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#College

  • "That Stupid Mask" Is NOT a Political Statement--Life In the Time of Corona (Sixth In An Unlimited Series)

     
    Life In the Time of Corona (Sixth In An Unlimited Series)
     
     
    "That Stupid Mask" Is NOT a Political Statement
    By
    Robert Sihler
     
    Chuck's Note: Robert Sihler lives in Driftwood, Texas, where he works in special education in the Dripping Springs Independent School District. His passions are rock climbing and mountaineering and getting his children to roll their eyes at him! He often moonlights as a climbing guide and instructor. He originally posted this piece on Facebook; it is reprinted here with his permission.

     

    I don't do politics and religion on my Facebook page. There are people I like and love who have widely different views on these things than I do-- both to the left and to the right-- and it just isn't worth fighting about this with any of them. On a personal level, I like them more than I dislike their positions.

    But I feel compelled to throw my own worthless two cents in on a particular subject: masks.

    I'm of the Atticus Finch school, which is that you should try to see other points of view. 

    So far, most people reading this will agree, but here's where the split will happen:

    A majority of Americans, including me, want the nation to reopen. But among that majority is a majority that wants to be careful about it.

    And this is where we are splitting now. Suddenly, wearing a mask or not wearing one has been turned into a political statement by conservative media. Either you are a brave patriot eschewing masks and flouting distancing guidelines, or you are a coward trembling in your living room under the sway of the deep state and the media and, predictably, George Soros, and, preposterously, Bill Gates.

    My friends, this is completely false.

     

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    First, let me say that I'm personally not that concerned about covid-19 affecting me. I have always had a strong immune system. On the rare occasions I do get sick, I recover very quickly, and without medical treatment. So although I could be tragically wrong, I suspect that if I contract the virus, I will be asymptomatic or that I will experience mild symptoms that will pass quickly.

    Next, I do understand the frustration and desperation building out there. I am lucky to be among those staying home but still getting paid, and I am supplementing my income by working online as a copywriter. Not for a second do I dismiss the worries of those who have been out of work for weeks now and are facing a financial and mental abyss.

    Finally, I think I look plain stupid wearing a mask. For a while, I didn't bother wearing one except where it was required. But now I am wearing one in enclosed spaces where others are near.

    You can call me a coward if you like, but as I've already said, I'm not really afraid of the coronavirus for my sake. I wear a mask because I have no idea if I might be carrying and so I don't want to risk passing it on to others if I happen to sneeze or cough while I'm standing next to a bunch of people in the bread aisle.

    Over the past couple of months, I've continued going to grocery stores and convenience stores. I've probably climbed more than I did the previous two months. I've been spending money and supporting local businesses, not cowering behind the couch at home and wishing it would just all be over.

    You might be of the mindset that masks and distancing are pointless and we might as well just get it over with. If you are, I know I can't persuade you. But if you're of that mindset and you intentionally get close to people when you know many are trying to avoid that, why are you doing that?

    What if you are an asymptomatic carrier and you infect someone and that person dies? How would you feel about that? Are you that person who knowingly serves a person a food he or she claims to be allergic to just because you don't believe it? I mean, I get tired of all the accommodations allergic people demand, too, but I'm still not going to crack my pistachios over the head of a person with a nut allergy. So why can't you make your statement from a distance?

    When I put on that stupid mask, it's not for me; it's for you.

    When I put on that stupid mask, it's not a political statement. And it isn't one for most people wearing them.

    Unfortunately, it has become a political statement to not wear a mask and to not distance yourself from people you don't live with. It's been turned into a loyalty test, loyalty to Trump.

    It doesn't have to be this way. Here in a pretty red area of Texas, I routinely see bearded guys in big pickups wearing masks indoors. There's no way more than a few of them vote D. They're going to vote for Trump, but they're wearing masks because they get that the virus is not political and that they may have vulnerable loved ones; there are a lot of old people here, and Texans, for all their faults, do have strong family bonds.. 

    Vote however you want in November. If you vote for Trump and Trump wins, I'm not going to have a meltdown and unfriend you because I think that will really show you, lol. And if Biden wins, I hope most of you who vote for Trump won't do the same. I expect better from all of us because of the connections we had way before all of this. And, as always, I'll climb with anyone regardless of politics as long as you're a solid partner.

    But please reject this false dichotomy being peddled for the sole purpose of dividing us. You can wear a mask and still vote for Trump. If you won't wear a mask, you can at least respect the distance others want and expect. Trolling is fun, but it's not funny when lives could be at risk.

    You can also be a Biden voter and be completely fed up with some of the restrictions. That's okay, too; some of them are ridiculous.

