Monday, April 24, 2017

Hallowed Ground

Panoramic Picture of the cemetery
As we left Florence, Italy during Spring Break, we asked our tour guide to stop at the American Cemetery in Florence.  Lisa and I had been there with students in 2015, but none of the adults on our current tour, nor our tour guide, had ever visited the cemetery.

Battle map
4,401 Americans interned
Wall with names of MIA  

There's something about a cemetery, especially a military cemetery, that creates a quiet, reflective mood among people.  It doesn't matter what type of excitement or chatter may have been transpiring on the tour bus, the mood becomes serious - even somber - as we enter these places.

Unlike 2015, we had a docent provide us with some very important information about the cemetery and the entire Italian campaign during World War 2.  I never realized that Rome surrendered to the Allies on June 5, 1944 - the day before D-Day.  It seems to me that, like many other historical events, this sacrifices of the men and women fighting in Italy was overshadowed by the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Statue honoring American forces

Our docent was wonderful - a fantastic young man from New York who works for the American Battle Monuments Commission.  He was well prepared.  His review of the battle maps was fantastic.  (I didn't know that both South Africa and Brazil sent troops to fight with the Allies, did you?)  We learned a lot about the missing soldiers who's names are engraved along a wall.  Remains of WW2 era soldiers are still being found and identified to this day!

Probably the most moving piece of this visit for me was the final words from our docent.  He said, "Each of these tombstones is a person - a story.  They loved baseball, candy, playing in the streets.  They were sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, husbands, and wives.  As you walk along the graves, please say 'thank you' to the fallen soldiers.  It may be the first time they have ever heard this."  This alone changed my entire visit.  I found myself reading every name I could, and then saying (aloud), "Private Wagner from Pennsylvania: thank you for your service and sacrifice."  This made the whole thing more real to me.  I am inspired.  I want to learn more and honor these fallen.  This hallowed ground must be preserved forever.

Disparities in Life....

My wife had to supervise the junior/senior prom Saturday night in San Francisco.  The ASB students chose the Design Center as this year's location.  As we exited Vermont Street, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of homeless encampments set up along Vermont Street and other nearby streets.  There were easily 40 "tents" along the streets that was the "housing" for these people.  Then, one block over, nothing but excess.  Students pulling up in stretched limousines or party buses, dressed to the nines.  Don't get me wrong - I am glad that students are able to celebrate their high school years with such an amazing event.  However, the disparity in wealth really got to me and made me think...."How can we combat this homeless challenge?"

I know the current administration won't do anything to help the homeless.  And quite frankly, I am not sure what past administrations have done either.  The homeless situation is one that is not only hard to comprehend, but one that will require such an intense and in-depth program that cannot lose funding in order to remedy the situation.  

I've often said that people need to help themselves before receiving help - or should I rephrase with, "people need to want to be helped."  Perhaps this situation may even come down to values.  Some of the homeless are so down and out that they may be past the point of no return.  They have succumbed to this life style and it has become all they know.

What would a program look like that would help these unfortunate individuals?  And in the Bay Area economy?  How can we create a program that provides housing, meals and basic health care in exchange for productive work?  

I know every situation is unique.  I am quite confident that these homeless individuals did not wake up one day and say, "I think I'll live in a tent along Vermont Street tonight, freeze my ass off, and beg for food."  Ummm, how to remedy....  How do we get others to care?  I wish I had the answer.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

That Was A Fast Three Months

I can't believe that 2017 is already 1/4 of the way over.  It doesn't seem possible, but it has happened.  I can't remember a stranger year.  Just the other day, I read a Twitter feed from Jon Meacham - recognizing the 36th anniversary of the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Moments like that are forever stamped in my mind.  I remember our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Larson, sitting down and telling us.  She was nearly in tears.  We were all in utter disbelief.  I remember while teaching US History, telling my students there are certain moments in all of our lives that we will always remember.  For my grandparents generation, it was, "Where were you when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor."  For my parents, it was, "Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated."  Strangely enough, my generation and my children's generation seem to have a lot of these moments; mine:  Reagan's assassination attempt, space shuttle blowing up, the OJ Simpson saga, Obama getting elected, and finally the election of 2016.

Today during the show Face The Nation, Meacham was interviewed about the similarities between Andrew Jackson as President and the 70+ days of the Trump administration.  Both of these people were political outsiders.  Both had a mean streak.  When the anchor asked Meacham what Trump could do at this point to get on the right track, Meacham was simple and clear:  Start leading.  Stop with the tweeting and diversions.  Get out there and lead.

This makes incredible sense, not only with the presidency, but with life in general.  I think about dynamics in the school district I work as well as individual departments - stop with the games and remember what we are here for:  to educate all students to the best of our ability.  Hopefully Trump will take Meacham's advice (if he's at all capable) and we can have some positive memories stamped in our minds forever - not of tragedy, but of unity and the American spirit.

Wow... first post in two months.... and I'm still all over the map.