Monday, May 16, 2022

White Noise Inside the Supermarket

Like so many of us during the early days of the pandemic, I returned to reading some older works that might offer some insight into the way we were feeling. For me, one of those books was Don Delillo's postmodern classic White Noise from 1985. That reading led to the following piece of lit crit, recently published by Porridge Magazine.

Wandering the aisles of my neighborhood supermarket, the kind of place Don DeLillo once wrote evoked “a sense of replenishment … and fullness of being,” I tread cautiously out of suspicion and respect for the potential “airborne toxic event” that is the coronavirus pandemic. As the world continues to pass milestones of Covid infections, I have gradually come to realize that, like The Clash’s Joe Strummer, I am feeling “all lost in the supermarket; I can longer shop happily.” Now, more than two years since the pandemic was declared, as society cautiously emerges from quarantine cocoons while also facing a return to some restrictions amidst fears of the delta and omicron variants, I’m still wearing a mask in crowded places like our nearby grocery store, despite being vaccinated and boosted. And, in a socially distant world where the supermarket was the last bastion of a semi-normal suburban existence, I’m thinking of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise.




Thursday, May 12, 2022

What's in a Grade?

The detrimental effect of zeros in a gradebook has become an important issue in education circles lately. I address that problematic assessment practices, as well as a couple other controversies, in this week's column for The Villager.

Giving zeros to students who fail to complete work seems to make sense – if no work is submitted, a teacher cannot rationally assign points. However, in a point-based grading system, a few zeros can mathematically eliminate a student from ever passing a class. In a philosophical way, such a punitive structure may not make sense in a system designed to educate and assess learning against standards, as opposed to the simple accumulation of points. The issue has been aptly summed up in a paper called The Case Against Zero.

When I heard of schools eliminating zeros from grading policies, I instinctively recoiled at the sheer audacity. How can teachers not be allowed to give zeros? However, in scrutinizing my own assessment practices, as any professional educator should routinely do, I’m taking a fresh look at assessment. Two years ago at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, I participated in a professional development session about standards-based grading, and I was struck by the discrepancy between letter and numeric grading. The traditional system of assigning points and assessing grades based on percentages is at odds with the practice of converting those scores to letter grades, which are the only record on a student’s transcript. Basically, the practice used by most schools appears illogical and mathematically flawed.

Most schools use two separate grading systems which literally don’t match up and contradict each other. Assignments are generally measured by a 100-point percentage system. Using those scales, any grade below a 60% is considered failing. That means only 40% of the scale passes and grants credit. However, schools then convert number grades to a letter system of A, B, C, D, F. In that letter scale, 80% of the grades pass with credit. Thus, in a four-point standards-based system, a zero out of four is a legitimate grade to represent failure. However, in a 100-point system where the lowest passing D is a 60%, the mathematically accurate measure for an F, or failure, is 50, not zero.

Assigning zeros in a 100-point system is actually mathematically disingenuous. It punishes failure at twice the rate of awarding success. Failing to complete work should receive a failing grade, but assigning a zero is disproportionate to achievement. For, in a quarter or semester of work, a few zeros on individual assignments can lead to failure of an entire semester, a result which inaccurately measures a student’s entire work portfolio. Consequently, failure can have residual effects such as increasing drop-out rates, which have catastrophic consequences on both personal and societal levels.

Policies regarding deadlines and late work are another problem area of assessment. During the pandemic, amidst remote learning and a literal disconnect between teachers and students, schools implemented more gracious and forgiving practices, and it was a valuable opportunity for teachers to assess what they are actually assessing. However, some teachers from elementary through high school refuse to accept late work, or assign it just half credit. That seems absurdly punitive and not in the spirit of assessing achievement. How can a teacher rationally accept quality work, yet assign it a failing grade based on submission schedule? Docking points, or refusing to give late work an “A,” seems reasonable. Failing completed work does not.

Teachers often justify punitive late work policies by emphasizing personal responsibility. Some even tell students that “in the real world” late work gets you fired, which is not really accurate. How many teachers are late to class occasionally, late grading and returning work, late updating grades in the system, late responding to a parent or student communication? How many are fired or lose pay for that? Clearly, teaching responsibility is important, though it’s not in any curriculum or state learning standards. Teachers are not truly teaching kids a lesson by failing late work, and the real world will teach those lessons soon enough. To paraphrase a student’s view: “Schools have exams and failing grades. The workplace has performance assessment and development goals.”