    I remember Ronald Reagan's calm and compassion after the Space Shuttle disaster had the country in tears. I remember George H.W. Bush's competent leadership when the Middle East was blowing up and we thought war was coming. I remember Bill Clinton trying to comfort and heal after Columbine. I remember George Bush rallying a shocked nation after 9-11; his words moved me, and when Trent Lott and Tom Daschle led Congress in singing "God Bless America," I had tears in my eyes and felt proud to be an American. And I remember Barack Obama trying to lead us out of a terrible recession that hurt so many people.

    All of those presidents and their policies had flaws, but they tried to unite the nation in times of crisis. They stepped up to the moment. History will judge their efficacy, but they did try.

    Today, we have a president who hasn't even tried to do that. As polls and facts and numbers have increasingly gone against him, he says he never said what he is on video saying, he moves the goalposts, and he pursues division, not persuasion or correction or reconciliation.

    If you like Trump, okay. If you don't, okay. But it's clear he's not going to lead us out of this. Please, let's stop talking past each other trying to score points and instead talk to each other. If I can have rational conversations with family and friends who vote differently than I do, so can you.

    And you can wear a mask in the grocery store or at least stay away from others if you won't. It's not hard and it's not much to ask, and it's not violating your rights under the Constitution.

    Stay safe, be well, and climb on!

    Copyright, Robert Sihler; all rights reserved.

     

  • Bobby Kennedy Is Buried; I Graduate From College

    Bobby Kennedy Is Buried; I Graduate From College
    by
    Chuck Cascio
     
         My college graduation was forever marred by an event that I still remember in detail. On June 8, 1968, I graduated from Wagner College on Staten Island, NY, a school I loved. At Wagner, I developed close friends with whom I knew I would share a lifelong bond (I was correct). While that day was one of great satisfaction, it was also the day that Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had emerged as the political hero of my life, was buried after being shot in the head at close range on June 5 in a Los Angeles hotel.
         
         To me, and to many in my generation, "Bobby" Kennedy was more than just another politician. He was fearless. He walked into riot-torn cities and tried to calm protesters. He united with Civil Rights leaders to champion their causes. He spoke with deep passion in a way that a young person could not only relate to but wanted desperately to emulate. 
         
     

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         Yes, he was born wealthy, but Bobby Kennedy understood that what he was given was not something that everyone was given...nor was it something that everyone could attain. But he wanted to make everything possible for everyone. He wanted to create opportunities. He strove fiercely for fairness and equality. 

         There were times when I was home from college that I would drive by Bobby's home, called Hickory Hill, in McLean, VA, and catch a glimpse of a small group of people playing what looked like touch football in their yard. Was that him? Did I see Bobby? I don't know for sure. I will never know. But I know this: 
         
         His energy and commitment and words are burned into my memory. 
         
         On the car ride home to Northern Virginia following my graduation, my parents and I saw glimpses of crowds gathered around train tracks to mourn as Bobby Kennedy's body, which had been flown into New York, was being taken by train to Arlington National Cemetery. The crowds were so dense, the normally four-hour train ride took more than eight hours. Bobby was buried that night, the same night my diploma was mounted on a wall in my bedroom.
         
         Over the years that have passed I, like so many others, often reflect on my college years, the learning, the experiences, the friends. But I also have found myself reflecting on Bobby Kennedy's unique idealism and, lately, certain words spoken by him--and other words spoken about him--spring to mind. This is Robert F. Kennedy speaking on the importance of acting against injustice:
         
         Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
         
         And this is what Bobby's younger brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, said at the end of his eulogy for Bobby on the night of June 8, 1968:
         
         My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.
         
         Time has flown, and I can't believe 52 years have passed since I graduated from college. But time also seems to have stood still, as  I can't believe that  52 years after the burial of Robert F. Kennedy I have not yet seen that "what he wished for others" has, in fact, "come to pass for all the world."   
         
         Perhaps the world will graduate to that level someday soon.
     

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • Choosing the Right College...and a Glimpse of Wagner College

    Choosing the Right College…
    and a Glimpse of Wagner College
    by
    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

         
         As a former high school and university level teacher, I am sometimes asked for my thoughts about how high school students should conduct their college search. Considerable stress is often evident in the inquiry, as parents and grandparents worry about the increasing emphasis on “name” schools as prestige takes priority over other essential considerations students should be making. 
     
         What are those considerations? Well, based on my own experience in searching for a college and from what I have heard from students over the years, a successful choice largely boils down to three criteria:
         >Comfort
         >Enthusiasm
         >Personal Development Potential
         
         Here is my own story:

     

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    Main Hall on the oval as you enter the campus of Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.
         My father drove me to New York to visit Wagner College on Staten Island, a small school I had only read about. I wanted to go to college in or near New York City, where I was born and where I had spent a great deal of my childhood despite having moved to suburban Washington, DC, when I was about five years old. So the trip to New York was a familiar one, a trip that always filled me with energy.      
         
