Monday, June 6, 2011


As I pedaled through the sunset tonight, I was thinking homophones. Specifically, the homophones of the word “rain.” It’s one whose forms you often see misused, even in professional publications – and no wonder. It can rain water, but also compliments and approbations, honors and punishments, not to mention cats and dogs. A queen or king can reign; but so can a class clown, a tennis star, or confusion. The reins on a horse are leather straps designed to control it. But you can give a student free rein on his project, or tighten the reins on one that misbehaves.
Today was the first day of my summer. There was an early morning bike ride, a nitrous-oxide high at the dentist’s office, making crepes for lunch, holding my breath as my twelve year old took his first cross-town bike ride with just a friend, letting it out in wonder as I watched him walk out of the pool building looking for the first time like a young man, studying a textbook to prepare for next year, seeing my boy’s long, already tanned legs folded on the sofa, madly competing with a friend over their Nintendo’s, listening to him brag about the worm farm I’m taking care of for the summer like some weird class pet. Hamburgers for dinner, and then another bike ride. Heaven in a little yellow house.
Summer. Long may it reign.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Regarding Fourteeners

"Mmmhmm.." Tim said as I described my adventure. A hundred feet or so from the summit of Missouri Mountain, the climber must downclimb through a ravine of rotten, weathered-yellow rock that crumbles away to at least a thousand feet of exposure. I climbed up and down around its entrance for a little, trying to find a better way, but nope, that was it. I slid down on my butt, using the backpack as an additional brake. Experience told me that, as steep as the scree was, I could still self-arrest on it, even if I fell. But I set my lips in fear, and cursed myself for climbing alone. Even though, I considered, lacking a rope, all a climbing partner could do for me if I fell was scream along..

Tim didn't entirely approve. Oh, he knows better than to try to stop me. With separate households and no formal declaration between us of possession or belonging, he has nothing approaching authority; and he knows these forays into the edge of ability are what keeps me sane. But he makes avuncular noises, and wonders - often - what it is I'm looking for among the peaks.

As do I. Arriving at the trailhead at seven or so, I've gotten up at 4, driven a couple of hours through the enchanting South Park dawn, grooving on BBC and Red Bull. I open the car door to the morning chill, toss my hiking shoes on the gravel outside, and briefly consider, what if I just skipped the day's climb? I could say I did it; I could lie and say I forgot my camera and thus had no documentation. There aren't even registers on the peaks any more, and you can get a plenty detailed description from trip reports; who would know?

Well, of course I would know. And what would I do with the rest of the day? Besides, it's the endorphin garnered on those steep uphills that keeps me sane, I answer. And check to make sure the directions and camera are in the top pocket, the water, the jackets, the hat and gloves in the main pocket, and the phone, keys and wallet are in the cloth bag I shove securely inside. And shove my battered sunhat over my eyes, and point my toes toward the day's peak.

There's a picture of my maternal grandfather somewhere, taken when he wasn't much older than I am now, climbing in the High Tatra. He has a white dress shirt on, and street shoes, and he's maneuvering around a pinnacle, a wide smile on his face. He was tall, and seemed always to stoop a little to listen to shorter talkers, and had a smile that ended above his eyebrows. And he loved to walk. Especially uphill. He expected me to come along, even at four or five, and I adored him so much, I never questioned this. My mother adventured in the Tatra too, and tells climbing stories that, I suspect, are even now sanitized for younger ears. At 60 she engineered a move to Seattle, joined the Mountaineers, and in her eighties she still leads trips.

That heritage, by itself, justifies a few ascents.

Of course, as a child I often wished that some event would obstruct a planned outing, preferring to hole up with a book to an afternoon struggling up some forested hillside. But somewhere around 15, that point of view began to change. I joined a high adventure Explorer post; later, in 3 weeks of Outward Bound, I built confidence in my ability to navigate and survive in the wilderness with little but a few matches, a map, and some dried food. I was hooked for the rest of my life.

You'd think I'd have climbed all the peaks in my first 2 years in Colorado. But my first baby was born soon after we moved here, and my ex-husband never saw the point of being in the wilderness without a fish to catch or a buck to shoot. And hiking with a baby or a child, solo, is tougher than it looks.

So I'm finally coming back to it, and this summer, I'm shamelessly peak-bagging. I go in mid-week, and often I have most of the trail, and the summit, to myself.