Ultimately, the primary question for teachers, schools, and families when talking about grades is what exactly they are assessing. Is it skills, knowledge, or compliance? Are teachers assessing learning against standards, or just compliance with assigned tasks? Should schools revisit point and letter-based grading systems? It seems unorthodox to ask, but it’s a legitimate question. Achievement of standards should be the marker, and as controversial as it sounds, critics have a valid case that assigning zeros makes zero sense. There might be a better way.



Monday, May 2, 2022

The Joy of Art Returns

The Governor’s Art Show in Colorado for the 2022 year premiered last weekend at the Loveland Art Museum, and it did not disappoint. I visited last Saturday and wrote up a review/feature of 303 Magazine. 

“Happy and hopeful.” That’s how one patron described the paintings of landscape artist Rick Young at the opening gala for the Governor’s Art Show in Loveland. The exhibit premiered Saturday, April 23, at the Loveland Art Museum featuring more than two hundred works from sixty Colorado artists. Show Director Ruth Scott described the opening gala the night before as an “amazing crowd with a real buzz of excitement for getting back to celebrating art.” People were emailing and calling weeks in advance in anticipation of the show. They won’t be disappointed by the richly curated and diverse show, exhibiting some of the best art Colorado has to offer.

In a state known for breathtaking mountain views, as well as stunning sunrises and sunsets, it’s no surprise to find a healthy representation of landscapes produced by the artists who live and work here. From vivid photorealism to soft impressionist takes to abstraction, this show offers numerous media in which to appreciate the environment. Acrylic painter Rick Young “uses color expressively, rather than representationally,” noting the vibrant pinks, purples, and oranges in his work. In “Trails End,” centered by a towering cairn, Rick’s lively colors and signature curved brush strokes used to express movement exaggerate, or perhaps accentuate, the scenery of the hike he is recreating on canvas.

John Lintott’s mountain landscapes take a different approach with sharply detailed realism capturing the stark beauty in the semi-arid landscape of Western Colorado and the West. He balances the scenes with brightly colored vegetation, like the tree along the river in “Boney Desolation,” accentuating the intricate features of the rocky hills behind it. His attention to detail comes from “a lot of time outside observing.” Refraction of light is a key interest of Colorado artists, whether it’s bursts of light through the trees in Kathleen Lanzoni’s “Shining Through,” the soft glow coming through the windows in Kim English’s “Home Office,” or the golden hue of water lilies in Dix Baines’ “Silver and Gold Light.”

A sense of joyous vitality runs through this year’s exhibit with sculptures and other visual art celebrating movement and a clear joie de vivre. Clay Enoch’s bronze sculptures capture a group of energetic kids in a “Jump” and on the slope anticipating a “First Run.” A similar energy is found in Danny Haskew’s sculpture “Dance Within, Wear Only Sky,” and that poetic beauty of movement is celebrated in numerous other pieces featuring dancers. The skillfully curated layout at the museum emphasizes such subjects, as with the bronze piece “In the Wings II” by Jane Dedecker placed near the huge oil piece “Fervent Reclamation” of a dancer by Jen Starling, creating a beautiful display of both anticipation and action.

There’s a clear sense of fun and whimsy in many pieces, such as the tempting, delicious still lifes of donuts from Gregory Block. Anyone who has visited Voodoo Donuts and wanted to capture the memory will love Block’s “Box Set” and “Jubilee,” which look like they were delivered by a bakery, rather than an oil painter. The fun is also present during the artist meet-and-greet, which occurs every Saturday afternoon of the show from 2:00 – 4:00. Artists Sabrina Stiles and Douglas Wodark were laughing and chatting about their artistic process, describing the “sheer joy, and playful,” feeling of creation where “you’re just having fun.”

Similarly, watercolorist Kathleen Lanzoni described her process as “controlled playfulness,” which is required with a medium that will quickly take on a mind of its own. In two landscapes, Lanzoni blends colors with a loose style that “lets the colors run and do their magic.” The effect she gets in working from light to dark, creates a powerful sunburst coming through the trees in her piece. The technique complements and reflects the natural landscapes she paints, like the colors which so smoothly blend along trails.

