with a note that we should make sure we don’t miss what God is trying to tell us. And then I watched in awe as the same kind of thing happened repeatedly over the next few days.

Some would chalk it up to coincidence.

The point is that, regardless of whether you are in the camp that believes that God still speaks, He does. He speaks to us through the music that we hear, the words we read, the people we encounter, the trials we face and the circumstances in our lives. His sovereignty doesn’t change simply because we don’t see it.

My friend Jimmy Burgess said it like this: if you drive a Jeep Wrangler, you tend to notice other Jeep Wranglers, because that’s what you’re familiar with. It’s what is relevant in your life. You don’t notice Chevy Malibus on the road, because you aren’t looking for them. They aren’t relevant to you. God doesn’t disappear from my life simply because I don’t make the time to acknowledge him or because I’m not looking for Him. He’s always there. It’s just that when I’m in tune to what He’s doing, I’m more likely to notice. I’m more likely to catch what He’s communicating.

I’m thankful for the past few days, in spite of the fact that they have been so hard on my daughter. I’m grateful for the reminder that good things happen every day, whether we’re watching or not. Like when one of my daughter’s teachers dropped everything to console her after the meeting debacle. And then another teacher who witnessed the ordeal texted me later in the day to make sure my daughter was ok. And I’m inspired by the fact that my daughter has used the experience to re-evaluate her priorities and rethink her commitments.

Don’t miss the good that is happening today. Watch for it. Actively seek it. More importantly, be open to opportunities to be part of the good that is happening.

It’s happening whether you choose to see it or not.

 

 

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Things I Learned When I Was Supposed to Be Teaching

I just finished a 9-week stint as a high school math teacher, and I’m certain that I learned much more than the kids did.

The high school near our house lost one of its math teachers just a few weeks before the start of the school year, so I agreed to work as a long-term sub while the principal found a replacement. I dragged home the massive textbooks and got to work figuring out some lessons. I had no idea how much I’d learn.

  1. A small dose of nervous fear is a great motivator. I was always keenly aware that these kids were my responsibility, and their learning was our responsibility together. It was surprising to me to find that, of the two subjects I taught, I was usually better prepared for geometry, the subject I knew less about. I suppose my lack of familiarity with the subject kept me humble enough to know that I needed to study every night.
  2. The doldrums are inevitable. For everyone. After the novelty of the new school year wears off, many students lose their motivation. They neglect their school work and make a teacher’s job that much harder. Can’t say for sure if I was the chicken or the egg, but I lost my motivation, too. I found myself dragging into work, with a bit of a short fuse sometimes.
  3. Good news counteracts the doldrums. I stumbled onto the realization that a short, good-news email to a parent works wonders for everyone involved. The parent is thrilled to hear good news about his student, so he writes a note of thanks and acknowledgement back to the teacher. The student is thrilled that a piece of good news made it home, so she participates more in class because she realizes someone is watching. The teacher is thrilled to get a note of thanks from the parent, and she hurries into work each morning to see who has written back. It’s a win on all three fronts.
  4. Every student in the building gets it right sometimes. It may not be often, and it may have nothing to do with Algebra, but when a student does the right thing, the adults around him need to catch him doing it. Too often, it seems that adults focus too intently on the things that kids get wrong. But it should come as no surprise when they mess up, because childhood is a learning process. Instead, we should watch for the moments when they do the right thing and acknowledge those moments.
  5. Good students shouldn’t be taken for granted. Some students get it right more often than others. They always do their homework and participate in class. We shouldn’t forget to recognize their efforts. They benefit from good news, too.
  6. Learning is only half of the battle. Some kids come to school with the weight of the world on their young shoulders: discord at home, hungry bellies, deployed parents, and impending moves. Classwork and homework are important, but the mental health of the student is too. If we’re willing to make accommodations for students who have learning challenges, can’t we do the same for students who have personal challenges?
  7. Apologizing when you get it wrong goes a long way with teenagers. Acknowledging your mistakes is honest and human, and they’ll appreciate the candor. I assumed that one of my students was being careless when he dropped a calculator in class. Twice. Turns out it was an honest mistake, and I chastised him before I got the whole story. He got very angry and I lost any opportunity I had of teaching him geometry that day. I sent an email home to his parents apologizing for my mistake. I apologized face-to-face the next day, and he recovered beautifully. No long-term harm done.
  8. It doesn’t take much time to bond with a group of students. Leaving those students was harder than I ever dreamed it would be. Kudos to the teachers who forge these relationships every year, only to send the students on to the next round of educators.

I could tell endless stories of good news and bad news, and too many with heart-wrenching details. The take-away for me was that we could all benefit from the exchange of good news. Everybody feels good, and the good mood is infectious. It spills into other classes and out into the community.

Education isn’t a perfect endeavor, but it’s a noble one. It has the potential to change lives and better our communities. Shouldn’t we invest at least as much time in the education of our children as we do updating our social media accounts?

What if, for the next week, you made a 1-for-1 investment: one note of encouragement for every Facebook post, Tweet and Instagram photo? We might find that sometimes we have to look for the good in order to write a note of encouragement, but it’s worth the effort. It’s a win on all three fronts.

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Fish in a Barrel

I saw him bent down in the hallway sweeping sheet music into a pile. There was a young girl beside him hastily shoving the pieces of her flute back into the case. A teacher reminded them that the bell was about to ring, and the two of them dashed into a nearby classroom.