Usually, the trail starts out crossing creeks and switchbacking up a long, steep slope through the deep woods. Then come the aspen groves, leaves glistening and trembling in the morning breeze, thousands of birds serenading my arrival. I come out on a high meadow, and there's the first glimpse, usually of the approach ridge of the peak. Sometimes I can see the trail winding up the side, and my heart sinks a little at how much I still have to climb.

At around two thirds of each hike, I become convinced I can't do it. My lungs are starting to work hard; wind coming off the heights chills the sweat of hard labor, and I still have so far to go. I take my first break, drink water, down some calories, check the directions, usually overestimate my current elevation.

Above treeline, there's brief elation. I can see most of the rest of the way now, and in the clear mountain air it looks like it's just a few steps; on the busier peaks, I can see figures near the summit. I've done this before; I can do it again! I begin to count my steps, to twenty, ending in a short Buddhist chant, something I've learned helps me to maintain effort in long races, but it works here too. Maybe I should learn some marching songs.

Then I'm on the talus, and I begin to notice the geology. On Shavano there was garnet shist, and I tried hard to remember what it meant about the pressure and heat gradient during metamorphosis. There's granite, too, almost white with just a few dark specks, and gneiss, and I notice the cleavage of the crystals, the traces of ancient faults. Flowers call my attention next, tiny forget me nots crouching close to the ground, blue like nothing else in this world, other flowers in shades of pink and yellow, sometimes adored by giant bumblebees systematically sucking the nectar out of each.

I reach the ridgeline, and pile on layers against the wind. I struggle up the last few hundred feet, and then I'm on top, looking around at the sea of peaks, valleys, lakes, all rooted in the deep green beneath. I find the ones I've climbed; I eye a few, like the Maroon Bells, that I probably never will. I eat my bagel sandwich, and drink a Red Bull. I trade picture taking duty with other summiteers, or set the self-timer and snap my own picture.

The trail through the talus is always easier to find heading downhill. Maybe it's the easier breathing that makes the cairns stand out better. So, soon enough, I find myself in the meadows at timberline, knees already a little strained by the unaccustomed bending. I almost jog down to the trees, but I dawdle, too, if the weather lets me. I hardly ever stop to take pictures on the way up; I sometimes hike down with the camera in my pocket so I don't have to take my backpack off all the time.

After a while I reach the woods, and they are a completely different place from the one I passed through in the morning. Redolent with the scent of sap and flowers, they are silent, warm, welcoming. Later in the summer there will be strawberries; now, there are columbines by the thousands, and mountain bluebells by the clear creeks that converge to eventually torrent through ravines of their own making.

And there's my little blue car. I slide the driver's seat back so I can get the hiking boots off my exhausted feet, snap on the A/C, call Tim to let him know I've gotten this far, and drive home. Check...

Tonight I pack. It's Oxford tomorrow. Here we go again.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Heaven in a Clothesline

“See, now, I wanna clothesline!”

I’m sitting in the noodle-shaped back yard that backs my tiny, old, ramshackle house. It’s Territory Days weekend, and cars are parked along every available spot on my street, hood-by-bumper thick. Families and couples walk by in expectation of instant fun on what is, in effect, a very crowded outdoor mall. Men wear Jack Daniels t-shirts; women sport plastic cowboy hats. Two hours or so later they come back, dragging crying, exhausted children in strollers and wagons. Sarah Palin can see Russia from her yard; I can hear the sound system from the music booth on 28th and Colorado, as far west as the street fair goes.

Jake and I went yesterday. I had twelve bucks tucked in a buttoned pocket, which turned out to be enough for a plate of chocolate-sauce covered funnel cake, since neither of us had the patience to wait in the block-long line for turkey legs. As the syrup dripped all over my shoes, we dutifully walked, as quickly as we could, past all the booths facing south, then turned back to observe the second half. We stopped for a few minutes to listen to the surprisingly great-voiced singer in Bancroft Park. I thought about how Tim would critique the Subarus parked in their usual spot by the ice cream shop.

We stopped to relieve the parched soil of the community garden on the way home, but the effort seemed as futile symbolically as our fight with the watering can, against the hot-drying wind. Seriously, what difference will a community garden make, in a world so desperate for materialistic entertainment that they’ll turn out in the tens of thousands to walk past booths of people selling the junkiest toys and the trashiest food?

Having performed our West Side resident duty for the year, we went back to our usual summer lives. This morning I sliced some homemade bread for Jake’s breakfast, performed the Yoga routine I’ve cobbled together, ran 5 or so miles of trail in the Garden of the Gods, connected to Jake via cell phone line. I came home, lectured him a little on living sans-electronics for at least some of his life, ran a load of laundry and hung it on, yes, the clothesline behind my house.