The show also provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the beauty, even the mystery of Colorado, as the artists remind us to stop and look at the world around us. A thoughtful reflective theme is seen in numerous wildlife images, whether it’s animals sitting in repose like Timothy Nimmo’s coyote in “Wary Rest” or the impossible-to-ignore intensity of Douglas Wodark’s stunning buffalo, “Standing Strong.” The paintings and sculptures evoke a sense of strength and calm and hope. That “happy and hopeful” feeling is also present in various pictures of bird eggs, such as the work of Elaine St. Louis, an oil painter, whose four pictures are different varieties of birds. In noting her own picture of eggs in a nest, Lanzoni observed “maybe we’ve been nesting for a couple years” and now it’s time for spring and rebirth.

The Governor’s Art Show is an investment in and celebration of the arts community in Colorado. In a statement for the show’s program, Governor Jared Polis endorses the show, noting how it “encourages investment by recognizing current Colorado artists” with the goal of “growing and supporting the art industry which contributes $3.7 billion” to the state's economy.

The show is collaboratively sponsored by the Loveland and Thompson Valley Rotary clubs. Ruth Scott explained that curation is “nearly a year-long process” with artist calls for submission going out in August through November and then selected by a five-person jury. This year’s selection jury consisted of Maureen Corey, Loveland Museum Curator; Don Hamilton, artist; Dr. Jennifer Henneman, Denver Art Museum, associate curator; Scott Kelley, patron; and Tal Walton, artist. The show has no specific theme or requirement for medium or style, according to Scott, who says selection “is simply all about the quality of the art. Whatever moves the jurors” is what makes the show.

Proceeds from the show help support multiple causes including scholarships for art students and the purchase of art supplies for the Thompson School District. All works are available for sale in person and online, and interested patrons can preview the entire selection on the website for the show. Granted, photos can never replace the experience of being up close and personal with art, so a visit to the museum is a must. The show runs through May 22, and tickets for non-members are $7.00.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

A New Plan for Teacher Pay

Playing with a bit of satire for this week's column in The Villager. Or, perhaps it's a really great idea for school funding.

The country is facing a serious teacher shortage, as fewer young people see the profession as a viable career move. And teacher salaries is a key issue. According to Chalkbeat, the average Colorado teacher makes $51,000 a year, though in rural districts the pay can be significantly lower where starting teachers make just $25,000 a year and earn only $40,000 annually after a twenty-year career. In a state with above average housing prices and a high cost of living even before inflation, the challenge to lure young professionals to teaching with lucrative salaries remains a problem.

However, this isn’t a column to complain about teacher pay. As an educator for nearly thirty years, I’ve always been quite satisfied with the living I make. Granted, teachers earn twenty percent less than comparably educated workers in the private sector. The reason is teachers are only paid for ten months of work. Despite what many people believe, teachers aren’t given a year-long salary for only forty weeks of work. Most schools have yearly contracts of roughly 180 days, though districts often disperse pay over twelve months for obvious reasons. The one perk meant to offset the public-private pay gap is a pension system that offers an earlier retirement age than Social Security, which teachers don’t receive.

Many people believe society undervalues teachers and has misplaced priorities. They think it's wrong that professional athletes make millions of dollars to play a game while some teachers struggle to pay the bills. I completely disagree with that comparison. I won’t fault any athlete for earning as much as they can. I once heard Oprah ramble on about how athletes should make less and “teachers should make a million dollars a year.” That’s nonsense, even if it weren’t coming from a billionaire television personality. Athletes earn millions for one simple reason – they generate that money. It’s all about revenue, especially advertising.

Millions of fans pay hefty ticket prices to watch adults play a game for our entertainment. Millions more tune in to televised games which generate billions of dollars in advertising revenue. Athletes deserve a share of the money they produce. Teaching doesn’t produce revenue. No one is buying tickets for even the most entertaining classrooms. And advertisers are not throwing money at schools and teachers for advertising space. However, perhaps they could. Maybe they should. So, I’m thinking about advertising and endorsement deals for teachers.

Picture this: a teacher walks into the classroom where anxious students await the lesson or assessment. The teacher announces, “Ok, today we have a quiz on multiplying polynomials … and this quiz is brought to you by Quiznos.” Or Starbucks. Or Nike. Or T-Mobile. Students receive a copy of the test with company logos splashed across the top of the page. At the bottom of the paper is a coupon for ten-percent off their next purchase. It could even be used to incentivize achievement. Students would receive higher discounts, premiums, and perks for better grades. The possibilities are endless.