The boy was one that I knew to be a little “busy.” He was animated in class, and it was sometimes tough to keep him focused. I presumed that maybe he had bumped into the girl, caused her to drop her band materials and then stopped to help her recover them. I headed into my own classroom-for-a-day, making a mental note to find him later.

When I did find him, I asked what motivated him to help the girl pick up her music. “She’s my friend. Her stuff fell. She was going to be late.” His answer was nonchalant, as though what he did was a no-brainer of sorts. And that made me happy.

Because it seems as though character doesn’t play much of a role in our curriculum anymore. We don’t formally teach integrity, service or ethics to our students the way we once did. I’m not suggesting that teachers don’t incorporate these lessons into their daily interactions with kids, because I know that many of them do. Simply that it is incumbent upon the teacher to make the connection, because it often isn’t a formal part of the curriculum.

We seem to have relegated the formal teaching of morals and ethics to our churches. Any internet search of “moral lessons” or “ethical anecdotes” ends in a litany of church ministry sites designed to assist Sunday School teachers or youth group leaders.

It seems we have bought into the idea that all of life is a grey area, and that there is no clearly defined right or wrong. That teaching kids moral absolutes is judgmental and wrong somehow. And while that may be true in some cases, it robs us of the opportunity to teach our children important lessons in life. In this case, that it’s never wrong to help someone who needs it. 

It is true that life is messy, and that it can be difficult to make blanket statements about what is always right or always wrong. But we shouldn’t trouble ourselves with all the grey area. Instead,  we should demonstrate what right looks like by lending our own effort to someone else. If the kids in our lives miss an opportunity to pitch in, we can coach them so they’ll recognize it the next time.

Mostly, though, we should commend those kids when they get it right. Because recognition for making good choices is the best impetus for them to continue doing it.

I told the kid from the hallway that he had done a great thing. I thanked him for helping her, and told him to keep up the good work.

When I saw him again a few days later, I was trying to coax his classmates out of the gym toward their next class. He was the last to leave the gym and I reminded him that the bell was about to ring. “I know,” he said. “See? I’m helping again.”

I thanked him and encouraged him to keep up the good work, and I realized in that moment that positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in the hands of adults. If we take the time to catch kids doing the right thing, and recognize their efforts, they’ll continue doing the right thing. Then other kids will see it, and they’ll strive to do the same.

As he was leaving the gym, one of his friends witnessed our exchange and asked what his friend had done that was so great. I told him the story and watched him walk into the gym. On his way to the locker room, he picked up a stray duffel bag that was in the middle of the court and put it on the shelf where it belonged. “Here’s my contribution,” he called to me.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

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No Geldings Allowed

“It’s not my intention to offend anyone. I have discovered, however, in recent years, that it’s very difficult to speak to a large group of people and not offend someone.”

~ Dr. Benjamin Carson, Johns Hopkins Hospital, at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 7, 2013.

I had such high hopes for this blog. It was going to be different from my last attempt. I was going to write about a variety of topics. I wasn’t going to have long dry-spells between blog posts.

(Go ahead. Look to see how long it has been since my last post. I’ll wait.)

I could tell you that life has been a little busy. That home-schooling is more time-intensive than I thought. Or that cleaning, shopping and cooking for a family of five takes time. And while those things are all true, they aren’t the cause of my writer’s block.

It turns out the problem is me.

Seems that every time I think of a topic I’d like to write about, I’m instantaneously plagued with worry about who might be offended by it. I spend way too much time thinking of ways to tip-toe around the topic, and I eventually give up, because it isn’t fun anymore.

But the quote above served as a sort of wakeup call for me, because it is true that the larger your audience, the more likely it is that someone out there will disagree with your viewpoint.

Nothing earth-shattering in that statement. Except that choosing this particular quote by this particular speaker could be considered inflammatory, because he made the remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Just before he launched into a speech questioning many of our nation’s current policies. Much to the chagrin of many in the current administration. So if you’re a supporter of Dr. Carson’s viewpoints, you might love my choice. If you’re not, you might never come back to my blog.

Stated another way, although countless other speakers have likely made similar observations about addressing a large audience, my choice to quote this particular speaker will carry added meaning for some readers.

But my point isn’t to debate politics here. It’s simply to point out that it’s impossible to ensure that no one will be offended. The words we say and the choices we make are a reflection of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and what we believe. And those same experiences will shape the way we interpret the things around us.

The only absolute certainty is that we won’t always agree with one another.

I’ve recently been challenged to believe that we weren’t put here to just “get along.” Our purpose here is to really live and to accomplish something. And if we always take the safe route, we’re missing what we came for.

“Gary had checked out. He was still going to work, paying the bills, and cutting the grass, but that was it. There was no emotion, no investment, no reaction to anything. The more vital parts of him were shut down…. All his life, Gary had been a good boy. A gelding. And geldings, though they are nicer and much more well behaved than stallions, do not bring life. They are sterile.”

~ John Eldredge in “The Journey of Desire”

This is not to say that this blog should be your future destination for all things incendiary. If you’re looking for gossip or in-your-face writing, this won’t be the place. But if you do visit often, and I sincerely hope you will, I trust you’ll find compelling, thought-provoking topics that we can kick around together.

No geldings allowed.

 

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