There’s a definite beauty in the act of hanging laundry. You take a piece out of the basket, give it the shake you’ve perfected in years of practice, quickly judge how best to hang it to minimize wrinkles and drying time. Then you do the next piece, until they’re all done. A few hours later, you take it down, warm from the sun, with not a single static spark on the most artificial-fibered items. Even t-shirts and shorts give you a sense of accomplishment, but the sheets, which retain a straight-from-heaven scent even a few days later as you spread them on your bed, are the ultimate reward.

I’ll be the first to admit the task takes too much time during the uncertain weather and busy schedule of my winter. But every year it’s one way I celebrate summer’s coming. I remember my sturdy grandmother, who hung taut sheets on a taut line on the cement back porch behind her sweet house in Brno, the Czech Republic. And most of all, I think of my mother, whose commitment to drying on a clothesline led to an unfriendly visit from the leaders of her neighborhood association in Texas, and who now dodges the rains of Seattle to dry her laundry.

There are, of course, sound carbon-fighting reasons for drying clothes this way. Dryers take up a disproportionate amount of electricity, increase the temperature in an already summer-heated house, and cause house fires, too. I’ve read about college dorms adding indoor drying spaces, and again remembered my grandma, who had an entire room in the basement devoted to nothing but. Going completely without electric dryer systems seems a little extreme to me - but very much an American, either-or kind of solution. Me, I like having the option, in case, you know, it rains, or snows, or hails, any of which are, in Colorado Springs in June, a possibility.

In the meantime, though, even though the young woman spoke her admiration for my clothesline in a sort of “oh, check out the fun natives” style, I saw it as a sign of hope. She probably arrived in an air-conditioned SUV with about four times the needed interior space. But she wanted a clothesline.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Adventures in Vacation Parenting

You’d think if anyone could deal with a vacationing eleven year old, it would be me.
We middle school special ed teachers, after all, pretty much get it all. This year I had a kid whose nervous system slowly, inexorably deteriorated all year long; by March, I watched urine dripping down from her wheelchair, her eyes full of tears, in the middle of language class. Another student rarely bathed, got the glasses he needed only after the community facilitator supervised his exam and drove to the optician to pick them up, and had twenty absences in the spring semester – and his lugubrious learning curve showed it. Other kids were only cooperative as long as there was candy in the offing; the rest of the time, behaviors such as reading, writing, or completing math assignments seemed beyond their repertoire.
But those kids go home at the end of the day. We teachers sigh, mentally shake ourselves like a lab getting out of a pond of water, finish whatever paperwork must be turned in before the end of the day, and go home, to think about our students only sporadically. Your own kid doesn’t leave, especially during vacations; he’s there at noon, at 3, and at 730 at night too.
Parenting is exceptionally interesting when you’re the vacation parent. I spend a little over 4 weeks of the summer with Jake. Some of the days are easy, when we run up to the Denver museum, or the zoo, or when his friend comes over and they spend the day play-fighting mostly, upstairs in his room or in the yard. But the rest of the time, Jake voices only one ambition – to watch videos of Anime cartoons on the computer.
I understand his need for predictable, easy-to-decipher stories. As a kid, I loved the novels of Karl Mai for the same reason. I’ve no idea how many times I reread the tales of Old Shatterhand and his Apache friend Vinetou, acted them out with my friends when I could, daydreamed how I too would reduce foes to fearful jelly. But this summer I’ve decided to limit the time Jake spends with his Anime friends, in an effort to reduce his dependence on passive electronic entertainment.
My decision wasn’t well received.
“So I was thinking,” he said as we walked to the community garden to water our so-far-dormant seeds, “what if I read for an hour, and then I can get two hours on the computer?”
“You can get an hour if you spend an hour reading, and pick up a trashcan of sticks from the yard,” I responded.
“A trashcan? No way! Not gonna do it!”
“Ok, well, then you aren’t getting on the computer.”
If you’ve dealt with an eleven-year-old who thinks he’s getting a raw deal, you pretty well know what came next. Jake told me that I used to do fun things with him, but “now all we do is go to the community garden.” He told me that his dad was much more fun, because he took Jake fishing. That I was just as bad as his stepmother. He demanded to call his father (who is probably incommunicado on a fishing trip, but that was beside the point.) He demanded to go to his father’s house. When we got home and I still hadn’t relented, he picked up a book.
Ten minutes later he came out to where I was hanging the laundry on the line. “I’m sorry…”
And so it went for the next hour or so. He was angry, and said so, kicked shoes and books on the floor, yelled at the cats. Then he said he was sorry. Then he tried to negotiate the time back up to two hours. We compromised on an hour and half. He demanded I take him to his father’s house. He picked up the shovel, though I think not even he knew what he planned to do with it.
We’re still at it. He’s finished his reading; now he’ll need to do stick patrol; then he can get on the computer.
I, in the meantime, excoriate myself for not having set more limits on his computer use all along. When you’ve only got your kid a little of the time, it’s hard to remember that raising them is your job too.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Socialized Medicine and Me: a Love - Hate Affair.