As an English teacher reads an intense passage, he might add, “Wow, this character could use an ice cold Coca-Cola.” Business teachers could offer financial literacy lessons, as well as discounted prices for opening an IRA or new bank account. Teachers and schools have a captive audience which is a virtual goldmine of current and future consumers. Why not take advantage of that widely available advertising opportunity? Teachers often wear clothing with school logos, which is nice to support the school, but not remotely lucrative. So, why aren’t teachers sporting company logos and getting a nice kickback from advertisers?

Interestingly, some teachers do make million dollar salaries. Kim Ki-hoon, a popular private tutor and cram school teacher in South Korea earns $4 million a year because his test prep lectures are so popular in the country where high stakes testing for high school and college admissions is even more intense than America’s. And Deanne Jump is a kindergarten teacher who has earned more than a million dollars selling her lesson plans and class materials online.

So, now that college athletes have been freed by the courts to capitalize on their marketability, perhaps the same courtesy might be extended to educators. Critics of public education have long argued that schools need to work more like the business world. So, why not let market forces work their magic in the classroom? And if not, then maybe teachers could just set a tip jar on their desks.



Monday, April 25, 2022

Conservative, but not Republican

A common theme among conservative writers lately has been the surprising, even embarrassing, behavior of Republicans and the Republican leadership, leaving many people to realize they are "conservative but not Republican." I explore this idea in a piece published this week by the Colorado Sun.

In the early 1960s, Ronald Reagan switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, famously noting, “I didn’t leave my party. My party left me.” The same hollow feeling of abandonment is now felt within the Gipper’s party as many conservative Americans no longer see themselves in the contemporary Republican Party. Republican leadership has slowly ceded authority to media personalities and fringe political upstarts, leading a growing number of people to realize they are conservative, but not Republican.

As conservative stalwarts like George Will and Joe Scarborough literally left the party, and leaders like Liz Cheney are attacked for questioning the January 6 insurrection, it’s become clear conservatism is no longer a guiding principle in the Grand Old Party. The censure of Liz Cheney and Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger signified a new low in party politics, the tolling of the bell for a political organization that has been moving away from conservatism and toward extremist partisanship since the late 90s. That partisanship focused primarily on securing power and winning elections culminated in 2016 when Republican voters rejected a lifelong conservative of impeccable character, Mitt Romney, and instead nominated a media personality who’d never been actively Republican nor remotely conservative.

Conservatism is a belief system and set of values, not a political platform and voting record. Prudence, decorum, tradition, and stability are hallmarks of conservatism, harkening back to the Ten Conservative Principles of scholar Russell Kirk and the moral conviction of Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. That word, conscience, is pivotal in the struggle of many conservatives to see themselves in today’s GOP. With so many unconscionable words and actions by noisemakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert, the party brand has been tarnished, and a conservative would never support or condone such crass, disrespectful opportunists. People don’t usually capitulate on values or compromise on ethics, which means excusing or justifying these disruptive political voices is simply a rejection of the conservative tradition.

And still, the anti-conservative actions among prominent Republicans keep piling up, often in disturbing displays of extremism. The most recent example is found in the texts and emails of Ginnie Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, regarding the 2020 election and January 6 debacle. As conservative writer Jay Nordinger noted, “You can’t write these things and believe in the Constitution.” A conservative and a believer in law and order can’t excuse or dismiss them either. Both Nordinger and conservative writer David French have spent two years diligently attempting to expose the lies and turn the GOP back toward conservative values. Yet millions of Republicans ignore these voices of reason, instead tuning in as talk television loudmouth Tucker Carlson proudly aligns himself with Vladimir Putin over the autonomous people of Ukraine. It’s truly baffling.

Hundreds of thousands of voters nationwide have left the Republican rolls, and Colorado’s situation is equally concerning. As weak central leadership cedes moral authority, what’s a conservative to do? In the past twenty years, as the number of unaffiliated voters has risen, many people feel conservative-but-not-Republican, and they vote that way, too. Colorado GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown pledged to not simply be a party of complaints and criticisms but instead one of ideas and solutions. Yet anyone who follows her social media accounts knows her posts read more like snarky insults and whining, than they do a thoughtful political platform with insight and ideas.