         Wagner College was certainly not a “big name” school. I had discovered it in one of those gigantic books containing details of hundreds of colleges (Those of us of a certain age remember well what it was like to plow through those books!). I requested and received a catalog from Wagner and liked what it featured, especially the 15:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Even at age 17, one thing about which I was certain was this: Although the excitement of a large school environment appealed to me, large class sizes and too many other distractions would scatter my attention, which would undoubtedly negatively impact my academic performance.
         
         The details and pictures of Wagner intrigued me: Located on a scenic section of Staten Island called Grymes Hill, 400 feet above sea level—the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine—several buildings on and around the campus had once been “vacation” residences of wealthy New Yorkers who used their picturesque Grymes Hill homes to escape the hectic city life. 
         
         When the school invited me for a visit and an interview with an admissions officer, my father and I made the trip together. My dad, a native of Brooklyn, knew all of New York well, including Staten Island, but he had never previously driven the steep road up Grymes Hill. At the top, both of us were mesmerized as we entered the isolated campus via a tree-lined oval with stunning glimpses of New York's waterways, bridges, ships, and the Statue of Liberty visible between lovely trees and buildings. A feeling grew inside me, one I could tell my father shared: This place was different; it vibrated with a quiet energy, a sense of individuality.
         
         During my interview, the attentive admissions representative asked about my interests and what motivated me to learn and why I thought Wagner might be right for me. I responded with insights that surprised me…and I noticed that the interviewer actually listened as I explained my need to feel engaged while in a classroom, my desire to hear from other students as well as from instructors, my description of learning as a participatory process.
         
         When I returned to the car, my father stood outside intently taking in the sweeping views of New York’s other four boroughs in the distance. "So what do you think?" he asked. 
         
         To this day, I remember exactly what I said to him, "If they will have me, Dad, this is where I am going."
         
         Somehow, a few other schools with student populations several times larger than Wagner's 1,500 students accepted me. But the image of Wagner, the small classes, the proximity to the energy of downtown New York, the closeness that I could sense on my tour of the campus, overroad what other schools had to offer. And when the acceptance letter from Wagner finally arrived, I said, "This is it!" 
         
         My parents were happy because I was happy...and I was happy because somehow I could feel what I believe is most important in making a decision about which college to attend: The fit was right. In Wagner, I had found a campus that made me comfortable, surroundings that made me feel that I could engage in academics and perhaps discover new things about myself. I was right...and attending Wagner remains one of the best decisions I have ever made. Classes were small, instructors were dynamic, students had interests similar to mine, and the opportunities on campus and in the city were endless.
         
         Today, Wagner has grown a bit with 1,800 undergraduate and 450 graduate students, but it maintains a 15:1 student-teacher ratio. Following are a few of the numerous accolades Wagner has received from various college evaluation services:
       
         >It is ranked sixth in the nation on the New York Times' list of “value added” colleges.
         >100% of its students work at an internship or practicum.
         >Its “Learning Communities” programs emphasize experiential learning applied to the real world and supported by deep research.
         >Its theater arts program is ranked fifth in the nation by Princeton Review.
         >Salaries of Wagner alumni rank in the top 14% nationally.
         
         Just as when I attended, the school reaches out to the vast resources of New York City to attract teachers and guest lecturers, to provide internships, and to establish partnerships. And the school has maintained its beautiful surroundings and classic buildings while carefully adding new technology and structures. In short, it still says to me, "This is a place to learn...about academia and about yourself."  
         
         Is Wagner College the right choice for every student? Of course not; no one school is right for everyone. But I firmly believe that the key to making the correct individual college choice is not to be overly focused on prestige or size or name recognition. Rather, students should visit schools and, while visiting, sit in on a class or two, get a sense of how they would fit in, and ask themselves, "Will I be comfortable here? Will I be enthusiastic about learning here? Will this school’s environment help me develop my skills, my relationships, and my unknown talents?”
       
         If there are positive answers to those questions, then I tell students this: 
         Make your decision. Go to your college and enjoy the full scope of learning.

    THE END

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or quote all or segments, write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com.
  • March Howls, 1968

    Excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

          March howled through the Ides, each day bringing grisly new horrors. We plucked pistachios from a huge bowl in front of Bingham's color TV, sucking the sweet salted green nuts from their red shells, spitting the hulls into a wastebasket, fingers and lips stained blood-red with dye, we judged…and we theorized about the slaughter we were seeing:

          Bingham: "Soldiers do what they have to do."

          Bobby: "Overdo it just a little, maybe, bro? This war gonna kill us all; everyone in this fucking room."