I had a pretty nice beginning.

Born free of charge, to a couple of pediatricians in a city that, even in its postwar funk, radiated beauty.

But things went wrong pretty quickly. Mom had to work; off to daycare I went, there to catch colds that led to ear infections that followed each other so quickly that, in the apparent absence of decent antibiotics and total ignorance of tubes to drain inner-ear fluid, became chronic by the time I was three. Only surgery could heal me. They tried, three times, and I just kept getting worse.

In ’68 we emigrated. Right after my parents passed the ECFMG, and could practice medicine, they found a good otolaryngologist. Unlike the doctors of my east-central European homeland, he had a microscope to operate with, and antibiotics specific for my problem. By 14 I was infection-free, though almost completely deaf in my left ear – the doctor had to essentially amputate my entire cochlea.

I’ve adapted; my friends and children sit and walk on my right side. But whenever my mother gets nostalgic and regretful about their decision to leave the Czech lands, I remind her that, had we stayed, I would probably be at least deaf, and possibly brain damaged or dead. By the time my American doctor got the infection out, it was a few millimeters away from the auditory nerve.

My older son had ear infections too, one after the other. He ate a drugstore’s worth of Amoxicillin by the time he was three, and the doctor made noises about tubes. But his hearing is perfect.

I haven’t told that story for a few years. I worried that it would reflect badly on medical training in the land of my birth, but, even more, on socialized medicine.

And you would think that I would be the most fervent supporter of private health care. Like Rush Limbaugh (well, unlike Rush – he got the socialized version, Hawaii style) I benefited – greatly – from the system as it stands. Not only did it help me finally get healthy; my parents’ incomes as physicians financed a long, aimless exploration through college, as well as sundry expenses after.

But once I grew up and the professional courtesy that, in my adolescence, paid for my routine care, ran out, I began to understand the costs of that private system. And once I began my career, in which I so often work with those in the lowest income bracket, I began to understand its inherent injustices.

I saw adults and children with chronic mental illness that couldn’t afford either the medicine most appropriate for their condition, or the talk therapy to help them deal with its impact on their lives. I sat in a meeting with a parent who burned his eyes on the job, but couldn’t afford to go see a doctor. I saw kids who couldn’t play sports because their parents couldn’t afford the costs of a physical.

Me, I was lucky. Two uncomplicated deliveries, and a bike accident, both subsidized by insurance companies that valued their relationships with school districts too much not to pay. But still, I made many phone calls, necessarily during work hours, to ensure that payment, and often it seemed that the goal of all those hoops was for the consumer to just get too tired or disorganized, and stop trying.

It rankled. Like my father, I grew the conviction that all medical care should be fee-free to all individuals. The failure of the Clinton plan broke my heart, and I was afraid to believe that the ascent of Obama and the Democratic majority would make any difference. I was wrong, of course. And a few Sundays ago, as I clicked between the HBO series The Pacific and the House vote, I felt relief and resignation about both topics by the end of the evening. Relief that the some objective had been achieved, but resignation that so much blood, real and figurative, had been spilled along the way, to achieve relatively little.

And yet. Perhaps the outcome was the best it could have been. Yes, I’ll have to keep making phone calls to make sure my medical bills get paid. But one hopes, fervently, that enough of a profit motive will remain in the system to keep the medical nightmare that pestered my childhood from becoming a reality here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Talking Back, Part 2

I had, as usually, bought more than I meant to at the grocery store, and was just looking for a checkout stand that included an actual person, when I walked past the magazine display. 'Education' was the word that caught my eye.

On closer look, I saw the complete title was 'The Solution to Education,' splashed in a red ribbon on the cover of Newsweek. Behind it, written as if by a boy suffering old fashioned punishment, over and over on a blackboard, were the words 'we must fire bad teachers.'

It's such a simple solution, isn't it? And it has the force of research - the quality of a teacher can make up to a 75% change in the achievement of the kids with the same background, even in the same school.