Writer Will Durant summarized Aristotelian philosophy by noting “We are what we repeatedly do,” and Burton Brown will not restore the party to the “big tent” of Ronald Reagan while also speaking derisively of Democrats. While many independents share beliefs with Republicans, they don’t see Democrats as the enemy. Declaring fellow Americans enemies is simply unacceptable in the party of Lincoln, the man who united a nation following a tragic Civil War by urging “with malice toward none and charity for all.” While many unaffiliated voters support Republican candidates, they don’t see Democrats destroying the Constitution. While fiscally conservative Coloradans seek prudence in government spending, they don’t believe Democrats want to tax Coloradans into poverty. Such comments make nice soundbites, but they don’t ensure trust.

Thus, the party of Bush, Reagan, Goldwater, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, and, of course, Abraham Lincoln is ceasing to be a conservative party or a welcoming place for conservative values. It’s simply a political action committee of “Republicanism,” focused on winning seats, holding offices, and acquiring power rather than leading and legislating a community, a state, a society, and a nation. Believers in this new “–ism” will remain members of the Republican Party, but many conservatives can’t and won’t.



Thursday, April 21, 2022

Talk to your Enemy

So, after last week's column about the importance of dialing down the divisive rhetoric and the portraying of neighbors and community members as enemies over basic political issues, I received an interesting email response. A reader thanked me for the column and explained how she really liked it and agreed with me .... except for the part where I said neither party hates America and no one is trying to destroy the Constitution. Then she proceed to explain how the radical Marxist extremists are bent on the destruction of American culture and society.

Oh, well. (heavy sigh).

As I read the email, just shaking my head, I thought of my current study of John Knowles' classic American bildungsroman A Separate Peace with my ninth graders. Specifically, I am thinking about the closing of the novel and its poignant and important bit of wisdom:

"All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way -- if he ever attacked at all; if indeed he was the enemy."


The novel is a wonderful and insightful read if you haven't read it before, or if it has been a while. And along this same line of thought, I must offer another reading suggestion, I highly recommend Jonathon Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

https://www.tatteredcover.com/book/9780307455772



Thursday, April 14, 2022

We Need to Talk

For my column this week in The Villager, I'm thinking about the problematic nature of contemporary society's inability to have calm, rational discussion about political and cultural issues.

One serious problem in contemporary America is simply a rhetorical one. Basically, the general discourse has become pretty crass and rather harsh. Many people can’t even talk to each other anymore, and when they do, their words are not what we’d call polite conversation. The language Americans use to speak about people with whom they disagree has become negative to the point of absurdity. Perhaps it’s time we put away the superlatives and simply talk in tempered tones.

As a writer and teacher, I come by my language skills honestly, having learned the art of communication from my parents. My mom was a newspaper writer and editor, and my dad worked in personnel. And while my mom was an astute observer and master of the written word, my dad was simply a great talker. Working for many years in labor relations, he valued the art of communication, and he knew that if people were honest and earnest, anything could be talked out. “As long as we’re talking …” he would say. That was his credo: “Everything will be all right as long as we’re talking.”

That spirit of genuine conversation guided my dad in his job and personal relationships. He spent many years walking the neighborhood each morning with a close friend and neighbor who was also his polar opposite on many political issues. As they walked and talked, the conservative Catholic Republican and the progressive Protestant Democrat never resolved much or changed the other’s mind, but they were always friends at the end of the day. We once theorized that if our senators and representatives walked and talked each morning, the country might be in better shape. I actually wrote a column for Merion West Magazine, suggesting “Congress Should Live Together.” I envisioned a 535-family townhouse complex in DC where politicians and their families would all be neighbors. They might not always agree, but it’s harder to hate each other when your kids play together.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill were fierce political rivals. Their public comments about each other weren’t often kind. In fact, Reagan once called Tip after a particularly harsh comment in the newspapers, and Tip told him, “Well, buddy, that’s just politics. After 6:00, we’re friends.” The two political giants battled for many years, and probably didn’t hang out much. But they ultimately developed a healthy respect for each other, and at the end of their careers, Reagan said, “Tip, if I had a ticket to Heaven, and you didn’t have one, I’d give mine away and go to Hell with you.” Years later Joe Scarborough would opine that you could impeach Bill Clinton one day, and the next Bill would come up and ask you to go play a round of golf. Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton led successful presidencies because they were, in their hearts, friendly, gregarious men.