         Bingham: "Who's to say we overdo it?"

         Moon: "What the hell, man, we are to say…I mean, someone gotta say somethin!"

         Fish: "Stuff happens. It’s war."

         Me:  "Does that mean it has to happen again and again?"

         Bobby: "All them people bein mowed down every day, like the cows in that movie Hud.”

         Moon: "Yeah, but those cows had a disease, man; all that these people have is slanty eyes."

         Bobby: "Sometimes that's all it takes to build the wall, right, brother?"

         Moon: “Say, you got that right—slanty eyes, different religion, different language, diff…er…ent skin. Just about any goddam thing’ll do if people want to hate bad enough. And one thing you can count—people sure enough want to hate.”

         We watched and thought and surmised and wondered and assured and speculated; to me, the world seemed increasingly littered with garish obscenities, human slaughter, human suffering, personal loss, vanishing youth:

         The Erica I met that night with Bingham was gone; the night of winning pool was an innocent piece of history; my Bob Dylan story seemed juvenile; Sally-Boy was a lingering dream becoming less real than our fire escape; the Fish I knew was morphing into something unrecognizable before my eyes, his wild mass of hair suddenly neatly trimmed; ancient Vietnamese watched their culture explode; young servicemen returned limbless…or not at all…and we sat in the now-vulnerable room of a college campus and watched life change while we ate pistachio nuts and, eventually, washed their red stain from our fingers.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved

  • USING THE COLLEGE SCANDALS TO HELP STUDENTS

    USING THE COLLEGE SCANDALS TO HELP STUDENTS

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

     

          Emerging amid the recent college acceptance scandal is the well-known and oft-whispered reality that parents have been buying their kids' way into college for a long, long time. A donation for a building, a scholarship sponsored, a departmental award underwritten, a legacy acceptance--all have been considered acceptable ways of encouraging a college to give special consideration to a certain student.

     

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         In reality, it is safe to assume that in some cases the students associated with a parental gift or donation to the school were already qualified according to the school's own standards. However, it is also safe to assume that others were not qualified...so their acceptance, it might be argued, bumped a more qualified student who lacked the monetary pull or legacy status from gaining admission. 

        I believe the degree of the recently revealed scandals involving celebrities and cheating on SATs and large payoffs to various individuals falls into a more egregious and disturbing category, and these actions bring to my mind a few reactions and thoughts that should be explored closely by the education community.

        >> Should the students who gained admission through the recent scandals be expelled from their respective colleges? 

         The idea of expulsion has been raised by various individuals in the political, media, and education arenas. My feeling is that unless it can be proven that the student had knowledge of the role he/she was expected to play in the scandal (faking a sport, cheating on the SATs, etc.), then the student should not suffer any consequences. 

         For me, it is hard to imagine a conversation in which a parent would reveal all of the underhanded practices that they intended to utilize. A 17- or 18-year old might be unaware of all that her/his parents are doing; rather, the student might be aware of intense parental interest but view it as significant parental support. If those students are now in college achieving and contributing to the higher-education community, then I say let them continue. They will have enough problems to deal with when they learn of their parents' unscrupulous activities. 

         

         >> How should the adults be punished? 

         Parents, coaches, cheating SAT proctors, and others should face whatever criminal charges are appropriate. But here is an additional consideration:   

         Make the wealthy individuals who put up the money for these illegal activities contribute an equal amount to a fund used to support current or future students who need financial aid. For the most part, the people who participated in this scandal seem to have deep financial resources and extensive contacts. Let's make them use their money, life experiences, and contacts for the benefit of others who are less fortunate than they and their own kids are.

         

         >> A Suggestion for Colleges: 

         Would you consider experimenting with a random selection process for research purposes? Having spent a good bit of my career as a high school teacher and adjunct faculty member at two universities, I came to realize that for many students all they needed to succeed was opportunity. Give them the opportunity to learn, express themselves, and engage in a positive, creative learning environment, and they will achieve in ways that surprise everyone, including themselves. 

         With that in mind, I would like to see some colleges engage in an experiment:   

         Take your pool of applicants and without looking at ANY criteria such as test scores, academic record, place of residence, etc. pick 25+ names and grant them admission. Then track their performance over the years that they are in college. My guess is that the results will show that they perform in very similar ways to the many other applicants who went through the typical college acceptance scrutiny. 

         To be sure, this scandal is appalling. The college application and acceptance systems are overly stressful, create massive anxiety in students and parents, and are so exclusionary that thousands of high school students miss out on the opportunity to engage in the life-changing experience of attending college. So let's move beyond the  rhetoric and shocked reactions the scandal has provoked toward some simple steps that would make college available to more students. 

     

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.