And I've seen it. I've seen the kid that seems to be attempting to wiggle right off the ground in one class, literally bounce, smile radiating, from the praise of another teacher.

And like everyone who's read the New Yorker article or heard the This American Life story, I recoiled at the tales of New York's 'rubber room,' where teacher who have proved their unsuitability for the classroom sit all day, doing nothing, collecting paychecks.

But, as with most problems, the immediate solution looks much more complicated, close up.

What is a bad teacher, anyway? More to the point - what is a good teacher?

Take the wiggly kid. The class he likes better is science; language arts, not so much. Yes, the science teacher has a charisma that, perhaps cannot even be learned or duplicated. And he's a guy, and a coach. But teaching this student how to organize a paragraph is a much more daunting task than, say, helping him measure the volume of an irregular object. The first is abstract, and involves an ease with words that is beyond his third-grade level reading skills. The second involves measuring a water level, dunking the rock in, measuring the water level again. For a kid that learns with his eyes and body movements, the hands-on task is infinitely less frustrating.

Many teachers, too, are more effective with some groups of kids than others. I spend some time in an advanced language arts class every day. The kids are (well, mostly) very engaged in the presentation, discussion and implementation of every topic. Each time the teacher asks a question, several hands go up, and the kids usually arrive at the correct answer. She asks them to do a lot of writing, and they get it done. She fills up every second of the class with learning. Effective teacher, right? Yes she is. But I've also been in one of her less advanced classes. Chaos doesn't exactly rule there, but frustration does at least some of the time, both on the part of teacher and students. She's good. She isn't perfect.

The research that's been performed, shows that effective teachers establish classrooms in which the kids feel empowered but organized and orderly. She or he 'accepts and expands'- even a partial answer is accepted, praised, and built on to create the concept the kids need to learn. Important concepts and procedures are drilled, anchored, rehearsed, utilized. And kids' behaviors are shaped to the level desired through praise, structured rewards, and celebrations.

Teachers are largely evaluated on implementing these procedures. But, here's the crux. Although most of the time, this is what you do to get students to achieve and learn essential academic skills, that learning doesn't always show up on the most high-stakes measure of all - the state achievement tests.

My evaluations have, almost without exception, been stellar; I love the performance, the 'in the zone' aspect of teaching, and generally can keep a class engaged for the entire period, in activities that are 'standards-based' and oriented toward the most essential learning. But you know what? By the measure of the achievement tests, I stink worse than Stilton cheese. Because, I already know, the great majority of my kids will score 'unproficient.' Across the board.

But, you say, your kids have special needs. And it's true, they do. My heart gets broken every year about this time, as I watch some of my kids struggle, fail, and eventually largely give up on the state test. For some, learning the key terms in a word problem, that signal the desired operation (think 'less than' or 'how many more') was a victory - but none of those key terms are used on a state math test. Kids with Autism and Aspergers don't have the theory of mind that allows them to pretend a situation they haven't experienced - so the 'imagine this situation:' questions on the writing test are unintelligible. And some, like my student this morning, look over the test, decide it's too difficult, and simply refuse to even attempt it, because they don't have the emotional skills to handle taking a chance on failure.

I watch all this happen, and my internal dialogue is scathing. Fool, I think, you should've seen the question they're all stuck on, or have given up on, coming. You should have taught it, or something like it, directly.

I used to work with a special education professor who said, if your kids fail a test, 'you ain't taught it good enough.' I always liked that, but so often nowadays, I ask, what is it that I should have taught 'good enough?' Which of the hundreds of things they don't know?

Yes, my kids have special needs. But there are many children out there who are equally unsuccessful, but whose skills are just ok enough not to qualify for an Individual Education Program. How will we determine whether their test scores are the fault of bad teaching?

What, exactly, makes one a good or bad teacher?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Talking Back

Anybody who knows me wouldn't be surprised to see me on the way to work this morning, gesticulating to the extent my little Yaris will allow, talking back to the radio.

My friends and family would be amazed, though, by the identity of my unseen and unknowing communicant. Not Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh - though come to think of it, those guys I wouldn't even be listening to, much less bothering to talk to.

No, it was NPR.

Somehow this was parenting and education morning. First, there was a story about the impact of losing the hearing in one ear, especially for kids and their learning. It's harder, with just one functional ear, to locate and understand speech, and thus compels sufferers to avoid noisy, chaotic environments. I design my own social life partly around that particular deficit; but I understand that children and adolescents rarely possess the self-confidence and self knowledge to adjust similarly.