Politics doesn’t have to be a combat sport, and political opponents don’t have to disparage each other. Disagreement about political issues doesn’t mean one side is stupid. It doesn’t mean one side is made of fascists while the other is full of communists. Neither political party hates America, and no one is destroying the Constitution. People just have different views, and they should be able to talk about them with tact and maturity. At one time in American history, the Senate was envisioned as the great deliberative body. Senate procedures and the filibuster were actually intended to slow the discussion and extend the debate. Like my dad said, “As long as we’re talking …”

Of the many great documents in American political history, Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Addresses at the beginning and end of the Civil War are among our most treasured. As the nation prepared to go to battle, Lincoln actually finished his first address by reminding Americans “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” Years later, as the conflict came to a close and the country faced a difficult reunification, he urged America to go forward “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” If Americans coming out of the Civil War could cease portraying each other as the enemy, then certainly two political parties talking about tax rates can do the same.

As the campaign season gears up, and voters prepare for midterm elections, let us hope cooler heads prevail, and someday soon we can speak to and about each other civilly. As Honest Abe wished for us, we should always seek to be guided “by the better angels of our nature."



Sunday, April 3, 2022

Generations

As April arrives, and springtime springs, I find myself thinking of home and my parents and their garden and times long past. Since April is also National Poetry Month, I am reminded of this poetic piece I crafted many years ago.


Generations

In the early morning, on my hazy quest for a cup of coffee, I am stopped in my tracks by an image of absolute clarity. Through the kitchen window of my parents’ home, I glimpse the two most important men in my life. One is thirty-five years my senior, the other thirty-two years my junior. It’s summer, and I’ve come home to visit.

Remembering these moments amidst the hassles of daily living is important.

The hour is early, before the intense humidity of a St. Louis summer can make being outside unbearable, and the sunlight is just beginning to peer over the neighbor’s house. In an awkward angle from my position in the hallway, peering sideways through the glass and around the obtrusive windowpanes, past the hummingbird feeder, and over the patio fence, I see them. Sitting on a bench under a tree in the botanical garden that is my parents’ backyard are my father and my son.

Life is good.

They had disappeared out the back door a while ago – my dad to turn on the fountain or take out the trash and my son to look for bugs, frogs, turtles, or any other creature that might be lurking among the hosta lilies, dwarf conifers, and rose bushes.

Life is good because my family is safe.

My wife and I and our two children live in Colorado, a fourteen-hour drive from my childhood home. In the past four years, I’ve been home just once. Even though I’m a teacher, it always seems like summer vacation is too short, as I spend much of it taking classes. When my parents, who are now in their seventies, come out to visit, they always stay in a hotel, and their two or three day visits always seem to be over just as they’ve begun. But there on the bench, my son still in his pajamas, it seems like there’s all the time in the world.

Life is good because my family is safe, and they’re happy.

I watch them for a few moments, but it seems like an hour. At various points, Austen talks animatedly, waving his arms and pointing, or sits quietly, contemplating the scene, leaning into his grandpa, and occasionally tugging on his shirt. My father sits calmly, shoulders slumping slightly, listening to my son and seeing the garden through his eyes. My dad said later that he often forgets to take time to sit and enjoy the garden. Between taking care of the garden and working a new job as a financial advisor, he rarely takes time to smell the proverbial roses. When my son leans over and rests his head against his grandpa’s arm, I know the meaning of life.

Life is good because my family is safe, and they’re happy, and they’re sheltered, and they’re here.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Being present.




Friday, March 25, 2022

Bid Farewell to Class Rank & Valedictorians

When a simple decision by a single school district in Colorado goes viral, and the talking heads suddenly become experts on education and the college admissions process, well, you know something is amiss. After Cherry Creek Schools decided to formalize a policy of not publicly ranking students by GPA and not selecting a valedictorian based on GPA, you'd have thought they decided to eliminate grades and give everyone a cookie. A local attorney and aspiring politician criticized the district in a crass, poorly written, and inaccurate op-ed column for the Denver Post. I've responded with a counterargument that explains the truth of the matter.

Elon Musk was not valedictorian in high school. Neither was Bill Gates whose 2.2 GPA at one point alarmed his parents. Ronald Reagan graduated with a C-average. None of these esteemed men were mediocre in intelligence or achievements, regardless of their high school grades.

Despite what Denver Post opinion columnist George Brauchler believes, high school rank is an irrelevant measure of success, especially when the individual distinction is often mere thousandths of a percentage point. Critics of Cherry Creek School District’s decision to retire valedictorian titles and ranking students by GPA couldn’t be more wrong, and the district should be lauded, not maligned.

Rather than moving toward mediocrity, the district’s action acknowledges and honors widespread high achievement ...

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Art of the State 2022

I did another piece of art review and commentary for the Denver Post YourHub. The Art of the State is at the Arvada Center through Sunday, March 27. 

The tri-annual Art of the State exhibit returned to Colorado this year, setting up at the Arvada Arts Center and featuring 149 individual art pieces from 142 artists across the state. Art of the State 2022 is the fourth rendition of the show, filling three galleries and 10,000 square feet of the Arvada Center Galleries, which continues to spotlight and promote some of the best local talent on the art scene. As always, the show is an eclectic and diverse offering of artwork across multiple media including oil and acrylic painting, prints, drawings, woodblock, found objects, and more. Led by the vision of Collin Parson, the Arvada Center’s Director of Galleries, the show is beautifully curated with fellow jurors, Louise Martorano, Executive Director of RedLine Contemporary Art, and Ellamaria Ray, Professor of Africana Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The three meticulously evaluated more than two-thousand submissions on the way to selecting this year’s featured artists.

As Colorado and the world emerged from two years of pandemic living, the art produced in the state was bound to evoke themes of the fractured state of the world and a desire to find beauty amidst the chaos. An obvious theme throughout this year’s show is one of disruption, with countless pieces and perspectives slightly askew, as if we’ve spent the past two years viewing the world from a distance, catching glimpses here and there of life but never fully connecting with anything or anyone. In pieces like Neil Corman’s “Balconies” and Chuck McCoy’s “Form One Configured,” viewers only get bits and pieces, odd angles and shifting perspectives, that offer hints of life and the world. A similar effect is found in Deborah Jang’s “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore,” which won the MeowWolf Award. The haphazard sculpture of wooden chairs, poles, and metal creates an intriguing spire in the main gallery.



Thursday, March 17, 2022

George Will on Baseball

I look to, trust, and respect George Will on many things, but perhaps none more than baseball. As people debate the new CBA, the shift, the pitch clock, the DH, & everything else, GW clarifies the issue at hand with reasoned rational commentary.

Now MLB must tweak its rules or find a slew of Rod Carews. He wielded a bat with the delicacy of an orchestral conductor’s baton. The first time Tony La Russa managed against Carew, he moved his shortstop up the middle. So, Carew singled through the spot that La Russa’s shortstop had vacated. In Carew’s next at-bat, La Russa, chastened, left the shortstop where he normally played. So, Carew — don’t tug on Superman’s cape — singled through the spot where La Russa had placed the shortstop in Carew’s first at-bat . Carew’s third at-bat: a bunt so perfect he reached base without a throw.

Today’s analytics could not have helped opponents cope with Carew. He, however, was a genius. Better to change baseball’s rules than to count on reviving the game with an abundance of genius, which is always scarce.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Trip down Fascination Street

I'm a bit of an art geek and visiting galleries is one of my favorite activities when I have the time. Denver is an excellent place to indulge that interest, as its vast and vibrant art scene has been cooking for years. Lately I've been doing a bit more writing about art, and after a particularly engaging gallery visit, I've felt compelled to write it up and share the experience. My most recent piece, "Fascination Street Continues to Elevate Cherry Creek North's Art Scene," is the second I've had published by 303 Magazine in Denver. 

A stroll through Cherry Creek North provides boundless opportunities to pop in out of specialty shops, clothing stores, and restaurants. Numerous galleries also await fans of the fine arts, making the posh streets of the southeast Denver neighborhood one of Colorado's best art scenes. Thousands of residents visit the well-known Cherry Creek Art Festival, but regular visitors can experience a festival-like offering every day of the year. Browsing Cherry Creek can be casual window shopping, but wandering into Fascination Street Fine Art will be no short trip. The esteemed gallery in the heart of Cherry Creek is truly a fascinating experience.

While the gallery’s entrance on Third Street is a welcoming storefront, the official address of Fascination Street is 315 Detroit Street, just around the corner. Alice Crandall, the Senior Gallery Director, explains the gallery recently went through an expansion uniting three stores in “a year-long process to design and develop the spaces, including the addition of the dedicated frame shop.” The dual entrances and multiple rooms are just the first hint of the gallery’s vast store of paintings, giclees, sculptures, drawings, and more.