But it was Joanne Silberner's second story that incensed me so. British researchers, she intoned a little victoriously, have determined, through a longitudinal study, that kids who have behavior problems in school, complain of more pain and ailments as adults.

"Doh!!" is what I said back.

I hang with kids who have trouble behaving in school pretty much all the time. Every place I've taught, the educational environment has been leveled: there are top-level classes, called SAIL or IB or just plain advanced; the mid-level classes, and then the classes where much of the work performed is remedial in nature, and the kids almost all struggle.

This is based on sound educational theory and practice; kids learn better in environments homogeneous enough to give them learning at a level they need. And it's particularly true in middle school, where the more basic learners tend to also be concrete learners, and require concepts to be explained in terms heavily reliant on the visual and kinesthetic.

Note that word, 'kinesthetic.' Because that also means that these kids are often wiggly. And wiggly often translates to bad behavior. It's just that much more challenging for a kid who learns through body movement to sit still and listen respectfully as a teacher or even another student has his/her say.

And what that means is that the basic classes where I hang my teacher shingle are also the classes where the toughest kids practice their most challenging behaviors.

So yeah, I know a lot of 'bad actors.'

They include 'Jeremiah,' whose arms are covered with burn scars from, my guess is a failed attempt at making fireworks more exciting, though for all Iknow he was heroically saving someone from a fire. Jeremiah has a blonde buzz cut and uses baby talk to let us know we're boring him. He requires a personal invitation to put even a sentence on paper.

Then there's 'Paulie.' He too makes lots of noise, and works hard to announce it to the world that he doesn't care if he gets into trouble. He's got an engaging smile, and his hand is up whenever there's a question he can answer. He tells me he loves to cook, and wants to be a chef when he grows up. I think he could be great.

'Henry' is about a foot too tall for middle school desks. I've learned to let him sit in any position in which he's comfortable. Most of the time, he just talks out in class - and until I started consequencing him by making him stay late, he announced, five minutes from the end of class, loudly, 'it's time to go!'
It's a small thing. It drives you crazy.

'Nick' just came back from a few months' expulsion. Just in time for CSAP testing. He's still got that 'glad to be back' diffidence about him. He's feeling things out, smiling, ingratiating. But he got expelled for hitting other kids. Hard. And today, once he figured out that he could, he just put whatever occurred to him for answers on the test. Because he had no idea of how to solve the math problems, or because he just didn't feel like trying? Who knows? I'm not sure even he does.

Finally, 'Ellwood'. A gorgeous child that responds beautifully to praise and a kind smile. But bore him, criticise him, at your own peril. Oh, and you better let him stand up whenever he wants to.

So what do all these character sketches have to do with Joanne Silberner's report?

They've all been suspended for bad behavior. And my guess is, they'll all have futures challenged by health problems.

It was her conclusion that bothered me, though. Fix behavior problems, and you'll fix health problems, she said.

Nope. Not that easy. I could put these kids in uniforms, set up reinforcement schedules, punish the slightest misbehavior (assuming their parents would agree) and I'd get well-behaved kids. But I'm not sure it would change their futures one iota.

These kids, if they finish high school, and even if they don't, are headed for minimum wage, at least for a while. You ever work at those jobs? Repetitive, physically challenging, and exquisitely boring.

This is a combination practically guaranteed to cause physical injury and/or depression.

Many years ago now, I did a stint helping people with disabilities find jobs. The folks who had the hardest time? Those who'd been hurt, had a lifting limitation of, say, ten pounds, few skills, and were depressed. It was almost impossible to find a job that would match these people's preferences, skills, and medical needs.

So, what to do?

The government white paper entitled 'The Forgotten Half" was written over twenty years ago. It addressed the problem caused by American schools' neglect of kids who are not college bound. The authors pointed out that these students graduate from high school with few marketable skills and prospects.

With the advent of 'No Child Left Behind,' things have gotten worse. High schools have few to no true vocational programs, except for those with echt disabilities; kids like Jeremiah are left in the cold. We make noises about community colleges, but to get through even a two year program, you need more motivation and energy than he'd been given. Jeremiah will languish; only pure luck will keep him from a stint or two in jail.

Of the group I listed above, I hold out the most hope for Paulie. He knows what he likes, hones his skills at home already, and is stubborn enough to go for it. Henry will probably help out at his dad's body shop and may take it over someday. The rest of them?

Chances are, at 25, they'll have some pain and ailments.